Hamilton’s Horrendous Response to Animal Shelter Criticism

In May, I shared Hamilton Township’s horrible 2017 animal shelter statistics on my Facebook page. Overall, the shelter killed 22% of the dogs who had outcomes during the year. If the 18 dogs listed in “Other” outcomes died or went missing, then 28% of dog would have been killed, died or went missing. Since many dogs in suburban shelters like Hamilton Township Animal Shelter have licenses and/or microchips and are quickly reclaimed, its informative to look at the dogs that owners did not reclaim. Hamilton Township Animal Shelter killed 76 dogs or 41% of unclaimed dogs during 2017. Assuming the 18 additional dogs in “Other” outcomes died or went missing, 52% of Hamilton Township’s non-reclaimed dogs would have lost their lives or went missing last year. On the other hand, Austin Animal Center saved 99% of its dogs and 98% of its non-reclaimed dogs in 2017. Thus, Hamilton Township Animal Shelter’s dogs lost their lives at 22 to 26 times the rate of Austin Animal Center.

Hamilton Township Animal Shelter’s cats faced an ever more grim fate. Hamilton Township Animal Shelter killed 220 or 38% of the cats who had outcomes in 2017. If the 125 cats classified in “Other” outcomes lost their lives or went missing, 60% of the cats who had outcomes in 2017 at Hamilton Township Animal Shelter would have been killed, died or went missing. As a comparison, only 5% of cats were euthanized, died or went missing at Austin Animal Center in 2017. Thus, cats at Hamilton Township Animal Shelter were around 8 to 12 times more likely to lose their lives than cats at Austin Animal Center.

Even more troubling, the shelter celebrated the expansion of its animal shelter in 2015. Despite spending over $1 million on this project and increasing its animal shelter operating budget by 56%, the shelter still kills huge numbers of healthy and treatable animals.

Hamilton Township Council Demands Improvement

In June, the Hamilton Township Council decided to conduct a full investigation of the animal shelter. Councilman Rick Tighe said:

Innocent animals are being killed each year due to the ineffective leadership of the mayor and her administration

AND

I believe there are ways we can improve the town’s euthanasia rate while also reducing the burden on our taxpayers. I look forward to conducting a full investigation to fix this problem once and for all.

Council Vice President Jeff Martin stated:

Three years ago Hamilton spent $1.1 million to improve the Hamilton Animal Shelter with the promise it would reduce euthanasia rates, improve adoption rates and therefore reduce costs. Unfortunately, what we have seen is the opposite.

Mayor Yaede Carts Out Biased People to Defend the Animal Shelter

On July 11, Mayor Yaede issued a poorly written press release. The press release cited a shelter employee filing a “Notice of Claim” against several council members for allegedly creating a “Hostile work environment.” How did the council do this according to the employee and Mayor Yaede? By daring to speak the truth and calling the shelter workers “killers of innocent animals.” To support her claims, the Mayor stated:

We are now beginning to see respected community leaders coming forward to defend the reputation of our shelter staff.

So who are these “respected community leaders?”

Mayor Yaede used the veterinarian the town contracts with to vouch for the shelter. So let me see, we expect someone who is paid by the shelter to provide an unbiased assessment of that very shelter? Additionally, this veterinarian has worked with the shelter for decades and surely must have known about the needless killing of healthy and treatable animals.

Furthermore, Hamilton shelter reform advocate, Steve Clegg, obtained the following two sentence long “Disease Control Program” the veterinarian approved.

Hamilton Township Animal Shelter Disease Control Program.jpg

 

Under state law, shelters must have a disease control program and such program must “address the physical and psychological well-being of animals at the facility, including stress-induced behaviors, such as repetitious behavior or vocalizations, from auditory, visual, and olfactory stimuli.” Clearly, the veterinarian approved an inadequate disease control program.

Dr. Carter’s credibility is further diminished by the following statements insinuating the shelter only euthanizes hopelessly suffering animals.

The [Hamilton Township] shelter also promotes humane treatment for terminally ill rescues and abandoned pets to lessen the suffering.  At times euthanasia is the last resort given and at times it’s heartbreaking to put an animal down knowing that it was the right decision for all involved.

Hamilton Township Animal Shelter’s high kill rates compared to high performing animal control shelters proves this facility kills healthy and treatable animals. In 2017, 22% of dogs and 38% of cats lost their lives at Hamilton Township Animal Shelter (those number could be as high as 28% for dogs and 60% for cats if animals listed in “Other” outcomes died). As a comparison, EASEL Animal Rescue League, which operates the nearby Ewing Animal Shelter, only had 1% of their dogs and 7% of their cats lose their lives in 2017. In other words, 22-28 times more dogs and 5-9 times more cats lost their lives or went missing at Hamilton Township Animal Shelter compared to Ewing Animal Shelter. Thus, these numbers prove Hamilton Township Animal Shelter is killing pets and not just euthanizing hopelessly suffering animals.

