How Lake County Animal Shelter Became an Elite No Kill Facility

In my last blog, I detailed how Lake County Animal Shelter performed exceptionally well in 2019. Despite meager funding, having an inadequate physical facility and receiving little rescue support, Lake County Animal Shelter attained sky high live release rates, adopted out many dogs and cats and placed its animals quickly. So how did Lake County Animal Shelter accomplish this?

No Kill Learning provided excellent analyses in an August 2017 blog and in a January 2019 documentary film. After a five year shelter reform effort led by advocate Steve Shank, voters elected certain Board of County Commissioners in 2016 that supported no kill. Around this time, Lake County decided to take over the shelter from Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Lake County Sheriff’s Office operated the facility as a traditional kill shelter. During this time and for a period after taking the shelter over, Lake County used Mike Fry from No Kill Learning to help the county make the facility no kill. On January 15, 2017, Lake County took over the shelter and began to operate it as a no kill facility.

While other no kill consultants do good work, No Kill Learning stands out due to his comprehensive approach. No Kill Learning focuses on shelters fully implementing the No Kill Equation. The No Kill Equation, which was created by Nathan Winograd, consists of 11 programs to responsibly reduce the number of animals coming into shelters and increase the number of pets leaving those facilities alive. Additionally, these programs improve animal care while the pets are in shelters. In other words, this approach makes sure shelters run as proper no kill facilities.

Lake County Animal Shelter hired Whitney Boylston as the shelter director in the middle of 2017. Whitney formerly was a teacher and a counselor for pregnant teens. Additionally, she worked in a high volume spay/neuter clinic and assisted in Hurricane Katrina animal rescue efforts during her college years. Also, Whitney previously volunteered with Lake County Animal Shelter when it was a kill shelter and co-founded LEASH Inc in 2015. LEASH Inc focuses on helping Lake County Animal Shelter and other local facilities save lives and provide quality care to their animals. Like many successful no kill shelter directors, Whitney did not work in an animal shelter prior to her hiring.

Whitney clearly fullfills the No Kill Equation’s “Hard-Working, Compassionate Shelter Director” program. As Nathan Winograd states, this “is the most important” No Kill Equation program since the shelter director implements the other ten programs. Based on my conversations with Whitney, I was struck by her commitment to not killing. Specifically, Whitney, who makes all euthanasia decisions and personally euthanizes almost every animal, will only make that call if she would do the same for her personal pet. Additionally, Whitney is very sharp and understands the importance of targeting programs for vulnerable animals, such as the “Wait-til-8” program that keeps vulnerable young kittens out of the shelter until they are older. Similarly, Whitney uses a very data driven approach to make decisions that I rarely see in animal sheltering. Finally, Whitney is very personable, which may be due to her background working with people, that clearly is beneficial to implementing the other No Kill Equation programs that require great people skills. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter has the right person at the top to operate as an elite no kill facility.

Data Reviewed

To understand how Lake County Animal Shelter became so successful, I obtained the shelter’s “Kennel Statistics Report” for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. These reports list the total numbers of animals coming into the shelter and their outcomes. Additionally, these reports break out not just major intake and outcome categories, such as owner surrenders and adoptions, but also list key subcategories. Therefore, its easy to understand a lot about the shelter from just looking at these reports.

In the tables below, I compared the shelter’s outcome results for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. I labeled 2015 and 2016 “Pre-No Kill” and 2017, 2018 and 2019 “No Kill” (technically the facility was a kill shelter for the first 14 days of 2017, but I labeled the year as “No Kill” since the shelter was no kill for the other 351 days). Over the years, the shelter refined and improved its subcategories of intakes and outcomes. Therefore, some changes over the years resulted from data categorization revisions rather than substantive events. As a result, I focused on the real movements in the data and also talked with Whitney Boylston to get a better understanding of the shelter’s performance during these years.

No Kill Culture Ceases Dog Killing

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog death rate data clearly shows the shelter’s no kill culture. While the shelter had modest decreases in the dog and nonreclaimed dog death rates from 2015 to 2016, these death rates dropped like a rock when the shelter went no kill in 2017 and significantly decreased in 2018 and 2019. Given dogs are far more challenging to save when a shelter has a very low death rate, the shelter’s improvements in 2018 and 2019 are extremely impressive.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s rationales for euthanizing animals over the years illustrate this culture change. Once the shelter went no kill in 2017, behavioral euthanasia dropped by 55%. In 2019, behavioral euthanasia dropped significantly more and was 93% lower than in 2016. Similarly, Lake County Animal Shelter’s medical related euthanasia (not counting owner requested euthanasia) significantly dropped after the shelter went no kill and continued to decrease in both 2018 and 2019. Most telling, the shelter euthanized 7.63% of all dogs for owner requested euthanasia in 2016, 0.45% in 2017, 0.00% in 2018 and 0.07% in 2019. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter stopped killing for convenience after the shelter went no kill and continued to raise the lifesaving bar afterwards.

The shelter uses a unique enrichment method to prevent dogs from developing behavior problems at the shelter. Whitney Boylston applied her teaching background to treat the shelter like “pre-school.” Dogs get “story time”, where they listen to an audio book, “music time”,  the “scent of the day”, where different scents are sprayed for the animals to sniff, “snack time”, where they get special treats, “nap time”, where no one enters the kennels during the lunch hour, and most importantly, “playtime.” Playtime consists of dog playgroups, which the shelter got around 75% of the dog population into each day during 2019. The dog playgroup program alleviates stress, particularly for large dogs like pit bulls, and also helps volunteers and shelter staff understand the animals to make good matches with adopters. Therefore, Lake County Animal Shelter put in place the No Kill Equation’s behavior prevention and rehabilitation programs.

The shelter’s no kill culture allows it to save dogs that many other facilities would quickly kill. Lake County Animal Shelter treats every dog as an individual and considers past problems in context. For example, a dog that had bitten once before before due to a specific trigger or an extraordinary circumstance that wouldn’t exist in a different home. The shelter fully discloses the animal’s past history both in a conversation and in writing and counsels the adopter to ensure the adopter can handle the animal. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter works with its community to save lives instead of just automatically killing animals with manageable issues.

Lake County Animal Shelter also made numerous improvements to its veterinary care after it went no kill. The shelter director reallocated her budget to increase veterinary spending by around 50%. Also, the shelter does as much veterinary work in-house as possible to save funds. The shelter also created a parvo ward in a barn on the grounds of the shelter that eliminated parvo deaths. In addition, the shelter’s managed intake program for owner surrenders requires such animals receive vaccinations 2 weeks prior to admission. Finally, the “Wait-til-8” program, which keeps young vulnerable kittens out of the shelter, reduces kitten deaths and the risk of more widespread disease outbreaks. As a result, the shelter fully implemented the No Kill Equation’s medical prevention and rehabilitation programs.

Despite the shelter ending the killing of healthy and treatable dogs, the shelter did not limit dog intake after it went no kill. In the pre-no kill years, Lake County Animal Shelter took in an average of 2,947 dogs each year compared to an average of 3,044 dogs in the no kill years.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s managed intake and pet retention programs ensure the shelter only takes in owned animals requiring re-homing. Under the shelter’s managed intake program, the shelter counsels adopters to help see if the owner can keep the animal or safely re-home the animal on their own. However, the program has proper guardrails around it where the shelter immediately takes in emergency cases and admits animals typically within two to three weeks (i.e. not an endless wait-list that some shelters have). The shelter also provides a list of low cost veterinarians, free food and dog training classes to owners wanting to surrender their animals (adopters also get free dog training classes). Finally, the shelter gives pet food to a human food pantry to ensure pet owners in need are able to feed their animals. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter implemented the No Kill Equation’s pet retention program.

Owner Reclaims and Adoptions Drive Dog Live Release Up

The following table details what outcomes increased Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog live release rate from 2016 to 2019 (note the “Transfer % number in the “Change” column does not compute exactly due to rounding). As the table shows, the shelter sent more dogs to their owners and to new adopters after the facility went no kill. In fact, these live outcomes increased so much they more than made up for rescues pulling significantly fewer dogs.

Innovative Programs Send More Lost Dogs Back to Their Families

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog return to owner improvement is among the best I’ve ever seen. Typically, I see socioeconomic factors drive differences in return to owner rates between shelters. In other words, wealthier people tend to microchip and/or license their dogs and also can afford steep reclaim fees. Since almost all shelters make little effort to find the owners of lost pets, the socioeconomic status of the people in a shelter’s service area generally explain differences in owner reclaim rates. In fact, I only know of two shelters that have had significant success in increasing the percentage of dogs returned to owners. The first, Sacramento, California’s Front Street Animal Shelter, had its dog return to owner percentage of outcomes increase 8% from 2016 to 2019. However, this was less than Lake County Animal Shelter’s 10% improvement over the same period. Additionally, much of Front Street Animal Shelter’s efforts, such as low cost microchips, free license tags and giving pet owners resources to find their pets after the owner text messages the shelter, puts the onus on the pet owner rather than the shelter. Finally, Front Street Animal Shelter’s return to owner rate increased significantly after it received $250,000 from the Petco Foundation in 2018 to fund its text message based lost pets program. While Dallas Animal Services has had an impressive increase in its dog return to owner rate, much of this was due to its animal control officers returning dogs to owners in the field (i.e. without going to the shelter). Since Lake County Animal Shelter does not do field services, returning dogs to owners in the field is not something it can do. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s performance with lost dogs is among the best I’ve ever seen.

Lake County Animal Shelter makes great efforts to return dogs to their owners rather than taking the passive approach most shelters use. First, the shelter does thorough investigations when there is any potential lead on an owner. For example, the shelter may 1) contact microchip companies to find an owner of an animal with an unregistered chip and 2) look on social media for the owner or their relatives when the shelter doesn’t have current owner contact information. Similarly, if someone thinks the dog might belong to someone they only know the first name of, the shelter will search property records in the neighborhood. Additionally, the shelter has volunteer “pet detectives” that look at the shelter’s dog intake records and stray dog photos and match those with lost dog reports in the community (such as on lost pet Facebook pages). Finally, the shelter waives/reduces reclaim fees when the owner has a financial hardship, drives pets to owners homes if needed and allows owners to reclaim their animal before or after normal operating hours. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter actively tries to find pet owners under its “proactive reunification” program.

The shelter also uses several technological solutions to help owners find their animals at the shelter. First, the shelter offers $10 microchips to owners who reclaim their pets. Second, the shelter lists all stray dogs, cats and other animals, including photos, on the stray animals section of its web site. This web site section also contains a link to Finding Rover, which takes a photo of the pet that the owner uploads and matches it against a photo of that animal if its on the shelter’s web site. Third, the stray animals section of the shelter’s web site has a link to pawboost.com, which allows owner of lost pets and finders of lost pets to have the animals automatically posted to the lost and found pet Facebook page in the area. Fourth, people can directly schedule an appointment to reclaim their pet on this part of the web site. Finally, this web site section has a link to the ASPCA’s guide for helping owners find their lost pets. As a result, the shelter gives owners of lost pets great resources to help find their animals.

The following tables show how these programs collectively increased the number of dogs returned to owners and the percentage of dogs returned to owners after the shelter went no kill.

The potential impact of specific return to owner programs are detailed in the following table. The “Microchip” category likely reflects aggressive efforts to find hard to locate owners of pets with microchips as well as the $10 microchips the shelter offers to owners of reclaimed pets. The “Web” category includes people reclaiming their pets through the shelter web site, social media and an app, such as Finding Rover. Therefore, the stray animals web site section as well as the pet detective program likely impact these numbers. The “Adoption” category has return to owners where the shelter reduces the reclaim fee to the shelter’s much lower adoption fee and vets the animal as if it were adopted (i.e. spay/neuter, vaccinations, microchip, ID tag). Finally, the “Field” category reflects dogs that Lake County Sheriff’s animal control officers drove back to their owners. While its difficult to pinpoint the precise impact of every return to owner initiative, its clear these programs collectively increase owner redemptions.

High Powered Dog Adoption Program Drives Lifesaving

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog adoptions skyrocketed after the shelter went no kill. In the no kill initiative’s first year, dog adoptions increased by 46%. By 2018 and 2019, dog adoptions increased 77% and 61% from the 2016 levels. While total dog adoptions decreased from 2018 to 2019, this was primarily due to the shelter taking fewer dogs in during 2019. On a percentage of outcomes basis, dog adoptions increased the dog live release rate by 15%, 20% and 19% in 2017, 2018 and 2019 from the 2016 metric. Thus, dog adoptions played a huge role in making Lake County Animal Shelter no kill.

The shelter does several things to increase adoptions. First, the shelter became much more welcoming to the public and has a “much more positive atmosphere.” Second, the adoption fees are low ($20 for dogs, $10 for cats and those adopting a second cat pay no fee). Additionally, the shelter places great efforts in offering an excellent adoption counseling experience. As part of that experience, the shelter and its volunteers get to know the animals well and make great matches between pets and people. Even with the shelter adopting out far more challenging animals than most facilities, Lake County Animal Shelter had a normal dog adoption return rate of 9% and an extremely low cat adoption return rate of 3%. Additionally, the shelter takes very engaging photos of their pets, and shares them on active and creative Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages as well as Petfinder and Adopt a Pet. Finally, the shelter gives adopters a chance to adopt animals for 24 hours before a rescue can take the pet. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter aggressively markets their pets and offers great customer services to adopters when they visit the shelter.

Lake County Animal Shelter also does not include breed labels on its cage cards. A peer reviewed study, which you can find here, found breed labels, particularly for pit bull like dogs, prolonged length of stay and reduced the adoption chances of these animals. While the shelter does include breed labels in the adoption paperwork an adopter receives, leaving the breed label off the cage card allows an adopter to fall in love with a dog without being negatively biased by breed. Thus, removing breed labels from cage cards helps the shelter adopt out dogs, particularly its pit bulls.

No Kill Equation programs that get animals out of the facility also assist Lake County Animal Shelter’s adoption efforts. The shelter’s very large foster program, which I discussed in my last blog, 1) allows potential adopters too see if animals are a good fit (i.e. trial adoptions), 2) gives animals, particularly longer stay dogs, a break from shelter stress and 3) gets young kittens that are vulnerable to disease out of the shelter. Lake County Animal Shelter makes it easy to foster by allowing people to apply online and also notifying individuals when animals are available for fostering. The “Wait-til-8” program has a similar effect of keeping young vulnerable kittens out of the shelter until they are older and highly adoptable. Thus, the shelter is able to help many vulnerable animals, whether its due to behavioral issues or susceptibility to disease, get/stay out of the facility or become placeable until people can adopt these animals.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s volunteer, managed intake and medical and behavior rehabilitation programs also help the shelter adopt out animals many other facilities would kill. As described above, these programs make the animals healthier and more adoptable.

The shelter’s excellent public relations and community involvement engages the public to adopt and help save lives. The shelter routinely appears on media, such as radio shows. In one great example, Whitney Boylston did a short video for a local newspaper talking about the shelter’s success and asking the public to adopt after the facility received an influx of animals. Another example is where the shelter talked with a local newspaper to ask the public to watch movies and eat popcorn with shelter cats (i.e. reduces stress to make cats less susceptible to disease and helps the cats become more socialized to make the animals more adoptable). In another example, the shelter teamed up with local firefighters on a local news channel to promote an adoption event. Similarly, the shelter’s Facebook page used creative videos to engage the community to foster, adopt pets that get delivered on Christmas under the Santa Paws program and adopt dogs from play groups. Additionally, Whitney Boylston reached out to the fire department for them to help build cat portals, which reduce shelter stress and risk of illness and help shelters adopt cats out quicker. Thus, the shelter’s strong outreach to the community significantly aids its adoption efforts.

The following table details the dog adoption subcategories from 2015 to 2019. While some of the groupings changed over the years, we can glean some interesting information. Over the years, the Pend HW TX adoptions, which is where the shelter adopts out a heartworm positive dog and the adopter must schedule a heartworm visit (the shelter tracks to see if treated or not), increased. The Pre program, which is where up to three people sign up to adopt a dog during the stray/hold period if the owner does not reclaim the animal, resulted in many adoptions after the shelter started the initiative in the last couple of years. Also, dogs adopted out of foster homes increased a lot in recent years likely due to the shelter’s large foster program. Finally, offsite adoptions, which take place at a local PetSmart, increased after the the shelter started the initiative in 2017.

Rescue Efforts Focused on Most Vulnerable Animals

While “rescue partnerships” are a key No Kill Equation program, shelters need to put parameters around them. Certainly, high kill shelters should allow rescues to pull any animal. On the other hand, no kill shelters only need rescues to pull the most vulnerable animals that the shelters cannot save or would have great difficulty doing so. Therefore, no kill shelters should institute policies to encourage rescues to save the most vulnerable pets, whether those animals are at the facility or at other shelters.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s policies and performance encourage rescues to save the most vulnerable pets. As mentioned above, Lake County Animal Shelter gives adopters a chance to adopt animals for 24 hours before a rescue can take the pet and also lets adopters reserve animals during the stray/hold period. These policies ensure rescues only pull animals that wouldn’t otherwise be quickly adopted out. Finally, Lake County Animal Shelter’s high live release rates encourages rescues to pull from other shelters that kill many animals.

The tables below show rescues pulling fewer dogs in total and on a percentage of outcomes basis after the shelter went no kill. In other words, Lake County Animal Shelter significantly increased its dog live release rate despite receiving less rescue assistance.

The dog transfers subcategories show rescues primarily pull vulnerable animals. Specifically, rescues mostly pulled dogs for medical and behavior reasons and nursing puppies and their mothers.

No Kill Cat Culture 

As I mentioned in my last blog, one can calculate the cat live release by including or excluding cats brought to the shelter and returned to caregivers under the Operation Caturday program. Under the “Operation Caturday” program, Lake County Animal Shelter neuters and vaccinates “unowned” and “free-roaming” cats and frequently returns the animals to caregivers or the locations where the cats were found without identified caregivers. In order to make an apples to apples comparison to prior years and present conservative figures, I excluded 226 cats (211 adults and 15 kittens) in 2018 and 636 cats (587 adults and 49 kittens) in 2019 from the outcomes in the tables below.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat death rates massively decreased after the shelter went no kill. As the tables below show, the shelter’s cat death rate dropped from 44% just before the facility went no kill to just 9% in 2019. When we look at just adult cats, 51% of cats lost their lives in 2016 and under 10% lost their lives in 2019. Similarly, the kitten death rate decreased from 35% to 9% from 2016 to 2019.

