Associated Humane Societies-Newark Violates State Law and the New Jersey and Newark Health Departments Look the Other Way

Newark has long had severe problems with Associated Humane Societies-Newark. Over 50 years ago, the modern form of AHS-Newark began with a corrupt contract that a court threw out and resulted in AHS long-time Executive Director, Lee Bernstein, being sentenced to jail. In 2003, the New Jersey Commission of Investigation issued a scathing report on AHS that found the organization raising massive amounts of money and failing to properly care for their animals. Over the years, state health department inspectors uncovered horrific problems and former Mayor Cory Booker tried to build a new no kill shelter to replace AHS-Newark. I published blogs about how the shelter killed massive numbers of Newark animals and broke state law left and right.

The New Jersey Department of Health found horrific problems at AHS-Newark in 2017. You can read the August 22, 2017 inspection here, the September 26, 2017 inspection here and the October 20, 2017 inspection report here. Overall, the problems were so severe that authorities charged former Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, with animal cruelty. Ultimately, the prosecutor and Roseann Trezza entered into an agreement in May 2018 to supposedly bar Ms. Trezza from the Newark shelter for two years and make her pay a $3,500 fine in exchange for dismissing the charges.

After the October 20, 2017 New Jersey Department of Health inspection, the state health department stopped inspecting AHS-Newark. As I documented at that time, the City of Newark and its health department inadequately inspected the shelter for years and tried to sweep the problems under the rug. In fact, the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness reported few to no issues around the same times the state health department found massive problems in the past and in 2017.

The Department of Health and Community Wellness official overseeing the AHS-Newark inspection process uncovered the City of Newark’s intentions in 2017. Specifically, Michael Wlison, City of Newark Manager of Environmental Health, stated a “feasibility study” found it was cheaper for the City of Newark to contract with AHS-Newark than to build and operate their own shelter. Additionally, Michael Wilson mentioned unnamed “political issues” in what seemed as a justification to keep contracting with AHS-Newark.

Ultimately, the City of Newark did not pursue operating its own shelter. After Newark and AHS-Newark had a significant contract dispute in March 2018, AHS-Newark stopped providing any services during a second dispute in November 2018. Subsequently, AHS-Newark contracted with St. Hubert’s for around six months. St. Hubert’s terminated its arrangement with Newark citing “financial hardship” in April 2019 and the City of Newark contracted again with AHS-Newark at around a 50% higher monthly cost than its previous arrangement with the shelter.

Has AHS-Newark improved since this time? Is the New Jersey Department of Health and Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness ensuring AHS-Newark follows state law and treats animals properly?

Data Reviewed

To get a better understanding of the job the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness did at inspecting AHS-Newark, I submitted an Open Public Records Request for all AHS-Newark inspection reports conducted from January 1, 2019 until early September 2020. The City of Newark sent me a number of inspection reports, emails and AHS-Newark records. You can see all the records at this link.

Overall, the inspection reports were of poor quality. Specifically, the inspectors frequently reacted to complaints and did not proactively inspect the shelter for other problems. Additionally, the inspectors did not even take the time to type out their findings. Instead, they appeared to just quickly write down a few notes that were often difficult to read. Additionally, it was often impossible to determine which set of inspection report notes related to which specific inspection. Thus, the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness continued to do a poor job at inspecting AHS-Newark.

City of Newark’s Poor Quality Inspections Still Find Problems in 2019

Michael Wilson inspected AHS-Newark on April 15, 2019 and gave the shelter a Conditional A grade. As you can see, the inspection only took a mere one hour and 15 minutes and noted an isolation room violation. Unfortunately, I could not find any accompanying notes detailing the nature of the violations.

While I could not determine if the inspection notes below were from the April 15, 2019 inspection, they did lay out some serious issues. AHS-Newark again had food debris, which can lead to rodent infestations, a broken baseboard, an unsanitary isolation room in the shelter’s infamous basement, had a dirty area with dead animals and also failed to finish the required painting in the facility. Thus, even the inept Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness found serious problems.

Miraculously, Michael Wilson came back to the shelter eight days later and gave the shelter a “Satisfactory” grade with no comments in the inspection report provided to me.

Newark Health Department Finds Massive Problems in 2020

After receiving a complaint on January 6, 2020, Michael Wilson inspected the shelter three days later. The complaint alleged the shelter had a foul odor, unsanitary conditions and cats having upper respiratory infections. During the inspection, the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness found the shelter had a “strong animal odor”, all the main dog kennels required painting/stripping and pigeons inside the facility. Mr. Wilson ordered the shelter to separate dogs and cats to reduce stress (i.e. cats are a prey to dogs and cats understandably are scared in such an environment) and get more volunteers to provide mental stimulation to the animals.

In February 2020, the New Jersey Department of Health received multiple complaints about a serious disease in a dog that died at AHS-Newark and the shelter imposing a quarantine in part of the facility. Instead of inspecting AHS-Newark, the New Jersey Department of Health inspector, Linda Frese, told the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness to investigate and ensure there was no outbreak at the shelter and in the community.

Once again, Michael Wilson conducted a reactionary and low quality inspection on February 19, 2020. In the report, Mr. Wilson noted AHS-Newark had 284 dogs and 359 cats at the facility. This was a dramatic increase from the 117 dogs and 49 cats the shelter had in the April 15, 2019 inspection report. Therefore, the risk of a disease outbreak was much greater. Despite this, the inspector only noted a fire inspection violation. Mr. Wilson did not even provide an inspection grade nor write down when he completed the inspection to let us know how long this inspection was.

The inspection report comments raise serious question about the job Michael Wilson did. Mr. Wilson obtained an “Interim Report” from Cornell University that showed the deceased dog had a “Moderate Positive” result for Coronavirus PCR and “High Positive PCR, Beta” for Mycoplasma cynos. The report stated these were preliminary results and additional testing was in progress. While Michael Wilson’s inspection report comments stated he was waiting for final results, the City of Newark did not provide them to me. Thus, the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness did not appear to obtain the final report.

The inspection report comments also showed no proactive efforts in this inspection. Basically, Mr. Wilson reiterated the Cornell University preliminary report’s findings. Additionally, he wrote some quick notes about cleaning protocols, but they seemed more like what the shelter told him rather than him actually observing the staff. For example, the report states the shelter cleaned daily, but then cleaned more after receiving the preliminary report. However, Mr. Wilson could not obtain a cleaning log to verify that claim. Also, I also found it a bit unusual that the shelter stated it got a new supervising veterinarian on the very day this sick dog died in his cage. Thus, I did not get a warm fuzzy feeling after reading this shoddy inspection report.

Massive Problems Emerge Recently

The Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness inspected AHS-Newark after receiving a complaint about cats at the shelter on August 10, 2020. During this inspection, Michael Wilson, who apparently got a promotion to Chief REHS, assigned another person to inspect the shelter. Based on the inspector’s report and email to Michael Wilson, the inspector simply talked with Assistant Executive Director, Ken McKeel, and the shelter manager, reviewed “some med records” and hardly did anything else.

Despite this being an inadequate inspection, the report noted 60 under 8 week kittens died of Feline panleukopenia. According to the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, Feline panleukopenia is a devastating disease that “causes vomiting, diarrhea, and can cause sudden death in cats”, is transmitted through cat feces or poop and can last in a shelter for months or even years without proper disinfection. The virus is transmitted primarily by the fecal-oral route (including through exposure to objects/clothing/hands contaminated with virus from feces). FPV is very durable and can persist in the environment for months or even years unless inactivated by an effective disinfectant. However, the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program also states its very preventable through common sense measures:

Although panleukopenia can be a scary and potentially devastating disease in a shelter, reliable vaccination on intake, effective routine cleaning with a parvocidal disinfectant, and housing that minimizes fomite transmission will greatly reduce the risk of spread. With new tools for diagnosis and risk assessment, even outbreaks can generally be managed without resorting to depopulation.

Even though AHS-Newark was clearly not following these disease prevention and control guidelines, the wonderful Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness inspector simply stated management was doing things to minimize this disease. The inspector made some general comments about vaccination protocols, cleaning and isolating animals. Nothing in the report indicates they observed the shelter doing these things, obtained the specific detailed protocols from the supervising veterinarian and observed all the shelter’s cats for signs of disease. However, the report noted AHS-Newark had over 400 cats (up from 49 cats and 284 cats from other inspections) and 589 other animals in the building. Based on AHS-Newark’s 2019 Shelter/Pound Annual Report, the shelter’s cat capacity is 300 cats and 275 dogs and other animals. In other words, the shelter exceeded its cat capacity by over 33% and its dog and other animal capacity by almost 100%. Thus, AHS-Newark was at high risk of disease outbreaks.

The Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness inspection did little to reduce AHS-Newark’s issues as complaints poured into the New Jersey Department of Health. In a September 2, 2020 email from New Jersey Department of Health inspector, Linda Frese, Ms. Frese stated the shelter received “a few extensive complaints regarding the current conditions at the Associated Humane Societies in Newark.” Specifically, Ms. Frese mentioned cats dying from Feline panleukopenia, animals not being properly identified, the shelter cleaning with animals in their cages that resulted in chemical burns, animals not receiving proper medical care and the shelter possibly not having a required supervising veterinarian. Additionally, AHS-Newark was alleged to not have air conditioning in its ACO vans that potentially caused a dog to die last August.

At the end of the email, Linda Frese requested they have a conference call to discuss the complaints. What was Michael Wilson’s response just twenty minutes later? Three words: “Will investigate ASAP.”

Clearly, Linda Frese was alarmed at this response as she laid out a detailed email stating all the things the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness should look for. Additionally, Ms. Frese asked Michael Wilson to have his inspectors check “all the hidden rooms throughout the facility.” After reading this email, I got the impression Linda Frese did not trust Michael Wilson’s inspectors to do the job correctly.

In response, Michael Wilson sent one of his inspectors in and they once again did a reactive and poor quality inspection. First, the inspector did not even complete an inspection report. Instead, they just listed out the New Jersey Department of Health’s areas to investigate and wrote mostly one or two sentence responses. Once again, the inspector often relied on AHS-Newark’s assertions. For example, the inspector simply accepted management’s word that 1) animals are removed from cages during deep cleaning, 2) all the animal control vans have air conditioning despite multiple allegations that these vehicles don’t and one dog died and another dog became seriously ill in one of these vehicles and 3) that animals are euthanized humanely. Thus, this was another inadequate inspection.

Despite the poor quality inspection, the report still found numerous violations of state animal shelter laws. The shelter admitted more kittens died the night before which could indicate violations of N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.9 (c) that requires animals be observed daily for illness and receive prompt treatment. AHS-Newark also didn’t know the amount of water and disinfectant used in its solutions to clean cages. Obviously, the correct ratio of water to disinfectant in these solutions is critical to ensure proper disinfection and safety for the animals (i.e. avoid chemical burns, breathing in chemicals, etc.). Clearly, the shelter violated N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.8 (c) that states shelters must clean with “all soiled surfaces with a detergent solution followed by a safe and effective disinfectant.” The shelter also violated N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.6 and N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.8 by not taking animals out of their cages during cleaning and allowing the animals to be in the enclosures while they were still wet. Also, AHS-Newark did not have hand drying paper which also violates N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.8 (d) that states “Premises (buildings and grounds) shall be kept clean and in good repair in order to protect the animals from injury and disease, to facilitate the prescribed sanitary practices as set forth in these rules, and to prevent nuisances.” AHS-Newark also had numerous cats with no identification cards (i.e. how can the shelter know the medical history of animals and provide treatment if it can’t tell which cats are which). This violates N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13 which requires the shelter have accurate records of each animal.

The inspection report indicates AHS-Newark may have violated the humane euthanasia regulations in N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.11. AHS-Newark records did not show it weighing animals to ensure it gave sufficient sedatives and euthanasia drug doses. Similarly, the euthanasia records did not indicate the shelter used the required humane injection method (typically intravenous). Additionally, the shelter provided no documentation that individuals who were not veterinarians were properly certified to humanely euthanize animals. Finally, AHS-Newark provided no documentation that it confirmed euthanized animals lacked a heartbeat, pulse, respiration and eye movement to ensure the animals were in fact dead before they was disposed of or cremated. Thus, AHS-Newark’s records indicate it may have violated N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.11.

Subsequently, Michael Wilson stated AHS-Newark had several of these violations. In addition, Mr. Wilson said AHS-Newark broke the law by not reporting bites to the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness.

Miraculously, Michael Wilson’s inspectors visited AHS-Newark the next day and jotted down a few messy handwritten sentences stating the shelter fixed the violations. Furthermore, the inspectors gave AHS-Newark a “Satisfactory” grade despite the report indicating the inspectors did not do a full inspection. Does anyone in their right mind believe AHS-Newark should have a “Satisfactory” rating?

Subsequently, the New Jersey Department of Health’s Deputy State Public Health Veterinarian (i.e. Linde Frese’s boss) told Michael Wilson to investigate a case of a Shih-tzu dog alleged to have its coat matted with maggots and to not have received medical care for days. In fact, the complaint alleged the infection was bad enough that it could require a veterinarian to amputate the leg. This dog allegedly arrived at AHS-Newark on the very day the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness last inspected AHS-Newark and gave it a “Satisfactory” grade. Interestingly, Michael Wilson forwarded this email to two of his inspectors stating he wanted them to jointly inspect AHS-Newark. In my opinion, this seems like he lacked confidence in his inspectors to individually do the job right.

The Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness inspected AHS-Newark the very next day and found everything hunky dory. Specifically, the inspectors saw the dog and the animal had his/her wound treated with pain medicine and an antibiotic. The shelter’s records indicated the dog came in on September 11, 2010, which was a day after the September 10, 2020 date the person making the complaint stated. While the inspector did review the shelter’s intake records for September 10, 2020, I don’t think the inspector can rely on such records given AHS-Newark’s repeated inability to keep accurate records. In other words, if the dog really came in on September 10, 2020 (i.e. if AHS-Newark did not enter the animal into its records until September 11, 2020) and did not receive treatment until the next day, AHS-Newark would have violated N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.9(d) 1 that requires prompt veterinary care to relieve pain and suffering. Thus, the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness once again relied on AHS-Newark’s assertions instead of thoroughly inspecting the shelter.

New Jersey Department of Health Fails to Do its Job

Twenty one years ago the New Jersey Commission of Investigation’s first report on the state and county SPCAs analyzed the animal shelter inspection system. You can read this report starting on page 126 of this link. In summary, the report found local health departments did not properly inspect animal shelters.

The rules and regulations governing the operation and conditions of shelters are contained in a document entitled Sanitary Operation of Kennels, Pet Shops, Shelters and Pounds, which was promulgated by the state DOH. Generally, it is acknowledged that the rules and regulations are adequate, but that they are not enforced vigorously. It is evident that the thoroughness of the inspection, the findings of deficiencies and the ultimate rating of the facility are dependent upon the discretion, thoroughness and skill of the inspector. As candidly admitted by one local inspector who had not conducted thorough and probing inspections, he simply had lacked the training and experience to perform anything more than a perfunctory visit. Based upon an examination of the inspection system, inspections and the effectiveness of the system vary greatly.

The New Jersey Commission of Investigation clearly described how the state health department did much better inspections than local health departments.

There were also differences in the types of inspections that were conducted by state officials versus state inspectors and by state versus local personnel. With rare exception, the inspections conducted by state DOH officials were more thorough and more likely to cite violations than those conducted by state DOH inspectors. Examples appear below in the inspections of the Cape May County and Hudson County SPCA shelters. Where SPCA shelters were problematic, the inspections conducted by the state DOH were more thorough and consistent than those conducted by the local authorities. As evidenced by the inspection findings for the Cape May County and Hudson County SPCA shelters, more thorough inspections were performed and significant violations cited when state officials visited the shelters.

Furthermore, the New Jersey Commission of Investigation explained how local health departments (e.g. the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness) often did not want to identify problems due to the difficulty in finding an alternative shelter. In fact, they cited Jersey City’s Hudson County SPCA. Subsequent to the New Jersey Commission of Investigation’s report, Jersey City did find a facility for the newly formed Liberty Humane Society to operate and handle the city’s homeless animals.

The Commission was told that the dilemma perceived by local inspecting authorities in dealing with any shelter that is constantly in violation is that there is no realistic alternative facility if the shelter is shut down. Clearly, this was the situation with the licensing of the Hudson County SPCA shelter, despite the persistent and serious problems found there.

In the early 1990s, the state health department had more staff and was more focused on animal shelter inspections. As the New Jersey Commission of Investigation report explains, the state health department inspected every animal shelter once every two years. Based on the number of animal shelters in New Jersey today, that would amount to around 45 to 50 inspections each year. Additionally, the New Jersey Department of Health would spend time going over the issues with the local health departments.

The role of the state DOH in conducting shelter inspections has changed dramatically over the past decade. At the beginning of the 1990s, the department’s Infectious and Zoonotic Diseases Program had more staff and its focus was considerably more narrow than it is today. There were four field veterinary technicians who inspected shelters once every two years, in addition to a coordinator who occasionally conducted inspections. Typically, joint inspections with the local health official were conducted, and the DOH inspector spent time reviewing procedures and pertinent issues with the local authority.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, the New Jersey Department of Health conducted far fewer inspections. As a result of budget cuts, the department had fewer staff and were responsible for more things. The state health department stopped inspecting shelters proactively and only responded to certain complaints. In fact, just as the New Jersey Department of Health is currently doing with AHS-Newark and other shelters, it often just referred the problems to incompetent local health departments. Nonetheless, the state health department’s animal shelter inspection function, which had three people, conducted six shelter inspections in 1999. As a comparison, the New Jersey Department of Health’s animal shelter inspection team has two members currently, and hasn’t inspected a single shelter in almost two years. In fact, the New Jersey Department of Health has not inspected any shelter other than Hamilton Township Animal Shelter since October 21, 2017 (i.e. about three years). Thus, the New Jersey Department of Health is doing an even worse job now than it did twenty one years ago when the New Jersey Commission of Investigation wrote its scathing criticism of the agency.

Commencing in about 1994, as department budgets were cut throughout state government and positions were eliminated through attrition, the program’s staff was reduced drastically. Currently, the program is not only responsible for many more areas of the public health, but its staff consists merely of the State Public Health Veterinarian, the Senior Public Health Veterinarian and one field veterinary technician. The routine, biannual inspection has been replaced by a reactive inspection, which occurs only when substantive complaints are received. The DOH, which is besieged by numerous complaints daily, dismisses many complaints because it lacks jurisdiction over the matter alleged and routinely refers complainants to the local health office even when it has jurisdiction. In 1999, the DOH conducted approximately six shelter inspections and only three as of August 2000.

The New Jersey Commission of Investigation report also criticized the state health department for failing to fine shelters for violations. While the individual fines of $5-$50 per violation are small, they can add up if the infractions involve many animals and exist for many days. At a minimum, fines can send the message the shelter must improve. As in the past, the New Jersey Department of Health failed to fine AHS-Newark for its repeated violations or even pressure the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness to close AHS-Newark down. Given the New Jersey Department of Health did fine the East Orange Animal Shelter $4,000 in 2015 (the shelter has significantly improved since then) and asked and got the Linden Health Department to close Linden Animal Control in 2014, the state health department can take positive action. However, the New Jersey Department of Health has simply chose to do nothing in recent years.

However, the DOH does possess the statutory authority to institute enforcement proceedings to assess fines against a shelter. According to DOH officials, this remedy is reserved for only the most egregious cases. The department’s clear preference has been to bring a facility into compliance through recommendations, technical assistance and frequent reinspections. Its reluctance to institute enforcement proceedings is reflected in the facts that it has imposed sanctions only twice in the past 15 years or more and that both cases were instituted in 2000, the first at the insistence of the Attorney General’s Office and the second on DOH’s initiative.

The New Jersey Commission of Investigation severely criticized the state and local health departments coddling approach to regressive shelters twenty one years ago. Specifically, the New Jersey Commission of Investigation stated the health departments, who were doing far more then than now, must issue large fines to regressive shelters and close those facilities if they choose to not fix their problems. Most notably, the New Jersey Commission of Investigation clearly said municipalities must take over these shelters or find other ones to use.

The approach of the state Department of Health to counsel and advise a shelter’s management on how to remedy the violations and improve the conditions is admirable. However, such an approach is effective only when the management is amenable to making the improvements. When it becomes clear that such an approach is unsuccessful, then the department must be aggressive in pursuing legal proceedings. The language threatening enforcement proceedings, which typically appears in letters from the department to a shelter’s management, must be more than mere words. The failure to follow through leads to a loss of credibility for the department and reinforces the cavalier attitude of the shelter’s management. The inspecting and licensing authorities on the local level must conduct themselves in similar fashion. In the event of mounting fines and continued lack of responsiveness by shelter management, the municipality must be prepared to assume control of the shelter or entrust its operation to a suitable alternative.

The New Jersey Commission of Investigation repeated its conclusions about the inspection system in a scathing report on AHS-Newark in 2003. You can read that report here. The report made the following conclusion:

The history of AHS’s shelter operation has been dominated by deplorable kennel conditions, inhumane treatment of animals by workers, mismanagement and nonexistent or inadequate medical care. The problems were neither singular nor occasional. The accounts and descriptions provided by members of the public and former and current staff members, including veterinarians, paint a bleak picture of shelter life. The reality for the animals belied AHS’s propaganda that its “sole purpose” has been “the care and welfare of animals” and that it has “a high adoption rate.”

As a result of the New Jersey Commission of Investigation’s reports on the SPCAs and AHS, the state formed the Office of Animal Welfare and a large group of stakeholders, which was formed by an Executive Order from Governor McGreevey, issued the Animal Welfare Task Force Report in 2004. The report recommended local health authorities conduct at least two annual inspections (not counting those relating to complaints) of shelters. Additionally, the Animal Welfare Task Force report said the state health department should inspect every animal shelter at least once a year.

Local health departments should inspect each animal facility a minimum of two times per year (inspections conducted in response to complaints should not count for this purpose). DHSS should supplement local oversight by inspecting each facility at least once each year

As a result of the report’s recommendations, the Office of Animal Welfare had a staff of five people to inspect animal shelters that was in addition to the New Jersey Department of Health’s inspection staff. After a couple of years, the Office of Animal Welfare only had two staff left and they were merged into the New Jersey Department of Health’s inspection team. Based on conversations with a knowledgeable person, the two remaining Office of Animal Welfare staff conducted significantly more inspections of shelters, pet stores, etc. each year than the state health department does today. Sadly, the New Jersey Department of Health did not replace these inspectors when they left a number of years later.

Despite the New Jersey Department of Health having less personnel, I found the state health department was somewhat responsive to complaints when I began NJ Animal Observer in 2014. The New Jersey Department of Health’s inspections over this time and the results are listed below.

Even with the limited actions the state health department took, the inspections often had some positive impact on shelters (i.e. closing regressive facilities down and/or getting rid of bad management). With the strong animal advocacy community in New Jersey and the power of social media, these terrible inspection reports became known to many people. In addition, print and/or television media also often ran stories on these inspections. Thus, even with the New Jersey Department of Health doing little more than inspecting animal shelters, the impact often was significant.

As the timeline of state health department inspections shows, the New Jersey Department of Health started inspecting far fewer shelters after the 2017 AHS-Newark inspections and stopped inspecting altogether after its January 2019 Hamilton Township Animal Shelter inspection. In the last two years, numerous people have asked the New Jersey Department of Health to inspect shelters after making serious allegations. Also, staffing cannot explain the state health department’s refusal to inspect as it has the same number of inspectors over the entire time period above (i.e. 2014 to 2020). Thus, there is no substantive reason why the New Jersey Department of Health stopped inspecting animal shelters.

Clearly, the New Jersey Department of Health’s refusal to inspect animal shelters has had dire results for the animals at AHS-Newark and other regressive shelters. As the information above shows, AHS-Newark’s problems not only remain, they may be getting worse. The inspection reports indicate animals piling up in the shelter and rampant disease outbreaks. As of the time I’m writing this blog, AHS-Newark stopped adopting out dogs and sending dogs to rescues due to canine parvovirus at the shelter. In fact, the public’s frustration has grown to the point where shelter reform bill S636 includes a provision requiring the state health department to inspect every animal shelter three times a year. Given the ongoing problems at one of the state’s largest animal shelters, Governor Murphy and New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Persichilli must provide an explanation as to why the state health department has not performed its job, make the New Jersey Department of Health inspect animal shelters, particularly those with repeated major problems, and take the actions the New Jersey Commission of Investigation and Animal Welfare Task Force demanded they do in 1999, 2003 and 2004.

New Jersey’s Highest Kill Shelters in 2019

Recently, I wrote a blog discussing decreased killing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2019. This blog will explore the 2019 statistics in more detail and assess the current status of the state’s animal shelters.

Most New Jersey animal shelters voluntarily report detailed data to state authorities. Earlier this year, I shared the 2019 summary statistics for New Jersey animal shelters on my Facebook page. Each year, the New Jersey Department of Health requests each licensed animal shelter in the state to submit animal shelter data for the previous year. Animal shelters voluntarily submit this data in the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report.” The New Jersey Department of Health takes these Shelter/Pound Annual Reports and compiles the number of dogs, cats and other animals impounded, redeemed, adopted and euthanized to prepare its Animal Intake and Disposition report. However, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include additional information on how animals were impounded (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, rescued from in-state facilities, rescued from out of state shelters, and cruelty/bite cases/other) and disposed of (i.e. returned to owner, adopted, sent to rescue/another shelter, and died/missing/other outcome). Additionally, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include the number of animals in shelters at the beginning and end of the year as well as the maximum number of animals facilities can hold. Thus, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include very important data not found in the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report.

I compiled the data from these reports and analyze the results in this blog. 2019 statistics for each New Jersey animal shelter are listed at this link. You can also view each “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” at this link.