Hamilton Township Animal Shelter’s own euthanasia records also show the shelter killing healthy and treatable animals. For example, on May 22, 2017 Hamilton Township Animal Shelter took in and killed 46 cats on the very same day and cited “Hoarder House, Ringworm, Upper Respiratory Infection” as the reasons for killing most of these animals. No effort was made to save these cats. The shelter just killed them. Similarly, the shelter killed a 10 year old dog named Havoc during the seven day protection period citing “Owner Surrender Senior Dog in December 2017.” Since many of these animals were not hopelessly suffering according to Hamilton Township Animal Shelter’s records, it is likely the shelter illegally killed these animals during the state’s seven day protection period. Thus, Hamilton Township Animal Shelter kills many healthy and treatable animals.

Hamilton Township taxpayers are also getting ripped off by their animal shelter. According to a recent news article, Ewing pays EASEL Animal Rescue League $150,000 per year to run the shelter. When we add this amount to town’s $104,750 animal control department budget, Ewing pays $254,750 per year for animal control and its animal shelter. Based on EASEL Animal Rescue League taking in 896 dogs and cats in 2017, Ewing pays $284 per dog and cat. As a comparison, Hamilton allocated $546,966 in its 2018 budget to its animal control and sheltering operation. Based on the Hamilton Township Animal Shelter taking in 938 dogs and cats in 2017, the town pays $583 per dog and cat. In other words, Hamilton is paying more than twice as much per dog and cat than Ewing. Even if we exclude animals EASEL rescued from other shelters, Hamilton would still pay 53% more per animal than Ewing. Thus, Hamilton taxpayers are getting ripped off in that they are paying much more money than Ewing taxpayers and Hamilton Township’s animal shelter is killing far more animals.

Mayor Yaede’s press release also cited the President of a rescue group that has had a special relationship with the shelter for nearly two decades. Unfortunately, certain people in the rescue community put their friendships with shelter directors over the interests of animals. According to this rescue group’s President, this group volunteers at the shelter. However, it appears they have an exclusive ability to do so as I know of no way someone can volunteer at the shelter without being under the control of this group. Whether this group defends the shelter because they are friendly with shelter management, enjoy their special status, feel they must defend the shelter to continue volunteering or are completely misguided, they have no credibility in my book.

Finally, Mayor Yaede’s press release cited a positive 2017 “inspection” by an NJ SPCA official. Specifically, the press release quoted “Corporal” Matt Payne stating the following:

The facility was very clean, there was no waste in any of the kennels, the animals appeared to be in good health, had water/food, and were well cared for.

Given that the Hamilton Township Animal Shelter hardly used any of its capacity since it killed so many animals, is it surprising someone could find the shelter “clean?” At the beginning and end of 2017, Hamilton Township Animal Shelter reported having 10 dogs and 16 dogs and a capacity for 36 dogs. Similarly, the facility’s 2017 Shelter/Pound Annual report also stated the shelter held 15 cats and 11 cats at the beginning and end of 2017 and a capacity for 53 cats. In other words, Hamilton Township Animal Shelter only on average used 36% of its dog capacity and 25% of its cat capacity. Thus, any shelter can be “clean” if the shelter kills many animals and has few in the facility.

The good “Corporal” went on to state the following:

The shelter has multiple intake rooms, a sick quarantine room, and a vet that sees the animals.

While the NJ SPCA official can state the shelter has intake and quarantine rooms, using them is a totally different matter. Specifically, the shelter’s inadequate and probably illegal “disease control program” provides no requirements, let alone procedures, for the shelter to use these parts of the facility to reduce and treat illnesses. Furthermore, the New Jersey Department of Health, and not the NJ SPCA, is the agency responsible for determining if a shelter complies with state law. If Hamilton Township Animal Shelter was serious about complying with state law, it would have requested a surprise inspection from the state health department.

Over the years, the NJ SPCA has looked the other way as shelter after shelter clearly broke animal cruelty laws. Examples include Linden Animal Control, Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Jersey Animal Coalition, Elizabeth Animal Shelter, Gloucester County Animal Shelter and Paterson Animal Shelter to name just a few. In all these cases, the NJ SPCA had documented evidence, such as state health department inspection reports and/or shelter records provided/made public by animal advocates. Even when the NJ SPCA brought charges, such as against the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter and Associated Humane Societies-Newark (after years of not doing anything), the NJ SPCA brought too few charges and could not produce strong enough evidence to secure convictions with serious penalties.

