When ones drives to the Paterson Animal Shelter, you find an unmarked road that looks more like a driveway to an abandoned warehouse. If you are brave enough to go down to the end of this road, you will be greeted at the shelter by a large security fence and various signs saying you are being filmed. Clearly, the City of Paterson placed its pound in a place few people would visit.
The Paterson Animal Shelter is in a time warp. This pound does not spay/neuter or vaccinate the animals it adopts out. The facility has no web site and social media pages. Volunteers, with the exception of a couple of rescues, are barred from helping the animals at the facility. In fact, one of the shelter’s key rescue partners that make pleas to save death row animals at the facility does not even name the shelter.
What kind of job does the Paterson Animal Shelter do at saving lives? Should we expect better?
Paterson Kills Healthy and Treatable Animals
To obtain a better understanding of the Paterson Animal Shelter’s performance, I obtained the shelter’s “Impound Animal Report” for each animal the facility took in during 2015. The Impound Animal Report provides various details about each animal, how they came in, the date they came in, their ultimate outcome, and the date of the outcome.
The tables below summarize the Paterson Animal Shelter’s 2015 statistics based on all the facility’s Impound Animal Reports the shelter provided to me. Overall, 19% of cats and dogs, 13% of cats, and 22% of dogs lost their lives during the year.
Paterson Animal Shelter’s death rate for animals actually requiring sheltering is even higher. Since many stray dogs have licenses and/or microchips allowing the shelter to quickly return these dogs to their owners, it makes sense to exclude these animals from the death rate calculation. If we calculate the death rate based off animals not reclaimed by owners, which are the ones the shelter has to work to save, 22% of cats and dogs, 14% of cats and 30% of dogs lost their lives. Thus, nearly 1 out of 3 dogs and 1 out of 4 cats requiring any amount of real work lost their lives at the Paterson Animal Shelter in 2015.
Paterson Animal Shelter killed 28% of the 265 pit bull like dogs who had outcomes during 2015. If we exclude dogs reclaimed by owners, nearly 40% of pit bull like dogs lost their lives at the Paterson Animal Shelter.
Small dogs were not even safe at the Paterson Animal Shelter. 13% of all small dogs lost their lives and 18% of small dogs not reclaimed by owners did not leave the facility alive.
Paterson Animal Shelter killed nearly 1 out of 3 adult cats it took in during 2015.
Overall, Paterson Animal Shelter’s statistics are very similar to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Both pounds rely heavily on rescues and provide little care to animals. Due to these shelters’ minimal efforts at saving lives, their kill rates are significantly higher than many large no kill animal control shelters, such as those in Austin, Texas, Kansas City, Missouri and Jacksonville, Florida. Despite the shortcomings of these two pounds, their live release rates were significantly higher than those I calculated in similar analyses I did for Associated Humane Societies-Newark and Bergen County Animal Shelter.
Rescues Are Only Hope for Unclaimed Animals
Rescues saved virtually all the unclaimed animals that made it out of the Paterson Animal Shelter alive last year. Stunningly, rescues made up 97% of total dog and total cat adoptions and rescues in 2015. In other words, only 3 out of 317 cats and 15 out of 296 dogs finding new homes were actually adopted out by the shelter. To put it another way, Paterson Animal Shelter only adopted out 0.8% of the cats and 2.6% of the dogs who had known outcomes at its shelter in 2015. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter has the lowest adoption rate of any shelter I’ve seen that allows people to adopt animals.
Two rescues pulled all the dogs and cats out of Paterson Animal Shelter. Second Chance Pet Adoption League took all 281 dogs and 171 or 54% of the 314 cats rescued from Paterson Animal Shelter during 2015. START II rescued 143 cats or 46% of 314 cats rescued from the facility. Unfortunately, Paterson Animal Shelter did not keep records of any rescues that subsequently took ownership of these animals. In the case of Second Chance Pet Adoption League, I’ve seen many of their pleas asking for rescues to take dogs from an unnamed pound that clearly is the Paterson Animal Shelter. Furthermore, Second Chance Pet Adoption League currently has mostly small dogs and no cats listed in its adoption listings suggesting that the organization transfers most of the animals it pulls from Paterson Animal Shelter to other rescues. Therefore, Paterson Animal Shelter’s records do not allow us to see which rescues are actually fostering and adopting out the most animals from the shelter.
