In 2016, 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.
Last year, I wrote two blogs on the Bergen County Animal Shelter. The first blog detailed 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. Later in the year, I found these trends also applied to all the municipalities Bergen County Animal Shelter serviced in 2016.
Was Bergen County Animal Shelter still a high kill facility in 2017? What kinds of animals lose their lives at this shelter? Does the shelter comply with state law?
Shelter Kills Dogs at a High Rate
Bergen County Animal Shelter continued to kill many dogs in 2017. You can view all the shelter’s dog and cat intake and disposition records here and here. Overall, 13% of all dogs, 31% of pit bulls, 5% of small dogs and 14% of other medium to large sized breeds lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter during the year. As a comparison, only 1% of all dogs, 1% of pit bulls, 2% of small dogs and 2% of other breeds lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2017 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), 23% of all dogs, 50% of pit bulls, 10% of small dogs and 21% of other medium to large sized breeds were killed or died at the shelter. To put it another way, around 1 in 4 nonreclaimed dogs, half of nonreclaimed pit bulls and more than 1 in 5 nonreclaimed other medium to large size breeds lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter. Thus, all types of medium to larger size 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 196 dogs during the year or around one dog every two days. Furthermore, 98 of those adoptions were small dogs, which shelters have to do little work to adopt out. Bergen County Animal Shelter only adopted out 98 medium to large size dogs, which included just 34 pit bulls and 64 other medium to large size breeds. This works out to less than three pit bull adoptions and around five other medium to large size breed adoptions a month.
The shelter also sent very few medium to large size dogs to rescues. While my recent dog report card blog on the state’s shelters showed Bergen County Animal Shelter had plenty of space to adopt out all of its 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 40 out of 326 medium-large size dogs to rescues in 2017. Even worse, Bergen County Animal Shelter only transferred 4 out of 127 pit bulls to rescues during the year. In fact, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed 10 times more pit bulls than it sent to rescues. As a comparison, Elizabeth Animal Shelter sent 29 pit bulls to rescues in 2017 or seven times as many as Bergen County Animal Shelter. 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.
The following table illustrates how few dogs the shelter sent to rescues. As you can see, almost all the rescues pulled less than ten dogs for the entire year. Furthermore, the rescues pulling the most dogs did not save any pit bulls. Even worse, every single one of the pit bulls rescued on this list went to other shelters. This suggests Bergen County Animal Shelter made little effort to reach out to rescues to save these types of dogs.
Dogs Stay Too Long at Shelter
Bergen County Animal Shelter took too long to adopt out dogs. Overall, the average length of stay was 25 days for all dogs, 27 days for pit bulls, 21 days for small dogs and 30 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 very long 47 days to adopt out its dogs. Similarly, Bergen County Animal Shelter took 60 days, 39 days and 52 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. Oregon’s Greenhill Humane Society adopted out its pit bulls about 50% more quickly than Bergen County Animal Shelter. Similarly, Austin Animal Center, which took in a similar percentage of pit bulls and a much smaller percentage of small dogs, adopted out its dogs in around 10 days in 2016. In other words, Bergen County Animal Shelter took nearly five times longer to adopt out its dogs than Austin Animal Center. 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 42 days to send each dog to a rescue. While the shelter did not take long to send pit bulls to rescues on average, the facility sent too few of these dogs to rescue to make this a meaningful number. The shelter took on average 43 days and 45 days to send each small dog and other medium to large size breed to rescues. As a comparison, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter took on average 14 days, 6 days and 15 days to adopt out/send to rescues (almost all were sent to rescues rather than adopted out) its dogs, small dogs and other medium to large size breeds. In other words, Bergen County Animal Shelter took approximately three to seven 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.
Too Many Cats Lose Their Lives
Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cat statistics in 2017 were also not good. Overall, 16% of cats lost their lives 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), 20% of these cats lost their lives or went missing. Thus, cats were not safe at Bergen County Animal Shelter.