Garbage Data Raises Serious Questions About New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Statistics

Most New Jersey animal shelters do not properly account for their animals. Simple math dictates the number of animals at a facility at the beginning of the year, plus all animals coming in during the year, less all animals leaving for the period, should equal the number of animals a shelter has at the end of the year. Stunningly, 47 out of 91 shelters reporting these dog statistics and 50 out of 89 facilities submitting this cat data failed to get this right. This raises serious questions about the accuracy of these shelters’ reported statistics. 31 of the 47 shelters with flawed dog statistics and 32 of the 50 facilities with incorrect cat statistics should have had more animals at the end of the year than reported. While these errors could have been due to incorrect counts of the number of animals at facilities, these shelters may have not recorded outcomes, such as animals who were killed, died, or went missing. To put it another way, 1,934 cats and dogs should have had outcomes reported and did not. Thus, there is the potential that as many as 1,934 additional dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing from New Jersey animal shelters than were reported in 2019.

Even worse, a number of animal shelters reported having a different number of animals at the end of 2018 and at the beginning of 2019. Obviously, shelters should report the same number of animals at the end of the prior year and the start of the current year. However, 32 of 88 shelters reported different numbers of dogs at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. Similarly, 37 of 87 shelters reported different numbers of cats at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. The worst offenders are listed in the tables below:

Shelters may have failed to classify animals adopted out and sent to rescues properly. Both Paterson Animal Control and Elizabeth Animal Shelter reported no animals were sent to rescues and all dogs and cats leaving their facilities alive were owner reclaims or adoptions. However, intake and disposition records I reviewed at both of these shelters in recent years revealed almost all “adopted” animals are actually rescued. One has to wonder how many other facilities failed to properly classify adoptions and rescues properly. This data is very important as it provides details on the burden rescues and other shelters are taking on from these facilities.

We need better oversight of New Jersey animal shelters’ data reporting. Currently, these statistics are voluntarily reported and most shelters are not taking this seriously. For example, I noticed a large number of reports were submitted many months after the end of the year. This data should be easy to compile since facilities can utilize animal shelter software programs, some of which are free, to do this task. Furthermore, New Jersey animal shelter laws mandate facilities maintain much of the raw data found in the Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Unfortunately, New Jersey Department of Health inspections routinely find shelters do not properly keep records on animals. We need to make the data reporting mandatory for animal shelters as the shelter reform bill, S636, does along with serious penalties for significant errors (especially if deliberate). In order for animal shelters to take data reporting seriously, we may also need to require audits of these reports. Thus, these results show we need stronger laws and the New Jersey Department of Health to play a greater role in ensuring reported animal shelter statistics are in fact accurate.

Despite the errors in these reports, the data provided still reveals important information.

More Animals Losing Their Lives in New Jersey Animal Shelters Than Disclosed in Summary Report

The more detailed data in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports allows one to more critically examine the percentage of locally impounded animals dying in New Jersey’s animal shelters. The following table summarizes my analysis of the kill rate calculated from the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report and the data reported in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports.

The statistics include an estimate to remove animals St. Hubert’s transfers in and quickly transfers out through its Sister Shelter WayStation program. Since St. Hubert’s is effectively acting as a middle man and not holding these animals very long, it makes sense to exclude these dogs and cats from the various kill rate statistics. If I did not exclude these animals, I would understate the dog and cat kill rates due to inflated intakes and outcomes numbers. Therefore, I removed all of St. Hubert’s dogs transferred out from the intake and outcomes figures in the metrics. Since St. Hubert’s primarily uses the Sister Shelter Waystation program to quickly transfer in cats and send them to out of state facilities, I only backed out the cats St. Hubert’s transferred to out of state organizations in the various kill rates. This adjustment increased the dog kill rate (intake) from 5.1 to 5.7% and the cat kill rate (intake) from 15.2% to 15.4%.

The Animal Intake and Disposition report prepared by the New Jersey Department of Health only allows one to calculate the number of animals killed as a percentage of total animals impounded or intake. I prefer calculating the kill rate as a percentage of outcomes rather than intake as this metric directly compares positive and negative outcomes. Using intake may depress the kill rate since shelters can simply hold animals for a long time to the point of overcrowding. Calculating the kill rate based on outcomes rather than intake caused the dog kill rate to decrease from 5.7% to 5.6% and the cat kill rate to increase from 15.4% to 15.6%.

To calculate the statewide kill rate, we must also back out transfers from one New Jersey animal shelter to another state facility to avoid counting animals still in the state’s shelter system or registering two outcomes for the same animal (i.e. one New Jersey animal shelter transfers a dog or cat to another state facility which then adopts out the animal). This adjustment increases the dog kill rate from 5.6% to 6.0% and the cat kill rate from 15.6% to 16.6%.

In addition, we should increase the kill rate for animals who died or went missing in shelters. In the past, I’ve labeled this metric the death rate as these animals are likely dead or in a very bad situation. Unfortunately, the Shelter/Pound Annual Report includes animals who died or went missing in the “Other” outcome category. The “Other” category contains positive live releases, such as TNR for cats, at a few shelters. While including the “Other” category in the death rate for most shelters is appropriate (i.e. those facilities that don’t do TNR or don’t include cats released through TNR programs in “Other” outcomes), I’m no longer doing this due to an increasing number of shelters implementing TNR. Instead, I calculated the kill rate by subtracting out “Other” outcomes from total outcomes. If a shelter specifies the number of animals included in “Other” that left the shelter alive, I count this as “Other Live Release” and do not back these amounts out of total outcomes. After making this adjustment, the dog kill rate increased from 6.0% to 6.1% and the cat kill rate stayed at 16.6%. For those interested in seeing the estimated death rates, you can find them in the supporting spreadsheet.

Also, many shelters transport easy to adopt animals from out of state which artificially increases live release rates. To properly calculate the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives, we need to adjust for transports. Unfortunately, shelters don’t break out their kill rates by local and out of state animals. However, most likely nearly all of the out of state animals (primarily puppies and easy to adopt dogs and cats) make it out of shelters alive. Therefore, I back out the number of out of state transports from total outcomes to estimate the local kill rate. This adjustment increases the New Jersey dog kill rate from 6.1% to 7.7% and the state’s cat kill rate from 16.6 to 17.8%.

Also, I estimate a maximum local kill rate by including the number of unaccounted for animals described in the section above. Making this adjustment increases the maximum potential New Jersey dog kill rate from 7.7% to 10.2% and the maximum potential state cat kill rate from 17.8% to 20.7%.

Some animal shelters quickly return large percentages of their animals to owners. At these shelters, the populations served are typically well-off and animals are licensed and have microchips. To account for the animals facilities actually have to shelter, I calculated a kill rate for non-reclaimed animals and a maximum potential kill rate for non-reclaimed local animals. The non-reclaimed kill rate and maximum potential kill rate for dogs is 9.0% and 17.8%. Non-reclaimed cats had a 18.8% kill rate and a 22.1% maximum potential kill rate. Thus, the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives in our state’s animal shelters may be much higher than the state summary report suggests.

Kill Rates Extremely High at a Number of New Jersey Animal Shelters

Dogs and cats are likely to lose their lives at a number of New Jersey animal shelters. Shelters with the highest kill rates for dogs and cats (excluding very low intake facilities) are listed in the following tables:

Thus, both dogs and cats have a very good chance of leaving many New Jersey animal shelters dead rather than alive.

In terms of raw numbers, the following shelters killed the most animals:

Many shelters fail to account for large numbers of their animals. As discussed above, a shelter’s number of animals at the end of the year should be calculated as follows:

Beginning number of animals + animals impounded – animals leaving the shelter

Unfortunately, a large number of shelters take in far more animals than they can explain where they went. Shelters having the highest numbers of unaccounted for dogs and cats are listed in the following tables:

Dog and cat kill rates at many shelters may be even higher if these unaccounted for animals are counted as killed. If we only consider animal shelters which reported transporting few or no animals in 2019, facilities with the highest dog and cat kill rates considering the unaccounted for animals described above are as follows:

Thus, the plight of dogs and cats may be far worse in New Jersey animal shelters when we consider the unaccounted for animals.

Shelters Turn Their Backs on New Jersey’s Animals

New Jersey animal shelters rescue far more dogs from out of state than from other New Jersey animal shelters. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters transferred in 8,197 dogs from out of state animal shelters and only rescued 2,308 dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. However, St. Hubert’s frequently transfers a substantial number of its transports quickly to its partners in New Jersey and other states. If I back out St. Hubert’s transfers of dogs to out of state organizations, the number of transports decreases from 8,197 dogs to 5,269 dogs. While the state’s local kill rate decreased in 2019, it is likely the local kill rate would have decreased by more if not for the massive number of out of state transports.

While perhaps some shelters take animals from nearby New York or Pennsylvania animal control shelters, the overwhelming majority of these dogs most certainly came from down south. In fact, New Jersey animal shelters transported more dogs from out of state than dogs who were killed in New Jersey animal shelters. This number does not include additional out of state dogs transported into New Jersey by rescues operating without a physical facility. Shelters transporting the most dogs from out of state were as follows:

Shelters Do Far Worse with Animals Requiring New Homes

Since dogs reclaimed by their owners typically have licenses and/or microchips and quickly leave the shelter, its informative to look at dogs shelters have to find new homes for. To get a better idea of how organizations are doing with animals they actually have to shelter, I also examined what percentage of non-reclaimed dogs lose their lives at each facility. Shelters with the highest non-reclaimed dogs kill rates are as follows (excluding shelters taking few unclaimed dogs in):

Shelters with the highest maximum non-reclaimed dogs kill rates are as follows (excluding facilities that reported transporting many dogs in and taking very few unclaimed animals in):

Shelters Leave Animal Enclosures Empty While Dogs and Cats Die

New Jersey animal shelters fail to use their space to save animals. Based on the average number of animals at all of New Jersey’s animal shelters at the beginning and the end of 2019, only 57% of dog and 75% of cat capacity was used. Given December is a low intake month, I also increased these populations to an average intake month. This adjustment only raised the dog capacity utilization to 62%. While this adjustment did increase the cat capacity utilization to over 100%, it is highly unlikely this happened in reality. Shelter inspection reports I’ve reviewed often did not reveal significantly larger dog and cat populations in the summer and winter months. This is likely due to the influx of highly adoptable kittens having short lengths of stay and shelters killing cats with empty cages.

Many animal shelters with low kill rates failed to rescue animals with their excess space. Additionally, other shelters used little of their available space and still killed a large percentage of their animals. Some examples after increasing the population (and therefore capacity utilization) based on the adjustment discussed above are as follows:

Thus, many New Jersey animal shelters are killing dogs and cats despite having ample space to house these animals.

New Jersey’s animal shelters continue to fail the state’s animals. The state’s animal shelters only impound 8.9 dogs and cats per 1,000 New Jersey residents. If we just count animals originating from New Jersey, the state’s animal shelters only impound 7.2 dogs and cats per 1,000 people. As a comparison, Florida’s Lake County Animal Shelter took in 15.1 dogs and cats in 2019 and saved 99% of its dogs, 98% of its pit bull like dogs and 91% of its cats due to it fully implementing the No Kill Equation. Despite New Jersey shelters impounding a fraction of the animals many no kill communities take in on a per capita basis, the state’s animal control facilities continue to kill and allow animals to die under their care. Even worse, many of these shelters can’t even properly keep track of how many animals leave their facilities dead or alive. Our state’s animals deserve far better treatment than this. Contact your local city council members and mayor and demand better from the animal shelter serving your community. We can do so much better and it is time our shelters operate this way.

New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Slightly Improve in 2019

In 2018, New Jersey animal shelter statistics significantly improved. This decrease in killing was driven by decreased dog intake and increased numbers of cats returned to owners, adopted out, sent to rescues and released through TNR programs.

How did New Jersey animal shelters perform in 2019 compared to 2018? What caused these changes? What shelters had positive and negative impacts on the state’s kill rates in 2019?

Killing Decreased Modestly in 2019

The tables below summarize the statewide dog and cat statistics in 2019 and 2018. To see how I calculate the various metrics, please review the footnotes in this link and my blog analyzing the 2015 statistics. You can view the full 2019 statistics here and the statistics 2018 here.

The statistics reflect adjustments to remove dogs and cats quickly transported in and out of St. Hubert’s through its transport program. In the organization’s Sister Shelter WayStation program, the shelter effectively acts as a middle man between source and destination shelters. Therefore, it makes sense to exclude these dogs and cats from the various kill rate statistics below. If I did not exclude these animals, I would understate the dog and cat kill rates due to inflated numbers of intakes and outcomes. As a result, I removed all of St. Hubert’s dogs transferred out from the intake and outcome figures in the data below. Since St. Hubert’s primarily uses the Sister Shelter Waystation program to quickly transfer in cats and send them to out of state facilities, I only backed out the cats St. Hubert’s transferred to out of state organizations in the data below.

The dog statistics improved in 2019 with some metrics improving at a slower and faster rate. The dog kill rates decreased, but at about one third to two thirds the rate those kill rates decreased in 2018 verses 2017. On the other hand, the local kill rate metrics, which exclude out of state transported dogs, decreased by around 15% to 100% more in 2019 verses 2018 compared to 2018 verses 2017.

The cat statistics improved in 2019, but at a much slower rate than the prior year. Overall, the kill rate metrics decreased in 2019 verses 2018 around 15%-60% as much as the decreases in 2018 verses 2017.

While we’d like the kill rate decreases in 2019 verses 2018 to equal or exceed the decreases in 2018 verses 2017, I would note as shelters kill fewer animals, the remaining animals become more challenging to save. That being said, this data may suggest shelters need to invest more efforts in programs to get animals out of their facilities alive.

Decreased Intake Results in Fewer Killed Dogs

The statewide dog kill rate decreased due to New Jersey animal shelters taking fewer dogs in. New Jersey animal shelters reported killing 320 fewer dogs (208 dogs if we assume the animals in “Other” outcomes died). However, New Jersey shelters’ live outcomes, with the exception of owner reclaims, decreased significantly. Given New Jersey animal shelters fell far short of my dog adoption targets I set for 2018, these results are deeply disappointing. Therefore, New Jersey animal shelters killed fewer dogs due to these facilities taking fewer dogs in rather than saving more dogs.

The following shelters contributed most to the decrease in the statewide dog kill rate.

The table below provides insight as to why these shelters decreased the statewide dog kill rate the most. As you can see, the shelters, which are relatively large, had kill rates much greater than the state average in 2018 and those kill rates decreased significantly in 2019. All the shelters had fewer outcomes primarily due to decreased dog intake, but the decrease was not much different than the statewide decrease in intake.

The following table explains why most of these shelters’ kill rates decreased. All the shelters increased owner reclaims. While all the shelters, except for Trenton Animal Shelter, increased adoptions, these increases were more than offset by decrease in transfers to other shelters and rescues. Trenton Animal Shelter transferred more dogs, but its decrease in adoptions more than offset this. Overall, live outcomes went down in 2019 at these shelters, but the decrease was small enough relative to the decrease in total outcomes to reduce the statewide dog kill rate.

Other Shelters Increased the Statewide Dog Kill Rate

While the statewide dog kill rate dropped in 2019, several shelters partially offset this decrease. Specifically, the following shelters increased the dog kill rate, but this was more than offset by the facilities above.

The following table provides more details on these shelters.  All three shelters’ kill rates increased in 2019 from levels that were under 10% in 2018

The table below explains why several of these shelters’ dog kill rates increased. Burlington County Animal Shelter transferred significantly fewer dogs to other shelters and rescues. Atlantic County Animal Shelter reported significantly fewer adoptions. While Liberty Humane Society’s live outcomes remained unchanged, total outcomes increased and live outcomes therefore made up a smaller percentage. Thus, these shelters inability to generate enough live outcomes led to increased kill rates.

Cat Killing Drops Due to Lower Intake

New Jersey animal shelters killed fewer cats in 2019 than in 2018. Overall, New Jersey animal shelters killed 696 less cats. If we count cats that died or went missing, the decrease in the number of cats who lost their lives in 2019 would probably not be as great. While the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports shelters fill out do not include a separate category for animals who died or went missing, shelters include these animals in the “Other” outcomes line. If we take out the cats from “Other” outcomes that certain shelters separately disclosed as TNR, “Other” outcomes (which should mostly represent cats who died or went missing) increased by 346 cats. Thus, shelters killed fewer cats in 2019, but more cats may have died or went missing.

The decrease in killing was driven by decreased cat intake. With the exception of owner reclaims, which increased modestly, live outcomes decreased. However, this decrease was outpaced by the large decrease in total outcomes that reduced the cat kill rate.

The following shelters decreased the statewide cat kill rate the most.

The following table provides insight as to why these shelters decreased the statewide cat kill rate the most. As you can see, all the shelters had high kill rates, which were 21% to 50%, in 2018, and all reported decreases in those kill rates during 2019. All the shelters had fewer outcomes, which was greater on a percentage basis than the decrease statewide, primarily due to decreased cat intake. Therefore, these higher kill shelters made up a smaller portion of cat outcomes in the state and that partially decreased the statewide cat kill rate in 2019.

The table below explains why these shelters’ kill rates decreased. Overall, all the shelters either modestly increased their live outcomes (i.e. Gloucester County Animal Shelter and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility) or reported fewer live outcomes. AHS-Newark did adopt more cats out, but this were more than offset by reduced transfers. As a result, these shelters decreased their kill rate by reducing cat intake rather than generating more live outcomes.

We must also be highly skeptical of AHS-Newark’s data. As the shelter’s data shows, AHS-Newark had 229 unaccounted for cats in 2019 and its kill rate decrease was less than half as great when we look at the metric taking these unaccounted for cats into account. Given serious allegations of mismanagement have been raised again recently, we should scrutinize the shelter’s data.

Other Shelters Increased the Statewide Cat Kill Rate

While the statewide cat kill rate decreased in 2019, several shelters partially offset this decrease. Specifically, the following facilities increased the cat kill rate, but this was more than offset by the shelters above.

The following table provides more details on these shelters. All the shelters had higher cat kill rates in 2019 compared to 2018. In addition, Burlington County Animal Shelter’s and Vorhees Animal Orphanage’s kill rate rates increased by 6% and 5% and were over 20% in 2019.

The table below explains why these shelters’ kill rates increased. Burlington County Animal Shelter adopted out and transferred significantly fewer cats in 2019. While Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center and Vorhees Animal Orphanage generated more live outcomes in 2019, this did not keep up with the significant increase in animal outcomes/intake.

Shelters Impound Less Dogs and More Cats 

The tables below detail the change in dog and cat intake at New Jersey shelters in 2019 verses 2018. I removed all St. Hubert’s transfers out from the out of state dog rescue figures and St. Hubert’s out of state transfers out from its in state cat rescue figures based on the reasoning discussed above.

Overall, New Jersey animal shelters took in 2,583 less dogs during 2019 than in 2018. New Jersey animal shelters took in over 850 fewer stray dogs during 2019 than in 2018. The state’s shelters took 3% fewer dogs in as owner surrenders and 6% fewer stray dogs. While managed intake programs can decrease owner surrenders, they do not affect stray numbers. Therefore, the decrease in stray dog intake may be related to decreased animal control efforts, animal control officers returning dogs to owners in the field (not counted as shelter intake) or simply fewer stray dogs. If ACOs really are not impounding dogs that need help or ones that are a public safety threat, that does not help people or animals. As a result, we should monitor this number in the future and determine why stray dog intake is decreasing.

New Jersey animal shelters rescued far fewer dogs after making the St. Hubert’s adjustment described above. While rescues from New Jersey shelters decreased, the decrease was less than the overall dog intake decrease. On the other hand, out of state transports into New Jersey shelters decreased by 18%.

While New Jersey animal shelters took in 16% fewer dogs due to cruelty cases, bite cases and other reasons in 2019, shelters still took in more dogs for these reasons than in any of the five prior years. On August 1, 2018, county prosecutors along with local police took control over animal cruelty law enforcement. While we can’t definitively state this caused the increase in this other category of dog intake, it seems like this may be the case. Typically, other sources of intake in this category, such as bite cases and puppies born in shelters, are not large and do not vary much. Thus, animal advocates should monitor this figure to see how the new animal cruelty law enforcement system is working.

New Jersey animal shelters impounded slightly fewer cats in 2019 than in 2018. With the exception of a slight increase in strays, all other types of cat intake significantly decreased. In particular, cats rescued from both New Jersey and out of state shelters significantly decreased. As with dogs, the other types of cat intake in 2019 decreased from the 2018 level, but was in the upper part of the range of the amounts from 2013 through 2017 after removing Bergen County Animal Shelter’s other intake figure (this shelter appeared to classify many cats brought in for TNR in this category in several years). As a result, the new animal cruelty law enforcement system may also be having a positive effect.

Advocacy Works

Clearly, growing animal advocacy efforts are pressuring shelters to improve. Individuals contacting their elected representatives puts pressure on shelters to do better. Similarly, donors communicating their concerns to privately run facilities also makes it difficult for these organizations to not make positive changes. Most importantly, this pressure provides strong incentives to these shelters to work with boots on the ground animal advocates, such as TNR groups, rescues and shelter volunteers. Thus, the synergistic efforts of no kill advocates and people working directly with animals helped drive the state’s improved animal sheltering statistics.

That being said, the reduced positive outcomes for dogs and cats is a troubling sign. Shelters can’t permanently rely on fewer animals coming in to reduce killing. Instead, they must enact the 11 No Kill Equation programs to generate more live outcomes. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters must invest in behavioral programs to treat dogs who need help and do a much better job adopting out dogs. Additionally, these shelters must enact better medical protocols for cats and implement large scale TNR and Return to Field programs. Otherwise, shelters will reach a plateau and not increase their live release rates anymore.

How Lake County Animal Shelter Became an Elite No Kill Facility

In my last blog, I detailed how Lake County Animal Shelter performed exceptionally well in 2019. Despite meager funding, having an inadequate physical facility and receiving little rescue support, Lake County Animal Shelter attained sky high live release rates, adopted out many dogs and cats and placed its animals quickly. So how did Lake County Animal Shelter accomplish this?

No Kill Learning provided excellent analyses in an August 2017 blog and in a January 2019 documentary film. After a five year shelter reform effort led by advocate Steve Shank, voters elected certain Board of County Commissioners in 2016 that supported no kill. Around this time, Lake County decided to take over the shelter from Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Lake County Sheriff’s Office operated the facility as a traditional kill shelter. During this time and for a period after taking the shelter over, Lake County used Mike Fry from No Kill Learning to help the county make the facility no kill. On January 15, 2017, Lake County took over the shelter and began to operate it as a no kill facility.

While other no kill consultants do good work, No Kill Learning stands out due to his comprehensive approach. No Kill Learning focuses on shelters fully implementing the No Kill Equation. The No Kill Equation, which was created by Nathan Winograd, consists of 11 programs to responsibly reduce the number of animals coming into shelters and increase the number of pets leaving those facilities alive. Additionally, these programs improve animal care while the pets are in shelters. In other words, this approach makes sure shelters run as proper no kill facilities.

Lake County Animal Shelter hired Whitney Boylston as the shelter director in the middle of 2017. Whitney formerly was a teacher and a counselor for pregnant teens. Additionally, she worked in a high volume spay/neuter clinic and assisted in Hurricane Katrina animal rescue efforts during her college years. Also, Whitney previously volunteered with Lake County Animal Shelter when it was a kill shelter and co-founded LEASH Inc in 2015. LEASH Inc focuses on helping Lake County Animal Shelter and other local facilities save lives and provide quality care to their animals. Like many successful no kill shelter directors, Whitney did not work in an animal shelter prior to her hiring.

Whitney clearly fullfills the No Kill Equation’s “Hard-Working, Compassionate Shelter Director” program. As Nathan Winograd states, this “is the most important” No Kill Equation program since the shelter director implements the other ten programs. Based on my conversations with Whitney, I was struck by her commitment to not killing. Specifically, Whitney, who makes all euthanasia decisions and personally euthanizes almost every animal, will only make that call if she would do the same for her personal pet. Additionally, Whitney is very sharp and understands the importance of targeting programs for vulnerable animals, such as the “Wait-til-8” program that keeps vulnerable young kittens out of the shelter until they are older. Similarly, Whitney uses a very data driven approach to make decisions that I rarely see in animal sheltering. Finally, Whitney is very personable, which may be due to her background working with people, that clearly is beneficial to implementing the other No Kill Equation programs that require great people skills. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter has the right person at the top to operate as an elite no kill facility.

Data Reviewed

To understand how Lake County Animal Shelter became so successful, I obtained the shelter’s “Kennel Statistics Report” for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. These reports list the total numbers of animals coming into the shelter and their outcomes. Additionally, these reports break out not just major intake and outcome categories, such as owner surrenders and adoptions, but also list key subcategories. Therefore, its easy to understand a lot about the shelter from just looking at these reports.

In the tables below, I compared the shelter’s outcome results for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. I labeled 2015 and 2016 “Pre-No Kill” and 2017, 2018 and 2019 “No Kill” (technically the facility was a kill shelter for the first 14 days of 2017, but I labeled the year as “No Kill” since the shelter was no kill for the other 351 days). Over the years, the shelter refined and improved its subcategories of intakes and outcomes. Therefore, some changes over the years resulted from data categorization revisions rather than substantive events. As a result, I focused on the real movements in the data and also talked with Whitney Boylston to get a better understanding of the shelter’s performance during these years.

