Last year, I wrote a series of blogs on the regressive Bergen County Animal Shelter. Part 1 highlighted the shelter’s high kill rate in 2015 despite the facility claiming it was “no kill.” Part 2 examined the absurd reasons Bergen County Animal Shelter used to justify this killing. Part 3 discussed the shelter’s poor policies and how it could change them to improve.
Earlier this year, I wrote a blog on Bergen County Animal Shelter’s 2016 statistics for dogs and cats coming in from the town of Kearny. Sadly, the shelter’s Kearny statistics revealed the facility killed many dogs. Additionally, despite having a successful TNR program, Bergen County Animal Shelter still killed healthy and treatable cats.
Did Bergen County Animal Shelter perform better in 2016 for the other municipalities it contracts with? Was Bergen County Animal Shelter still high kill for these other cities and towns?
Shelter Kills Huge Numbers of Dogs
Bergen County Animal Shelter continued to kill many dogs in 2016. Overall, 22% of all dogs, 42% of pit bulls, 9% of small dogs and 26% of other medium to large sized breeds lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter during the year. As a comparison, only 2% of all dogs and 4% of pit bulls lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in fiscal year 2016 despite that shelter taking in many more dogs in total and on a per capita basis. If we just count dogs who Bergen County Animal Shelter had to find new homes for (i.e. excluding dogs reclaimed by their owners), 37% of all dogs, 63% of pit bulls, 17% of small dogs and 40% of other medium to large sized breeds were killed or died at the shelter. To put it another way, more than 1 in 3 nonreclaimed dogs, nearly 2 in 3 nonreclaimed pit bulls, nearly 1 in 5 nonreclaimed small dogs and more than 1 in 4 nonreclaimed other medium to large size breeds lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter. Thus, all types of dogs entering the Bergen County Animal Shelter had a significant chance of losing their life.
Bergen County Animal Shelter hardly adopted out any dogs. Despite being a well-known county shelter in a high traffic area, the facility only adopted out 176 dogs during the year or less than 1 dog every 2 days. Furthermore, 101 of those adoptions were small dogs, which shelters have to do little work to adopt out. Bergen County Animal Shelter only adopted out 75 medium to large size dogs, which included just 33 pit bulls and 42 other medium to large size breeds. This works out to less than three pit bull adoptions and less than four other medium to large size breed adoptions a month.
The shelter also sent very few medium to large size dogs to rescues. While my prior dog report card blog on the state’s shelters showed Bergen County Animal Shelter had plenty of space to adopt out all of it nonreclaimed dogs, one would think the facility would at least try to send dogs it was going to kill to rescues instead. In fact, Bergen County Animal Shelter only sent 22 out of 309 medium-large size dogs to rescues in 2016. Even worse, Bergen County Animal Shelter only transferred 5 out of 155 pit bulls to rescues during the year. In fact, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed 13 times more pit bulls than it sent to rescues. Despite the shelter’s policy of contacting rescues prior to killing, I’ve personally never seen Bergen County Animal Shelter ever make a public plea to rescues to save dogs the shelter was going to kill. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter would rather kill medium to large size dogs than actually ask for help to save these animals.
Bergen County Animal Shelter’s statistics for dogs labeled as “adult” were even worse. Overall, 23% of all adult dogs, 47% of adult pit bulls, 9% of adult small dogs and 29% of adult other medium to large size breeds lost their lives. If we only count dogs the shelter had to find new homes for, 41% of nonreclaimed adult dogs, 73% of nonreclaimed adult pit bulls, 17% of nonreclaimed adult small dogs and 47% of nonreclaimed adult other medium to large size breeds lost their lives in 2016. To put it another way, around 3 out of 4 nonreclaimed adult pit bulls and nearly 1 out of 2 nonreclaimed other medium to large size breeds lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2016. Simply put, Bergen County Animal Shelter acted more like a pet killing factory than an animal shelter for adult medium to large size dogs requiring a new home.
Dogs Stay Too Long at Shelter
Bergen County Animal Shelter took too long to adopt out dogs. Overall, the average length of stay was 35 days for all dogs, 42 days for pit bulls, 34 days for small dogs and 31 days for other medium to large size breeds. Despite killing many dogs, sending few dogs to rescues and hardly adopting out dogs (i.e. the dogs the facility adopted out were likely the cream of the crop), the shelter took on average a whopping 63 days to adopt out its dogs. Similarly, Bergen County Animal Shelter took 77 days, 55 days and 73 days to adopt out its pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size breeds. As a comparison, other successful shelters adopt out dogs, pit bulls in particular, at a much quicker rate despite having to place animals with more issues due to these facilities’ high live release rates. For example, New York’s Tompkins County SPCA adopted out its small dogs and pit bulls in around one third less time as Bergen County Animal Shelter. Similarly, Oregon’s Greenhill Humane Society adopted out its pit bulls in about half the time as Bergen County Animal Shelter. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter adopted out few dogs and took too long to do so.
