Ocean County’s Outrageous Animal Facilities

Ocean County Health Department operates two animal control shelters. These two shelters are Northern Ocean County Animal Facility, which is located in Jackson, and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility, which is located in Mahahawkin. In 2018, these two shelters impounded 80% of the local dogs and cats coming into Ocean County’s animal shelters.

Do the two Ocean County Health Department run animal shelters kill healthy and treatable animals when lifesaving alternatives exist? Are the facilities complying with state law?

Data Reviewed

In order to get a better understanding of the job Ocean County Health Department did in 2018, I obtained the intake and disposition records for each individual dog and cat the two shelters took in during the year. You can find those records here. In addition, I obtained all supporting records for each dog killed. You can find those records in the following links:

Also, I obtained the “Animal Record” for a large number of cats the two facilities killed. This report provides a summary of the animal and the reason the shelter killed the cat. You can find those records in the following links.

I obtained all other records for several of the killed cats. You can view those records here. In addition, I also obtained the two shelters’ 2018 euthanasia and controlled dangerous substance logs, which detail how the shelters euthanized their animals. You can find those records for Northern Ocean County Animal Facility here and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility here.

Finally, I obtained Ocean County Health Department’s 2017-2019 inspection reports of Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility. You can find those inspection reports here and here.

Since Ocean County Health Department’s intake and disposition records did not break out the Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility data, I presented both shelters together as “Ocean County Animal Facility” in the statistics below. Based on the combined data below being similar to the totals both shelters reported to the New Jersey Department of Health, those wanting to see each shelter’s statistics can use the data reported to the state health department. You can view that data and my related death rate metrics here.

Disturbing Dog Data

Ocean County Animal Facility had too many dogs lose their lives in 2018. While the overall dog death rate of 8% was not extremely high, it was still much greater than death rates at elite municipal shelters. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only had 1% of its dogs lose their lives in 2018. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility had dogs lose their lives at eight times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

Pit bulls fared far worse at Ocean County Animal Facility in 2018. The shelter killed 13% of pit bulls. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 1% of its pit bulls in 2018. As a result, Ocean County Animal Facility killed pit bulls at 13 times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

Ocean County Animal Facility also had too many small dogs and other medium to large size breeds lose their lives in 2018. Overall, the shelter had 5% of small dogs and 8% of other medium to large size dogs lose their lives. Frankly, shelters should be able to save nearly all small dogs due to the fact such animals cannot seriously injure dog savvy adult owners. Even the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, which is far from a progressive facility, only had 1% of small dogs lose their lives in 2017Austin Animal Center only had 1% of small dogs and 1% of other medium to large size breeds lose their lives last year. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility had both small dogs and other medium to large size dogs lose their lives at five times and eight times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

While Ocean County Animal Facility’s overall dog death rates were bad, the shelter’s death rates for dogs not reclaimed by their owners were far worse. Since dogs reclaimed by their owners typically have licenses and/or microchips and quickly leave the shelter, its informative to look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners. When we just look at dogs not reclaimed by owners, Ocean County Animal Facility had 17% of all dogs, 25% of pit bulls, 10% of small dogs and 17% of other medium to large size breeds lose their lives. In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility had 1 out of 6 dogs, 1 out of 4 pit bulls, 1 out of 10 small dogs and 1 out of 6 other medium to large size breeds not reclaimed by owners lose their lives. As a comparison, only 2% of all dogs, pit bulls and small dogs not reclaimed by owners and 1% of other medium to large size dogs not reclaimed by owners at Austin Animal Center lost their lives in 2018. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility had all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size breeds not reclaimed by owners lose their lives at 9 times, 13 times, 5 times and 17 times Austin Animal Center’s rates.

2018 Ocean County Animal Facility Dog Statistics

Cats Killed in Droves

Ocean County Animal Facility’s statistics reveal the shelter killed too many cats in 2018. Since Ocean County Animal Facility did not list specific ages of animals, I could not break down cats into the more expansive age categories I typically use (i.e. 1 year and older cats, kittens from 6 weeks to just under 1 year and kittens under 6 weeks). Frankly, I’m shocked a large shelter would not have age information readily available given how critical this data is for shelters to evaluate their handling of cats. Overall, 48% of cats lost their lives at Ocean County Animal Facility in 2018 or about twelve times the percentage at Austin Animal Center last year. More than half of nonreclaimed cats, or 51% of these animals, lost their lives at Ocean County Animal Facility in 2018. As a comparison, only 5% of nonreclaimed cats lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018. Therefore, cats and nonreclaimed cats were twelve times and ten times more likely to lose their lives at Ocean County Animal Facility than at Austin Animal Center in 2018.

