As the ASPCA Turns NEW YORK, N.Y.--In a year when American SPCA members have often questioned the doings of the New York City-based humane society, the ASPCA annual meeting is to be held on September 27 in Burbank, California--beyond range of protesters and most New York City media.
Apt to be discussed are the scheduled turnover of New York City animal control duty to a newly formed animal care and control corporation, to work under the city health department, and recent executive turnover, including the midsummer surprise resignation of Mary Anne Doherty, a senior financial officer, apparently because of a clash with the board of directors. Hired in 1992, Doherty was viewed by ASPCA insiders as "one of ASPCA president Roger Caras' inside circle," had reportedly been considered for a seat on the board before her hiring, and was believed by some of the ASPCA's most vehement critics to be Caras' designated successor upon his eventual retirement.
The future of New York City animal control appears equally puzzling, as just 100 days before the new animal care and control corporation is supposed to be up and running, the chief operating officer has yet to be named. Applicants for top positions are believed to include Martin Kurz, an $80,000-a-year Health Department administrator who is in charge of liaison with the ASPCA; former ASPCA vice president Herman Cohen, who was fired late last year after filing cruelty charges against the ASPCA itself over conditions at the two-year-old Manhattan shelter; and Dan Russell, former manager of the ASPCA's previous Manhattan shelter.
From VP to private dick
Cohen, now a licensed private investigator who says he's "mostly just looking for work," called ANIMAL PEOPLE after publication of the September issue to challenge senior vice president John Foran's allegation that he "should have filed the summons [for cruelty] on himself," as acting chief administrator during much of the time that the deficient shelter was being built.
"For four months I was chief executive officer," Cohen acknowledged, "between former president John Kullberg's departure in 1991 and the hiring of Roger Caras as his successor, but there were no decisions concerning the shelter to be made. All the design work was done. I was approached by two of our veterinarians about the absence of floor drains in the plans," Cohen said, "and I took this information to Caras and the board to get their approval to have the plans changed and the floor drains added," which then didn't work anyway. Also, Cohen recalled, "A decision had been made to switch from stainless steel to galvanized metal doors. The edges were sharp, which was a safety hazard, and I took that information to Caras and the board. That was fixed by asking the contrractor to smooth the rough edges," at cost of $220,000, Cohen said. "Otherwise, I had nothing to do with the way the shelter was built. Caras got involved as soon as he got there, and there was no need for me to be involved."
Cohen also said that he swore in board members as deputies, authorizing them to carry firearms without permits, only upon explicit instructions from ASPCA chief counsel Eugene Underwood. And he argued, as Kullberg has, that whatever one thinks of the amount of money paid to various former ASPCA officials, the issue of excessive pay was essentially trumped up as an excuse for the Caras administration to get rid of them for other reasons.
"Earned" triple pay
Of former senior investigator Huando Torres, for instance, who was paid $192,000 mostly in overtime on a base salary of $60,000 in 1993, Cohen said, "The record will show that Torres either worked the time he claimed or was paid according to the terms of the union contract. Yes, he was paid those figures, but for the most part, he earned it. They knew about those salaries," Cohen continued. "You've been publishing all the salaries every year for as long as I've been in humane work. But Torres was the most powerful union figure on site," as secretary to the head of the Teamsters Union local to which many ASPCA staffers belonged. His departure has made it easier for the ASPCA to delay action on grievances, and to fire people."
Torres is still in an arbitration proceeding against the ASPCA, while Cohen told ANIMAL PEOPLE he had a "whistleblower" lawsuit ready to file against the ASPCA "any day now."
Cohen meanwhile narrowly missed losing $100,000 by default on September 1 in a lawsuit filed by Ralph Rossetti, whose dog was killed by off-duty New York City transit officer Fermin Archer on June 16, 1991, and Garo Alexanian of the Companion Animal Network. The ASPCA had agreed to represent Cohen, since he was sued in his former capacity with the ASPCA, along with the ASPCA itself, ASPCA staffer Thomas Somerville, the New York City Transit Authority, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority. However, no ASPCA representative appeared in court on the day the case was heard. Luckily for Cohen, Judge Alice Schlesinger dismissed the case on a motion by the representative of another defendant.
Foran declined comment.
Killed cats it didn't find?
Further controversy came when New Yorkers for Companion Animals president Patty Adjamine charged that a week after CBS News reported on an NYCA cat rescue project at an abandoned house in Queens, "the ASPCA, without notification to NYCA, trapped five of the cats, and killed two of them before NYCA, upon learning about the incident from a concerned neighbor, could claim and save the others."
The CBS broadcast was on May 28, Adjamine said. "On June 3," she continued, "Roger Caras was interviewed on N.Y. One, a cable TV news station, and said the ASPCA had been to the site but found no cats. Meanwhile, Brooklyn shelter director Johanna Yohannan claimed she had no information that NYCA was rescuing the cats and she therefore could not be held responsible for the unnecessary deaths. These cats had already been spoken for, publicly."