Recently, terrible conditions at New Jersey animal shelters became well-publicized. The NJ SPCA took over Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter in January after Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter’s Board President was charged with animal cruelty for failing to provide proper care to a number of cats at the facility. In March, Jersey Animal Coalition failed a joint state Office of Animal Welfare and South Orange inspection resulting in the shelter’s planned closing in November. The Office of Animal Welfare inspected the East Orange Animal Shelter in June and found horrific problems. During June, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed an owner’s two dogs before the 7 day state mandated hold period elapsed. In July and August, the Office of Animal Welfare inspected Linden Animal Control and requested Linden’s Health Officer shut the facility down. The Office of Animal Welfare also documented significant problems at Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter in July and the problems continue to exist today. Local animal activists in Montclair documented Montclair Township Animal Shelter violating New Jersey animals shelter laws, such as failing to maintain adequate temperatures in the facility, using toxic solutions of chemicals causing burns and possibly lung injuries to shelter animals, and failing to provide prompt veterinary care. As a a result of these events, animal activists in New Jersey are becoming aware of the crisis in our state’s animal shelters.
New Jersey Animal Shelter Laws Are Pretty Good
New Jersey’s animal shelter laws are pretty good relative to other states. Our stray/hold period of seven days is longer than most states. New Jersey also prevents its shelters from killing owner surrendered pets immediately by requiring these animals be held 7 days or sent to rescue. Furthermore, state animal shelter laws require facilities to have a supervising veterinarian who approves 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.” New Jersey shelters must also keep their facilities clean and use solutions and products that will not harm the animals. Finally, specific rules exist to help ensure euthanasia is done as humanely as possible.
Local Boards of Health Fail Miserably at Enforcing New Jersey Animal Shelter Laws
New Jersey animal shelter laws are largely enforced by local boards of health rather than the New Jersey Department of Health’s Office of Animal Welfare. Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.2 (b), animal shelters must pass an annual inspection by the local health authority. The New Jersey Department of Health’s Office of Animal Welfare, which is tasked with ensuring sanitary and humane conditions exist at New Jersey’s animal shelters, also has the right under state law to inspect these facilities. In practice, the Office of Animal Welfare rarely inspects animal shelters. Ultimately, local municipalities through a recommendation by the local health authority or the state Office of Animal Welfare can revoke an animal shelter’s license.
The shocking conditions exposed this year at northern New Jersey animal shelters prove local health authorities cannot adequately enforce the state’s animal shelter laws. Prior to the NJ SPCA arresting Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter’s Board President in January 2014, the Office of Animal Welfare issued a scathing inspection report on October 23, 2013. The inspection report noted Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter housed sick and healthy cats together, kept cats with feces all over their feet and legs, failed to provide sick kittens covered in feces prompt vet care, allowed cats and kittens to have eye discharge so severe they couldn’t open their eyes, illegally killed animals before the 7 day hold period elapsed, and routinely used heart sticking to kill animals. Jersey Animal Coalition, which performed poorly in state Office of Animal Welfare inspections from 2005 – 2007, passed subsequent South Orange inspections and then miserably failed an Office of Animal Welfare inspection in March 2014. The inspection report noted sick/injured animals and animals under severe psychological stress were not treated, massive amounts of feces within and outside the facility, sick and healthy animals were housed together, no disease control program approved by a veterinarian, and animals not provided adequate amounts of water. The Office of Animal Welfare inspected East Orange Animal Shelter in June and reported animals inundated with a toxic feces and chemical filled soup, a fly infestation so severe that animals with open wounds and skin lesions were in danger of having maggots grow inside them, cats not provided with enough water and water they did have was contaminated with cat litter, and improper isolation of sick animals. Montclair’s Board of Health was “unable to locate” legally required inspections from 2010 and 2012, and took a grand total of an hour and 45 minutes and 60 minutes to conduct inspections in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Montclair’s Animal Welfare Advisory Committee documented numerous problems going on for years, such as dogs exposed to the elements, animals left isolated for extended times, and water not being properly supplied to dogs and cats. In October, Clifton Animal Control allegedly forced an owner to surrender their dog and then illegally killed the family pet before the required 7 day hold period elapsed. Thus, we clearly see local boards of health cannot properly ensure New Jersey’s animal shelters are kept sanitary and run in a humane manner.