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Ocean County Animal Facility Quickly Kills Animals with Empty Cages

Ocean County Animal Facility’s dog length of stay data revealed the shelter quickly killed dogs. Specifically, the shelter killed all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size breeds after 10 days, 12 days, 9 days and 9 days on average in 2018. Clearly, this is not nearly enough time to determine if the shelter can save these animals.

Ocean County Animal Facility quickly killed dogs despite having plenty of space to house these animals. Based on Ocean County Animal Facility taking in 978 dogs during 2018, its 13 day average length of stay for dogs and shelter capacity calculations, we can estimate the shelter only held around 35 dogs on average in 2018 compared to a reported capacity of 75 dogs. This 35 dog average population is similar to the 33 dog average of the January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018 dog populations reported to the state health department. In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility used less than half of its physical dog capacity. Furthermore, the shelter should be able to house another 29 dogs in foster homes, which is equal to 3% of the 978 dogs impounded in 2018, at all times based on the performance of well-run no kill animal control shelters. Therefore, Ocean County Animal Facility held only around one third of the number of dogs it could keep in its shelters and foster homes. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility quickly killed dogs while failing to use ample space to house these animals.

2018 Ocean County Animal Facility Dogs Average Length of Stay.jpg

Ocean County Animal Facility’s quick killing practices become apparent when we look at the distribution of the lengths of stay for the dogs it killed. The shelter killed 40% of the dogs it killed after just eight days or less. Ocean County Animal Facility killed 29 of these 31 dogs after they spent just eight days at the shelter. In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility killed these dogs immediately after the state’s seven day protection period when shelters cannot kill animals. Remarkably, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 94% and 97% of the dogs it killed within 13 days and 18 days after their arrival. Only 1 killed dog stayed at the shelter for 28 or more days and no killed dog was at the shelter for 60 days or more. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility gave the dogs it killed virtually no chance to become adoptable.

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Ocean County Animal Facility also quickly killed cats. The shelter killed cats after just nine days on average in 2018. In other words, the shelter almost always killed its cats just after the state’s seven day protection period.

Ocean County Animal Facility also quickly killed cats despite having plenty of space to house these animals. Based on Ocean County Animal Facility taking in 2,126 cats during 2018, its 24 day average length of stay for cats and shelter capacity calculations, we can estimate the shelter only held around 140 cats on average in 2018 compared to a reported capacity of 290 cats. In fact, my 140 cat estimated population is higher than what the shelter reported holding at the beginning and end of 2018 (this may be due to lower cat intake in colder months). In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility used less than half of its physical cat capacity. Furthermore, the shelter should be able to house another 159 cats in foster homes, which is equal to 7.5% of the 2,126 cats impounded in 2018, at all times based on the performance of well-run no kill animal control shelters. Therefore, Ocean County Animal Facility held less than one third of the number of cats it could keep in its shelters and foster homes. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility quickly killed cats while failing to use ample space to house these animals.

2018 Ocean County Animal Facility Cats Average Length of Stay

Ocean County Animal Facility quick cat kill operation becomes clear when we look at the length of stay distribution of the cats the shelter killed. The shelter killed 6% of the cats it killed during the seven day protection period. Later in the blog, I’ll examine this issue more closely. Incredibly, the shelter killed 615 cats after just 8 days and killed 72% of the cats it killed within 8 days or less. In fact, the shelter killed 94% of the cats it killed within 15 days or less. Amazingly, only 1% of the killed cats had a length of stay in excess of 38 days and no killed cats stayed at the shelter for more than 68 days. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility gave the cats it killed virtually no opportunity to get out of the shelter alive.

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Dogs Killed for Ridiculous Reasons

Ocean County Animal Facility killed unusually large percentages of dogs for various aggression and behavior issues. Overall, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 6.2% of all the dogs it took in for bite history, behavior and aggression. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.1% of the dogs it took in during 2018 for aggression and behavior related reasons. In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility killed dogs for aggression related reasons at 62 times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility erroneously labeled dogs aggressive and did not do enough to rehabilitate those that had some issues.

While some of the dogs with bite histories had serious bites, many others were not. In many cases, the shelter simply killed the dog if the owner reported any kind of bite. Other times, the bite had a well-defined trigger, such as removing the dog’s food or bowl. Most importantly, Ocean County Animal Facility made no effort to rehabilitate any of these dogs and simply killed them.

The shelter also killed too many dogs for medical reasons. During 2018, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 1.5% of all dogs for medical reasons. However, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.6% of all dogs for medical reasons. Therefore, Ocean County Animal Facility killed dogs for medical related reasons at two and half times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility killed treatable dogs.

