Associated Humane Societies-Newark’s Absurd Response to Sordid State Inspection Report

Last week, the Newark Patch broke the story about the joint state and city health departments’ inspection of Associated Humane Societies-Newark. While the story highlighted many of the inspection’s devastating findings, it also allowed AHS-Newark to explain themselves. Even though the story quoted one of my Facebook posts on AHS-Newark from several months ago, it did not provide myself or any other animal advocates the opportunity to respond to the shelter’s assertions.

Did AHS-Newark provide reasonable explanations for the findings? Did the AHS-Newark responses inspire confidence that it will finally treat its animals properly? Will AHS-Newark start saving rather than killing so many of its animals?

AHS Executive Director Refuses to Speak

AHS Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, did not comment on the inspection. Instead, Roseann Trezza trotted out her Assistant Executive Director, Jill Van Tuyl, to talk to the media. If AHS won’t put out its leader, what does this signal? Clearly, the message is these issues are not worth the organization’s leader’s time and energy.

AHS sending out its Assistant Executive Director instead of Roseann Trezza indicates it business as usual for AHS-Newark. In 2009, AHS sent out its shelter manager, Denton Infield, after the New Jersey Department of Health’s horrific inspection report from that year. In 2011, AHS trotted out Mr. Infield again shortly after another terrible New Jersey Department of Health inspection to argue against former Mayor Booker’s plan for a new no kill shelter. Similarly, AHS sent former Assistant Executive Director, Scott Crawford, in subsequent years to criticize Cory Booker’s plans for the new no kill shelter and respond to animal advocates, such as in Maplewood. Thus, AHS sending out someone other than its leader is part of AHS-Newark’s disturbing pattern of failing to address its catastrophic problems.

AHS-Newark’s Lame Excuses for Illegal Killing

The inspection report indicated AHS-Newark violated the euthanasia requirements in state law by not doing the following:

  1. Post proper written euthanasia/killing instructions to assist people in conducting the procedure humanely
  2. Weigh animals prior to killing/euthanasia to ensure animals received proper doses of sedatives and killing agents
  3. Specify the method of killing/euthanasia

Furthermore, the inspection report stated AHS-Newark illegally killed many, including both stray and surrendered, animals during the seven day protection period.

AHS provided an incoherent response to these inspection report findings:

“We’re not euthanizing healthy animals that are coming in,” Van Tuyl told Patch. “These may be animals that are dying already, or that are in bad shape as deemed by the veterinarian. We don’t want animals suffering either. So I think that was taken out of context [by inspectors].”

Whether animals are healthy or not is irrelevant. State law requires animals be euthanized using a specified protocol to avoid emotional and physical pain. The fact that AHS would write off the animals as “dying already” or “in bad shape” to justify breaking state law and potentially killing/euthanizing them inhumanely shows an organization that refuses to admit mistakes. If an organization fails to admit wrongdoing, what hope do we have they will fix those problems?

Even if these animals were hopelessly suffering, AHS-Newark should know better. In the 2009 inspection report, AHS-Newark was told it could only euthanize animals during the seven day protection period if it met the following two conditions:

  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

Therefore, AHS-Newark’s argument that these animals were hopelessly suffering does not seem to pass the “sniff test” since it did not appear to comply with these two conditions (i.e. August 22, 2017 inspection report made no mention of AHS-Newark doing this when discussing AHS-Newark violating the seven day protection period).

AHS-Newark’s statement that it doesn’t kill healthy animals coming into its facility is absurd. According to AHS-Newark’s own 2016 summary statistics, it killed 25% of dogs, 44% of cats and 85% of other domestic animals. However, statistics I calculated from reviewing AHS-Newark’s intake and disposition records in recent years were much worse than its summary statistics indicated. My review of AHS-Newark records provided to me for animals coming from Newark in 2014 found the shelter killed 67% of these dogs and 83% of these cats. Similarly, my review of AHS-Newark records for animals coming in from Irvington for the first nine or so months of 2015 found AHS-Newark killed 60% of these dogs and 75% of these cats. No one in their right mind would think anything close to this many animals were hopelessly suffering.

Data from animal control shelters throughout the nation, including many in poor, urban areas, show well under 10% of animals arriving to these facilities are hopelessly suffering or a serious danger to people. For example Kansas City’s animal control shelter, KC Pet Project, only euthanized 6% of dogs and 9% of the cats who had outcomes last year despite impounding many more of these animals in total and on a per capita basis than AHS-Newark.

Not surprising, AHS-Newark’s statement about primarily killing hopelessly suffering animals is similar to its statement below from 2013. Clearly, AHS-Newark’s statistics I calculated and individual animal records I obtained indicate those statements both then and now are absurd.

