Associated Humane Societies-Newark’s Horrible Handling of Irvington’s Homeless Animals

Last year, I analyzed a large number of records for animals coming into Associated Humane Societies-Newark during 2014. These records, which primarily consisted of animals coming in from animal control in Newark, revealed massive killing and incompetence at this so-called “shelter.” Overall, 93% of cats, 70% of dogs, and 81% of pit bull like dogs with known outcomes in this data set lost their lives at AHS-Newark.

Did AHS-Newark change for the better in 2015? Does AHS-Newark save a lot more animals coming in from other municipalities? Do animals coming in from animal control fare worse than dogs and cats arriving at the shelter from other sources?

Detailed Analysis Conducted 

To get a better understanding of AHS-Newark’s handling of animals, I submitted an OPRA request to the City of Irvington’s Health Department seeking intake and disposition records of all Irvington animals, such as strays and owner surrenders, AHS-Newark impounded during the first 9 or so months in 2015. After much follow-up over a period of several months, I received AHS-Newark’s underlying intake and disposition records for these animals. Unfortunately, AHS-Newark refused to honor subsequent OPRA requests for records of animals coming in during the last three or so months of 2015.

In total, I obtained around 300 animal records and it took me several weeks to review and summarize this information. Many of these records were for wildlife, animals leaving before animal control officers arrived, and animals that were dead by the time the animal control officer got to the location. Overall, I reviewed the intake and disposition records of 89 cats and 93 dogs that AHS-Newark impounded from Irvington in 2015.

I reviewed each record and summarized my findings. My summary included the animal’s ID number, species, breed, origin (stray, owner surrender, confiscated by authorities), intake date, outcome date, length of stay, outcome, reasons for killing, miscellaneous information, and any comments I had.

Underlying Records Reveal Mass Killing

The sheer number and percentage of Irvington animals losing their lives at AHS-Newark is staggering. Overall, AHS-Newark killed 75% of the cats, 60% of the dogs and 74% of the pit bull like dogs that had outcomes in this data set. These kill rates were only slightly lower than the kill rates from my 2014 data set for Newark animals where AHS-Newark killed 83% of cats, 67% of dogs and 79% of pit bull like dogs. Furthermore, if I add Irvington animals who died at AHS-Newark, 83% of cats, 60% of dogs and 74% of pit bull like dogs lost their lives in this data set at AHS-Newark. As a comparison, 93% of cats, 70% of dogs and 81% of pit bull like dogs lost their lives in the 2014 data set for Newark animals. To put it another way, 62 out of 75 cats, 46 out of 77 dogs, and 32 out of 43 pit bull like dogs who had outcomes lost their lives per these Irvington records. As a result, these records indicate AHS-Newark operated more like a death camp than an animal shelter for the dogs and cats coming to the facility from Irvington during the first 9 months of 2015.

The percentage of dogs and cats losing their lives increases if we only consider the animals AHS-Newark had to shelter for more than a short period of time. Typically, shelters quickly return dogs and cats to their owners since such animals usually are licensed and/or have microchips. Therefore, shelters have to do little work to return these animals to their families. If I calculate the death rate excluding owner-reclaims, 83% of cats, 68% of dogs and 82% of pit bull like dogs lost their lives in this data set. In other words more than 2 out of 3 dogs and 4 out 5 pit bull like dogs and cats not reclaimed by owners lost their lives in this data set. Thus, AHS-Newark operated more like a pet killing factory than an animal shelter for Irvington’s homeless dogs and cats during the first 9 months of 2015.

AHS-Newark’s kill and death rates for dogs may actually be higher. Of the 22 unclaimed dogs safely making it out of AHS-Newark, 16 of these animals were transferred to AHS-Tinton Falls and AHS-Popcorn Park. Similarly, 6 of the 7 unclaimed pit bull like dogs leaving AHS-Newark alive went to AHS-Tinton Falls and AHS-Popcorn Park. AHS-Tinton Falls and AHS-Popcorn Park do not operate their shelters under a no kill philosophy and it is possible some of these dogs lost their lives at these other AHS facilities. Thus, AHS-Newark’s statistics may even be worse than the charts below indicate.

AHS-Newark’s adoption statistics in this data set were abysmal. Specifically, AHS-Newark only adopted out 8% of its cats, 4% of its dogs, and 0% of its pit bull like dogs in this data set. In fact, AHS-Newark only adopted out 9% of its small dogs in this data set. AHS-Newark poor adoption policies, which include normal dog adoption fees of $200 or more, requiring notarized letters from landlords when leases are silent about pets, and requiring existing dogs meet dogs at the facility, hamper the shelter’s ability to adopt out animals. In addition, the large number of animals receiving inadequate physical and behavioral care and the overall poor customer service at the shelter also hurt adoption efforts. Thus, AHS-Newark needs to overhaul their policies to increase adoptions.

Irvington’s overall 2015 statistics and the animal control only data were nearly identical. This suggests the horrific Newark statistics, which were primarily animals coming in from animal control, I reviewed last year may be similar to the overall Newark statistics.

AHS Irvington 2015 Dog and Cat StatsAHS Irvington 2015 Pit Bulls and Small Dogs Stats

AHS-Newark’s length of stay data reveals the shelter’s poor performance. First and foremost, AHS-Newark killed cats in this data set after just 12 days on average. Overall, AHS-Newark’s dog length of stay figures indicated animals resided way too long at the shelter. For example, despite the shelter only adopting out 4 out of 93 dogs, AHS-Newark still took nearly 7 weeks on average to adopt those few animals out. Additionally, AHS-Newark’s dog average length of stay figure may actually be higher since the shelter had significant numbers of animals that were in the ending population and transferred to other AHS shelters. Therefore, these animals likely spent additional time in an AHS shelter. Finally, even this data set’s small dogs, which typically fly out of shelters, spent 49 days on average at AHS-Newark. The 49 day average length of stay figure understates the time spent at AHS shelters since more than half of these dogs went to another AHS shelter after leaving the Newark facility or were in the ending population at AHS-Newark. Thus, AHS-Newark quickly killed cats and took way too long to safely place dogs in this data set.

AHS Irvington 2015 LOS Data

AHS Irvington 2015 LOS Data Pits and Small Dogs

Poor Reasons for Killing

AHS-Newark killed many healthy and treatable animals. AHS-Newark’s top three reasons for killing cats were as follows:

  1. Feral/Aggressive
  2. Sick
  3. Ringworm

On March 8, 2015 an Irvington resident surrendered two cats named Benny and Jet to AHS-Newark due to the person being unable to care for the animals. Despite the cats having a previous home, AHS-Newark labeled the cats as “feral” and killed the two animals 9 days later.

cat ID 132712Cat ID 132713

On May 4, 2015 Cat ID# 134247 arrived at AHS-Newark “covered in motor oil and gasoline.” Despite this cat’s obvious trauma, AHS-Newark stated this cat “WILL BITE” and killed her 17 days after coming into the shelter. The shelter did note it was able to give the cat a bath. No rehabilitation efforts were documented on the record below. A recent study found gradual touching and petting and talking in a soft voice is highly effective at socializing so-called aggressive cats. Thus, AHS-Newark appeared to do little to save this traumatized cat.

Cat id 134247.jpg

On May 8, 2015, AHS-Newark impounded a female cat and two kittens from an address in Irvington. The 7 year and 5 month old black cat (Cat ID# 134396), which may have been the mother of the two 7 month old black kittens, was killed by AHS-Newark 11 days later. AHS-Newark killed the female kitten, Cat ID# 134395, two minutes later. Three minutes after AHS-Newark killed the female kitten, the shelter killed the male kitten (Cat ID# 134394). Frankly, I wonder how close these kittens were to each other and the mother prior to their killing given the short time between killing each animal. If the animals were in fact near each other and were a family, I can only imagine the horror these kittens were in prior to AHS-Newark poisoning them to death.