No Kill Culture Ceases Dog Killing

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog death rate data clearly shows the shelter’s no kill culture. While the shelter had modest decreases in the dog and nonreclaimed dog death rates from 2015 to 2016, these death rates dropped like a rock when the shelter went no kill in 2017 and significantly decreased in 2018 and 2019. Given dogs are far more challenging to save when a shelter has a very low death rate, the shelter’s improvements in 2018 and 2019 are extremely impressive.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s rationales for euthanizing animals over the years illustrate this culture change. Once the shelter went no kill in 2017, behavioral euthanasia dropped by 55%. In 2019, behavioral euthanasia dropped significantly more and was 93% lower than in 2016. Similarly, Lake County Animal Shelter’s medical related euthanasia (not counting owner requested euthanasia) significantly dropped after the shelter went no kill and continued to decrease in both 2018 and 2019. Most telling, the shelter euthanized 7.63% of all dogs for owner requested euthanasia in 2016, 0.45% in 2017, 0.00% in 2018 and 0.07% in 2019. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter stopped killing for convenience after the shelter went no kill and continued to raise the lifesaving bar afterwards.

The shelter uses a unique enrichment method to prevent dogs from developing behavior problems at the shelter. Whitney Boylston applied her teaching background to treat the shelter like “pre-school.” Dogs get “story time”, where they listen to an audio book, “music time”,  the “scent of the day”, where different scents are sprayed for the animals to sniff, “snack time”, where they get special treats, “nap time”, where no one enters the kennels during the lunch hour, and most importantly, “playtime.” Playtime consists of dog playgroups, which the shelter got around 75% of the dog population into each day during 2019. The dog playgroup program alleviates stress, particularly for large dogs like pit bulls, and also helps volunteers and shelter staff understand the animals to make good matches with adopters. Therefore, Lake County Animal Shelter put in place the No Kill Equation’s behavior prevention and rehabilitation programs.

The shelter’s no kill culture allows it to save dogs that many other facilities would quickly kill. Lake County Animal Shelter treats every dog as an individual and considers past problems in context. For example, a dog that had bitten once before before due to a specific trigger or an extraordinary circumstance that wouldn’t exist in a different home. The shelter fully discloses the animal’s past history both in a conversation and in writing and counsels the adopter to ensure the adopter can handle the animal. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter works with its community to save lives instead of just automatically killing animals with manageable issues.

Lake County Animal Shelter also made numerous improvements to its veterinary care after it went no kill. The shelter director reallocated her budget to increase veterinary spending by around 50%. Also, the shelter does as much veterinary work in-house as possible to save funds. The shelter also created a parvo ward in a barn on the grounds of the shelter that eliminated parvo deaths. In addition, the shelter’s managed intake program for owner surrenders requires such animals receive vaccinations 2 weeks prior to admission. Finally, the “Wait-til-8” program, which keeps young vulnerable kittens out of the shelter, reduces kitten deaths and the risk of more widespread disease outbreaks. As a result, the shelter fully implemented the No Kill Equation’s medical prevention and rehabilitation programs.

Despite the shelter ending the killing of healthy and treatable dogs, the shelter did not limit dog intake after it went no kill. In the pre-no kill years, Lake County Animal Shelter took in an average of 2,947 dogs each year compared to an average of 3,044 dogs in the no kill years.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s managed intake and pet retention programs ensure the shelter only takes in owned animals requiring re-homing. Under the shelter’s managed intake program, the shelter counsels adopters to help see if the owner can keep the animal or safely re-home the animal on their own. However, the program has proper guardrails around it where the shelter immediately takes in emergency cases and admits animals typically within two to three weeks (i.e. not an endless wait-list that some shelters have). The shelter also provides a list of low cost veterinarians, free food and dog training classes to owners wanting to surrender their animals (adopters also get free dog training classes). Finally, the shelter gives pet food to a human food pantry to ensure pet owners in need are able to feed their animals. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter implemented the No Kill Equation’s pet retention program.

Owner Reclaims and Adoptions Drive Dog Live Release Up

The following table details what outcomes increased Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog live release rate from 2016 to 2019 (note the “Transfer % number in the “Change” column does not compute exactly due to rounding). As the table shows, the shelter sent more dogs to their owners and to new adopters after the facility went no kill. In fact, these live outcomes increased so much they more than made up for rescues pulling significantly fewer dogs.

Innovative Programs Send More Lost Dogs Back to Their Families

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog return to owner improvement is among the best I’ve ever seen. Typically, I see socioeconomic factors drive differences in return to owner rates between shelters. In other words, wealthier people tend to microchip and/or license their dogs and also can afford steep reclaim fees. Since almost all shelters make little effort to find the owners of lost pets, the socioeconomic status of the people in a shelter’s service area generally explain differences in owner reclaim rates. In fact, I only know of two shelters that have had significant success in increasing the percentage of dogs returned to owners. The first, Sacramento, California’s Front Street Animal Shelter, had its dog return to owner percentage of outcomes increase 8% from 2016 to 2019. However, this was less than Lake County Animal Shelter’s 10% improvement over the same period. Additionally, much of Front Street Animal Shelter’s efforts, such as low cost microchips, free license tags and giving pet owners resources to find their pets after the owner text messages the shelter, puts the onus on the pet owner rather than the shelter. Finally, Front Street Animal Shelter’s return to owner rate increased significantly after it received $250,000 from the Petco Foundation in 2018 to fund its text message based lost pets program. While Dallas Animal Services has had an impressive increase in its dog return to owner rate, much of this was due to its animal control officers returning dogs to owners in the field (i.e. without going to the shelter). Since Lake County Animal Shelter does not do field services, returning dogs to owners in the field is not something it can do. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s performance with lost dogs is among the best I’ve ever seen.

Lake County Animal Shelter makes great efforts to return dogs to their owners rather than taking the passive approach most shelters use. First, the shelter does thorough investigations when there is any potential lead on an owner. For example, the shelter may 1) contact microchip companies to find an owner of an animal with an unregistered chip and 2) look on social media for the owner or their relatives when the shelter doesn’t have current owner contact information. Similarly, if someone thinks the dog might belong to someone they only know the first name of, the shelter will search property records in the neighborhood. Additionally, the shelter has volunteer “pet detectives” that look at the shelter’s dog intake records and stray dog photos and match those with lost dog reports in the community (such as on lost pet Facebook pages). Finally, the shelter waives/reduces reclaim fees when the owner has a financial hardship, drives pets to owners homes if needed and allows owners to reclaim their animal before or after normal operating hours. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter actively tries to find pet owners under its “proactive reunification” program.

The shelter also uses several technological solutions to help owners find their animals at the shelter. First, the shelter offers $10 microchips to owners who reclaim their pets. Second, the shelter lists all stray dogs, cats and other animals, including photos, on the stray animals section of its web site. This web site section also contains a link to Finding Rover, which takes a photo of the pet that the owner uploads and matches it against a photo of that animal if its on the shelter’s web site. Third, the stray animals section of the shelter’s web site has a link to pawboost.com, which allows owner of lost pets and finders of lost pets to have the animals automatically posted to the lost and found pet Facebook page in the area. Fourth, people can directly schedule an appointment to reclaim their pet on this part of the web site. Finally, this web site section has a link to the ASPCA’s guide for helping owners find their lost pets. As a result, the shelter gives owners of lost pets great resources to help find their animals.

The following tables show how these programs collectively increased the number of dogs returned to owners and the percentage of dogs returned to owners after the shelter went no kill.

The potential impact of specific return to owner programs are detailed in the following table. The “Microchip” category likely reflects aggressive efforts to find hard to locate owners of pets with microchips as well as the $10 microchips the shelter offers to owners of reclaimed pets. The “Web” category includes people reclaiming their pets through the shelter web site, social media and an app, such as Finding Rover. Therefore, the stray animals web site section as well as the pet detective program likely impact these numbers. The “Adoption” category has return to owners where the shelter reduces the reclaim fee to the shelter’s much lower adoption fee and vets the animal as if it were adopted (i.e. spay/neuter, vaccinations, microchip, ID tag). Finally, the “Field” category reflects dogs that Lake County Sheriff’s animal control officers drove back to their owners. While its difficult to pinpoint the precise impact of every return to owner initiative, its clear these programs collectively increase owner redemptions.

High Powered Dog Adoption Program Drives Lifesaving

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog adoptions skyrocketed after the shelter went no kill. In the no kill initiative’s first year, dog adoptions increased by 46%. By 2018 and 2019, dog adoptions increased 77% and 61% from the 2016 levels. While total dog adoptions decreased from 2018 to 2019, this was primarily due to the shelter taking fewer dogs in during 2019. On a percentage of outcomes basis, dog adoptions increased the dog live release rate by 15%, 20% and 19% in 2017, 2018 and 2019 from the 2016 metric. Thus, dog adoptions played a huge role in making Lake County Animal Shelter no kill.

The shelter does several things to increase adoptions. First, the shelter became much more welcoming to the public and has a “much more positive atmosphere.” Second, the adoption fees are low ($20 for dogs, $10 for cats and those adopting a second cat pay no fee). Additionally, the shelter places great efforts in offering an excellent adoption counseling experience. As part of that experience, the shelter and its volunteers get to know the animals well and make great matches between pets and people. Even with the shelter adopting out far more challenging animals than most facilities, Lake County Animal Shelter had a normal dog adoption return rate of 9% and an extremely low cat adoption return rate of 3%. Additionally, the shelter takes very engaging photos of their pets, and shares them on active and creative Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages as well as Petfinder and Adopt a Pet. Finally, the shelter gives adopters a chance to adopt animals for 24 hours before a rescue can take the pet. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter aggressively markets their pets and offers great customer services to adopters when they visit the shelter.

Lake County Animal Shelter also does not include breed labels on its cage cards. A peer reviewed study, which you can find here, found breed labels, particularly for pit bull like dogs, prolonged length of stay and reduced the adoption chances of these animals. While the shelter does include breed labels in the adoption paperwork an adopter receives, leaving the breed label off the cage card allows an adopter to fall in love with a dog without being negatively biased by breed. Thus, removing breed labels from cage cards helps the shelter adopt out dogs, particularly its pit bulls.

No Kill Equation programs that get animals out of the facility also assist Lake County Animal Shelter’s adoption efforts. The shelter’s very large foster program, which I discussed in my last blog, 1) allows potential adopters too see if animals are a good fit (i.e. trial adoptions), 2) gives animals, particularly longer stay dogs, a break from shelter stress and 3) gets young kittens that are vulnerable to disease out of the shelter. Lake County Animal Shelter makes it easy to foster by allowing people to apply online and also notifying individuals when animals are available for fostering. The “Wait-til-8” program has a similar effect of keeping young vulnerable kittens out of the shelter until they are older and highly adoptable. Thus, the shelter is able to help many vulnerable animals, whether its due to behavioral issues or susceptibility to disease, get/stay out of the facility or become placeable until people can adopt these animals.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s volunteer, managed intake and medical and behavior rehabilitation programs also help the shelter adopt out animals many other facilities would kill. As described above, these programs make the animals healthier and more adoptable.

The shelter’s excellent public relations and community involvement engages the public to adopt and help save lives. The shelter routinely appears on media, such as radio shows. In one great example, Whitney Boylston did a short video for a local newspaper talking about the shelter’s success and asking the public to adopt after the facility received an influx of animals. Another example is where the shelter talked with a local newspaper to ask the public to watch movies and eat popcorn with shelter cats (i.e. reduces stress to make cats less susceptible to disease and helps the cats become more socialized to make the animals more adoptable). In another example, the shelter teamed up with local firefighters on a local news channel to promote an adoption event. Similarly, the shelter’s Facebook page used creative videos to engage the community to foster, adopt pets that get delivered on Christmas under the Santa Paws program and adopt dogs from play groups. Additionally, Whitney Boylston reached out to the fire department for them to help build cat portals, which reduce shelter stress and risk of illness and help shelters adopt cats out quicker. Thus, the shelter’s strong outreach to the community significantly aids its adoption efforts.

The following table details the dog adoption subcategories from 2015 to 2019. While some of the groupings changed over the years, we can glean some interesting information. Over the years, the Pend HW TX adoptions, which is where the shelter adopts out a heartworm positive dog and the adopter must schedule a heartworm visit (the shelter tracks to see if treated or not), increased. The Pre program, which is where up to three people sign up to adopt a dog during the stray/hold period if the owner does not reclaim the animal, resulted in many adoptions after the shelter started the initiative in the last couple of years. Also, dogs adopted out of foster homes increased a lot in recent years likely due to the shelter’s large foster program. Finally, offsite adoptions, which take place at a local PetSmart, increased after the the shelter started the initiative in 2017.

Rescue Efforts Focused on Most Vulnerable Animals

While “rescue partnerships” are a key No Kill Equation program, shelters need to put parameters around them. Certainly, high kill shelters should allow rescues to pull any animal. On the other hand, no kill shelters only need rescues to pull the most vulnerable animals that the shelters cannot save or would have great difficulty doing so. Therefore, no kill shelters should institute policies to encourage rescues to save the most vulnerable pets, whether those animals are at the facility or at other shelters.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s policies and performance encourage rescues to save the most vulnerable pets. As mentioned above, Lake County Animal Shelter gives adopters a chance to adopt animals for 24 hours before a rescue can take the pet and also lets adopters reserve animals during the stray/hold period. These policies ensure rescues only pull animals that wouldn’t otherwise be quickly adopted out. Finally, Lake County Animal Shelter’s high live release rates encourages rescues to pull from other shelters that kill many animals.

The tables below show rescues pulling fewer dogs in total and on a percentage of outcomes basis after the shelter went no kill. In other words, Lake County Animal Shelter significantly increased its dog live release rate despite receiving less rescue assistance.

The dog transfers subcategories show rescues primarily pull vulnerable animals. Specifically, rescues mostly pulled dogs for medical and behavior reasons and nursing puppies and their mothers.

No Kill Cat Culture 

As I mentioned in my last blog, one can calculate the cat live release by including or excluding cats brought to the shelter and returned to caregivers under the Operation Caturday program. Under the “Operation Caturday” program, Lake County Animal Shelter neuters and vaccinates “unowned” and “free-roaming” cats and frequently returns the animals to caregivers or the locations where the cats were found without identified caregivers. In order to make an apples to apples comparison to prior years and present conservative figures, I excluded 226 cats (211 adults and 15 kittens) in 2018 and 636 cats (587 adults and 49 kittens) in 2019 from the outcomes in the tables below.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat death rates massively decreased after the shelter went no kill. As the tables below show, the shelter’s cat death rate dropped from 44% just before the facility went no kill to just 9% in 2019. When we look at just adult cats, 51% of cats lost their lives in 2016 and under 10% lost their lives in 2019. Similarly, the kitten death rate decreased from 35% to 9% from 2016 to 2019.

The shelter’s decision to stop killing cats for behavior, such as being feral, significantly helped cats. Just prior to the shelter going no kill in 2016, Lake County Animal Shelter killed 25% of cats, 37% of adult cats and even 10% of kittens for behavior. In both 2018 and 2019, the shelter did not kill a single cat for behavioral reasons.

Lake County Animal Shelter also significantly decreased its killing/euthanasia of cats for medical related reasons. Overall, the shelter killed/euthanized 10-12% of cats for health reasons before it went no kill and only euthanized 4% of cats for medical reasons in 2018 and 2019. While the shelter euthanized significantly fewer adult cats for medical reasons after it went no kill, the drop in kitten killing/euthanasia from 13%-14% before the shelter went no kill to just 3% in 2018 and 2019 is notable. Most impressively, the shelter stopped taking in healthy strays after it went no kill. Therefore, the shelter took in a greater percentage of more challenging cats after it implemented the no kill policies. Clearly, the shelter’s veterinary care improved and the shelter’s commitment to not killing treatable animals became strong. Additionally, the “Wait-til-8” program that keeps vulnerable young kittens out of the shelter until they are older also likely contributed to the decreased kitten euthanasia for medical reasons in 2018 and 2019.

The shelter’s data on cats who died or went missing also shows the no kill effort’s success. Often, shelters going no kill will have a somewhat high number of cats dying due to the shelter making efforts to save animals that traditional shelters kill. Despite Lake County Animal Shelter going no kill, cats who died or went missing did not increase. In fact, the percentage kittens that died or went missing substantially decreased from 2016 to 2019. The “Wait-til-8” program almost certainly contributed to this.

As with dogs, the shelter stopped killing cats under the guise of “owner requested euthanasia” after it went no kill.

Despite Lake County Animal Shelter saving so many more cats, it did not reduce the number of cats going through its doors. While actual cat intake (which excludes 226 cats in 2018 and 636 cats in 2019 brought to the shelter and returned to caregivers) slightly decreased after Lake County Animal Shelter went no kill, the total number of cats the shelter impounded or helped through Operation Caturday was similar before and after Lake County Animal Shelter went no kill.

When we look at the cat intake numbers more closely, we see Lake County Animal Shelter took in more cats that needed sheltering. As the table below shows, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded significantly more owner surrendered cats after the shelter went no kill. When the public views a shelter as a safe place, those individuals are more likely to be willing to surrender their animals when they can’t care for them. On the other hand, stray cat intake, and especially feral cat and over the counter cat intake, significantly decreased. Shelters should not take in healthy stray cats who are not in danger since such cats 1) clearly are receiving good care in the community, 2) are far more likely to find their way home and 3) often experience stress and disease risk in even the best shelters. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter took in more cats that needed sheltering after it went no kill.

The cat intake data also shows how the Operation Caturday program saves lives. Based on my discussions with Whitney Boylston, the shelter often is able to redirect stray cats brought to the shelter by the public (i.e. “Stray OTC”) to Operation Caturday where the shelter sterilizes, vaccinates and returns the cats to their outdoor homes. When we examine the stray OTC data over the years, the decrease is almost entirely offset by the increase in the number of cats neutered, vaccinated and returned under the Operation Caturday program. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter is redirecting its resources to save cats now and in the future by investing in its community cat sterilization program.

Adoption and Return to Field Programs Save Cats 

The following table details what outcomes increased Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat live release rate from 2016 to 2019 (note some numbers in the “Change” column do not compute exactly due to rounding). As the table shows, the shelter adopted out many more cats and also released more cats to outdoor homes after the facility went no kill. While cats returned to owners did not increase, adult cats, which are likely harder for owners to find, did get returned to owners more often possibly due to the shelter’s lost pet reunification efforts discussed above. As with dogs, these live outcomes increased so much they more than made up for rescues pulling significantly fewer cats.

Cat Sterilization Program Saves Cats at and Outside of the Shelter

Lake County Animal Shelter’s return to field data shows this program saved significant numbers of cats. After the shelter went no kill, it started sterilizing, vaccinating and returning cats to their outdoor homes. In 2018, Lake County Animal Shelter created Operation Caturday and significantly increased the scale of this program. Under Operation Caturday, the public pays just $10 for the spay/neuter and vaccination services. As the tables below show, Operation Caturday had a significant impact on the adult cat live release rate.

The shelter also sterilized many additional cats through the Operation Caturday program. As mentioned above, I excluded cats brought by the public to the shelter for spay/neuter and vaccination services under this program. While these cats do not impact the shelter’s live release rate, these services do the following:

  1. Help limit future cat intake by reducing kitten births
  2. Significantly reduce outdoor kitten deaths, due to large percentages of newborn kittens typically dying outdoors, as a major study showed

If we counted these cats in the shelter’s outcomes, 19% of all cats and 32% of adult cats served by the shelter went through this program. When we add the cats returned to field counted in the statistics above, 22% of all cats and 38% of adult cats served by the shelter went back to their outdoor home spayed/neutered and vaccinated. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter implemented the No Kill Equation’s “High Volume, Low Cost Sterilization” and “Community Cat/Dog Sterilization” programs to help control cat intake at the shelter and reduce kitten deaths on the streets.

Cat Adoptions Dramatically Increase After Shelter Goes No Kill

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat adoption data shows the shelter’s transformation after it went no kill. After going no kill, the shelter doubled its cat adoptions in total and more than doubled them on a percentage of outcomes basis. In fact, Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat adoptions have steadily increased on a percentage of outcomes basis in the years after the facility went no kill. As described above in the dog adoptions section, many initiatives increased cat adoptions.

The shelter’s adoption subcategories reveal the success of certain No Kill Equation programs. After Lake County Animal Shelter went no kill, the shelter reported many cats adopted from foster homes. While the shelter previously didn’t have this subcategory, the significant growth in the foster program certain contributed to these numbers. Additionally, the Pre program, which is where up to three people sign up to adopt a cat during the stray/hold period if the owner does not reclaim the animal, resulted in many adoptions after the shelter started the initiative. Also, the shelter adopted out working or barn cats after it went no kill. While these adoptions did decrease after 2017, this may be due to the shelter returning more sterilized cats to the community through the Operation Caturday program. Finally, offsite adoptions, which take place at a local PetSmart, increased after the the shelter started the initiative in 2017.

Rescues Take Cats Most Needing Help

Lake County Animal Shelter’s transfers data in the following tables show the shelter relying far less on rescues after it went no kill. While the adult cats transferred decreased significantly, the number of kittens transferred decreased much more. This is due to Lake County Animal Shelter adopting out more kittens as well as the shelter’s “Wait-til-8” program keeping vulnerable kittens out of the shelter.

As the tables below show, rescues primarily pulled cats with medical issues, cats who stayed at the shelter a long time and kittens that are typically vulnerable to disease in a shelter. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter allowed rescues to focus on the cats most needing help.

Comprehensive Implementation of the No Kill Equation Makes Lake County Animal Shelter an Elite Facility

At the end of the day, Lake County Animal Shelter succeeds since it comprehensively implements the No Kill Equation. As the following table shows, Lake County Animal Shelter fully implemented the No Kill Equation. These programs responsibly reduce animal intake, improve animal care, increase live animal outcomes and generate community support to do so in a fiscally responsible manner. Simply put, Lake County Animal Shelter does what it takes to save lives and is a role model for all shelters to follow.

Florida’s Fantastic Animal Shelter

Lake County Animal Shelter is a large animal control facility in central Florida. The shelter takes significantly more animals in than the largest animal control facility in New Jersey. On a per capita basis, Lake County Animal Shelter impounds more than twice as many animals than New Jersey animal shelters take in from within the state.

Lake County went no kill on January 15, 2017. Before this time, Lake County Sheriff’s Office ran the facility as a traditional kill shelter. After a long shelter reform effort, Lake County (i.e. Lake County Animal Services) took over the shelter on January 15, 2017. Prior to taking the shelter over and for a period of time after, Lake County hired No Kill Learning to ensure the shelter properly operated as a no kill facility. No Kill Learning’s documentary video tells this moving story in greater detail. You can watch that video here.

What kind of job did Lake County Animal Shelter do in 2019? How does Lake County Animal Shelter compare to traditional shelters?

Data Reviewed

To better understand Lake County Animal Shelter’s performance, I obtained detailed shelter intake and disposition records. Intake and disposition records list each individual animal the shelter took in and their outcome. I used the 2019 records to conduct the analyses below. Additionally, I used the 2018 report to calculate the length of stay for some animals that came in during 2018, but had an outcome in 2019. You can find the 2019 report here and the 2018 report here. Also, you can find a summary of the 2019 statistics here.

In order to see if the shelter did not count any animals it euthanized/killed, I also reviewed additional documents. Specifically, I checked the shelter’s Controlled Substance Logs for euthanasia drugs and outside veterinarian bills. These documents indicated the shelter did not euthanize/kill any animals “off the books.”

Finally, I obtained Lake County Animal Shelter’s 2019 fiscal year budget and 2020 fiscal year budget as well as Lake County Sheriff’s 2019 fiscal year budget for animal control and the same budget for 2020 fiscal year. I compared this data, which covered the 2019 calendar year, to financial information from other shelters below.

Amazing Live Release Rates

Lake County Animal Shelter saved virtually every dog that arrived in 2019. Overall, only 1.1% of all dogs, 2.1% of pit bull like dogs, 0.5% of small dogs and 0.7% of other medium to large size dogs lost their lives or went missing at the shelter. In other words, Lake County Animal Shelter saved approximately 99% of all dogs, 98% of pit bull like dogs, 99% of small dogs and 99% of other medium to large size dogs. Even if we only look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, only 1.5% of all dogs, 3.1% of pit bulls, 0.8% of small dogs and 1.1% of other medium to large size breeds lost their lives or went missing in 2019. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter saved almost every dog it took in last year.

To better reflect Lake County Animal Shelter’s pit bull statistics, I included American bulldogs in the pit bull data. Typically, I only include traditional “pit bull” like breeds, such as American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and bull terriers. In the shelters I’ve reviewed, the facilities took few American bulldogs in. However, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded large numbers of American bulldogs during 2019 as the following table shows. Furthermore, the American bulldog statistics, which were excellent, were not quite as good as the traditional pit bull data. Thus, I included American bulldogs to provide a more clear picture of Lake County Animal Shelter’s pit bull performance.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s pit bull numbers are especially noteworthy. Despite taking in 811 pit bull like dogs in 2019, Lake County Animal Shelter saved 98% of these animals. On a per capita basis, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded 2.2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in 2019 compared to my estimate of New Jersey animal shelters taking in just 0.9 pit bulls per 1,000 people from the state in 2018. In other words, Lake County Animal Shelter saved 98% of its pit bull like dogs even though it took in around two and a half times as many of these dogs on a per capita basis as New Jersey animal shelters. Similarly, Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out 1.3 pit bulls per 1,000 people compared to the 0.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out to achieve a 95% dog live release rate. As a result, Lake County Animal Shelter’s results prove New Jersey animal shelters can do a far better job with their pit bull like dogs.

Lake County Animal Shelter also had excellent cat numbers. Overall, only 7.3% of all cats, 5.9% of 1 year old plus cats and 9.1% of kittens under 1 year old lost their lives at Lake County Animal Shelter in 2019. Even if we exclude cats who were reclaimed by owners and placed through the return to field program, only 9.7% of all cats, 9.4% of 1 year old plus cats and 9.9% of kittens under 1 year old lost their lives in 2019. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter saved almost all their cats of various ages.

