“Animal Precinct”, a reality show on Animal Planet channel, sheds the spotlight on the ASPCA police unit that specializes in rescuing animals victimized by cruelty in New York City. The show has given Americans new insight into animal abuse, raised money for the society and elevated the stature of their officers.
While there are many positive effects from the show, some animal welfare activists say it shows a level of enforcement that does not accurately depict what really happens on the streets.
The activists say that the ASPCA is struggling to respond to a growing number of cruelty complaints, driven in part by the popularity of the show. Cruelty complaints have risen 70 percent since 2000. Yet the budget for the societyâ€™s police force of 18 officers remains small, about 6 percent of the ASPCAâ€™s $58 million spending plan.
Some critics complain that the Humane Law Enforcement division is shortchanged. They say that this program is the heart of the mission but only receives a small part of the budget. They question why ASPCA spends more on marketing than the Humane Law Enforcement division.
The Communications Department, which handles advertising campaigns, operates the Web site and creates member publications, received $6.3 million in 2005, nearly twice as much as Humane Law Enforcement, according to the societyâ€™s tax return for that year, the latest available. The ASPCA said its 2006 return was not ready yet.
Even though the ASPCA police force unit has grown in the past several years, officials do acknowledge that they still don’t have the resources to put more than two officers on the night shift, answer the cruelty hot line after 6 p.m. or call back every person who reports a case of abuse in a city with 5 million animals.
â€œIf they are going to profit from the TV show, they should hire more officers,â€ said Gary Perkinson, a former A.S.P.C.A. manager and one of several people who say officers never responded to reports of abuse they had phoned in.
Officials for the A.S.P.C.A., a nonprofit group that does not receive government funding, call the criticism unfair, asserting that the â€œanimal copsâ€ have never been more effective, that the unitâ€™s budget has been increased and that arrests are up significantly over prior years.