Cat ID134396

Cat ID 134394.jpg

134495

AHS-Newark took in Cat ID# 131808 from an Irvington resident who found her on January 16, 2015. After just 8 days, AHS-Newark killed the cat for having an upper respiratory infection that was “not improving.” Nothing in the “Health Records” on the document below indicate any specific treatment for the URI beyond the vaccinations on the day this 12 month old cat arrived at AHS-Newark. Furthermore, the record provides no documentation that AHS-Newark tried to place this cat in a foster home or with a rescue prior to killing her.

Cat ID 131808.jpg

Kathleen was surrendered to AHS-Newark on March 26, 2015 due to her owner moving out of state. According to the record below, Kathleen’s owner stated the 9 year and 7 month old cat never went outside. While its unclear from the record where Kathleen caught a URI, I would think an indoor cat would not have had the virus prior to arriving at the shelter. While at AHS-Newark, Kathleen’s URI did not respond to treatment and the cat developed pneumonia. According to the “Health Records” on the document below, AHS-Newark provided no other treatment beyond normal veterinary care on the day this cat arrived at the shelter. Amazingly, Kathleen developed pneumonia during the cat’s less than two week stay at AHS-Newark. After just 12 days, AHS-Newark killed Kathleen.

Cat ID 133217.jpg

AHS-Newark used a “throw everything but the kitchen sink” approach to justify the mass killing of dogs. Often times the shelter listed multiple boilerplate reasons, like aggression (including “cage crazy”/”not kenneling well”), dog aggression, sick, etc. The top three reasons AHS used to kill dogs were:

  1. Aggression related issues
  2. Dog aggression
  3. Overcrowded

AHS-Newark labeled many dogs as aggressive that did not seem that way. On August 3, 2015, AHS-Newark received Emmet back from an adopter. The adopter returned this 1 year and 8 month old Labrador mix due to Emmet having a sore and being too active. While Emmet was at the shelter previously, he received an excellent evaluation. Besides being “full of puppy energy” and dog selective, he “had a great food test” and was “gentle taking treats” and “friendly with people.” Furthermore, Emmet was one of the select few dogs chosen for a photoshoot and the shelter wrote “DO NOT PTS” (i.e. do not put to sleep) prior to his adoption. Despite this great evaluation and favorable treatment at the shelter, “sc”, who I presume is former AHS Assistant Executive Director, Scott Crawford, decided to kill him for being “Cagey” (i.e. cage aggression), “very dog aggressive” and for the crime of being returned by an adopter. As the Dogs Playing for Life program has found, cage or barrier aggression often does not mean a dog is aggressive in normal conditions outside of an unnatural kennel environment. Thus, it seems AHS-Newark simply looked for a reason to kill this young Labrador mix after he was returned by his adopter.

Dog ID 137543 pt 1.jpg

Dog ID 137543 pt 2

Zoey was a 3 year and 6 month old stray dog taken to AHS-Newark on May 15, 2015. On August 18, 2015 the shelter wrote “DO NOT PTS-PHOTOSHOOT/FACEBOOK” on Zoey’s record below. Additionally, the photo on Zoey’s record below showed a person sitting with her. Despite AHS-Newark’s clear instructions not to kill Zoey, Scott Crawford decided to kill her two weeks later for being “cage craze”, “been developing barrier issues”, and acting “aggressive during length of stay.” Nothing in the record below indicated AHS provided any kind of behavioral treatment to Zoey.

Dog ID 134633 pt 1.jpg

Dog ID 134633 pt 2.jpg

Spike was a 4 year and 4 month old stray dog taken to AHS-Newark on June 3, 2015. AHS-Newark killed Spike 20 days later for having dog aggression, “developing barrier issues” and lack of space. Nothing on the record indicated AHS-Newark tried to socialize Spike with other dogs to help treat his alleged dog aggression.

Dog ID 135253.jpg

Star was a 3 year and 5 month old stray dog taken to AHS-Newark on June 3, 2015. On July 21, 2015, AHS-Newark wrote “DO NOT PTS PER SW PHOTOSHOOT FACEBOOK.” Around a month later on August 22, 2015, AHS-Newark again wrote “DO NOT PTS” after Star apparently was evaluated. Star’s evaluation was spectacular. Specifically, the evaluation stated “She radiates joy with her disposition” and she was “a Kennel staff favorite with her wonderful loving disposition”, “warm and affectionate”, “very friendly”, and a “GREAT DOG.” With an evaluation like this and instructions to not kill her written on two separate occasions, one would think Star was safe. Sadly, AHS-Newark killed Star just 18 days later for being dog aggressive, “no interest for adoption” and lack of space. If a dog like Star can’t make it out of AHS-Newark alive, what chance do the many dogs outside the public spotlight have?

Dog ID 135258 Pt 1.jpg

Dog ID 135258 Pt 2.jpg

Crush, who was a 1 year and 5 month old dog, was surrendered by his owner to AHS-Newark on January 15, 2015. Apparently, AHS-Newark posted Crush on Petfinder and Facebook as the shelter wrote “PETFINDER FACEBOOK DO NOT PTS PER SW.” Crush had an excellent evaluation that described him as “one happy dude” and went on to say “had no issues sharing his food bowl”, he shared his toys with people, and “did well with the female dog he met outside.” Despite his stellar evaluation, AHS-Newark killed Crush 70 days after he arrived at the shelter. AHS-Newark justified killing Crush for not being able to be share a kennel with another dog, “extreme barrier aggression”, being “unpredictable at times” and “declining further.” No where on the record does AHS-Newark mention any efforts to preserve Crush’s psychological well-being. Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1:9, shelters must have a disease control program that addresses the psychological well-being of their animals. Thus, it seems AHS-Newark did nothing to prevent Crush from deteriorating at the stressful AHS-Newark shelter or simply mislabeled him as having various forms of aggression.

Dog ID 131795

Dog ID 131795 (2)

Questionable Statistics

The data I reviewed suggests AHS-Newark may also kill large numbers of animals from other communities the shelter contracts with. AHS-Newark’s death rate for the Irvington animals in this blog was nearly as high as the 2014 Newark animal data set I reviewed in a prior blog. While Newark and Irvington may be more difficult communities to serve (i.e. higher intake, fewer reclaimed animals, more pit bull like dogs, etc.), I find it hard to imagine the death rates, particularly for unclaimed animals, are that much lower in other contracting municipalities.

The statistics in this blog and my prior blog on Newark animals arriving at AHS-Newark make me question AHS-Newark’s 2015 reported statistics. AHS-Newark killed 43% of cats and 25% of dogs based on its 2015 summary statistics. However, AHS-Newark killed 75% of cats and 60% of dogs in the 2015 Irvington data set I reviewed. If I exclude unclaimed animals, AHS-Newark killed 44% of unclaimed cats and 31% of unclaimed dogs based on its 2015 summary statistics. In the data set above, AHS-Newark killed 75% of unclaimed cats and 68% of unclaimed dogs. Thus, I question whether AHS-Newark’s reported summary statistics are in fact accurate.

AHS-Newark Requires New Leadership

AHS shocked the animal welfare community this summer when it hired Niki Dawson to replace Scott Crawford as its Assistant Executive Director. While I certainly had serious issues with Niki Dawson’s views and past performance, I stated she could make some improvements. However, I expressed skepticism that Ms. Dawson would have the authority to make those changes with Roseann Trezza being in charge. Around a month or so after joining AHS, AHS and Niki Dawson apparently parted ways as AHS posted Niki Dawson’s position on a job listing web site in late August. Furthermore, around the same time several people independently told me Niki Dawson no longer was working at AHS.

