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.