Mayor’s highly touted Office of Animal Welfare barely functioning

This watchdog has no bite.

As a scandal exposed by The Post engulfs the Big Apple’s Animal Care Center, a long-promised city office meant to oversee New York’s pet shelter system is barely functioning.

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law last November that would create an Office of Animal Welfare — but more than a year later, the agency is staffed with just a single known employee and has accomplished next to nothing.

“It is unacceptable that at this late date this critical office appears to not be functioning,” Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan), the chair of the City Council Committee on Health, told The Post. 

The comment comes following a Post investigation that revealed squalid and neglectful conditions at the Brooklyn Animal Care Center, including dogs left without water for hours on end and filthy cages filled with urine and feces, which was backed up with photos and videos. 

“One of the prime functions of the office is to adjudicate complaints about our animal shelter system,” Levine continued, adding the office in its current form is “incapable of responding to these current highly disturbing allegations.”

Councilman Andrew Cohen (D-Bronx), also on the health committee, said the city “must uphold its mandate” to ensure animal welfare. 

“It is concerning that over a year later, the Council has yet to see a meaningful attempt from the Administration to comply with this law intended to specifically address and prevent these types of abuses,” Cohen told The Post.

“With the establishment of a dedicated office of animal welfare, there would be a place to investigate these complaints with the authority to revoke a shelter’s license should the reports be substantiated.”

Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn), the bill’s sponsor, sent a letter to the office’s only known employee, senior community liaison Christine Kim from the city’s Community Affairs Unit, on Oct. 26 demanding more information about the agency, including a list of staff and constituent complaints the office addressed.

While a call was arranged to placate the councilman, it was just “more of the same” and nothing concrete was conferred or established, Brannan recalled. 

“We all celebrated and high-fived each other and then nothing happened,” Brannan said of the bill’s celebrated signage.

There are no social media accounts belonging to the agency and its only online presence is a website.

That page includes press releases from other agencies and an explanation of the office’s focus areas. It also has a list of de Blasio’s animal welfare accomplishments that happened prior to the office’s creation and information on how to handle evictions and COVID-19 while owning a pet.  

“Not having a real office aside from a website is a real problem because it was a bill signed into law so I don’t know what the city’s excuse is but they’re supposed to have an office up and running,” Brannan fumed. 

“I understand the pandemic has turned everything upside down but nothing in this city is mutually exclusive and you gotta know how to walk and chew gum at the same time.” 

Following the agency’s apparent creation, which was lauded as the first office of its kind nationwide, the main thing it accomplished was establishing a COVID-19 emergency pet hotline in conjunction with the Office of Emergency Management. 

The “COVID-19 Pet Response Plan” served over 19,000 animals by providing emergency boarding, retrieving animals from homes where guardians were dead or hospitalized and distributing pet food, City Hall told The Post.

However, the hotline’s programs were discontinued on Oct. 4, right as the Big Apple began to feel the effects of a second COVID-19 wave, according to a recording that plays when the number is called. The mayor’s office said calls were rerouted to the ASPCA when volume dropped but the hotline does not currently reroute any calls. 

In response, mayoral spokesperson Avery Cohen spoke only of the interagency pet response plan, writing in a statement “no city has been more responsive to the needs of animal owners throughout the pandemic.” 

“The Mayor’s Office of Animal Welfare’s COVID-19 Pet Response is the only plan of its kind in the country specifically designed to support pet owners through these unprecedented circumstances,” the spokesperson said. 

City Hall added it is working with the city’s Animal Care Centers to renovate existing shelters and open new ones but did not address the documented evidence of neglect at the taxpayer-funded shelter.

Credit: NYPOST

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