Pet owners can be worse than doting grandparents when it comes to whipping out pictures of their four-legged family. A quick glance at blogs, YouTube or Facebook further attests to Americans’ love for their dogs., cats and whatever else people include among their family members. Pets often have their own Facebook page, Twitter account, or blog, lovingly updated by their pet human with stories about such important life events as a new squeaky and sufficient pictures capturing the event.
Every day another sort of picture gets posted thousands and thousands of times online: shelter animals in desperate need of help. Where do the pictures of these animals come from? In the case of New York City’s Animal Care and Control shelters, it was usually Emily Tanen behind the camera. Her beautifully rendered photos capture each animal’s special qualities and spirit with the hope that someone somewhere would see and come rescue or adopt the animal in time.
As AC&C’s New Hope Partners liaison, Tanen networked with over 150 rescue groups throughout the tri-state region, sending out informative pleas to increase the chance that the rescue groups would know about the animals in need. These pleas include a description of each animal’s general health and temperament. And they also include something extra: a narrative, crafted to show the animal’s strongest traits and give a better sense of its personality and behavior out on a walk or otherwise interacting with a person, rather than in a cage simply waiting and wondering.
One would think that Tanen’s efforts would be exactly what a well-run, humane shelter would welcome. That those in charge of managing the shelter would capitalize on every opportunity to get an animal’s information and image out to the public so that it would not be destroyed.
Yet Tanen no longer works behind the camera nor writes pleas for the AC&C. On Friday, May 13, Animal Care and Control terminated her employment. Friday the 13th turned out to be very unlucky for AC&C shelter animals.
In the opinion of Esther Koslow, a former shelter volunteer who serves on the board of the Shelter Reform Action Committee, “Emily went above and beyond in her duties as an AC&C employee and her [absence] will have an immediate detrimental effect on Manhattan shelter dogs. The [shelter] animals will suffer.”
Tanen recalls the events of the morning that she lost her job at AC&C. She was asked to a meeting by her supervisor of six weeks, Ellen Curtis, who now filled a newly created position responsible for managing the New Hope Program, adoptions, and behavior testing. According to Tanen, two other AC&C executives were also present: Dr. Stephanie Janeczko DVM, AC&C’s medical director and interim director of operations, and Administration Director Risa Weinstock, AC&C’s general counsel and former interim executive director whose responsible for overseeing human resources, information technology, purchasing, legal issues and contracts, among other matters.
How is it that AC&C fired Tanen, someone dedicated to the welfare of AC&C’s shelter animals . . . someone who worked tirelessly to bring each animal to the public’s attention and thus increase the chance that it would be saved?
Although Tanen asked for information as to why she had been terminated, she stated that only one reason was offered by her former supervisor, Ellen Curtis: that she had violated the AC&C policy forbidding the inclusion of any person in any picture of an AC&C shelter animal for any purpose.
Those in the city and surrounding area’s hard working, very under-funded rescue organizations expressed their concerns at the loss of Emily Tanen. According to Susan Cava, Rescuzilla’s founder and president, “In an animal shelter that is underfunded and understaffed due to city cutbacks, Emily Tanen was a much needed, passionate, dedicated staff member. Ninety percent of the dogs [most of them pit bulls] Rescuzilla rescued from AC&C were through Emily Tanen. I am quite certain I can speak for all those dogs when I say we can only thank Emily for her tireless efforts on there behalf and wonder who could ever fill her shoes.”
Although Tanen no longer works for AC&C, picture taking will continue, pictures such as those taken on the days Tanen was not scheduled to work. On those days, animals were photographed on a poorly painted stage decorated with season-appropriate slogans, holiday wrapping paper or cutouts, or other amateurish embellishments. In these pictures the animal stands alone on the stage, often straining at a thick rope leash seen coming out of a hole in the back wall. Pictures of the uncomfortable animal are taken with a poor quality camera from about 10 feet away.
In contrast, Tanen’s photos included little if any background nor, for that matter, much of the person with the animal, and never their face. Instead, Tanen moved in close, taking advantage of high resolution photography to spotlight each animal’s expression and distinguishing characteristics while it was held by or otherwise comfortable in the company of a person.
New York City Animal Care and Control’s May 13th firing of Emily Tanen creates a terrible problem for the city’s unwanted animals. But don’t assume that Tanen plans to hang up her camera or stop writing and distributing pleas. As the director and vice president of Project Pet, the nonprofit, privately funded animal rescue organization she founded in 2008, Tanen will continue working to save the lives of the animals that AC&C seems to care so little about.