Reports of serious violations of state animal shelter laws at various central central New Jersey facilities show the problem exists throughout the state. Elizabeth Animal Shelter, which presumably passed the Elizabeth Board of Health’s annual inspections, apparently routinely illegally killed owner surrendered animals. Based on reports at the time, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter told a person surrendering two dogs, which he did not own, to bring the dogs in on their weekly kill day and the shelter executed the animals that very same day. Linden’s Board of Health failed to even perform legally required annual inspections of Linden Animal Control from 2007-2012. When the state Office of Animal Welfare inspected the facility on two occasions, the Office of Animal Welfare requested Linden close the facility immediately due to the horrific conditions. Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter inspections conducted by the Middlesex County Board of Health and Office of Animal Welfare turned up serious problems for years, but the very same local regulator continues to say everything is good. At the same time, activists documented terrible conditions and blatant violations of New Jersey animal shelter and federal controlled substance laws. As a result, local boards of health fail to do the necessary job of ensuring animal shelter laws are properly enforced.
The failure of local boards of health to properly enforce animal shelter laws is not surprising. In reality these entities are ill-equipped to inspect animal shelters. Local boards of health are used to inspecting places, such as restaurants, which are far different than animal shelters. In reality, animal shelters are more akin to hospitals than restaurants and other businesses local boards of health usually inspect. The New Jersey Department of of Health and several other public and private entities inspect health care facilities for compliance with state and federal laws at least annually. As a result, the New Jersey Department of Health’s Office of Animal Welfare should regulate the state’s animal shelters in a similar manner as the New Jersey Department of Health regulates hospitals and other health care facilities.
Local health departments are not independent from many of the shelters these agencies regulate. While local Health Officers must be licensed by the New Jersey Department of Health, these Health Officers and their personnel are employees of local governments. As such, these local health departments will typically not want to rock the boat. After all, would you want to tell the elected official, who is your boss, that his or her animal shelter failed to comply with New Jersey laws? Clearly, the costs to fix, which would either increase property taxes or reduce spending on other popular programs, and negative press hurt the reelection prospects of these local politicians. When you consider the state Office of Animal Welfare rarely performs independent inspections, local Health Officers have a strong incentive to not enforce New Jersey’s animal shelter laws. Thus, the system to regulate New Jersey’s animal shelters is set up to fail.
NJ SPCA Cannot Effectively Regulate Animal Shelters
The NJ SPCA, which are New Jersey’s animal police, has limited authority and will to clean up the state’s animal shelters. This private group, which holds police powers relating to animal cruelty law enforcement, typically handles animal shelters with kid gloves. For example, several people told me the NJ SPCA was notified of Jersey Animal Coalition’s problems years ago, but never acted until after the state Office of Animal Welfare and South Orange Board of Health asked the NJ SPCA to investigate Jersey Animal Coalition for animal neglect/cruelty last March. After seven months, the NJ SPCA has yet to conclude its investigation, but stated last May they would first work with the shelter to clean up its issues before bringing animal cruelty charges. Apparently, this cleanup never happened since Jersey Animal Coalition is closing and the NJ SPCA does not look like it will charge anyone. Similarly, the NJ SPCA’s Monmouth County guy, Buddy Amato, gave Helmetta Regional Animal shelter a glowing report in August despite numerous inspections, photos, and complaints proving otherwise. Subsequently, the NJ SPCA came to the shelter again and found major issues, but gave management 30-60 days to fix their problems. In 2012, Buddy Amato defended several Monmouth County towns who illegally killed feral cats before the state mandated 7 day hold period elapsed. Even when the NJ SPCA did take action against Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter, the courts put the former Board President charged with animal cruelty back in charge. As a result, the NJ SPCA’s and the courts coddling of cruel animal shelter directors encourages all animals shelter directors to act in their own, rather than the animals, interest.
