Linden’s Disgraceful Pound Needs Drastic Change

Recently, Linden Animal Control has come under scrutiny. On April 15, 2014 Linden resident, Robert Scutro, and several other people raised serious concerns about the operation to Linden’s City Council (see 2 hour and 21 minute mark of this video). Residents complained about pound staff spraying feces and urine filled water onto dogs, terrible sanitary conditions, providing little to no medical care, and doing next to nothing to save the animals lives. Despite assurances that the City Council was working on these problems, a news story reveals these problems still exist 3 months later.

Linden Animal Control Has Funding to Run an Excellent Shelter

Linden Animal Control spends significant amounts of money on its animal control operation. The pound, which is separate from the nearby Friends of Linden Animal Shelter, impounds animals from Linden and receives $126,000 to also take in animals from Clark, Roselle, Winfield, and Fanwood. In total, the pound spends approximately $222,000 per year. This equates to $1.97 per resident and $730 per dog and cat impounded. As a comparison, Nathan Winograd provided top notch care and achieved no kill status at the Tompkins County SPCA with funding of only $1.85 per resident. Similarly, KC Pet Project, which runs Kansas City, Missouri’s open admission shelter, reached no kill status despite only receiving total revenue of $225 per impounded dog and cat. Thus, Linden Animal Control should be a model shelter with its plentiful funding.

Heartless and Illegal Killing of a Dog Before 7 Day Hold Period Elapsed

Last September, the John family’s 15 year old pit bull escaped from its yard and Linden Animal Control ordered the dog killed within the legally required 7 day stray hold period. On the day the dog escaped, the family called Linden Animal Control, but Linden Animal Control failed to call them back. The family visited the local police department the next day and were told Linden Animal Contol took the dog to an animal hospital. Unfortunately, the animal hospital was closed and the dog was killed by the time the John family visited the animal hospital. Linden Animal Control decided not to provide medical care and instead told the animal hospital to kill the dog long before the legally required 7 day stray hold period elapsed. Linden’s Health Officer, Nancy Koblis, claimed the dog was in “respiratory distress”, but the medical records only stated the dog was “underweight, had a small tumor, and was walking with difficulty.”

Linden’s Health Officer’s reason for illegally killing the dog is unjustified. N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.9 specifically states stray animals cannot be euthanized for any reason during the 7 day stray/hold period:

Sick, diseased, injured or lame animals shall be provided with at least prompt, basic veterinary care (that is, to alleviate pain and suffering) or euthanized, unless such action is inconsistent with the purposes for which the animal was obtained and is being held; provided, however, that this provision shall not affect compliance with N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.16, which requires all stray animals to be held for seven days.

Additionally, the medical records do not indicate the dog was hopelessly suffering. At best, the records showed an elderly animal that required care from a loving shelter worker. Clearly, Ms. Koblis did not want to spend any money on the animal despite animal control’s ample funding. Apparently, she thought this animal’s life had no value and did not care if the dog’s distraught owners were looking for their family member. Shame on you Nancy Koblis for breaking New Jersey law and being heartless.

Health Officer Needs to Go

Linden’s Health Officer failed to ensure the pound got a legally required annual inspection from 2007-2013. Nancy Koblis’s only explanation was “it fell by the wayside.” On what planet can someone keep their job after they broke state law for 7 consecutive years? Clearly, Ms. Koblis had so little regard for the animals and state law that she failed to ensure an inspection got done for 7 years.

The City of Elizabeth’s inspection of Linden’s pound on May 9 revealed 23 violations. The violations included “no current certificate of veterinary supervision of the facility” and “no adequate ventilation around the interior of the facility.” Interestingly, this inspection occurred after the April 15, 2014 City Council meeting and was performed by a different city’s health department. Considering Linden Animal Control had over 3 weeks to clean up their act, these results are very sad. Even more sad is the fact the violations were documented by a local health department rather than the state Office of Animal Welfare. The Office of Animal Welfare tends to conduct much more thorough inspections and the results would likely be worse.

The reporter’s visit to the shelter in July showed little improvement has been made. Crumbling doors and fencing, rusted animal enclosures, and standing feces and urine filled water were clearly visible. Nancy Koblis said “we’re working on fixing these things.” Really? You’ve been aware since an April 15 City Council meeting and a May 9 inspection and these problems still exist months later? When will they be fixed? Probably not soon if you ask me.