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Ocean County Animal Facility killed a very high percentage of pit bulls for aggression and related issues. As you can see in the table below, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 11.6% of all the pit bulls it took in for aggression related reasons. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.05% of the pit bulls it took in during 2018 for aggression. Amazingly, Ocean County Animal Facility killed pit bulls for aggression at 232 times the rate as Austin Animal Center in 2018.

To put this into perspective, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 29 of the 131 non-reclaimed pit bulls it took in for aggression. In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility stated 22% or more than 1 in 5 of the pit bulls it had to find new homes for were aggressive.

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Ocean County Animal Facility also killed unusually high percentages of both small dogs and other medium to large dogs for aggression. The shelter killed 2.3% of all small dogs and 6.5% of all other medium to large dogs for aggression related issues. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center euthanized no small dogs and 0.2% of other medium to large dogs it took in during 2018 for aggression and behavior related reasons. Frankly, its shocking Ocean County Animal Facility would kill nine small dogs for aggression since such animals do not pose a serious risk to experienced adult dog owners. Ocean County Animal Facility also killed other medium to large size dogs for aggression related reasons at 33 times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility simply killed dogs with behavior issues rather than treat them.

2018 Ocean County Animal Facility Small Dogs Killed Reasons

2018 Ocean County Animal Facility Other Dogs Killed Reasons

Charlie was 6-7 year old Pekingese surrendered to Northern Ocean County Animal Facility on April 15, 2018. Charlie’s owner stated he surrendered the dog due his wife being ill and Charlie acting protective of the wife when a nurse was around. Additionally, Charlie bit a person’s ankle a year before. However, this is not unusual behavior for many small dogs. The dog’s owner stated Charlie was good with other dogs and lived with cats and birds. In addition, the owner said he could take food and bones away from Charlie and could pick the dog up without issues. While the owner stated Charlie was nervous around kids, the owner also said the dog was adoptable to a home without kids.

Despite Charlie having no serious bite on his record and the owner stating the dog was adoptable to the right home, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility killed Charlie as soon as it could under state law. Specifically, Ocean County Animal Facility killed Charlie after just eight days on April 23, 2018. The shelter’s records indicated it made zero effort to save this dog let alone provide behavioral rehabilitation. Thus, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility simply killed a small dog for having a minor ankle bite on his record.

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Dog ID# S-9422 was a stray adult American bulldog brought to Southern Ocean County Animal Facility on June 6, 2018. After a mere five days at the shelter, when the dog was still adjusting to the stressful environment, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility decided to conduct a behavioral evaluation on this dog. During the evaluation, the shelter noted Dog ID# S-9422 was “very excited”, “jumped up on the window” and “enjoyed being petted.” The evaluation also noted the dog knew the “sit” and “give paw” commands, but needed to walk easier on a leash and could use some training. Despite Southern Ocean County Animal Facility using intrusive tooth examination and “safe hug” tests, which often frighten dogs stressed in shelters, Dog ID# S-9422 passed with flying colors. Finally, the evaluator noted “She is a nice dog” and “she is a very happy dog.”

Despite Dog ID# S-9422 being a wonderful dog, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility killed the dog for having “food aggression.” During the evaluation, the tester struck the dog’s muzzle with a fake hand and the dog had the nerve to snap. When the evaluator moved the fake hand, the dog growled and showed teeth. In reality, the dog acted appropriately since she warned the person antagonizing her before actually biting.

In reality, shelters should never kill dogs for food aggression. A recent scientific study authored by several individuals from the ASPCA concluded shelters should not use food guarding tests at all. Why? Multiple studies indicate food aggression or guarding behavior in a shelter often does not occur in a home. Even when a dog does aggressively defend his or her food in a home, most owners deal with it by leaving the animal alone when he or she eats. Thus, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility needlessly killed “a very happy dog.”

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Finn was a 3 year old golden retriever surrendered by his owner to Southern Ocean County Animal Facility on September 6, 2018 due to a conflict with another dog in the home. While the owner mentioned Finn didn’t get along with the other dog, the owner also stated Finn never got into a fight. The owner also stated Finn was good with their 1-3 year old grandchildren, never bit anyone, was housebroken, walked well on-leash and had good off-leash manners. Furthermore, the owner stated Finn had no problems having his food or bones taken away, did not jump or bark excessively and was fine with having his nails trimmed and being picked up. Finally, the owner stated Finn was adoptable into a home with no other dog.

Despite Finn’s owner clearly stating Finn was a great dog with people, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility killed him as soon as they could under state law. The shelter said Finn was “Not adjusting to the shelter” after he was there a mere eight days. Southern Ocean County Animal Facility provided no records indicating how Finn was “not adjusting to the shelter” let alone any efforts the shelter made to help him adjust. Simply put, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility killed an adoptable golden retriever as soon as it could.