The shelter’s decision to stop killing cats for behavior, such as being feral, significantly helped cats. Just prior to the shelter going no kill in 2016, Lake County Animal Shelter killed 25% of cats, 37% of adult cats and even 10% of kittens for behavior. In both 2018 and 2019, the shelter did not kill a single cat for behavioral reasons.

Lake County Animal Shelter also significantly decreased its killing/euthanasia of cats for medical related reasons. Overall, the shelter killed/euthanized 10-12% of cats for health reasons before it went no kill and only euthanized 4% of cats for medical reasons in 2018 and 2019. While the shelter euthanized significantly fewer adult cats for medical reasons after it went no kill, the drop in kitten killing/euthanasia from 13%-14% before the shelter went no kill to just 3% in 2018 and 2019 is notable. Most impressively, the shelter stopped taking in healthy strays after it went no kill. Therefore, the shelter took in a greater percentage of more challenging cats after it implemented the no kill policies. Clearly, the shelter’s veterinary care improved and the shelter’s commitment to not killing treatable animals became strong. Additionally, the “Wait-til-8” program that keeps vulnerable young kittens out of the shelter until they are older also likely contributed to the decreased kitten euthanasia for medical reasons in 2018 and 2019.

The shelter’s data on cats who died or went missing also shows the no kill effort’s success. Often, shelters going no kill will have a somewhat high number of cats dying due to the shelter making efforts to save animals that traditional shelters kill. Despite Lake County Animal Shelter going no kill, cats who died or went missing did not increase. In fact, the percentage kittens that died or went missing substantially decreased from 2016 to 2019. The “Wait-til-8” program almost certainly contributed to this.

As with dogs, the shelter stopped killing cats under the guise of “owner requested euthanasia” after it went no kill.

Despite Lake County Animal Shelter saving so many more cats, it did not reduce the number of cats going through its doors. While actual cat intake (which excludes 226 cats in 2018 and 636 cats in 2019 brought to the shelter and returned to caregivers) slightly decreased after Lake County Animal Shelter went no kill, the total number of cats the shelter impounded or helped through Operation Caturday was similar before and after Lake County Animal Shelter went no kill.

When we look at the cat intake numbers more closely, we see Lake County Animal Shelter took in more cats that needed sheltering. As the table below shows, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded significantly more owner surrendered cats after the shelter went no kill. When the public views a shelter as a safe place, those individuals are more likely to be willing to surrender their animals when they can’t care for them. On the other hand, stray cat intake, and especially feral cat and over the counter cat intake, significantly decreased. Shelters should not take in healthy stray cats who are not in danger since such cats 1) clearly are receiving good care in the community, 2) are far more likely to find their way home and 3) often experience stress and disease risk in even the best shelters. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter took in more cats that needed sheltering after it went no kill.

The cat intake data also shows how the Operation Caturday program saves lives. Based on my discussions with Whitney Boylston, the shelter often is able to redirect stray cats brought to the shelter by the public (i.e. “Stray OTC”) to Operation Caturday where the shelter sterilizes, vaccinates and returns the cats to their outdoor homes. When we examine the stray OTC data over the years, the decrease is almost entirely offset by the increase in the number of cats neutered, vaccinated and returned under the Operation Caturday program. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter is redirecting its resources to save cats now and in the future by investing in its community cat sterilization program.

Adoption and Return to Field Programs Save Cats 

The following table details what outcomes increased Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat live release rate from 2016 to 2019 (note some numbers in the “Change” column do not compute exactly due to rounding). As the table shows, the shelter adopted out many more cats and also released more cats to outdoor homes after the facility went no kill. While cats returned to owners did not increase, adult cats, which are likely harder for owners to find, did get returned to owners more often possibly due to the shelter’s lost pet reunification efforts discussed above. As with dogs, these live outcomes increased so much they more than made up for rescues pulling significantly fewer cats.

Cat Sterilization Program Saves Cats at and Outside of the Shelter

Lake County Animal Shelter’s return to field data shows this program saved significant numbers of cats. After the shelter went no kill, it started sterilizing, vaccinating and returning cats to their outdoor homes. In 2018, Lake County Animal Shelter created Operation Caturday and significantly increased the scale of this program. Under Operation Caturday, the public pays just $10 for the spay/neuter and vaccination services. As the tables below show, Operation Caturday had a significant impact on the adult cat live release rate.

The shelter also sterilized many additional cats through the Operation Caturday program. As mentioned above, I excluded cats brought by the public to the shelter for spay/neuter and vaccination services under this program. While these cats do not impact the shelter’s live release rate, these services do the following:

  1. Help limit future cat intake by reducing kitten births
  2. Significantly reduce outdoor kitten deaths, due to large percentages of newborn kittens typically dying outdoors, as a major study showed

If we counted these cats in the shelter’s outcomes, 19% of all cats and 32% of adult cats served by the shelter went through this program. When we add the cats returned to field counted in the statistics above, 22% of all cats and 38% of adult cats served by the shelter went back to their outdoor home spayed/neutered and vaccinated. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter implemented the No Kill Equation’s “High Volume, Low Cost Sterilization” and “Community Cat/Dog Sterilization” programs to help control cat intake at the shelter and reduce kitten deaths on the streets.

Cat Adoptions Dramatically Increase After Shelter Goes No Kill

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat adoption data shows the shelter’s transformation after it went no kill. After going no kill, the shelter doubled its cat adoptions in total and more than doubled them on a percentage of outcomes basis. In fact, Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat adoptions have steadily increased on a percentage of outcomes basis in the years after the facility went no kill. As described above in the dog adoptions section, many initiatives increased cat adoptions.

The shelter’s adoption subcategories reveal the success of certain No Kill Equation programs. After Lake County Animal Shelter went no kill, the shelter reported many cats adopted from foster homes. While the shelter previously didn’t have this subcategory, the significant growth in the foster program certain contributed to these numbers. Additionally, the Pre program, which is where up to three people sign up to adopt a cat during the stray/hold period if the owner does not reclaim the animal, resulted in many adoptions after the shelter started the initiative. Also, the shelter adopted out working or barn cats after it went no kill. While these adoptions did decrease after 2017, this may be due to the shelter returning more sterilized cats to the community through the Operation Caturday program. Finally, offsite adoptions, which take place at a local PetSmart, increased after the the shelter started the initiative in 2017.

Rescues Take Cats Most Needing Help

Lake County Animal Shelter’s transfers data in the following tables show the shelter relying far less on rescues after it went no kill. While the adult cats transferred decreased significantly, the number of kittens transferred decreased much more. This is due to Lake County Animal Shelter adopting out more kittens as well as the shelter’s “Wait-til-8” program keeping vulnerable kittens out of the shelter.

As the tables below show, rescues primarily pulled cats with medical issues, cats who stayed at the shelter a long time and kittens that are typically vulnerable to disease in a shelter. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter allowed rescues to focus on the cats most needing help.

Comprehensive Implementation of the No Kill Equation Makes Lake County Animal Shelter an Elite Facility

At the end of the day, Lake County Animal Shelter succeeds since it comprehensively implements the No Kill Equation. As the following table shows, Lake County Animal Shelter fully implemented the No Kill Equation. These programs responsibly reduce animal intake, improve animal care, increase live animal outcomes and generate community support to do so in a fiscally responsible manner. Simply put, Lake County Animal Shelter does what it takes to save lives and is a role model for all shelters to follow.

Florida’s Fantastic Animal Shelter

Lake County Animal Shelter is a large animal control facility in central Florida. The shelter takes significantly more animals in than the largest animal control facility in New Jersey. On a per capita basis, Lake County Animal Shelter impounds more than twice as many animals than New Jersey animal shelters take in from within the state.

Lake County went no kill on January 15, 2017. Before this time, Lake County Sheriff’s Office ran the facility as a traditional kill shelter. After a long shelter reform effort, Lake County (i.e. Lake County Animal Services) took over the shelter on January 15, 2017. Prior to taking the shelter over and for a period of time after, Lake County hired No Kill Learning to ensure the shelter properly operated as a no kill facility. No Kill Learning’s documentary video tells this moving story in greater detail. You can watch that video here.

What kind of job did Lake County Animal Shelter do in 2019? How does Lake County Animal Shelter compare to traditional shelters?

Data Reviewed

To better understand Lake County Animal Shelter’s performance, I obtained detailed shelter intake and disposition records. Intake and disposition records list each individual animal the shelter took in and their outcome. I used the 2019 records to conduct the analyses below. Additionally, I used the 2018 report to calculate the length of stay for some animals that came in during 2018, but had an outcome in 2019. You can find the 2019 report here and the 2018 report here. Also, you can find a summary of the 2019 statistics here.

In order to see if the shelter did not count any animals it euthanized/killed, I also reviewed additional documents. Specifically, I checked the shelter’s Controlled Substance Logs for euthanasia drugs and outside veterinarian bills. These documents indicated the shelter did not euthanize/kill any animals “off the books.”

Finally, I obtained Lake County Animal Shelter’s 2019 fiscal year budget and 2020 fiscal year budget as well as Lake County Sheriff’s 2019 fiscal year budget for animal control and the same budget for 2020 fiscal year. I compared this data, which covered the 2019 calendar year, to financial information from other shelters below.

Amazing Live Release Rates

Lake County Animal Shelter saved virtually every dog that arrived in 2019. Overall, only 1.1% of all dogs, 2.1% of pit bull like dogs, 0.5% of small dogs and 0.7% of other medium to large size dogs lost their lives or went missing at the shelter. In other words, Lake County Animal Shelter saved approximately 99% of all dogs, 98% of pit bull like dogs, 99% of small dogs and 99% of other medium to large size dogs. Even if we only look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, only 1.5% of all dogs, 3.1% of pit bulls, 0.8% of small dogs and 1.1% of other medium to large size breeds lost their lives or went missing in 2019. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter saved almost every dog it took in last year.

To better reflect Lake County Animal Shelter’s pit bull statistics, I included American bulldogs in the pit bull data. Typically, I only include traditional “pit bull” like breeds, such as American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and bull terriers. In the shelters I’ve reviewed, the facilities took few American bulldogs in. However, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded large numbers of American bulldogs during 2019 as the following table shows. Furthermore, the American bulldog statistics, which were excellent, were not quite as good as the traditional pit bull data. Thus, I included American bulldogs to provide a more clear picture of Lake County Animal Shelter’s pit bull performance.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s pit bull numbers are especially noteworthy. Despite taking in 811 pit bull like dogs in 2019, Lake County Animal Shelter saved 98% of these animals. On a per capita basis, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded 2.2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in 2019 compared to my estimate of New Jersey animal shelters taking in just 0.9 pit bulls per 1,000 people from the state in 2018. In other words, Lake County Animal Shelter saved 98% of its pit bull like dogs even though it took in around two and a half times as many of these dogs on a per capita basis as New Jersey animal shelters. Similarly, Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out 1.3 pit bulls per 1,000 people compared to the 0.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out to achieve a 95% dog live release rate. As a result, Lake County Animal Shelter’s results prove New Jersey animal shelters can do a far better job with their pit bull like dogs.

Lake County Animal Shelter also had excellent cat numbers. Overall, only 7.3% of all cats, 5.9% of 1 year old plus cats and 9.1% of kittens under 1 year old lost their lives at Lake County Animal Shelter in 2019. Even if we exclude cats who were reclaimed by owners and placed through the return to field program, only 9.7% of all cats, 9.4% of 1 year old plus cats and 9.9% of kittens under 1 year old lost their lives in 2019. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter saved almost all their cats of various ages.

My analysis did not differentiate between older (6 weeks to just under 1 year) and younger (under 6 weeks) kittens due to Lake County Animal Shelter’s innovative “Wait-til-8” program. Under this program, the shelter asks the public to care for kittens until they reach 8 weeks of age. Since young kittens are highly vulnerable to disease in a shelter, especially one with a poor physical design like Lake County Animal Shelter, this makes sense. The shelter provides wellness services every two to three weeks where the shelter weighs the kittens, deworms them and gives vaccinations. Additionally, Lake County Animal Shelter gives the people supplies, such as food, litter and kitten milk replacements. When the kittens reach 8 weeks, the shelter takes them in. Since Lake County Animal Shelter does not impound these animals until they are older than 6 weeks, these under 6 weeks old kittens are not counted in its statistics. Therefore, the shelter only takes a small number of under 6 weeks old kittens that are typically much more difficult animals. As a result, breaking out under 6 weeks old kittens would not provide useful information and would create a misleading picture when comparing to other shelters.

One can view the shelter’s cat sterilization program in different ways when calculating the cat death rates. Under the “Operation Caturday” program, Lake County Animal Shelter neuters and vaccinates “unowned” and “free-roaming” cats and frequently returns the animals to caregivers or the locations where the cats were found without identified caregivers. Per my discussion with shelter director, Whitney Boylston, the shelter impounds these cats and can place some animals through other programs, such as return to owner or adoptions. Therefore, one can make the argument the shelter should include these animals in its statistics based on the Shelter Animals Count data reporting guidelines that state such cats are included if the animals are “admitted for sheltering” and not “only for a service or services (sterilization and/or vaccination).” On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of Operation Caturday cats are brought in by a caregiver and returned to that caregiver (i.e. shelter operates like a clinic assisting TNR efforts and should not count these cats in its statistics).

To provide full transparency, I calculated alternative death rates using two methods to exclude these animals. Under the first method, I reduced returned to field and total outcomes by the 636 cats brought to the shelter by the public under Operation Caturday. The second death rate calculation decreased returned to field and total outcomes by the 678 cats returned to caregivers. This calculation is more punitive and likely overstates the cat death rate since stray cats may be returned to caregivers (i.e. these should always count in the statistics). Even with the more conservative cat death rate calculations, the shelter still had no kill level cat statistics.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s statistics are more impressive given the physical facility is poor and the shelter receives little rescue assistance. As No Kill Learning noted in its March 2017 progress report on Lake County Animal Shelter, the physical shelter presents significant issues relating to disease management and animal behavior. In other words, the physical facility makes it difficult to save large dogs with behavior issues and cats who have medical problems or are vulnerable if they become sick. Additionally, rescues pull few animals from Lake County Animal Shelter (10% of dogs and 4% of cats). While rescues pulling few pets due to Lake County Animal Shelter taking care of business is great news (i.e. rescues can pull animals in danger at kill shelters), it presents a challenge to achieve very high live release rates/low death rates. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s performance is remarkable given these challenges.

Animals Quickly Leave Shelter Alive

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dogs quickly left the shelter. Overall, all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size dogs left the shelter in 19.2 days, 29.0 days, 7.3 days and 20.2 days. Additionally, Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size dogs in just 30.0 days, 43.9 days, 10.3 days and 31.4 days. Given this shelter’s extremely high dog live release rate and it transferring few dogs to rescues (i.e. Lake County Animal Shelter adopts out more challenging dogs than most shelters), these short adoption length of stay figures are impressive.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s length of stay data also reveals the shelter makes strong efforts to save all dogs. Overall, the shelter euthanized all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size dogs in 31.4 days, 40.1 days, 44.7 days and 17.9 days. As a comparison, Animal Care Centers of NYC killed all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs in just 3.6 days, 6.0 days, 3.9 days and 0.9 days in 2018. Clearly, Lake County Animal Shelter makes significant efforts to save the small number of dogs it euthanizes instead of just quickly killing such animals.

The shelter’s pit bull length of data looks better without including American bulldogs. As the table below shows, American bulldogs stayed at the shelter longer than the traditional pit bull breeds. If we only look at traditional pit bull breeds, these dogs had an overall average length of stay of just 22.6 days and were adopted out in 36.3 days. Thus, the pit bull length of stay data would look better if I did not include American bulldogs.

Almost all Lake County Animal Shelter dogs left the shelter quickly. The following table shows the distribution of the dog lengths of stay. Remarkably, 69% and 80% of dogs left the shelter within 10 days and 19 days. In fact, 96% of all dogs left the shelter within 96 days. Simply put, substantially all dogs left the shelter within three months or so. While a very small number of dogs did stay a lot longer, this is normal at high performing no kill shelters that strive to save rather than take lives. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter achieved no kill by quickly placing almost all of its dogs.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cats also quickly left the facility alive. Overall, all cats, 1 year old and older cats and kittens less than 1 year old left the shelter in 23.6 days, 19.7 days and 28.5 days. Additionally, Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out all cats, 1 year and older cats and kittens less than 1 year old in just 33.3 days, 33.6 days and 33.1 days. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter achieved a high cat live release rate by quickly placing these animals.

While the shelter euthanized cats quicker than dogs, this make sense. Since the shelter euthanized cats for severe medical reasons rather than for behavior, cats should be euthanized quicker. Additionally, injured cats, such as those hit by cars, often have a much more dire outcome than dogs.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s overall cat length of stay was still short even if we exclude cats returned to caregivers. If we exclude these cats, the overall average length of stay was 29.2 days, 27.9 days and 30.6 days for all cats, 1 year old and older cats and kittens less than 1 year old. Similarly, these figures would only rise to 29.6 days, 28.4 days and 30.7 days for all cats, 1 year old and older cats and kittens less than 1 year old if we exclude all cats returned to field (i.e. with or without an identified caregiver). Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s cats quickly left the shelter alive even without its return to field program.

Substantially all Lake County Animal Shelter cats left the facility quickly. The following table shows the distribution of the cat lengths of stay. 57% and 70% of cats left the shelter within 13 days and 32 days. In fact, 96% of all cats left the shelter within 89 days. As with dogs, a small number of cats did stay substantially longer, but this is normal at a high performing no kill shelter that strives to save virtually every animal. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter achieved no kill by quickly finding live outcomes for substantially all of its cats.

Lake County Animal Shelter Only Euthanizes Dogs for Legitimate Reasons

Lake County Animal Shelter limits behavioral euthanasia to truly aggressive dogs. As you can see in the following table listing the reasons Lake County Animal Shelter used to euthanize dogs in 2019, the shelter only euthanized 0.40% of all dogs for behavioral related reasons (i.e. severe behavior issue, court order and dangerous). Remarkably, Lake County Animal Shelter meets the No Kill Advocacy Center behavioral euthanasia target (i.e. under 1%) that even many no kill shelters claim is too lofty. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter limited behavioral euthanasia to truly aggressive dogs.

Similarly, Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized hopelessly suffering dogs for medical reasons. As the table below shows, the shelter euthanized just 0.41% of dogs for medical issues (i.e. severe illness, severe injury and owner requested).

