Over the last several years, I wrote numerous blogs about the high kill Bergen County Animal Shelter. You can view my blog from last year here. That blog also includes links to my prior Bergen County Animal Shelter blogs.
These blogs revealed Bergen County Animal Shelter killed huge numbers of animals for absurd reasons. Additionally, the shelter illegally killed animals during the state’s seven day protection period.
Was Bergen County Animal Shelter still a high kill facility in 2018? Does the shelter comply with state law?
Shelter Kills Dogs at a High Rate
Bergen County Animal Shelter continued to kill many dogs in 2018. You can view all the shelter’s dog and cat intake and disposition records here. Overall, 10% of all dogs, 24% of pit bulls, 4% of small dogs and 10% 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 1% of other breeds lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018 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), 18% of all dogs, 36% of pit bulls, 8% of small dogs and 18% of other medium to large sized breeds were killed or died at the shelter. To put it another way, around 1 in 5 nonreclaimed dogs, more than 1 in 3 nonreclaimed pit bulls and around 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 279 dogs during the year or less than one dog per day. Furthermore, 74 of those adoptions were small dogs, which shelters have to do little work to adopt out. Bergen County Animal Shelter only adopted out 131 medium to large size dogs, which included just 57 pit bulls and 74 other medium to large size breeds. This works out to less than five pit bull adoptions and around six 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 26 out of 360 medium-large size dogs to rescues and other shelters in 2018. Even worse, Bergen County Animal Shelter only transferred 3 out of 141 pit bulls to rescues and other shelters during the year. In fact, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed 11 times more pit bulls than it sent to rescues and other shelters. As a comparison, Elizabeth Animal Shelter sent 29 pit bulls to rescues in 2017 or 10 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.
Too Many Cats Lose Their Lives
Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cat statistics in 2018 were also not good. Overall, 29% 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), 34% of these cats lost their lives. These death rates were 28% and 32% for cats one year and older and 11% and 11% for kittens that were 6 weeks to just under one year old. Thus, cats were not safe at Bergen County Animal Shelter.
Bergen County Animal Shelter’s neonatal kitten statistics were far worse than the overall cat kill rate. Specifically, 62% of kittens under 6 weeks old lost their lives. If we only count animals that were not reclaimed or released, 94% of kittens under six weeks old lost their lives. Furthermore, if the 158 under 6 week old kittens listed under “released” went through the shelter’s TNR program, that raises serious ethical questions as young kittens have high mortality rates on the streets.
While I tabulated the cat statistics by age, I note the shelter’s cat age statistics were grossly inaccurate last year. Therefore, the shelter may have provided incorrect age information this year.
Most troubling, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cat death rates were significantly higher in 2018 than in 2017. The cat death rate increased from 16% to 29% while the nonreclaimed cat death rate rose from 20% to 34%. While Bergen County Animal Shelter’s dog statistics improved marginally, the shelter’s sharp increase in cat killing is alarming. Specifically, the number of cats killed increased from 277 cats to 420 cats while the number of cats who died or went missing increased from 17 cats to 149 cats.
Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cat statistics were also much worse than Austin Animal Center. While 28% of cats and 34% of nonreclaimed cats lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2017, only 4% of cats and 5% of nonreclaimed cats lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cats were seven times more likely to lose their lives than cats at Austin Animal Center.
Remarkably, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s underlying records revealed many differences from what it reported in the statistics it submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health. While the shelter likely complied with the state health department’s rules in counting cats who were brought in for TNR, these numbers significantly skew the shelter’s numbers. Based on the Shelter Animals Count methodology and common sense, shelters should not count cats they bring in only for purposes of neutering and releasing. The 2,525 cat difference between total outcomes on the New Jersey Department of Health report and the underlying records likely relate to the TNR program. Similarly, the 2,446 more cat adoptions on the state health department report also likely represent cats who were neutered and released. As a result, the state health department report significantly increased the denominator in kill and death rate calculations and therefore understated the shelter’s real kill and death rates.
Interestingly, the shelter’s state health department report had 71 killed cats in the “Other” outcomes category. However, the total cats killed and died/escaped were the same in the report sent to the state health department and the shelter’s underlying records. As a result, the kill rate statistics based on the state health department report understated the real kill rate.
Inability to Produce Critical Data
Unfortunately, I could not conduct a length of stay analysis as I did in the past due to the shelter’s new software system. Instead of using a well-known shelter software system, Bergen County Animal Shelter uses a program few people have heard of. When I requested intake and disposition records with intake dates and outcome dates, the shelter only provided me a small portion of the animals it took in. When I questioned this data, the shelter stated the software could only provide disposition dates for animals impounded within the last month. While I strongly believe the shelter must legally provide a custom report prepared by the software provider under the Open Public Records Act of New Jersey, I did not wish to delay this blog due to a protracted legal case.
Frankly, I’m shocked Bergen County Animal Shelter uses software that can’t produce key length of stay data. Length of stay, broken out by key animal populations, intake categories and outcomes, is essential for shelters to monitor performance and plan for the future. For example, increased average lengths of stay can lead to overcrowding and increased disease rates as well as higher costs. The fact Bergen County Animal Shelter switched from a shelter software that easily produced this data to a new program that can’t speaks volumes about the incompetence of the shelter’s leadership.
Illegal Killing of Animals Before Seven Days
While Bergen County Animal Shelter could not provide length of stay data for all animals, it could produce length of stay data for animals who had an outcome within a month after they arrived at the facility. Therefore, I was able to identify animals the shelter killed before state’s seven day protection period ended. You can see a list of the animals here.
New Jersey animal shelter law clearly states shelters must not kill animals, whether they are strays or owner surrenders, for at least seven days. Furthermore, the New Jersey Department of Health 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 seven 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
Bergen County Animal Shelter killed large numbers of animals before seven days. Overall, the shelter killed 134 dogs and cats prior to seven days. 129 of the 134 animals killed during the seven day protection period were cats. While some cats may have been hopelessly suffering, its highly unlikely most of these animals were. For example, my blog for 2017, my blog for 2016 and my blog for 2015 uncovered numerous animals the shelter illegally killed before seven days and the animals were not hopelessly suffering. Furthermore, several animals in the 2018 list of killed animals before seven days had reasons for surrender, such as as allergy, aggression and losing home, that indicated the animals were not hopelessly suffering.
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. Similarly, the Bergen County Health Department did the same thing in its December 27, 2018 inspection report. Most noteworthy, the inspector completely missed the animals Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed before seven days in both 2017 and 2018. As of August 28, 2019, the Bergen County Health Department has not inspected Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2019.
Bergen County Animal Shelter should not have had a license to operate for nearly six months in 2018 and around two months and counting in 2019. 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. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter should not have had a license to operate for nearly six months in 2018 and should not have a license to operate the shelter as of August 28, 2019.
Bergen County Residents Must Demand Much More
Sadly, Bergen County Animal Shelter continues to fail the animals entrusted in its care. Despite its $2.6 million budget or $970 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 4-18 times more than Austin Animal Center. Similarly, Bergen County Animal Shelter kills cats at rates ranging from 3-13 times more than 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 95% like Austin, Texas and many 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