While I tabulated the cat statistics by age, I could not include them due to inaccuracies I noted. Specifically, the shelter had a very large number of cats with an age of zero days in their intake and disposition records report. However, when I obtained underlying records for a sample of these cats, I found a lot of these animals were different ages. Therefore, I could not conduct this analysis by age as I typically do.
Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cat statistics were also much worse than Austin Animal Center. While 16% of cats and 20% of nonreclaimed cats lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2017, only 5% of cats and 6% of nonreclaimed cats lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2017. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cats were three times more likely to lose their lives than cats at Austin Animal Center.
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 45 days for cats. 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 in 2016 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). Similarly, Williamson County Animal Shelter in Texas saved 90% of its cats and had an average cat length of stay of just 13 days in its fiscal year 2017. 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 9% of its cats to rescues, the shelter took 51 days to send those cats to rescues. As a comparison, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter sent significantly more cats to rescues in 2017 and only took 8 days on average to send those cats to rescues/adopters (almost all went to rescues). Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter took too long to transfer cats to rescues.
Illegal Killing of Animals Before Seven Days
Ammo was two year old Australian Cattle Dog originally surrendered to Bergen County Animal Shelter on April 18, 2017 and adopted out on May 17, 2017. Ammo’s original evaluation noted he was a friendly dog, but had minor food guarding issues. On August 3, 2017, Ammo’s adopter returned him to the shelter for allegedly biting a family member. On that day, the owner filled out an owner requested euthanasia form and the shelter killed Ammo on that very same day. Unfortunately, the shelter provided no documentation of the severity of the bite or the circumstances. For example, was the dog provoked or did it involve an avoidable situation (e.g. being close to the dog while it had a bone)?
New Jersey animal shelter law clearly states shelters must not kill animals, whether they are strays or owner surrenders, for at least 7 days. Furthermore, the New Jersey Department of Health recently issued guidance summarizing the law’s requirements:
Pursuant to State law (N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.16 a. through l.) all municipalities must have a licensed animal impoundment facility (pound) designated where stray and potentially vicious animals can be safely impounded. Impounded stray animals shall be held at the pound for at least seven days (i.e., 168 hours) from the time impounded before the animal is offered for adoption or euthanized, relocated or sterilized, regardless of the animal’s temperament or medical condition.
Animals that are voluntarily surrendered by their owners to licensed pounds or shelters shall be offered for adoption for at least seven days prior to euthanasia or shelter/pound management may transfer the animal to an animal rescue organization facility or a foster home prior to offering it for adoption if such a transfer is determined to be in the best interest of the animal.
In practice, the New Jersey Department of Health allows shelters to euthanize animals during the 7 day hold period if both of the following conditions are met as discussed in this section of the New Jersey Department of Health’s July 30, 2009 inspection report on Associated Humane Societies-Newark.
- 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 humane rationale in the animal’s medical record
Regardless of the severity of the bite, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed an owner surrendered animal before seven days. Simply put, a shelter cannot kill an animal for aggression before seven days unless it is declared vicious by a New Jersey court and such court orders the killing of the dog.
Cat ID# 400 was a stray young cat brought to Bergen County Animal Shelter on January 12, 2017. Four days later the shelter gave the cat a medical exam, During the exam, the cat weighed 6.22 pounds, which is a weight that is not unusually low for a stray and young cat (i.e. the cat was not completely emaciated), and gave him an FIV/FELV test. After the cat tested positive for FELV and the shelter labeled him “Feral”, the shelter killed him on the very same day. The shelter provided no documentation that this animal was hopelessly suffering.
Frankly, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s actions are outrageous. While FELV is a serious disease, many cats can live happily quite a long time with this disease. That is why shelters, such as Austin Pets Alive, adopt out FeLV positive cats successfully. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed Cat ID# 400 only four days after he arrived at the shelter.