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Shelters Kills Scared and Other Treatable Cats

Due to Ocean County Animal Facility killing so many cats, I selected a sample of the cats it killed (387 of the 944 cats) and obtained the reasons the shelter killed these animals. Additionally, I also reviewed the shelter’s controlled dangerous substance logs, which had various abbreviations for the reasons it killed 626 cats. Since both data sets yielded similar results and the supporting records provided more details, I used the supporting records in the table below.

Ocean County Animal Facility killed huge numbers of cats for being “feral” and various behavior issues. Overall, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 29% of all the cats it took in for being “feral.” If we add cats the shelter killed for “not adjusting”, “aggression”, “behavior”, “bite case”, “bite history” and being “semi-feral”, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 36% of the cats it took in for having behaviors it did not like. As a comparison Austin Animal Center did not kill a single cat in 2018 for being feral, aggressive or having other behaviors. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility needlessly killed more than 1 out of 3 cats and likely around 750 cats in total for nonsensical behavior reasons.

While Ocean County Animal Facility could argue its hands are tied due to local laws not allowing trap-neuter-return and shelter-neuter-return, this arguments holds no water. First, the shelter can force municipalities to change those laws if it refuses to contract with towns that prohibit these programs. Second, most cats initially labeled feral at shelters are not feral. A recent study documented 18% of impounded cats were feral/aggressive, but all these cats became safe enough to adopt out after people gently touched the cats and spoke to them softly for 6 days. Similarly, the TNR group, Tiny Kittens, has adopted out 77% of injured adult feral cats and 65% of pregnant feral cats. As a result, Ocean County Animal Facility can get TNR and SNR implemented and adopt out large percentage of the cats its deeming “feral.”

2018 Ocean County Animal Facility Cats Killed Reasons.jpg

Ocean County Animal Facility killed these “feral” cats as soon as it legally could. As you can see in the following table, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 85% of the “feral” cats it killed in seven or eight days. In fact, the shelter killed 92%, 96% and 98% of these “feral” cats within 9 days, 10 days and 11 days. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility simply labeled scared cats “feral” and killed them right after the seven day protection period.

OCAF Killed Feral Cats LOS.jpg

Cat ID# N8703 was a stray neutered male cat brought into Northern Ocean County Animal Facility on April 5, 2018. According to the shelter’s “Animal Record”, the adult cat was in good condition and had an ear tip. As those familiar with TNR know, an ear tip is a universal sign that someone spent time and money ensuring the cat was neutered, vaccinated and released. In other words, someone did the right thing to ensure Cat ID# N8703 would not breed, spread disease and not be a nuisance (neutering eliminates mating behaviors that frequently cause human conflict). Instead of recognizing the great work this person did, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility labeled Cat ID# N8703 “feral” and killed him as soon as the shelter legally could eight days after he arrived at the shelter.

OCAF -N8703 Cat Killed

Doby and Shadow were 5 month old kittens surrendered to Northern Ocean County Animal Facility on August 31, 2018. The owner found the kittens in their backyard, but could not keep the animals after having them for one month. According to the shelter’s veterinary notes, both cats were “apparently healthy.” The owner described Doby as shy, quiet, mellow, lovable, playful and friendly. Similarly, the owner said Shadow was shy, lovable, playful and quiet. While the owner mentioned Shadow accidentally scratched or bit someone, they said he was scared. Most importantly, the owner stated both cats were adoptable and should go to a quiet home.

Despite Doby and Shadow clearly being adoptable, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility labeled both cats “not adjusting” and killed both cats on September 10, 2018 after the animals spent just 11 days at the shelter. Frankly, what is the chance that both cats were “not adjusting” and could not be helped at the exact same time? Slim to none. This is supported by the shelter not providing any documentation of the animals’ behaviors and anything the shelter did to treat those supposed behavior problems. Instead, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility quickly killed Doby and Shadow for convenience.

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Ocean County Animal Facility Breaks State Law

Ocean County Animal Facility’s euthanasia records, which you can find here and here, do not specify how the shelter killed or euthanized animals. Specifically, the records do not state whether the shelter euthanized/killed each animal by an intravenous (preferred method), intraperitoneal or intracardiac (i.e. heart sticking) injection. Per New Jersey law, N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.11(f)4 and N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13A, shelters must document the method they use to kill animals. According to N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.11(c) shelters can only use intraperitoneal injections on comatose animals and neonatal kittens. Under this method, animals are injected in the abdominal cavity and can take up to 30 minutes to die. Heart sticking, as the name implies, involves stabbing an animal in the heart with Fatal Plus poison and New Jersey shelters can only use this method on heavily sedated, anesthetized or comatose animals. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility’s euthanasia records do not comply with state law and do not indicate whether animals are in fact humanely euthanized in accordance with state law.