The shelter also limited behavioral euthanasia for pit bull like dogs to truly aggressive animals. Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized 0.86% of all pit bulls for aggression, behavior and court order reasons. Lake County Animal Shelter also met the No Kill Advocacy Center all dogs behavioral euthanasia target (i.e. under 1%) for supposedly difficult to save pit bulls. As with all dogs, Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized a very small number of all pit bulls for medical reasons (0.49%).

Lake County Animal Shelter’s separate traditional pit bull and American bulldog data shows the same pattern. The shelter only euthanized 0.95% of traditional pit bull breeds and 0.70% of American bulldogs for behavioral reasons. Similarly, the shelter only euthanized 0.57% of traditional pit bull breeds and 0.35% of American bulldogs for medical reasons.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s reasons for euthanizing small dogs showed it only euthanized hopelessly suffering animals. The shelter euthanized no small dogs for aggression and other behavioral reasons. Given small dogs do not pose a serious danger to adult people who are dog savvy, this is exactly what we should see at every shelter. As the table below shows, the shelter only euthanized 0.39% of small dogs for severe medical reasons.

The shelter also only euthanized other medium to large size dogs for legitimate reasons. Lake County Animal Shelter only euthanized 0.37% of other medium to large size dogs for behavioral related reasons. The rest of the other medium to large size dogs were euthanized for severe medical problems (0.36% of other medium to large size dogs).

Lake County Animal Shelter Limits Cat Euthanasia to Severe Medical Issues

The table below lists the reasons Lake County Animal Shelter used to euthanize cats in 2019. As you can see, the shelter only euthanized cats for severe medical reasons (i.e. severe illness, severe injury and rabies test). Most impressively, Lake County Animal Shelter did not kill a single cat for behavior or aggression. Given shelters should never kill cats for aggression or behavioral reasons, this is an incredible achievement since 3,376 cats had outcomes (2,740 cats excluding the 636 Operation Caturday animals) at Lake County Animal Shelter in 2019.

Lake County Animal Shelter also euthanized almost no cats for rabies risk. As Hound Manor mentioned in its blog, few animals killed for rabies testing end up having the disease. The shelter killed just one cat to test for rabies. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter did not needlessly kill cats to test for rabies.

Finally, Lake County Animal Shelter’s small number of cats euthanized for medical reasons indicates the shelter limited this to hopelessly suffering animals. The shelter only euthanized 3.17% of all cats for medical reasons. Even if we exclude the 636 cats the public brought to the shelter under Operation Caturday, this figure only rises to 3.91%. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center euthanized 2.75% of all cats for medical reasons in 2018 even with Austin Pets Alive pulling significant numbers of cats with serious medical issues (some of these probably were euthanized by Austin Pets Alive or died). Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s data indicates it limited cat euthanasia to hopelessly suffering animals.

Lake County Animal Shelter Uses Many Foster Homes

Lake County Animal Shelter sent 349 dogs, 79 cats and 721 kittens to foster homes in 2019. Overall, 12% of all impounded dogs went to a foster home after arriving at Lake County Animal Shelter. Similarly, the shelter sent 25% of all cats and 31% of all cats excluding cats brought to the shelter by the public under Operation Caturday to foster homes. In particular, the shelter sent 48% of all kittens to foster homes. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter sent large numbers of dogs and cats to foster homes in 2019.

Significant numbers of dogs went to foster homes for “shelter break sleepovers” and many nursing and underage kittens also went to foster homes. As you can see in the table below, Lake County Animal Shelter sent 336 adult dogs to foster homes under its “shelter break sleepovers” program. Per a 2018 interview with shelter director, Whitney Boylston, the shelter uses this program to 1) allow potential adopters too see if animals are a good fit (i.e. trial adoptions) and 2) to give animals, particularly longer stay dogs, a break from shelter stress. Similarly, Lake County Animal Shelter sent 98 nursing kittens and 584 underage/underweight kittens to foster homes. In other words, the foster program served as a mechanism to save the most vulnerable animals (i.e. young/unhealthy kittens and dogs experiencing shelter stress) and to facilitate adoptions. Thus, the foster program played a significant role in allowing the shelter to achieve high live release and adoption rates.

Lake County Animal Shelter Greatly Outperforms New York and New Jersey Animal Shelters

The tables below compare Lake County Animal Shelter to several New York and New Jersey animal shelters. In the table, I presented Lake County Animal Shelter’s data with and without the 636 cats the public brought to the shelter under Operation Caturday. The New York and New Jersey shelters’ data come from my most recent detailed analyses published last year. The shelters and my prior blogs are as follows:

  1. 2018 Franklin Township Animal Shelter: Blog 1 and Blog 2
  2. 2018 Bergen County Animal Shelter
  3. 2018 Animal Care Centers of NYC (NY ACC)
  4. 2018 Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility (Ocean County Animal Facility)

The tables’ key metrics fall into the following broad categories:

  • Animal intake: This measures the difficulty a shelter has to handle its animals. For shelters taking a significant number of pets in, the per capita data (expressed here as per 1,000 people in the shelter’s service area) is more relevant since it indicates how many people can help the shelter through donating, volunteering and adopting animals (i.e. higher numbers indicate the shelter has a more difficult job).
  • Total revenue per animal: This metric measures how much money the shelter has to save each animal. Shelters with lower amounts face more challenges. Lake County Sheriff’s Office’s animal control field services budget was added to Lake County Animal Shelter’s total revenue in the first table to properly compare it with the shelters having field services. The adjusted revenue per dog and cat figures exclude the 636 cats brought to Lake County Animal Shelter by the public under Operation Caturday. For Bergen County Animal Shelter, I included the cats going through its TNR program in the total revenue per dog and cat figure and excluded these animals in the adjusted amount (these cats were not counted as impounded in the shelter’s software report and therefore are excluded from the dog and cat intake figures).
  • Rescue %: This metric indicates how much rescue support a shelter receives. For no kill shelters, low numbers often indicate rescues choosing to save animals at more risk elsewhere. At high kill shelters, low figures frequently are due to shelters not reaching out to rescues and/or having poor relationships with them.
  • Death rates and reasons for killing: These metrics show how well a shelter avoids killing animals or not.
  • Per capita adoption rates: These metrics indicate how well a shelter adopts out animals.

Lake County Animal Shelter Faces Greater Challenges

Lake County Animal Shelter faced a more difficult situation with animal intake. Overall, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded two to ten times (two to nine times without the 636 Operation Caturday cats) as many dogs and cats in total than the New Jersey animal shelters. While NY ACC took many more animals in, this shelter serves a far larger human population. On a per capita basis, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded 6 times (5 times without the 636 Operation Caturday cats), 4 times, 2 times and 3 times as many dogs and cats as NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility. Thus, Lake County Animal had a much greater animal volume challenge than the New York and New Jersey shelters.

The New York and New Jersey animal shelters also received far more funding per animal than Lake County Animal Shelter. NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility received 2.2 times, 1.3 times, 1.5 times and 3.3 times the funding per dog and cat. When we exclude Lake County Animal Shelter’s 636 cats brought into Lake County Animal Shelter by the public under Operation Caturday and the many cats going through Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program, NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility received 2.0 times, 2.3 times, 1.4 times and 2.9 times the funding per animal. Furthermore, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded a much greater percentage of dogs which cost much more to care for. Dogs made up 47% of Lake County Animal Shelter’s intake compared to 36% at NY ACC, 14% at Bergen County Animal Shelter, 32% at Franklin Township Animal Shelter and 32% at Ocean County Animal Facility. When we exclude the cats brought in by the public to Lake County Animal Shelter under Operation Caturday and the many cats going through Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program, dogs made up 53% of intake at Lake County Animal Shelter and 27% at Bergen County Animal Shelter. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter was massively underfunded compared to the New York and New Jersey animal shelters.

Lake County Animal Shelter also did not get unusually large rescue support compared to the other shelters. While Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Bergen County Animal Shelter (dogs only) got less rescue support, its likely due to these high kill shelters’ dysfunctional policies and processes. On the other hand, NY ACC sent 3 times and 16 times (13 times without the 636 Operation Caturday cats) the percentage of dogs and cats to rescues and other shelters than Lake County Animal Shelter. Similarly, Ocean County Animal Facility transferred slightly more dogs and pit bulls and 6 times (5 times without the 636 Operation Caturday cats) as many cats to rescues and other shelters than Lake County Animal Shelter. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s success was not due to rescues providing unusually large levels of support.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s No Kill Culture 

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog death rates were shockingly lower than the other shelters. NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility had dog death rates 20 times, 9 times, 10 times and 8 times higher than those at Lake County Animal Shelter. Similarly, nonreclaimed dog death rates were 16 times, 11 times, 17 times and 11 times higher at NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility compared to Lake County Animal Shelter.

Pit bulls lost their lives at much lower rates at Lake County Animal Shelter. Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility had pit bull death rates 11 times, 10 times and 7 times higher than those at Lake County Animal Shelter. Nonreclaimed pit bull death rates were 11 times, 18 times and 9 times higher at Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility compared to Lake County Animal Shelter. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter did a massively better job with its pit bulls.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat death rates were like night and day compared to the other shelters. NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility had cat death rates 1.6 times, 4 times, 6 times and 7 times higher than those at Lake County Animal Shelter. Even when excluding the 636 Operation Caturday cats, NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility had cat death rates 1.3 times, 3 times, 5 times and 5 times higher than those at Lake County Animal Shelter. Similarly, nonreclaimed cat death rates were 1.2 times, 4 times, 5 times and 5 times higher at NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility compared to Lake County Animal Shelter. As a result, Lake County Animal Shelter performed far better at saving its cats.

The New York and New Jersey animal shelters killed much greater percentages of dogs for behavior and medical related reasons. NY ACC, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility killed dogs for behavior at 16 times, 10 times and 16 times Lake County Animal Shelter’s rate. Similarly, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility killed pit bulls for behavior at 18 times and 15 times Lake County Animal Shelter’s rate. NY ACC, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility killed dogs for medical reasons at 33 times, 11 times and 4 times Lake County Animal Shelter’s rate. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter operated with a commitment to not killing while the other shelters frequently used excuses to kill.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s lifesaving ethic also stood out when examining why the other shelters killed cats. While Lake County Animal Shelter did not kill a single one of the 3,376 cats who had outcomes (2,740 cats without the 636 Operation Caturday cats) for behavior in 2019, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility killed an astonishing 18% and 36% of their cats for behavior in 2018. Similarly, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility killed cats for medical reasons at 1.7 times (1.3 times without the 636 Operation Caturday cats) and 2.6 times (2.1 times without the 636 Operation Caturday cats) Lake County Animal Shelter’s rate.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s Adoption Program Stands Apart

Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out far more dogs on a per capita basis than the New York and New Jersey animal shelters. Overall, Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out 15 times, 10 times, 7 times and 9 times as many dogs per 1,000 people as NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility. Furthermore, Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out 13 times, 15 times and 10 times as many pit bulls per 1,000 people as Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility. Lake County Animal Shelter also adopted out 19 times more large and medium size dogs per 1,000 people than NY ACC. Simply put, Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog adoption program blew the other shelters’ adoption programs out of the water.

The New York and New Jersey animal shelters’ cat adoption programs also paled in comparison with Lake County Animal Shelter. Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out 11 times, 4 times, 3 times and 6 times as many cats per 1,000 people as NY ACC, Bergen County Animal Shelter, Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Ocean County Animal Facility.

Lake County Animal Shelter is a Role Model Shelter

Clearly, Lake County Animal Shelter is an elite organization. The shelter effectively limited euthanasia to hopelessly suffering animals and dogs that are truly aggressive. Additionally, it accomplished this by quickly finding live outcomes for its animals. Remarkably, Lake County Animal Shelter achieved this with a terrible physical facility, which will be replaced soon, a large number of animals coming in, meager funding and little rescue support. Simply put, Lake County Animal Shelter steps up and does what it takes to save its animals.

As the comparison with New York and New Jersey animal shelters showed, Lake County Animal Shelter’s challenges were far more daunting and the facility’s performance was on a different planet. In other words, regressive shelters in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere can’t credibly make excuses up for this disparity. Instead of defending the status quo, regressive shelters should study Lake County Animal Shelter and replicate what its doing. If these regressive shelters do this, not only will many animals live, but the organizations and their people will become happier and healthier.

Jersey Pits Rescue Proves People Want Pit Bulls

Frequently, New Jersey shelters complain they must kill pit bulls due to no one wanting these animals. Similarly, many rescues and rescue oriented shelters state the same thing when they choose to transport in easy to adopt dogs instead of saving pit bulls who are killed in local shelters. Certainly, pit bull like dogs face legitimate challenges, such as housing restrictions and discrimination from some potential dog owners.

Over the years I’ve written extensively about animal control shelters, including high volume ones, saving all their healthy and treatable pit bull like dogs. In 2014, when I first started NJ Animal Observer, I wrote about a number of shelters outside of New Jersey saving around 90% of their pit bull like dogs and placing them relatively quickly. Later that year, I wrote about Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society saving 96% of their pit bull like dogs and adopting out these animals pretty fast. In early 2015, I wrote about a small Colorado animal control shelter in a poor area that went from killing 40% of its pit bulls in 2012 to adopting out every single one of its pit bulls in 2013. Similarly, in 2016 I posted Salt Lake County Animal Services’ 2015 pit bull statistics showing the shelter saved 93% of the 600 pit bulls it took in. Finally, I wrote about Austin Animal Center saving 99% of their pit bulls in both 2017 and 2018.

New Jersey animal shelter data suggests some facilities can save their pit bulls. In 2015, I wrote a blog about Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saving 90% of the pit bulls they took in during 2014 and the first half of 2015. Additionally, Old Bridge Animal Shelter data from 2014, which was when the facility was much more progressive, showed that shelter saved 100% of their pit bulls. However, both these shelters took few pit bulls in on a per capita basis and in total. Therefore, these two shelters data were not sufficient to conclusively prove New Jersey people wanted pit bulls.

Do New Jersey residents want pit bulls? Can New Jersey animal shelters adopt out many more pit bulls and stop killing these pets?

Jersey Pits Rescue Adopts Out More Pit Bulls Than Many Local Shelters

Jersey Pits Rescue is a relatively new rescue run by two women, Dani and Kay. Dani and Kay previously volunteered at Associated Humane Societies-Newark and with other local rescues, including ones dealing mostly with pit bulls. In 2018, Dani and Kay started Jersey Pits Rescue to focus on the many pit bulls killed in local shelters. Both women work full time jobs and run Jersey Pits Rescue in their spare time.

While Jersey Pits Rescue does evaluate dogs to determine if they are safe enough to place in foster homes, it still takes in many pit bulls shelters often kill. According to Dani, Jersey Pits Rescue saves many jumpy dogs and a good number of mouthy ones as well. Additionally, they’ve taken in fearful dogs and dogs with barrier aggression. Based on my personal experience dealing with hundreds, if not thousands of pit bulls in New Jersey animal shelters, Jersey Pits Rescue is likely pulling well over 90% of the types of pit bulls in local shelters. Thus, this is not a rescue cherry picking the easy to adopt dogs and neglecting the ones needing help.

Recently, Dani provided me Jersey Pits Rescue’s 2019 pit bull adoption data. The organization rescued dogs mostly from urban shelters and took in a number of owner surrenders. In particular, Jersey Pits Rescue saved a large number of dogs from Paterson Animal Shelter.

To better understand Jersey Pits Rescue’s performance with pit bull like dogs, I compared this information with numerous New Jersey animal shelters’ pit bull adoption figures in the table below. The animal shelters’ data, except for Old Bridge Animal Shelter, in the following tables comes from previous blogs I’ve written. The Old Bridge Animal Shelter figures are in an unpublished analysis I previously did.

Jersey Pits Rescue adopted out significantly more pit bulls than every single shelter. In fact, Jersey Pits Rescue adopted out around twice as many or more pit bulls than most of the other shelters.

Jersey Pits Rescue also adopted out its pit bulls among the quickest. The table below shows the average length of stay for adopted pit bulls from shelters adopting out 10 or more pit bulls. As you can see, Jersey Pits Rescue adopted out its dogs in 43 days on average. If I counted three dogs classified as foster to adopt as adoptions, that figure would drop to 41 days. Several shelters took 50% or longer to adopt out their pit bull like dogs.

Jersey Pits Rescue’s performance is even better than it appears. Many of the shelters on this list killed a large percentage of their pit bulls. For example, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility had 13% of their pit bulls and 25% of their nonreclaimed pit bulls lose their lives. In 2016, Gloucester County Animal Shelter had 28% of their pit bulls and 50% of their nonreclaimed pit bulls lose their lives. From 2015 to 2017, Bergen County Animal Shelter had 31%-47% of their pit bulls and 50%-64% of their nonreclaimed pit bulls lose their lives. Therefore, these shelters likely placed easier to adopt dogs than Jersey Pits Rescue. Thus, many of the other shelters’ adoption length of stay figures make their performance look better than that what it was.

Jersey Pits Rescue’s performance is more impressive considering it lacks many of the advantages animal control shelters have. First, shelters are open to the public and give people the opportunity to walk in without making appointments. Second, the public generally knows about shelters in their areas. In contrast, rescues, particularly newer ones, have to work harder to attract adopters and volunteers. Third, the news media share stories more often about the needs (such as an adoption promotion, volunteer help, donations, etc.) of a shelter than of a rescue. Fourth, Jersey Pits Rescue does not get taxpayer funding that animal control shelters receive. Thus, animal control shelters have many structural advantages over a small rescue that works to save local pit bull like dogs.

Jersey Pits Rescue’s Strategies to Save Pit Bulls

Jersey Pits Rescue uses social media to aggressively promote their dogs. Despite being around just two years, the Jersey Pits Rescue Facebook page has nearly 10,000 followers. Similarly, Jersey Pits Rescue has 12,000 followers on Instagram. The organization frequently makes engaging posts seeking adopters. Additionally, Jersey Pits Rescue posts many “alumni” stories that give a positive vibe. Finally, the organization uses social media to seek donations and sell Jersey Pits Rescue apparel, such as t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats.

Jersey Pits Rescue relies on individual meet and greets and pack walks to introduce adopters to the dogs. The organization prefers this method to doing adoption events, which can sometimes put dogs in difficult situations. Therefore, the rescue is able to attract adopters through social media and make the adoptions happen through individual meet and greets and pack walks.