My analysis did not differentiate between older (6 weeks to just under 1 year) and younger (under 6 weeks) kittens due to Lake County Animal Shelter’s innovative “Wait-til-8” program. Under this program, the shelter asks the public to care for kittens until they reach 8 weeks of age. Since young kittens are highly vulnerable to disease in a shelter, especially one with a poor physical design like Lake County Animal Shelter, this makes sense. The shelter provides wellness services every two to three weeks where the shelter weighs the kittens, deworms them and gives vaccinations. Additionally, Lake County Animal Shelter gives the people supplies, such as food, litter and kitten milk replacements. When the kittens reach 8 weeks, the shelter takes them in. Since Lake County Animal Shelter does not impound these animals until they are older than 6 weeks, these under 6 weeks old kittens are not counted in its statistics. Therefore, the shelter only takes a small number of under 6 weeks old kittens that are typically much more difficult animals. As a result, breaking out under 6 weeks old kittens would not provide useful information and would create a misleading picture when comparing to other shelters.

One can view the shelter’s cat sterilization program in different ways when calculating the cat death rates. Under the “Operation Caturday” program, Lake County Animal Shelter neuters and vaccinates “unowned” and “free-roaming” cats and frequently returns the animals to caregivers or the locations where the cats were found without identified caregivers. Per my discussion with shelter director, Whitney Boylston, the shelter impounds these cats and can place some animals through other programs, such as return to owner or adoptions. Therefore, one can make the argument the shelter should include these animals in its statistics based on the Shelter Animals Count data reporting guidelines that state such cats are included if the animals are “admitted for sheltering” and not “only for a service or services (sterilization and/or vaccination).” On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of Operation Caturday cats are brought in by a caregiver and returned to that caregiver (i.e. shelter operates like a clinic assisting TNR efforts and should not count these cats in its statistics).

To provide full transparency, I calculated alternative death rates using two methods to exclude these animals. Under the first method, I reduced returned to field and total outcomes by the 636 cats brought to the shelter by the public under Operation Caturday. The second death rate calculation decreased returned to field and total outcomes by the 678 cats returned to caregivers. This calculation is more punitive and likely overstates the cat death rate since stray cats may be returned to caregivers (i.e. these should always count in the statistics). Even with the more conservative cat death rate calculations, the shelter still had no kill level cat statistics.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s statistics are more impressive given the physical facility is poor and the shelter receives little rescue assistance. As No Kill Learning noted in its March 2017 progress report on Lake County Animal Shelter, the physical shelter presents significant issues relating to disease management and animal behavior. In other words, the physical facility makes it difficult to save large dogs with behavior issues and cats who have medical problems or are vulnerable if they become sick. Additionally, rescues pull few animals from Lake County Animal Shelter (10% of dogs and 4% of cats). While rescues pulling few pets due to Lake County Animal Shelter taking care of business is great news (i.e. rescues can pull animals in danger at kill shelters), it presents a challenge to achieve very high live release rates/low death rates. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s performance is remarkable given these challenges.

Animals Quickly Leave Shelter Alive

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dogs quickly left the shelter. Overall, all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size dogs left the shelter in 19.2 days, 29.0 days, 7.3 days and 20.2 days. Additionally, Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size dogs in just 30.0 days, 43.9 days, 10.3 days and 31.4 days. Given this shelter’s extremely high dog live release rate and it transferring few dogs to rescues (i.e. Lake County Animal Shelter adopts out more challenging dogs than most shelters), these short adoption length of stay figures are impressive.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s length of stay data also reveals the shelter makes strong efforts to save all dogs. Overall, the shelter euthanized all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size dogs in 31.4 days, 40.1 days, 44.7 days and 17.9 days. As a comparison, Animal Care Centers of NYC killed all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs in just 3.6 days, 6.0 days, 3.9 days and 0.9 days in 2018. Clearly, Lake County Animal Shelter makes significant efforts to save the small number of dogs it euthanizes instead of just quickly killing such animals.

The shelter’s pit bull length of data looks better without including American bulldogs. As the table below shows, American bulldogs stayed at the shelter longer than the traditional pit bull breeds. If we only look at traditional pit bull breeds, these dogs had an overall average length of stay of just 22.6 days and were adopted out in 36.3 days. Thus, the pit bull length of stay data would look better if I did not include American bulldogs.

Almost all Lake County Animal Shelter dogs left the shelter quickly. The following table shows the distribution of the dog lengths of stay. Remarkably, 69% and 80% of dogs left the shelter within 10 days and 19 days. In fact, 96% of all dogs left the shelter within 96 days. Simply put, substantially all dogs left the shelter within three months or so. While a very small number of dogs did stay a lot longer, this is normal at high performing no kill shelters that strive to save rather than take lives. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter achieved no kill by quickly placing almost all of its dogs.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cats also quickly left the facility alive. Overall, all cats, 1 year old and older cats and kittens less than 1 year old left the shelter in 23.6 days, 19.7 days and 28.5 days. Additionally, Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out all cats, 1 year and older cats and kittens less than 1 year old in just 33.3 days, 33.6 days and 33.1 days. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter achieved a high cat live release rate by quickly placing these animals.

While the shelter euthanized cats quicker than dogs, this make sense. Since the shelter euthanized cats for severe medical reasons rather than for behavior, cats should be euthanized quicker. Additionally, injured cats, such as those hit by cars, often have a much more dire outcome than dogs.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s overall cat length of stay was still short even if we exclude cats returned to caregivers. If we exclude these cats, the overall average length of stay was 29.2 days, 27.9 days and 30.6 days for all cats, 1 year old and older cats and kittens less than 1 year old. Similarly, these figures would only rise to 29.6 days, 28.4 days and 30.7 days for all cats, 1 year old and older cats and kittens less than 1 year old if we exclude all cats returned to field (i.e. with or without an identified caregiver). Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s cats quickly left the shelter alive even without its return to field program.

Substantially all Lake County Animal Shelter cats left the facility quickly. The following table shows the distribution of the cat lengths of stay. 57% and 70% of cats left the shelter within 13 days and 32 days. In fact, 96% of all cats left the shelter within 89 days. As with dogs, a small number of cats did stay substantially longer, but this is normal at a high performing no kill shelter that strives to save virtually every animal. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter achieved no kill by quickly finding live outcomes for substantially all of its cats.

Lake County Animal Shelter Only Euthanizes Dogs for Legitimate Reasons

Lake County Animal Shelter limits behavioral euthanasia to truly aggressive dogs. As you can see in the following table listing the reasons Lake County Animal Shelter used to euthanize dogs in 2019, the shelter only euthanized 0.40% of all dogs for behavioral related reasons (i.e. severe behavior issue, court order and dangerous). Remarkably, Lake County Animal Shelter meets the No Kill Advocacy Center behavioral euthanasia target (i.e. under 1%) that even many no kill shelters claim is too lofty. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter limited behavioral euthanasia to truly aggressive dogs.

Similarly, Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized hopelessly suffering dogs for medical reasons. As the table below shows, the shelter euthanized just 0.41% of dogs for medical issues (i.e. severe illness, severe injury and owner requested).

The shelter also limited behavioral euthanasia for pit bull like dogs to truly aggressive animals. Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized 0.86% of all pit bulls for aggression, behavior and court order reasons. Lake County Animal Shelter also met the No Kill Advocacy Center all dogs behavioral euthanasia target (i.e. under 1%) for supposedly difficult to save pit bulls. As with all dogs, Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized a very small number of all pit bulls for medical reasons (0.49%).

Lake County Animal Shelter’s separate traditional pit bull and American bulldog data shows the same pattern. The shelter only euthanized 0.95% of traditional pit bull breeds and 0.70% of American bulldogs for behavioral reasons. Similarly, the shelter only euthanized 0.57% of traditional pit bull breeds and 0.35% of American bulldogs for medical reasons.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s reasons for euthanizing small dogs showed it only euthanized hopelessly suffering animals. The shelter euthanized no small dogs for aggression and other behavioral reasons. Given small dogs do not pose a serious danger to adult people who are dog savvy, this is exactly what we should see at every shelter. As the table below shows, the shelter only euthanized 0.39% of small dogs for severe medical reasons.

The shelter also only euthanized other medium to large size dogs for legitimate reasons. Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized 0.37% of other medium to large size dogs for behavioral related reasons. The rest of the other medium to large size dogs were euthanized for severe medical problems (0.36% of other medium to large size dogs).

Lake County Animal Shelter Limits Cat Euthanasia to Severe Medical Issues

The table below lists the reasons Lake County Animal Shelter used to euthanize cats in 2019. As you can see, the shelter only euthanized cats for severe medical reasons (i.e. severe illness, severe injury and rabies test). Most impressively, Lake County Animal Shelter did not kill a single cat for behavior or aggression. Given shelters should never kill cats for aggression or behavioral reasons, this is an incredible achievement since 3,376 cats had outcomes (2,740 cats excluding the 636 Operation Caturday animals) at Lake County Animal Shelter in 2019.

Lake County Animal Shelter also euthanized almost no cats for rabies risk. As Hound Manor mentioned in its blog, few animals killed for rabies testing end up having the disease. The shelter killed just one cat to test for rabies. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter did not needlessly kill cats to test for rabies.

Finally, Lake County Animal Shelter’s small number of cats euthanized for medical reasons indicates the shelter limited this to hopelessly suffering animals. The shelter only euthanized 3.17% of all cats for medical reasons. Even if we exclude the 636 cats the public brought to the shelter under Operation Caturday, this figure only rises to 3.91%. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center euthanized 2.75% of all cats for medical reasons in 2018 even with Austin Pets Alive pulling significant numbers of cats with serious medical issues (some of these probably were euthanized by Austin Pets Alive or died). Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s data indicates it limited cat euthanasia to hopelessly suffering animals.

Lake County Animal Shelter Uses Many Foster Homes

Lake County Animal Shelter sent 349 dogs, 79 cats and 721 kittens to foster homes in 2019. Overall, 12% of all impounded dogs went to a foster home after arriving at Lake County Animal Shelter. Similarly, the shelter sent 25% of all cats and 31% of all cats excluding cats brought to the shelter by the public under Operation Caturday to foster homes. In particular, the shelter sent 48% of all kittens to foster homes. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter sent large numbers of dogs and cats to foster homes in 2019.

Significant numbers of dogs went to foster homes for “shelter break sleepovers” and many nursing and underage kittens also went to foster homes. As you can see in the table below, Lake County Animal Shelter sent 336 adult dogs to foster homes under its “shelter break sleepovers” program. Per a 2018 interview with shelter director, Whitney Boylston, the shelter uses this program to 1) allow potential adopters too see if animals are a good fit (i.e. trial adoptions) and 2) to give animals, particularly longer stay dogs, a break from shelter stress. Similarly, Lake County Animal Shelter sent 98 nursing kittens and 584 underage/underweight kittens to foster homes. In other words, the foster program served as a mechanism to save the most vulnerable animals (i.e. young/unhealthy kittens and dogs experiencing shelter stress) and to facilitate adoptions. Thus, the foster program played a significant role in allowing the shelter to achieve high live release and adoption rates.

Lake County Animal Shelter Greatly Outperforms New York and New Jersey Animal Shelters

The tables below compare Lake County Animal Shelter to several New York and New Jersey animal shelters. In the table, I presented Lake County Animal Shelter’s data with and without the 636 cats the public brought to the shelter under Operation Caturday. The New York and New Jersey shelters’ data come from my most recent detailed analyses published last year. The shelters and my prior blogs are as follows:

  1. 2018 Franklin Township Animal Shelter: Blog 1 and Blog 2
  2. 2018 Bergen County Animal Shelter
  3. 2018 Animal Care Centers of NYC (NY ACC)
  4. 2018 Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility (Ocean County Animal Facility)

The tables’ key metrics fall into the following broad categories:

  • Animal intake: This measures the difficulty a shelter has to handle its animals. For shelters taking a significant number of pets in, the per capita data (expressed here as per 1,000 people in the shelter’s service area) is more relevant since it indicates how many people can help the shelter through donating, volunteering and adopting animals (i.e. higher numbers indicate the shelter has a more difficult job).
  • Total revenue per animal: This metric measures how much money the shelter has to save each animal. Shelters with lower amounts face more challenges. Lake County Sheriff’s Office’s animal control field services budget was added to Lake County Animal Shelter’s total revenue in the first table to properly compare it with the shelters having field services. The adjusted revenue per dog and cat figures exclude the 636 cats brought to Lake County Animal Shelter by the public under Operation Caturday. For Bergen County Animal Shelter, I included the cats going through its TNR program in the total revenue per dog and cat figure and excluded these animals in the adjusted amount (these cats were not counted as impounded in the shelter’s software report and therefore are excluded from the dog and cat intake figures).
  • Rescue %: This metric indicates how much rescue support a shelter receives. For no kill shelters, low numbers often indicate rescues choosing to save animals at more risk elsewhere. At high kill shelters, low figures frequently are due to shelters not reaching out to rescues and/or having poor relationships with them.
  • Death rates and reasons for killing: These metrics show how well a shelter avoids killing animals or not.
  • Per capita adoption rates: These metrics indicate how well a shelter adopts out animals.

Lake County Animal Shelter Faces Greater Challenges

Lake County Animal Shelter faced a more difficult situation with animal intake. Overall, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded two to ten times (two to nine times without the 636 Operation Caturday cats) as many dogs and cats in total than the New Jersey animal shelters. While NY ACC took many more animals in, this shelter serves a far larger human population. On a per capita basis, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded 6 times (5 times without the 636 Operation Caturday cats), 4 times, 2 times and 3 times as many dogs and cats as NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility. Thus, Lake County Animal had a much greater animal volume challenge than the New York and New Jersey shelters.

The New York and New Jersey animal shelters also received far more funding per animal than Lake County Animal Shelter. NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility received 2.2 times, 1.3 times, 1.5 times and 3.3 times the funding per dog and cat. When we exclude Lake County Animal Shelter’s 636 cats brought into Lake County Animal Shelter by the public under Operation Caturday and the many cats going through Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program, NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility received 2.0 times, 2.3 times, 1.4 times and 2.9 times the funding per animal. Furthermore, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded a much greater percentage of dogs which cost much more to care for. Dogs made up 47% of Lake County Animal Shelter’s intake compared to 36% at NY ACC, 14% at Bergen County Animal Shelter, 32% at Franklin Township Animal Shelter and 32% at Ocean County Animal Facility. When we exclude the cats brought in by the public to Lake County Animal Shelter under Operation Caturday and the many cats going through Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program, dogs made up 53% of intake at Lake County Animal Shelter and 27% at Bergen County Animal Shelter. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter was massively underfunded compared to the New York and New Jersey animal shelters.

Lake County Animal Shelter also did not get unusually large rescue support compared to the other shelters. While Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Bergen County Animal Shelter (dogs only) got less rescue support, its likely due to these high kill shelters’ dysfunctional policies and processes. On the other hand, NY ACC sent 3 times and 16 times (13 times without the 636 Operation Caturday cats) the percentage of dogs and cats to rescues and other shelters than Lake County Animal Shelter. Similarly, Ocean County Animal Facility transferred slightly more dogs and pit bulls and 6 times (5 times without the 636 Operation Caturday cats) as many cats to rescues and other shelters than Lake County Animal Shelter. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s success was not due to rescues providing unusually large levels of support.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s No Kill Culture 

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog death rates were shockingly lower than the other shelters. NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility had dog death rates 20 times, 9 times, 10 times and 8 times higher than those at Lake County Animal Shelter. Similarly, nonreclaimed dog death rates were 16 times, 11 times, 17 times and 11 times higher at NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility compared to Lake County Animal Shelter.

Pit bulls lost their lives at much lower rates at Lake County Animal Shelter. Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility had pit bull death rates 11 times, 10 times and 7 times higher than those at Lake County Animal Shelter. Nonreclaimed pit bull death rates were 11 times, 18 times and 9 times higher at Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility compared to Lake County Animal Shelter. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter did a massively better job with its pit bulls.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat death rates were like night and day compared to the other shelters. NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility had cat death rates 1.6 times, 4 times, 6 times and 7 times higher than those at Lake County Animal Shelter. Even when excluding the 636 Operation Caturday cats, NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility had cat death rates 1.3 times, 3 times, 5 times and 5 times higher than those at Lake County Animal Shelter. Similarly, nonreclaimed cat death rates were 1.2 times, 4 times, 5 times and 5 times higher at NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility compared to Lake County Animal Shelter. As a result, Lake County Animal Shelter performed far better at saving its cats.

The New York and New Jersey animal shelters killed much greater percentages of dogs for behavior and medical related reasons. NY ACC, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility killed dogs for behavior at 16 times, 10 times and 16 times Lake County Animal Shelter’s rate. Similarly, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility killed pit bulls for behavior at 18 times and 15 times Lake County Animal Shelter’s rate. NY ACC, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility killed dogs for medical reasons at 33 times, 11 times and 4 times Lake County Animal Shelter’s rate. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter operated with a commitment to not killing while the other shelters frequently used excuses to kill.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s lifesaving ethic also stood out when examining why the other shelters killed cats. While Lake County Animal Shelter did not kill a single one of the 3,376 cats who had outcomes (2,740 cats without the 636 Operation Caturday cats) for behavior in 2019, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility killed an astonishing 18% and 36% of their cats for behavior in 2018. Similarly, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility killed cats for medical reasons at 1.7 times (1.3 times without the 636 Operation Caturday cats) and 2.6 times (2.1 times without the 636 Operation Caturday cats) Lake County Animal Shelter’s rate.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s Adoption Program Stands Apart

Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out far more dogs on a per capita basis than the New York and New Jersey animal shelters. Overall, Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out 15 times, 10 times, 7 times and 9 times as many dogs per 1,000 people as NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility. Furthermore, Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out 13 times, 15 times and 10 times as many pit bulls per 1,000 people as Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility. Lake County Animal Shelter also adopted out 19 times more large and medium size dogs per 1,000 people than NY ACC. Simply put, Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog adoption program blew the other shelters’ adoption programs out of the water.

The New York and New Jersey animal shelters’ cat adoption programs also paled in comparison with Lake County Animal Shelter. Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out 11 times, 4 times, 3 times and 6 times as many cats per 1,000 people as NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility.

Lake County Animal Shelter is a Role Model Shelter

Clearly, Lake County Animal Shelter is an elite organization. The shelter effectively limited euthanasia to hopelessly suffering animals and dogs that are truly aggressive. Additionally, it accomplished this by quickly finding live outcomes for its animals. Remarkably, Lake County Animal Shelter achieved this with a terrible physical facility, which will be replaced soon, a large number of animals coming in, meager funding and little rescue support. Simply put, Lake County Animal Shelter steps up and does what it takes to save its animals.

As the comparison with New York and New Jersey animal shelters showed, Lake County Animal Shelter’s challenges were far more daunting and the facility’s performance was on a different planet. In other words, regressive shelters in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere can’t credibly make excuses up for this disparity. Instead of defending the status quo, regressive shelters should study Lake County Animal Shelter and replicate what its doing. If these regressive shelters do this, not only will many animals live, but the organizations and their people will become happier and healthier.

Jersey Pits Rescue Proves People Want Pit Bulls

Frequently, New Jersey shelters complain they must kill pit bulls due to no one wanting these animals. Similarly, many rescues and rescue oriented shelters state the same thing when they choose to transport in easy to adopt dogs instead of saving pit bulls who are killed in local shelters. Certainly, pit bull like dogs face legitimate challenges, such as housing restrictions and discrimination from some potential dog owners.

Over the years I’ve written extensively about animal control shelters, including high volume ones, saving all their healthy and treatable pit bull like dogs. In 2014, when I first started NJ Animal Observer, I wrote about a number of shelters outside of New Jersey saving around 90% of their pit bull like dogs and placing them relatively quickly. Later that year, I wrote about Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society saving 96% of their pit bull like dogs and adopting out these animals pretty fast. In early 2015, I wrote about a small Colorado animal control shelter in a poor area that went from killing 40% of its pit bulls in 2012 to adopting out every single one of its pit bulls in 2013. Similarly, in 2016 I posted Salt Lake County Animal Services’ 2015 pit bull statistics showing the shelter saved 93% of the 600 pit bulls it took in. Finally, I wrote about Austin Animal Center saving 99% of their pit bulls in both 2017 and 2018.

New Jersey animal shelter data suggests some facilities can save their pit bulls. In 2015, I wrote a blog about Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saving 90% of the pit bulls they took in during 2014 and the first half of 2015. Additionally, Old Bridge Animal Shelter data from 2014, which was when the facility was much more progressive, showed that shelter saved 100% of their pit bulls. However, both these shelters took few pit bulls in on a per capita basis and in total. Therefore, these two shelters data were not sufficient to conclusively prove New Jersey people wanted pit bulls.

Do New Jersey residents want pit bulls? Can New Jersey animal shelters adopt out many more pit bulls and stop killing these pets?

Jersey Pits Rescue Adopts Out More Pit Bulls Than Many Local Shelters

Jersey Pits Rescue is a relatively new rescue run by two women, Dani and Kay. Dani and Kay previously volunteered at Associated Humane Societies-Newark and with other local rescues, including ones dealing mostly with pit bulls. In 2018, Dani and Kay started Jersey Pits Rescue to focus on the many pit bulls killed in local shelters. Both women work full time jobs and run Jersey Pits Rescue in their spare time.

While Jersey Pits Rescue does evaluate dogs to determine if they are safe enough to place in foster homes, it still takes in many pit bulls shelters often kill. According to Dani, Jersey Pits Rescue saves many jumpy dogs and a good number of mouthy ones as well. Additionally, they’ve taken in fearful dogs and dogs with barrier aggression. Based on my personal experience dealing with hundreds, if not thousands of pit bulls in New Jersey animal shelters, Jersey Pits Rescue is likely pulling well over 90% of the types of pit bulls in local shelters. Thus, this is not a rescue cherry picking the easy to adopt dogs and neglecting the ones needing help.

Recently, Dani provided me Jersey Pits Rescue’s 2019 pit bull adoption data. The organization rescued dogs mostly from urban shelters and took in a number of owner surrenders. In particular, Jersey Pits Rescue saved a large number of dogs from Paterson Animal Shelter.

To better understand Jersey Pits Rescue’s performance with pit bull like dogs, I compared this information with numerous New Jersey animal shelters’ pit bull adoption figures in the table below. The animal shelters’ data, except for Old Bridge Animal Shelter, in the following tables comes from previous blogs I’ve written. The Old Bridge Animal Shelter figures are in an unpublished analysis I previously did.

Jersey Pits Rescue adopted out significantly more pit bulls than every single shelter. In fact, Jersey Pits Rescue adopted out around twice as many or more pit bulls than most of the other shelters.

Jersey Pits Rescue also adopted out its pit bulls among the quickest. The table below shows the average length of stay for adopted pit bulls from shelters adopting out 10 or more pit bulls. As you can see, Jersey Pits Rescue adopted out its dogs in 43 days on average. If I counted three dogs classified as foster to adopt as adoptions, that figure would drop to 41 days. Several shelters took 50% or longer to adopt out their pit bull like dogs.

Jersey Pits Rescue’s performance is even better than it appears. Many of the shelters on this list killed a large percentage of their pit bulls. For example, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility had 13% of their pit bulls and 25% of their nonreclaimed pit bulls lose their lives. In 2016, Gloucester County Animal Shelter had 28% of their pit bulls and 50% of their nonreclaimed pit bulls lose their lives. From 2015 to 2017, Bergen County Animal Shelter had 31%-47% of their pit bulls and 50%-64% of their nonreclaimed pit bulls lose their lives. Therefore, these shelters likely placed easier to adopt dogs than Jersey Pits Rescue. Thus, many of the other shelters’ adoption length of stay figures make their performance look better than that what it was.

Jersey Pits Rescue’s performance is more impressive considering it lacks many of the advantages animal control shelters have. First, shelters are open to the public and give people the opportunity to walk in without making appointments. Second, the public generally knows about shelters in their areas. In contrast, rescues, particularly newer ones, have to work harder to attract adopters and volunteers. Third, the news media share stories more often about the needs (such as an adoption promotion, volunteer help, donations, etc.) of a shelter than of a rescue. Fourth, Jersey Pits Rescue does not get taxpayer funding that animal control shelters receive. Thus, animal control shelters have many structural advantages over a small rescue that works to save local pit bull like dogs.

Jersey Pits Rescue’s Strategies to Save Pit Bulls

Jersey Pits Rescue uses social media to aggressively promote their dogs. Despite being around just two years, the Jersey Pits Rescue Facebook page has nearly 10,000 followers. Similarly, Jersey Pits Rescue has 12,000 followers on Instagram. The organization frequently makes engaging posts seeking adopters. Additionally, Jersey Pits Rescue posts many “alumni” stories that give a positive vibe. Finally, the organization uses social media to seek donations and sell Jersey Pits Rescue apparel, such as t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats.

Jersey Pits Rescue relies on individual meet and greets and pack walks to introduce adopters to the dogs. The organization prefers this method to doing adoption events, which can sometimes put dogs in difficult situations. Therefore, the rescue is able to attract adopters through social media and make the adoptions happen through individual meet and greets and pack walks.

The organization uses volunteers and no paid staff to care for and place its dogs. Jersey Pits Rescue has a foster/adoption coordinator, merchandise manager and an events manager. Additionally, the organization uses volunteers to organize special events, such as foster dog outings, and transporting dogs to veterinarian appointments. Finally, the rescue has around 10 people that regularly foster dogs.

Jersey Pits Rescue’s success proves people want pit bulls. If a new organization run by individuals with full time jobs can adopt out more pit bulls than large local shelters, this proves people want pit bulls. In other words, local shelters can and should adopt out many more pit bulls instead of killing those pets. Similarly, local rescue oriented shelters and many rescues can save and adopt out far more local pit bulls.