Niki Dawson’s quick departure from AHS is deeply disturbing. While Ms. Dawson has had a history of working at shelters for very short periods of time, her time at AHS is one of the shortest tenures that I know of. Even more unsettling is the fact that Niki Dawson has long held traditional sheltering and anti-no kill views. In fact, Ms. Dawson faced significant criticism from animal advocates over the years for killing animals at various shelters. Frankly, if a prominent traditional shelter and anti-no kill leader only lasts a month or so at AHS, that should raise major red flags to the New Jersey Department of Health, the NJ SPCA and the AHS Board of Directors. The longer these authorities fail to act the more their personal and professional reputations will deteriorate.

Clearly, AHS has failed its animals as well as the people in the communities it serves. From possible violations of state shelter laws to killing massive numbers of animals to killing dog and cats who are friends and families to wasting obscene amounts of money on lawyers to banning volunteers and fighting with many others in the animal welfare community, Roseann Trezza and AHS continue to do wrong by their animals and the public at large.

AHS needs a new Executive Director who will make the massive changes in culture, staffing, and programs needed to make the Newark facility an excellent shelter. Nothing will change at AHS as long as Roseann Trezza calls the shots. Given the scale of the killing at AHS, animal welfare advocates should make replacing Roseann Trezza with a compassionate and competent leader their primary goal. If animal advocates succeed, thousands of animals and hundreds of thousands of people will benefit. Personally, I can’t think of any anything better for New Jersey’s pets and animal loving people.

2015 New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Reveal Big Problems Still Exist

Earlier this month, I wrote a blog detailing decreased killing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2015. This blog will explore the 2015 statistics in more detail and assess the current status of the state’s animal shelters.

Most New Jersey animal shelters voluntarily report detailed data to state authorities. Last month, I shared the 2015 summary statistics for New Jersey animal shelters on my Facebook page. Each year, the New Jersey Department of Health requests each licensed animal shelter in the state to submit animal shelter data for the previous year. Animal shelters voluntarily submit this data in the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report.” The New Jersey Department of Health takes these Shelter/Pound Annual Reports and compiles the number of dogs, cats and other animals impounded, redeemed, adopted and euthanized to prepare its Animal Intake and Disposition report. However, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include additional information on how animals were impounded (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, rescued from in-state facilities, rescued from out of state shelters, and cruelty/bite cases) and disposed of (i.e. returned to owner, adopted, sent to rescue/another shelter, and died/missing/other outcome). Additionally, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include the number of animals in shelters at the beginning and end of the year as well as the maximum number of animals facilities can hold. Thus, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include very important data not found in the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report.

I compiled the data from these reports and analyze the results in this blog. 2015 statistics for each New Jersey animal shelter are listed at this link.

Garbage Data Raises Serious Questions About New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Statistics

Most New Jersey animal shelters do not properly account for their animals. Simple math dictates the number of animals at a facility at the beginning of the year, plus all animals coming in during the year, less all animals leaving for the period, should equal the number of animals a shelter has at the end of the year. Stunningly, 54 out of 91 shelters reporting these dog statistics and 55 out of 92 facilities submitting this cat data failed to get this right. While this is actually a significant improvement over the results in 2014, this raises serious questions about the accuracy of these shelters’ reported statistics. 25 of the 54 shelters with flawed dog statistics and 29 of the 55 facilities with incorrect cat statistics should have had more animals at the end of the year then reported. While these errors could have been due to incorrect counts of the number of animals at facilities, these shelters may have not recorded outcomes, such as animals who were killed, died, or went missing. To put it another way, 1,193 cats and dogs should have had outcomes reported and did not. Thus, there is the potential that as many as 1,193 additional dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing from New Jersey animal shelters than were reported in 2015.

Even worse, a number of animal shelters reported having a different number of animals at the end of 2014 and at the beginning of 2015. Obviously, shelters should report the same number of animals at the end of the prior year and the start of the current year. However, 40 of 90 shelters reported different numbers of dogs at the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015. Similarly, 38 of 91 shelters reported different numbers of cats at the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015. The worst offenders were Burlington County Animal Shelter (39 missing dogs and 98 missing cats at the beginning 2015), Monmouth SPCA (43 missing dogs and 56 missing cats at the beginning 2015) and Bergen Protect and Rescue Foundation (22 extra dogs and 76 missing cats at the beginning of 2015).

Shelters may have failed to classify animals adopted out and sent to rescue properly. Both Paterson Animal Control and Elizabeth Animal Shelter reported no animals were sent to rescues and all dogs and cats leaving their facilities alive were owner reclaims or adoptions. However, intake and disposition records I reviewed at both of these shelters in 2015 revealed virtually all “adopted” animals are actually rescued. This makes sense as neither shelter advertises animals for adoption on a web site like Petfinder. One has to wonder how many other facilities failed to properly classify adoptions and rescues properly. This data is very important as it provides details on the burden rescues and other shelters are taking on from these facilities.

We need better oversight of New Jersey animal shelters’ data reporting. Currently, these statistics are voluntarily reported and most shelters are not taking this seriously. For example, I noticed a large number of reports were submitted many months after the end of the year. This data should be easy to compile since facilities can utilize animal shelter software programs, some of which are free, to do this task. Furthermore, New Jersey animal shelter laws mandate facilities maintain much of the raw data found in the Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Unfortunately, New Jersey Department of Health inspections routinely find shelters do not properly keep records on animals. We need to make the Shelter/Pound Annual Report mandatory for animal shelters along with serious penalties for significant errors (especially if deliberate). In order for animal shelters to take data reporting seriously, we may also need to require audits of these reports. Thus, these results show we need stronger laws and the New Jersey Department of Health to play a greater role in ensuring reported animal shelter statistics are in fact accurate.

Despite the errors in these reports, the data provided still reveals important information.

More Animals Losing Their Lives in New Jersey Animal Shelters Than Disclosed in Summary Report

The more detailed data in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports allows one to more critically examine the percentage of locally impounded animals dying in New Jersey’s animal shelters. The following table summarizes my analysis of the kill/death rate calculated from the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report and the data reported in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports.

2015 NJ Summary Totals2.jpgThe Animal Intake and Disposition report prepared by the New Jersey Department of Health only allows one to calculate the number of animals killed as a percentage of total animals impounded or intake. I prefer calculating the kill rate as a percentage of outcomes rather than intake as this metric directly compares positive and negative outcomes. Using intake may depress the kill rate since shelters can simply hold animals for a long time to the point of overcrowding. Calculating kill rate based on outcomes rather than intake increases the cat kill rate from 28.0% to 28.2% and the dog kill rate remains the same.

To calculate the statewide kill rate, we must also back out transfers from one New Jersey animal shelter to another state facility to avoid counting animals still in the state’s shelter system or registering two outcomes for the same animal (i.e. one New Jersey animal shelter transfers a dog or cat to another state facility who then adopts out the animal). This adjustment increases the dog kill rate from 10.6% to 11.2% and the cat kill rate from 28.2% to 30.5%.

In addition, we should increase the kill rate for animals who died or went missing in shelters. I label this metric the death rate as these animals are likely dead or in a very bad situation. Unfortunately, the Shelter/Pound Annual Report includes animals who died or went missing in the “Other” outcome category. While it is possible this “Other” category contains positive live releases, such as TNR for cats, I suspect the “Other” category consists almost entirely of animals who died or went missing for most shelters. Therefore, I classify animals in the “Other” category as dead or missing unless the shelter specifies the number of animals included in this category that left the shelter alive. For example, I do not count cats as dead/missing when shelters, such as Montclair Township Animal Shelter and Edison Animal Shelter, write a note on the form listing out the number of TNR cats placed in the “Other” outcome category. After making this adjustment, the dog death rate increases from 11.2% to 11.9% and the cat death rate rises from 30.5% to 35.8%.