Under state law, shelters cannot kill either owner surrendered or stray animals until seven days pass. The purpose of this law is to provide owners a chance to reclaim their lost pets and prevent shelters from immediately killing animals. In practice, the New Jersey Department of Health allows shelters to euthanize animals during this seven day period if facilities meet both of the following 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 rationale in the animal’s medical record

Overall, Ocean County Animal Facility killed two dogs and 55 cats before seven days in 2018. While the cases I reviewed, which were both dogs and a portion of the cats, did not show egregious violations I’ve seen at some other shelters, it seemed clear Ocean County Animal Facility did not do all it could to save many of these animals. For example, the shelter immediately killed a number of very young kittens, but did not seem to make much, if any, effort to get them into foster homes.

Moses was a 5 year old Boston terrier mix surrendered by his owner’s family to Southern Ocean County Animal Facility on January 12, 2018 due to seizures and related behavior problems. According to the shelter’s veterinary paperwork, which was not signed by a veterinarian, Moses had a two year history of having serious seizures. The shelter recommended killing Moses for having “a poor quality of life.” The owner wrote a short letter to the shelter stating they wanted to euthanize Moses due to him “suffering mentally and forgetting who he even is.” Southern Ocean County Animal Facility killed Moses on the day he arrived at the shelter.

While I empathize with the family, Ocean County Animal Facility illegally killed Moses in my humble opinion. The owner’s veterinarian’s records, which were from 10 days and seven days before Moses was surrendered to the shelter, indicated the owner and the veterinarian decreased the dog’s seizure medication dose. When Moses started having more seizures, the veterinarian discussed increasing the seizure medicine dose. Even though I recognize owning a dog with a serious case of epilepsy is a major challenge, it does not rise to the standard of hopelessly suffering. For example, the No Kill Advocacy Center considers epilepsy a treatable condition. At a minimum, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility should have kept Moses alive for the full seven days as required by state law and fully explored all veterinary options instead of killing him on the spot. Thus, I believe Southern Ocean County Animal Facility illegally killed Moses before seven days.

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Ocean County Animal Facility’s “Animal Record” reports, which you can find here and here, indicated the shelter’s veterinarian did not euthanize many of the cats euthanized before seven days. While some of the records indicated the veterinarian approved the decision, some of which were via phone calls, a shelter worker rather than a veterinarian certified the euthanasia of these animals. Therefore, the shelter’s documents indicate the veterinarian did not euthanize these animals who were euthanized before seven days. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility broke state law by not having a veterinarian euthanize these cats even if the animals were in fact hopelessly suffering.

Shelter’s Sham Self-Inspections

Ocean County Health Department conducted the required annual inspections of the two shelters it runs. You can read its 2017-2019 inspection reports of Northern Ocean County Animal Facility here and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility here. Amazingly, Ocean County Health Department spent just 30 minutes and 15 minutes inspecting each shelter in 2017 and 2019 (the inspection reports did not provide this information in 2018). Given the absurdly short inspection times, its not surprising that Ocean County Health Department only wrote a few boilerplate comments in each inspection report. For example, some of these comments were “Facility is operating in a satisfactory condition”, “all dogs and cats housed appear to be responsive and in good health” and “The facility is well kept and clean.” Thus, Ocean County Health Department’s inspections of the shelters it runs were short and not thorough.

Ocean County Health Department did not address specific aspects of state shelter law and the issues I found. Given these two shelters took in 3,104 dogs and cats in 2018, one would think the county health department would evaluate each aspect of state shelter law and comment how the shelter performed. For example, the state health department frequently writes up to a dozen pages of comments in its inspection reports. Perhaps, if Ocean County Health Department spent more than 15-30 minutes conducting inspections, it would have noted the shelter was not documenting how it killed each animal and its violation of the state’s seven day protection period. Instead, Ocean County Health Department gave itself a free pass.

As regular readers know, local health departments typically are incapable of conducting proper inspections of animal shelters due to incompetence and conflicts of interest. Therefore, a state health department inspection would likely find many more significant problems. Thus, Ocean County Health Department’s sham inspections prove the need to mandate a robust state health department inspection process as required by shelter reform bill S725.

Clearly, Ocean County Health Department runs two high kill shelters, kills for convenience and broke state law. In a future blog, I’ll explore the reasons why these shelters are high kill.

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