Helmetta’s Hellhole of a Shelter

Recently, Helmetta Regional Animal shelter has come under fire. A newly created Facebook page, Reform the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter, and web page details very concerning issues on a daily basis. The documentation includes terrible inspection reports, shocking photos, and detailed accounts from adopters, volunteers and former employees. Most impressively, the Facebook and web pages clearly articulate these points and come across as highly credible.

Helmetta’s Questionable Shelter Project

The shelter opened up in 2011 with a lot of publicity. Helmetta issued $1.9 million in bonds to fund the construction. Mayor Nancy Martin at the time stated “The borough took an area which was in need of redevelopment and built a beautiful state of the art facility that serves 21 Middlesex and Monmouth County municipalities.” Helmetta uses the facility to shelter its homeless animals and numerous other municipalities in exchange for animal control contract fees.

Mayor Nancy Martin hired friends and family to run the shelter. Nancy Martin, who also serves as tax collector of Perth Amboy, hired Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s former shelter’s managers, Michal Cielesz, and her husband, Richard Ceilesz, to run the new shelter. The couple killed 37% of Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s dogs and cats per the shelter’s report to New Jersey’s Office of Animal Welfare during their last year in 2010 compared to the new management’s 4% euthanasia rate in 2013. However, Perth Amboy’s police department records show the Cielesz’s killed 43% of the dogs and cats impounded in 2010. Additionally, the Perth Amboy police department reported only 12 dogs and cats were adopted out of 507 dogs and cats impounded during the Cielesz’s last year running the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter. Mayor Nancy Martin also landed her son, Brandon Metz, the head Animal Control Officer job at the shelter and even got the town to approve her son receiving $50 per animal control call “after normal business hours (which may be as early as 3 pm on weekdays and weekends based on some animal control contracts). According to a 2011 town newsletter, the Mayor’s son also receives $1,000 per animal control contract. To further support her son, Mayor Martin even got the town’s taxpayers to pay her son additional hourly wages to clean kennels. Mayor Martin’s son also serves as Borough Laborer, Water Meter Reader, and Certified Recycling Coordinator. As a result, Mayor Martin appears to use a significant amount of the shelter’s funding to pay her friends and family.

The shelter brings in a significant amount of money to Helmetta. In 2013, the shelter earned $415,959 in revenue from its animal control contracts and shelter operations and only incurred $280,125 in related expenses. As a result, Helmetta earned a $135,834 profit from running its shelter. However, the shelter also has debt service costs to cover from Helmetta’s $1.9 billion bond issuance to build the shelter. Per borough officials, Helmetta pays $80,000 – $90,000 of debt service costs each year resulting in the shelter’s net positive cash flow of only around $45,834 – $55,834. The shelter would have negative cash flow of approximately $63,000 – $73,000 without other fees primarily from dogs transported for adoption from out of state shelters. As a result, Nancy Martin’s shelter project has a very thin margin of error to financially succeed.

Helmetta’s Flawed Financial Model Requires Running a Regressive Shelter

Helmetta’s shelter was designed as a profit making enterprise. In a 2011 newsletter to Helmetta residents, Mayor Nancy Martin argued Helmetta was building the shelter to provide a “source of revenue to keep the tax base stable” after the town’s previously hyped real estate redevelopment project on the property fell apart. Mayor Martin also stated each additional animal control contract brought “additional revenue” and was “pure profit.” Thus, the town and the Mayor’s son were to profit from homeless animals in Middlesex and Monmouth Counties.

Helmetta entered into animal control contracts with too many municipalities. To a certain extent, entering into multiple contracts makes financial sense as the revenues earned from such contracts more adequately cover fixed overhead costs, such as the Executive Director’s salary and utilities. However, Helmetta took this to an extreme and impounds too many animals for the space it has. For example, in 2012 Helmetta impounded 483 local dogs. Based on the shelter’s assumed capacity of 33 dogs, these dogs would only have 25 days before no space was left for these animals. To make matters worse, the shelter’s animal control contracts pay Helmetta on a per animal basis and encourage impounding more animals. Furthermore, Mayor Martin’s son, Brandon Metz, opposes TNR in most places and conveniently allows him to bring in more of his $50 per hour “after normal business hours” fees. As a result, Helmetta and the Mayor’s son literally profit off taking in too many animals and killing them.

Helmetta’s original shelter projections grossly underestimated the cost to properly care for animals. In the 2011 newsletter, Helmetta only forecasted total shelter costs, which includes expenses unrelated to animal care, would equal $57 per animal. Even the most efficient and effective shelters, such as KC Pet Project and Nevada Humane Society, incur much higher costs. For example, if Helmetta spent the $218-$395 per animal as these shelters pay, Helmetta’s originally projected $58,000 profit from running the shelter would turn into a $204,000 – $602,000 loss. These private shelters make up for their funding deficiency through fundraising, but Helmetta cannot receive these kind of monetary donations as a government run shelter. As a result of this gross underestimation of sheltering costs, the shelter needed to find other ways to make money to support the Mayor’s grand plan.

