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.