New Jersey Department of Health’s Office of Animal Welfare Needs to Directly Enforce State Animal Shelter Laws
The Office of Animal Welfare needs to dramatically increase the number of its animal shelter inspections. From January 1, 2013 through August 6, 2014, the Office of Animal Welfare only inspected six different animal shelters out of one hundred plus facilities in the state housing dogs or cats. The Office of Animal Welfare only has one inspector, Linda Frese, to police over one hundred animal shelters plus countless pet shops statewide. Luckily, Linda Frese performs thorough inspections and does terrific work. However, Ms. Frese needs lots of help to ensure all shelters are inspected properly. Given the crisis at our state’s animal shelters, the Office of Animal Welfare needs to hire enough inspectors to ensure every animal shelter in the state is inspected on a quarterly basis. Additionally, the Office of Animal Welfare should conduct these inspections without notifying local health departments to ensure these are truly surprise inspections.
New Jersey must pass new legislation providing the Office of Animal Welfare full power to close down terrible animal shelters. Under current law, the Office of Animal Welfare can only recommend that a municipality revoke an animal shelter’s license. As a result, local politicians currently can allow terrible animals shelters to continue neglecting their animals. Thus, the independent state Office of Animal Welfare must hold this authority to ensure New Jersey animal shelters are run properly.
Companion Animal Protection Act Needs to Become State Law
New Jersey shelter laws and the Office of Animal Welfare encourage shelter killing. Animal shelters in the Garden State may kill animals for any reason after seven days. For far too many shelters it is simply easier and cheaper to kill animals after one week. After all, if you have fewer animals in your facility you don’t have to clean, feed, and provide veterinary care to those animals. In fact, the Office of Animal Welfare actually encourages shelters to kill and advises municipalities to contract with kill rather than no kill shelters. As a result, New Jersey must pass legislation to force shelters to stop killing and start saving their animals.
The Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”) needs to become law to ensure shelters save rather than take lives. CAPA requires shelters to follow many parts of the no kill equation, which is a series of programs proven to reduce or actually end the killing of savable animals. Specifically, CAPA requires animal shelters/municipalities do the following:
- Implement TNR and prohibit anti-feral cat policies
- Develop detailed animal care protocols for all animals, which includes nursing mothers, unweaned kittens and puppies, and animals which are old, sick, injured or needing therapeutic exercise
- Clean animal enclosures at least two times per day to maintain proper hygiene and be welcoming to prospective adopters
- Not kill any animal a rescue is willing to take
- Prohibit banning of rescues unless the rescue is currently charged with or convicted of animal cruelty/neglect
- Contact all rescues at least two business days before an animal is killed
- Match lost pet reports with animals in shelter and post stray animals on the internet immediately to help find lost pets owners
- Promote animals for adoption using local media and the internet
- Adopt animals out seven days a week for at least six hours each day, which includes evenings and weekends when potential adopters are likely to visit
- Not have discriminatory adoption policies based on breed/age/species/appearance (i.e. can’t prohibit pit bull, elderly pet, etc. adoptions)
- Offer low cost spay/neuter services, substantive volunteer opportunities to the public, and pet owner surrender prevention services
- Not kill any animals when empty cages exist, enclosures can be shared with other animals, or foster homes are available
- Shelter Executive Director must certify they have no other alternative when killing/euthanizing an animal
- Publicly display animal shelter intake and disposition statistics (i.e. numbers of animals taken in, adopted, returned to owner, killed, etc) for the prior year
- Provide the local government and the public access to the intake and disposition statistics each month
- Pet licensing revenues must be used to fund low cost spay/neuter and medical care for shelter animals rather than go to other government uses
Passing CAPA will require a huge fight as many New Jersey’s animal shelters along with the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) and ASPCA will lobby against these common sense reforms. HSUS and the ASPCA fought similar reform efforts in many other states, such as New York, Minnesota, and California. However, this is a fight we must take on. CAPA, quarterly shelter inspections by the Office of Animal Welfare, and giving the Office of Animal Welfare the power to shut shelters down will spur massive improvements in the state’s animal shelters. Non-compliant municipalities and private animal shelters will face stiff penalties and therefore will dramatically change their ways.
As the past year showed us, we no longer can wait for municipalities and animals shelters to police themselves. Now is the time for a new sheriff to ride into town to bring law and order to our animal shelters. We can make this happen by demanding our state senators and local assemblymen/assemblywomen pass these laws to improve our shelter system. State Senator, Linda Greenstein, seems quite amenable to reforming our state’s shelter system and is someone we should work with. Animal lovers are a huge voting block and New Jersey politicians better take us seriously. Enough is enough and if the politicians won’t help, we will show them the door. We can do this so let’s get to work!