Helmetta’s Money Making Rescue Operation

Helmetta’s shelter transports massive numbers of easy to adopt dogs and puppies each year from southern states to the detriment of local dogs. Per the facility’s 2012 Shelter/Pound Annual Report, Helmetta transported 400 dogs in from other communities, 382 of which came from out of state. These additional animals reduce the time dogs have to stay in the shelter before space runs out from 25 to 14 days based on the assumptions above. Furthermore, the shelter impounded many more dogs in 2013 presumably due to increased transports. Based on the 1,296 dogs impounded in 2013 and the assumed capacity of 33 dogs, dogs would only have 9 days before space ran out at the shelter. Thus, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter significantly reduces the chances of the contracting towns dogs from finding loving homes by transporting massive numbers of out of state dogs.

Transporting animals increases risk of disease at the destination shelter. Transported dogs often bring new and virulent diseases to shelters. The shelters exporting the dogs usually lack proper disease prevention/containment procedures. For example, the source shelter’s need to transport (i.e. overcrowding, lack of resources) often leads to animals being more likely to come down with serious diseases. Additionally, the trip to the new shelter can cause the animals to get sick due to overcrowding in vehicles and stress. Making matters worse, young puppies, whose mothers might not be vaccinated, transported on such trips do not have fully developed immune systems may be even more susceptible to getting sick. Dr. Kate Hurley, Director of the University of California Davis Shelter Medicine Program, who is one of the nation’s leading shelter medicine experts, argues shelters, such as Helmetta, must “have adequate veterinary resources and isolation rooms to
quarantine the animals.” Thus, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter must have a top notch facility and procedures to transport hundreds of out of state animals each year.

Helmetta should incur significant costs for transporting and caring for these dogs brought to New Jersey. The town’s accounting records show Helmetta pays $400 to transport 10-13 dogs and puppies or approximately $35 per dog/puppy. Maddie’s Fund shelter financial management template estimates dogs staying at the shelter 21 days on average should cost $245 ($16 to feed, $50 to spay/neuter, $53 to vaccinate/de-worm, $66 to hold in facility, $10 for dog supplies and $50 to treat medical problems) to properly care for assuming all animals require medical treatment. Similarly, puppies staying at the shelter for only 14 days should cost $187 ($5 to feed, $50 to spay/neuter, $54 to vaccinate/de-worm, $18 to hold in facility, $10 for dog supplies and $50 to treat medical problems). The town’s adoption fees of $200 per puppy, $150 per vaccinated dog and $100 per unvaccinated dog would result in the following losses per animal:

1) Puppy – $22 loss
2) Dog ($150 fee) – $130 loss
3) Dog ($100 fee) – $180 loss

Helmetta’s shelter must cut corners to make a profit off the transported dogs and puppies. The shelter does not vaccinate animals upon intake or spay/neuter dogs and cats it adopts out. Additionally, Helmetta does not have enough staff to care for its animals. The National Animal Control kennel staffing guidelines argue Helmetta should have 15 kennel staff caring for the 182 animals it had at the shelter on July 16, 2014. However, the Middlesex County Department of Health found only 4 employees cleaned the facility in the morning and either the shelter director or another employee, such as an animal control officer, cared for animals after 12 noon when the shelter had a similar number of animals.  Skimping on cleaning staff leads to the following heartbreaking images at Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter:

Helmetta Filth 3

Helmetta Filth 2

Helmetta Filth 1

Furthermore, Helmetta provides little to no medical care for its animals. For example, the shelter’s veterinarian, Dr. Ehab Ibraheim, only visits the shelter monthly for a paid inspection. While Helmetta’s contracts allow the shelter to bill the municipalities for veterinary costs, the shelter does not profit from providing care and the extra fees could encourage these municipalities to not renew their contracts. The billings from several large contracting municipalities show Helmetta rarely provides veterinary care. Additionally, numerous adopters have come forward complaining of gravely sick animals to the point the borough council had to vote to refund the adoption fees. Countless images show the ramifications of not providing proper veterinary care for the shelter’s animals:

Helmetta sick animals 2

Helmetta sick animals

Helmetta sick animals 3

Helmetta’s cutting corners turns its shelter’s financial performance around. The $22 loss per transported puppy transforms into $142 profit per puppy when you don’t employ enough kennel staff and withhold vaccinations, veterinary care, and dog supplies. Similarly, the $130 loss per transported dog with a $150 adoption fee turns into a $33 profit per dog when proper care is not provided. Thus, Helmetta literally makes money off animals suffering.