Crawford expressed sorrow over the deaths, but said the shelter risks the spread of disease with overcrowding and must euthanize animals that are terminally ill, too aggressive to rehabilitate or suffering from advanced age. In some instances – particularly during the summer – “some great pets, at no fault of their own, will be humanely euthanized” because too few people are willing to adopt the stray or abandoned animals, he said.

AHS-Newark also provided an explanation on how it would improve:

“Our vet now has a way of manually keeping records for animals that might be euthanized before the seven-day period,” Van Tuyl said, adding that the new policy will help with transparency.

So AHS-Newark’s vet has a new special way of manually keeping records? We should all feel overjoyed! What exactly is this “manual way of keeping records?” With no details, this statement is meaningless. Furthermore, the inspection report specifically noted AHS-Newark staff were already not following at least some of the vet’s other instructions. Therefore, we should have no confidence AHS-Newark will start doing so now. Finally, how does this help with transparency? AHS already stated in many of its agreements it will not honor records requests to it or the municipalities it contracts with under New Jersey’s Open Public Records act. Thus, this AHS-Newark comment provides no comfort that it will humanely euthanize animals, keep proper records, or provide transparency to the public.

Meaningless Response to Address Inhumane Conditions

The Newark Patch article quoted numerous extracts from the inspection report showing AHS-Newark treating animals horribly.

In response to these examples, AHS-Newark stated the following:

Van Tuyl told Patch that some of the alleged health and safety violations may have been a case of “bad timing.” For example, there was an incident where an animal had an accident and the responsible staff member didn’t get a chance to clean it before inspectors arrived.

“That being said, I’m not making any excuses,” Van Tuyl added.

While Jill Van Tuyl said she was “not making excuses”, that is what she actually did. Apparently, those pesky inspectors just happened to arrive the second after an animal defecated and that is why AHS-Newark hadn’t cleaned it up. In fact, AHS-Newark inappropriately left a poodle in his or her cage on cardboard and that was soaked with urine to the point it covered the poor animal’s rump. Similarly, rodent droppings, grime on food bowls, dried feces and vomit on cat trees, etc. were obviously not cleaned for long periods of time. Furthermore, the inspection report documented AHS-Newark not properly cleaning or caring for numerous animals.

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If this sounds familiar, AHS-Newark made the same “the inspectors came too early” excuse after the dismal 2009 inspection. Obviously, throwing that excuse never led to any substantial improvement.

Infield said the inspectors came in the morning before his staff started to clean — he says it’s impossible for the shelter to stay staffed 24 hours a day.

However, AHS-Newark claims it is fixing all this stuff:

The shelter is currently revamping its protocols to make sure that the health and safety issues get fixed. This includes efforts such as the phasing out of cardboard as bedding material and retraining of staff members, Van Tuyl said.

“I came up with a dog-walking log sheet so we make sure every animal is getting walked the proper amount,” Van Tuyl said. “We’re keeping a paper trail of it.”

So how is AHS-Newark fixing this stuff? One example is it is phasing out using cardboard improperly as bedding material? Why on earth does this require phasing out? Throw the cardboard out and put proper bedding in. This isn’t rocket science.

And how will AHS-Newark walk all of its dogs despite lacking the right amount and types of staff and volunteers? Jill Van Tuyl created a dog-walking log sheet. Geez, that sounds like it would take one minute using Microsoft Word. Instead, AHS-Newark needs to do the following:

  1. Hire more and better paid and qualified staff
  2. Recruit dozens of dog walking volunteers
  3. Institute the “Dogs Playing for Life” program to ensure nearly all dogs participate in playgroups

How will AHS-Newark’s new dog walking log solve the problem? Without doing the things above, the only way it could work in my mind is by creating false records.

Ridiculous Response to Dead Animals in Trash

The inspection report documented AHS-Newark having numerous dead bodies outside in garbage bags:

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AHS-Newark’s response was as follows:

Van Tuyl told Patch that some of the carcasses that inspectors saw may have been brought to Newark from other towns.

“What happens is that other animal control officers will come to our driveway and leave the carcasses,” she said. “Staff may not be aware of it and that’s why they may be left out.”

To help solve the problem, visiting ACOs are now prohibited from leaving the front office until an AHS staff member has made sure that any carcasses they left have been properly stored, Van Tuyl said.

How convenient? AHS-Newark blamed animal control officers from other agencies. Personally, I have a difficult time believing this explanation given inspectors noted the same thing in 2009 and AHS-Newark left at least one of those animals like trash themselves:

A large amount of animal carcasses were being stored outside in open plastic
bags, or piled on top of each other in shopping carts. Pools of blood and other fluid from the bodies were also present in this area. This created a severe fly and maggot infestation in addition to an overwhelming malodorous smell. Carcasses must be stored under refrigeration or in tightly sealed containers if they are to be held on the premises. As mentioned in 1.6(e} below, inspectors found a dead cat (#83660} in one of the colony rooms while inspecting. Staff members told the inspectors that a necropsy would be done on this cat to discover the cause of death. However, when Inspector Bialy later viewed the crematorium area, this dead cat’s body was lying on top of a shopping cart outside with the rest of the animal carcasses.