Animals Quickly Leave Shelter Dead or Alive
The Paterson Animal Shelter had a very short average length of stay (“LOS”) for animals having positive outcomes. Reducing length of stay in a good way is critical for shelters, particularly space constrained facilities like Paterson, to save lives. Additionally, shelters with short lengths of stay have lower disease rates and fewer animals developing behavioral problems. Typically, returning lost pets to owners is the fastest way an animal safely leaves a shelter. Overall, the Paterson Animal Shelter’s owner reclaim rate (number of stray animals returned to owners/number stray animals impounded) for dogs was 42%. While that number isn’t very high, owner reclaim rates generally are lower in poor areas. As a comparison, Paterson Animal Shelter’s owner reclaim rate for dogs was higher than Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s 2015 owner reclaim rate (36%), AHS-Newark’s reclaim rate for dogs primarily coming from animal control in Newark (10% in 2014) and Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s rate for 2014 and the first half of 2015 (37%). Additionally, Paterson Animal Shelter’s average length of stay for animals sent to rescues was 4 days for cats, 6 days for adult cats, 3 days for kittens, 7 days for all dogs and pit bulls, and 4 days for small dogs. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter quickly sent out the animals that left the shelter safely.
On the other hand, Paterson Animal Shelter quickly killed animals. On average, Paterson Animal Shelter killed all cats and adult cats after just 1 day, kittens on the day they arrived at the facility, all dogs after 5 days, pit bulls after 6 days and small dogs after 1 day.
Paterson Animal Shelter’s length of stay data indicates the shelter kills with empty kennels. Based on standard animal shelter population equations, we can estimate the average number of animals at the shelter during the year as follows:
Daily capacity or population = Daily animal intake x average length of stay
Therefore, based on the shelter’s animal intake from the records it provided me and the facility’s average length of stay, we can estimate the facility housed 4 cats and 8 dogs on average during 2015. Based on these estimates and the shelter’s capacity disclosed in its 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report, Paterson Animal Shelter only used roughly 1/3 of its available animal holding space on average during 2015. Even if I used Paterson Animal Shelter’s higher reported animal intake figures in its 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report (see discussion below), the facility would only have used 47% of its cat and 37% of its dog capacity.
Paterson Animal Shelter only used a small portion of its capacity on several dates in 2015. Based on the facility’s 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report, Paterson Animal Shelter only used 57% and 50% of its dog capacity at the beginning and end of 2015. Similarly, Paterson Animal Shelter filled 50% and 33% of its cat spaces at the beginning and end of 2015. Furthermore, the Paterson Division of Health’s June 15, 2015 inspection report only found 5 dogs and 2 cats at the shelter. Despite June being a high intake month for most shelters, Paterson Animal Shelter only used 18% and 8% of its dog and cat capacity. Around the same times, the shelter killed many dogs and cats per underlying records I reviewed. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter killed when it had empty kennels.
Inaccurate Records Raise Concerns Things Are Much Worse
Paterson Animal Shelter’s 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health included many more animals than those that were in the underlying records provided to me. Specifically, the facility’s Shelter/Pound Annual Report had 130 more cats and 157 more dogs than those in the facility’s supporting records. Additionally, the shelter’s summary statistics included 48 fewer dogs reclaimed by owners and 175 more dogs rescued/adopted. Furthermore, Paterson Animal Shelter erroneously classified all of the animals sent to rescues as adoptions in its 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report. While the death rates based on the data in the Shelter/Pound Annual Report and the underlying records were similar, this discrepancy raises questions about the accuracy of both the summary statistics and the supporting records.
The shelter also included multiple animals on the same intake record in many cases. For these animals, the shelter used the same intake number and it is impossible in most cases to determine what happened to each individual animal. On some records, the shelter wrote the outcome of each animal, but this was the exception and not the rule. For example, the record below states the shelter took 4 cats in and the rescue, START II, saved the animal(s). However, one cannot determine if START II took 1, 2, 3 or all 4 of the cats.
For purposes of the statistics I tabulated, I counted all animals on the same record as having the outcome listed on the record. In total, 43 dogs, 15 pit bulls, 5 small dogs, 135 cats, 10 adult cats and 125 kittens had unknown outcomes, but were counted as live releases in my statistics. If I recalculate the statistics and count these animals having no known outcome as “N/A”, the death rates for dogs, pit bulls, and small dogs barely change. On the other hand, the cat death rate increases from 13% to 21%, the adult cat death rate increases from 30% to 33% and the kitten death rate increases from 2% to 4%. However, if Paterson Animal Shelter really killed these animals with unknown outcomes, the shelter’s death rate would be much higher.
Paterson Animal Shelter’s many missing animal intake numbers raise serious questions as to whether more animals are dying at the shelter. Most animal shelters use a sequential numerical system to track each impounded animal. For example, a shelter would assign #1 to the first animal the shelter impounds, #2 to the second animal the shelter takes in and so on. During the year, the shelter had 277 missing animal intake numbers in the records provided to me. While the shelter may just have been sloppy in their record keeping or failed to provide me all the OPRA records (which is illegal), it could also mean that the shelter killed or lost 277 additional animals, people stole 277 animals, 277 animals escaped or some combination of these. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter’s death rate may be much higher than the shelter’s records suggest.
Clearly, Paterson Animal Shelter kills many healthy and treatable animals. In Part 2, I will discuss whether the shelter complies with state laws and how it can end the killing.