Recently, Associated Humane Societies made headlines after it banned volunteers from its Tinton Falls shelter. On Saturday, April 11 I saw a number of social media posts about AHS banning all of its volunteers. On the next day, which ironically fell on the eve of National Volunteer Appreciation Week, the Associated Humane Popcorn Park Facebook page announced AHS suspended the Tinton Falls programs due to alleged misdeeds by the Tinton Falls volunteers. The banned volunteers responded and disputed the shelter’s allegations. While I am not close enough to the situation to comment on the validity of both sides claims, I think looking at AHS’s history of disputes is quite revealing.
Corrupt Start to the Modern AHS Era
Lee Bernstein, who served as AHS’s Executive Director from 1969 to 2003, used highly unethical tactics to raise money for AHS and himself. Bernstein, who was a Newark City Councilman and AHS Board of Trustees member, voted to significantly increase the animal control contract fee Newark paid to AHS in 1968. After this fact became known, Mr. Bernstein faced a recall election to remove him from the Newark City Council. On the day before another Newark City Council resolution in 1969 to increase the fees paid to AHS again, Bernstein told the AHS Board that the new Newark contract was contingent on AHS hiring him as Executive Director for 5 years and paying him a specific salary if Bernstein lost his recall election. Newark residents subsequently booted the corrupt Bernstein from office in the recall election and Bernstein became AHS’s Executive Director.
The City of Newark later won a lawsuit against AHS to render the contract null and void. The judge’s ruling included the following statement:
In the light of the foregoing, the Court is satisfied that the contract of March 25, 1969 had its genesis in a corrupt understanding by which Lee Bernstein would receive employment and be supplied with a regular source of income, in the event that his political tenure (and income) were terminated by the recall election of June 1969. A corrupt understanding that undoubtedly was conceived in the mind of Mr. Bernstein, but to which the other members of the Board of Trustees of the defendant Humane Societies, nevertheless, gave their prior approval and assent.
Ultimately, Lee Bernstein was sentenced to jail for four months relating to this matter. Thus, AHS’s modern history had a corrupt beginning.
Horrific Treatment of Animals During Lee Bernstein Era
In 2003, the State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation (“SCI”) issued a scathing report on AHS. Some of the report’s key findings were as follows:
- AHS raised massive amounts of money and failed to use enough of it to properly care for its animals
- Shelters were mismanaged and ruled by then Executive Director, Lee Bernstein, with an iron fist
- Ineffective oversight by AHS’s Board of Trustees
The SCI report summarized the history under Lee Bernstein as follows:
The history of AHS’s shelter operation has been dominated by deplorable kennel conditions, inhumane treatment of animals by workers, mismanagement and nonexistent or inadequate medical care. The problems were neither singular nor occasional.The accounts and descriptions provided by members of the public and former and current staff members, including veterinarians, paint a bleak picture of shelter life. The reality for the animals belied AHS’s propaganda that its “sole purpose” has been “the care and welfare of animals” and that it has “a high adoption rate.”
One example of Lee Bernstein’s cruelty was when he ordered a veterinarian to use only one needle per animal. Apparently, Bernstein thought the 5 cents savings per animal was more important than the pain an animal endured from being stabbed multiple times with a dull needle:
Bernstein reacted by issuing a memorandum to the veterinarian that “effective immediately, use only ONE needle per animal. . . .
In a responding memorandum, the veterinarian countered that the needles “are not especially high quality to begin with, become much more dull [with one or two passages through a vial’s rubber stopper] and, therefore, more painful to the animal upon injection.” She asserted, “According to you, the cost is $0.03-$0.04 per animal for an additional needle (plus probably at most $0.01 for medical waste disposal) – a bargain for an organization concerned about animal welfare.” She noted that “some shelter personnel are not especially adept at administering injections and a dull needle make[s] the job harder on everyone” and cited a recent complaint by a woman “who was appalled by her cat being stabbed four times before the vaccine was successfully administered at the shelter.” During this timeframe, AHS realized profits in excess of $1 million and had cash and investment balances valued at more than $8 million.
