Prompted by verified reports of animal storage at the Humane Society of New York (HSNY), about 30 animal rights activists staged a protest at the Manhattan home of one of its board members , Alexandra Rowley. While singing, marching and playing bagpipes, activists called on Rowley to reopen the shelter to the public and resume adoptions in earnest or send the animals to other adoption centres. The protest came nine months after a whistleblower at the shelter informed animal advocates that adoptions had all but stalled and animals had been languishing in cages for months, if not years.
Local media outlet TapInto Sutton Place/Lenox Hill filmed the activists protesting at Rowley’s home and marching to the shelter, which is two blocks away. He also published a detailed article about the protest and the campaign to help animals.
At a pre-protest briefing, Bonnie Tischler, the 22-year-old former adoption director, spoke to activists about the plight of animals and the management culture that allows warehousing to take place. She noted that the shelter only lists 14 animals on its website, although it has dozens more in need of housing. She also explained that HSNY’s assertion that the shelter is closed to the public due to COVID is misleading, as reopening could subject the organization to another lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Before the pandemic, HSNY settled a lawsuit brought by a man who could not safely access the building in a wheelchair. Despite vast resources, HSNY neither renovated the building to make it ADA compliant nor filed a permit with the New York Department of Buildings to perform the work.
In December 2021 and January 2022, Tischler sent letters to HSNY board members, including famous socialite Cornelia Guest, pleading with them to reopen the building to the public or send the animals to other facilities that are actively adopting. In a phone call, board member James Gregorio assured Tischler that he would fix the problem. Instead, he resigned. In a phone call with board member Alexandra Rowley, Tischler said she would call off the campaign if Rowley provided proof that adoptions had taken place “since the beginning” in the past two years, such as said executive director Sandra DeFeo. Rowley promised to follow up on this information, but she did not and did not respond to Tischler’s emails.
After learning of the warehousing allegations in August 2021, TheirTurn conducted a two-month investigation and in October 2021 issued a detailed report report. The investigation, which corroborated the whistleblowers’ claims, found that HSNY was ignoring adoption requests; hardly ever promoted adoption on social media; and was closed to the public under false pretences.
In March, TheirTurn launched a letter-writing campaign calling on HSNY board members to reopen the building to the public or send the animals to other facilities. Two of the five board members targeted by the campaign, C. Jones Perry and James Gregorio, have resigned. Both men are lawyers.
In addition to having an animal adoption center, HSNY has a low-cost veterinary clinic, which is funded in part by the organization’s generous donors. Instead of waiting with and for their pets in the HSNY lobby, customers are forced to wait outside in all extreme weather. An HSNY neighbor told TheirTurn in March that she saw an employee refuse entry to an 80-year-old woman who had twice asked to use the bathroom while she waited outside in the cold to his dog.
In February, Tischler sat down for an on-camera interview with TheirTurn to talk about the warehousing that takes place at HSNY. She has since come out of retirement to take on a leadership role in the animal relief campaign.