The shelter also took too much time to send dogs to rescues. Specifically, Bergen County Animal Shelter took on average 41 days to send each dog to a rescue. The shelter took on average 71 days, 49 days and 20 days to send each pit bull, small dog, and other medium to large size breed to rescues. As a comparison, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter took on average 14 days, 24 days, 8 days and 11 days to adopt out/send to rescues (almost all were sent to rescues rather than adopted out) its dogs, pit bulls, small dogs, and other medium to large size breeds. In other words, Bergen County Animal Shelter took approximately 3 to 6 times longer to send its dogs to rescues than the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Therefore, even though Bergen County Animal Shelter sent few dogs to rescues, it still took way too much time to do so.
Bergen County Animal Shelter’s inability to safely place dogs quickly increases the chance animals develop behavioral problems, medical issues, and ultimately raises the cost to operate the facility. In fact, shelter medicine experts consider length of stay a “critical factor” for shelters and decreasing it is essential for reducing disease, behavioral problems, and costs. Ultimately, if a shelter wants to achieve a high live release rate it must quickly place its animals safely.
Many Cats Lose Their Lives
Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cat statistics in 2016 were also ugly. Overall, 25% of cats lost their lives or went missing. 35% of cats labeled as “adult” and 13% of cats labeled as “kitten” were killed, died or went missing. If we just count cats the shelter had to find new homes for (i.e. excluding owner reclaims and cats “released” through TNR and other programs), 31% of all cats, 51% of cats with an “adult” label and 14% of cats with a “kitten” classification lost their lives or went missing. Thus, cats of all ages were not safe at Bergen County Animal Shelter.
Bergen County Animal Shelter performed significantly worse than Austin Animal Center in Texas. To compare the two shelters, I tabulated Bergen County Animal Shelter’s statistics according to major cat age groups Austin Animal Center uses:
- Cats 1 year and older
- Cats 6 weeks to just under 1 year
- Cats under 6 weeks
At Bergen County Animal Shelter, 25% of all cats, 25% of cats 1 year and older, 23% of kittens aged 6 weeks to just under 1 year and 94% of kittens under 6 weeks lost their lives or went missing. On the other hand, only 5% of all cats, 7% of cats 1 year and older, 3% of kittens aged 6 weeks to just under 1 year and 5% of kittens under 6 weeks lost their lives or went missing at Austin Animal Center in 2016. In other words, the death rate at Bergen County Animal Shelter was 4 to 19 times greater for cats of various ages. These differences were even larger if we compared the nonreclaimed cat death rate. Therefore, despite Bergen County Animal Shelter impounding far fewer cats than Austin Animal Center in total and on a per capita basis, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed a much higher percentage of these animals.
Shelter Fails to Safely Place Cats Quickly
Cats typically do not take life in traditional shelter environments well. While shelters can modify housing and create enrichment programs to make cats happier, reducing length of stay in a good way is critical. Ultimately, shelters are unnatural and scary environments for cats and facilities must quickly place these animals to achieve high live release rates.
Bergen County Animal Shelter took too long to adopt out its cats. Overall, the shelter’s average length of stay was 58 days for all cats, 59 days for 1 year and older cats, 55 days for older kittens and 18 days for neonatal kittens. However, the shelter took on average 78 days, 86 days and 60 days to adopt out all cats, 1 year and older cats and older kittens. As a comparison, Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society’s average length of stay for cats over 4 months of age and 4 months and younger were 23 days and 27 days (most cats were adopted out). Furthermore, Longmont Humane Society moved its cats quickly out of its shelter through adoption and achieved a 92% cat live release rate (92% for older cats and 91% for 4 months and younger cats). Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter took too long to adopt out its cats.
Bergen County Animal Shelter also took too much time to send cats to rescues. Despite transferring only 3% of its cats to rescues, the shelter took 117 days, 147 days and 65 days to send all cats, 1 year and older cats and older kittens to rescues. As a comparison, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter sent significantly more cats to rescues in 2016 and only took 8 days, 10 days and 5 days to send all cats, cats labeled as adults and kittens to rescues/adopters (almost all went to rescues). Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter took too long to send cats to rescues.