Also, many shelters transport easy to adopt animals from out of state which artificially increases live release rates. To properly calculate the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives, we need to adjust for transports. Unfortunately, shelters don’t break out their save rates by local and out of state animals. However, most likely nearly all of the out of state animals (primarily puppies and easy to adopt dogs) make it out of shelters alive. Therefore, I back out the number of out of state transports to estimate the local death rate except for St. Hubert’s. Since St. Hubert’s subsequently transfers many of these animals to other shelters, I only subtract out the number of dogs St. Hubert’s rescues from out of state less the number of dogs it transfers to other shelters. This adjustment increases the New Jersey dog death rate from 11.9% to 14.4% and the state cat death rate from 35.8% to 36.1%.

Also, I estimate a maximum local death rate by including the number of unaccounted for animals described in the section above. Making this adjustment increases the maximum potential New Jersey dog death rate from 14.4% to 15.4% and the maximum potential state cat death rate from 36.1% to 37.5%.

Some animal shelters quickly return large percentages of their animals to owners. At these shelters, the populations served are typically well-off and animals are licensed and have microchips. To account for the animals facilities actually have to shelter, I calculated a death rate for non-reclaimed animals and a maximum potential death rate for non-reclaimed local animals. The non-reclaimed death rate and maximum potential death rate for dogs is 17.0% and 24.7%. Non-reclaimed cats had a 37.7% death rate and a 39.4% maximum potential death rate. Thus, the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives in our state’s animal shelters may be much higher than the state summary report suggests.

Death Rates Extremely High at a Number of New Jersey Animal Shelters

Dogs and cats are likely to lose their lives or go missing at a number of New Jersey animal shelters. Shelters with the highest death rates for dogs and cats (excluding very low intake facilities) are listed in the following tables:

2015 dog death rate

2015 cat death rate
Thus, both dogs and cats have a very good chance of leaving many New Jersey animal shelters dead rather than alive.

In terms of raw numbers, the following shelters had the most animals lose their lives or go missing:

2015 Dogs Killed died

2015 cats killed died

Many shelters fail to account for large numbers of their animals. As discussed above, a shelter’s number of animals at the end of the year should be calculated as follows:

Beginning number of animals + animals impounded – animals leaving the shelter

Unfortunately, a large number of shelters take in far more animals than they can explain where they went. Shelters having the highest numbers of unaccounted for dogs and cats are listed in the following tables:

2015 unaccounted for dogs

2015 unaccounted for cats

Dog and cat death rates at many shelters may be even higher if these unaccounted for animals are counted as dead or missing. If we only consider animal shelters which reported transporting few or no animals in 2015, facilities with the highest dog and cat death rates considering the unaccounted for animals described above are as follows:

2015 max pot dogs

2015 max pot cats.jpg

Thus, the plight of dogs and cats may be far worse in New Jersey animal shelters when we consider the unaccounted for animals.

Shelters Turn Their Backs on New Jersey’s Animals

New Jersey animal shelters rescue far more dogs from out of state than from other New Jersey animal shelters. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters transferred in 5,350 dogs from out of state animal shelters and only rescued 1,631 dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. In fact, transports of out of state dogs increased by 260 dogs while rescues of dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters decreased by 61 dogs in 2015 compared to 2014. While the state’s local death rate decreased in 2015, it is likely the local death rate would have decreased by more if not for the massive number of out of state transports.

While perhaps some shelters, such as Animal Alliance in Lambertville, take animals from nearby New York or Pennsylvania animal control shelters, the overwhelming majority of these dogs most certainly came from down south. In fact, New Jersey animal shelters transported more dogs from out of state than dogs who were killed in, died in and went missing from New Jersey animal shelters. This number does not include additional out of state dogs transported into New Jersey by rescues operating without a physical facility. Shelters transporting the most dogs from out of state were as follows:

2015 Dogs transported

Return to Owner Rates Better Than Average at Most Shelters

Return to owners (“RTO”) rates are one of the positive results from this analysis. Overall, the dog and cat RTO rates of 57% and 7% are approximately 2-3 times the national average. As I noted in my blog on reuniting lost pets with owners, return to owner rates are highly correlated with socioeconomic status. Wealthier people likely have more resources/knowledge to license and microchip their dogs. Similarly, people with greater incomes are more likely to afford reclaim fees or ransom payments to animal shelters. New Jersey’s RTO rates for dogs clearly fit this pattern with shelters serving wealthy towns returning most stray dogs to owners while certain urban shelters are returning a much lower percentage of lost dogs to owners. Clearly, we need to help people in urban areas get microchips and ID tags on their dogs. Additionally, we need to create pet help desks at shelters in these cities to help people pay the reclaim fees, which are often mandated by the cities themselves, when necessary. The statewide cat reclaim rate, like figures from across the nation, is still very low and suggests shelters need to figure out better ways to get lost cats back to their families. New Jersey should allow shelters to transfer stray cats to rescues during the mandatory 7 day hold period since few are returned to owners at shelters. This would open up space to save more cats and reduce the chance of disease (i.e. cats spending less time in shelters are not as likely to get sick).

To get a better idea of how organizations are doing with animals they actually have to shelter, I also examined what percentage of non-reclaimed dogs lose their lives at each facility. Shelters with the highest non-reclaimed dogs death rates are as follows:

2015 nonreclaimed dog death rate

Shelters with the highest maximum non-reclaimed dogs death rates are as follows (excluding facilities that reported transporting many dogs and taking very few animals in):

2015 max pot non rec death rate

Shelters Leave Animal Enclosures Empty While Dogs and Cats Die

New Jersey animal shelters fail to use their space to save animals. Based on the average number of animals at all of New Jersey’s animal shelters at the beginning and the end of 2015, only 49% of dog and 63% of cat capacity was used. Given December is a low intake month, I also increased these populations to an average intake month. This adjustment only raised the dog and cat capacity utilization to 51% and 95%. These estimates likely overestimate the average capacity utilized as many facilities kill animals once they reach a certain population level. Many animal shelters with low kill rates failed to rescue animals with their excess space. Additionally, other shelters used little of their available space and still killed a large percentage of their animals. Some examples after increasing the population (and therefore capacity utilization) based on the adjustment discussed above are as follows:

2015 space usage dogs.jpg

2015 space cusage cats.jpg

Thus, many New Jersey animal shelters are killing dogs and cats despite having ample space to house these animals.

New Jersey’s animal shelters continue to fail the state’s animals. The state’s animal shelters only impound 8.2 dogs and cats per 1,000 New Jersey residents. If we just count animals originating from New Jersey, the state’s animal shelters only impound 7.6 dogs and cats per 1,000 people. As a comparison, the average community in the country impounds anywhere from 14-30 animals per 1,000 residents based on estimates from Animal People Newspaper and the Humane Society of the United States. Despite New Jersey shelters impounding a fraction of the animals other no kill communities take in on a per capita basis, the state’s animal control facilities continue to kill and allow animals to die under their care. Even worse, many of these shelters can’t even properly keep track of how many animals leave their facilities dead or alive. Our state’s animals deserve far better treatment than this. Contact your local city council members and mayor and demand better from the animal shelter serving your community. We can do so much better and it is time our shelters operate this way.