Cat ID# 781 was a four year old male cat initially brought to the shelter for TNR. According to the shelter, the cat had a 4-5 cm wound, but otherwise was generally pretty healthy. For example, the cat weighed 11 pounds. However, this cat had a positive result on an FIV snap test on the day the animal arrived at the shelter. Despite many shelters successfully adopting out FIV positive cats, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed Cat ID# 781 on the day he arrived at Bergen County Animal Shelter stating the person bringing the cat to the shelter couldn’t keep the pet segregated and as an inside pet. Clearly, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed a cat who was not hopelessly suffering before seven days.
Shelter Kills Animals for Absurd Reasons
Beast or Dog ID# 3343 was a seven month old pit bull surrendered to Bergen County Animal Shelter on November 7, 2017. Two days later the shelter noted the owner requested they be notified if Beast failed his behavior evaluation. The owner contacted the shelter three days later stating she found someone interested in giving Beast a home. However, Bergen County Animal Shelter performed one of its infamous “evaluations” 15 days later on November 27, 2017 and stated Beast had an “unhealthy obsessive personality and high arousal, coupled with his resource guarding will eventually leave any handler injured”
How did the geniuses at Bergen County Animal Shelter determine a seven month old puppy would maul “any handler?” Despite having no bite history and taking “corrections well”, he was “very rough, rambunctious and ill-mannered.” In other words, Beast was a big puppy. The crackpot staff at Bergen County Animal Shelter also claimed he guarded a rawhide. Given that multiple studies have found shelter dog evaluations, including food/resource aggression tests, unreliable and even the creator of one of the major food/resource aggression tests has come out against using these evaluations, its amazing Bergen County Animal Shelter would use this to condemn this puppy to death. As the shelter continued to antagonize Beast during during a stranger-test, he “lunged” (but did not attack) at one of the shelter workers. In other words, the dog communicated to the staff he didn’t like what they were doing and did so without harming them. However, Beast acted “more loose” with another employee and “was willing to investigate.”
Given we know behavior evaluations in shelters are completely inaccurate, the shelter’s decision to kill this dog for acting like a big puppy, guarding a rawhide and showing non-violent protective behavior during a stressful evaluation is absurd. Even worse, the shelter refused to even attempt to modify these so-called behavior problems. In other words, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed Beast for no good reasons.
Lana was three year old Labrador retriever surrendered to the Bergen County Animal Shelter by a rescue called Pitter Patter on January 24, 2018. Apparently, the rescue’s full name is Pitter Patter Puppy House. Initially, the rescue surrendered the dog to the shelter in November and then reclaimed the animal. In January 2018, Pitter Patter surrendered the animal for good. According to the shelter, Pitter Patter surrendered Lana because of “unprovoked aggression to other dogs.” However, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s own evaluation found Lana had no issues with people, veterinarians and groomers. Despite being fine with people, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed Lana three days on February 10, 2018 after her so-called evaluation. How any “rescue” can surrender a dog, let alone for dog aggression, to a high kill shelter is beyond reprehensible.
Onyx or Dog ID# 889 was an 11 month old dog surrendered to the Bergen County Animal Shelter on March 23, 2017 due to the owner having housing issues and not having the money to afford a boarding facility. According to Onyx’s owner, Onyx lived with the family since he was three months old. The owner stated they spent time everyday training Onxy, playing with him and walking him. In addition, Onyx’s owner stated the dog had no moderate or severe behavior issues. Additionally, the owner stated Onyx was crate trained, friendly with strangers, good with kids and dogs, trained and walked well on a leash.
