Elizabeth Animal Shelter came under fire in 2014 after it illegally killed an owner’s two dogs on the day they arrived at the facility. While the owner and several animal advocates initially put significant pressure on elected officials, the animal advocates appeared to cut a deal. From what I could tell, the shelter reform activists ended their campaign in exchange for having a volunteer, who eventually became a paid contractor, spend time at the shelter. In her role, this contractor evaluates dogs, makes recommendations about whether a dog is suitable for adoption, and networks with rescues and donors.
In 2016, I wrote a series of blogs highlighting significant problems at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. You can read the two blogs here and here. Specifically, I discussed the following findings:
- Shelter had an unacceptably high kill rate
- Shelter routinely killed owner surrendered animals illegally during the seven day protection period
- Shelter frequently transferred stray animals to rescues illegally during the seven day hold period
- Shelter did a poor job promoting and adopting out animals
- Shelter did not spay/neuter animals adopted out
- Rescues were often the only reason unclaimed animals made it out of the shelter alive
- No volunteers allowed at the shelter
- Little to no veterinary care provided
- Records indicated possible inhumane euthanasia/killing practices
Last year, I wrote two blogs, which you can read here and here, which showed some improvements, but many problems remaining. Specifically, Elizabeth Animal Shelter stopped illegally killing animals during the seven day stray/hold and owner surrender protection periods and decreased its kill rate. However, most of the shelter’s other issues still existed.
Did Elizabeth Animal Shelter improve in 2017? Did the shelter’s strategy of almost completely relying on rescues end the killing of healthy and treatable animals? Is Elizabeth Animal Shelter violating state law?
I obtained Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records for each animal coming into the Elizabeth Animal Shelter in 2017. Additionally, I requested all other supporting documents for a few months of the year. However, the City of Elizabeth gave me these records for almost every animal impounded in 2017.
As I discovered in past years, Elizabeth Animal Shelter brought a significant number of animals directly to its veterinarian. In many of these cases, the veterinarian killed these animals, but the shelter did not include these dogs and cats in its intake and disposition records. In a much smaller number of instances, the intake and disposition records included killed animals that the veterinarian did not list in his invoices to the shelter. As a result, I added all killed animals from the veterinarian’s invoices that were not included in the intake and disposition records in the statistics below.
You can find the 2017 intake and disposition records here and the veterinary invoices including additional killed animals here.
Many Medium to Large Size Dogs and Adult Cats Killed
Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed many medium to large size dogs in 2017. Based on my review of the facility’s individual animal records and veterinary invoices, 15% of all dogs lost their lives. While the shelter did an excellent job with small dogs based on only 1% of these animals losing their lives, 35% of pit bull like dogs and 13% of other medium to large size dogs were killed or died in 2017. Since dogs reclaimed by their owners typically have licenses and/or microchips and quickly leave the shelter, its informative to look at dogs the shelter had to find new homes for. When we just look at nonreclaimed dogs, 21% of all dogs, 45% of pit bulls, 1% of small dogs and 21% of other medium to large size dogs were killed or died. Thus, nearly half the pit bulls and around 1 out of 5 other medium to large size dogs requiring new homes lost their lives at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter last year.
Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed many adult cats in 2017. Overall, 23% of the cats and kittens lost their lives or went missing during the year. While the shelter did a good job with kittens as evidenced by its 6% kitten death rate, the shelter did a poor job with adult cats. Specifically, 37% of adults cats were killed, died or went missing. Thus, more than 1 out of 3 adult cats lost their lives or went missing in 2017.
Statistics Deteriorate Despite Shelter Taking Fewer Animals In
Elizabeth Animal Shelter impounded fewer dogs in both 2016 and 2017. While the significant decrease in dog intake from 2015 to 2016 was accompanied by a sharp drop in the dog death rates in 2016, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s 2017 dog death rates essentially went back to the 2015 levels despite the facility taking in 20% fewer dogs.
Most disturbing, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed a much higher percentage of their pit bulls despite taking far fewer of these animals in. As you can see in the table below, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s pit bull death rates nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017 despite the shelter taking in 11% fewer pit bulls. Even worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s 2017 pit bull death rates were significantly higher than its 2015 pit bull death rates even though the shelter took in 33% fewer pit bulls in 2017 compared to 2015. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter did a much poorer job with its pit bulls in 2017 than it did in both 2016 and 2015.
Elizabeth Animal Shelter did go in the right direction with small dogs. While its small dog intake dropped modestly over the three years, the shelter decreased its small dog death rates to a very low level.
Elizabeth Animal Shelter also did a worse job with other medium and large dogs in 2017. While its other medium to large dogs intake increased slightly in 2017 compared to 2016, its other medium and large dog death rates quadrupled. However, these death rates were still lower than its 2015 other medium and large dog death rates.
The shelter’s cat death rate also significant increased in 2017. Cat intake rose by a modest 9% in 2017 compared to 2016, but the cat death rate increased significantly from 16% to 23%. While the cat death rate in 2017 is lower than it was in 2015, Elizabeth Animal Shelter took in 26% fewer cats in 2017 compared to 2015.
Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s adult cat death rate skyrocketed in 2017. Despite adult cat intake increasing by just 5% in 2017 compared to 2016, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s adult cat death rate nearly doubled. Furthermore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s adult cat death rate was only a little lower in 2017 compared to 2015 even though Elizabeth Animal shelter impounded 35% fewer cats in 2017 than in 2015.
Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s kitten numbers improved in 2017. Even though the shelter’s kitten intake increased by 14% in 2017 compared to 2016, the kitten death rate decreased from 8% to 6%.
Rescues Do Most of the Work
Elizabeth Animal Shelter continued to push the dog lifesaving burden onto the rescue community. Overall, I reviewed the underlying records for 157 of the 164 dogs adopted out or sent to rescues. Elizabeth Animal shelter only adopted out 12% of all these dogs, 24% of these pit bull like dogs, 7% of these small dogs and 14% of these other medium to large dogs. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter placed substantially all the burden for finding dogs new homes on the rescue community.
Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s pit bull adoption and sent to rescue numbers explain why the shelter kills so many of these animals. While the shelter adopted out a larger percentage of the pit bulls adopted out or rescued than other dogs, this is due to Elizabeth Animal Shelter saving so few of these pit bulls. The shelter only adopted out 9 pit bulls or just 10% of all the pit bulls it took in. Since many rescues do not take in pit bull like dogs or take way too long to adopt these dogs out, animal control shelters must adopt out large numbers of these dogs to stop killing these pets. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s weak adoption program dooms vulnerable animals like pit bull like dogs.
Elizabeth Animal Shelter also almost exclusively relied on rescues to find new homes for cats and kittens. Overall, I reviewed the underlying records for 243 of the 248 cats adopted out or sent to rescues. Elizabeth Animal Shelter only adopted out 7% of these cats, 6% of these adult cats and 9% of these kittens. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter depended almost entirely on rescues to save their cats and kittens.
Reliance on Rescues Dooms Less Adoptable Animals
Rescues mostly focused on pulling small dogs and took few pit bull like dogs. As you can see in the table below showing the rescues taking the most dogs, most of these groups, including a rescue run by the Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s contractor, pulled far more small dogs than pit bulls and other medium to large size dogs. Given shelters have to do little to no work to adopt out small dogs, one has to wonder whether the shelter really needed rescues to pull so many small dogs.
Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s dog length of stay data also shows rescues rushing to save small dogs, but not quickly pulling pit bulls and other medium to large size dogs. As you can see below, all dogs had an average length of stay of 11.5 days during the year compared to just 10.7 days in 2016. While small dogs’ average length of stay decreased from 6.1 days in 2016 to 4.8 days in 2017, the average length of stay for pit bulls (2016: 19.4 days; 2017: 22.1 days) and other medium to large dogs (2016: 6.3 days; 2017: 10.1 days) increased significantly. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s over-reliance on rescues resulted in medium to large size dogs, particularly pit bulls, staying at the shelter for a long time.
Most rescues focused on pulling kittens more than adult cats. As you can see below, rescues pulling the most cats took similar numbers of adult cats and kittens. However, since Elizabeth Animal Shelter impounded more adult cats (57%) than kittens (43%), rescues disproportionately took in kittens. While this is not as extreme as the dog data, it does show most rescues were less likely to take adult cats than kittens.
Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s cat length of stay data also shows rescues took longer to pull adult cats than kittens. As you can see below, all cats, adult cats and kittens had average lengths of stay of 7.8 days, 8.7 days and 6.9 days. However, rescues took 1.5 days longer to pull adult cats than kittens (8.7 days for adult cats and 7.2 days for kittens).
Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s strategy of relying virtually entirely on rescues to create space is doomed to fail. While the shelter’s use of many rescues reduces the facility’s risk of any single rescue closing or not pulling animals for other reasons, large coalitions of rescues rarely are efficient at adopting out animals. Why? No single rescue faces any negative consequences if it fails to adopt out enough animals to prevent the shelter from killing. For example, if a single shelter or rescue agreed to pull all animals from Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s kill list, and Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed animals the rescue organization did not pull, the rescue organization could face criticism and lose donations. Similarly, if a single rescue saved all of the shelter’s animals it would receive praise and likely receive more financial support from the public. However, when dozens of organizations rescue animals voluntarily, no single group faces any repercussions and such groups have little to gain. Therefore, these organizations will often stick with overly restrictive adoption policies, less aggressive marketing, and overall less effective processes that result in fewer adoptions. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter has limited the number of positive outcomes it can achieve and therefore kills animals when it runs out of space.
As a result, this strategy is failing less “adoptable” animals, such as medium to large size dogs, especially pit bulls, and adult cats. If Elizabeth Animal Shelter expects to save these animals, it will have to fully implement the 11 programs found in the No Kill Equation. In particular, Elizabeth Animal Shelter must develop a robust adoption program, which should include using volunteers, to save the many medium to large size dogs and adult cats losing their lives at the facility.
In my next blog, I’ll highlight the reasons Elizabeth Animal Shelter uses to kills animals. Additionally, I’ll discuss whether the shelter is complying with state law.