The SCI report stated Bernstein was a firm believer of survival of the fittest when it came to spending money on veterinary care:
His philosophy was that the strong ones would survive and the others would not. Assistant Director Terry Clark also expressed disapproval of her treating shelter animals. In an apparent attempt to dissuade her, Clark stated in one conversation that Bernstein’s remedy would be to euthanize any shelter animals that he finds in the clinic.
While some may say this report is old news, AHS’s current Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, worked at AHS and served on the AHS Board of Trustees for three decades prior to the release of the SCI report. In fact, she was the Assistant Executive Director when the report was released. Popcorn Park Director, John Bergmann, also worked at AHS and was a Board of Trustees member during some of the time period covered by this report. Similarly, AHS Board of Trustees member and Treasurer, Barbara Lathrop, also had been with AHS for 27 years prior to the release of the SCI report. Thus, many people in AHS’s current leadership worked at AHS for many years during the horrible Lee Bernstein era.
Additionally, the SCI report alleged Roseann Trezza helped Bernstein implement his don’t treat the shelter animals plan:
In addition, Dr. Binkowski’s practice of returning animals under treatment to the shelter with instructions to the worker to administer certain medications was thwarted when Trezza issued a memorandum, dated March 9, 1994, to the front office and kennel staff that she was assigning one individual in the front office to “be responsible for dispensing the medication [and that n]o medications are to be held or given out by the kennel staff.” According to Dr. Binkowski, this rule effectively deprived many, if not most of the animals of their medications because the front office employee had numerous other responsibilities and administering to the shelter animals was not her primary assignment.
Finally, Roseann Trezza showed her true colors when AHS published a glowing memorial article on Lee Bernstein in a 2008 issue of the Humane News. Remarkably, AHS made no mention of Lee Bernstein’s egregious acts towards the shelter animals detailed in the SCI report.
Two years after the SCI report was published, AHS paid $138,057 to settle alleged violations of the State’s Consumer Fraud Act and Charitable Registration and Investigation Act. Unfortunately, the settlement agreement only mandated a two year monitoring program to ensure AHS’s compliance.
History of Conflicts with Shelter Veterinarians in SCI Report
The SCI report detailed recurring conflicts between AHS and its veterinarians over the care provided to animals at the organization’s Newark, Tinton Falls and Popcorn Park shelters. The striking thing about these conflicts was the consistency in the accounts from various veterinarians. The following statements by one AHS-Newark veterinarian summarized the theme of all these accounts well:
After you received my letter of resignation, you asked me what it would take to get me to sign a contract. One of the main reasons I am resigning is because insufficient resources are allocated for basic needs – housing, food, and medical well-being of the shelter animals and the operation of the Medical Department. As a result, it is my professional judgment that minimal standards of care are not being met and that delivery of medical care to animals is sorely lacking to the point that animals are suffering. Indeed, I am becoming increasingly alarmed at the level of care provided by AHS which I think is often below the minimal standard of humane care provided by state anti-cruelty laws. Also, I am concerned that AHS is acting negligently toward animal owners and the public that it is supposed to serve. I should state that I have many examples in addition to ones described below which I will discuss with you or any interested party.
Frankly, any animal welfare organization that repeatedly fights with its own veterinarians to provide less care to its animals should get out of the animal sheltering business.
AHS also responded in a defiant tone to the SCI report. The organization did state it would try to improve, accepted Lee Bernstein’s resignation and appointed Roseann Trezza as the new Executive Director. However, AHS also wrote the report was “replete with outdated information, pervasive exaggeration, factual embellishments, and intellectually impossible conclusions.” Thus, I did not leave with a warm fuzzy feeling that AHS was going to become a hunky dory organization.
AHS Throws a Concerned Employee Under the Bus
AHS fired an employee shortly after he raised concerns about a dog that eventually killed an adopter according to court documents. The employee expressed reservations about AHS’s and Roseann Trezza’s decision to adopt out a dog with a serious bite history. The dog’s previous owner paid AHS a $205 fee to keep the dog under observation for ten days, then euthanize, and cremate it. The dog killed the adopter nine days after the adoption in an attack that was eerily similar to the one on the previous owner. After hearing this news, the employee told other workers that he knew this would happen. Two weeks later AHS fired the employee under Roseann Trezza’s orders per the court documents.