Taxpayers and donors should demand New Jersey animal shelters do far better with their pit bulls. As my blogs over recent years show, many New Jersey animal shelters needlessly kill many pit bull like dogs based on false beliefs about “behavior” and the public not wanting these animals. Clearly, the Jersey Pits Rescue’s data proves we can save local pit bulls. As such, the public must demand taxpayer and other donor funded organizations do the right thing and also save these dogs.

The Dog That Transformed My Life

Once I heard a story where an old man remembered his life through each dog he had. At the time, I thought the story was interesting. Now, I know it makes perfect sense.

Over the years, I’ve had several dogs. My first dog, Trixie, will forever be the dog I associate with being a child and growing up. Additionally, I learned how to manage a human aggressive dog that affects my thinking to this day. My second dog, Rusty, sparked my interest in the world of dogs, adopting pets (she was my first rescue) and wildlife. She also taught me about high prey drives and escape artists. A third dog, Jerry, taught me about dog aggression. Both Rusty and Jerry will always remind me of the period when I become an adult.

Daphne Comes into My Life

After I graduated college, I had no pets for over a decade. While I would see Rusty and Jerry at my parents house for the first few years when I visited, this was no substitute for having a pet. At the time, I rented apartments that allowed no dogs. Even if my landlords allowed dogs, I lived alone and worked too many hours to have one. My life was missing something very important for a long time.

Over the years, I would visit Petfinder and look at the dogs I wished I could have. It was forbidden fruit. When my wife, Estrella, and I were dating, we would occasionally look at Petfinder together and even visited an animal shelter I would go to in high school. Again, this was all a fantasy as none of these dogs could come home with me.

A few months after Estrella and I got married, I started a job where I worked long hours. At the time, I was out of work for many months due to the financial crisis and the related recession. This was not the job I wanted, but it was the job I needed.

One Sunday in late December 2009, I felt bad about not spending time with Estrella due to the many hours I worked in this new job. Since we lived very close to Bergen County Animal Shelter, I suggested we visit to do something fun. As we did before we got married, we had no intention of adopting a pet when we walked into the shelter.

Upon entering the dog section of the facility, we ran right into Daphne in a glass showcase kennel. Immediately, I was in awe of her beauty and her athletic physique. Estrella took a photo and Daphne barked at her. Estrella didn’t like that! Soon a shelter volunteer greeted us and tried to sell Daphne to us. It was quite convincing. How could I tell her we were just there to spend some time and were not going to adopt a dog?

Subsequently, we looked at the other dogs on the adoption floor. We were shocked to see so many pit bulls. Prior to this I did not like pit bulls. After my family got Rusty, I became a voracious reader of every dog book I could find. In my local library I came across a book from Richard Stratton. Richard Stratton clearly glorified dog fighting. Additionally, he portrayed pit bulls as a supernaturally powerful animal with a perfect temperament with people. In other words, pit bulls were a super hero caricature. Over the years, I would see other books and hear people say similar things and how all other dogs were worthless compared to pit bulls. Basically, I associated pit bulls with these distasteful people. When coupled with the many negative pit bull stories in the news media, I disliked pit bulls.

All these negative pit bull biases went out the window that day. As we walked the kennels seeing so many pit bulls, my desire to save the animals most needing help came out. Over and over, we walked back and forth looking at the dogs and read the information on their kennels. We became obsessed! That night, we played a game where we’d say to each other “if you were going to adopt a dog at the shelter, which one would you choose?” As time went by, the list grew until we picked around our top 10 dogs!

Over the next week, Estrella went to the shelter every day after work. At that time Bergen County Animal Shelter had different management and was very friendly to adopters. Estrella and the shelter veterinarian bonded and she even allowed Estrella to see dogs not on the adoption floor. When we looked at our lease, we found out we could have any dog we wanted. By the time New Years Eve came on that Thursday, Estrella and I were ready to adopt. In just four short days, we went from killing some time at the shelter to going to adopt a dog.

The shelter brought three dogs to us in a fenced in yard. Daphne, who was our second choice before this, immediately kicked a tennis ball to Estrella. When Estrella threw the ball, Daphne ran like a bullet to fetch it. Estrella was sold. I had to convince her to even see the other two dogs, Sylvester and Miles. After seeing these dogs, Estrella and I decided to pick Daphne.

The shelter mentioned Daphne was a “special needs” dog. First, we were told she seriously injured another dog who somehow got into her kennel. Second, Daphne had incredible amounts of energy and would require tons of exercise. Third, she would throw up in the car almost immediately. Perhaps these were the reasons she spent a year at the shelter and was there the second longest of any dog? We couldn’t care less, we wanted her! The shelter told us to come back on Saturday, January 2, 2010 to adopt her since the facility was closing soon.

On the day we were to adopt Daphne, we ran to PetSmart and got tons of pet food and supplies. When we got to the shelter, it seemed as if the shelter tried to convince us not to adopt Daphne. First, the shelter told us she became very aggressive with the veterinary staff as they prepped her for adoption. Then a new employee, who I would learn much more about years later, tried to convince us not to adopt Daphne. Again, our minds were made up. We were doing this!

The shelter volunteer who loved Daphne took a long time to take her to us. Estrella said he looked quite sad. Was he going to miss Daphne or did he think we couldn’t handle her? As someone who managed an aggressive dog as a child and two challenging dogs as a young adult, I knew I was ready. While Estrella didn’t have this experience, she was always adept at handling life’s challenges. Finally, we adopted Daphne and drove her to our home five minutes away. Within 30 seconds, she threw up in the car!

Daphne immediately showed us how amazing she was that first day with us. She was obsessed with playing ball and insisted we join her. Our reward? A dog who would cuddle with us on the couch!

Over the next several months I continued to work long hours in the stressful job. However, Daphne with her high intensity energy was ready when I got home. Despite Estrella walking Daphne for long distances, Daphne still wanted more. I would throw her ball inside our townhouse endlessly, play tug of war and play wrestle. When we play wrestled, Daphne was so quick, balanced and athletic, I was simply in awe. When we were lucky enough to find a nearby dog park empty, Daphne showed us her athletic ability and fetching skills.

On weekends, I would walk Daphne in the Saddle River County Park in Saddle Brook. When we got her, it was impossible to walk her near people or other dogs. If we did, she would lunge at them. Her reactivity was off the charts. Nonetheless, we adapted.

Once the sun set later, Estrella would bring Daphne to this park every day. They would do a long walk around the park and then engage in extended fetch sessions on the ball field. On weekends I would join as well. We’d usually bring a tennis racket and hit the ball as far as we could. Daphne would run full tilt and would take seemingly forever to tire in the summer. We’d also bring a cloth frisbee and Daphne would catch it in the most acrobatic ways. In fact, people would often stop to watch her and be in awe. We’d have to end before she’d run herself to exhaustion. In the winter time, this dog seemed to almost never tire out. Simply put, she was a superstar canine athlete with the heart of a champion.

We also hiked and found a lake for her to play fetch in during the summer.

Daphne Inspires Us to Help Animal Shelters

Over these first few months with Daphne, I continued to visit the Bergen County Animal Shelter web site. First, I wanted to see if the other dogs we looked at got adopted. Subsequently, I’d look at the new dogs arriving and wondered what their story was. Were they special in their own way like Daphne? Eventually, I remembered a shelter existed in Newark. I wondered if a smaller suburban shelter like Bergen County Animal Shelter had so many amazing pit bulls, what would a larger urban shelter have? Each day, I would then look at Associated Humane Societies-Newark’s Petfinder web site as well. After seeing some intriguing dogs, I mustered the courage to visit the shelter on President’s Day in 2010. Unfortunately, I hardly spent any time in the shelter due to me running late for a doctor’s appointment. Additionally, the deafening barking noises in the kennels drove me out. I knew I’d be back one day.

Seven months later I convinced Estrella to go with me to Associated Humane Societies-Newark as a late birthday present. Despite it being a Sunday, the shelter seemed devoid of adopters. We fell in love with dog after dog. One dog, Lonzo, a leggy pit bull like dog was our favorite. At the same time, we knew no one was coming for these dogs and they were just waiting to die. How did no one know about these wonderful animals like we knew about Daphne? The next day Estrella called me at work and told me she started a Facebook page called Friends of Newark NJ Animal Shelter. Our lives and Daphne’s would change forever.

Each week, we’d go back to AHS-Newark. At the time, the shelter had no volunteer program. To get the dogs out for photos and exercise, we’d pretend we were interested in adopting a dog. We’d spend hours at the shelter and many more at home trying to save the dogs. After a few weeks, the workers caught on to our game and gave us keys to the dog kennels (each was locked). During this time, the public came in droves to help the shelter. AHS-Newark had to unofficially allow volunteers. People came to walk dogs, do adoption events and photograph and market cats. Rescues contacted us to pull animals. We held successful food and supply drives. Things were improving.

Over the next two and a half years, we worked seemingly 24/7 to save AHS-Newark’s dogs. I’d write down the cage card information of all 100 or so medium to large size dogs each week. Additionally, I’d follow-up with the front desk to see what dogs left alive and what dogs the shelter killed. Even to this day, I remember how my heart broke when I heard the front desk person tell me “euthanized” for so many dogs and how I felt relieved when I heard the words “reclaimed”, “adopted” and “rescued” for others. At home, I’d compile the updated inventory list of dogs to ensure we could give adopters and rescuers accurate information about what dogs were available (very few were on Petfinder due to the shelter not having enough people evaluating dogs). I would also get the most difficult dogs out of their kennels for Estrella. Estrella would evaluate dogs, photograph them and take photos. Additionally, she created Petfinder profiles, ran the Facebook page and dealt directly with the shelter, adopters and volunteers. At the time, I told Estrella she should run the shelter based on how hard she worked and the fantastic job she did.

Around this time, I got a job that I wanted. I would work long hours in New York City, but it was something I enjoyed. Between the job, our volunteering and taking care of Daphne, I had little free time for anything else. Estrella was just as, if not more, busy. Despite this, we were very happy making a positive difference.

Daphne would soon experience our work directly. After about six months volunteering at AHS-Newark, we decided to foster a dog for a rescue. At the time, we were terrified about it. Daphne was the dog who we were told seriously injured another dog at Bergen County Animal Shelter. Also, we had seen how she reacted to strange dogs on our walks. Were we going to cause a disaster?

We selected Booker as our foster. Booker was an 85 pound older American bulldog with a sad story. At the shelter, he appeared unhappy and was not in great physical shape. Also, we were told he was used as a guard dog (he was not aggressive at all) by a landlord in abandoned apartments (the separation anxiety we would learn about seemed to confirm this). We were certain he had zero chance to make it out alive. For Daphne, we thought he’d be a perfect fit. Not dominant enough to challenge her, but big enough survive an attack by our supposedly dog aggressive pit bull.

On the day we picked Booker up from the shelter, we had a plan to introduce the dogs. We took them to Saddle Brook County Park and started walking them far apart. Over a period of time, we gradually walked them closer together. They seemed happy! Would this continue? When we came to our tiny yard at our townhouse, we placed both leashes down. Daphne and Booker wrestled and then Daphne rolled around on her back beneath Booker. This was going to work!

During their time together, Daphne was the boss. Despite being around half Booker’s weight, Daphne would win their regular wrestling matches. She’d stand toe to toe with Booker, out-maneuver him and hump him! Booker took it all in stride and enjoyed his new very active friend.

Each day, Estrella would take both Daphne and Booker together for long walks. Booker went from a sad and slow moving older dog to a happy vibrant boy. Perhaps Daphne’s energy rubbed off on him? People would come from everywhere to ask about him. Booker went from an old dog “no one wanted” to a highly desirable dog. We began to realize people really wanted bully breeds. After only a few weeks, Booker found a home.

Our next foster dog would be a huge challenge. Major was a two year old 75 pound pit bull. Unlike Booker, Major was a dominant dog and much more athletic. At AHS-Newark, his striking good looks captivated us. At the same time, we knew large pit bulls fared poorly at this shelter. Outside the shelter, Daphne confirmed our suspicions that these two were going to be a handful. When Daphne and Major met, Daphne nipped Major on the head after he got in her face. As we did with Booker, Estrella and I walked Daphne and Major together for long time moving progressively closer together. Finally, we got the dogs together, but this time it was more like a truce than true love.

Daphne and Major got along, but the two always battled to see who was the boss. The two dogs would have epic wrestling matches. Despite Major weighing around 75% more than Daphne, Daphne would go toe to toe with him and hold her own. Usually, she would out-maneuver Major and tire him out. However, Major still would not accept Daphne being the top dog and we had to actively maintain the peace between them. When we walked Major and Daphne together, both dogs acted like they owned the joint. It was truly amazing. As with Booker, we quickly found a great adopter after a short period of time.

Soon after adopting out Major, we fostered Chance. Chance was an energetic pit bull-Labrador mix that spent a long time at AHS-Newark. Daphne clearly did not like Chance’s Labrador type energy. Estrella and I had to keep a constant eye on Daphne to ensure she behaved. Miraculously, she did. While we were on vacation, the rescue we fostered for adopted Chance out.

Several months after we adopted Major we purchased a home. As with everything at that time, Daphne was a key part of this decision. We would only buy a home with a large flat yard Daphne could play ball on. Additionally, the home had to be near places where we could hike. After a long and difficult process, we found a home with a big backyard and a pool. To get this home, I had to accept not having a usable garage to put my car in. This was a huge sacrifice for me as I love cars and always made sure my previous rented apartments had one. Once in the home, the very first improvement we made was to get the backyard fenced in. Daphne now had a yard to play ball in everyday. In the summer, she could swim and fetch balls in the pool.

After a couple of months in the home, we fostered Beanie. Beanie came to AHS-Newark as a few month old puppy and grew up in the shelter. As with other dogs we fostered, we knew we had to get him out. Beanie ended up as a perfect match for Daphne. He was a little larger than Daphne, but had a good amount of energy. Additionally, he was not threatening. Daphne found someone she could roughhouse with and be comfortable with. She truly loved Beanie. As with other dogs we adopted out, we found a great adopter. Beanie would be very happy.

Over the next several months, we fostered a couple of other dogs that rescues pulled from AHS-Newark. Gouda was a lovable and goofy dog Daphne did not know what to make of. AJ was a smaller pit bull Daphne felt comfortable with, but was not rough enough to have the fun she enjoyed. Still they had many sweet moments together.

Our Lives Change Forever

Nearly a year after moving into our home Estrella gave birth to our son Gavin. During the time Estrella was in the hospital, I rushed home numerous times to take Daphne out. After Gavin was born, I put one of Gavin’s blankets from the hospital in Daphne’s bed. Daphne was always tense and “iffy” around strangers. Honestly, we were concerned how she’d react. When we brought Gavin home, we had Daphne sniff him. She seemed indifferent and that’s how it would be when he was very young.

Daphne’s life changed initially, but not by too much. Estrella would still take Daphne for walks, but now they’d be alongside Gavin’s carriage and would move at a slower pace. I’d continue taking her for hikes, playing ball in the backyard and swimming in the pool.

Daphne continued to show her heart and courage. When we hiked Daphne’s huge prey drive was so intense that she’d even try and pursue black bears! Daphne also subdued a large chow chow that charged at Estrella and the carriage Gavin was in during a walk. When strangers came to the house, they were greeted by a dog determined to defend the place (luckily having the person throw a ball to her got her to warm up). On the other hand, Daphne would be scared of certain inanimate objects.

Gavin’s birth would totally change my volunteering activities at AHS-Newark. While Estrella continued to volunteer until only a few weeks before giving birth, I took over the things she did after that point and still continued to do my things. That meant, I evaluated dogs, took photos, wrote adoption profiles, administered the Facebook page, worked with rescues, counseled adopters, coordinated adoption events, compiled the records of dogs in the shelter and dealt directly with AHS staff. My life was crazy. The dogs I met during this time still stick in my mind.

During this period, our relationship with AHS-Newark deteriorated. When we volunteered at AHS-Newark, we knew the organization was completely dysfunctional. The shelter frequently provided poor care, did little to save the animals, operated using a 1970s style sheltering philosophy and needlessly killed many pets. We never defended the shelter, but bit our tongues to keep helping the animals. While I previously heard of Nathan Winograd, who is widely regarded as the leader of the no kill movement, I began reading his blogs voraciously. It seemed as if he described my exact experiences at AHS-Newark. By this time, we could stay quiet no more. We raised our concerns to shelter management and to other volunteers. It was clear shelter management had to take decisive actions to end the killing. We could only save so many animals with the shelter frequently acting against us. As AHS-Newark would do to so many other volunteers, the shelter banned us. To make matters worse, the shelter did so in the most cowardly way as explained in our Facebook post at the time.

My volunteer work would go on without AHS-Newark. Given I had a lot of success saving pit bull like dogs at one of the state’s largest and most notorious shelters, I thought others would welcome my help. After inquiring about helping numerous inner city shelters, such as Paterson Animal Shelter, Passaic Animal Shelter and Elizabeth Animal Shelter, I was saddened none of these facilities even allowed volunteers. Several others allowed volunteers, but did not want my assistance. Therefore, I began using our Facebook page to aggressively market dogs from a number of northern New Jersey animal shelters.

Once again, we had lot of success with social media promotion. In particular, we aggressively promoted Liberty Humane Society’s dogs for its Maddie’s free pet adoption events in 2013 and 2014. For several weeks, we promoted the event by posting the shelter’s dogs many times a day. Additionally, we created albums based on dog size and personality type. Liberty Humane Society ended up adopting out 120 dogs and cats (57 dogs and 63 cats) in 2013 and 128 dogs and cats (47 dogs and 81 cats) in 2014. People wanted homeless animals and pit bull like dogs like Daphne.

During this time, we yearned to volunteer at a shelter. One day, I came across Jersey Animal Coalition and contacted this South Orange animal shelter. At the time, the woman who did the Petfinder profiles and adoption photos was getting foot surgery. They were happy to let me fill in.

Jersey Animal Coalition was a dysfunctional shelter. When Estrella and I visited, we nearly cried to see large numbers of distressed dogs in small kennels and crates. Many dogs spent not just months, but many years at the facility. Even though the shelter was “no kill”, it didn’t properly implement the no kill equation to ensure animals quickly left the shelter alive and received elite care while at the facility. We were determined to help. Once again, I started evaluating dogs, taking photos and marketing them on social media.

While volunteering at Jersey Animal Coalition, I received the opportunity to become a board member. During my time as a board member, I made it clear the organization needed to remove the day to day management as well as many long-time board members that led to the organization’s poor treatment of animals and inability to implement the 11 no kill equation programs. Additionally, I strongly opposed the shelter transporting in massive numbers of puppies while adult dogs languished in the back of the facility. After a little more than two months and attending just two board meetings (one of which didn’t even have the board members responsible for the mess), I resigned when the shelter refused to change course. At that time, I was also told my volunteer activities were no longer welcome.

Soon after, numerous volunteers contacted me about Jersey Animal Coalition deteriorating even more. At the time, I told them to report their concerns to the New Jersey Department of Health and to request an inspection. Several months later the New Jersey Department of Health inspected and found serious problems. Ultimately, Jersey Animal Coalition closed after it did not fix all the issues.

Daphne Inspires Me to Become an Animal Advocate

After my time with Jersey Animal Coalition, I was at a crossroads. Would I go back to my life before volunteering at animal shelters? Certainly, I had a very bad taste in my mouth from experiences with AHS-Newark, Jersey Animal Coalition and other local animal shelters.

Each day I contemplated my next move, Daphne would remind me I had to do more. When I saw her, I thought of the many dogs that desperately needed a voice. At the time, I read many great no kill blogs, such as Nathan Winograd, KC Dog Blog, YesBiscuit!, Wisconsin Watchdog, Out the Front Door and Dogged. Additionally, I also regularly read successful wildlife and economics blogs. Soon the light bulb would go off. While I could save dozens of dogs a year directly, I could help save thousands of dogs each year if I could get shelters to implement lifesaving policies. I needed to create my own no kill advocacy blog.

In January 2014, I created the NJ Animal Observer blog and Facebook page. At the time, I wondered if anyone would listen to me. Most people seemed to blindly follow large and dysfunctional animal welfare organizations, such as Associated Humane Societies and NJ SPCA. Initially, the blog was similar to many of the other no kill blogs where I merely expressed opinions. Several months later I wrote my first data driven blog called We Can Save All the Pit Bulls. At the time, this was one of my most viewed blogs and Nathan Winograd shared it. Later that year, I used a data driven approach to write about the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter. That blog was by far my most viewed blog at the time. More importantly, the local reform advocates used the material to assist their effort to reform that shelter. In fact, those local advocates would go on to become a major force in reforming animal sheltering and animal cruelty enforcement in New Jersey. Subsequently, I would use this data driven approach to evaluate almost every animal shelter in the state.

The animal shelter reform movement in New Jersey began to grow. Local animal advocates contacted me and we exchanged ideas. They fought to reform local animal shelters. Some reformed. Several other really bad ones closed thankfully. In 2013, which was the year before I started NJ Animal Observer and other animal advocates came to prominence, New Jersey animal shelters killed 23,490 dogs and cats (4,509 dogs and 18,981 cats). In 2018, New Jersey animal shelters killed 9,832 dogs and cats (1,895 dogs and 7,937 cats). Over the course of five years, killing decreased by nearly 60%. Even when compared to prior trends, things dramatically improved. New Jersey’s kill rate decreased at a rate 2-3 times greater after the first four years I created NJ Animal Observer compared to the four years before I started the blog. This improvement was even more startling since its harder to decrease kill rates when they become lower (i.e. the animals still being killed are harder to save).

Animal advocates didn’t directly save these animals, but their efforts helped others do so. Advocates pressured elected officials and shelter directors to pursue policies that saved lives. Once those policies went into effect, shelter workers, volunteers and rescues could do the hard work to save those animals. While we still know more must be done, we’ve made tremendous progress.

Daphne’s Life Dramatically Changes

As Gavin grew, our focus on Daphne decreased. Estrella couldn’t take Daphne for daily walks when Gavin got too big for a stroller. We also toned down the length and intensity of her ball fetching sessions in the backyard due to several mild cranial cruciate ligament injuries to her knees. Nonetheless, she continued to be a spectacular star by making catches that put Willie Mays famous “catch” to shame. Additionally, she continued to swim in the pool during the summer.

We could no longer foster dogs due to our concerns Gavin could get in the middle of a fight between Daphne and another dog. Instead, Estrella helped rescues and owners rehome their dogs. Once again, we found people sought dogs others said “no one wants.”

Daphne’s life would change yet again after we brought a cat named Pepper into our home. Due to Daphne’s intense prey drive, both animals could not be out together. We had specific procedures to keep both animals apart given the potential for disaster. While Pepper would become my “office cat”, Daphne would spend several hours alone each day while Pepper ran through the whole house. Ultimately, we would do it at times when Daphne typically napped. Still, Daphne made the sacrifice.

Estrella would soon foster mother cats and their litters of kittens. Now, we had to keep Daphne separate from both Pepper and all these cats. This was in addition to the two small dogs each of our next door neighbors would often have run loose in our front yard. We were always on alert! As we found out with pit bull like dogs, people wanted cats and kittens too!

Despite these changes, Daphne bonded with us even more. In particular, she really loved to be around Gavin. Perhaps, it was because they spent so much time together? Whatever it was, she enjoyed sharing the couch with him. Even with him doing typical kid things, she shrugged them off. If he got really out of hand, she quietly walked away. With us, she became more and more affectionate.

Over the last few years, life changes made it more difficult to focus on Daphne. Estrella changed her career and worked many more hours, especially nights and weekends. As Gavin got older, he had more school work we had to help him with and other activities. Of course, we still played ball in the backyard and in the pool during the summer. However, our long hikes became far less frequent. Still, Daphne cherished her time with us.

Our World Comes Crashing Down

Last summer, as with past ones, Daphne had a blast. On most days, she’d swim in the pool to fetch her ball. When we were in the pool, Daphne would run laps around to entice us to throw the ball into the pool. As a result of all the swimming and running, Daphne was in amazing physical shape.

In late August, we went to spend a week in Wildwood. As a child, I loved Wildwood and was eager to share the experience with Gavin. Additionally, Gavin got to spend much of the vacation with our friend and her two daughters. Several days into the vacation, we all went to the boardwalk to go on the rides. Seeing Gavin and his two friends have a blast on the rides was one of those wonderful moments a parent has. Everything seemed perfect. After awhile, we decided to get pizza on the boardwalk before going to another pier with the really fun rides.

While eating dinner in a crowded boardwalk pizza joint, I received a text from the person watching Daphne. Daphne was having a very difficult time getting up and walking around. As I sat at the crowded table, it was hard to process the news. Still, I began to worry. After we finished up, I went back to the place we rented to take the leftover food and everyone else went to the rides on other other pier. I received another text stating Daphne had bloody diarrhea. My heart raced as I knew something was gravely wrong. As I walked back to the pier, I googled the symptoms that confirmed this was an emergency situation. Once I got to the pier, Estrella and I rushed back to the place we stayed at. I quickly left to make the two and half hour drive home.

Once I got home at midnight, I carried Daphne into the car and rushed to the emergency veterinarian. When I got there, the staff immediately took Daphne in. As I sat there, I wondered how everything changed so quickly. How could Daphne go from swimming several days ago to this? Was I at fault for not worrying about the few times Daphne decided to cut off her swims a little early this year (which I attributed to old age/minor arthritis)? How did things go from absolutely perfect to a horror show so quickly this evening?

