Comptroller Stringer Audit Reveals Breakdowns At City Animal Care Centers

Published on September 16, 2020, 12:16 pm
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Today, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer released a new audit of Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC), the City-contracted organization charged with rescuing, caring, and finding homes for homeless or abandoned animals in New York City. Comptroller Stringer’s audit uncovered multiple deficiencies in shelter conditions – including unacceptable humidity levels, instances of dirty kennels, expired medication, and food past its “best by” date. In addition, a sample of animal medical records revealed areas of concern regarding the administration of vaccinations, screening examinations and weighing of animals, as well as a high rate of respiratory infections.

“Our city is defined by how we treat our most vulnerable — and that includes our four-legged friends, too. Until we find them forever homes, we have an obligation to provide safe conditions, adequate food and medical treatment to the thousands of animals in the City’s care,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “Our review of ACC and DOHMH’s management of the shelter system uncovered multiple deficiencies that need to be fixed. I’m calling on the City to implement our recommendations without delay so that these animals are safe, happy and ready to be adopted into lucky families.”

ACC provides shelter to more than 20,000 animals a year. Based on the deficiencies uncovered in the audit, Comptroller Stringer recommended that ACC and DOHMH take 21 measures to ensure that staff consistently adheres to animal care protocols and that animals are sheltered in optimal conditions with appropriate medical care.

Comptroller Stringer’s review of ACC and DOHMH’s care of shelter animals uncovered the following findings:

  • 17 of the 30 animals whose medical records were sampled developed either canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC) or an upper respiratory infection (URI) at some point during their stay at an Animal Care Center.
  • Auditors observed humidity levels outside acceptable levels in multiple rooms.
    • Of the 40 rooms tested during a first round of visits, 9 lacked working humidity-temperature monitors.
    • All 31 rooms with working monitors registered low humidity levels (below 30 percent).
    • During a second round of unannounced visits in June of 2019, 7 of 41 rooms tested lacked working monitors. For the remaining 34 rooms that had monitors, auditors found high humidity levels in 13 (38 percent) of the rooms where animals were located.

According to an ACC veterinary official, high humidity levels could potentially lead to conditions that pose risks to animals’ health, specifically:

  • The increased longevity of certain viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
  • Delayed drying of surfaces. The resulting moist environments, especially those laden with chemicals from cleaning, can induce respiratory tract irritation, pre-dispose animals to mechanical irritation, and lead to greater susceptibility to the colonization of pathogens.

In addition, low humidity levels could potentially lead to defective self-cleaning ability of the airway of the animal and can facilitate the transmission of certain airborne viral particles.

  • Sound of predator species heard in prey rooms, such as the sound of dogs barking heard in a cat adoption room, a cat holding room, and a combined rabbit and guinea pig adoption room. ACC Guidelines state that prey species (e.g., birds, guinea-pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rabbits) should be housed away from predatory species (e.g., ferrets, cats, dogs) at all times, since it is extremely stressful for them to be housed in an area where they are subjected to scent, sound, and visual contact with predatory species.
  • Although ACC generally provided the animals in its care with access to clean water and a sanitary environment, auditors found 63 exceptions among the 798 animals they observed, specifically:
    • 15 animals did not have access to clean water; and
    • 48 animals were in dirty kennels.
  • Food and treats past their “best by” dates were found during two unannounced visits, including 63 food items that were past the “best by” date, and at the time of the visits, some of those food items were being given to the animals as treats.
  • It appeared that shelter operations staff were not consistently adhering to the organization’s unwritten policy to check expiration dates of food and treats every two weeks while ordering supplies.
  • Peeling paint and exposed surfaces and similar defects were found at 16 out of 40 rooms used for animals that the auditors inspected at 3 shelters, with conditions such as peeling paint, cracks, and/or spots on the ceilings in need of repair.
  • During one shelter visit, auditors found two bottles of expired medication and a bottle of medication that did not have an identifiable expiration date. They also found a bottle of medication that did not have an identifiable expiration date at a different shelter.
  • ACC’s computerized inventory records were inaccurate in relation to the quantity of controlled substances on hand. In eight instances, auditors found a discrepancy between the quantity of a controlled substance on hand and the quantity reflected in ACC’s reconciled EPMX balances. That result equated to an error rate of approximately 23 percent (8 out of 35).
  • A sample of 30 animals housed at ACC for at least 14 days did not always receive the care stipulated in ACC’s policies and procedures with regard to vaccinations and examinations. Specifically:
    • 3 animals (10 percent) were not administered their vaccinations within 24 hours upon arrival;
    • 3 animals (10 percent) did not receive their screening examinations within 24 hours of arrival; and
    • 3 animals (10 percent) were not weighed during their screening examination.
    • 14 (46.7 percent) of the 30 sampled animals were not reweighed timely; 10 animals were not reweighed at all, and 4 of the 14 animals were reweighed late, after the 14th day in ACC’s care.
  • The planned renovation of the Manhattan Animal Care Center’s garage space into an adoption center remained incomplete, and the Center lacked a backup generator.
  • DOHMH did not conduct comprehensive assessments of ACC’s adherence to the contract’s scope of services in a timely manner.

In sum, although the audit found that ACC generally complied with its DOHMH contract with regard to shelter conditions and animal care, the audit also identified deficiencies and concerns that both ACC and DOHMH need to address.

Comptroller Stringer recommended 21 actions to ACC and DOHMH to ensure shelter animals are cared for in appropriate conditions with optimal conditions, adequate and fresh food, and appropriate medical care. The recommendations included:

  • ACC and DOHMH should make sure that all rooms housing animals contain a working humidity-temperature monitor to help ensure that humidity levels are maintained at levels that provide a healthy environment for the animals.
  • ACC should consider adding sound mitigation mats to all of the Animal Care Centers.
  • ACC should formally document its 2-week review policy, which has shelter staff conduct thorough inventory reviews of the shelter’s food supply to ensure that the shelter is not storing food that is past the manufacturer’s “best by” date.
  • DOHMH should establish formal written policies with specific timeframes for routine repairs and periodic maintenance, such as painting and related work.
  • ACC should frequently review its stock of medications to help ensure that expired medications are not included in its inventory.
  • ACC should follow its policies and procedures and update its EPMX records on a daily basis to ensure that its computer inventory records properly reflect the quantity of unopened controlled substances on hand.
  • ACC should ensure that staff is consistently adhering to its animal care protocols that govern examinations, vaccinations, and weight assessments.
  • DOHMH and ACC should work with DOB and DDC to expedite the conversion of the Manhattan Animal Care Center’s garage space.
  • DOHMH should install a backup generator at the Manhattan Animal Care Center, as was its intention approximately five years ago.
  • DOHMH should ensure that it consistently performs and documents assessments of ACC’s adherence to the contract’s scope of services within the established timeframes.

To read Comptroller Stringer’s report on ACC and DOHMH, please visit here.

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