The shelter also lacks reliable phone service and a computer. However, Koblis says that is not her problem. If the town owns the property, is it not her job to get that person to fix it? The buck stops with Nancy Koblis as she is responsible for the shelter.

Koblis’s lackadaisical attitude towards complying with New Jersey shelter laws is shocking. The Health Officer admits her ventilation system and air conditioning systems do not work right. Under New Jersey shelter law, temperatures in animal enclosures must not go below 45 degrees or exceed 85 degrees. Unfortunately, Ms. Koblis’s remarks do not give me much comfort the shelter complies with that requirement. Furthermore, the Health Officer says don’t worry about us not having a legally mandated isolation area, which is needed to prevent the spread of disease. Why? According to Koblis, the animal control officers can miraculously spot contagious disease (despite frequently not being at the pound) before it can spread and get the animals to a veterinarian. I also hear the pound staff can walk on water and sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Health Officer’s promises are empty and hollow. According to Ms. Koblis, they are going to make more visible attempts to reunite lost pets with owners, but said they’ve “done it all along, but not as much as people would like us to do.” Reuniting lost pets with owners is a primary responsibility of pounds and animal shelters. If you weren’t always doing it, you weren’t always doing your job. Also, what exactly are you going to do? Scan animals in the field for microchips, check license databases in the field, and knock on doors in the neighborhood to find the owners? Unfortunately, her only answer was she’d have a rescue group come in to take photos that pound staff should already be taking. Given this pound generally only holds animals for 7 days, losing critical time waiting for a rescue group to come and take photographs will likely mean some animals will die. Again, why can’t a shelter with such a large amount of funding not do this?

Koblis’s attitude towards adoptions demand her immediate removal of having anything to do with the animal shelter. Specifically, Koblis states she doesn’t want to adopt animals out and provide even basic vetting:

“We are not an adoption facility,” she said. “We do animal control. We hold the dog for at least seven days. Hopefully, the owner will come and look for it.

“If we adopt, we adopt them out with the understanding to the people that we do not vet the dogs. We can’t tell you if its a healthy dog or if it had shots. That’s why we’d rather go to the groups. We don’t have the socializing mechanism that the adoption groups have.”

First, the Health Officer states their efforts to reunite lost pets with their families consists of simply holding the dog. If you don’t know your dog or cat is here, that is your problem. Second, despite receiving over 3 times the funding per dog and cat as KC Pet Project, which is renowned at their efforts to get animals adopted, they “are not an adoption facility.” Basically, she is saying “we don’t want you to adopt from us and if you cooky animal lovers really want the animal go make a rescue do the work we get paid to do.” Let me break something to you, Nancy, your operation gets paid to do animal control AND sheltering. $730 of funding per dog and cat demands you do far more than sitting on your butts and hope a rescue comes in and saves the day. Many other shelters receive far less funding than this and rescue efforts are better spent there. Frankly, your attitude reeks of laziness which is consistent with you’re failure to have your shelter inspected for 7 consecutive years, allowing the facility to fall apart, providing little to no medical care, illegally killing animals, and letting animals to live in a shelter filled with feces and urine soup.

The dogs receive little to no socialization at the shelter. According to Koblis, the staff do not know histories of the dogs and therefore can’t interact with them. Ms. Koblis may find this surprising, but any shelter impounding strays does not know the animals histories. It is your job to evaluate the animals and develop a treatment plan for any animals not currently adoptable. Additionally, N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.9 states the facility’s supervising veterinarian must develop a disease control program that addresses “both the animals’ physical and psychological well-being.” N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.9 also mandates “animals displaying signs of stress shall be provided with relief pursuant to the disease control and health care program.” Finally, N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.9 states socialization is one example of such a program. Logically, dogs are social animals and should have positive human and canine interaction. Thus, Koblis fails again to understand or even try to comply with New Jersey shelter law.

Koblis doesn’t want volunteers to help her lazy staff at the shelter. The Health Officer claims they can’t use volunteers due to insurance reasons and lack of staff to oversee them. In reality, municipal shelters across New Jersey and the country have volunteer programs. People can sign liability waivers. Apparently, Koblis believes letting the animals live in filth is preferable to having unsupervised volunteers. First, the shelter has plenty of funding to pay a volunteer coordinator. Second, shelter work is not rocket science. Once a volunteer is trained you don’t need to hover over them like a taskmaster. Let’s be real. She doesn’t want volunteers to report the disgraceful conditions now being exposed. This a recurring feature of regressive shelters and pounds.