Most importantly, the NJ SPCA has no credibility. Last year, the New Jersey Commission of Investigation issued a scathing report on this state agency. For example, the report found the NJ SPCA unresponsive to animal cruelty complaints, spent much more money on legal bills than animal care, had high ranking officials enrich themselves by entering into business transactions with the NJ SPCA and the organization’s top brass received all sorts of questionable benefits, such as cars for personal use. Subsequently, the NJ SPCA told its members to lie to legislators by using fake names in attempt to kill a bill that eliminated the NJ SPCA’s law enforcement powers. Thus, in the very same year the NJ SPCA wrote its glowing report on the Hamilton Township Animal Shelter, the NJ SPCA’s corrupt and inept actions became well-known to the public.

The NJ SPCA lost its law enforcement powers on July 1, 2018. After the state legislature approved the bill, including a 63-0 vote in the state Senate, Governor Christie signed the bill into law in early 2018. In other words, both Republicans and Democrats were so appalled with the corrupt and inept nature of the NJ SPCA that they agreed the organization could no longer enforce animal cruelty laws. Thus, its fitting that a wasteful and animal unfriendly shelter would cite another corrupt organization that failed the animals most needing its help.

Hamilton Residents Must Demand Reform

Mayor Yaede’s poorly thought out press release is consistent with her other actions. In 2016, Mayor Yaede and the council correctly put into place an ordinance banning the sales of dogs and cats, except those that are rescue animals, at retail pet stores. However, Mayor Yaede recently admitted to buying a puppy from a pet store called the Puppy Palace in a nearby community. In other words, Mayor Yaede circumvented the very law she put into place. Even worse, Mayor Yaede sent a message that it is better to obtain pets from shady pet stores rather than saving lives from the town’s animal shelter. If that was not enough, Mayor Yaede brought her dog to a park where dogs are not allowed. Even worse, the Trentonian newspaper said Mayor Yaede contacted the Hamilton Little League President to make excuses for the mayor. While I do not approve of banning dogs from parks, Mayor Yaede’s total disregard for the law and her attempt to get others to excuse it speaks volumes about her character.

Mayor Yaede’s person overseeing the shelter proved the current people running the facility cannot make positive change. In order to solve a problem, one must acknowledge the problem exists. Unfortunately, Jeffrey Plunkett, Director of the Department of Health, Recreation, Senior and Veterans Services, thinks the shelter is doing a fantastic job according to a recent NJ.com article:

I couldn’t be more proud of our animal shelter staff and the…commitment they show to the citizens and animals of Hamilton

Apparently, a shelter that violates state law, spends far more money per dog and cat and kills many times more animals than a neighboring community’s shelter makes Mr. Plunkett “proud” and shows “commitment” to the “citizens and animals of Hamilton.” If that’s what commitment means to Mr. Plunkett, both the taxpayers and animals of Hamilton can use a lot less of it. In reality, it seems Jeffrey Plunkett is defending the shelter to protect his job paying him $122,535 a year.

Hamilton residents must demand serious reforms at the Hamilton Township Animal Shelter. Specifically, they must accept nothing less than the following:

  1. Fire shelter manager Todd Bencivengo and other key employees and replace them with a competent and compassionate shelter manager and staff members who will save lives
  2. Create a No Kill Implementation plan similar to the one in Austin, Texas that mandates the shelter fully put the No Kill Equation into place and achieve a minimum 90% live release rate

Residents should attend the Hamilton Township Council meeting on Tuesday, July 17, at the Nottingham Fire Company Ballroom, 200 Mercer Street, Hamilton, NJ 08690 and make the points above. Furthermore, they should also convey these demands in emails to the following Hamilton Township council members:

Council President Anthony Carabelli,Jr.: ACarabelli@HamiltonNJ.com
Council Vice President Jeffrey Martin: JMartin@HamiltonNJ.com
Councilwoman Ileana Schirmer: ISchirmer@HamiltonNJ.com
Councilman Richard Tighe: RTighe@HamiltonNJ.com
Councilman Ralph Mastrangelo: RMastrangelo@HamiltonNJ.com

Hamilton’s residents have the chance to end the needless killing of the town’s homeless animals and waste of taxpayer dollars. Let’s make sure that happens.

3 thoughts on “Hamilton’s Horrendous Response to Animal Shelter Criticism

  1. Has anyone looked into what happens to the animals’ bodies after euthanization? It has been reported that some city shelters have, in the past, sold the bodies for various purposes (research, pet food filler, etc.). Just makes you wonder if there is such a discrepancy, compared with other towns and shelters, if there is a money motive at work. Is there any way you could find this out?

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  2. The prosecutor’s office said in a news release at 5 p.m. that health officer Jeffrey J. Plunkett and Todd Bencivengo, the former supervisor at the Hamilton animal shelter, were charged with two counts of third-degree animal cruelty and one count each of second-degree official misconduct.

    https://eastwindsornjtrees.wordpress.com/2019/05/03/east-windsor-township-health-officer-jeffrey-j-plunkett-charged-with-animal-cruelty-in-hamilton-nj/

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