Even if AHS-Newark’s statement blaming outside agencies’ ACOs was true, why on earth wouldn’t AHS-Newark check this area regularly? The inspectors noted the bodies attracted a “swarm of flies” indicating they were outside for some time. Additionally, if AHS-Newark’s statement is true, it had at least eight years to rectify this issue with the outside agencies’ ACOs. If they did not comply, AHS-Newark could have terminated its contracts.

Blaming the New Guy for Horrific Treatment of a Skunk

AHS-Newark left a skunk in a covered carrier to suffer in the hot sun next to the aforementioned dead bodies and the facility’s incinerator. Air temperatures reached 87 degrees and the temperature in the carrier were likely higher as it was on a concrete surface that absorbs heat. The AHS-Newark manager initially stated the carrier had no skunk, but then said it was dead after the inspector pointed out the animal under the cover. Would AHS-Newark have thrown the animal in the incinerator alive with the dead bodies next to it if the inspector did not intervene?

AHS-Newark’s response was priceless:

Van Tuyl admitted that the skunk incident was unacceptable.

“That shouldn’t have happened,” she told Patch. “I’m still not sure where the breakdown in communication happened. I will say that a brand-new employee was involved in that. It goes back to the retraining that we’re doing right now to make sure things like that don’t happen again.”

Once again, AHS-Newark’s leadership failed to accept responsibility. While Jill Van Tuyl said “it shouldn’t have happened”, she blamed a new employee. Isn’t it Roseann Trezza’s and Jill Van Tuyl’s responsibility to hire competent people and train them? Instead, they blamed a lowly paid employee and avoided taking responsibility.

“Significant Progress” Fixing Things That Really Isn’t

In the article, Jill Van Tuyl bragged about the major things they did over the approximate four week time since the inspection:

For now, staff have made “significant progress,” she pointed out. Repairs already completed include:

  • Removing the chain link fence above the kennels
  • Disposing of dirty food containers
  • Throwing out dirty cat trees
  • “Proactively” replacing drain caps in the kennels
  • Revamping record-keeping procedures, including intake and euthanasia paperwork
  • Removing old shelves in the cat areas

While the remaining violations from the Aug. 22 inspection are still unabated, Van Tuyl asserted that the shelter’s staff are hard at work on making things right.

“We’re looking at this as an opportunity to address some things that we’ve always wanted to,” she told Patch. “This can be the change that everyone has wanted, including the staff.”

So after nearly one month AHS-Newark got rid of some dirty food containers and cat trees, replaced a few drain caps and removed some old shelves? Frankly, this would take at most a few hours.

As for removing the chain link fence above the dog kennels, I’m not sure if they really mean the chain link gate on top of the outdoor dog enclosures mentioned in the inspection report? If this is what they did, that again would take little effort. If they actually removed an entire chain link fence over the dog kennels, I’m not sure why this is a big deal since AHS-Newark could have simply cleaned it.

Most important, AHS-Newark admitted it still is violating state law. To argue they “always wanted to do” these things is laughable. Despite repeatedly being called out by inspectors and animal advocates, Roseann Trezza never acted. Only now when AHS-Newark is under severe pressure, is it trying to talk a good game.

AHS-Newark Blames the Public and Advocates

Jill Van Tuyl made another rationalization for AHS-Newark’s killing:

“Other shelters don’t necessarily hold bite cases or aggressive dogs or other unadoptable animals, whereas in Newark, that’s where they’re brought,” Van Tuyl said. “So it looks like we’re disproportionately euthanizing animals, but were getting in a lot of very tough cases, animals that are not necessarily adoptable.”

In reality, hundreds of animal control shelters saving well over 90% of their dogs impound the exact kinds of animals. AHS-Newark’s disingenuous attempt to dupe the public is sad. For example, does AHS-Newark really believe Kansas City’s public intake shelter does not get its fair share of “tough cases.” In addition, I reviewed many of AHS-Newark’s records of animals coming in from Newark and Irvington, which are two of its most impoverished contracting communities, from recent years and almost all the dogs it killed were not hopelessly vicious.

If this argument sounds familiar, AHS stated similar things in 2011 and 2013 to prevent Newark from opening a new no kill shelter. Just as the case was then, AHS-Newark’s arguments are not serious.

Jill Van Tuyl left her true wrath for animal advocates demanding AHS-Newark properly shelter animals:

And it really gets her goat when people accuse the shelter’s workers of being uncompassionate, she told Patch.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years,” she said. “If I didn’t care about the animals, I wouldn’t be in such a stressful industry. The staff does the best we can. It’s a tough building with a lot of challenges. And I don’t think that anyone is working here for the very low rate of pay. They can go down the street and make more money at McDonald’s.”