Despite the owner clearly indicating Onyx was a wonderful dog, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s staff viewed Onyx as a terrible dog. According to Onyx’s evaluation on March 28, 2017, he “PULLED EXTREMELY HARD” when taken out of the kennel, exhibited various jumpy/mouthy behaviors, and was “obsessed” with his toy. In other words, Onyx was a big puppy, which the shelter even admitted in its evaluation. Despite Onyx being an overgrown puppy, Bergen County Animal Shelter decided to kill him on May 17, 2017 due to these so-called problems not improving. Miraculously, the shelter claimed Onyx was not a “safe adoption candidate” due to his strength and energy even though he was great with his prior family. To make matters worse, the shelter claimed they had no rescues to place their pit bulls even though the facility does not seem to make public pleas to such organizations. Bergen County Animal Shelter killed Onyx the day after the shelter’s evaluator condemned him to death.
Heaven was a two year old female cat surrendered to Bergen County Animal Shelter on January 25, 2017 due to her owner having cancer. According to the owner, Heaven was litter box trained, liked to be petted, enjoyed scratching posts and was an indoor cat. Given the owner was going through a crisis in their life and this cat seemed like a nice pet, you would think Bergen County Animal Shelter would make every effort to save this animal.
Bergen County Animal Shelter used its absurd cat temperament tests to kill Heaven. Like dog behavioral evaluations, these tests, which deliberately stress out cats to provoke a bad response, are discredited due to their inaccuracy. Heaven passed a behavioral evaluation given to her four days after she arrived at the shelter. She received a score of 9 points on a scale where under 10 points results in placement anywhere on the adoption floor. Apparently, Bergen County Animal Shelter wasn’t happy with saving a cancer patient’s cat since the shelter tested Heaven again on February 24, 2017. Despite this test finding Heaven approaching the evaluator in a friendly manner and not bothered by petting, the tester complained Heaven hissed, swatted and bit when she was picked up. As many cat owners know, some cats just don’t like being picked up, particularly when they are stressed. Heaven scored 16 points on this test and was placed in a middle grade of the test’s scoring scale, 11-16 points, which resulted in the shelter placing her in Cat Room 2. Bergen County Animal Shelter then tested Heaven again on March 9, 2017, putting her though the abusive provoking exercises once more, and failed her this time. Why? Apparently, after being harassed in several tests, Heaven was afraid/hiding when the people torturing this poor cat sat next to her. Bergen County Animal Shelter killed Heaven four days later.
Bergen County Health Department’s Bogus Inspections of Itself
The Bergen County Health Department runs the Bergen County Animal Shelter and inspects itself. As expected, the Bergen County Health Department gave itself a “Satisfactory” grade in 2017. The inspection report, which contained illegible handwriting, looked like someone spent two minutes preparing it. Most noteworthy, the inspector completely missed the animals Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed before seven days.
Bergen County Animal Shelter should not have had a license to operate for more than five months in 2017 and at least four months and counting in 2018. Under N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.8(b), a shelter’s license expires on June 30th each year. N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.2 requires a shelter to comply with state law and receive a Certificate of Inspection for the current licensing year. In other words, a shelter must be inspected and found to comply with state law by June 30th of each year to have a license to operate. Furthermore, Teterboro’s municipal clerk told me in the email below that the county health department has not inspected Bergen County Animal Shelter as of November 6, 2018 and may not inspect the shelter until next year. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter should not have had a license to operate for more than five months in 2017 and should not have a license to operate the shelter as of November 6, 2018.
Bergen County Residents Must Demand Much More
Sadly, Bergen County Animal Shelter continues to fail the animals entrusted in its care. Despite its $2,117,725 budget or $850 per dog and cat impounded, Bergen County Animal Shelter continues to kill large numbers of its animals. As you see in the table below, Bergen County Animal Shelter receives more government funding per impounded animal than Austin Animal Center and kills dogs at rates ranging from 5-25 times more than Austin Animal Center. Similarly, Bergen County Animal Shelter kills cats at over three times the rate as Austin Animal Center. Thus, Bergen County taxpayers are getting ripped off by this failing animal shelter.
Clearly, Bergen County continues to operate a regressive animal shelter. As I discussed previously, 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