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-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.
Poor Reasons for Killing
AHS-Newark killed many healthy and treatable animals. AHS-Newark’s top three reasons for killing cats were as follows:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Aggression related issues
- Dog aggression
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.