NYC Ordered to Provide More Shelters

dogStray from the Heart, Inc. brought an action in the nature of mandamus to compel New York City and its Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene, to comply with the city’s the Animal Shelters and Sterilization Act, Local Law 26 of 2000, §§17-801-7-808.

Also named in the suit at the time of filing was Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, then commissioner of the Dept. and now President Obama’s pick for Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and who is also Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

New York State Supreme Court Judge Marilyn Shafer has granted Stray from the Heart’s petition to compel the City "to comply with its statutory requirement to provide full service animal shelters in all five boroughs."

In 2000, the Committee on Health passed this law upon "finding that there is an overpopulation of unwanted dogs that poses a serious threat to public health, safety and welfare of the City’s residents and animals".  

"Full service animal shelters" means "a facility … that houses lost, stray or homeless animals and (1) accepts dogs and cats 24 hours per day, 7 days per week]; (2) has an adoption program open 24 hours per day, 7 days per week; and (3) provides sterilization services for dogs and cats ."(§§ 17-802 c), 17-809) The law also requires that all animals be sterilized before leaving a licensed shelter for adoption or return to its owner, except in specified situations."

Shelters were to be completed in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island by January 1, 2002 and in the Bronx and Queens by July 1, 2002. Two years later the law was amended to (1) extend the time for completion of the shelters in the Bronx and Queens to July 1, 2006; and (2) temporarily reduce the hours of operation to 12 hours a day, 5 days a week until January 1, 2005.

The Judge observed that "[a]lthough the statutory deadlines have passed, there are no shelters in the City open 24 hours a day and there are no shelters at all in the Bronx and Queens." Queens and the Bronx have what are described as ‘intake shelters’, meaning a place where animals can be left, but they are not shelters as required.

Stray from the Heart, Inc. "is a not-for-profit volunteer organization with the stated mission of providing rescue, rehabilitation and placement of homeless dogs." Stray from the Heart contends "the City’s failure to comply with the statutory requirements has created a dangerous public health threat and overburdens citizens and private rescue organizations….which are forced to bear the costs of rescuing, sheltering, treating and sterilizing unwanted animals".

In granting the petition, Judge Shafer observed, "[The city has]… blatantly failed to comply with the mandatory requirements of the Act, which unambiguously requires shelters in each borough, not in 3 out of 5, open 24 hours per day, not 12 or "as needed."

The City has 60 days to come up with a plan to comply.