The organization uses volunteers and no paid staff to care for and place its dogs. Jersey Pits Rescue has a foster/adoption coordinator, merchandise manager and an events manager. Additionally, the organization uses volunteers to organize special events, such as foster dog outings, and transporting dogs to veterinarian appointments. Finally, the rescue has around 10 people that regularly foster dogs.

Jersey Pits Rescue’s success proves people want pit bulls. If a new organization run by individuals with full time jobs can adopt out more pit bulls than large local shelters, this proves people want pit bulls. In other words, local shelters can and should adopt out many more pit bulls instead of killing those pets. Similarly, local rescue oriented shelters and many rescues can save and adopt out far more local pit bulls.

Taxpayers and donors should demand New Jersey animal shelters do far better with their pit bulls. As my blogs over recent years show, many New Jersey animal shelters needlessly kill many pit bull like dogs based on false beliefs about “behavior” and the public not wanting these animals. Clearly, the Jersey Pits Rescue’s data proves we can save local pit bulls. As such, the public must demand taxpayer and other donor funded organizations do the right thing and also save these dogs.

The Dog That Transformed My Life

Once I heard a story where an old man remembered his life through each dog he had. At the time, I thought the story was interesting. Now, I know it makes perfect sense.

Over the years, I’ve had several dogs. My first dog, Trixie, will forever be the dog I associate with being a child and growing up. Additionally, I learned how to manage a human aggressive dog that affects my thinking to this day. My second dog, Rusty, sparked my interest in the world of dogs, adopting pets (she was my first rescue) and wildlife. She also taught me about high prey drives and escape artists. A third dog, Jerry, taught me about dog aggression. Both Rusty and Jerry will always remind me of the period when I become an adult.

Daphne Comes into My Life

After I graduated college, I had no pets for over a decade. While I would see Rusty and Jerry at my parents house for the first few years when I visited, this was no substitute for having a pet. At the time, I rented apartments that allowed no dogs. Even if my landlords allowed dogs, I lived alone and worked too many hours to have one. My life was missing something very important for a long time.

Over the years, I would visit Petfinder and look at the dogs I wished I could have. It was forbidden fruit. When my wife, Estrella, and I were dating, we would occasionally look at Petfinder together and even visited an animal shelter I would go to in high school. Again, this was all a fantasy as none of these dogs could come home with me.

A few months after Estrella and I got married, I started a job where I worked long hours. At the time, I was out of work for many months due to the financial crisis and the related recession. This was not the job I wanted, but it was the job I needed.

One Sunday in late December 2009, I felt bad about not spending time with Estrella due to the many hours I worked in this new job. Since we lived very close to Bergen County Animal Shelter, I suggested we visit to do something fun. As we did before we got married, we had no intention of adopting a pet when we walked into the shelter.

Upon entering the dog section of the facility, we ran right into Daphne in a glass showcase kennel. Immediately, I was in awe of her beauty and her athletic physique. Estrella took a photo and Daphne barked at her. Estrella didn’t like that! Soon a shelter volunteer greeted us and tried to sell Daphne to us. It was quite convincing. How could I tell her we were just there to spend some time and were not going to adopt a dog?

Subsequently, we looked at the other dogs on the adoption floor. We were shocked to see so many pit bulls. Prior to this I did not like pit bulls. After my family got Rusty, I became a voracious reader of every dog book I could find. In my local library I came across a book from Richard Stratton. Richard Stratton clearly glorified dog fighting. Additionally, he portrayed pit bulls as a supernaturally powerful animal with a perfect temperament with people. In other words, pit bulls were a super hero caricature. Over the years, I would see other books and hear people say similar things and how all other dogs were worthless compared to pit bulls. Basically, I associated pit bulls with these distasteful people. When coupled with the many negative pit bull stories in the news media, I disliked pit bulls.

All these negative pit bull biases went out the window that day. As we walked the kennels seeing so many pit bulls, my desire to save the animals most needing help came out. Over and over, we walked back and forth looking at the dogs and read the information on their kennels. We became obsessed! That night, we played a game where we’d say to each other “if you were going to adopt a dog at the shelter, which one would you choose?” As time went by, the list grew until we picked around our top 10 dogs!

Over the next week, Estrella went to the shelter every day after work. At that time Bergen County Animal Shelter had different management and was very friendly to adopters. Estrella and the shelter veterinarian bonded and she even allowed Estrella to see dogs not on the adoption floor. When we looked at our lease, we found out we could have any dog we wanted. By the time New Years Eve came on that Thursday, Estrella and I were ready to adopt. In just four short days, we went from killing some time at the shelter to going to adopt a dog.

The shelter brought three dogs to us in a fenced in yard. Daphne, who was our second choice before this, immediately kicked a tennis ball to Estrella. When Estrella threw the ball, Daphne ran like a bullet to fetch it. Estrella was sold. I had to convince her to even see the other two dogs, Sylvester and Miles. After seeing these dogs, Estrella and I decided to pick Daphne.

The shelter mentioned Daphne was a “special needs” dog. First, we were told she seriously injured another dog who somehow got into her kennel. Second, Daphne had incredible amounts of energy and would require tons of exercise. Third, she would throw up in the car almost immediately. Perhaps these were the reasons she spent a year at the shelter and was there the second longest of any dog? We couldn’t care less, we wanted her! The shelter told us to come back on Saturday, January 2, 2010 to adopt her since the facility was closing soon.

On the day we were to adopt Daphne, we ran to PetSmart and got tons of pet food and supplies. When we got to the shelter, it seemed as if the shelter tried to convince us not to adopt Daphne. First, the shelter told us she became very aggressive with the veterinary staff as they prepped her for adoption. Then a new employee, who I would learn much more about years later, tried to convince us not to adopt Daphne. Again, our minds were made up. We were doing this!

The shelter volunteer who loved Daphne took a long time to take her to us. Estrella said he looked quite sad. Was he going to miss Daphne or did he think we couldn’t handle her? As someone who managed an aggressive dog as a child and two challenging dogs as a young adult, I knew I was ready. While Estrella didn’t have this experience, she was always adept at handling life’s challenges. Finally, we adopted Daphne and drove her to our home five minutes away. Within 30 seconds, she threw up in the car!

Daphne immediately showed us how amazing she was that first day with us. She was obsessed with playing ball and insisted we join her. Our reward? A dog who would cuddle with us on the couch!

Over the next several months I continued to work long hours in the stressful job. However, Daphne with her high intensity energy was ready when I got home. Despite Estrella walking Daphne for long distances, Daphne still wanted more. I would throw her ball inside our townhouse endlessly, play tug of war and play wrestle. When we play wrestled, Daphne was so quick, balanced and athletic, I was simply in awe. When we were lucky enough to find a nearby dog park empty, Daphne showed us her athletic ability and fetching skills.

On weekends, I would walk Daphne in the Saddle River County Park in Saddle Brook. When we got her, it was impossible to walk her near people or other dogs. If we did, she would lunge at them. Her reactivity was off the charts. Nonetheless, we adapted.

Once the sun set later, Estrella would bring Daphne to this park every day. They would do a long walk around the park and then engage in extended fetch sessions on the ball field. On weekends I would join as well. We’d usually bring a tennis racket and hit the ball as far as we could. Daphne would run full tilt and would take seemingly forever to tire in the summer. We’d also bring a cloth frisbee and Daphne would catch it in the most acrobatic ways. In fact, people would often stop to watch her and be in awe. We’d have to end before she’d run herself to exhaustion. In the winter time, this dog seemed to almost never tire out. Simply put, she was a superstar canine athlete with the heart of a champion.

We also hiked and found a lake for her to play fetch in during the summer.

Daphne Inspires Us to Help Animal Shelters

Over these first few months with Daphne, I continued to visit the Bergen County Animal Shelter web site. First, I wanted to see if the other dogs we looked at got adopted. Subsequently, I’d look at the new dogs arriving and wondered what their story was. Were they special in their own way like Daphne? Eventually, I remembered a shelter existed in Newark. I wondered if a smaller suburban shelter like Bergen County Animal Shelter had so many amazing pit bulls, what would a larger urban shelter have? Each day, I would then look at Associated Humane Societies-Newark’s Petfinder web site as well. After seeing some intriguing dogs, I mustered the courage to visit the shelter on President’s Day in 2010. Unfortunately, I hardly spent any time in the shelter due to me running late for a doctor’s appointment. Additionally, the deafening barking noises in the kennels drove me out. I knew I’d be back one day.

Seven months later I convinced Estrella to go with me to Associated Humane Societies-Newark as a late birthday present. Despite it being a Sunday, the shelter seemed devoid of adopters. We fell in love with dog after dog. One dog, Lonzo, a leggy pit bull like dog was our favorite. At the same time, we knew no one was coming for these dogs and they were just waiting to die. How did no one know about these wonderful animals like we knew about Daphne? The next day Estrella called me at work and told me she started a Facebook page called Friends of Newark NJ Animal Shelter. Our lives and Daphne’s would change forever.

Each week, we’d go back to AHS-Newark. At the time, the shelter had no volunteer program. To get the dogs out for photos and exercise, we’d pretend we were interested in adopting a dog. We’d spend hours at the shelter and many more at home trying to save the dogs. After a few weeks, the workers caught on to our game and gave us keys to the dog kennels (each was locked). During this time, the public came in droves to help the shelter. AHS-Newark had to unofficially allow volunteers. People came to walk dogs, do adoption events and photograph and market cats. Rescues contacted us to pull animals. We held successful food and supply drives. Things were improving.

Over the next two and a half years, we worked seemingly 24/7 to save AHS-Newark’s dogs. I’d write down the cage card information of all 100 or so medium to large size dogs each week. Additionally, I’d follow-up with the front desk to see what dogs left alive and what dogs the shelter killed. Even to this day, I remember how my heart broke when I heard the front desk person tell me “euthanized” for so many dogs and how I felt relieved when I heard the words “reclaimed”, “adopted” and “rescued” for others. At home, I’d compile the updated inventory list of dogs to ensure we could give adopters and rescuers accurate information about what dogs were available (very few were on Petfinder due to the shelter not having enough people evaluating dogs). I would also get the most difficult dogs out of their kennels for Estrella. Estrella would evaluate dogs, photograph them and take photos. Additionally, she created Petfinder profiles, ran the Facebook page and dealt directly with the shelter, adopters and volunteers. At the time, I told Estrella she should run the shelter based on how hard she worked and the fantastic job she did.

Around this time, I got a job that I wanted. I would work long hours in New York City, but it was something I enjoyed. Between the job, our volunteering and taking care of Daphne, I had little free time for anything else. Estrella was just as, if not more, busy. Despite this, we were very happy making a positive difference.

Daphne would soon experience our work directly. After about six months volunteering at AHS-Newark, we decided to foster a dog for a rescue. At the time, we were terrified about it. Daphne was the dog who we were told seriously injured another dog at Bergen County Animal Shelter. Also, we had seen how she reacted to strange dogs on our walks. Were we going to cause a disaster?

We selected Booker as our foster. Booker was an 85 pound older American bulldog with a sad story. At the shelter, he appeared unhappy and was not in great physical shape. Also, we were told he was used as a guard dog (he was not aggressive at all) by a landlord in abandoned apartments (the separation anxiety we would learn about seemed to confirm this). We were certain he had zero chance to make it out alive. For Daphne, we thought he’d be a perfect fit. Not dominant enough to challenge her, but big enough survive an attack by our supposedly dog aggressive pit bull.

On the day we picked Booker up from the shelter, we had a plan to introduce the dogs. We took them to Saddle Brook County Park and started walking them far apart. Over a period of time, we gradually walked them closer together. They seemed happy! Would this continue? When we came to our tiny yard at our townhouse, we placed both leashes down. Daphne and Booker wrestled and then Daphne rolled around on her back beneath Booker. This was going to work!

During their time together, Daphne was the boss. Despite being around half Booker’s weight, Daphne would win their regular wrestling matches. She’d stand toe to toe with Booker, out-maneuver him and hump him! Booker took it all in stride and enjoyed his new very active friend.

Each day, Estrella would take both Daphne and Booker together for long walks. Booker went from a sad and slow moving older dog to a happy vibrant boy. Perhaps Daphne’s energy rubbed off on him? People would come from everywhere to ask about him. Booker went from an old dog “no one wanted” to a highly desirable dog. We began to realize people really wanted bully breeds. After only a few weeks, Booker found a home.

Our next foster dog would be a huge challenge. Major was a two year old 75 pound pit bull. Unlike Booker, Major was a dominant dog and much more athletic. At AHS-Newark, his striking good looks captivated us. At the same time, we knew large pit bulls fared poorly at this shelter. Outside the shelter, Daphne confirmed our suspicions that these two were going to be a handful. When Daphne and Major met, Daphne nipped Major on the head after he got in her face. As we did with Booker, Estrella and I walked Daphne and Major together for long time moving progressively closer together. Finally, we got the dogs together, but this time it was more like a truce than true love.

Daphne and Major got along, but the two always battled to see who was the boss. The two dogs would have epic wrestling matches. Despite Major weighing around 75% more than Daphne, Daphne would go toe to toe with him and hold her own. Usually, she would out-maneuver Major and tire him out. However, Major still would not accept Daphne being the top dog and we had to actively maintain the peace between them. When we walked Major and Daphne together, both dogs acted like they owned the joint. It was truly amazing. As with Booker, we quickly found a great adopter after a short period of time.

Soon after adopting out Major, we fostered Chance. Chance was an energetic pit bull-Labrador mix that spent a long time at AHS-Newark. Daphne clearly did not like Chance’s Labrador type energy. Estrella and I had to keep a constant eye on Daphne to ensure she behaved. Miraculously, she did. While we were on vacation, the rescue we fostered for adopted Chance out.

Several months after we adopted Major we purchased a home. As with everything at that time, Daphne was a key part of this decision. We would only buy a home with a large flat yard Daphne could play ball on. Additionally, the home had to be near places where we could hike. After a long and difficult process, we found a home with a big backyard and a pool. To get this home, I had to accept not having a usable garage to put my car in. This was a huge sacrifice for me as I love cars and always made sure my previous rented apartments had one. Once in the home, the very first improvement we made was to get the backyard fenced in. Daphne now had a yard to play ball in everyday. In the summer, she could swim and fetch balls in the pool.

After a couple of months in the home, we fostered Beanie. Beanie came to AHS-Newark as a few month old puppy and grew up in the shelter. As with other dogs we fostered, we knew we had to get him out. Beanie ended up as a perfect match for Daphne. He was a little larger than Daphne, but had a good amount of energy. Additionally, he was not threatening. Daphne found someone she could roughhouse with and be comfortable with. She truly loved Beanie. As with other dogs we adopted out, we found a great adopter. Beanie would be very happy.

Over the next several months, we fostered a couple of other dogs that rescues pulled from AHS-Newark. Gouda was a lovable and goofy dog Daphne did not know what to make of. AJ was a smaller pit bull Daphne felt comfortable with, but was not rough enough to have the fun she enjoyed. Still they had many sweet moments together.

Our Lives Change Forever

Nearly a year after moving into our home Estrella gave birth to our son Gavin. During the time Estrella was in the hospital, I rushed home numerous times to take Daphne out. After Gavin was born, I put one of Gavin’s blankets from the hospital in Daphne’s bed. Daphne was always tense and “iffy” around strangers. Honestly, we were concerned how she’d react. When we brought Gavin home, we had Daphne sniff him. She seemed indifferent and that’s how it would be when he was very young.

Daphne’s life changed initially, but not by too much. Estrella would still take Daphne for walks, but now they’d be alongside Gavin’s carriage and would move at a slower pace. I’d continue taking her for hikes, playing ball in the backyard and swimming in the pool.

Daphne continued to show her heart and courage. When we hiked Daphne’s huge prey drive was so intense that she’d even try and pursue black bears! Daphne also subdued a large chow chow that charged at Estrella and the carriage Gavin was in during a walk. When strangers came to the house, they were greeted by a dog determined to defend the place (luckily having the person throw a ball to her got her to warm up). On the other hand, Daphne would be scared of certain inanimate objects.

Gavin’s birth would totally change my volunteering activities at AHS-Newark. While Estrella continued to volunteer until only a few weeks before giving birth, I took over the things she did after that point and still continued to do my things. That meant, I evaluated dogs, took photos, wrote adoption profiles, administered the Facebook page, worked with rescues, counseled adopters, coordinated adoption events, compiled the records of dogs in the shelter and dealt directly with AHS staff. My life was crazy. The dogs I met during this time still stick in my mind.

During this period, our relationship with AHS-Newark deteriorated. When we volunteered at AHS-Newark, we knew the organization was completely dysfunctional. The shelter frequently provided poor care, did little to save the animals, operated using a 1970s style sheltering philosophy and needlessly killed many pets. We never defended the shelter, but bit our tongues to keep helping the animals. While I previously heard of Nathan Winograd, who is widely regarded as the leader of the no kill movement, I began reading his blogs voraciously. It seemed as if he described my exact experiences at AHS-Newark. By this time, we could stay quiet no more. We raised our concerns to shelter management and to other volunteers. It was clear shelter management had to take decisive actions to end the killing. We could only save so many animals with the shelter frequently acting against us. As AHS-Newark would do to so many other volunteers, the shelter banned us. To make matters worse, the shelter did so in the most cowardly way as explained in our Facebook post at the time.

My volunteer work would go on without AHS-Newark. Given I had a lot of success saving pit bull like dogs at one of the state’s largest and most notorious shelters, I thought others would welcome my help. After inquiring about helping numerous inner city shelters, such as Paterson Animal Shelter, Passaic Animal Shelter and Elizabeth Animal Shelter, I was saddened none of these facilities even allowed volunteers. Several others allowed volunteers, but did not want my assistance. Therefore, I began using our Facebook page to aggressively market dogs from a number of northern New Jersey animal shelters.

Once again, we had lot of success with social media promotion. In particular, we aggressively promoted Liberty Humane Society’s dogs for its Maddie’s free pet adoption events in 2013 and 2014. For several weeks, we promoted the event by posting the shelter’s dogs many times a day. Additionally, we created albums based on dog size and personality type. Liberty Humane Society ended up adopting out 120 dogs and cats (57 dogs and 63 cats) in 2013 and 128 dogs and cats (47 dogs and 81 cats) in 2014. People wanted homeless animals and pit bull like dogs like Daphne.

During this time, we yearned to volunteer at a shelter. One day, I came across Jersey Animal Coalition and contacted this South Orange animal shelter. At the time, the woman who did the Petfinder profiles and adoption photos was getting foot surgery. They were happy to let me fill in.