AHS allowed another employee to continue working at the organization after he was charged with altering records related to the case. Several months after the dog killed the adopter, Burlington County authorities brought charges against AHS-Newark’s shelter manager at the time, Denton Infield, for allegedly deleting portions of the dog’s records indicating prior vicious behavior. Despite this act, AHS not only continued to employ Mr. Infield for years after this incident, but allowed him to represent the shelter in a number of media interviews.
While I don’t think AHS thought this dog could have killed this woman, the organization’s treatment of the two employees speaks volumes about AHS. The employee who correctly pointed out the issue was fired while the staff member who was charged with tampering with evidence stayed on in a prominent role with AHS. Evidently, loyalty is more important than doing the right thing at AHS.
AHS Fights Against Proposed Improvements from the Animal Welfare Task Force
After the SCI report on AHS and an earlier one on the the state’s SPCAs, Governor McGreevey formed the Animal Welfare Task Force to improve animal welfare in New Jersey. The Animal Welfare Task Force Report made the following recommendations:
- Update animal cruelty laws
- Replace the NJ SPCA with specially trained police officers to enforce animal cruelty laws
- Use low cost financing to build more animal shelters
- Implement progressive animal shelter policies
- Make TNR legal and encourage its practice
- Increase quality and quantity of animal shelter inspections
- Improve training and oversight of animal control officers
While anyone seriously concerned about animals would enthusiastically support this report, Roseann Trezza came out strongly against a preliminary version. Specifically, Roseann Trezza seemed to parrot PETA, which kills almost all of its shelter animals, with this frightening quote:
“What they want is obviously unrealistic,” said Roseann Trezza, executive director of the Associated Humane Societies, the largest private animal shelter operation in the state with three shelters and a zoo. “In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to euthanize any animal. But in reality, people do not want to adopt many animals we find and the job of animal protectors is not to merely prolong life, but to relieve suffering,” said Trezza.
To make matters worse, Roseann Trezza appeared to fight against the recommendation to make TNR legal and the preferred practice for dealing with feral cats:
Trezza recited a litany of New Jersey cases––familiar to ANIMAL PEOPLE––involving cat colony caretakers who worked without backups, then died, fell ill, or moved, leaving unfed cats behind.
While I don’t know if AHS opposed TNR for financial or philosophical reasons, the end result was the Animal Welfare Task Force recommendation for TNR never was adopted statewide.
AHS Fights With New Jersey Department of Health Inspectors
New Jersey Department of Health inspectors found horrific problems at AHS in 2009. While I could write an entire series of blogs on these inspection reports, the photos below summarize the conditions very well:
AHS complained the inspectors were just too hard on them. In an interview with NBC New York, Denton Infield, who was charged with tampering with evidence in the dog killing an adopter case six years earlier, basically said dogs are going to poop at night and you can’t prevent them from wallowing in it. Mr. Infield went on to say poor AHS contracts with dozens of municipalities and might close due to potential fines. Ironically, New Jersey animal shelter regulations only allow fines of up to $50 per offense. During that year AHS had a $1.5 million profit and over $10 million in net assets. Clearly, Mr. Infield and AHS were full of it.
Sadly, the New Jersey Department of Health continued to find significant issues during another inspection in 2011. The inspection report noted dogs housed in kennels with a collapsed roof and workers throwing damaged roof material directly over these dogs. Additionally the report stated outdoor drains were in severe disrepair, no isolation areas for sick large dogs existed, automatic dog feeders were filthy, dogs were exposed to contaminated water and chemicals during the cleaning process, and some animals were not receiving prompt medical care.
The following photos were taken during the 2011 inspection:
Outrageous Fight with Veterinarians and Animal Welfare Activists for Patrick
In 2011, AHS helped rescue an incredibly emaciated pit bull named Patrick. The dog was found in a garbage chute by workers in an apartment building and was rushed to AHS. To AHS’s credit, the shelter’s veterinarian stabilized Patrick and then sent him to a New Jersey veterinary hospital for intensive treatment. After bonding with Patrick, the veterinarians that ran the animal hospital wanted to adopt Patrick.