Why I Think the New Jersey Department of Health Should Inspect Associated Humane Societies-Newark

Associated Humane Societies-Newark has a history of doing the wrong things for its animals. In 2003, the State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation (“SCI”) issued a scathing report on AHS and concluded:

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.”

In 2009 and 2011, the New Jersey Department of Health detailed extensive violations of New Jersey animal shelter laws. Animals lived in filthy kennels and were covered in feces. Dogs were housed in kennels with a collapsed roof and workers were throwing damaged roof material directly over these dogs. Additionally 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.

In recent years, I’ve heard several people state AHS-Newark no longer is a house of horrors. While I certainly believe the shelter is better than it was under Lee Bernstein, the organization’s current Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, has been in charge when many of these problems occurred. Is AHS-Newark just hunky dory or does it still have tremendous problems?

As described in a prior blog, I obtained a large number of intake and disposition records for animals AHS-Newark primarily impounded from animal control in the City of Newark during 2014. These records included 1,615 dogs and cats. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to other types of AHS-Newark records. Ultimately, we would need a proper inspection, which would involve reviewing additional types of records, to determine whether AHS Newark violated state shelter laws. Therefore, people should not conclude AHS-Newark violated any laws unless a New Jersey Department of Health inspection makes this determination. However, I think there are reasonable grounds to suspect AHS-Newark might not have complied with state shelter laws at times based on my review of a large sample of AHS-Newark’s 2014 intake and disposition records.

Animals Killed During 7 Day Hold Period

New Jersey animal shelter law clearly states shelters must not kill animals, whether they are strays or owner surrenders, for at least 7 days. Furthermore, the New Jersey Department of Health recently issued guidance summarizing the law’s requirements:

Pursuant to State law (N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.16 a. through l.) all municipalities must have a licensed animal impoundment facility (pound) designated where stray and potentially vicious animals can be safely impounded. Impounded stray animals shall be held at the pound for at least seven days (i.e., 168 hours) from the time impounded before the animal is offered for adoption or euthanized, relocated or sterilized, regardless of the animal’s temperament or medical condition.

Animals that are voluntarily surrendered by their owners to licensed pounds or shelters shall be offered for adoption for at least seven days prior to euthanasia or shelter/pound management may transfer the animal to an animal rescue organization facility or a foster home prior to offering it for adoption if such a transfer is determined to be in the best interest of the animal.

In practice, the New Jersey Department of Health allows shelters to euthanize animals during the 7 day hold period if both of the following conditions are met:

  1. If a veterinarian deems euthanasia necessary for humane reasons to prevent excessive suffering when illness and injury is severe and the prognosis for recovery is extremely poor
  2. Only a licensed veterinarian should perform euthanasia in the above situation and they must clearly document the humane rationale in the animal’s medical record

The New Jersey Department of Health’s July 30, 2009 inspection report detailed AHS-Newark’s killing of animals during the 7 day stray/hold period:

Killed Prior to 7 Day Hold 2009

AHS-Newark killed a number of animals in 2014 during the 7 day hold period according to the records I reviewed. Many of the intake and disposition records did not clearly document a justifiable reason for the killing in my view and/or appeared to indicate a vet tech rather than a veterinarian killed the animals. While I do not have the related medical files on these animals, the shelter does have “health records” listed and AHS-Newark did document appropriate reasons for euthanizing animals during the 7 day hold period in other records I examined. That being said, I would have to review the related medical records on these animals to say for sure that AHS-Newark didn’t have a legitimate humane reason to kill these animals during the 7 day hold period.

AHS-Newark killed dozens of dogs and cats with ringworm during the 7 day hold period. AHS-Newark stated they needed to “protect the shelter” in some of the records. However, AHS-Newark cannot kill animals during the 7 day hold period unless “a veterinarian deems euthanasia necessary for humane reasons to prevent excessive suffering when illness and injury is severe and the prognosis for recovery is extremely poor.” Frankly, ringworm is a highly treatable fungus and killing these animals for ringworm does not meet this standard in my opinion. If AHS-Newark does not have large enough isolation areas, they should contract with fewer municipalities or enact progressive programs to place animals more quickly to create room and reduce disease rates.

Cat ID# 126803 was just 13 months old and AHS-Newark killed this kitten after just 3 days of arriving at the shelter for having ringworm. The intake and dispostion record did not disclose any other health issues. Futhermore, AHS-Newark vet tech, Danya, appeared to kill this cat and not a licensed veterinarian according to the record below.

126803

AHS-Newark killed Cat ID# 129321 on the day he or she arrived at the shelter for having ringworm on the tail and right hind paw. Once again, one of AHS-Newark’s vet techs and not a licensed veterinarian appeared to kill this cat according to the following record.

129321

Furthermore, this record did not include all of the information required by N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13(a). Specifically, AHS-Newark did not include the cat’s age, sex or breed on this record.

There shall be kept at each kennel, pet shop, shelter or pound a record of all animals received and/or disposed of. Such record shall state the date each animal was received, description of animal, license number, breed, age and sex; name and address of person from whom acquired; date euthanized and method, or name and address of person to whom sold or otherwise transferred.

AHS-Newark also killed Cat ID# 130709 for ringworm on the day he or she arrived at the shelter. Once again, an AHS-Newark vet tech rather than a licensed veterinarian appeared to kill the cat according to this record. Also, AHS-Newark did not document the cat’s age and sex on this record as required by N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13(a).

130709

AHS-Newark killed a dog named Leydi during the 7 day hold period for having ringworm. Leydi was almost 4 years old and surrendered by her owner (I removed names of owners and finders of animals from records in this blog unless the case was publicized). The record states she came in on June 30, 2014 and was killed on that date. However, the record also states Leydi was at the shelter for 3 days. According to the record, “sc”, who I presume is former AHS Assistant Executive Director, Scott Crawford, approved the killing of this dog “to protect the shelter.” Once again, I fail to see how this constitutes a hopelessly suffering animal with a poor prognosis for recovery. Once again, an AHS-Newark vet tech and not a licensed veterinarian appeared to kill Leydi according to this record.

126404

AHS-Newark killed Dog ID# 130241 on the day he or she arrived at the shelter for having ringworm (“Rounded spot without hair”). Once again, one of AHS-Newark’s vet techs and not a licensed veterinarian appeared to kill this dog according to this record. Additionally, this record did not include required information, such as age and sex. Even worse, this record stated AHS-Newark killed the dog at 5:27, but then gave various vaccinations, a deworming, and Frontline flea and tick medicine 7-8 minutes later? Either AHS-Newark applies treatment to dead dogs or can’t keep proper records.

130241

 

ID 130241 Pt 2

AHS-Newark killed Dog ID# 129618 one day after she arrived at the shelter. The 4 and half year old dog was a stray that was found in a yard of a vacant home. Once again, Scott Crawford approved the killing “due to dog having ringworm on the left side of hip and under neck.” Also, one of the shelter’s vet techs and not a licensed veterinarian appeared to kill this dog during the 7 day stray/hold period according to this record.

129618

AHS-Newark also killed a number of animals during the 7 day hold period for no reasons according to the records I reviewed. Cat ID# 127278 was a nearly 11 year old cat that AHS-Newark killed within 2 days of arriving at the shelter. The record below revealed he was was given an FVCRP vaccine, a deworming, and frontline flea and tick medicine the day after he arrived at AHS-Newark. AHS-Newark killed him the next day and the record I reviewed stated no reason for his killing. Additionally, one of AHS-Newark’s vet techs and not a licensed veterinarian appeared to kill this cat according to this record.