Jersey Animal Coalition was a dysfunctional shelter. When Estrella and I visited, we nearly cried to see large numbers of distressed dogs in small kennels and crates. Many dogs spent not just months, but many years at the facility. Even though the shelter was “no kill”, it didn’t properly implement the no kill equation to ensure animals quickly left the shelter alive and received elite care while at the facility. We were determined to help. Once again, I started evaluating dogs, taking photos and marketing them on social media.

While volunteering at Jersey Animal Coalition, I received the opportunity to become a board member. During my time as a board member, I made it clear the organization needed to remove the day to day management as well as many long-time board members that led to the organization’s poor treatment of animals and inability to implement the 11 no kill equation programs. Additionally, I strongly opposed the shelter transporting in massive numbers of puppies while adult dogs languished in the back of the facility. After a little more than two months and attending just two board meetings (one of which didn’t even have the board members responsible for the mess), I resigned when the shelter refused to change course. At that time, I was also told my volunteer activities were no longer welcome.

Soon after, numerous volunteers contacted me about Jersey Animal Coalition deteriorating even more. At the time, I told them to report their concerns to the New Jersey Department of Health and to request an inspection. Several months later the New Jersey Department of Health inspected and found serious problems. Ultimately, Jersey Animal Coalition closed after it did not fix all the issues.

Daphne Inspires Me to Become an Animal Advocate

After my time with Jersey Animal Coalition, I was at a crossroads. Would I go back to my life before volunteering at animal shelters? Certainly, I had a very bad taste in my mouth from experiences with AHS-Newark, Jersey Animal Coalition and other local animal shelters.

Each day I contemplated my next move, Daphne would remind me I had to do more. When I saw her, I thought of the many dogs that desperately needed a voice. At the time, I read many great no kill blogs, such as Nathan Winograd, KC Dog Blog, YesBiscuit!, Wisconsin Watchdog, Out the Front Door and Dogged. Additionally, I also regularly read successful wildlife and economics blogs. Soon the light bulb would go off. While I could save dozens of dogs a year directly, I could help save thousands of dogs each year if I could get shelters to implement lifesaving policies. I needed to create my own no kill advocacy blog.

In January 2014, I created the NJ Animal Observer blog and Facebook page. At the time, I wondered if anyone would listen to me. Most people seemed to blindly follow large and dysfunctional animal welfare organizations, such as Associated Humane Societies and NJ SPCA. Initially, the blog was similar to many of the other no kill blogs where I merely expressed opinions. Several months later I wrote my first data driven blog called We Can Save All the Pit Bulls. At the time, this was one of my most viewed blogs and Nathan Winograd shared it. Later that year, I used a data driven approach to write about the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter. That blog was by far my most viewed blog at the time. More importantly, the local reform advocates used the material to assist their effort to reform that shelter. In fact, those local advocates would go on to become a major force in reforming animal sheltering and animal cruelty enforcement in New Jersey. Subsequently, I would use this data driven approach to evaluate almost every animal shelter in the state.

The animal shelter reform movement in New Jersey began to grow. Local animal advocates contacted me and we exchanged ideas. They fought to reform local animal shelters. Some reformed. Several other really bad ones closed thankfully. In 2013, which was the year before I started NJ Animal Observer and other animal advocates came to prominence, New Jersey animal shelters killed 23,490 dogs and cats (4,509 dogs and 18,981 cats). In 2018, New Jersey animal shelters killed 9,832 dogs and cats (1,895 dogs and 7,937 cats). Over the course of five years, killing decreased by nearly 60%. Even when compared to prior trends, things dramatically improved. New Jersey’s kill rate decreased at a rate 2-3 times greater after the first four years I created NJ Animal Observer compared to the four years before I started the blog. This improvement was even more startling since its harder to decrease kill rates when they become lower (i.e. the animals still being killed are harder to save).

Animal advocates didn’t directly save these animals, but their efforts helped others do so. Advocates pressured elected officials and shelter directors to pursue policies that saved lives. Once those policies went into effect, shelter workers, volunteers and rescues could do the hard work to save those animals. While we still know more must be done, we’ve made tremendous progress.

Daphne’s Life Dramatically Changes

As Gavin grew, our focus on Daphne decreased. Estrella couldn’t take Daphne for daily walks when Gavin got too big for a stroller. We also toned down the length and intensity of her ball fetching sessions in the backyard due to several mild cranial cruciate ligament injuries to her knees. Nonetheless, she continued to be a spectacular star by making catches that put Willie Mays famous “catch” to shame. Additionally, she continued to swim in the pool during the summer.

We could no longer foster dogs due to our concerns Gavin could get in the middle of a fight between Daphne and another dog. Instead, Estrella helped rescues and owners rehome their dogs. Once again, we found people sought dogs others said “no one wants.”

Daphne’s life would change yet again after we brought a cat named Pepper into our home. Due to Daphne’s intense prey drive, both animals could not be out together. We had specific procedures to keep both animals apart given the potential for disaster. While Pepper would become my “office cat”, Daphne would spend several hours alone each day while Pepper ran through the whole house. Ultimately, we would do it at times when Daphne typically napped. Still, Daphne made the sacrifice.

Estrella would soon foster mother cats and their litters of kittens. Now, we had to keep Daphne separate from both Pepper and all these cats. This was in addition to the two small dogs each of our next door neighbors would often have run loose in our front yard. We were always on alert! As we found out with pit bull like dogs, people wanted cats and kittens too!

Despite these changes, Daphne bonded with us even more. In particular, she really loved to be around Gavin. Perhaps, it was because they spent so much time together? Whatever it was, she enjoyed sharing the couch with him. Even with him doing typical kid things, she shrugged them off. If he got really out of hand, she quietly walked away. With us, she became more and more affectionate.

Over the last few years, life changes made it more difficult to focus on Daphne. Estrella changed her career and worked many more hours, especially nights and weekends. As Gavin got older, he had more school work we had to help him with and other activities. Of course, we still played ball in the backyard and in the pool during the summer. However, our long hikes became far less frequent. Still, Daphne cherished her time with us.

Our World Comes Crashing Down

Last summer, as with past ones, Daphne had a blast. On most days, she’d swim in the pool to fetch her ball. When we were in the pool, Daphne would run laps around to entice us to throw the ball into the pool. As a result of all the swimming and running, Daphne was in amazing physical shape.

In late August, we went to spend a week in Wildwood. As a child, I loved Wildwood and was eager to share the experience with Gavin. Additionally, Gavin got to spend much of the vacation with our friend and her two daughters. Several days into the vacation, we all went to the boardwalk to go on the rides. Seeing Gavin and his two friends have a blast on the rides was one of those wonderful moments a parent has. Everything seemed perfect. After awhile, we decided to get pizza on the boardwalk before going to another pier with the really fun rides.

While eating dinner in a crowded boardwalk pizza joint, I received a text from the person watching Daphne. Daphne was having a very difficult time getting up and walking around. As I sat at the crowded table, it was hard to process the news. Still, I began to worry. After we finished up, I went back to the place we rented to take the leftover food and everyone else went to the rides on other other pier. I received another text stating Daphne had bloody diarrhea. My heart raced as I knew something was gravely wrong. As I walked back to the pier, I googled the symptoms that confirmed this was an emergency situation. Once I got to the pier, Estrella and I rushed back to the place we stayed at. I quickly left to make the two and half hour drive home.

Once I got home at midnight, I carried Daphne into the car and rushed to the emergency veterinarian. When I got there, the staff immediately took Daphne in. As I sat there, I wondered how everything changed so quickly. How could Daphne go from swimming several days ago to this? Was I at fault for not worrying about the few times Daphne decided to cut off her swims a little early this year (which I attributed to old age/minor arthritis)? How did things go from absolutely perfect to a horror show so quickly this evening?

The emergency veterinarian soon came out and delivered devastating news. Daphne had canine hemangiosarcoma, which is an extremely aggressive cancer that grows on blood vessels. The tumor ruptured and she would bleed to death if we didn’t act. I had to decide if I would euthanize her or spend significant amounts of money to try and save her. The veterinarian advised me that attempts to save her may not work, and even if they did save her, she’d only live for a very short period. Unfortunately, Estrella had fallen asleep and I had to make the decision for both of us. Daphne could not die like this. I had to give her a chance. That night, the emergency veterinarian gave her a blood transfusion and stabilized her until they could determine if they could remove the tumor in the morning.

We received some good news the next morning. Daphne’s tumor was located on her spleen. Since Daphne could live without a spleen, the veterinarian could remove the spleen and the tumor. She went into surgery immediately after we agreed to move forward. Later in the day, we learned Daphne’s spleen removal surgery was successful.

That day I researched canine hemangiosarcoma extensively. Everything I seemed to read was dire. As I experienced, most owners also never knew their dogs had the disease until their tumors ruptured. Dogs having their spleens removed only survived 1-3 months without any other treatments. Even with additional chemotherapy, dogs typically would only survive 3-6 months. Additionally, I learned Yunzhi mushrooms, which are found in the I’m Yunity supplement, and Yunnan Baiyao, a Chinese herbal supplement, also were helpful. At a minimum, we’d give Daphne the two supplements and consider chemotherapy after consulting with a veterinary oncologist.

Since Daphne was stable and would need to spend a few days recovering at the veterinary hospital, I returned to Gavin and Estrella in Wildwood. Since our friend had left with her two daughters, our family would spend one last day together down there. While we were distraught over Daphne, we had a welcome distraction to prevent us from obsessing over her situation.

Soon after returning home, we picked Daphne up from the veterinarian. Initially, we were alarmed as she could barely get up and was wobbly when she did. Additionally, she was urinating on her bed. Had we made a grave mistake going through with the surgery? Did we keep her alive for our and not her benefit? Luckily, we’d find out these symptoms were due to a high dose of the sedating pain medication she received. Within a couple of days, she was ready to start her life again.

After consulting with the veterinary oncologist, we decided to do chemotherapy. We learned most dogs have few side effects compared to people. As with past veterinary visits, we’d have to sedate her and make her wear a a “hannibal lecter” style muzzle. Once the sedation wore off, she didn’t seem too affected by the chemotherapy. In fact, she’d routinely play tug of war and fetch with me.

On a Sunday in late September, we got the opportunity to take Daphne to the beach. After learning of Daphne’s illness, we promised her we’d take her to Wildwood next summer if she was still alive. Since we knew that was not likely, we jumped at the chance to take her to Sandy Hook on an unusually warm day.

Over the next several months, Daphne became incredibly affectionate with us. Did she know we saved her life? Did she know her time with us would not be long? Whatever the reason, we cherished these moments.

Last January, Daphne passed her first post-chemotherapy appointment with flying colors. All her blood test results were great and she seemed healthy and happy. The veterinary oncologist recommended we aggressively continue treating Daphne’s canine hemangiosarcoma. In addition to the I’m Yunity mushrooms and Yunnan Baiyao, we gave her the drug rapamycin, which had some limited evidence of being helpful for the disease. The veterinary oncologist also decided to add metronomic chemotherapy, which uses a low dose oral chemotherapy drug, in one month’s time. We were hopeful Daphne could spend many more great moments with us.

Once again, our world crumbled down in late February. Suddenly, Daphne became very weak. She started to have trouble getting around. When we brought her back to the veterinary oncologist, we knew what we’d hear. Daphne’s cancer had come back and spread. The oncologist had no other treatments and consoled us and gave us a pet hospice and in-home euthanasia service pamphlet. When I asked her if Daphne would be in pain, she said no. Instead, she told us Daphne would be very weak, and would get weaker, like when people have the flu.

Making matters worse, I was scheduled to go to Austin in two days to present at the American Pets Alive Conference. This would be the first time I presented at an animal welfare conference. Additionally, I was scheduled to speak with some amazingly talented people. Needless to say, I had been looking forward to this for months. As I wrestled with my decision, I realized I might not get home in time before we had to euthanize Daphne or when she passed away on her own. Additionally, I knew Estrella could not provide Daphne the care she needed on her own. Therefore, I had to do something I never do, cancel less than two days before I was scheduled to speak. Thankfully, my friend Davyd Smith from No Kill Colorado filled in for me.

Over the next three weeks, Daphne would amaze me yet again. Daphne began to eat less and less and became progressively weaker. She stopped eating dry dog food first, then the can dog food, then the cat can food and then various dog treats. She went down and up the stairs very slowly. When she went to the bathroom, she couldn’t squat very long. Despite her difficulties, she still came down to be with Gavin and me when we played video games downstairs. For some reason, she really enjoyed hanging with us on the couch when we started doing this around a year or so ago. Was it she liked being with us when we had fun? Whatever the reason, she mustered the strength to come down the stairs and would do a slow trot and use her all her energy to hop on the couch. When we took her out to poop, she would pull energy from nowhere to slowly walk around 50 yards away to a little wooded area. How was she doing this?

By mid-March, Daphne stopped eating entirely on her own and became incredibly weak. We resorted to squeezing baby food into her mouth. Unfortunately, she would only eat a little bit and it would come no where near her nutritional needs. She lost a tremendous amount of weight. Now, we’d have to carry Daphne up and down the stairs to go to the bathroom. She could only walk a few steps to go to urinate and defecate. Afterwards, she was exhausted. At home, she would sleep the whole day. She could no longer get up on her own. Still, everyday, she’d lift her head up for us to bring her to her feet so she could walk a few steps to our deck. Even in her grim condition, this was something she looked forward to everyday. Was it seeing the pool and backyard she played in so much? Was it the sounds of the birds, the wind or just the fresh air? Whatever it was, she fought to experience this. One day, she even found the strength to bark at a nearby train.

Soon Daphne would get even weaker. We decided it was close to the time to euthanize Daphne. Due to Daphne’s fear of veterinarians, we knew the procedure had to be at our home. I scheduled an appointment with an in-home veterinarian service, but we had to wait four days. Frankly, I didn’t even think Daphne might live that long. I contacted another veterinarian who would do it in three days and scheduled an appointment. When it came time for the first appointment, we canceled it. We were not ready. That evening, Daphne began to have a harder time breathing. Based on my experience with people at the end of their lives and the many hopelessly suffering animal records I’ve reviewed over the years, I knew it was time. The next day, when our second appointment was due, we again struggled going through with it. Could we give Daphne a couple a more days? After hearing Daphne’s labored breathing, we knew we couldn’t wait another three or four more days. This was the time.

Estrella carried Daphne and her bed to the deck around noon after it stopped raining. For the next few hours, Daphne would rest in the place she loved. When the veterinarian arrived, Daphne didn’t even look up. We spent some time alone saying good bye to her. When it was time, we both held Daphne while she laid on her dog bed on the deck. In contrast to Daphne’s past veterinarian visits, Daphne hardly reacted. When she smelled the anti-septic the veterinarian used, she looked back for a second and then went back to rest after we reassured her. Daphne never noticed the injection of the sedative or the euthanasia drug. She simply breathed lighter and lighter until she passed. Estrella cried and I felt crushed inside. As bad as it was seeing her leave us, I couldn’t think of a better place and more peaceful way for it to happen. Still, that didn’t take our pain away.

Since Daphne’s passing, I still sometimes think she is here. Unconsciously, I think its time to take her out before bed time. Similarly, before bed and when I wake up I look at the spot where she slept to see if she is there. Often times, I look to the couch to see if she is there. These habits are ingrained in me. They don’t break easily.

Going back to the story I started this blog off with, Daphne has taught me many things. Daphne will forever be connected to starting a family. Additionally, she led me into the world of animal rescue and animal advocacy. Most importantly, she taught me to fight for the things and ones I love. That’s a lesson I will always hold dear to my heart.

St. Hubert’s Kills Newark’s Homeless Dogs

March 11, 2020 Update: I revised this blog for additional data I had received. While the dog statistics improved slightly, the overall conclusions remain the same. The additional cat data suggests St. Hubert’s had a good cat live release rate as opposed to my previous uncertain conclusion. However, St. Hubert’s cat live release rate was largely driven by a very high amount of rescue assistance.

Newark has long had severe problems with Associated Humane Societies-Newark. Over 50 years ago, the modern form of AHS-Newark began with a corrupt contract that a court threw out and resulted in AHS long-time Executive Director, Lee Bernstein, being sentenced to jail. In 2003, the New Jersey Commission of Investigation issued a scathing report on AHS that found the organization raising massive amounts of money and failing to properly care for their animals. Over the years, state health department inspectors found horrific problems and former Mayor Cory Booker tried to build a new no kill shelter to replace AHS-Newark.

My analyses revealed this shelter was high kill and broke state law. In 2015, I published a blog about how animals primarily impounded from animal control in Newark during 2014 fared at the shelter. Remarkably, 84% of dogs and cats, 93% of cats, 70% of dogs and 81% of pit bull like dogs with known outcomes lost their lives. Subsequently, I posted a blog about AHS-Newark violating state law left and right and requested the New Jersey Department of Health inspect the shelter.

The New Jersey Department of Health found horrific problems at AHS-Newark in 2017. You can read the August 22, 2017 inspection here, the September 26, 2017 inspection here and the October 20, 2017 inspection report here. Overall, the problems were so severe that authorities charged Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, with animal cruelty. Ultimately, the prosecutor and Roseann Trezza entered into an agreement in or around May 2018 to supposedly bar Ms. Trezza from the Newark shelter for two years and make her pay a $3,500 fine in exchange for dismissing the charges.

In 2018, Newark and AHS had several contract disputes that created major crises. In March 2018, AHS attorney, Harry Levin, sent a letter to Plainfield and Belleville stating it suspended providing animal control and sheltering services to Newark. While AHS and Newark ultimately came to an agreement, the arrangement fell apart in the Fall of 2018 and AHS-Newark refused to accept Newark animals after November 7, 2018.

Newark and Large Animal Welfare Organizations Exclude Animal Advocates from Process to Replace AHS-Newark

After AHS-Newark decided to stop taking in Newark’s homeless animals, Newark officials scrambled for a solution. During October 2018, Newark officials considered sites to build a city owned shelter. Two of those sites are listed below.

Newark Proposed Shelter Site 1

Newark Proposed Shelter Site 2

Additionally, Newark’s then Deputy Mayor and Director of Economic and Housing Development, John Palmieri, stated a shelter would cost $15 million, which would be funded by municipal bonds. Furthermore, the Newark official said the city could get the shelter built within 15-18 months. However, Mr. Palmieri noted finding an operator was an issue given Best Friends declined to run a city owned shelter.

