To celebrate our 2 year anniversary, a story about Urgent appeared in The Companion:
The Origins of Urgent Part 2 – Animal Lover uses Social Media to save Thousands of NYC Shelter Animals –
By Michael Mullins
In the last year alone, over 8,100 animals were killed at New York City animal shelters.Before receiving a lethal injection, each animal has its photo added to a list which is emailed out the day before to over 150 tri-state animal rescue groups. The list is generally emailed after 5 p.m., leaving rescuers and perspective adopters a 12-hour period to contact Animal Care and Control (ACC) and pull the animal(s) from the list. If by 6 a.m. the following morning no request has been made on an animal’s behalf, that animal is killed.
According to former ACC New Hope Liaison Emily Tanen, a well-respected animal advocate and rescuer who was fired from ACC last summer, cats are destroyed first in the mornings, followed by dogs. By 2 p.m. most if not all the animals on the previous day’s euthanasia list are destroyed.
In an attempt to save the lives of NYC shelter animals in their eleventh hour, many animal rescuers and welfare organizations use social media sites, such as Facebook, to share photos of these animals in the hopes that someone out in cyber space will come to their rescue. One of the most well known organizations for posting photos of NYC shelter animals facing euthanasia is Urgent Death Row Dogs or as it’s known on Facebook, Urgent Part 2.
Founded in June, 2010 by Karen Pepp, Death Row Dogs (DRD) has helped save the lives of thousands of shelter animals, while raising awareness among the city’s animal-loving community about what goes on at the city’s kill shelters.
Over the past two years, the nonprofit has advocated for close to 13,000 dogs through its website and Facebook page. According to Pepp, over 9,600 of these dogs have been saved, with DRD having played a direct role in roughly 2,000 of the saved dogs, either through getting the dog fostered or adopted, or providing funding toward the pulled animal’s medical expenses.
In the past year alone, over $50,000 has been raised by DRD toward a medical fund for sick, injured and elderly animals in need. The nonprofit also works with a select eight or so area rescue groups, assisting with veterinary bills for rescued and abandoned animals. A testament to its reach in the community is the 38,500-plus “likes” the Facebook page Urgent Part 2 (UP2), has received thus far.
How it came about…
A Suffolk County native and life-long animal-lover, Pepp only recently became active in animal welfare advocacy, having, as she freely admits, been previously “naive” about NYC’s shelter system, unaware that the greatest city in the world euthanized thousands of adoptable shelter animals every year.
While administering websites and Facebook pages for several area rescue groups in2010, Pepp, who previously dealt mostly with Long Island animal shelters, placed a call to ACC to inquire about an animal’s adoption status. During the call the ACC employee asked Pepp if she had seen last night’s list. Not knowing what the ACC employee was referring to, Pepp asked her “what list”? Pepp was shocked by what she saw next.
“I had it sent it to me, and I think I stared at it for what seemed an eternity, trying to wrap my mind around it,” recalled Pepp. “It was a list of 30 dogs, all being killed by NYC. I never thought that they killed dogs in NYC, but it was not a mistake and almost every dog on that list was dead. Dead over stupid reasons such as kennel cough or rawhide aggression.”
Pepp continued, “I became mad. I became angry. These dogs all died and no one knew they existed. No one knew they were on a stupid list. No one knew that they needed to care. They died unknown and rejected. The castaways of society, a society of individuals like me who just didn’t know. At that moment, I decided that I was going to save as many [shelter dogs] as possible, and I was going to do it by posting them on every forum I could think of.”
And with that, UP2 became a reality.
According to Pepp, her original Facebook page – Urgent Rescue Needed, was shut down by the social media site because it was reported for copyright infringement. Unable to find out who made the complaint, Pepp believes it was an ACC employee who attempted to close the page, considering the photos she was posting were taken at the facility, presumably by staff or volunteers.
The same day her initial page was taken down, Pepp launched Urgent Part 2 and continued posting shelter pictures without further issues from Facebook.
In the past two years, Pepp has built a network of dedicated volunteers that stretches across the country. Each of the ten or so core volunteers play an important role on a daily basis, from the stay at home mom who checks the status of shelter animals throughout the day, to the office worker who updates a certain section of the DRD’s website every night. Pepp has even drafted an active duty U.S. Marine to assist with day to day operations at DRD.
As a result of DRD’s dedicated volunteers and Pepp’s networking abilities, the nonprofit has expanded its operations to include shelter cats. Last fall, DRD acquired an existing Facebook page called Pets on Death Row (PODR). Without changing the page’s name, Pepp converted the page to Urgent Death Row Cats, via its top banner, and began sharing photos of ACC cats scheduled for euthanasia the following morning.
At the time of this article, PODR had over 27,000 likes on Facebook.
“So many people, from all over the country, contribute behind the scenes. Aside from the handful of volunteers that help monitor both UP2 and PODR, we have dozens more that assist with updates, writing, fundraising and advocacy,” says Pepp. “Each person brings something special and needed to the organization. Without them, and the dedicated rescues that take these animals in, Urgent would not be here today, and so many more adoptable animals would be dying, hidden away at ACC.”
Although she was not ready to offer specifics, Pepp added that in the coming months, DRDs’ website – www.urgentdeathrowdogs.org, will also be undergoing significant changes to incorporate shelter cat adoption into its format.
Relations with ACC
As can be expected, DRD’s relationship with ACC, particularly Executive Director Julie Bank, has been strained to say the least.
In an interview with WPIX (Channel 11) last summer, Bank expressed some reservations about using social media to post ACC shelter animals. “We might have an animal in our care because the animal bit three people and they might be taking the situation and saying ‘what a really cute dog, they’d be great for kids.’ And you’re not given the exact information that’s really attached to the animal and then it could create some sort of a dangerous situation for the person that might be interested in adopting,” said Bank.
Though Bank’s statement was not directed at UP2 in particular, Pepp countered the executive director’s remarks in an online letter to Bank, in which she referred to the statement as “a complete fantasy.”
“Once a dog either bites a human or dog, or is bitten by another dog, they become Department of Health (DOH) cases, meaning they can’t be adopted by the general public.” Pepp continued, “In fact, over 90 percent of DOH cases are killed the day after their hold is up without being seen on the public euthanasia list. So it is physically impossible for a person to do what you suggested, Julie, and come to the shelter to adopt a dangerous dog.”
Pepp is part of a growing chorus of animal welfare advocates who are critical of Bank’s management style as well as ACC’s symbiotic relationship with NYC’s DOH, which provides the shelter with the lion’s share of its budget.
In 2011, ACC’s total operating budget was approximately $9.2 million, of which $7.1million, or 77 percent, was provided by the DOH. Additionally, ACC’s entire seven-member Board of Directors was appointed by the city and is headed-up by DOH Commissioner Thomas Farley.
In February, Bank’s two year contract as ACC executive director was renewed by the DOH for another two years.
As a result of their strained relations, Pepp refused to say which rescue organizations supply her with the euthanasia lists every day, fearing ACC would retaliate against those nonprofits.
. And to receive daily alerts on Facebook of shelter animals facing next-day euthanasia, search Urgent Part 2 and Pets on Death Row to locate and like the nonprofit’s page. To save the life of a shelter animal that is on ACC’s euthanasia list email [email protected] or call 212-639-9675.