127278 pt 1

127278 pt 2

Cat ID# 130535 was a 2 year and 5 month old stray cat. AHS-Newark killed her 6 days after she arrived at the shelter for being “aggressive” and “unable to socialize.” Once again, I fail to see how this was a hopelessly suffering animal that AHS-Newark could possibly justify killing during the 7 day hold period. Additionally, AHS-Newark appeared to use one of its vet techs and not a licensed veterinarian to kill this animal according to this record.

130535

Cat ID# 123355 was a 22 month old cat surrendered by her owner. In this case, AHS-Newark’s vet approved the killing 5 days after the cat arrived at the facility. However, the record stated this animal was “getting sick and too aggressive to be handled for treatment.” The record does not disclose what the illness was, but if it was an upper respiratory infection (URI) I don’t see how this illness would be “severe and the prognosis for recovery is poor.” If this was a URI, AHS-Newark should make sure it has enough space in its isolation area to treat animals or at least let the animals rest in a calm environment if they can’t be handled for treatment during their 7 day hold period. Even if AHS-Newark could kill/euthanize this cat during the 7 day hold period, AHS-Newark should have had a licensed veterinarian and not a vet tech euthanize the animal. According to this record, a vet tech appeared to kill/euthanize Cat ID# 123355.

123355

Separate Records Not Kept for All Animals

The New Jersey Department of Health’s August, 26, 2009 inspection report found AHS-Newark did not keep certain records in accordance with N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13(a). The inspectors noted AHS-Newark improperly included multiple animals on the same ID number. As a result, AHS-Newark did not keep all the required information on these animals.

Multiple Animals on Same ID#

On May 16, 2014 AHS-Newark impounded 26 cats from one person. AHS-Newark killed 25 of these cats for having ringworm on the day these cats arrived at the shelter according to the record below. While I think killing these cats only for ringworm may violate the 7 day hold period provision, I also think this record may not comply with the record keeping requirements of N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13(a). Specifically, the provision states:

There shall be kept at each kennel, pet shop, shelter or pound a record of all animals received and/or disposed of. Such record shall state the date each animal was received, description of animal, license number, breed, age and sex; name and address of person from whom acquired; date euthanized and method, or name and address of person to whom sold or otherwise transferred.

Given AHS-Newark included all of the animals under the same ID# on this record, we don’t know the age, sex or breed of each of these cats (except for 1 of the 26 cats).

124999

On July 30, 2014 AHS-Newark impounded 223 animals from a Newark pet shop. Unfortunately, the records I reviewed indicated AHS-Newark may have failed to comply with N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13(a) by including many animals on the same ID number. One example is the following record where the shelter included 45 cockatiels on the same ID number.

127408

Stray Animals Transferred and Sent to Rescues During the 7 Day Hold Period

The New Jersey Department of Health’s recent summary of the state’s shelter laws says a municipality’s designated shelter or pound must hold stray animals for seven days prior to “relocating” these animals.

Pursuant to State law (N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.16 a. through l.) all municipalities must have a licensed animal impoundment facility (pound) designated where stray and potentially vicious animals can be safely impounded. Impounded stray animals shall be held at the pound for at least seven days (i.e., 168 hours) from the time impounded before the animal is offered for adoption or euthanized, relocated or sterilized, regardless of the animal’s temperament or medical condition.

N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.10 (b)(7) states a pound can accept a stray from a municipality it does not contract with, but it must notify the ACO in the contracting town and return the animal if the contracting municipality’s facility demands it. If that provision applied here, AHS could transfer animals between AHS-Newark and its other shelters during the 7 day hold period. However, I interpret this provision to only apply to animals initially impounded by the shelter not contracting with the municipality. Thus, I think the law requires the contracting shelter to hold stray animals for 7 days prior to transferring animals to any shelter in order to facilitate owner reclaims.

AHS-Newark appeared to transfer a number of stray animals, which included many highly adoptable dogs, to its Tinton Falls and Popcorn Park facilities during the 7 day hold period. None of the records I reviewed indicated an owner signed the dogs over to AHS-Newark. The Newark Police Department picked up a nearly 5 year old shih tzu on May 26, 2014. After 3 days, AHS-Newark transferred this dog 44 miles away to AHS-Tinton Falls according to the following record.

125293

The Newark Police Department took a 15 month old Labrador retriever mix to AHS-Newark on April 25, 2014. Less than a week later, AHS-Newark sent this dog 72 miles away to AHS-Popcorn Park according to the record. Furthermore, AHS put “Humane News – June 2014” on the record and apparently intended to promote this dog for adoption and/or fundraising.

124421

Newark Animal Control took a stray 3 year and 9 month old German Shepherd to AHS-Newark on July 10, 2014. One day later, AHS-Newark sent the dog 72 miles away to AHS-Popcorn Park according to the following record.

126764

While the New Jersey Department of Health’s interpretation of N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.16 seems clear to me, AHS-Newark’s actions are unethical to me even if they were legal. Many Newark residents do not own cars or even know where the Tinton Falls and Popcorn Park facilities are. Making these owners travel over 40 and 70 miles away decreases the chance these dogs can return to their families. Frankly, the fact that these dogs were highly adoptable breeds makes me think AHS was more concerned with earning adoption fees and/or fundraising off these animals.

AHS-Newark also appeared to send some stray animals to rescues during the 7 day hold period. While the frequency of this practice was nowhere near as common as I found at the nearby Elizabeth Animal Shelter, this would violate the 7 day stray hold period if true. On November 28, 2014, AHS-Newark impounded Cat ID# 130941 as a stray. According to AHS-Newark’s intake and disposition record, this cat, which had ear mites, spent 4 days at AHS-Newark and was sent to Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter (record states “rescue”, but I think they meant animal shelter).

Cat 130941.jpg

On December 11, 2014 AHS-Newark took in Cat ID# 131175 as a stray. According to the AHS-Newark record below, the shelter transferred the cat to Perfect Pals rescue five days later on December 16, 2014. Thus, according to this record, AHS-Newark did not hold this stray cat the required 7 days.

Cat ID 131175 rescued during 7 day hold

On December 29, 2014 someone left a stray 6 month old pit bull named Goldie at AHS-Newark. The record below does not indicate that the owner surrendered the animal to AHS-Newark. According to this record, AHS-Newark transferred the dog to Coming Home Rescue 6 days later. Thus, if this record is accurate, AHS-Newark would have transferred this dog prior to the end of the 7 day stray hold period.

ID 131452 Rescued During 7 Day Hold

Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness Fails to Conduct Proper Inspections

Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.2, local health authorities must inspect licensed animal shelters each year to ensure compliance with state laws. The City of Newark’s Department of Health and Community Wellness is the agency responsible for inspecting AHS-Newark.

Newark’s Department of Health and Community Wellness performed inadequate inspections for many years. On December 5, 2008, the City of Newark inspected AHS-Newark and issued a “Satisfactory” rating. While the inspection report noted some violations, the virtually illegible comments in the report were very limited. In July 2009, the New Jersey Department of Health inspected AHS-Newark and found shocking violations. While I could write a series of blogs on this inspection, the following photos show the horrific conditions at the shelter:

6 Puppy with wounded ears

13 Dogs in feces

15 Dogs in dirty kennel

24 Closeup of Mange Dog

The City of Newark also failed to properly inspect AHS-Newark in 2011. On January 18, 2011, the City of Newark stated AHS-Newark fixed all the violations from a November 2010 inspection and issued a satisfactory rating. However, a New Jersey Department of Health inspection less than two months later found terrible problems. The state 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:

AHS 2011 Insepction Sick Rottie

AHS 2011 Inspection Cakes on Food 2

AHS 2011 Inspection Dog Near Feces in Drain

AHS 2011 Inspection Dog Under Roof Construction

The New Jersey Department of Health has not issued any additional AHS-Newark inspection reports since 2011 to the best of my knowledge.