On October 31, 2018, Newark held a meeting with large animal welfare organizations. As you can see below, the attendees included two St. Hubert’s executives, the Humane Society of the United States New Jersey Director, Best Friends Northeast Regional Director, Liberty Humane Society’s Executive Director, New York City Mayor’s Office Animal Welfare Liasion and several members of the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness. Most notably, the meeting did not include a single animal advocate.

Subsequently, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka announced a deal for St. Hubert’s to provide sheltering services through the end of 2018 and that the city and Liberty Humane Society were negotiating a contract for 2019 (Liberty Humane Society ultimately did not enter into an agreement with Newark and St. Hubert’s continued its arrangement in 2019). At the time, I was happy to see Newark ditch AHS-Newark, but was concerned that St. Hubert’s would also kill animals. These concerns were based on my personal experience with St. Hubert’s, stories I heard over the years about the organization’s behavioral evaluations and the fact the shelter primarily serves areas with few challenging dogs. After reviewing St. Hubert’s contract with Newark, I publicly asked St. Hubert’s to provide details on how it would handle Newark’s animals to avoid killing them. Subsequently, I expressed deep concerns about St. Hubert’s not publicly disclosing what the outcomes of its Newark animals were and the City of Newark not making progress on building its own shelter.

At the end of April 2019, St. Hubert’s terminated its arrangement with Newark citing “financial hardship.” Furthermore, St. Hubert’s stated the “homeless animals in Newark will be best served by a centrally located facility that can provide ample resources and care.” However, St. Hubert’s also told NJ Advance Media that “The needs for a city that size are bigger than we can sustain without being a detriment to our other programs.” Ironically, St. Hubert’s admitted it continued with its “regularly scheduled rescues and transports throughout New Jersey and the United States” during the time it contracted with Newark. In other words, St. Hubert’s was not serious about saving Newark’s homeless animals since it interfered with their transport based pet store business model. As a result of St. Hubert’s move, the City of Newark had no animal shelter provider for a day. With no other alternative, the City of Newark contracted again with AHS-Newark at around a 50% greater monthly cost than it previously had with AHS-Newark.

What kind of job did St. Hubert’s do with Newark’s homeless animals? Did St. Hubert’s live up to the progressive ideals it portrays to the public? What effect will the St. Hubert’s and other animal welfare organizations’ arrangement have on Newark’s homeless animals in the future?

Data Reviewed

In order to get a better understanding of the job St. Hubert’s did with Newark’s homeless animals, I requested the intake and disposition records for each individual dog and cat the shelter took in from Newark during its contract term. Unfortunately, the City of Newark did not give me records for every animal. However, I did get records for a significant number of animals that gave me an understanding of how St. Hubert’s handled the Newark contract. You can see those records here and here.

St. Hubert’s Kills Large Number of Newark’s Homeless Dogs

St. Hubert’s had large percentages of their Newark dogs lose their lives. Overall, 35% of all dogs who had known outcomes lost their lives. If we just look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, 54% of all these dogs lost their lives. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only had 1% of its dogs and 2% of its nonreclaimed dogs lose their lives in 2018. Thus, St. Hubert’s had its Newark dogs lose their lives at 35 times and 27 times Austin Animal Center’s rates for all dogs and nonreclaimed dogs.

Newark pit bulls fared far worse at St. Hubert’s. 47% of all pit bulls and 68% of nonreclaimed pit bulls with known outcomes lost their lives. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 1% of its pit bulls and 2% of its nonreclaimed pit bulls in 2018. As a result, St. Hubert’s had its Newark pit bulls lose their lives at 47 times and 34 times Austin Animal Center’s rates.

St. Hubert’s also had too many small dogs and other medium to large size breeds from Newark lose their lives. Overall, the shelter had 18% of small dogs and 25% of other medium to large size breeds with known outcomes 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 in 2018. Thus, St. Hubert’s had both small dogs and other medium to large size breeds lose their lives at 18 times and 25 times Austin Animal Center’s rates.

Since St. Hubert’s did not have known outcomes in many of the records provided to me, it is useful to do an adjusted analysis assuming some of the ending population animals were adopted out. The table below assumes all dogs placed into foster homes or dogs adopted on a trial basis were adopted out. Under these assumptions, the death rates for all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size dogs were 29%, 39%, 14% and 21%. The nonreclaimed death rates using these assumptions were 40%, 53%, 17% and 38% for all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size dogs. Thus, St. Hubert’s Newark dog statistics were still terrible even when assuming large numbers of dogs were adopted out.

The final dog analysis assumes St. Hubert’s adopted out all Newark dogs in the ending population. While I believe this is unrealistic, it is useful to see how St. Hubert’s performed using the most generous assumption. Under this assumption, the death rates for all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size breeds were 16%, 20%, 9% and 13%. The nonreclaimed death rates using these assumptions were 19%, 23%, 11% and 17%. Thus, St. Hubert’s Newark dog statistics were still awful even when the shelter received the most favorable assumption.

Cat Data Suggests Good Performance Due to Rescue Assistance

St. Hubert’s overall Newark cat statistics indicated death rates were slightly high. Overall, 11% of all cats, 11% of adult cats and 13% of kittens with known outcomes lost their lives. The nonreclaimed death rate was 13% for all cats, adult cats and kittens.

St. Hubert’s Newark cat statistics assuming live releases for all cats who were adopted out on a trial basis or placed into foster homes were good. Overall, the death rates using these assumptions for all cats, adult cats and kittens were 8%, 10% and 4%. The nonreclaimed death rates were 9% for all cats, 12% for adult cats and 4% for kittens.

The data suggests transfers to rescues and/or other shelters played a significant role. Overall, transfers to other organizations exceeded adoptions for both all cats and adult cats. For adult cats, transfers exceeded adoptions by nearly a 3 to 1 margin. If some of the trial adoptions and animals sent to foster homes ultimately were transferred and not adopted out, transfers to rescues and/or other shelters would have played an even larger role. Thus, St. Hubert’s seemed to disproportionately rely on other organizations to save the cats it took in from Newark.

St. Hubert’s cat statistics assuming all cats with no known outcomes were adopted out were very good. Overall, the death rates using this assumption for all cats, adult cats and kittens were 5%, 6% and 4%. The nonreclaimed death rates were 6% for all cats, 7% for adult cats and 4% for kittens. However, this generous assumption likely is not right since shelters frequently kill cats who stay at shelters for longer periods.

St. Hubert’s Absurd “Community Outreach” Claim

St. Hubert’s asserted Newark had a “pet overpopulation” problem and the organization was “dedicated to getting to the root cause” of it in its Spring 2019 newsletter. Newark Animal Control’s data showed AHS-Newark impounded 3,281 dogs and cats from Newark or 11.6 dogs and cats per 1,000 people during a 12 month period in 2017-2018. As a comparison, no kill communities in Kansas City, Missouri, Lake County, Florida and Austin, Texas took in 21.8, 17.4 and 15.1 dogs and cats per 1,000 people in 2019. Thus, St. Hubert’s claim that Newark has a “pet overpopulation” problem is not true since communities taking in significantly more animals on a per capita basis and in total achieved no kill.

St. Hubert’s attempt to solve this so-called “pet overpopulation” problem was inadequate. In that same newsletter, St. Hubert’s stated it provided free spay/neuter to 238 cats (who they said were mostly outdoor or community cats) and 33 dogs during a one time event. While I’m happy St. Hubert’s offered this service, these numbers would never make a dent in the dog or community cat population in Newark. Based on the methodology from St. Hubert’s own analysis from May 2014, the City of Newark should have between 20,896 and 47,015 community cats and 22,311 dogs. Therefore, St. Hubert’s spay/neuter effort would have sterilized 0.5% to 1.1% of Newark’s community cats and 0.1% of the city’s dogs. While a St. Hubert’s press release stated a slightly higher number of dogs and cats received free spay/neuter services (375 animals), this would only modestly increase these percentages. Based on a recent study showing sterilization rates of 60%-80% of a community cat population being needed to make a substantial reduction in the population, St. Hubert’s spay/neuter efforts clearly were not sufficient. Similarly, the low percentage of the Newark dog population sterilized at the clinic also shows this will have no real effect on dog intake at AHS-Newark. While St. Hubert’s claimed they would do more clinics if they got funding, I’ve not seen the organization make a substantial effort at doing this. Thus, St. Hubert’s spay/neuter effort is a public relations ploy rather than an effective no kill strategy.

Dog Data Consistent with St. Hubert’s Killing “Rescued” Newark Dogs

Recently, St. Hubert’s shocked animal advocates after it killed four dogs it “rescued” from AHS-Newark. St. Hubert’s killed the four dogs, Avery, Sumo, Bowser and Andy, after holding the animals for just 18 days. While St. Hubert’s claimed these dogs were severely dog aggressive, all the dogs were Associated Humane Societies-Newark “event” dogs. When I was a volunteer at AHS-Newark, we typically took the best behaved dogs to adoption events due to the obvious behavior challenges these events posed (i.e. many people, other dogs, etc.). As you can see in the pictures below, and by the fact these dogs participated well in these events, St. Hubert’s reasoning makes no sense. Additionally, AHS Assistant Executive Director, Ken McKeel, also came to the conclusion that these dogs could have been placed. Furthermore, animal welfare groups saved nearly every dog from the Michael Vick dog fighting case (i.e. proving organizations can even safely place many dogs used for fighting). Given St. Hubert’s operates a huge dog training facility, this organization had more than enough resources to do great things for these dogs.

The reality is St. Hubert’s did virtually nothing, but poison these dogs to death. How do I know? The shelter killed ALL four dogs on the same exact day after less than three weeks in their so-called shelter. In fact, the AHS Assistant Executive Director stated St. Hubert’s would not place these dogs after just nine days. Frankly, it defies logic that St. Hubert’s would conclude ALL four dogs were beyond help at the exact same time and after such a short period.

These events prove new St. Hubert’s Chief Operating Officer, Michelle Thevenin, was the wrong choice for the job. Ironically, Humane Rescue Alliance, the Washington D.C. based organization that recently acquired St. Hubert’s, announced Michelle Thevenin’s hiring on the very day St. Hubert’s conducted its fake “rescue” of these dogs and fundraising ploy. Ms. Thevenin previously ran a shelter in New Hampshire, and more recently, a limited admission shelter in Georgia. Humane Rescue Alliance stated the following in its press release:

Thevenin is deeply committed to growing St. Hubert’s best-in-class WayStation transport program.

Additionally, the Humane Rescue Alliance press release said:

She is committed to growing the WayStation and building capacity to help more animals and people.

Michelle Thevenin proved that she is firmly committed to St. Hubert’s and Roger Haston’s transport driven pet store business model. In other words, transport the easy to adopt dogs to raise money and receive large adoption fees, and kill the local dogs (i.e. adult pit bulls) that may require just a little work. This philosophy aligns with Humane Rescue Alliance’s own terrible performance with large dogs and pit bull like dogs in Washington D.C. and Humane Rescue Alliance celebrating Roger Haston last year.

Clearly, New Jersey legislators, animal advocates and animal welfare organizations should not consider St. Hubert’s an authority on any animal sheltering issues. Simply put, St. Hubert’s is controlled by an out of state organization looking to make itself, and its CEO who made $335,698 in fiscal year ending September 30, 2018, rich rather than helping New Jersey animals.

Simply put, St. Hubert’s views large dogs, particularly pit bulls, as expendable. St. Hubert’s own data from its Newark contract, its treatment of Avery, Sumo, Bowser and Andy prove that.

St. Hubert’s and National Animal Welfare Groups Enable AHS-Newark to Continue Doing Business as Usual

While I believe the national organizations involved in getting St. Hubert’s the Newark animal sheltering contract had good intentions, the end result made things worse for the city’s homeless animals. In November 2018, the City of Newark faced immense pressure to replace AHS-Newark. Given the very public and heated dispute between the City of Newark and AHS-Newark at this time, the City of Newark was unlikely to continue contracting with AHS-Newark. In other words, the City of Newark would likely have had to come up with an alternative, including running the shelter itself. Thus, the national organizations and St. Hubert’s brokered a deal that allowed the City of Newark to avoid taking this necessary action.

Unfortunately, St. Hubert’s own data and actions prove it never wanted to solve Newark’s animal sheltering crisis. Instead, it got some good news headlines and gave the City of Newark and AHS-Newark the political cover to continue contracting. After six months and St. Hubert’s abruptly walking away from its arrangement, the City of Newark made the case AHS-Newark changed and could be a viable sheltering solution:

The Associated Humane Societies (AHS) has a new board and both a vision and approach to achieving its mission to support the health and welfare of animals at risk,” said Dr. Wade. We are looking forward to a progressive relationship with them as we continue to canvass the city for a facility and location that would be appropriate for animal sheltering and in turn provide us with a long term solution.

As with past promises to build a new shelter, the City of Newark is unlikely to act without a sheltering crisis. Based on the New Jersey Department of Health’s refusal to inspect any animal shelters in over a year, we will probably not get the state health department to inspect AHS-Newark anytime soon. Since bad inspections historically drove media coverage of failing shelters, the City of Newark will face no pressure to replace AHS-Newark.

Sadly, AHS-Newark is regressing to its old ways. Last November, AHS Assistant Executive Director, Rob Russotti, resigned due to the AHS board refusing to allow him to make positive change at the shelter:

“I can unequivocally state that I was disappointed with my expectations of support, and an ongoing antiquated culture by certain members of the board,” Russotti said. “I did meet with internal resistance and undermining to my progressive initiatives which were supported by respected animal welfare organizations and the community.”

Recently, new AHS Assistant Executive Director, Ken McKeel, stated he will not allow rescues to pull small dogs, kittens and puppies unless they “take an older longtime resident or two.” As I stated in a Facebook post, this policy will increase killing at this regressive shelter for the following reasons:

  1. Not allowing rescues to pull more adoptable pets will lead to these animals staying at the shelter longer and cause less resources to go towards saving the harder to adopt animals.
  2. It will increase the shelter’s average length of stay (since AHS-Newark does a poor job with adoptions) and that will result in more sick animals and pets with behavior issues.
  3. Rescues are not likely to pull more hard to adopt animals just to get some easier to adopt pets. These rescues will simply go to other shelters.
  4. AHS-Newark is destroying its relationship with rescues who it will desperately need when the shelter becomes full.
  5. Many rescues will likely not pull animals since they have to make an appointment with an organization that is notoriously difficult to deal with.

With Roseann Trezza’s two year probation period barring her from officially running AHS-Newark expiring this spring, AHS-Newark will likely continue its decades long practice of regressive sheltering. Furthermore, AHS-Newark now receives around 50% more money from the City of Newark than before the St. Hubert’s contract. As such, AHS-Newark will surely feel emboldened to do whatever it wants.

Clearly, the St. Hubert’s debacle proves the animal shelter establishment in New Jersey and the United States cannot implement real shelter reform. Instead, as in most no kill communities, no kill advocates must engage in a long political campaign to force Newark and the other AHS-Newark contracting municipalities to create a real no kill shelter.

New York ACC Quickly Kills Large Numbers of Animals

Supposedly progressive animal welfare organizations have praised Animal Care Centers of NYC, which most people better know as New York ACC, as a no kill and role model shelter. At the 2017 Best Friends National Conference kick off session, Best Friends claimed New York ACC reached a 90% live release rate and was no kill. At this same conference presentation, Best Friends interviewed Mayor’s Alliance of NYC President, Jane Hoffman, and held her organization, which coordinates a number of New York ACC’s programs, and New York ACC as a role model for no kill advocates. Ms. Hoffman also claimed New York ACC exceeded 90% live release rates for both dogs and cats. In fact, Ms. Hoffman explicitly stated New York ACC was no kill earlier this year:

Having accomplished its mission to make NYC a no-kill city,” Hoffman told 1010 WINS, “the Alliance has reevaluated its programming to adapt to the changing needs of animal welfare in NYC.

Maddie’s Fund gave New York ACC CEO, Risa Weinstock, a $10,000 grant as a “no kill leader” for her “efforts in furthering the no-kill mission” in 2018. This grant provided money to “support community lifesaving, shelter medicine education and pet adoption.” In a Maddie’s Fund press release, the organization stated this “Hero Grant” “recognizes and honors the ‘top dogs’ in communities that are not only advancing the welfare of companion animals in the United States, but are leading the way with their innovative ideas, progressive thinking and lifesaving actions.” Thus, Maddie’s Fund not only viewed New York ACC as a no kill shelter, it also called the New York ACC CEO a “hero” and “no kill leader.”

Is New York ACC “no kill?” Is New York ACC a “top dog”, “hero” and “no kill leader?”

Data Reviewed

In order to get a better understanding of the job New York ACC did in 2018, I obtained the intake and disposition records for each individual dog and cat the shelter took in during the year. You can find those records here. Additionally, I obtained supporting records for a selection of dogs the shelter killed during the year. You can see those records here. Finally, I obtained New York ACC’s Controlled Dangerous Substance logs, which lists the euthanasia drugs given to each animal the shelter killed in 2018. You can review those records in the following links:

While assessing the adequacy of the Controlled Dangerous Substance logs was beyond the scope of my analysis, I generally found them a mess. For example, the logs were handwritten and illegible in many cases. Therefore, it was difficult to even determine if the shelter prepared and kept these logs properly. Amazingly, New York ACC has not implemented a computerized system for maintaining its Controlled Dangerous Substance logs despite the New York City Comptroller noting this in an audit report from three years earlier. In fact, the New York City Comptroller noted in their 2015 audit report that New York ACC was not in compliance with its contract with New York City since it “does not maintain a computerized inventory system of controlled substances.”

Unfortunately, New York ACC was extremely difficult to get information from. In my last six years doing public records requests from animal shelters, I found New York ACC one of the worst organizations to deal with. Frequently, I would not get responses for long periods of time. Additionally, I often needed to follow-up several times to get requested records. Furthermore, New York ACC only provided me animal records generated from their shelter software system. For example, the shelter did not give me original records, such as owner surrender forms, shelter behavioral evaluations and other firsthand records. As such, New York ACC mainly gave me its summary of these records and I could not verify if the shelter’s version of these facts were accurate.

Due to New York ACC’s stonewalling, I obtained fewer supporting documents than I typically do. For example, I reviewed records for 31 dogs killed and did not obtain supporting records for cats killed. However, I reviewed enough records to get a good idea about how New York ACC operates.

Deadly Dog Data

New York ACC had large percentages of their dogs lose their lives in 2018. Overall, 21% of all dogs taken in during 2018 who had known outcomes lost their lives. If we just look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, 24% of all these dogs lost their lives. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only had 1% of its dogs and 2% of its nonreclaimed dogs lose their lives in 2018. Thus, New York ACC had dogs lose their lives at 21 times and 12 times Austin Animal Center’s rates for all dogs and nonreclaimed dogs.