The shelter’s neonatal kitten data suggests the facility cannot properly care for these vulnerable creatures. Out of 18 neonatal kittens entering Bergen County Animal Shelter last year, 17 lost their lives or went missing. In fact, the only one that lived was “released” to the Bergen County Health Department. Since the Bergen County Health Department runs a TNR program, it is possible this animal was returned to where it was found (i.e. not difficult to do). If this was the case, it would raise ethical concerns given the young age of this animal. Most disturbingly, the shelter killed 9 of these kittens after just 6 days on average and another 7 of these animals died after only 10 days on average. Based on this data, this suggests Bergen County Animal Shelter’s neonatal kittens quickly became very sick. Given the tiny number of neonatal kittens taken in, the shelter should have been able to place these animals in foster homes and/or provide intensive bottle feeding in a quiet nursery area. Instead, these most vulnerable animals faced an almost certain death sentence.
Illegal Killing During Seven Day Protection Period
Max was a 10 year old cat surrendered by his owner for aggression on October 4, 2016. According to Max’s veterinarian, the family could opt to use a behaviorist to try and solve his problems. However, the family decided to not go that route and allegedly requested Bergen County Animal Shelter kill their cat. On that very day, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed Max and made no effort to save him.
Under state law, shelters cannot kill companion animals, including owner surrenders, for seven full days. In practice, the New Jersey Department of Health allows shelters to euthanize animals during the seven day protection period if both of the following conditions are met:
- 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
- Only a licensed veterinarian should perform euthanasia in the above situation and they must clearly document the rationale in the animal’s medical record
Clearly, an aggressive cat is not hopelessly suffering. Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated state law and is subject to a fine of up to $2,000 for “needlessly killing” Max under N.J.S.A 4:22.
Most importantly, Bergen County Animal Shelter never tried to rehabilitate Max, place him in a barn cat program or in a feral cat colony. Simply put, Bergen County took money and quickly killed Max.
Cat ID# 23243 was surrendered to the Bergen County Animal Shelter on September 13, 2016 after the animal’s owner died. After a mere four days, the shelter conducted a temperament test and determined the cats was aggressive and a “danger to staff.” Why did the shelter conclude this? The cat tried to bite when the evaluator touched the animal’s tummy then feet as well when the the tester tugged on the pet’s tail. In other words, Bergen County Animal Shelter instigated a stressed out cat whose owner died and was just dropped off in a scary shelter.
Once again, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated state shelter law. The shelter killed Cat ID# 23243 after just six days. Therefore, the shelter violated the seven day protection period since this cat was not hopelessly suffering. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter is subject to a fine of up to $2,000 for “needlessly killing” this animal under N.J.S.A 4:22.
Blue was a 2 year old cat surrendered by his owner to the Bergen County Animal Shelter on April 4, 2016. Blue’s owner rescued him from a warehouse, but had to surrender the cat due to the owner’s new apartment not allowing pets. According to Blue’s owner, Blue didn’t like people much until he got to know them. The owner also mentioned Blue could bite when startled and did not like being petted and held. In other words, Blue had “catitude.” The owner also stated Blue was litter box trained and lived indoors.
Despite Blue’s owner clearly indicating Blue needing time to warm up to people, Bergen County Animal Shelter forced him to endure an intrusive and seemingly threatening evaluation just three days later. Unsurprisingly, Blue reacted scared and aggressive to the evaluator grabbing and roughly touching him. Shockingly, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s veterinarian approved killing Blue illegally during the owner surrender protection period if he “becomes a safety issue.” As expected, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed Blue the next day only four days after he arrived at the facility.
As mentioned above, a shelter cannot kill any animal for aggression or safety of staff during the seven day protection period. As such, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated state shelter law and is subject to a fine of up to $2,000 for “needlessly killing” Blue during the seven day protection period.
To make matters worse, this cat already lived in a home making the staff safety issue null and void. Furthermore, no cat could ever pose such a serious danger to staff that killing the animal would be necessary. Even if safety was an issue, wouldn’t staff be exposed to danger when they handled the cat in order to kill the animal? Once again, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed an animal for convenience.
Bergen County Residents Must Demand Much More
Clearly, Bergen County continues to operate a regressive animal shelter. As I discussed last year, Bergen County residents should be outraged that their tax dollars support a high kill shelter that conducts illegal activities and their elected leaders tried to deceive their constituents into believing it was “no kill.” If you live in Bergen County, please contact the following elected representatives and tell them you expect Bergen County to hire a top notch shelter director who will adopt the 11 step No Kill Equation and achieve live release rates well over 90% like Austin, Texas and hundreds of other communities have.
- James Tedesco III, Bergen County Executive: 201-336-730; firstname.lastname@example.org
- Tracy Silna Zur, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-628; Tracyzur@co.bergen.nj.us
- Thomas J. Sullivan, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6277; email@example.com
- Joan M. Voss, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6279; firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mary J. Amoroso, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6275; email@example.com
- David L. Ganz, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6280; DavidLGanz@co.bergen.nj.us
- Germaine M. Ortiz, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6276; firstname.lastname@example.org
- Steven A. Tanelli, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6278; STanelli@co.bergen.nj.us