The City of Newark’s inspection reports since 2011 do not inspire confidence. On January 7, 2012, the City of Newark inspected AHS-Newark and did not use a proper shelter inspection form. In fact, the City of Newark appeared to use a restaurant inspection form and barely wrote anything in the report. The City of Newark inspected AHS-Newark on March 6, 2013 and again barely wrote anything in its report with a “Satisfactory” rating. Similarly, the City of Newark inspected AHS-Newark on April 9, 2014 and hardly wrote anything in its report. Specifically, the comments stated the shelter used an exterminator, “checked all facilities” and “conditions are satisfactory.” In 2015, the City of Newark issued a single page report with “Satisfactory” checked off. After I began posting AHS-Newark records in 2015 and someone else obtained a number of these inspection reports during that year, the City of Newark issued a marginally better report in 2016. The City of Newark wrote several very short bullet points about the inspection and then checked off a number of items on a checklist. Given AHS-Newark is New Jersey’s largest animal shelter and the history of issues at this facility, I’d expect the City of Newark’s inspector to provide detailed comments on the shelter’s compliance with each provision of applicable state law.

Frankly, these inspections are a joke and the City of Newark has dropped the ball. The City of Newark clearly missed huge problems found in subsequent state inspections in 2009 and 2011. Furthermore, the City of Newark’s Health and Wellness Department’s subsequent inspection reports lacked any real detail to demonstrate they properly inspected AHS-Newark. Thus, I place no value on AHS-Newark’s favorable inspection reports since the 2011 New Jersey Department of Health inspection.

New Jersey Department of Health Must Perform Routine and Robust Inspections

Ultimately, only a competent inspector can determine if AHS-Newark complied with New Jersey shelter laws in the past and current does so. While I did see fewer problems in the records I reviewed for Irvington animals arriving at AHS-Newark in 2015, this was a much smaller data set. As such, I’m asking the New Jersey Department of Health to inspect AHS-Newark.

Clearly, the New Jersey Department of Health must inspect AHS-Newark on a regular basis. Unfortunately, local health departments lack the expertise and the will to properly inspect animal shelters. In fact, I’ve long called for the New Jersey Department of Health to perform legally required inspections. Sadly, the New Jersey Department of Health has only one person, Linda Frese, to inspect all of the state’s shelters, pet shops and boarding facilities. Furthermore, Ms. Frese also is responsible for rabies control in the state as well. Obviously, the Christie administration needs to add inspectors. However, in the meantime, the New Jersey Department of Health should prioritize its time and regularly inspect large shelters with a history of problems like AHS-Newark. Simply put, the stakes are much higher at the state’s largest animal shelters. Thus, the New Jersey Department of Health should inspect AHS-Newark on a quarterly basis until it can demonstrate that the shelter complies with all of the state’s shelter laws.

City of Newark Needs to Carry Out Cory Booker’s Plan for a New No Kill Shelter in Newark

Mayor Ras Baraka must complete former Mayor Booker’s project to build a new no kill shelter. In 2011, the former Mayor announced his intention to build a new no kill shelter in Newark. Unfortunately, I’ve heard nothing about this project since Mr. Booker became a senator. Even if AHS-Newark is in fact complying with state shelter laws, the shelter kills astronomical numbers of animals. Many large cities, such as Kansas City, Missouri, Austin, Texas, Jacksonville, Florida, and Salt Lake City, Utah reached no kill status (i.e. 90% or higher live release rate). In fact, urban shelters with old and outdated facilities can quickly achieve no kill status. For example, Lifeline Animal Project took over Atlanta’s animal control shelters and reached 90% live release rates at its two facilities in just three years. All these shelters take in far more animals than AHS-Newark in total and around the same or more on a per capita basis. AHS Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, has held leadership position in the organization for more than four decades and has led AHS for 13 years. Clearly, Ms. Trezza and her dysfunctional organization cannot end the killing at AHS-Newark. Thus, the City of Newark must take on sheltering its own animals as the city’s contractor has failed Newark’s and other municipalities’ animals time and time again.

Will Mr. Baraka step up for the voiceless or continue to fund the killing of many of his city’s homeless animals?

2015 New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Show Significant Improvement and Prove Advocacy Works

Recently, a number of people and organizations in the no kill movement slammed animal advocates for demanding shelters save more animals. Susan Houser, who is the author of the Out the Front Door blog and Facebook page, repeatedly denounced animal advocates for criticizing regressive high kill shelters that allegedly were improving. Ms. Houser has also claimed strong advocacy was driving good leaders out of the shelter industry resulting in potentially less lifesaving. Best Friends Co-Founder, Francis Battista, wrote an article comparing President Obama’s recent statement on getting things done in a democracy to no kill movement tactics. While the article denounced people who say nasty things about high kill shelters, it also criticized people who act with “moral purity” and call out those regressive facilities. In a nutshell, Mr. Battista stated people should shut up and not try to win over hearts and minds with principled stands and instead try to work with bad actors.

Does strong advocacy that is highly critical of shelters reduce or increase lifesaving?

Data Reviewed

Each year, licensed animal shelters in the state submit animal shelter data to the New Jersey Department of Health for the previous year. For the last several years, I’ve tabulated this data and calculated various metrics. You can view the 2015 data at this link. After compiling the 2015 data, I compared the results to the 2014 statistics I tabulated last year.

2015 Statistics Show Significant Increase in Lifesaving

The table below summarizes the dog statistics in 2015 and 2014. To see how I calculate the various metrics, please review the footnotes in this link and my blog analyzing the 2014 statistics.

All dog statistics significantly improved in 2015 verses 2014. While an approximate 3% decrease in the dog kill and death rates may not seem huge, this is a large decrease considering the prior kill and death rates were relatively low. For example, a 2.9% decrease in the 2014 kill rate of 13.5% represents a 21% reduction. As a comparison, in 2014 the kill rate based on intake was 0.1% higher than the 2013 figure and the death rate based on outcomes was only 0.7% lower than this measure in 2013. Given saving the last 15% of animals is more difficult due to animals having more medical and behavioral problems that require treatment, this result is very good. Additionally, the larger decrease in the death rate for non-reclaimed animals indicates the kill rate decreased even more for dogs shelters actually had to find new homes for. Finally, the larger decrease in the maximum local death rate indicates shelters had less unaccounted for animals and this may indicate even fewer animals lost their lives in the state’s shelters in 2015 verses 2014.

2015 Dog vs 2014 stats

The cat statistics improved even more than the dog statistics in 2015 verses 2014. As you can see in the table below, the kill rates and death rates decreased by approximately 7% and 8% in 2015 compared to 2014. As a comparison, the cat kill rate based on intake and the cat death rate based on outcomes only decreased by 3.9% and 3.8% in 2014 verses 2013. Even more impressive, the maximum local death rate decreased by around 10% in 2015 compared to 2014. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters became much safer places for cats in 2015 than in 2014.

2015 cat vs 2014 stats

Dog Kill Rate Decreases Due to Lower Intake and Shelters Saving a Greater Percentage of Impounded Animals

The table below summarizes the changes in the dog statistics in 2015 verses 2014. Based on the changes in the metrics used moving in a similar direction, I anlyzed the kill rate based on intake below. As you can see, both dog intake and dogs killed decreased significantly while positive outcomes decreased much less. In particular, dog adoptions barely decreased despite shelters receiving 1,870 fewer dogs in 2015 compared to 2014.

