In July 2021, whistleblowers at the Humane Society of New York (HSNY) contacted animal advocates to sound the alarm about the warehousing of dogs and cats at the large and prominent shelter in midtown Manhattan. They said that adoptions had come to a virtual standstill 15 months earlier and that the building was closed to the public under false pretenses. The whistleblowers wrote that, despite claiming to be closed due to COVID, the HSNY could not reopen its doors to the public until they made the building wheelchair accessible under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines.
In the ensuing months, advocates learned that the Executive Director, Sandra DeFeo, planned to keep the building closed to the public indefinitely. Insiders said she did not want to make the renovations and was content to keep members of the public, including adopters and clients of their vet clinic, out of the building, even if that meant that prospective adopters had no way of meeting the animals.
In a March 2023 TV news story, Pix11 corroborated the whistleblower allegations regarding animal warehousing, airing video clips of adoption cards with intake dates of 2018 and 2019.
Until 2020, guardrails were in place to protect the animals — a full time Adoption Director; an active board president; and an adoption center that was open to adopters. When these guardrails came down, the animals were left in the hands of an Executive Director who believes that cages are “apartments” and that the shelter is a “foster home.”
By warehousing cats and dogs for several years, the HSNY has needlessly created a population of animals with emotional and physical problems who are more difficult to place in forever homes.
The Construction Project
After caving into pressure from advocates, who asserted that an adoption center cannot be permanently closed to adopters, DeFeo broke ground on an extensive renovation to make the lobby wheelchair accessible under ADA guidelines. The construction crew has cut an opening in the facade and is installing a wheelchair accessible elevator that opens onto the street level.
Despite the loud and messy renovation, which is not only limiting access to the building, but also further compromising the quality of life of the animals, the HSNY refuses to send the remaining animals to foster homes, where they would have human companions and not be confined to a cage. The advocates surmise that the HSNY continues to ignore adoption applications because they don’t want prospective adopters entering the building during the renovation.
Change in Procedure for How Adopters Meet Animals
In Mach 2021, the Associate Director of the HSNY, Anne-Marie Karash, told Pix11 News that the HSNY would no longer allow prospective adopters into the building unless their adoption applications were “approved.” That announcement begged many questions. How can the HSNY approve adoption applications if they are ignoring them? How can they approve an application if the applicant hasn’t met the animal(s)? And how can they approve of prospective adopters without meeting them?
Before the HSNY closed the building to the public, prospective adopters who filled out an application in the lobby were invited into the adoption center to meet the animals. The advocates assert that the HSNY should hire an Adoption Director (to replace the one who retired in early 2020) and revert back to this process.
Prospective Adopters Give On-Camera Testimonials
In recent weeks, several seemingly well-qualified applicants who read about the animal warehousing controversy online after submitting adoption applications contacted TheirTurn to share their experience. Three of them agreed to provide on-camera testimonials.
Since starting this campaign in 2021, the advocates have spoken to dozens of other prospective adopters who never received a response to their application, even when they followed up.
Advocates Protest at the Home of the HSNY’s Associate Director
During an interview with Pix11 News. Anne-Marie Karash, the Associate Director of the HSNY, attempted to justify keeping animals in cages for “years” by stating that they wait to place animals until they find “responsible homes.” Her remarks suggest that they engage in exhaustive due diligence when, in fact, they don’t even respond to adoption applications.
In April and May, advocates decided to hold Karash accountable for the misleading statements by staging protests at her Brooklyn home. The entrance to her building was bustling with people, many with dogs, who were eager to learn why the advocates were there. Several said they recognized Karash and would address our concerns with her if they bump into her.
When they arrived at Karash’s home for the first protest, a security guard who advocates recognized from the HSNY was waiting for them. Because he set up a lounge chair next to the building entrance, as if to suggest that the protest was an event worth watching, his presence drew added attention to the protest. Advocates noted that the same guard once opened his vest to reveal a gun and, on several occasions, flashed a badge, as if to suggest he is employed by the NYPD.
Letter to the NY State Attorney General and IRS
Bonnie Klapper, an attorney representing the advocates, sent a letter to the state Attorney General and the IRS asking that they conduct an investigation “to determine whether the HSNY is in violation of its charter and other federal and state rules and regulations governing nonprofits.”
In June 2023, BronxNet News conducted an in-depth interview with Donny Moss of TheirTurn.net, an organizer in the campaign to help the warehoused animals.
In March, Pix11 News aired a three minute segment about the controversy and included an interview with Julie Menin, the Council Member who represents the district where the HSNY is located. During the interview, Menin said, “Why are the adoptions only one per week? That seems like a very slow pace for a relatively large organization that’s well funded. So, we do have concerns about that. We’re also concerned about why can’t the public come in?”
Advocates Receive Threatening Letters
Donny Moss and Bonnie Tischler, the former Adoption Director and a co-organizer on the campaign, received threatening and homophobic letters in the mail. The letter targeting Moss was sent to his husband at work.
In the letter to Tischler, the sender warned her that she “better tell your daughter to watch herself crossing the street.”
In the letter to Moss’s husband, the sender accused Moss of being a “child molester” and wrote that they “reported this behavior to police.”
Lack of Promotion and Interest in Doing Adoptions
The HSNY’s website and social media platforms feature only some of the homeless animals in the shelter. With the building largely closed due to the renovations and a new policy that prevents members of the public from entering, prospective adopters have no way of knowing that some of these unlisted animals even exist.
The HSNY has also disabled comments on its social media platforms. As a result, people cannot ask questions when the HSNY posts a photo of an animal who needs a home. Furthermore, the HSNY does not respond to direct messages, according to several people who have attempted to make inquires.
When prospective adopters submit applications, they receive a discouraging automated response: “If we are interested in pursuing your application further, we will call you to discuss and then possibly make an appointment for you….Unfortunately, we cannot call everyone, but we will reach out if we are ready to take the next steps with you.”
Advocates assert that, if the HSNY was serious about placing animals in forever homes, then the automated response would be more encouraging, like this: “Thank you for your application. We have many cats and dogs who are looking for forever homes. If the cat or dog in whom you’re interested is not a good match, we can probably introduce you to other wonderful animals who might be. We will review your application and follow up with you in the next one to two days.”
The HSNY runs a vet clinic in the same building as the adoption center. When advocates speak to vet clinic clients who are waiting for their animals in front of the building, the majority state that they did not know that the HSNY even has an animal shelter.
What the Advocates Want?
The advocates are calling on the HSNY to send the remaining animals to foster homes until they reopen the building to the public and resume adoptions in earnest.