Linden’s mayor also doesn’t understand New Jersey shelter law. The mayor said its ok to spray water (possibly with other animals feces and urine in it) on dogs in their kennels on a “hot day and they enjoy it.” Sorry Mr. Mayor, N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.6 states “primary enclosures shall be structurally sound and maintained in good repair so as to enable animals to remain clean and dry.” Furthermore, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians “Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters” states the same thing as follows:

The primary enclosure should be structurally sound and maintained in safe, working condition to properly confine animals, prevent injury, keep other animals out, and enable animals to remain dry and clean.

Thus, Linden’s Mayor should abstain from commenting on matters he knows little about.

Office of Animal Welfare and NJ SPCA Need to Step In and Make Change Happen Now

Linden Animal Control needs a wake-up call from the authorities. Clearly, the City will not do this on their own based on the months of inaction and attitude of their officials. The Office of Animal Welfare should do a thorough inspection to fully document the issues. Furthermore, the NJ SPCA needs to charge the City of Linden and any responsible individuals with animal cruelty if evidence supports their case. Unfortunately, the NJ SPCA has handled most animal shelters with kid gloves for far too long. If the Union County NJ SPCA chapter does not take action, the state chapter needs to take disciplinary action against the Union County chapter. Without strong actions from the authorities, these conditions will continue to persist in Linden and elsewhere. Enough is enough, and the time for action is now.

East Orange Animal Shelter’s Dismal Office of Animal Welfare Inspection Report

East Orange Animal Shelter was largely unknown until very recently. Prior to Amanda Ham’s hiring as an East Orange Animal Control Officer in 2013, few people knew a shelter existed in East Orange. In fact, East Orange Animal Shelter did not even report its animal intake and disposition statistics to the New Jersey Department of Health. The animal shelter had no web site, adoption site (i.e. Petfinder, Adopt a Pet, etc.) or Facebook page. Additionally, East Orange Animal Shelter prohibits people from volunteering. As a result, the homeless animals entering this shelter probably had a poor chance of making it out alive.

Amanda Ham started turning things around at the shelter, but the city’s Health Officer abruptly ended the progress. In order to serve East Orange, Amanda moved to the city to ensure she could be close to the shelter. Amanda started a Facebook page and aggressively reached out to adopters and rescues. In addition, Amanda started a foster program and single-handedly ran off site adoption events. As a result of the animal control officer’s efforts, adoptions and rescues from the shelter reached levels never seen before. People started visiting the East Orange Shelter and the city had a potential success story in the making. However, Amanda Ham’s complaints about inhumane conditions at the shelter fell on deaf ears among the city’s shelter management. After Amanda Ham filed a complaint with the NJ SPCA, East Orange’s Health Officer fired Amanda for no official reason last month. As a result, East Orange’s heartwarming story came to a tragic end.

On June 17, New Jersey Department of Health’s Office of Animal Welfare inspected East Orange Animal Shelter and found serious violations of New Jersey shelter laws. Some of the report’s key findings along with my commentary are as follows:

  • The shelter was not licensed to operate a New Jersey animal shelter due to its shelter license expiring on February 1, 2013.
  • Dog food spilled over in a storage area had mold growth.
  • All areas of the facility needed cleaning and disenfecting.
  • Uncleaned feces and standing water led to a fly and mosquito infestation. The fly infestation was so severe that animals were at risk of having maggots grow in wounds or skin lesions.
  • Feces were not picked up and led to a strong odor in the shelter. The feces build up clogged the drainage system and caused large amounts of contaminated liquids to be present.
  • Some dog enclosures fencing were being held up with dog leashes.
  • Certain cat cages were in disrepair and could easy be tipped over.
  • Some cat enclosures were barely half the required size.
  • 4-5 week old kitten fed adult cat food instead of kitten milk formula.
  • Cats provided water contaminated with cat food and litter.
  • Cats provided water in extremely small bowls posing risk of dehydration.
  • Shelter lacked enough products to properly clean facility. Additionally, the facility lacked measuring utensils to use appropriate amount of cleaning solution to disenfect shelter.
  • Cat cages were not properly cleaned leading to a build up of fur, litter and food.
  • No medical records on animals were kept at the facility by the supervising veterinarian.
  • No cat isolation area in shelter which is needed to prevent the spread of disease.
  • Dog isolation area allowed contaminated air to vent into areas housing other animals.
  • No documentation that euthanasia was properly done under New Jersey shelter laws. Specifically, the scale did not properly work nor were the agents used to kill/euthanize animals documented. As a result, animals may have been inhumanely euthanized (i.e. not enough tranquilizing/euthanasia drugs provided due to animal not being accurately weighed; illegal means of euthanasia/killing).
  • Required record keeping not done. Specifically, each animal’s ultimate outcome (reclaimed by owner, adoption, rescue, euthanasia, etc) was not documented. Additionally, the animals at the facility lacked information to properly identify them. The shelter also lacked any records of animals coming in from January 16 to April 28 of this year.
  • No records existed to show shelter scanned animals for microchips as required by New Jersey shelter law.

The poor inspection report shows East Orange Animal Shelter’s disregard for the animals under its care. Cleaning up feces, eliminating fly and mosquito infestations, fixing broken animal enclosures, providing adequate water to animals, having enough cleaning supplies, scanning animals for microchips and keeping basic records is not rocket science. Even worse, the shelter had these conditions despite only having 9 dogs (4 of which left during the inspection) and 13 cats. Frankly, one has to wonder what kind of people come to work each day, see these horrific things, and then do nothing? Also, without adequate record keeping we have no comfort that employees are not selling animals on the side and pocketing the money like a worker did at the Hudson County SPCA. Additionally, the city’s 2013 animal control budget suggests funding is not the issue. Specifically, the $151,268 budget is approximately $2.35 per resident and equates to $294 per animal assuming the city impounds animals at a rate similar to other northern New Jersey urban animal shelters (8 dogs and cats per 1000 people). As a comparison, KC Project, which is Kansas City, Missouri’s animal control shelter, had total revenue per animal of $225 in 2012 and saved 90% of its animals in the second half of the year. Clearly, East Orange’s Health Department, which oversees the shelter, is not serving the city’s residents or homeless animals appropriately. As a result, this suggests East Orange’s Health Officer’s motives for firing Amanda Ham were to protect the city’s Health and Animal Control departments rather than to properly run the city’s animal shelter.

The Office of Animal Welfare inspection also reveals local health departments inability to regulate municipal shelters. Typically, municipal animal shelters are run by local health departments. Those same local health departments also are responsible for inspecting the facilities for compliance with New Jersey shelter regulations. Self-policing never works and the idea we should trust local health departments to inspect themselves is preposterous. Additionally, local health departments commonly lack the skills to perform adequate inspections, particularly regarding animal welfare. As a result, the Office of Animal Welfare needs to conduct frequent inspections of municipal shelters due to local health departments’ incompetence and conflicts of interest.

The Office of Animal Welfare inspection report vindicates Amanda Ham and demands East Orange immediately reinstate her. Clearly, Amanda Ham went above and beyond her normal duties as an animal control officer to get the shelter into compliance with public health and animal welfare laws. Additionally, she made herculean efforts to get animals adopted and rescued. Frankly, Amanda Ham should not only be rehired, but promoted to run the animal shelter.

East Orange has a simple choice here. It can continue to waste its citizens hard earned tax money on a catch and kill pound failing to comply with New Jersey shelter laws. Alternatively, the shelter can become a model facility that its residents can be proud of. Imagine a shelter scanning animals for microchips, checking license databases, and knocking on doors in the field, to return lost pets to worried owners at their front door? Imagine a shelter offering distraught pet owners solutions to pet problems which keeps their families together? Imagine a shelter where young people needing some direction, senior citizens looking to do some good, and parents and children searching for ways to spend time together, can unite and help people and animals? Imagine a shelter where local residents can come and bring a new healthy family member home and have a resource whenever they need help? East Orange can achieve this as it has its potential leader willing and able to get the job done. Will East Orange’s Mayor Lester E. Taylor, who touts his community service accomplishments, stand up for his constituents and the city’s homeless animals or the incompetent shelter management responsible for this embarrassing inspection report? We eagerly await Mayor Taylor’s decision.