State and Local Inspections Consistently Reveal Significant Problems

Helmetta’s shelter performed poorly in two New Jersey Office of Animal Welfare inspections. In October 2011, the inspector found the new facility’s kennel flooring was not impervious to moisture and therefore a disease vector. Furthermore, the inspection report noted kennels were not physically cleaned due to lacking enough staff. Additionally, Helmetta did not use the proper cleaning solution when they did happen to attempt to disinfect animal enclosures. The inspection report also noted the shelter’s “Veterinarian of Record” did not approve the shelter’s disease control program and the facility lacked a dedicated isolation area to prevent the spread of disease. The inspection report also noted improper euthanasia documentation and record keeping. In a follow-up inspection a month later, these same problems persisted.

Middlesex County Health Department inspections in October 2012 and July 2014 also documented widespread violations of New Jersey shelter laws. Both inspections revealed the “Veterinarian of Record” did not design, review or approve the facility’s disease control program or individual animal treatment protocols. The inspection reports also revealed kennel flooring continued to allow moisture to build up creating a ripe environment for disease to spread. Additionally, shelter management failed to isolate sick animals and keep proper records. The July 2014 report also noted management failed to properly clean the facility and even used food cans as water bowls. If lack of veterinary care at Helmetta wasn’t bad enough, the shelter transported dogs from out of state without legally required health certificates from a veterinarian. Thus, Helmetta continued to allow serious problems to persist for nearly three years at their “state-of the art facility.”

The repeated violations of New Jersey shelter law are consistent with Helmetta’s profit off the back of animals financial model. Hiring more people to clean, having a veterinarian approving a disease control program and providing proper care to animals, building a proper isolation area all cost money. Additionally, inaccurate record keeping could allow the shelter to kill animals before the 7 day required hold period, over-bill municipalities and even allow employees to sell pets themselves. As a result of Helmetta’s stated goal of profiting from the shelter are consistent with these recurring violations.

NJ SPCA Has No Credibility on the Helmetta Shelter Issue

Monmouth County SPCA’s Chief Humane Law Enforcement Officer’s recent email to Mayor Martin destroyed the NJ SPCA’s credibility on this issue. In the letter, Buddy Amato praised Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s cleanliness, staff, and shelter operations contradicting numerous inspection reports and countless other accounts. Helmetta subsequently posted the letter on their web site to discredit activists trying to reform this disgraceful “shelter.” Apparently, Buddy Amato did not expect his letter to cause him “embarrassment” and told Mayor Martin to remove the letter from Helmetta’s web site. Apart from the numerous grammatical errors in Buddy Amato’s emails, the “inspection” itself lacked detail and hardly represents anything close to a thorough inspection. As a result, no one should take this report seriously.

Unfortunately, Buddy Amato, despite working for the no kill Monmouth County SPCA, has a history of defending heinous actions by animal control officers. In 2012, Buddy Amato defended 3 Monmouth County towns who routinely killed stray cats before the legal 7 day stray hold period ended. According to Buddy Amato, there was “no cruelty” and towns just had “administrative issues” and “no one should lose their job.” In what world, is illegally killing a healthy cat not cruelty? If you or I trapped a stray cat and injected it with poison, Buddy Amato certainly would prosecute us and rightly so. Apparently Buddy Amato and the Monmouth County SPCA believe illegally killing animals is fine as long as its done by their friends in the business. Thus, Buddy Amato’s glowing report on Helmetta’s shelter lacks any credibility given it comes from the “no one should lose their job” for illegally killing healthy cats guy.

The NJ SPCA conducted an official investigation subsequent to the Buddy Amato debacle, but it raised more questions than provided answers. Specifically, the NJ SPCA prepared a report and issued 6 warnings, but will not release it to the public. Instead, the state’s animal police gave Helmetta 30-60 days to correct their problems. Helmetta has known about the significant issues at their shelter for 3 years from various local and state inspections. Frankly, the NJ SPCA’s coddling of shelters is disgraceful and enough is enough. Given the NJ SPCA’s own guy in Monmouth County went to bat for the shelter recently, how confident should we be that the NJ SPCA will really make sure the shelter gets cleaned up?

Middlesex County Board of Health Cannot Be Trusted to Do the Right Thing

The Middlesex County Board of Health has a history of being anti-animal. Despite all major animal welfare organizations, such as HSUS, ASPCA, Best Friends and no kill advocates, supporting TNR, Middlesex County Board of Health opposes TNR. Even worse, the Middlesex County Board of Health parrots false claims by cat hating groups, such as the American Bird Conservancy Association and PETA, who actively advocate rounding up and killing cats. To further destroy their credibility, the Middlesex Board of Health claims they advocate trapping and adopting out feral cats (impossible if cat is truly feral). Additionally, the Middlesex County Board of Health openly opposed the construction of a Middlesex County animal shelter in a letter to Mayor Martin. Interestingly, three years later Helmetta opened up its own for profit county animals shelter which fulfilled Middlesex County Board of Health’s catch and kill wish for feral cats.

