“Animal Precinct,” the reality TV series, has long been more than just a gritty chronicle of the A.S.P.C.A. police unit that specializes in rescuing animals victimized by cruelty in New York City. A hit since its first season, the cable show on the Animal Planet channel has given millions of Americans new insight into animal abuse, raised money for the society and elevated the stature of officers who had previously occupied law enforcement's lower tier. But for all the good the show has done, some animal welfare activists and others who monitor cruelty conditions in New York say it depicts a level of enforcement that is at odds with the reality on the streets.
The activists say the A.S.P.C.A. is struggling to respond to a growing number of cruelty complaints, driven in part by the popularity of the show. Yet the budget for the society's police force of 18 officers remains small. Officials say they do not 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. Officials for the A.S.P.C.A., a nonprofit group that does not receive government funding, say the “animal cops” have never been more effective, that the unit's budget has been increased and that arrests are up significantly over prior years. The retired New York police captain who directs the unit calls it a model for the country.