Instead of celebrating the fact that the severely abused dog finally had a loving home, AHS filed a lawsuit to take Patrick back. The lawsuit stated Patrick was “trademark registration number 23699” and was a “very valuable brand for commercial exploitation and fundraising.” Unsurprisingly, the animal welfare community was outraged by this action. Luckily, AHS ultimately lost the case after a judge awarded custody to the veterinarians who cared for Patrick.
Vicious Fights with Cory Booker
AHS fought with Cory Booker during the Senator’s tenure as Newark’s mayor. In 2011, the former Mayor announced his intention to build a new no kill shelter in Newark. Instead of rejoicing that AHS may have to kill fewer animals with another shelter in the city, AHS trotted out Denton Infield and spewed out all sorts of nonsense about no kill shelters. This nonsense seemed eerily similar to what PETA, which kills almost all of the shelter animals it takes in, says about no kill shelters. Ironically, AHS stated that Cory Booker should give the money he raised to AHS. Newark’s Deputy Mayor at the time, Adam Zipkin, rightfully called AHS on this BS, and cited no kill animal control shelters in Reno, Nevada, Tompkins County, New York, Charlottesville, Virginia, Marquette, Michigan, Berkeley, California, and Austin, Texas to prove Newark can be a no kill community.
AHS again fought with Cory Booker in 2013. This time AHS sent out Scott Crawford who complained former Mayor Booker was “belittling us and causing us problems.” After all, how dare the Mayor question the record of the high kill shelter with such a sordid history in his own city? Deputy Mayor Zipkin stated the city intended to build a new no kill shelter “due to our extreme dissatisfaction with the level of care at the existing AHS facility – and because far too many of the animals are unnecessarily killed there each year by AHS.” Thus, AHS could not get along with the popular mayor of the city where the organization’s largest shelter is.
Repeated Fights with Volunteers
AHS-Tinton Falls banned its volunteers in 1998 after the volunteers complained about poor shelter conditions. When complaints to AHS and the New Jersey Department of Health resulted in no meaningful actions, one volunteer reached out to her Assemblywoman on the matter. Subsequently, the NJ SPCA was contacted and around a week or so later AHS ended its volunteer program at the shelter for “insurance reasons.” At the time, Lee Bernstein said the volunteers complained about shelter conditions because they were just bitter about being banned. The volunteers were ultimately proven right after the SCI report came out citing the deplorable conditions at AHS’s shelters.
AHS-Newark’s relationship with volunteers running two separate “Friends” pages ended in recent years. In 2013, AHS banned the volunteers running the “Friends of Newark NJ Animal Shelter” Facebook page which currently has over 6,700 fans. At the time, the page primarily focused on saving the shelter’s dogs. In 2012, the last full year this page supported the shelter, AHS-Newark reported 15% of its dogs were killed, died, went missing or were unaccounted for. In 2013, after these volunteers were banned, 38% of AHS-Newark’s dogs were killed, died, went missing or were unaccounted for. Subsequent to the banning of these volunteers, another volunteer formed a Facebook page called the “Friends of Associated Humane Society – Newark.” However, the volunteer parted ways with AHS on less than friendly terms in 2014. Thus, AHS has a history of fighting with and banning the very volunteers giving their all to help the organization’s animals.
History Repeats Itself
To be fair, AHS has improved since the Lee Bernstein era. The SCI report did detail Roseann Trezza fighting with Lee Bernstein at times. For example, Roseann Trezza advocated for sending more animals to rescues.
However, AHS has a very long way to go. The organization’s kill rate is still way too high based on recent data. Furthermore, the three AHS shelters only adopted out 14-39 percent and 6-44 percent of cats and dogs that AHS should adopt out based on my recent analyses of the organization’s performance.
At the end of the day, I firmly believe the banned volunteers side of the story verses AHS’s version. This organization’s history of conflict and highly questionable activities is consistent with them banning volunteers for nefarious reasons. George Santayana stated:
“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”
Unfortunately with AHS’s history, fighting with volunteers and other animal advocates is par for the course. Until AHS’s senior leadership is replaced with competent and compassionate people, AHS’s history of not doing right by the animals will continue.