The emergency veterinarian soon came out and delivered devastating news. Daphne had canine hemangiosarcoma, which is an extremely aggressive cancer that grows on blood vessels. The tumor ruptured and she would bleed to death if we didn’t act. I had to decide if I would euthanize her or spend significant amounts of money to try and save her. The veterinarian advised me that attempts to save her may not work, and even if they did save her, she’d only live for a very short period. Unfortunately, Estrella had fallen asleep and I had to make the decision for both of us. Daphne could not die like this. I had to give her a chance. That night, the emergency veterinarian gave her a blood transfusion and stabilized her until they could determine if they could remove the tumor in the morning.

We received some good news the next morning. Daphne’s tumor was located on her spleen. Since Daphne could live without a spleen, the veterinarian could remove the spleen and the tumor. She went into surgery immediately after we agreed to move forward. Later in the day, we learned Daphne’s spleen removal surgery was successful.

That day I researched canine hemangiosarcoma extensively. Everything I seemed to read was dire. As I experienced, most owners also never knew their dogs had the disease until their tumors ruptured. Dogs having their spleens removed only survived 1-3 months without any other treatments. Even with additional chemotherapy, dogs typically would only survive 3-6 months. Additionally, I learned Yunzhi mushrooms, which are found in the I’m Yunity supplement, and Yunnan Baiyao, a Chinese herbal supplement, also were helpful. At a minimum, we’d give Daphne the two supplements and consider chemotherapy after consulting with a veterinary oncologist.

Since Daphne was stable and would need to spend a few days recovering at the veterinary hospital, I returned to Gavin and Estrella in Wildwood. Since our friend had left with her two daughters, our family would spend one last day together down there. While we were distraught over Daphne, we had a welcome distraction to prevent us from obsessing over her situation.

Soon after returning home, we picked Daphne up from the veterinarian. Initially, we were alarmed as she could barely get up and was wobbly when she did. Additionally, she was urinating on her bed. Had we made a grave mistake going through with the surgery? Did we keep her alive for our and not her benefit? Luckily, we’d find out these symptoms were due to a high dose of the sedating pain medication she received. Within a couple of days, she was ready to start her life again.

After consulting with the veterinary oncologist, we decided to do chemotherapy. We learned most dogs have few side effects compared to people. As with past veterinary visits, we’d have to sedate her and make her wear a a “hannibal lecter” style muzzle. Once the sedation wore off, she didn’t seem too affected by the chemotherapy. In fact, she’d routinely play tug of war and fetch with me.

On a Sunday in late September, we got the opportunity to take Daphne to the beach. After learning of Daphne’s illness, we promised her we’d take her to Wildwood next summer if she was still alive. Since we knew that was not likely, we jumped at the chance to take her to Sandy Hook on an unusually warm day.

Over the next several months, Daphne became incredibly affectionate with us. Did she know we saved her life? Did she know her time with us would not be long? Whatever the reason, we cherished these moments.

Last January, Daphne passed her first post-chemotherapy appointment with flying colors. All her blood test results were great and she seemed healthy and happy. The veterinary oncologist recommended we aggressively continue treating Daphne’s canine hemangiosarcoma. In addition to the I’m Yunity mushrooms and Yunnan Baiyao, we gave her the drug rapamycin, which had some limited evidence of being helpful for the disease. The veterinary oncologist also decided to add metronomic chemotherapy, which uses a low dose oral chemotherapy drug, in one month’s time. We were hopeful Daphne could spend many more great moments with us.

Once again, our world crumbled down in late February. Suddenly, Daphne became very weak. She started to have trouble getting around. When we brought her back to the veterinary oncologist, we knew what we’d hear. Daphne’s cancer had come back and spread. The oncologist had no other treatments and consoled us and gave us a pet hospice and in-home euthanasia service pamphlet. When I asked her if Daphne would be in pain, she said no. Instead, she told us Daphne would be very weak, and would get weaker, like when people have the flu.

Making matters worse, I was scheduled to go to Austin in two days to present at the American Pets Alive Conference. This would be the first time I presented at an animal welfare conference. Additionally, I was scheduled to speak with some amazingly talented people. Needless to say, I had been looking forward to this for months. As I wrestled with my decision, I realized I might not get home in time before we had to euthanize Daphne or when she passed away on her own. Additionally, I knew Estrella could not provide Daphne the care she needed on her own. Therefore, I had to do something I never do, cancel less than two days before I was scheduled to speak. Thankfully, my friend Davyd Smith from No Kill Colorado filled in for me.

Over the next three weeks, Daphne would amaze me yet again. Daphne began to eat less and less and became progressively weaker. She stopped eating dry dog food first, then the can dog food, then the cat can food and then various dog treats. She went down and up the stairs very slowly. When she went to the bathroom, she couldn’t squat very long. Despite her difficulties, she still came down to be with Gavin and me when we played video games downstairs. For some reason, she really enjoyed hanging with us on the couch when we started doing this around a year or so ago. Was it she liked being with us when we had fun? Whatever the reason, she mustered the strength to come down the stairs and would do a slow trot and use her all her energy to hop on the couch. When we took her out to poop, she would pull energy from nowhere to slowly walk around 50 yards away to a little wooded area. How was she doing this?

By mid-March, Daphne stopped eating entirely on her own and became incredibly weak. We resorted to squeezing baby food into her mouth. Unfortunately, she would only eat a little bit and it would come no where near her nutritional needs. She lost a tremendous amount of weight. Now, we’d have to carry Daphne up and down the stairs to go to the bathroom. She could only walk a few steps to go to urinate and defecate. Afterwards, she was exhausted. At home, she would sleep the whole day. She could no longer get up on her own. Still, everyday, she’d lift her head up for us to bring her to her feet so she could walk a few steps to our deck. Even in her grim condition, this was something she looked forward to everyday. Was it seeing the pool and backyard she played in so much? Was it the sounds of the birds, the wind or just the fresh air? Whatever it was, she fought to experience this. One day, she even found the strength to bark at a nearby train.

Soon Daphne would get even weaker. We decided it was close to the time to euthanize Daphne. Due to Daphne’s fear of veterinarians, we knew the procedure had to be at our home. I scheduled an appointment with an in-home veterinarian service, but we had to wait four days. Frankly, I didn’t even think Daphne might live that long. I contacted another veterinarian who would do it in three days and scheduled an appointment. When it came time for the first appointment, we canceled it. We were not ready. That evening, Daphne began to have a harder time breathing. Based on my experience with people at the end of their lives and the many hopelessly suffering animal records I’ve reviewed over the years, I knew it was time. The next day, when our second appointment was due, we again struggled going through with it. Could we give Daphne a couple a more days? After hearing Daphne’s labored breathing, we knew we couldn’t wait another three or four more days. This was the time.

Estrella carried Daphne and her bed to the deck around noon after it stopped raining. For the next few hours, Daphne would rest in the place she loved. When the veterinarian arrived, Daphne didn’t even look up. We spent some time alone saying good bye to her. When it was time, we both held Daphne while she laid on her dog bed on the deck. In contrast to Daphne’s past veterinarian visits, Daphne hardly reacted. When she smelled the anti-septic the veterinarian used, she looked back for a second and then went back to rest after we reassured her. Daphne never noticed the injection of the sedative or the euthanasia drug. She simply breathed lighter and lighter until she passed. Estrella cried and I felt crushed inside. As bad as it was seeing her leave us, I couldn’t think of a better place and more peaceful way for it to happen. Still, that didn’t take our pain away.

Since Daphne’s passing, I still sometimes think she is here. Unconsciously, I think its time to take her out before bed time. Similarly, before bed and when I wake up I look at the spot where she slept to see if she is there. Often times, I look to the couch to see if she is there. These habits are ingrained in me. They don’t break easily.

Going back to the story I started this blog off with, Daphne has taught me many things. Daphne will forever be connected to starting a family. Additionally, she led me into the world of animal rescue and animal advocacy. Most importantly, she taught me to fight for the things and ones I love. That’s a lesson I will always hold dear to my heart.

St. Hubert’s Kills Newark’s Homeless Dogs

March 11, 2020 Update: I revised this blog for additional data I had received. While the dog statistics improved slightly, the overall conclusions remain the same. The additional cat data suggests St. Hubert’s had a good cat live release rate as opposed to my previous uncertain conclusion. However, St. Hubert’s cat live release rate was largely driven by a very high amount of rescue assistance.

Newark has long had severe problems with Associated Humane Societies-Newark. Over 50 years ago, the modern form of AHS-Newark began with a corrupt contract that a court threw out and resulted in AHS long-time Executive Director, Lee Bernstein, being sentenced to jail. In 2003, the New Jersey Commission of Investigation issued a scathing report on AHS that found the organization raising massive amounts of money and failing to properly care for their animals. Over the years, state health department inspectors found horrific problems and former Mayor Cory Booker tried to build a new no kill shelter to replace AHS-Newark.

My analyses revealed this shelter was high kill and broke state law. In 2015, I published a blog about how animals primarily impounded from animal control in Newark during 2014 fared at the shelter. Remarkably, 84% of dogs and cats, 93% of cats, 70% of dogs and 81% of pit bull like dogs with known outcomes lost their lives. Subsequently, I posted a blog about AHS-Newark violating state law left and right and requested the New Jersey Department of Health inspect the shelter.

The New Jersey Department of Health found horrific problems at AHS-Newark in 2017. You can read the August 22, 2017 inspection here, the September 26, 2017 inspection here and the October 20, 2017 inspection report here. Overall, the problems were so severe that authorities charged Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, with animal cruelty. Ultimately, the prosecutor and Roseann Trezza entered into an agreement in or around May 2018 to supposedly bar Ms. Trezza from the Newark shelter for two years and make her pay a $3,500 fine in exchange for dismissing the charges.

In 2018, Newark and AHS had several contract disputes that created major crises. In March 2018, AHS attorney, Harry Levin, sent a letter to Plainfield and Belleville stating it suspended providing animal control and sheltering services to Newark. While AHS and Newark ultimately came to an agreement, the arrangement fell apart in the Fall of 2018 and AHS-Newark refused to accept Newark animals after November 7, 2018.

Newark and Large Animal Welfare Organizations Exclude Animal Advocates from Process to Replace AHS-Newark

After AHS-Newark decided to stop taking in Newark’s homeless animals, Newark officials scrambled for a solution. During October 2018, Newark officials considered sites to build a city owned shelter. Two of those sites are listed below.

Newark Proposed Shelter Site 1

Newark Proposed Shelter Site 2

Additionally, Newark’s then Deputy Mayor and Director of Economic and Housing Development, John Palmieri, stated a shelter would cost $15 million, which would be funded by municipal bonds. Furthermore, the Newark official said the city could get the shelter built within 15-18 months. However, Mr. Palmieri noted finding an operator was an issue given Best Friends declined to run a city owned shelter.

On October 31, 2018, Newark held a meeting with large animal welfare organizations. As you can see below, the attendees included two St. Hubert’s executives, the Humane Society of the United States New Jersey Director, Best Friends Northeast Regional Director, Liberty Humane Society’s Executive Director, New York City Mayor’s Office Animal Welfare Liasion and several members of the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness. Most notably, the meeting did not include a single animal advocate.

Subsequently, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka announced a deal for St. Hubert’s to provide sheltering services through the end of 2018 and that the city and Liberty Humane Society were negotiating a contract for 2019 (Liberty Humane Society ultimately did not enter into an agreement with Newark and St. Hubert’s continued its arrangement in 2019). At the time, I was happy to see Newark ditch AHS-Newark, but was concerned that St. Hubert’s would also kill animals. These concerns were based on my personal experience with St. Hubert’s, stories I heard over the years about the organization’s behavioral evaluations and the fact the shelter primarily serves areas with few challenging dogs. After reviewing St. Hubert’s contract with Newark, I publicly asked St. Hubert’s to provide details on how it would handle Newark’s animals to avoid killing them. Subsequently, I expressed deep concerns about St. Hubert’s not publicly disclosing what the outcomes of its Newark animals were and the City of Newark not making progress on building its own shelter.

At the end of April 2019, St. Hubert’s terminated its arrangement with Newark citing “financial hardship.” Furthermore, St. Hubert’s stated the “homeless animals in Newark will be best served by a centrally located facility that can provide ample resources and care.” However, St. Hubert’s also told NJ Advance Media that “The needs for a city that size are bigger than we can sustain without being a detriment to our other programs.” Ironically, St. Hubert’s admitted it continued with its “regularly scheduled rescues and transports throughout New Jersey and the United States” during the time it contracted with Newark. In other words, St. Hubert’s was not serious about saving Newark’s homeless animals since it interfered with their transport based pet store business model. As a result of St. Hubert’s move, the City of Newark had no animal shelter provider for a day. With no other alternative, the City of Newark contracted again with AHS-Newark at around a 50% greater monthly cost than it previously had with AHS-Newark.

What kind of job did St. Hubert’s do with Newark’s homeless animals? Did St. Hubert’s live up to the progressive ideals it portrays to the public? What effect will the St. Hubert’s and other animal welfare organizations’ arrangement have on Newark’s homeless animals in the future?

Data Reviewed

In order to get a better understanding of the job St. Hubert’s did with Newark’s homeless animals, I requested the intake and disposition records for each individual dog and cat the shelter took in from Newark during its contract term. Unfortunately, the City of Newark did not give me records for every animal. However, I did get records for a significant number of animals that gave me an understanding of how St. Hubert’s handled the Newark contract. You can see those records here and here.

St. Hubert’s Kills Large Number of Newark’s Homeless Dogs

St. Hubert’s had large percentages of their Newark dogs lose their lives. Overall, 35% of all dogs who had known outcomes lost their lives. If we just look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, 54% of all these dogs lost their lives. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only had 1% of its dogs and 2% of its nonreclaimed dogs lose their lives in 2018. Thus, St. Hubert’s had its Newark dogs lose their lives at 35 times and 27 times Austin Animal Center’s rates for all dogs and nonreclaimed dogs.

Newark pit bulls fared far worse at St. Hubert’s. 47% of all pit bulls and 68% of nonreclaimed pit bulls with known outcomes lost their lives. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 1% of its pit bulls and 2% of its nonreclaimed pit bulls in 2018. As a result, St. Hubert’s had its Newark pit bulls lose their lives at 47 times and 34 times Austin Animal Center’s rates.

St. Hubert’s also had too many small dogs and other medium to large size breeds from Newark lose their lives. Overall, the shelter had 18% of small dogs and 25% of other medium to large size breeds with known outcomes lose their lives. Frankly, shelters should be able to save nearly all small dogs due to the fact such animals cannot seriously injure dog savvy adult owners. Even the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, which is far from a progressive facility, only had 1% of small dogs lose their lives in 2017Austin Animal Center only had 1% of small dogs and 1% of other medium to large size breeds lose their lives in 2018. Thus, St. Hubert’s had both small dogs and other medium to large size breeds lose their lives at 18 times and 25 times Austin Animal Center’s rates.

Since St. Hubert’s did not have known outcomes in many of the records provided to me, it is useful to do an adjusted analysis assuming some of the ending population animals were adopted out. The table below assumes all dogs placed into foster homes or dogs adopted on a trial basis were adopted out. Under these assumptions, the death rates for all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size dogs were 29%, 39%, 14% and 21%. The nonreclaimed death rates using these assumptions were 40%, 53%, 17% and 38% for all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size dogs. Thus, St. Hubert’s Newark dog statistics were still terrible even when assuming large numbers of dogs were adopted out.

The final dog analysis assumes St. Hubert’s adopted out all Newark dogs in the ending population. While I believe this is unrealistic, it is useful to see how St. Hubert’s performed using the most generous assumption. Under this assumption, the death rates for all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size breeds were 16%, 20%, 9% and 13%. The nonreclaimed death rates using these assumptions were 19%, 23%, 11% and 17%. Thus, St. Hubert’s Newark dog statistics were still awful even when the shelter received the most favorable assumption.

Cat Data Suggests Good Performance Due to Rescue Assistance

St. Hubert’s overall Newark cat statistics indicated death rates were slightly high. Overall, 11% of all cats, 11% of adult cats and 13% of kittens with known outcomes lost their lives. The nonreclaimed death rate was 13% for all cats, adult cats and kittens.

St. Hubert’s Newark cat statistics assuming live releases for all cats who were adopted out on a trial basis or placed into foster homes were good. Overall, the death rates using these assumptions for all cats, adult cats and kittens were 8%, 10% and 4%. The nonreclaimed death rates were 9% for all cats, 12% for adult cats and 4% for kittens.

The data suggests transfers to rescues and/or other shelters played a significant role. Overall, transfers to other organizations exceeded adoptions for both all cats and adult cats. For adult cats, transfers exceeded adoptions by nearly a 3 to 1 margin. If some of the trial adoptions and animals sent to foster homes ultimately were transferred and not adopted out, transfers to rescues and/or other shelters would have played an even larger role. Thus, St. Hubert’s seemed to disproportionately rely on other organizations to save the cats it took in from Newark.

St. Hubert’s cat statistics assuming all cats with no known outcomes were adopted out were very good. Overall, the death rates using this assumption for all cats, adult cats and kittens were 5%, 6% and 4%. The nonreclaimed death rates were 6% for all cats, 7% for adult cats and 4% for kittens. However, this generous assumption likely is not right since shelters frequently kill cats who stay at shelters for longer periods.

St. Hubert’s Absurd “Community Outreach” Claim

St. Hubert’s asserted Newark had a “pet overpopulation” problem and the organization was “dedicated to getting to the root cause” of it in its Spring 2019 newsletter. Newark Animal Control’s data showed AHS-Newark impounded 3,281 dogs and cats from Newark or 11.6 dogs and cats per 1,000 people during a 12 month period in 2017-2018. As a comparison, no kill communities in Kansas City, Missouri, Lake County, Florida and Austin, Texas took in 21.8, 17.4 and 15.1 dogs and cats per 1,000 people in 2019. Thus, St. Hubert’s claim that Newark has a “pet overpopulation” problem is not true since communities taking in significantly more animals on a per capita basis and in total achieved no kill.

St. Hubert’s attempt to solve this so-called “pet overpopulation” problem was inadequate. In that same newsletter, St. Hubert’s stated it provided free spay/neuter to 238 cats (who they said were mostly outdoor or community cats) and 33 dogs during a one time event. While I’m happy St. Hubert’s offered this service, these numbers would never make a dent in the dog or community cat population in Newark. Based on the methodology from St. Hubert’s own analysis from May 2014, the City of Newark should have between 20,896 and 47,015 community cats and 22,311 dogs. Therefore, St. Hubert’s spay/neuter effort would have sterilized 0.5% to 1.1% of Newark’s community cats and 0.1% of the city’s dogs. While a St. Hubert’s press release stated a slightly higher number of dogs and cats received free spay/neuter services (375 animals), this would only modestly increase these percentages. Based on a recent study showing sterilization rates of 60%-80% of a community cat population being needed to make a substantial reduction in the population, St. Hubert’s spay/neuter efforts clearly were not sufficient. Similarly, the low percentage of the Newark dog population sterilized at the clinic also shows this will have no real effect on dog intake at AHS-Newark. While St. Hubert’s claimed they would do more clinics if they got funding, I’ve not seen the organization make a substantial effort at doing this. Thus, St. Hubert’s spay/neuter effort is a public relations ploy rather than an effective no kill strategy.

Dog Data Consistent with St. Hubert’s Killing “Rescued” Newark Dogs

Recently, St. Hubert’s shocked animal advocates after it killed four dogs it “rescued” from AHS-Newark. St. Hubert’s killed the four dogs, Avery, Sumo, Bowser and Andy, after holding the animals for just 18 days. While St. Hubert’s claimed these dogs were severely dog aggressive, all the dogs were Associated Humane Societies-Newark “event” dogs. When I was a volunteer at AHS-Newark, we typically took the best behaved dogs to adoption events due to the obvious behavior challenges these events posed (i.e. many people, other dogs, etc.). As you can see in the pictures below, and by the fact these dogs participated well in these events, St. Hubert’s reasoning makes no sense. Additionally, AHS Assistant Executive Director, Ken McKeel, also came to the conclusion that these dogs could have been placed. Furthermore, animal welfare groups saved nearly every dog from the Michael Vick dog fighting case (i.e. proving organizations can even safely place many dogs used for fighting). Given St. Hubert’s operates a huge dog training facility, this organization had more than enough resources to do great things for these dogs.

The reality is St. Hubert’s did virtually nothing, but poison these dogs to death. How do I know? The shelter killed ALL four dogs on the same exact day after less than three weeks in their so-called shelter. In fact, the AHS Assistant Executive Director stated St. Hubert’s would not place these dogs after just nine days. Frankly, it defies logic that St. Hubert’s would conclude ALL four dogs were beyond help at the exact same time and after such a short period.

These events prove new St. Hubert’s Chief Operating Officer, Michelle Thevenin, was the wrong choice for the job. Ironically, Humane Rescue Alliance, the Washington D.C. based organization that recently acquired St. Hubert’s, announced Michelle Thevenin’s hiring on the very day St. Hubert’s conducted its fake “rescue” of these dogs and fundraising ploy. Ms. Thevenin previously ran a shelter in New Hampshire, and more recently, a limited admission shelter in Georgia. Humane Rescue Alliance stated the following in its press release:

Thevenin is deeply committed to growing St. Hubert’s best-in-class WayStation transport program.

Additionally, the Humane Rescue Alliance press release said:

She is committed to growing the WayStation and building capacity to help more animals and people.

Michelle Thevenin proved that she is firmly committed to St. Hubert’s and Roger Haston’s transport driven pet store business model. In other words, transport the easy to adopt dogs to raise money and receive large adoption fees, and kill the local dogs (i.e. adult pit bulls) that may require just a little work. This philosophy aligns with Humane Rescue Alliance’s own terrible performance with large dogs and pit bull like dogs in Washington D.C. and Humane Rescue Alliance celebrating Roger Haston last year.

Clearly, New Jersey legislators, animal advocates and animal welfare organizations should not consider St. Hubert’s an authority on any animal sheltering issues. Simply put, St. Hubert’s is controlled by an out of state organization looking to make itself, and its CEO who made $335,698 in fiscal year ending September 30, 2018, rich rather than helping New Jersey animals.

Simply put, St. Hubert’s views large dogs, particularly pit bulls, as expendable. St. Hubert’s own data from its Newark contract, its treatment of Avery, Sumo, Bowser and Andy prove that.

St. Hubert’s and National Animal Welfare Groups Enable AHS-Newark to Continue Doing Business as Usual

While I believe the national organizations involved in getting St. Hubert’s the Newark animal sheltering contract had good intentions, the end result made things worse for the city’s homeless animals. In November 2018, the City of Newark faced immense pressure to replace AHS-Newark. Given the very public and heated dispute between the City of Newark and AHS-Newark at this time, the City of Newark was unlikely to continue contracting with AHS-Newark. In other words, the City of Newark would likely have had to come up with an alternative, including running the shelter itself. Thus, the national organizations and St. Hubert’s brokered a deal that allowed the City of Newark to avoid taking this necessary action.

Unfortunately, St. Hubert’s own data and actions prove it never wanted to solve Newark’s animal sheltering crisis. Instead, it got some good news headlines and gave the City of Newark and AHS-Newark the political cover to continue contracting. After six months and St. Hubert’s abruptly walking away from its arrangement, the City of Newark made the case AHS-Newark changed and could be a viable sheltering solution:

The Associated Humane Societies (AHS) has a new board and both a vision and approach to achieving its mission to support the health and welfare of animals at risk,” said Dr. Wade. We are looking forward to a progressive relationship with them as we continue to canvass the city for a facility and location that would be appropriate for animal sheltering and in turn provide us with a long term solution.

As with past promises to build a new shelter, the City of Newark is unlikely to act without a sheltering crisis. Based on the New Jersey Department of Health’s refusal to inspect any animal shelters in over a year, we will probably not get the state health department to inspect AHS-Newark anytime soon. Since bad inspections historically drove media coverage of failing shelters, the City of Newark will face no pressure to replace AHS-Newark.

Sadly, AHS-Newark is regressing to its old ways. Last November, AHS Assistant Executive Director, Rob Russotti, resigned due to the AHS board refusing to allow him to make positive change at the shelter:

“I can unequivocally state that I was disappointed with my expectations of support, and an ongoing antiquated culture by certain members of the board,” Russotti said. “I did meet with internal resistance and undermining to my progressive initiatives which were supported by respected animal welfare organizations and the community.”

Recently, new AHS Assistant Executive Director, Ken McKeel, stated he will not allow rescues to pull small dogs, kittens and puppies unless they “take an older longtime resident or two.” As I stated in a Facebook post, this policy will increase killing at this regressive shelter for the following reasons:

  1. Not allowing rescues to pull more adoptable pets will lead to these animals staying at the shelter longer and cause less resources to go towards saving the harder to adopt animals.
  2. It will increase the shelter’s average length of stay (since AHS-Newark does a poor job with adoptions) and that will result in more sick animals and pets with behavior issues.
  3. Rescues are not likely to pull more hard to adopt animals just to get some easier to adopt pets. These rescues will simply go to other shelters.
  4. AHS-Newark is destroying its relationship with rescues who it will desperately need when the shelter becomes full.
  5. Many rescues will likely not pull animals since they have to make an appointment with an organization that is notoriously difficult to deal with.

With Roseann Trezza’s two year probation period barring her from officially running AHS-Newark expiring this spring, AHS-Newark will likely continue its decades long practice of regressive sheltering. Furthermore, AHS-Newark now receives around 50% more money from the City of Newark than before the St. Hubert’s contract. As such, AHS-Newark will surely feel emboldened to do whatever it wants.

Clearly, the St. Hubert’s debacle proves the animal shelter establishment in New Jersey and the United States cannot implement real shelter reform. Instead, as in most no kill communities, no kill advocates must engage in a long political campaign to force Newark and the other AHS-Newark contracting municipalities to create a real no kill shelter.