As we’ve seen over and over, just because an organization calls itself “humane” or someone works at a shelter, it doesn’t mean they care about animals. Ask yourself if people doing/allowing the following “care about the animals?”

  • Leaving a skunk in a covered carrier during a hot August day next to dead animals and an incinerator
  • Leaving ill and injured animals to suffer
  • Allowing highly contagious diseases to spread
  • Illegally killing animals during the seven day protection period
  • Possibly killing animals inhumanely
  • Having dead bodies in bags and a shopping cart for apparently long periods of time near an area housing live dogs
  • Leaving animals in conditions where they could injure themselves

If this was not bad enough, AHS-Newark sought to take on the state’s second largest city’s animal control and sheltering contract from a facility saving 93% of its dogs and 94% of its cats in March of this year.

So no Jill, AHS-Newark, particularly its leadership, does not give a damn about its animals. All it cares about is money.

Furthermore, if this is the “best” job AHS-Newark staff “can” do, then AHS-Newark should get new staff. Despite AHS taking in $9.4 million of revenue last year, Jill Van Tuyl admits her staff “can make more money at McDonald’s.” Perhaps, Roseann Trezza should properly manage her organization’s financial resources and use some of her $112 thousand dollar salary to pay her people a living wage. Maybe then, she could attract good employees and motivate them to properly treat animals and actually save their lives.

AHS-Newark claimed it just needs people to help it:

According to Van Tuyl, the most unproductive thing that that people can do for the shelter and its animals right now is to start playing the blame game.

“It’s easy to point fingers and say we’re not doing things right,” she told Patch. “But very few people have stepped up to the plate to help.”

The shelter needs volunteers and donors who can pitch in and clean, do projects and generally help in any way possible, Van Tuyl said. In particular, there is an urgent need for linens and bedding at the moment.

The shelter can also use Kuranda-brand beds to help them withstand some of the roughhousing from the facility’s “very strong bully breeds,” Van Tuyl said.

A good example of recent help from the community was AHS’s first-ever participation in the annual “Clear The Shelter” adoption event, which was pulled off with the key assistance of some longtime volunteers.

“People can just reach out and ask us, ‘What do you need?’” Van Tuyl emphasized.

In reality, no amount of volunteer help will make up for terrible leadership. AHS-Newark makes no serious effort to recruit volunteers. In fact, its web site contains many requests for financial and other donations, but nothing that I see about how to volunteer and what specific things volunteers can do.

Furthermore, AHS-Newark has a history of banning volunteers. How do I know? AHS-Newark banned my wife and I after we played a significant part in developing (as much as the organization allowed us to) the modern version of its volunteer program. After two and half years of working nearly 24/7 trying to save animals from AHS-Newark, AHS-Newark banned us by blocking us from their Petfinder adoption web site account. Despite requesting a reason, AHS-Newark did not respond at the time. Our successors met a similar fate as have many others. Thus, AHS-Newark’s requests that it wants volunteers reeks of hypocrisy.

AHS-Newark wants a volunteer program in name only. In other words, it wants to say it has volunteers, but have as few as possible to avoid them discovering and unearthing AHS-Newark’s dirty secrets.

Therefore, people must ignore the AHS-Newark spin, and continue to demand the following:

  1. Pressure the NJ SPCA to throw the book at Roseann Trezza and all her accomplisses
  2. Call Mayor Ras Baraka at (973) 733-6400 and demand he re-start former Mayor Booker’s project to build a new no kill shelter in the city
  3. Call the New Jersey Department of Health at (609) 826-4872 or (609) 826-5964 and tell them to inspect AHS-Tinton Falls and AHS-Popcorn Park

Additionally, people should contact the following mayors using the information below and demand they terminate their arrangements with AHS-Newark unless it gets rid of Roseann Trezza, its other executives and its entire Board of Directors:

Belleville: (973) 450-3345
Carteret: (732) 541-3801
Clark: (732) 388-3600
Fanwood: (908)-322-8236, ext. 124; mayor@fanwoodnj.org
Hillside:(973) 926-3000
Newark: (973) 733-6400; https://www.newarknj.gov/contact-us
Irvington: (973) 399-8111
Linden: (908) 474-8493; darmstead@linden-nj.org
Fairfield: (973) 882-2700; jgasparini@fairfieldnj.org
Orange: (973) 266-4005
Plainfield: (908) 753-3000; adrian.mapp@plainfieldnj.gov
Roselle: (908) 956-5557; cdansereau@boroughofroselle.com
Rahway: 732-827-2009; mayor@cityofrahway.com
Winfield Park: (908) 925-3850

Without a fundamental change of the AHS leadership, the animals at AHS-Newark will continue to suffer and needlessly lose their lives.

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