Data from prior years indicates positive outcomes along with lower intake drove the improvement in the dog kill rate in 2015. While lower intake can theoretically increase live release rates due to shelters having more time and space to save animals as well as having more resources per animal, this does not always work out in the real world. For example, shelters may kill with empty cages and hoard money instead of spending it on animals. In 2014, dog intake decreased by more from the prior year (2,821 fewer dogs impounded), but the number of dogs reclaimed by owners, adopted out and sent to rescues decreased by almost as much (2,292 fewer positive dog outcomes). Therefore, the kill rate for dogs based on intake actually increased despite lower intake due to fewer positive outcomes. This indicates the decrease in the dog kill rate in 2015 was not only due to shelters taking fewer animals in, but shelters also finding more positive outcomes for the dogs coming into their facilities. In fact, this latter conclusion is consistent with my finding that New Jersey shelters have plenty of space to save their dogs and many others from elsewhere.

Dog 2015 vs 2014 reasons

The table below details which shelters contributed most to the decrease in the dog kill rate in the state during 2015. As you can see, this list mostly represents large shelters that have high kill rates (i.e. shelters with high kill rates have more room for improvement).

Dog Shelter Kill Rate Impact

The following table showing the change in data at each shelter in 2015 verses 2014 highlights the pattern of shelters saving a greater percentage of animals they took in during 2015. As you can see, the reduction in dogs killed made up a large percentage of the drop in intake while positive outcomes decreased by much less or actually increased in some cases.

Atlantic County Animal Shelter and Liberty Humane Society deserve specific recognition for achieving greater than 90% live release rates for dogs in 2015 (i.e. often considered no kill status). The kill rate at Atlantic County Animal Shelter decreased from 19% in 2014 to 8% in 2015. Liberty Humane Society’s kill rate decreased from 21% in 2014 to 5% in 2015. These results are impressive as both shelters serve some very poor areas of the state. Atlantic County Animal Shelter’s kill rate decreased due to a combination of lower intake and adopting out more dogs and sending more dogs to rescues and other shelters. On the other hand, Liberty Humane Society’s kill rate decreased due to lower intake resulting from implementing a pet surrender prevention program and an appointment system for owner surrenders. While I’m not thrilled that the shelter has a “significant wait period” for owner surrenders, I much prefer this system over killing healthy and treatable dogs.

2015 Summary Stats (1) (7)

Cat Kill Rate Decreased Due to Shelters Increasing Positive Outcomes

The table below summarizes the changes in the cat statistics in 2015 verses 2014. In contrast to dogs, New Jersey shelters impounded more cats during 2015 as compared to 2014. However, the state’s shelters significantly increased positive outcomes.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine how much of the increase is due to TNR. Generally speaking, many more communities embraced TNR in 2015. However, the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” shelters fill out does not provide TNR as an outcome. In practice, some shelters may place TNR cats in the return to owner (RTO), adopted, sent to rescues or other categories. Montclair Township Animal Shelter wrote in the number of their TNR cats in 2015 and 2014 and Edison Animal Shelter did so in 2015. I included these cats in the TNR category. Additionally, approximately 500-600 of the increase in cats returned to owners likely represents TNR based on this article and Bergen County Animal Shelter’s increase in cats returned to owners listed below.

c

The table below details which shelters contributed most to the decrease in the cat kill rate in the state during 2015.

Cats 2015 kill rate change

The following table showing the change in data at each shelter in 2015 verses 2014 documents the increase in positive live releases. All shelters except for Jersey Shore Animal Center, which stopped serving as an animal control shelter in 2015, significantly increased the number of cats adopted out and/or sent to rescue. As indicated above, approximately 500-600 more cats were neutered and released at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015, and were likely included in the RTO category. Therefore, the increase in the cat live release rate was largely due to shelters increasing the number of positive outcomes.

Cats shelter 2015 vs 2014

Advocacy Efforts Coincide with Increase in Lifesaving

Obviously, people working with animals, such as shelter staff, volunteers and rescuers are directly responsible for the increase in lifesaving. However, advocacy efforts can create the climate where those people are allowed to save lives in a more effective manner. For example, public pressure can force a shelter to start a kitten foster program, do off-site adoption events, and act more rescue friendly.

Statewide shelter advocacy efforts began to grow in 2015. While this blog and my related Facebook page started in early 2014, readership increased significantly in 2015. Additionally, I started analyzing and grading each of the state’s animal shelters at the end of 2014 which I think put pressure on many facilities to improve. In the past, no one really knew what went on behind closed doors. Also, a number of local advocates have told me the ideas expressed on this blog and my Facebook page inspired them to take action. Several advocates also told me that exposing poorly performing shelters they were fighting helped their cause. Thus, I do think this blog and my related Facebook page helped create a climate where local advocacy efforts could be more successful.

The Reformers-Advocates for Shelter Change in NJ group also likely positively contributed to the increase in the state live release rate in 2015. This no holds barred animal advocacy group grew out of the movement to reform the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter and started having a significant impact in 2015. The Reformers use the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), powerful messaging and relentless public pressure to bring bad actors to justice. While this group employs much different tactics than I use and sometimes has different views on things than me, they have been wildly successful at exposing the NJ SPCA, pet stores, disreputable rescues, poorly performing animal shelters and even facilities with high live release rates. Love them or hate them, no one can deny the positive impact this group has had on New Jersey animal welfare. In fact, many regressive shelters truly fear this group and that alone may change bad behavior.

Local advocacy efforts seem to have increased in recent years. While I can’t quantify this phenomenon, I do see these campaigns increasing and getting more media exposure. Ultimately, local advocates on the ground are the key actors in forcing change.

Finally, the professional advocacy efforts by groups like People for Animals and the Animal Protection League of New Jersey have played a key role in convincing municipalities to implement TNR. These groups bring well-thought out plans that provide compelling cases, for fiscal, public health and humane reasons, to convince towns to adopt TNR.

Clearly, confrontational shelter advocacy efforts have played a positive role in New Jersey animal welfare. If shelter killing can decrease to this extent during the same time a no holds barred group like the Reformers have actively inserted themselves into the state’s shelter issues, then that pretty much proves the argument that confrontational shelter advocacy efforts work. While I favor a less in your face approach more akin to Ryan Clinton’s campaign in Austin, I do believe we must honestly call out shelters that needlessly kill and not brush that killing under the rug for the sake of collaboration. Personally, I have great respect for the work Best Friends has done to create no kill communities, and do not oppose collaboration when appropriate. In fact, I have often advocated that shelters should work together to save lives in New Jersey. However, Best Friends and Susan Houser should not make bold assertions about confrontational animal advocacy efforts without having solid data to back those claims up. As the data in this blog shows, Best Friends and Ms. Houser are dead wrong about confrontational shelter advocacy efforts, at least in New Jersey.

Speaking as someone who for years did just the things Mr. Battista is arguing for, I found his remarks perplexing. As many of us who have worked and volunteered within our broken sheltering system know, most regressive shelter leaders and animal unfriendly politicians have little interest in saving lives. At the same time, we know the public at large wants to save animals in shelters and is unaware of just how bad most of our shelters are. Naturally, making the public aware of what is really going on in shelters and calling for action puts pressure on those elected officials and shelter leaders. This pressure in turn improves the negotiating position of those animal advocates engaging elected officials and shelter directors.

In the political world, we have opinion columnists, think tanks, and special interest groups that change public opinion to make negotiations more favorable for their causes. Whether you like the National Rifle Association or not, no one can deny how effective their “moral purity” stances have been in blocking laws they oppose and passing ones they support. Thus, advocates arguing on principle help other advocates doing the negotiating for change.

Unfortunately, New Jersey animal shelters still kill too many animals and do not save nearly as many pets as they should. In future blogs, I’ll address the current state of New Jersey animal shelters. Clearly, New Jersey shelter reform advocates have much work to do, but at least for a moment, they can feel good about the recent progress made.