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.
Thank you to all that helps me help the animals. Please reinstate me as A.C.O Mr. Taylor. I only want to do the right thing. Everyday I wonder what’s happening to those animals and it worries me sick.
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Amanda, I am a veterinarian and an ACO. What you saw in East Orange, I saw in many a shelter myself both as the vet and the ACO. I was also let go from those facilities that I reported. I own my own animal hospital so I did not have time to fight for my job. The State Health Department knows this is going on at the local level; they have known for years. I had started reporting what I saw in 2007 only to be told by one of the State veterinarians that I was crazy. Really? The ACO in my case that was doing wrong had a criminal record and the State of NJ gave him a badge to work as an ACO, yet the good ones are let go. Good luck! I worried about the animals that I had to leave behind as well. NJSPCA did nothing to help me protect the animals at the animal shelter; why would they? They get a portion of the money generated by the corrupt ACOs so they are not going to go after the ones that hurt the animals if they are being paid to look the other way. Keep fighting the good fight. If you need someone to talk to, contact me. It helps during times like this. I often turned to my ACO trainers when I was upset with what I saw. As one said to me, “You can’t save them all; save those you can.”
Amanda Ham certainly deserves to be rehired and promoted to manage the facility. They need leadership. That’s what she offered to rectify the towns failures.
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Just to let you know Joyce I am the animal control officer in East ORANGE and I am eager to invite any and everyone into my shelter so to make it clear I have fifteen year track record in animal control.and I am also a certified animal cruelty investigator.since I was named to oversee this shelter I have implemented a lot of changes.and cleanliness is my number one priority as well as medical treatment as needed and proper amount of food and unlimited water. Feel free to pay my shelter a visit anytime from 11 am -1pm Monday sat. Closed Sundays and Holidays. Thank you
I am happy to hear you state you are trying to improve the shelter. We need more people dedicated to running high performing shelters in this state. In fact, you have a tremendous career opportunity as well as a chance to make history. As a result, I really want you to succeed.
However, given the past history of this shelter and city’s Health Department (who oversees the shelter), I am quite skeptical. After all, the Health Department hasn’t even inspected the shelter under NJ law every 12 months. Additionally, the shelter, unlike even some of the state’s worst animal shelters, never submitted their animal intake and disposition statistics to the NJ Department of Health. Specifically, I’d like to know the following:
1) Has the shelter requested the Office of Animal Welfare reinspect the facility? Unfortunately, until I see clean inspection from trained people at the Office of Animal Welfare, I cannot say things are all good from a basic sheltering operations perspective. After all, there were many serious issues other than cleaning in that inspection report, such as inadequate ventilation, no cat isolation area, inadequate or even no record keeping in some cases, kittens fed adult food, cat enclosures less than legally required size, no properly working scale for euthanizing animals (i.e. not humanely euthanizing animals), etc.
2) Will your shelter provide the public specific details on your shelter statistics (i.e. number of animals taken in, adopted, rescued, killed/euthanzied, returned to owners, etc.)? Honestly, I suggest you provide the same types of details Greenhill Humane Society in Oregon provides given the shelter’s poor reputation and lack of transparency to date. Specifically, Greenhill Humane Society provides three monthly reports in the following link where they provide summaries of the period’s statistics, details on each animal impounded and its disposition, along with the outcome of animal transferred to its partner shelter (i.e. your shelter veterinarian’s facility):
These reports should be supported by the legally required animal impound and disposition records. You can compile these statistics quite easily using a free version of PetPoint or similar shelter software programs:
This information will go a long way to building back goodwill in the community.
3) You need to expand the shelter hours to times when people can visit. Being open from 11-1 and closed on Sundays will not lead to many adoptions. Many people work during those hours and Sundays is a popular day for adoptions.
4) What animal shelter is your role model shelter? In other words, when you get the shelter running as you want it, what animal shelter will it resemble?
5) What is the percentage of the animals taken in do you expect to save (i.e. leave shelter alive)? How long do you expect it to take to get there? What strategies will you use to achieve that?
6) Why doesn’t the shelter allow the local community to volunteer as other municipal shelters do? Will you put a volunteer program into place? If so, what things will they do? What shelter’s volunteer program will you seek to emulate?
7) What will be your feral cat policy?
8) Will all animals be vaccinated upon intake (to prevent disease in shelter) and will all animals be spayed/neutered upon adoption?
9) Will the shelter seek to fundraise? If so, what will be its fundraising strategy?
10) Will East Orange Animal Shelter do offsite adoption events? If so, how often and in what locations?
11) Why should we believe the person in charge of the Health Department will run the shelter differently than it has been in the past?
12) Will the shelter scan animals for microchips and check license databases in the field? If it does, it can return lost dogs to people’s front doors without having to bring the dog to the shelter (saves money and lives).
13) How often will the shelter veterinarian visit? What medical care will they provide?
While I realize these are tough questions, I think they are important ones to answer for the sake of the animals.
I had the pleasure of meeting Amanda Ham some months ago while visiting the East orange Animal Shelter. Amanda was trying to bring to light the horrendous conditions @ the shelter while she was trying to help as many animals as she possibly could. Shame on the mayor of East Orange, shame on the East Orange council members, shame on the shelter “vet” for allowing things @ the shelter to get so bad. Amanda should be reinstated asap and made shelter manager. The Woodbridge Animal Society Volunteers pulled 2 extremely lucky cats out of that hell hole. Wake up mayor, wake up residents of East Orange. Do the right thing for the homeless animals @ the East Orange animal shelter. The police dept. in any town should be in charge of the town’s animal shelter, not the health dept. who could care less about the care and treatment of homeless animals. Good luck Amanda, don’t give up on your quest to help animals…ever.
Woodbridge Animal Society Volunteers President
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Amanda met our rescue group at the east orange shelter on her own time so that we could pull some cats out of there that were running out of time . She was available 24/7 to answer questions about the animals on site there. She was doing the best she could without ANY support from the township. Typical local government institution where hard work and caring is always PUNISHED!!
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Amanda, Look up the N.J. Whistleblower law.
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What a disgrace that the Shelter was being run in such Horrific Conditions! Please Mayor Taylor do what is right and bring back Amanda Ham to run the shelter you couldn’t have a more dedicated and caring worker it will be best decision you ever made for the East Orange Shelter!!!
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Just to inform u that i am now running this shelter and this place has never been this spotless. Feel free to pay my shelter a visit anytime.and u will c that outsude of the cleanliness.my caring and compassionate ways they did the right thing by putting me in charge of this shelter.i have ,17 years experience animal control. And also an animal cruelty investigator. So these animals are in good hands
I can relate to some of Amanda Ham’s experiences, although not as a paid professional. Looking after a decades old managed residential “feral” colony, I was literally steamrolled over when certain individuals joined with local Animal Control and the Associated Humane Society taking away cats (even ear-tipped) to be euthanized, and kittens being sold through other parties @ $100 per head. When I rescued a few (black cats in particular), I became a target. These cats lived in almost idyllic surroundings for urban cats, always interacting with dozens and dozens of residents. So much so they were like mascots, having formed genuine animal-human bonds. The visible and invisible condition of these cats only after 48 hrs in captivity was shocking! They were mere shells of their original personalities. I know they were severely traumatized. Why? What goes on there in Newark? They were saved from their “death row” sentence, but the powers that be have jumped into pointing fingers everywhere except at each other.
So sorry to hear about your experience. However, with AHS I am not surprised. When did this happen?