New York ACC Quickly Kills Large Numbers of Animals

Supposedly progressive animal welfare organizations have praised Animal Care Centers of NYC, which most people better know as New York ACC, as a no kill and role model shelter. At the 2017 Best Friends National Conference kick off session, Best Friends claimed New York ACC reached a 90% live release rate and was no kill. At this same conference presentation, Best Friends interviewed Mayor’s Alliance of NYC President, Jane Hoffman, and held her organization, which coordinates a number of New York ACC’s programs, and New York ACC as a role model for no kill advocates. Ms. Hoffman also claimed New York ACC exceeded 90% live release rates for both dogs and cats. In fact, Ms. Hoffman explicitly stated New York ACC was no kill earlier this year:

Having accomplished its mission to make NYC a no-kill city,” Hoffman told 1010 WINS, “the Alliance has reevaluated its programming to adapt to the changing needs of animal welfare in NYC.

Maddie’s Fund gave New York ACC CEO, Risa Weinstock, a $10,000 grant as a “no kill leader” for her “efforts in furthering the no-kill mission” in 2018. This grant provided money to “support community lifesaving, shelter medicine education and pet adoption.” In a Maddie’s Fund press release, the organization stated this “Hero Grant” “recognizes and honors the ‘top dogs’ in communities that are not only advancing the welfare of companion animals in the United States, but are leading the way with their innovative ideas, progressive thinking and lifesaving actions.” Thus, Maddie’s Fund not only viewed New York ACC as a no kill shelter, it also called the New York ACC CEO a “hero” and “no kill leader.”

Is New York ACC “no kill?” Is New York ACC a “top dog”, “hero” and “no kill leader?”

Data Reviewed

In order to get a better understanding of the job New York ACC did in 2018, I obtained the intake and disposition records for each individual dog and cat the shelter took in during the year. You can find those records here. Additionally, I obtained supporting records for a selection of dogs the shelter killed during the year. You can see those records here. Finally, I obtained New York ACC’s Controlled Dangerous Substance logs, which lists the euthanasia drugs given to each animal the shelter killed in 2018. You can review those records in the following links:

While assessing the adequacy of the Controlled Dangerous Substance logs was beyond the scope of my analysis, I generally found them a mess. For example, the logs were handwritten and illegible in many cases. Therefore, it was difficult to even determine if the shelter prepared and kept these logs properly. Amazingly, New York ACC has not implemented a computerized system for maintaining its Controlled Dangerous Substance logs despite the New York City Comptroller noting this in an audit report from three years earlier. In fact, the New York City Comptroller noted in their 2015 audit report that New York ACC was not in compliance with its contract with New York City since it “does not maintain a computerized inventory system of controlled substances.”

Unfortunately, New York ACC was extremely difficult to get information from. In my last six years doing public records requests from animal shelters, I found New York ACC one of the worst organizations to deal with. Frequently, I would not get responses for long periods of time. Additionally, I often needed to follow-up several times to get requested records. Furthermore, New York ACC only provided me animal records generated from their shelter software system. For example, the shelter did not give me original records, such as owner surrender forms, shelter behavioral evaluations and other firsthand records. As such, New York ACC mainly gave me its summary of these records and I could not verify if the shelter’s version of these facts were accurate.

Due to New York ACC’s stonewalling, I obtained fewer supporting documents than I typically do. For example, I reviewed records for 31 dogs killed and did not obtain supporting records for cats killed. However, I reviewed enough records to get a good idea about how New York ACC operates.

Deadly Dog Data

New York ACC had large percentages of their dogs lose their lives in 2018. Overall, 21% of all dogs taken in during 2018 who had known outcomes lost their lives. If we just look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, 24% of all these dogs lost their lives. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only had 1% of its dogs and 2% of its nonreclaimed dogs lose their lives in 2018. Thus, New York ACC had dogs lose their lives at 21 times and 12 times Austin Animal Center’s rates for all dogs and nonreclaimed dogs.

Unfortunately, New York ACC did not break out breed in many of its intake and disposition records. Instead, it uses large, medium and small dog descriptions for most dogs. While I fully support not listing breeds in adoption marketing materials since breed descriptions are often inaccurate and frequently lead to less pit bull adoptions, the shelter should include breed in its shelter software reports. Even though a scientific study found removing pit bull labels decreased the times these dogs spent in a shelter, pit bulls with no breed label in this study still stayed longer in the shelter than other types of dogs with or without a breed label. Therefore, the public likely still identifies some dogs as pit bulls who don’t have a breed description. If shelters do not track pit bull like dogs, or dogs who the public may perceive as pit bulls, as a separate group, the shelter will not be able to assess whether more of these dogs are losing their lives. As a result, New York ACC likely has much higher death rates for its pit bull like dogs than the broader dog descriptions below indicate.

New York ACC had a bigger percentage of large dogs lose their lives in 2018. Overall, 25% of large dogs taken in during 2018 who had known outcomes lost their lives. If we just look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, 30% of these large dogs lost their lives. On the other hand, 16% and 19% of medium dogs and nonreclaimed medium dogs lost their lives in 2018. Collectively, New York ACC had 22% of all large and medium dogs and 26% of nonreclaimed large and medium dogs lose their lives last year. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only had 1% of its large and medium dogs and 1% of its nonreclaimed large and medium nonreclaimed dogs lose their lives in 2018. Thus, New York ACC had large and medium dogs lose their lives at 22 times and 26 times Austin Animal Center’s rates for all large and medium dogs and large and medium nonreclaimed dogs.

Small dogs were not safe at New York ACC in 2018. The shelter had 19% of all small dogs and 22% of nonreclaimed small dogs lose their lives in 2018. Frankly, shelters should be able to save nearly all small dogs due to the fact such animals cannot seriously injure dog savvy adult owners. Even the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, which is far from a progressive facility, only euthanized 1% of small dogs and 1% of nonreclaimed small dogs in 2017Austin Animal Center only had 1% of small dogs and 2% of nonreclaimed small dogs lose their lives last year. Thus, New York ACC had small dogs and nonreclaimed small dogs lose their lives at 19 times and 11 times Austin Animal Center’s rates.

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Senior Dog Slaughter

Older dogs lost their lives in massive numbers at New York ACC in 2018. Overall, New York ACC had 58% of all dogs, 73% of large dogs, 59% of medium dogs and 52% of small dogs that were 10 years and older lose their lives in 2018. If we just look at nonreclaimed dogs, an astonishing 64% of all dogs, 78% of large dogs, 69% of medium dogs and 57% of small dogs that were 10 years and older lost their lives in 2018. While senior dogs are more likely to be hopelessly suffering, its simply inconceivable that around half to three quarters of these dogs were in this state of health.

New York ACC’s senior dog slaughter becomes apparent when we compare its performance to Austin Animal Center. Based on Austin Animal Center’s publicly reported 2018 intake and disposition records, this shelter only had 4% and 8% of all 10 year old plus dogs and nonreclaimed 10 years old plus dogs lose their lives in 2018. As a result, New York ACC had senior dogs and nonreclaimed senior dogs lose their lives at 15 times and eight times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

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Owner Surrendered Dogs Die in Droves

As bad as New York ACC’s overall dog data was, the owner surrendered dog statistics were far worse. Overall, 33% of all owner surrendered dogs, 36% of large owner surrendered dogs, 26% of medium owner surrendered dogs and 34% of small owner surrendered dogs lost their lives in 2018. If we just look at nonreclaimed owner surrendered dogs, an astonishing 36% of all owner surrendered dogs, 40% of large owner surrendered dogs, 28% of medium owner surrendered dogs and 36% of of small owner surrendered dogs lost their lives. Thus, around 1 in 4 to more than 1 in 3 owner surrendered dogs lost their lives at New York ACC in 2018.

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New York ACC killed huge numbers of dogs for “owner requested euthanasia.” Overall, New York ACC killed 1,025 dogs, 298 large dogs, 160 medium dogs and 567 small dogs for “owner requested euthanasia.” Remarkably, owner requested euthanasia made up 12%, 10% of, 8% and 16% of all outcomes for all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs. Even worse, owner requested euthanasia made up 26%, 22%, 20% and 33% of all outcomes for owner surrendered all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs. In fact, 80% of killed owner surrendered dogs, 62% of killed owner surrendered large dogs, 75% of killed owner surrendered medium dogs and 97% of killed owner surrendered small dogs were classified as “owner requested euthanasia.”

Frankly, I’ve never seen any shelter report such a high percentage of owner requested euthanasia. For example, I’ve reviewed detailed records at inner city shelters in Newark, Paterson, Passaic, Elizabeth and Perth Amboy and did not see anywhere near these types of owner requested euthanasia numbers. Given New York ACC uses the Asilomar Accords, which require shelters to exclude owner requested euthanasia from their live release rates, New York ACC has a strong incentive count killed animals as “owner requested euthanasia.”

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Quick and Immediate Dog Killing

New York ACC’s dog length of stay data revealed the shelter quickly killed dogs. Specifically, the shelter killed all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs after 3.6 days, 6.0 days, 3.9 days and 0.9 days on average in 2018. Clearly, this is not nearly enough time to determine if the shelter can save these animals.

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While the average length of stay data is revealing, the distribution of the lengths of stay of the dogs killed is eye opening. Remarkably, New York ACC killed 62% of the dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. 76% of the dogs New York ACC killed occurred within five days or less. New York ACC killed 81%, 90% and 95% of the dogs it killed within seven, 12 and 15 days. In fact, almost every dog New York ACC killed happened within 30 days or less. Thus, New York ACC gave the dogs it killed virtually no chance to become adoptable.

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New York ACC killed owner surrendered dogs even faster. The shelter killed all owner surrendered dogs, large owner surrendered dogs, medium owner surrendered dogs and small owner surrendered dogs after 1.9 days, 3.5 days, 2.0 days and 0.5 days on average in 2018.

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The distribution of the lengths of stay of killed owner surrendered dogs at New York ACC in 2018 is quite telling. New York ACC killed 78% of the owner surrendered dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 83%, 89% and 96% of the dogs it killed within three, six and 13 days. In fact, New York ACC killed virtually every owner surrendered dog it killed within 23 days.

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New York ACC’s length of stay data showed it gave no mercy to senior dogs. The shelter killed all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs that were 10 years and older after jut 0.4 days, 0.8 days, 0.2 days and 0.3 days on average in 2018.

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When we look at the distribution of the lengths of stay of the senior dogs New York ACC killed, we can clearly see how this shelter gave these animals no chance. New York ACC killed 92% of the 10 years and older dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 95%, 97% and 98% of the senior dogs it killed within one day, three days and six days. In fact, New York ACC killed virtually every 10 years and older dog it killed within 13 days.

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Dogs Killed for Highly Questionable Reasons

The killed dogs records I selected indicated New York ACC killed unusually large percentages of dogs for aggression. Overall, New York ACC killed 6.5% of all the dogs it took in during 2018 for aggression if you extrapolate my sample to all of the shelter’s dog intake last year. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.1% of the dogs it took in during 2018 for aggression and behavior related reasons. In other words, New York ACC killed dogs for aggression related reasons at 65 times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, New York ACC erroneously labeled dogs aggressive and did not do enough to rehabilitate those that had some issues.

The shelter also killed too many dogs for medical reasons. During 2018, New York ACC killed 13.4% of all dogs for medical reasons if you extrapolate my sample to the shelter’s entire dog intake for the year. However, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.6% of all dogs for medical reasons. Therefore, New York ACC killed dogs for medical related reasons at 22 times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, New York ACC killed treatable dogs.

New York ACC Killed Dog Sample Reasons

Savannah or Dog ID# 17943 was a 1 year and 11 month old large mixed breed dog surrendered to New York ACC on January 12, 2018. Initially, the owner contacted New York ACC on January 9, 2018 about surrendering Savannah for aggression related problems. According to New York ACC’s version of the owner’s conversation, Savannah bit several family members in a few incidents that involved food and touching the dog.

New York ACC’s summary of the dog owner’s assessment of Savannah provided more details on this dog. In the “behavior note” below, Savannah was “friendly, playful, gentle and tolerant” of children that were 3-10 years old who visited. Savannah also was “friendly and playful” with other dogs and “friendly and relaxed” around cats in her home. In the home, Savannah took about 20 minutes to warm up to strangers, where she would allow petting, and growled when people tried to take food or bones away.

Savannah’s past bites per New York ACC’s summary of the dog owner’s assessment of Savannah indicated she may have been treatable. One bite related to the owner “cleaning a hot spot on her leg.” In another case, an owner’s relative approached and told Savannah to get away from a plate of food Savannah started eating. In another instance, Savannah bit the owner and their mother after the owner was petting the dog’s tail after a walk. Finally, Savannah bit the owner’s cousin when he brought her chicken after a bath to induce her to go for a walk. None of the bites required stitches at a medical facility.

Despite Savannah’s bites having apparent triggers, which may possibly have responded to behavioral rehabilitation, and New York ACC never even seeing the dog, New York ACC persuaded the “emotional” owner to do an owner requested euthanasia (“E&R”) instead of a regular owner surrender. New York ACC then immediately killed Savannah when she was surrendered on January 12, 2018.

While Savannah may or may not have been hopelessly aggressive, New York ACC made no effort to really find out. Instead, it used its power to influence an “emotional” owner to let the shelter immediately kill her as an owner requested euthanasia. As a result, New York ACC did not count this killing in its Asilimar Live Release Rate to help it falsely claim its no kill.

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Smokey or Dog ID# 32081 was a five year old large mixed breed dog surrendered to New York ACC on June 23, 2018. According to New York ACC’s summary of Smokey, the shelter claimed Smokey was a “guard dog” and “dog reactive” and had a recent fight with another dog. New York ACC’s quote from the dog owner stated he was concerned about his godchild since Smokey was fighting with another dog in the home. The shelter claimed the owner also said the dog can become reactive when the owner is not around and sometimes can be unpredictable. Shockingly, New York ACC advised the owner to do an owner requested euthanasia. Why did New York ACC tell the owner this? New York ACC had an internal “discussion over the population call and its best to have Mr. request for E/R at the time of appointment.” In other words, New York ACC was going to kill dogs for space and wanted to exclude killing Smokey from its Asilomar live release rate.

As with Savannah, New York ACC did not even attempt to determine if it could treat Smokey. The shelter made no medical notes, did no veterinary treatments and never even attempted to provide any behavioral enrichment or rehabilitation. Instead, New York ACC immediately killed Smokey as an owner requested euthanasia in order to make its statistics look better.

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Bella or Dog ID# 23675 was a large mixed breed dog that was surrendered to New York ACC on March 25, 2018. According to New York ACC’s summary of discussions with the owner, the owner got Bella from someone who left her tied to a tree. The shelter’s summary also noted Bella had an unknown skin allergy. In New York ACC’s summary below, Bella had a few minor bites on dogs who approached her. However, the notes did not indicate any bite was very serious. On the other hand, the owner noted Bella was “friendly and affectionate” with two other dogs in the home. The owner also noted Bella’s hackles stood up and she would get tense and growl when someone came from behind when walking at night. Additionally, the owner stated Bella would bark, growl and lunge when people “with a bad aura” came over. However, the shelter’s notes indicate Bella never bit any person. Finally, the owner noted Bella had separation anxiety when the owner was out for more than three hours.

Bella’s behaviors are things many dog owners experience. For example, many dogs have a sixth sense around threatening people and act defensively or standoffish. Similarly, separation anxiety is not an uncommon problem pet owners deal with.

New York ACC’s summary of its interactions with the owner are disturbing. The owner wanted to surrender both dogs due to Bella having separation anxiety. Thankfully, the shelter convinced the owner that she should not surrender the other dog. New York ACC also rightfully provided advice on easing Bella’s separation anxiety. However, when the owner refused to do these things, New York ACC advised her to do an owner requested euthanasia citing the shelter likely killing Bella for behavior. When the owner refused New York ACC’s advice to call Bella’s killing an owner requested euthanasia, the owner’s girlfriend, who also owned Bella, “yelled at her and explained that she will never be good with other dogs and that she should just put her to sleep.” Furthermore, the owner’s girlfriend stated the shelter most likely would put Bella to sleep. While New York ACC did dispute the girlfriend’s claims, the shelter did state the following:

I explained to them both that even though I feel she has a higher chance at being humanely euthanized, she could still be rescued or adopted and nothing is a guarantee. I explained her anxiety and destructive tendencies will factor in however. I explained in a shelter she has to interact with strangers and will be around other dogs and stay in a kennel most of the time. I explained that even if she is well behaved she might get sick because of stress. I explained we do have partners that pull from us and a high placement rate and that if she did not feel comfortable making the decision to humanely euthanize she doesn’t have to.

After the owner, who was getting screamed at by her girlfriend to kill Bella, heard this advice that effectively backed up the girlfriend’s claims, the owner agreed to do an owner requested euthanasia. In other words, New York ACC basically told the owner the shelter would likely kill Bella since she is not “well behaved” and “might get sick.” After just a single day at the shelter, New York ACC killed Bella and excluded her killing from its Asilomar live release rate as an owner requested euthanasia.

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Zina or Dog ID# 19276 was a six year old large mixed breed dog surrendered to New York ACC on January 27, 2018. According to New York ACC’s summary of its conversation with the owner, the dog had hyperglycemia (i.e. low blood sugar) and “very bad seizures.” Instead of treating Zina, New York ACC did an owner requested euthanasia and immediately killed Zina.

Even though I recognize owning a dog with a serious case of epilepsy is a major challenge, it does not rise to the standard of hopelessly suffering. For example, the No Kill Advocacy Center considers epilepsy a treatable condition. At a minimum, New York ACC should have done a full veterinary evaluation and reached out to the public for help. Instead, New York ACC killed Zina on the spot and did not count her in its Asilomar live release rate.

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Many Cats Killed

New York ACC’s statistics reveal the shelter killed too many cats in 2018. Since New York ACC did not list specific ages of a good number of cats (i.e. 1 year and older cats, kittens from 6 weeks to just under 1 year and kittens under 6 weeks) and such cats had a higher death rates, the statistics for each known cat age group are likely a little worse than the ones in the table below. Overall, 11% of cats lost their lives at New York ACC in 2018 or about three times the percentage at Austin Animal Center last year. 12% of nonreclaimed cats lost their lives at New York ACC in 2018. As a comparison, only 5% of nonreclaimed cats lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018. Therefore, cats and nonreclaimed cats were three and two times as likely to lose their lives at New York ACC than at Austin Animal Center in 2018.

The shelter’s statistics also revealed adult cats lost their lives at a higher rate. New York ACC’s kitten statistics (5% and 8% death rates for 6 weeks to just under one year kittens and kittens under 6 weeks) were good. Almost all the neonatal kittens were saved by the rescue community and the ASPCA’s kitten nursery program as evidenced by transfers making up 83% of neonatal kitten positive outcomes. However, 15% of all adult cats lost their lives. As a comparison, only 6% of adult cats lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018. Thus, adult cats lost their lives at three times Austin Animal Center’s rate in 2018.

2018 NY ACC Cat Statistics

Older Cats Obliterated

New York ACC killed many senior cats. Overall, the shelter had 46% of its 10 years and older cats lose their lives. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center’s publicly reported 2018 intake and disposition records showed only 10% of this shelter’s 10 years and older cats lost their lives. Thus, New York ACC had its 10 years and older cats lost their lives at five times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

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Unusually Large Number of Cat Owner Requested Euthanasia

New York ACC’s cat owner requested euthanasia data is quite telling. Overall, New York ACC killed 4% and 7% of all cats and 1 year and older cats as owner requested euthanasia. Off the bat, this is a huge red flag since that number is far in excess of what I’ve seen at nearby New Jersey animal shelters. When we look at killed cats, we see New York ACC classified 38% of all killed cats and 52% of all killed adult cats as owner requested euthanasia. Finally, when we look at just killed owner surrendered cats, New York ACC classified 91% of all killed cats, 93% of adult killed cats, 67% of killed older kittens, 11% of killed neonatal kittens and 75% of killed cats with no ages as owner requested euthanasia.

While its possible New York City may have more hopelessly suffering cats, such as cats hit by cars with severe injuries, that does not really seem to explain this data. As mentioned before, I’ve reviewed extensive data sets of cats coming into New Jersey urban shelters in Newark, Elizabeth, Paterson, Passaic and Perth Amboy and have not seen cat owner requested euthanasia numbers like these. Due to New York ACC’s slow responses to my other records requests, I was unable to request and obtain individual cat records. New York City animal advocates should obtain records of killed cats classified as owner requested euthanasia to determine the specific reasons why New York ACC killed these animals.

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Instant Cat Killing

New York ACC’s cat length of stay data revealed the shelter quickly killed cats. While the shelter adopted out and transferred cats in just 14 days and eight days, the shelter killed cats on average after just one day. In fact, the shelter killed cats in all the age classes below after just 1-2 days on average. Thus, New York ACC almost immediately killed all the cats it decided to kill.

2018 NY ACC Cats LOS

While the average length of stay data is revealing, the distribution of the length of stay of the cats killed is eye opening. Remarkably, New York ACC killed 74% of the cats it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 86%, 91%, 94% and 99% of the cats it killed within 1 day, 2 days, 4 days and 15 days. In fact, almost every cat New York ACC killed happened within 35 days or less. Thus, New York ACC gave the cats it killed virtually no chance to become adoptable.

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If this data for all cats wasn’t bad enough, New York ACC’s distribution of killed adult cats was even worse. Amazingly, New York ACC killed 78% of the adult cats it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 88%, 93%, 96% and 99% of the adult cats it killed within 1 day, 3 days, 6 days and 13 days. Almost every adult cat New York ACC killed happened within 22 days or less. 2018 NY ACC Adult Killed Cat LOS Distribution.jpg

New York ACC’s distribution of the lengths of stay of the 10 years and older cats it killed show the shelter gave these animals virtually no chance. Shockingly, New York ACC killed 86% of the 10 years and older cats it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 93%, 95%, 97%, 98% and 99% of the 10 years and older cats it killed within 1 day, 2 days, 4 days, 9 days and 13 days. Virtually every 10 years and older cat New York ACC killed happened within 18 days or less.

2018 NY ACC Senior Killed Cat LOS Distribution

New York ACC Receives Massive Funding

New York ACC’s abysmal performance becomes clear when we do a detailed financial comparison with Austin Animal Center. Using New York ACC’s total revenue from its Form 990 for fiscal year ending June 30, 2018 and the total dogs and cats it impounded in calendar year 2018, we can estimate the shelter received $853 per each dog and cat impounded. As a comparison, we can estimate Austin Animal Center received $811 per dog and cat according to the Austin Comprehensive Financial Report for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2018 and the total dogs and cats Austin Animal Center impounded in calendar year 2018. Thus, New York ACC may actually have received more funding than Austin Animal Center in 2018.

The rescue community provides more support to New York ACC than Austin Animal Center as well. Overall, New York ACC transferred 33% of its dogs to rescues and other shelters while Austin Animal Center only transferred 21% of its dogs. Similarly, New York ACC transferred 55% of its cats to rescues and other shelters while Austin Animal Center only transferred 27% of its cats. Since transferring animals significantly reduces the cost of caring for animals, New York ACC should require less funds than Austin Animal Center all else being equal.

Despite having these financial advantages, New York ACC’s death rates are vastly higher than Austin Animal Center. As the table below shows, New York ACC has its animals lose their lives at around 3 to 15 times Austin Animal Center’s rates. Thus, New York ACC is failing its animals.

2018 Austin Animal Center Verses NY ACC

New York ACC also has many available homes for its animals. According to a New York Economic Development Corporation analysis from several years ago, 600,000 dogs and 500,000 cats live in New York City. If we assume cats live in someone’s home for 10 years and are then replaced when they die, New York City residents acquire 50,000 cats each year. If New York ACC were to achieve a 95% cat live release rate in 2018 and not use any rescue support, it would only need to adopt out 13,648 cats. In other words, the shelter would only have to convince 27% of New York City residents acquiring cats to adopt one. Similarly, if New York City residents own dogs for seven years on average and then replace the dogs when they die, New York City residents would acquire 85,714 dogs each year. If New York ACC were to achieve a 95% dog live release rate in 2018 and not use any rescue support, it would only need to adopt out 6,699 dogs. This is just 8% of the estimated number of dogs New York City residents acquire each year.

Results Require Action at New York ACC and its Enabling National Organizations

How can an organization with vast financial resources and rescue support kill so many animals? Honestly, the only reasonable answer would be a lack of shelter capacity. Animal advocates have long argued for building full service animal shelters in Queens and the Bronx. Based on my experience with the Manhattan shelter, I was struck by the extremely small number of animals, particularly large dogs, in the adoption area. While I do not think this justifies New York ACC’s killing due to the fact large scale foster programs could substantially expand New York ACC’s dog and cat capacity, lack of space could be a reasonable argument for those not familiar with large scale fostering operations.

So why doesn’t New York ACC say it kills for lack of space? Despite New York ACC’s nonprofit status, it is controlled by the New York City government and is considered a government agency. If the city were to admit it doesn’t have enough shelter space, the city would be put under immense pressure to spend large sums of money to immediately build the new animal shelters in Queens and the Bronx (this may happen in several years). As anyone familiar with government knows, large and expensive financial projects do not happen unless powerful people get behind them.

The other reason is New York ACC and the city health department do not want scrutiny. If New York ACC can convince the public it only euthanizes hopelessly suffering animals, people won’t question the senior leadership who earn large sums of money. For example, New York ACC CEO, Risa Weinstock, earned $202,834 of total compensation last year despite these horrific death rates. Its in her financial interest to maintain the status quo. Similarly, its in the interest of the New York City Department of Health, which oversees the shelter, to maintain the current status quo. Simply put, admitting the shelter can do better would cause the public to pressure those running and overseeing the shelter to change things. Thus, New York ACC and the New York City Department of Health do not want to admit a problem exists.