Unfortunately, New York ACC did not break out breed in many of its intake and disposition records. Instead, it uses large, medium and small dog descriptions for most dogs. While I fully support not listing breeds in adoption marketing materials since breed descriptions are often inaccurate and frequently lead to less pit bull adoptions, the shelter should include breed in its shelter software reports. Even though a scientific study found removing pit bull labels decreased the times these dogs spent in a shelter, pit bulls with no breed label in this study still stayed longer in the shelter than other types of dogs with or without a breed label. Therefore, the public likely still identifies some dogs as pit bulls who don’t have a breed description. If shelters do not track pit bull like dogs, or dogs who the public may perceive as pit bulls, as a separate group, the shelter will not be able to assess whether more of these dogs are losing their lives. As a result, New York ACC likely has much higher death rates for its pit bull like dogs than the broader dog descriptions below indicate.

New York ACC had a bigger percentage of large dogs lose their lives in 2018. Overall, 25% of large dogs taken in during 2018 who had known outcomes lost their lives. If we just look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners, 30% of these large dogs lost their lives. On the other hand, 16% and 19% of medium dogs and nonreclaimed medium dogs lost their lives in 2018. Collectively, New York ACC had 22% of all large and medium dogs and 26% of nonreclaimed large and medium dogs lose their lives last year. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only had 1% of its large and medium dogs and 1% of its nonreclaimed large and medium nonreclaimed dogs lose their lives in 2018. Thus, New York ACC had large and medium dogs lose their lives at 22 times and 26 times Austin Animal Center’s rates for all large and medium dogs and large and medium nonreclaimed dogs.

Small dogs were not safe at New York ACC in 2018. The shelter had 19% of all small dogs and 22% of nonreclaimed small dogs lose their lives in 2018. 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 euthanized 1% of small dogs and 1% of nonreclaimed small dogs in 2017Austin Animal Center only had 1% of small dogs and 2% of nonreclaimed small dogs lose their lives last year. Thus, New York ACC had small dogs and nonreclaimed small dogs lose their lives at 19 times and 11 times Austin Animal Center’s rates.

2018 NY ACC Dog Statistics.jpg

Senior Dog Slaughter

Older dogs lost their lives in massive numbers at New York ACC in 2018. Overall, New York ACC had 58% of all dogs, 73% of large dogs, 59% of medium dogs and 52% of small dogs that were 10 years and older lose their lives in 2018. If we just look at nonreclaimed dogs, an astonishing 64% of all dogs, 78% of large dogs, 69% of medium dogs and 57% of small dogs that were 10 years and older lost their lives in 2018. While senior dogs are more likely to be hopelessly suffering, its simply inconceivable that around half to three quarters of these dogs were in this state of health.

New York ACC’s senior dog slaughter becomes apparent when we compare its performance to Austin Animal Center. Based on Austin Animal Center’s publicly reported 2018 intake and disposition records, this shelter only had 4% and 8% of all 10 year old plus dogs and nonreclaimed 10 years old plus dogs lose their lives in 2018. As a result, New York ACC had senior dogs and nonreclaimed senior dogs lose their lives at 15 times and eight times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

2018 NY ACC Dogs 10 Years and Older Statistics.jpg

Owner Surrendered Dogs Die in Droves

As bad as New York ACC’s overall dog data was, the owner surrendered dog statistics were far worse. Overall, 33% of all owner surrendered dogs, 36% of large owner surrendered dogs, 26% of medium owner surrendered dogs and 34% of small owner surrendered dogs lost their lives in 2018. If we just look at nonreclaimed owner surrendered dogs, an astonishing 36% of all owner surrendered dogs, 40% of large owner surrendered dogs, 28% of medium owner surrendered dogs and 36% of of small owner surrendered dogs lost their lives. Thus, around 1 in 4 to more than 1 in 3 owner surrendered dogs lost their lives at New York ACC in 2018.

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New York ACC killed huge numbers of dogs for “owner requested euthanasia.” Overall, New York ACC killed 1,025 dogs, 298 large dogs, 160 medium dogs and 567 small dogs for “owner requested euthanasia.” Remarkably, owner requested euthanasia made up 12%, 10% of, 8% and 16% of all outcomes for all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs. Even worse, owner requested euthanasia made up 26%, 22%, 20% and 33% of all outcomes for owner surrendered all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs. In fact, 80% of killed owner surrendered dogs, 62% of killed owner surrendered large dogs, 75% of killed owner surrendered medium dogs and 97% of killed owner surrendered small dogs were classified as “owner requested euthanasia.”

Frankly, I’ve never seen any shelter report such a high percentage of owner requested euthanasia. For example, I’ve reviewed detailed records at inner city shelters in Newark, Paterson, Passaic, Elizabeth and Perth Amboy and did not see anywhere near these types of owner requested euthanasia numbers. Given New York ACC uses the Asilomar Accords, which require shelters to exclude owner requested euthanasia from their live release rates, New York ACC has a strong incentive count killed animals as “owner requested euthanasia.”

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Quick and Immediate Dog Killing

New York ACC’s dog length of stay data revealed the shelter quickly killed dogs. Specifically, the shelter killed all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs after 3.6 days, 6.0 days, 3.9 days and 0.9 days on average in 2018. Clearly, this is not nearly enough time to determine if the shelter can save these animals.

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While the average length of stay data is revealing, the distribution of the lengths of stay of the dogs killed is eye opening. Remarkably, New York ACC killed 62% of the dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. 76% of the dogs New York ACC killed occurred within five days or less. New York ACC killed 81%, 90% and 95% of the dogs it killed within seven, 12 and 15 days. In fact, almost every dog New York ACC killed happened within 30 days or less. Thus, New York ACC gave the dogs it killed virtually no chance to become adoptable.

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New York ACC killed owner surrendered dogs even faster. The shelter killed all owner surrendered dogs, large owner surrendered dogs, medium owner surrendered dogs and small owner surrendered dogs after 1.9 days, 3.5 days, 2.0 days and 0.5 days on average in 2018.

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The distribution of the lengths of stay of killed owner surrendered dogs at New York ACC in 2018 is quite telling. New York ACC killed 78% of the owner surrendered dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 83%, 89% and 96% of the dogs it killed within three, six and 13 days. In fact, New York ACC killed virtually every owner surrendered dog it killed within 23 days.

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New York ACC’s length of stay data showed it gave no mercy to senior dogs. The shelter killed all dogs, large dogs, medium dogs and small dogs that were 10 years and older after jut 0.4 days, 0.8 days, 0.2 days and 0.3 days on average in 2018.

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When we look at the distribution of the lengths of stay of the senior dogs New York ACC killed, we can clearly see how this shelter gave these animals no chance. New York ACC killed 92% of the 10 years and older dogs it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 95%, 97% and 98% of the senior dogs it killed within one day, three days and six days. In fact, New York ACC killed virtually every 10 years and older dog it killed within 13 days.

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Dogs Killed for Highly Questionable Reasons

The killed dogs records I selected indicated New York ACC killed unusually large percentages of dogs for aggression. Overall, New York ACC killed 6.5% of all the dogs it took in during 2018 for aggression if you extrapolate my sample to all of the shelter’s dog intake last year. 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, New York ACC killed dogs for aggression related reasons at 65 times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, New York ACC erroneously labeled dogs aggressive and did not do enough to rehabilitate those that had some issues.

The shelter also killed too many dogs for medical reasons. During 2018, New York ACC killed 13.4% of all dogs for medical reasons if you extrapolate my sample to the shelter’s entire dog intake for the year. However, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.6% of all dogs for medical reasons. Therefore, New York ACC killed dogs for medical related reasons at 22 times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, New York ACC killed treatable dogs.

New York ACC Killed Dog Sample Reasons

Savannah or Dog ID# 17943 was a 1 year and 11 month old large mixed breed dog surrendered to New York ACC on January 12, 2018. Initially, the owner contacted New York ACC on January 9, 2018 about surrendering Savannah for aggression related problems. According to New York ACC’s version of the owner’s conversation, Savannah bit several family members in a few incidents that involved food and touching the dog.

New York ACC’s summary of the dog owner’s assessment of Savannah provided more details on this dog. In the “behavior note” below, Savannah was “friendly, playful, gentle and tolerant” of children that were 3-10 years old who visited. Savannah also was “friendly and playful” with other dogs and “friendly and relaxed” around cats in her home. In the home, Savannah took about 20 minutes to warm up to strangers, where she would allow petting, and growled when people tried to take food or bones away.

Savannah’s past bites per New York ACC’s summary of the dog owner’s assessment of Savannah indicated she may have been treatable. One bite related to the owner “cleaning a hot spot on her leg.” In another case, an owner’s relative approached and told Savannah to get away from a plate of food Savannah started eating. In another instance, Savannah bit the owner and their mother after the owner was petting the dog’s tail after a walk. Finally, Savannah bit the owner’s cousin when he brought her chicken after a bath to induce her to go for a walk. None of the bites required stitches at a medical facility.

Despite Savannah’s bites having apparent triggers, which may possibly have responded to behavioral rehabilitation, and New York ACC never even seeing the dog, New York ACC persuaded the “emotional” owner to do an owner requested euthanasia (“E&R”) instead of a regular owner surrender. New York ACC then immediately killed Savannah when she was surrendered on January 12, 2018.

While Savannah may or may not have been hopelessly aggressive, New York ACC made no effort to really find out. Instead, it used its power to influence an “emotional” owner to let the shelter immediately kill her as an owner requested euthanasia. As a result, New York ACC did not count this killing in its Asilimar Live Release Rate to help it falsely claim its no kill.

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Smokey or Dog ID# 32081 was a five year old large mixed breed dog surrendered to New York ACC on June 23, 2018. According to New York ACC’s summary of Smokey, the shelter claimed Smokey was a “guard dog” and “dog reactive” and had a recent fight with another dog. New York ACC’s quote from the dog owner stated he was concerned about his godchild since Smokey was fighting with another dog in the home. The shelter claimed the owner also said the dog can become reactive when the owner is not around and sometimes can be unpredictable. Shockingly, New York ACC advised the owner to do an owner requested euthanasia. Why did New York ACC tell the owner this? New York ACC had an internal “discussion over the population call and its best to have Mr. request for E/R at the time of appointment.” In other words, New York ACC was going to kill dogs for space and wanted to exclude killing Smokey from its Asilomar live release rate.

As with Savannah, New York ACC did not even attempt to determine if it could treat Smokey. The shelter made no medical notes, did no veterinary treatments and never even attempted to provide any behavioral enrichment or rehabilitation. Instead, New York ACC immediately killed Smokey as an owner requested euthanasia in order to make its statistics look better.

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Bella or Dog ID# 23675 was a large mixed breed dog that was surrendered to New York ACC on March 25, 2018. According to New York ACC’s summary of discussions with the owner, the owner got Bella from someone who left her tied to a tree. The shelter’s summary also noted Bella had an unknown skin allergy. In New York ACC’s summary below, Bella had a few minor bites on dogs who approached her. However, the notes did not indicate any bite was very serious. On the other hand, the owner noted Bella was “friendly and affectionate” with two other dogs in the home. The owner also noted Bella’s hackles stood up and she would get tense and growl when someone came from behind when walking at night. Additionally, the owner stated Bella would bark, growl and lunge when people “with a bad aura” came over. However, the shelter’s notes indicate Bella never bit any person. Finally, the owner noted Bella had separation anxiety when the owner was out for more than three hours.

Bella’s behaviors are things many dog owners experience. For example, many dogs have a sixth sense around threatening people and act defensively or standoffish. Similarly, separation anxiety is not an uncommon problem pet owners deal with.

New York ACC’s summary of its interactions with the owner are disturbing. The owner wanted to surrender both dogs due to Bella having separation anxiety. Thankfully, the shelter convinced the owner that she should not surrender the other dog. New York ACC also rightfully provided advice on easing Bella’s separation anxiety. However, when the owner refused to do these things, New York ACC advised her to do an owner requested euthanasia citing the shelter likely killing Bella for behavior. When the owner refused New York ACC’s advice to call Bella’s killing an owner requested euthanasia, the owner’s girlfriend, who also owned Bella, “yelled at her and explained that she will never be good with other dogs and that she should just put her to sleep.” Furthermore, the owner’s girlfriend stated the shelter most likely would put Bella to sleep. While New York ACC did dispute the girlfriend’s claims, the shelter did state the following:

I explained to them both that even though I feel she has a higher chance at being humanely euthanized, she could still be rescued or adopted and nothing is a guarantee. I explained her anxiety and destructive tendencies will factor in however. I explained in a shelter she has to interact with strangers and will be around other dogs and stay in a kennel most of the time. I explained that even if she is well behaved she might get sick because of stress. I explained we do have partners that pull from us and a high placement rate and that if she did not feel comfortable making the decision to humanely euthanize she doesn’t have to.

After the owner, who was getting screamed at by her girlfriend to kill Bella, heard this advice that effectively backed up the girlfriend’s claims, the owner agreed to do an owner requested euthanasia. In other words, New York ACC basically told the owner the shelter would likely kill Bella since she is not “well behaved” and “might get sick.” After just a single day at the shelter, New York ACC killed Bella and excluded her killing from its Asilomar live release rate as an owner requested euthanasia.

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Zina or Dog ID# 19276 was a six year old large mixed breed dog surrendered to New York ACC on January 27, 2018. According to New York ACC’s summary of its conversation with the owner, the dog had hyperglycemia (i.e. low blood sugar) and “very bad seizures.” Instead of treating Zina, New York ACC did an owner requested euthanasia and immediately killed Zina.

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, New York ACC should have done a full veterinary evaluation and reached out to the public for help. Instead, New York ACC killed Zina on the spot and did not count her in its Asilomar live release rate.

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Many Cats Killed

New York ACC’s statistics reveal the shelter killed too many cats in 2018. Since New York ACC did not list specific ages of a good number of cats (i.e. 1 year and older cats, kittens from 6 weeks to just under 1 year and kittens under 6 weeks) and such cats had a higher death rates, the statistics for each known cat age group are likely a little worse than the ones in the table below. Overall, 11% of cats lost their lives at New York ACC in 2018 or about three times the percentage at Austin Animal Center last year. 12% of nonreclaimed cats lost their lives at New York ACC 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 three and two times as likely to lose their lives at New York ACC than at Austin Animal Center in 2018.

The shelter’s statistics also revealed adult cats lost their lives at a higher rate. New York ACC’s kitten statistics (5% and 8% death rates for 6 weeks to just under one year kittens and kittens under 6 weeks) were good. Almost all the neonatal kittens were saved by the rescue community and the ASPCA’s kitten nursery program as evidenced by transfers making up 83% of neonatal kitten positive outcomes. However, 15% of all adult cats lost their lives. As a comparison, only 6% of adult cats lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018. Thus, adult cats lost their lives at three times Austin Animal Center’s rate in 2018.

2018 NY ACC Cat Statistics

Older Cats Obliterated

New York ACC killed many senior cats. Overall, the shelter had 46% of its 10 years and older cats lose their lives. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center’s publicly reported 2018 intake and disposition records showed only 10% of this shelter’s 10 years and older cats lost their lives. Thus, New York ACC had its 10 years and older cats lost their lives at five times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

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Unusually Large Number of Cat Owner Requested Euthanasia

New York ACC’s cat owner requested euthanasia data is quite telling. Overall, New York ACC killed 4% and 7% of all cats and 1 year and older cats as owner requested euthanasia. Off the bat, this is a huge red flag since that number is far in excess of what I’ve seen at nearby New Jersey animal shelters. When we look at killed cats, we see New York ACC classified 38% of all killed cats and 52% of all killed adult cats as owner requested euthanasia. Finally, when we look at just killed owner surrendered cats, New York ACC classified 91% of all killed cats, 93% of adult killed cats, 67% of killed older kittens, 11% of killed neonatal kittens and 75% of killed cats with no ages as owner requested euthanasia.

While its possible New York City may have more hopelessly suffering cats, such as cats hit by cars with severe injuries, that does not really seem to explain this data. As mentioned before, I’ve reviewed extensive data sets of cats coming into New Jersey urban shelters in Newark, Elizabeth, Paterson, Passaic and Perth Amboy and have not seen cat owner requested euthanasia numbers like these. Due to New York ACC’s slow responses to my other records requests, I was unable to request and obtain individual cat records. New York City animal advocates should obtain records of killed cats classified as owner requested euthanasia to determine the specific reasons why New York ACC killed these animals.

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Instant Cat Killing

New York ACC’s cat length of stay data revealed the shelter quickly killed cats. While the shelter adopted out and transferred cats in just 14 days and eight days, the shelter killed cats on average after just one day. In fact, the shelter killed cats in all the age classes below after just 1-2 days on average. Thus, New York ACC almost immediately killed all the cats it decided to kill.

2018 NY ACC Cats LOS

While the average length of stay data is revealing, the distribution of the length of stay of the cats killed is eye opening. Remarkably, New York ACC killed 74% of the cats it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 86%, 91%, 94% and 99% of the cats it killed within 1 day, 2 days, 4 days and 15 days. In fact, almost every cat New York ACC killed happened within 35 days or less. Thus, New York ACC gave the cats it killed virtually no chance to become adoptable.

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If this data for all cats wasn’t bad enough, New York ACC’s distribution of killed adult cats was even worse. Amazingly, New York ACC killed 78% of the adult cats it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 88%, 93%, 96% and 99% of the adult cats it killed within 1 day, 3 days, 6 days and 13 days. Almost every adult cat New York ACC killed happened within 22 days or less. 2018 NY ACC Adult Killed Cat LOS Distribution.jpg

New York ACC’s distribution of the lengths of stay of the 10 years and older cats it killed show the shelter gave these animals virtually no chance. Shockingly, New York ACC killed 86% of the 10 years and older cats it killed on the very day they arrived at the shelter. New York ACC killed 93%, 95%, 97%, 98% and 99% of the 10 years and older cats it killed within 1 day, 2 days, 4 days, 9 days and 13 days. Virtually every 10 years and older cat New York ACC killed happened within 18 days or less.

2018 NY ACC Senior Killed Cat LOS Distribution

New York ACC Receives Massive Funding

New York ACC’s abysmal performance becomes clear when we do a detailed financial comparison with Austin Animal Center. Using New York ACC’s total revenue from its Form 990 for fiscal year ending June 30, 2018 and the total dogs and cats it impounded in calendar year 2018, we can estimate the shelter received $853 per each dog and cat impounded. As a comparison, we can estimate Austin Animal Center received $811 per dog and cat according to the Austin Comprehensive Financial Report for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2018 and the total dogs and cats Austin Animal Center impounded in calendar year 2018. Thus, New York ACC may actually have received more funding than Austin Animal Center in 2018.