Helmetta traps

As a result, we must view the Middlesex County Board of Health’s regulatory actions in light of these conflicts of interest.

The Middlesex County Board of Health’s response to Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s problems are distressing. Despite Helmetta violating New Jersey animal shelter laws for nearly three years, the Middlesex County Board of Health Director, Lester Jones, said do not worry about it after the issues became widely publicized in August. In fact, Lester Jones performed another inspection about a week later without the Office of Animal Welfare and miraculously reported improvements. After the NJ SPCA got involved one month later, Lester Jones performed another inspection and suddenly the same problems from before recurred, such as failing to isolate sick animals, out of state dogs without proper records, filthy conditions, and improper animal and medical record keeping. Remarkably, four days later Lester and Company inspected the shelter again and said things were greatly improving. Sorry Lester, I and many others are very worried about the conditions at this shelter. Given Middlesex County Board of Health’s failure to take effective action for three years and the conflicts of interest above, we cannot take this agency seriously. Time after time, local health departments fail to inspect shelters properly and ensure problems get fixed. Frankly, the Middlesex County Board of Health needs to request the state Office of Animal Welfare inspect the facility and then get completely out of the way. The Middlesex County Board of Health must have no involvement in the inspection and subsequent corrective actions for this intervention to have any credibility.

Helmetta Attempts to Cover Up its Disgraceful Shelter and Government

Helmetta’s Mayor and Borough Council are trying to hide the shelter’s and local government’s embarrassing facts from the public. During the summer, a former adopter, who adopted a gravely ill puppy from the shelter, took a video of an OPRA request he served at the borough’s municipal building. A part time police officer, who is also collecting a public pension, angrily told the man to stop taking the video and the officer said he did not need to follow the US Constitution. After the video went viral and Helmetta faced wide criticism, the officer resigned. As a response, Helmetta drafted an ordinance to ban all videos and pictures in public buildings, which would include the animal shelter, without a permit approved by the borough. The ACLU of New Jersey stated the proposed ordinance is illegal and would be subject to a legal challenge. In addition to making the borough’s taxpayers pay unnecessary legal expenses, Helmetta is clearly trying to operate under a veil of secrecy. Most disturbingly, Helmetta’s proposed ordinance is a blatant attempt to prevent the public from seeing the consequences of the borough’s for profit shelter.

Helmetta and Other Contracted Municipalities Residents Must Take Action

Residents in towns contracting for animal control and sheltering with Helmetta must demand their governments terminate these contracts. Clearly, Helmetta has no intention of running an animal shelter for the right reasons. The shelter’s stated goal, which is to run a for profit shelter, conflicts with the shelter’s duty to properly care for the animals. Repeated New Jersey shelter law violations over the course of three years prove the town’s elected officials and shelter management do not intend to improve the situation. Additionally, the lack of proper record keeping calls into question the validity of the amounts, which are largely based off these records, these municipalities taxpayers are paying Helmetta. Sayreville, the largest municipality contracting with Helmetta, seriously is considering terminating their arrangement with the shelter. Residents of these municipalities need to openly campaign to remove these politicians if these disgraceful arrangements continue.

Helmetta never needed to build an animal shelter. Based on New Jersey communities with similar demographics, the borough Helmetta should only need to impound around 15 animals a year from its borders. Assuming an average length of stay in the shelter of 30 days, the borough would typically only need to house 1 animal at a time. Literally, someone could foster the borough’s stray animals in their house. Helmetta residents need to question why the town incurred $1.9 million of debt to build a county animal shelter and allowed atrocities to occur at this facility when Helmetta itself barely had to house any animals.

The Mayor previously brought shame on the town by requiring police officers to aggressively write speeding tickets for nonresidents. Now, three officers in a police force of around six are suing Helmetta about this issue. Even worse, one of the lawsuits alleges discrimination based on one officer’s sexual orientation to force him to quit. Like the animal shelter, Mayor Martin tried to use the police department as a revenue source to reduce the need to raise property taxes. As with the animal shelter, the Mayor’s plan appears illegal and highly unethical and has brought negative publicity and embarrassment to this once quiet town.

Helmetta residents must recall Mayor Nancy Martin and all her allies on the Borough Council. At a certain point, Helmetta residents have to say enough is enough. Residents can no longer tolerate elected officials who run the town to the ground and then try to pass laws to hide these facts. Unfortunately, corruption and cruelty to animals go hand and hand in Helmetta. To end the cruelty at the animal shelter, residents must remove the corrupt politicians who caused it.