By James Fanelli
amNewYork Staff Writer
The staggering cost of fuel could result in a death sentence for countless stray dogs and cats in the city.
The spiraling prices have crippled a program that saves locked-up strays from being euthanized after three-days in city animal shelters.
The program, run by the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, operates a van service that makes daily trips to pounds and transfers pooches and kitties to foster homes.
But with the average price of regular gas in the city at $3.11 a gallon — up 31 percent from last July — the group said it might be forced to scale back the program because of budget constraints. That means fewer animals will get a second leash on life.
“If we are spending two or three times as much gas on that initiative, we have to take away from other initiatives,” said Jane Hoffman, president of the Mayor’s Alliance, a nonprofit organization that partners with the city shelters to transport strays. “We are going to have to cut back on trips.”
This year the group, which is privately funded, budgeted $15,000 for fueling its van. Each month the service transfers about 160 or more animals to foster homes in the city, Long Island, Westchester and Connecticut. However, the unexpected gas price hikes have tripled costs to $45,000 for the year.
“I say it has increased by at least $40 (a tank) since I first started,” said Ruth Martinez, one of the three van drivers.
Martinez, who started transporting animals six months ago, said she pays $90 to $95 to fill up.
Each year, the city’s shelters take in 44,000 cats and dogs with the summer being the busiest season. During this time, the Manhattan pound alone takes in 3,000 to 4,000 cats, and 2,500 dogs a month. Strays, like the shelter’s recent arrival Wishbone — a 1-year-old, tan and white Basenji/Chihauhua that still has its puppy-dog eyes — are caged and then face a grim wait.
The shelters, which are run by city-contracted shelter manager Animal Care and Control, are required by law to keep animals for at least three days before putting them to sleep. Some get a longer reprieve based on space and whether their age and temperament make them more suitable for adoption. However, each year the shelters euthanize 52 percent of animals.
Elizabeth Keller, director of shelter operations at the Manhattan facility, said the Mayor’s Alliance program is vital to the system.
“If because of the gas prices our transfers and transport vans are not able to do as many trips as they have been, it would be detrimental and cost the animal’s life at some point, definitely,” she said.
Fuel costs already are affecting the city’s felines and fidos because funds have been siphoned from other programs, such as the Picasso Fund, which pays veterinary bills for injured animals in shelters, Hoffman said.
“If I’m spending all the money on gas, I don’t have the money to save the dog with the broken leg,” she said.