For these reasons, supposedly progressive organizations celebrating New York ACC as a success is so dangerous. Even though New York ACC does have a higher live release rate than it did many years ago, the shelter’s live release rate has not increased in recent years. More importantly, this blog shows New York ACC kills healthy and treatable pets and doesn’t even give many of these animals a chance to live. In fact, this blog’s findings are remarkably consistent with recent news stories of New York ACC immediately killing dogs whose owners were looking for their pets. When well-known organizations declare New York ACC or any regressive shelter a success, they encourage those shelters to maintain the status quo (i.e. quick killing at New York ACC). After all, if Best Friends states you are “no kill” and Maddie’s Fund gives you an award for being a “hero” and a “no kill leader”, why would you change what you are doing? Sadly, the damage may already be done based on New York City entering into a contract with New York ACC in early 2019 for an unheard of 34 year period.

So why would supposedly progressive animal welfare organizations engage in such destructive behavior? First, I believe these organizations genuinely believe that playing nice can get bad shelters to put lifesaving programs into place. While this works well with organizations whose leaderships are fully on board with no kill, it does not make regressive organizations no kill. When an organization’s leadership is perfectly fine with killing pets for convenience, it will kill animals requiring more work. For example, what good is a free or discounted adoption promotion if the shelter kills treatable animals before the animals are put up for adoption? Thus, I believe the collaboration at all costs mindset is naive.

Secondly, I believe the progressive sounding organizations find this behavior lucrative. If a national organization can make the public think their organization helped make the largest city in the country no kill, it can increase donations. Similarly, if these organizations can persuade their large financial benefactors that they made the largest city no kill, their highly paid leadership’s jobs will become more secure. Additionally, I think the resulting acclaim from the media and other parties is also a motivating factor. Certainly, Best Friends and Maddie’s Fund employ people I not only respect, but admire as well. However, I do think these factors do influence the behavior of these organizations’ most senior leadership.

Finally, I think the relationships these progressive organizations make with regressive shelter leaders cloud their thinking. When one works closely with people, its only natural to develop friendships. Given these relationships occur over many years, its only human for someone to want their friends to succeed. As a result, I think these progressive national organizations lose sight of what is happening and make the mistake of propping up their friends rather than standing up for the homeless animals their friends are killing.

These progressive organizations may do long term damage to themselves. In New York City and surrounding areas, grass roots animal advocates know the truth about New York ACC. Within this group of people, these organizations are seen as not only inauthentic, but part of the problem with New York ACC. In fact, the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals recently announced it was transferring many of its programs to other organizations. While the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals stated it “accomplished its mission to make NYC a no-kill city”, the organization’s audited financial statements indicate significant decreases in funding. For example, the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals reported $2,308,816 of individual and other contributions in 2014 and $1,506,401 of such donations in 2018. In other words, these donations dropped by $802,415 or 35%. Similarly, donations from foundations, such as Maddie’s Fund, decreased from $6,133,439 to $302,500 over this time period.

Ultimately, progressive national organizations face the same risks of pursuing inauthentic policies like propping up New York ACC. Eventually, the larger public will become aware of the disconnect between great sounding messages and enabling high kill shelters to keep doing business as usual. As such, I hope Best Friend’s and Maddie’s Fund rediscover their no kill mission and join grass roots animal advocates to make New York ACC a real no kill shelter.

Ocean County’s Outrageous Animal Facilities

Ocean County Health Department operates two animal control shelters. These two shelters are Northern Ocean County Animal Facility, which is located in Jackson, and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility, which is located in Mahahawkin. In 2018, these two shelters impounded 80% of the local dogs and cats coming into Ocean County’s animal shelters.

Do the two Ocean County Health Department run animal shelters kill healthy and treatable animals when lifesaving alternatives exist? Are the facilities complying with state law?

Data Reviewed

In order to get a better understanding of the job Ocean County Health Department did in 2018, I obtained the intake and disposition records for each individual dog and cat the two shelters took in during the year. You can find those records here. In addition, I obtained all supporting records for each dog killed. You can find those records in the following links:

Also, I obtained the “Animal Record” for a large number of cats the two facilities killed. This report provides a summary of the animal and the reason the shelter killed the cat. You can find those records in the following links.

I obtained all other records for several of the killed cats. You can view those records here. In addition, I also obtained the two shelters’ 2018 euthanasia and controlled dangerous substance logs, which detail how the shelters euthanized their animals. You can find those records for Northern Ocean County Animal Facility here and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility here.

Finally, I obtained Ocean County Health Department’s 2017-2019 inspection reports of Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility. You can find those inspection reports here and here.

Since Ocean County Health Department’s intake and disposition records did not break out the Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility data, I presented both shelters together as “Ocean County Animal Facility” in the statistics below. Based on the combined data below being similar to the totals both shelters reported to the New Jersey Department of Health, those wanting to see each shelter’s statistics can use the data reported to the state health department. You can view that data and my related death rate metrics here.

Disturbing Dog Data

Ocean County Animal Facility had too many dogs lose their lives in 2018. While the overall dog death rate of 8% was not extremely high, it was still much greater than death rates at elite municipal shelters. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only had 1% of its dogs lose their lives in 2018. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility had dogs lose their lives at eight times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

Pit bulls fared far worse at Ocean County Animal Facility in 2018. The shelter killed 13% of pit bulls. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 1% of its pit bulls in 2018. As a result, Ocean County Animal Facility killed pit bulls at 13 times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

Ocean County Animal Facility also had too many small dogs and other medium to large size breeds lose their lives in 2018. Overall, the shelter had 5% of small dogs and 8% of other medium to large size dogs lose their lives. Frankly, shelters should be able to save nearly all small dogs due to the fact such animals cannot seriously injure dog savvy adult owners. Even the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, which is far from a progressive facility, only had 1% of small dogs lose their lives in 2017Austin Animal Center only had 1% of small dogs and 1% of other medium to large size breeds lose their lives last year. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility had both small dogs and other medium to large size dogs lose their lives at five times and eight times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

While Ocean County Animal Facility’s overall dog death rates were bad, the shelter’s death rates for dogs not reclaimed by their owners were far worse. Since dogs reclaimed by their owners typically have licenses and/or microchips and quickly leave the shelter, its informative to look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners. When we just look at dogs not reclaimed by owners, Ocean County Animal Facility had 17% of all dogs, 25% of pit bulls, 10% of small dogs and 17% of other medium to large size breeds lose their lives. In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility had 1 out of 6 dogs, 1 out of 4 pit bulls, 1 out of 10 small dogs and 1 out of 6 other medium to large size breeds not reclaimed by owners lose their lives. As a comparison, only 2% of all dogs, pit bulls and small dogs not reclaimed by owners and 1% of other medium to large size dogs not reclaimed by owners at Austin Animal Center lost their lives in 2018. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility had all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size breeds not reclaimed by owners lose their lives at 9 times, 13 times, 5 times and 17 times Austin Animal Center’s rates.

2018 Ocean County Animal Facility Dog Statistics

Cats Killed in Droves

Ocean County Animal Facility’s statistics reveal the shelter killed too many cats in 2018. Since Ocean County Animal Facility did not list specific ages of animals, I could not break down cats into the more expansive age categories I typically use (i.e. 1 year and older cats, kittens from 6 weeks to just under 1 year and kittens under 6 weeks). Frankly, I’m shocked a large shelter would not have age information readily available given how critical this data is for shelters to evaluate their handling of cats. Overall, 48% of cats lost their lives at Ocean County Animal Facility in 2018 or about twelve times the percentage at Austin Animal Center last year. More than half of nonreclaimed cats, or 51% of these animals, lost their lives at Ocean County Animal Facility in 2018. As a comparison, only 5% of nonreclaimed cats lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018. Therefore, cats and nonreclaimed cats were twelve times and ten times more likely to lose their lives at Ocean County Animal Facility than at Austin Animal Center in 2018.

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Ocean County Animal Facility Quickly Kills Animals with Empty Cages

Ocean County Animal Facility’s dog length of stay data revealed the shelter quickly killed dogs. Specifically, the shelter killed all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size breeds after 10 days, 12 days, 9 days and 9 days on average in 2018. Clearly, this is not nearly enough time to determine if the shelter can save these animals.

Ocean County Animal Facility quickly killed dogs despite having plenty of space to house these animals. Based on Ocean County Animal Facility taking in 978 dogs during 2018, its 13 day average length of stay for dogs and shelter capacity calculations, we can estimate the shelter only held around 35 dogs on average in 2018 compared to a reported capacity of 75 dogs. This 35 dog average population is similar to the 33 dog average of the January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018 dog populations reported to the state health department. In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility used less than half of its physical dog capacity. Furthermore, the shelter should be able to house another 29 dogs in foster homes, which is equal to 3% of the 978 dogs impounded in 2018, at all times based on the performance of well-run no kill animal control shelters. Therefore, Ocean County Animal Facility held only around one third of the number of dogs it could keep in its shelters and foster homes. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility quickly killed dogs while failing to use ample space to house these animals.

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Ocean County Animal Facility’s quick killing practices become apparent when we look at the distribution of the lengths of stay for the dogs it killed. The shelter killed 40% of the dogs it killed after just eight days or less. Ocean County Animal Facility killed 29 of these 31 dogs after they spent just eight days at the shelter. In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility killed these dogs immediately after the state’s seven day protection period when shelters cannot kill animals. Remarkably, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 94% and 97% of the dogs it killed within 13 days and 18 days after their arrival. Only 1 killed dog stayed at the shelter for 28 or more days and no killed dog was at the shelter for 60 days or more. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility gave the dogs it killed virtually no chance to become adoptable.

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Ocean County Animal Facility also quickly killed cats. The shelter killed cats after just nine days on average in 2018. In other words, the shelter almost always killed its cats just after the state’s seven day protection period.

Ocean County Animal Facility also quickly killed cats despite having plenty of space to house these animals. Based on Ocean County Animal Facility taking in 2,126 cats during 2018, its 24 day average length of stay for cats and shelter capacity calculations, we can estimate the shelter only held around 140 cats on average in 2018 compared to a reported capacity of 290 cats. In fact, my 140 cat estimated population is higher than what the shelter reported holding at the beginning and end of 2018 (this may be due to lower cat intake in colder months). In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility used less than half of its physical cat capacity. Furthermore, the shelter should be able to house another 159 cats in foster homes, which is equal to 7.5% of the 2,126 cats impounded in 2018, at all times based on the performance of well-run no kill animal control shelters. Therefore, Ocean County Animal Facility held less than one third of the number of cats it could keep in its shelters and foster homes. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility quickly killed cats while failing to use ample space to house these animals.

2018 Ocean County Animal Facility Cats Average Length of Stay

Ocean County Animal Facility quick cat kill operation becomes clear when we look at the length of stay distribution of the cats the shelter killed. The shelter killed 6% of the cats it killed during the seven day protection period. Later in the blog, I’ll examine this issue more closely. Incredibly, the shelter killed 615 cats after just 8 days and killed 72% of the cats it killed within 8 days or less. In fact, the shelter killed 94% of the cats it killed within 15 days or less. Amazingly, only 1% of the killed cats had a length of stay in excess of 38 days and no killed cats stayed at the shelter for more than 68 days. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility gave the cats it killed virtually no opportunity to get out of the shelter alive.

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Dogs Killed for Ridiculous Reasons

Ocean County Animal Facility killed unusually large percentages of dogs for various aggression and behavior issues. Overall, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 6.2% of all the dogs it took in for bite history, behavior and aggression. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.1% of the dogs it took in during 2018 for aggression and behavior related reasons. In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility killed dogs for aggression related reasons at 62 times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility erroneously labeled dogs aggressive and did not do enough to rehabilitate those that had some issues.

While some of the dogs with bite histories had serious bites, many others were not. In many cases, the shelter simply killed the dog if the owner reported any kind of bite. Other times, the bite had a well-defined trigger, such as removing the dog’s food or bowl. Most importantly, Ocean County Animal Facility made no effort to rehabilitate any of these dogs and simply killed them.

The shelter also killed too many dogs for medical reasons. During 2018, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 1.5% of all dogs for medical reasons. However, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.6% of all dogs for medical reasons. Therefore, Ocean County Animal Facility killed dogs for medical related reasons at two and half times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility killed treatable dogs.

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Ocean County Animal Facility killed a very high percentage of pit bulls for aggression and related issues. As you can see in the table below, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 11.6% of all the pit bulls it took in for aggression related reasons. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.05% of the pit bulls it took in during 2018 for aggression. Amazingly, Ocean County Animal Facility killed pit bulls for aggression at 232 times the rate as Austin Animal Center in 2018.

To put this into perspective, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 29 of the 131 non-reclaimed pit bulls it took in for aggression. In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility stated 22% or more than 1 in 5 of the pit bulls it had to find new homes for were aggressive.

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Ocean County Animal Facility also killed unusually high percentages of both small dogs and other medium to large dogs for aggression. The shelter killed 2.3% of all small dogs and 6.5% of all other medium to large dogs for aggression related issues. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center euthanized no small dogs and 0.2% of other medium to large dogs it took in during 2018 for aggression and behavior related reasons. Frankly, its shocking Ocean County Animal Facility would kill nine small dogs for aggression since such animals do not pose a serious risk to experienced adult dog owners. Ocean County Animal Facility also killed other medium to large size dogs for aggression related reasons at 33 times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility simply killed dogs with behavior issues rather than treat them.

2018 Ocean County Animal Facility Small Dogs Killed Reasons

2018 Ocean County Animal Facility Other Dogs Killed Reasons

Charlie was 6-7 year old Pekingese surrendered to Northern Ocean County Animal Facility on April 15, 2018. Charlie’s owner stated he surrendered the dog due his wife being ill and Charlie acting protective of the wife when a nurse was around. Additionally, Charlie bit a person’s ankle a year before. However, this is not unusual behavior for many small dogs. The dog’s owner stated Charlie was good with other dogs and lived with cats and birds. In addition, the owner said he could take food and bones away from Charlie and could pick the dog up without issues. While the owner stated Charlie was nervous around kids, the owner also said the dog was adoptable to a home without kids.

Despite Charlie having no serious bite on his record and the owner stating the dog was adoptable to the right home, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility killed Charlie as soon as it could under state law. Specifically, Ocean County Animal Facility killed Charlie after just eight days on April 23, 2018. The shelter’s records indicated it made zero effort to save this dog let alone provide behavioral rehabilitation. Thus, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility simply killed a small dog for having a minor ankle bite on his record.

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Dog ID# S-9422 was a stray adult American bulldog brought to Southern Ocean County Animal Facility on June 6, 2018. After a mere five days at the shelter, when the dog was still adjusting to the stressful environment, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility decided to conduct a behavioral evaluation on this dog. During the evaluation, the shelter noted Dog ID# S-9422 was “very excited”, “jumped up on the window” and “enjoyed being petted.” The evaluation also noted the dog knew the “sit” and “give paw” commands, but needed to walk easier on a leash and could use some training. Despite Southern Ocean County Animal Facility using intrusive tooth examination and “safe hug” tests, which often frighten dogs stressed in shelters, Dog ID# S-9422 passed with flying colors. Finally, the evaluator noted “She is a nice dog” and “she is a very happy dog.”

Despite Dog ID# S-9422 being a wonderful dog, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility killed the dog for having “food aggression.” During the evaluation, the tester struck the dog’s muzzle with a fake hand and the dog had the nerve to snap. When the evaluator moved the fake hand, the dog growled and showed teeth. In reality, the dog acted appropriately since she warned the person antagonizing her before actually biting.

In reality, shelters should never kill dogs for food aggression. A recent scientific study authored by several individuals from the ASPCA concluded shelters should not use food guarding tests at all. Why? Multiple studies indicate food aggression or guarding behavior in a shelter often does not occur in a home. Even when a dog does aggressively defend his or her food in a home, most owners deal with it by leaving the animal alone when he or she eats. Thus, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility needlessly killed “a very happy dog.”

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Finn was a 3 year old golden retriever surrendered by his owner to Southern Ocean County Animal Facility on September 6, 2018 due to a conflict with another dog in the home. While the owner mentioned Finn didn’t get along with the other dog, the owner also stated Finn never got into a fight. The owner also stated Finn was good with their 1-3 year old grandchildren, never bit anyone, was housebroken, walked well on-leash and had good off-leash manners. Furthermore, the owner stated Finn had no problems having his food or bones taken away, did not jump or bark excessively and was fine with having his nails trimmed and being picked up. Finally, the owner stated Finn was adoptable into a home with no other dog.

Despite Finn’s owner clearly stating Finn was a great dog with people, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility killed him as soon as they could under state law. The shelter said Finn was “Not adjusting to the shelter” after he was there a mere eight days. Southern Ocean County Animal Facility provided no records indicating how Finn was “not adjusting to the shelter” let alone any efforts the shelter made to help him adjust. Simply put, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility killed an adoptable golden retriever as soon as it could.

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Shelters Kills Scared and Other Treatable Cats

Due to Ocean County Animal Facility killing so many cats, I selected a sample of the cats it killed (387 of the 944 cats) and obtained the reasons the shelter killed these animals. Additionally, I also reviewed the shelter’s controlled dangerous substance logs, which had various abbreviations for the reasons it killed 626 cats. Since both data sets yielded similar results and the supporting records provided more details, I used the supporting records in the table below.

Ocean County Animal Facility killed huge numbers of cats for being “feral” and various behavior issues. Overall, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 29% of all the cats it took in for being “feral.” If we add cats the shelter killed for “not adjusting”, “aggression”, “behavior”, “bite case”, “bite history” and being “semi-feral”, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 36% of the cats it took in for having behaviors it did not like. As a comparison Austin Animal Center did not kill a single cat in 2018 for being feral, aggressive or having other behaviors. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility needlessly killed more than 1 out of 3 cats and likely around 750 cats in total for nonsensical behavior reasons.

While Ocean County Animal Facility could argue its hands are tied due to local laws not allowing trap-neuter-return and shelter-neuter-return, this arguments holds no water. First, the shelter can force municipalities to change those laws if it refuses to contract with towns that prohibit these programs. Second, most cats initially labeled feral at shelters are not feral. A recent study documented 18% of impounded cats were feral/aggressive, but all these cats became safe enough to adopt out after people gently touched the cats and spoke to them softly for 6 days. Similarly, the TNR group, Tiny Kittens, has adopted out 77% of injured adult feral cats and 65% of pregnant feral cats. As a result, Ocean County Animal Facility can get TNR and SNR implemented and adopt out large percentage of the cats its deeming “feral.”

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Ocean County Animal Facility killed these “feral” cats as soon as it legally could. As you can see in the following table, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 85% of the “feral” cats it killed in seven or eight days. In fact, the shelter killed 92%, 96% and 98% of these “feral” cats within 9 days, 10 days and 11 days. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility simply labeled scared cats “feral” and killed them right after the seven day protection period.

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Cat ID# N8703 was a stray neutered male cat brought into Northern Ocean County Animal Facility on April 5, 2018. According to the shelter’s “Animal Record”, the adult cat was in good condition and had an ear tip. As those familiar with TNR know, an ear tip is a universal sign that someone spent time and money ensuring the cat was neutered, vaccinated and released. In other words, someone did the right thing to ensure Cat ID# N8703 would not breed, spread disease and not be a nuisance (neutering eliminates mating behaviors that frequently cause human conflict). Instead of recognizing the great work this person did, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility labeled Cat ID# N8703 “feral” and killed him as soon as the shelter legally could eight days after he arrived at the shelter.

OCAF -N8703 Cat Killed

Doby and Shadow were 5 month old kittens surrendered to Northern Ocean County Animal Facility on August 31, 2018. The owner found the kittens in their backyard, but could not keep the animals after having them for one month. According to the shelter’s veterinary notes, both cats were “apparently healthy.” The owner described Doby as shy, quiet, mellow, lovable, playful and friendly. Similarly, the owner said Shadow was shy, lovable, playful and quiet. While the owner mentioned Shadow accidentally scratched or bit someone, they said he was scared. Most importantly, the owner stated both cats were adoptable and should go to a quiet home.

Despite Doby and Shadow clearly being adoptable, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility labeled both cats “not adjusting” and killed both cats on September 10, 2018 after the animals spent just 11 days at the shelter. Frankly, what is the chance that both cats were “not adjusting” and could not be helped at the exact same time? Slim to none. This is supported by the shelter not providing any documentation of the animals’ behaviors and anything the shelter did to treat those supposed behavior problems. Instead, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility quickly killed Doby and Shadow for convenience.

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Ocean County Animal Facility Breaks State Law

Ocean County Animal Facility’s euthanasia records, which you can find here and here, do not specify how the shelter killed or euthanized animals. Specifically, the records do not state whether the shelter euthanized/killed each animal by an intravenous (preferred method), intraperitoneal or intracardiac (i.e. heart sticking) injection. Per New Jersey law, N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.11(f)4 and N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13A, shelters must document the method they use to kill animals. According to N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.11(c) shelters can only use intraperitoneal injections on comatose animals and neonatal kittens. Under this method, animals are injected in the abdominal cavity and can take up to 30 minutes to die. Heart sticking, as the name implies, involves stabbing an animal in the heart with Fatal Plus poison and New Jersey shelters can only use this method on heavily sedated, anesthetized or comatose animals. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility’s euthanasia records do not comply with state law and do not indicate whether animals are in fact humanely euthanized in accordance with state law.

Under state law, shelters cannot kill either owner surrendered or stray animals until seven days pass. The purpose of this law is to provide owners a chance to reclaim their lost pets and prevent shelters from immediately killing animals. In practice, the New Jersey Department of Health allows shelters to euthanize animals during this seven day period if facilities meet both of the following conditions:

  1. If a veterinarian deems euthanasia necessary for humane reasons to prevent excessive suffering when illness and injury is severe and the prognosis for recovery is extremely poor
  2. Only a licensed veterinarian should perform euthanasia in the above situation and they must clearly document the rationale in the animal’s medical record

Overall, Ocean County Animal Facility killed two dogs and 55 cats before seven days in 2018. While the cases I reviewed, which were both dogs and a portion of the cats, did not show egregious violations I’ve seen at some other shelters, it seemed clear Ocean County Animal Facility did not do all it could to save many of these animals. For example, the shelter immediately killed a number of very young kittens, but did not seem to make much, if any, effort to get them into foster homes.

Moses was a 5 year old Boston terrier mix surrendered by his owner’s family to Southern Ocean County Animal Facility on January 12, 2018 due to seizures and related behavior problems. According to the shelter’s veterinary paperwork, which was not signed by a veterinarian, Moses had a two year history of having serious seizures. The shelter recommended killing Moses for having “a poor quality of life.” The owner wrote a short letter to the shelter stating they wanted to euthanize Moses due to him “suffering mentally and forgetting who he even is.” Southern Ocean County Animal Facility killed Moses on the day he arrived at the shelter.

While I empathize with the family, Ocean County Animal Facility illegally killed Moses in my humble opinion. The owner’s veterinarian’s records, which were from 10 days and seven days before Moses was surrendered to the shelter, indicated the owner and the veterinarian decreased the dog’s seizure medication dose. When Moses started having more seizures, the veterinarian discussed increasing the seizure medicine dose. Even though I recognize owning a dog with a serious case of epilepsy is a major challenge, it does not rise to the standard of hopelessly suffering. For example, the No Kill Advocacy Center considers epilepsy a treatable condition. At a minimum, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility should have kept Moses alive for the full seven days as required by state law and fully explored all veterinary options instead of killing him on the spot. Thus, I believe Southern Ocean County Animal Facility illegally killed Moses before seven days.

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Ocean County Animal Facility’s “Animal Record” reports, which you can find here and here, indicated the shelter’s veterinarian did not euthanize many of the cats euthanized before seven days. While some of the records indicated the veterinarian approved the decision, some of which were via phone calls, a shelter worker rather than a veterinarian certified the euthanasia of these animals. Therefore, the shelter’s documents indicate the veterinarian did not euthanize these animals who were euthanized before seven days. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility broke state law by not having a veterinarian euthanize these cats even if the animals were in fact hopelessly suffering.

Shelter’s Sham Self-Inspections

Ocean County Health Department conducted the required annual inspections of the two shelters it runs. You can read its 2017-2019 inspection reports of Northern Ocean County Animal Facility here and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility here. Amazingly, Ocean County Health Department spent just 30 minutes and 15 minutes inspecting each shelter in 2017 and 2019 (the inspection reports did not provide this information in 2018). Given the absurdly short inspection times, its not surprising that Ocean County Health Department only wrote a few boilerplate comments in each inspection report. For example, some of these comments were “Facility is operating in a satisfactory condition”, “all dogs and cats housed appear to be responsive and in good health” and “The facility is well kept and clean.” Thus, Ocean County Health Department’s inspections of the shelters it runs were short and not thorough.

Ocean County Health Department did not address specific aspects of state shelter law and the issues I found. Given these two shelters took in 3,104 dogs and cats in 2018, one would think the county health department would evaluate each aspect of state shelter law and comment how the shelter performed. For example, the state health department frequently writes up to a dozen pages of comments in its inspection reports. Perhaps, if Ocean County Health Department spent more than 15-30 minutes conducting inspections, it would have noted the shelter was not documenting how it killed each animal and its violation of the state’s seven day protection period. Instead, Ocean County Health Department gave itself a free pass.

As regular readers know, local health departments typically are incapable of conducting proper inspections of animal shelters due to incompetence and conflicts of interest. Therefore, a state health department inspection would likely find many more significant problems. Thus, Ocean County Health Department’s sham inspections prove the need to mandate a robust state health department inspection process as required by shelter reform bill S725.

Clearly, Ocean County Health Department runs two high kill shelters, kills for convenience and broke state law. In a future blog, I’ll explore the reasons why these shelters are high kill.