The rescue community provides more support to New York ACC than Austin Animal Center as well. Overall, New York ACC transferred 33% of its dogs to rescues and other shelters while Austin Animal Center only transferred 21% of its dogs. Similarly, New York ACC transferred 55% of its cats to rescues and other shelters while Austin Animal Center only transferred 27% of its cats. Since transferring animals significantly reduces the cost of caring for animals, New York ACC should require less funds than Austin Animal Center all else being equal.

Despite having these financial advantages, New York ACC’s death rates are vastly higher than Austin Animal Center. As the table below shows, New York ACC has its animals lose their lives at around 3 to 15 times Austin Animal Center’s rates. Thus, New York ACC is failing its animals.

2018 Austin Animal Center Verses NY ACC

New York ACC also has many available homes for its animals. According to a New York Economic Development Corporation analysis from several years ago, 600,000 dogs and 500,000 cats live in New York City. If we assume cats live in someone’s home for 10 years and are then replaced when they die, New York City residents acquire 50,000 cats each year. If New York ACC were to achieve a 95% cat live release rate in 2018 and not use any rescue support, it would only need to adopt out 13,648 cats. In other words, the shelter would only have to convince 27% of New York City residents acquiring cats to adopt one. Similarly, if New York City residents own dogs for seven years on average and then replace the dogs when they die, New York City residents would acquire 85,714 dogs each year. If New York ACC were to achieve a 95% dog live release rate in 2018 and not use any rescue support, it would only need to adopt out 6,699 dogs. This is just 8% of the estimated number of dogs New York City residents acquire each year.

Results Require Action at New York ACC and its Enabling National Organizations

How can an organization with vast financial resources and rescue support kill so many animals? Honestly, the only reasonable answer would be a lack of shelter capacity. Animal advocates have long argued for building full service animal shelters in Queens and the Bronx. Based on my experience with the Manhattan shelter, I was struck by the extremely small number of animals, particularly large dogs, in the adoption area. While I do not think this justifies New York ACC’s killing due to the fact large scale foster programs could substantially expand New York ACC’s dog and cat capacity, lack of space could be a reasonable argument for those not familiar with large scale fostering operations.

So why doesn’t New York ACC say it kills for lack of space? Despite New York ACC’s nonprofit status, it is controlled by the New York City government and is considered a government agency. If the city were to admit it doesn’t have enough shelter space, the city would be put under immense pressure to spend large sums of money to immediately build the new animal shelters in Queens and the Bronx (this may happen in several years). As anyone familiar with government knows, large and expensive financial projects do not happen unless powerful people get behind them.

The other reason is New York ACC and the city health department do not want scrutiny. If New York ACC can convince the public it only euthanizes hopelessly suffering animals, people won’t question the senior leadership who earn large sums of money. For example, New York ACC CEO, Risa Weinstock, earned $202,834 of total compensation last year despite these horrific death rates. Its in her financial interest to maintain the status quo. Similarly, its in the interest of the New York City Department of Health, which oversees the shelter, to maintain the current status quo. Simply put, admitting the shelter can do better would cause the public to pressure those running and overseeing the shelter to change things. Thus, New York ACC and the New York City Department of Health do not want to admit a problem exists.

For these reasons, supposedly progressive organizations celebrating New York ACC as a success is so dangerous. Even though New York ACC does have a higher live release rate than it did many years ago, the shelter’s live release rate has not increased in recent years. More importantly, this blog shows New York ACC kills healthy and treatable pets and doesn’t even give many of these animals a chance to live. In fact, this blog’s findings are remarkably consistent with recent news stories of New York ACC immediately killing dogs whose owners were looking for their pets. When well-known organizations declare New York ACC or any regressive shelter a success, they encourage those shelters to maintain the status quo (i.e. quick killing at New York ACC). After all, if Best Friends states you are “no kill” and Maddie’s Fund gives you an award for being a “hero” and a “no kill leader”, why would you change what you are doing? Sadly, the damage may already be done based on New York City entering into a contract with New York ACC in early 2019 for an unheard of 34 year period.

So why would supposedly progressive animal welfare organizations engage in such destructive behavior? First, I believe these organizations genuinely believe that playing nice can get bad shelters to put lifesaving programs into place. While this works well with organizations whose leaderships are fully on board with no kill, it does not make regressive organizations no kill. When an organization’s leadership is perfectly fine with killing pets for convenience, it will kill animals requiring more work. For example, what good is a free or discounted adoption promotion if the shelter kills treatable animals before the animals are put up for adoption? Thus, I believe the collaboration at all costs mindset is naive.

Secondly, I believe the progressive sounding organizations find this behavior lucrative. If a national organization can make the public think their organization helped make the largest city in the country no kill, it can increase donations. Similarly, if these organizations can persuade their large financial benefactors that they made the largest city no kill, their highly paid leadership’s jobs will become more secure. Additionally, I think the resulting acclaim from the media and other parties is also a motivating factor. Certainly, Best Friends and Maddie’s Fund employ people I not only respect, but admire as well. However, I do think these factors do influence the behavior of these organizations’ most senior leadership.

Finally, I think the relationships these progressive organizations make with regressive shelter leaders cloud their thinking. When one works closely with people, its only natural to develop friendships. Given these relationships occur over many years, its only human for someone to want their friends to succeed. As a result, I think these progressive national organizations lose sight of what is happening and make the mistake of propping up their friends rather than standing up for the homeless animals their friends are killing.

These progressive organizations may do long term damage to themselves. In New York City and surrounding areas, grass roots animal advocates know the truth about New York ACC. Within this group of people, these organizations are seen as not only inauthentic, but part of the problem with New York ACC. In fact, the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals recently announced it was transferring many of its programs to other organizations. While the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals stated it “accomplished its mission to make NYC a no-kill city”, the organization’s audited financial statements indicate significant decreases in funding. For example, the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals reported $2,308,816 of individual and other contributions in 2014 and $1,506,401 of such donations in 2018. In other words, these donations dropped by $802,415 or 35%. Similarly, donations from foundations, such as Maddie’s Fund, decreased from $6,133,439 to $302,500 over this time period.

Ultimately, progressive national organizations face the same risks of pursuing inauthentic policies like propping up New York ACC. Eventually, the larger public will become aware of the disconnect between great sounding messages and enabling high kill shelters to keep doing business as usual. As such, I hope Best Friend’s and Maddie’s Fund rediscover their no kill mission and join grass roots animal advocates to make New York ACC a real no kill shelter.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

2018 Cat Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

Cats are losing their lives at an alarming rate in New Jersey animal shelters. New Jersey animal shelters killed nearly 8,000 cats or 18% of those cats having known outcomes in 2018. Additionally, a number of other cats died or went missing. This blog explores the reasons why this tragedy is occurring and whether we can end the massacre.

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

In order to assess how good of a job New Jersey animal shelters are doing, I’ve developed an analysis I call the “Life Saving Model.” While shelter performance is dependent on many variables, such as finances, facility design, local laws, etc., the most critical factor impacting potential life saving is animal holding capacity. Without having enough physical space and foster homes, a shelter might not have enough time to find loving homes for its animals. Shelters can overcome financial limitations through creative fundraising or recruiting more volunteers. Similarly, organizations can save their cats despite having run down facilities if these groups enthusiastically implement policies to get animals into loving homes quickly. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey and nearby areas cats.

The Life Saving Model measures the number of local animals a shelter should adopt out, rescue from other facilities, send to rescues or other shelters and euthanize to achieve no kill level live release rates. The targeted outcomes take into account each facility’s physical capacity plus the amount of foster homes it should use and the number of cats the organization receives from its community (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, cruelty cases, etc.). I assume a target euthanasia rate, take the number of cats actually returned to owners and then estimate how many community cats a shelter should adopt out. To the extent space runs out, I then calculate how many cats must be sent to rescue. If the shelter has excess space after properly serving its local community, the facility uses that room to rescue and adopt out cats from nearby areas. The targeted results calculated from this model are compared to the actual results from each shelter below.

This year I expanded shelter capacity to include the number of foster homes shelters should use. Based on a target I obtained from Target Zero’s now defunct “Humane Dash” tool, which I confirmed is appropriate with American Pets Alive leadership, shelters should have 7.5% of their annual cat intake in foster homes at any one time. These estimates are based on what several no kill animal control shelters already accomplish. Given fostering increases capacity and provides more humane care to animals, it is critical shelters have large scale foster programs. Therefore, I added 7.5% of each shelter’s annual cat intake to the shelter’s physical capacity.

The Life Saving Model requires a more complex analysis for cats than dogs in New Jersey. Generally speaking, New Jersey animal shelters receive few litters of young puppies who are vulnerable to disease. On the other hand, local shelters receive lots of young kittens, particularly during the April to October kitten season. These young kittens are highly vulnerable to disease and those without mothers require bottle feeding every 1-2 hours. Therefore, animal welfare organizations should not hold these kittens in a traditional shelter setting and instead should send these animals to foster homes or a kitten nursery at or outside of the facility. During the months outside of kitten season (i.e. November-March), my model assumes shelters will be able to place young kittens into their volunteers’ foster homes and/or in a kitten nursery run by the animal shelter. In kitten season with many young animals coming in, I assume a certain percentage of the cat intake will need to go to rescues or other shelters. For shelters who rescue cats, I assume a small percentage of the cats are young kittens who are hopelessly suffering and will require humane euthanasia. Thus, my Life Saving Model is a bit more complicated than the analysis I did for dogs.

To read specific details and assumptions used in the model, please see the Appendix at the end of this blog.

My analysis puts a cap on the targeted numbers of cats rescued from other shelters and adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I wanted to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animal shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita cat adoption rate that is less than those found at some of the best animal control shelters.

My modified analysis capped cat adoptions at 8 cats per 1,000 people within each New Jersey county. In other words, the targeted numbers of cats rescued from other shelters and adopted below are the lesser of

  1. Number predicted by model
  2. Number determined by capping adoptions at 8 cats per 1,000 people in the county

In simple terms, a shelter is expected to achieve this per capita adoption rate unless the facility lacks enough space and foster homes. If a shelter does not have sufficient room, it won’t have the time to reach all the potential adopters and requires assistance from rescues and/or other facilities.

Another complexity in this analysis are feral cats. In an ideal world, shelters would practice trap-neuter-return (TNR) or shelter-neuter-return (SNR) for feral cats only. In TNR, the public or a third party typically does the work and the shelter doesn’t take in feral cats. In the variant of SNR I support, the shelter would take in feral cats, neuter them and release them back to where they were found. Unfortunately, many municipalities prohibit these programs and shelters in these places generally catch and kill feral cats.

Ideally, I would perform two analyses as follows:

  1. Modeling a large scale and targeted TNR program by reducing cat intake at shelters needing to implement TNR or improve their existing TNR programs
  2. Estimating the number of truly feral cats taken in and counting these cats as killed

The first analysis assumes TNR could be implemented and would result in fewer New Jersey cats for shelters to place. In a blog I wrote several years ago, I estimated the impact of a high volume targeted spay/neuter program. Generally speaking, this analysis required many animal control shelters to adopt out more cats, send fewer cats to rescue, and rescue more cats from other shelters due to the extra shelter space resulting from lower local cat intake. In other words, this analysis would require shelters to achieve higher performance targets.

The second analysis assumes local laws cannot be changed and shelters are stuck receiving unadoptable feral cats. Unfortunately, I do not have the data to calculate the percentage of truly feral cats received at each New Jersey animal shelter. Based on an analysis of Michigan animal shelter data, Nathan Winograd estimated at least 6% of cat intake at Michigan animal shelters are truly feral cats. Similarly, Wisconsin’s Clark County Humane Society 2014 cat statistics show feral cats who were trapped, vaccinated and returned to the community made up 7% of cat outcomes. Based on these numbers and the success of barn cat programs in places such as the Maryville, Tennessee area, barn cat programs should be able to save most feral cats in similar communities. In fact, 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. Thus, the number of truly feral cats may be much lower than the amount of cats most shelters label as aggressive.

My model assumes shelters are doing the proper thing and practicing TNR and placing the reasonable number of feral cats received as barn cats. Obviously, many shelters do take in a good number of feral cats due to poor laws or misguided policies. As a result, the number of New Jersey cats killed may be higher than my model predicts for some shelters. However, my model’s results using total cat intake rather than assuming a larger percentage of feral cats will not be too much different for the targeted adoption and euthanasia rate metrics as explained in my blog from several years ago. The following analysis assumes shelters receive a reasonable number of truly feral cats. As a result, shelters can adopt out these cats through barn cat programs. While I realize some shelters do receive greater numbers of truly feral cats, the purpose of this analysis is to examine whether New Jersey animal shelters can handle the number of cats received.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Contain Enough Space to Save Most of New Jersey’s Healthy and Treatable Cats and Many More from Other States

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save the state’s healthy and treatable cats. The table below details the targeted numbers of cat outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 44,499 New Jersey cats coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2018, 29,260 and 7,140 cats should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the cats in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had enough capacity to rescue 35,107 cats or about five times the number of cats needing rescue from space constrained facilities. Unfortunately, some of the cats needing rescue, such as very young kittens, should not stay in a shelter and still must go to either kitten nurseries or foster homes. That being said, many adult cats are in fact killed in New Jersey animal shelters and many facilities with excess space could save these cats.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space and potential foster homes to save many cats from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue 27,967 cats from out of state shelters or New Jersey’s streets after achieving a 92% live release rate for cats coming into the state’s animal shelters. In reality, the New Jersey shelter system could rescue more than 27,967 cats from out of state shelters or from New Jersey’s streets given the 27,967 figure assumes all cats needing rescue from space constrained New Jersey shelters are sent to other New Jersey shelters as opposed to rescue groups. As explained above, some of the cats needing rescue from New Jersey shelters with a shortage of space are young kittens which should not go to most animal shelters. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters contain enough space to make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for cats and increase those cities’ cat live release rates to 92% as follows (per 2018 data):

  • New York City – 493 additional cats need saving
  • Philadelphia – 1,051 additional cats need saving

Certainly, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. While some of the 659 cats New Jersey animal shelters rescued from out of state facilities may have come from New York City and Philadelphia shelters, its likely many came from other states since transporting shelters, such as St. Hubert’s, pulled a sizable number of these cats. Even though some of these cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters are young kittens, which should not go to a normal animal shelter, many other cats could go to New Jersey animal shelters and be adopted out. As a result, the additional number of cats New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City and Philadelphia is not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for cats and help other states reach that goal as well.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 7.0 cats per 1,000 people in the state (4.1 cats per 1,000 people if no cats were rescued from out of state and all cats sent to rescue were rescued by other New Jersey animal shelters and adopted out). As a comparison, recent per capita cat adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia area) – 10.3 cats per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Washoe County, Nevada and Carson City, Nevada) – 9.1 cats per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 8.0 cats per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out significantly more cats than the number I target for New Jersey animal shelters.

2018 Cat Model Summary Targets

Cat Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

The goal of any properly managed animal shelter is to save all of its healthy and treatable animals. In some cases, such as selective admission rescue oriented shelters, it is pretty easy to not kill animals. In addition, other animal shelters with easy to service animal control contracts (i.e. few animals impounded) can avoid unnecessary killing due to having lots of extra space. As a result, some shelters may have an easier time than others in preventing killing at their shelters.

The tables below detail how many cats should lose their lives at each state animal shelter per my model and the actual numbers of cats that did. All missing or lost cats are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Based on my review of a number of shelters’ underlying documents, virtually all of the cats in the “Other” outcome category died or went missing. While a small numbers of shelters could have included some live releases in the “Other” outcome category, it would be misleading to not count these deaths for the overwhelming majority of shelters. The “targeted” numbers in the table are based on the shelter’s actual cat intake rather than targeted cat intake to ensure an apples to apples comparison with the actual cats losing their lives. Shelters having the number of cats losing their lives at or below my targets and above my targets are highlighted in green and red in the tables below.

The overall results show too many cats are unnecessarily losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. New Jersey animal shelters had 6,757 cats needlessly lose their lives in 2018 (i.e. the sum of all shelters with too many cats needlessly losing their lives in the table below).

The largest number of cats unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. 10 out of 91 or 11% of the shelters accounted for 81% of the cats unnecessarily losing their lives under the model’s assumptions. Half of these ten shelters had negative stories reported in the press and/or on my blog or Facebook page over the last several years. Shelters with the greatest numbers of unnecessary cat deaths are as follows:

  1. Atlantic County Animal Shelter (1,118)
  2. Gloucester County Animal Shelter (1,059)
  3. Burlington County Animal Shelter (641)
  4. Associated Humane Societies-Newark (594)
  5. South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter (581)
  6. Northern Ocean County Animal Facility (567)
  7. Southern Ocean County Animal Facility (284)
  8. Vorhees Animal Orphanage (251)
  9. Bergen County Animal Shelter (206)
  10. Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls (179)

Rescue oriented shelters generally had fewer cats lose their lives than targeted. While saving large numbers of cats is what we all want, some of these shelters may have achieved this result by taking in easier cats. Austin Pets Alive, which is a rescue oriented shelter in Texas, has developed some of the most innovative cat programs and only had a cat live release rate of 89.3% in 2018. This was due to Austin Pets Alive taking in many cats requiring significant treatment, such as neonatal kittens, from the city animal control shelter. As a result, some of the rescue oriented shelters with significantly fewer cats euthanized than targeted may have avoided taking in many of the more difficult cases.

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Space Constrained Facilities Not Receiving Enough Support from Rescues and Other Animal Shelters

Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake and very limited space, it will need more help than other shelters. While sending animals to rescues is a good thing, we do want shelters most needing rescue support to receive that help given rescues have limited resources. The tables below compare the number of cats a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of cats actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.

Overall, New Jersey shelters are not receiving enough help from other animal welfare organizations. While New Jersey animal shelters sent more cats to rescues and other shelters than my model targeted, many cats were rescued from facilities which did not require so much rescue assistance. Only 37 out of the 70 facilities needing rescue assistance received the required support. In other words, only 53% of the animal shelters needing rescue help received the amount these facilities require.

We truly need to understand the reasons for this rescue shortfall. While poor data collection (i.e. shelters classifying rescues as adoptions) may explain part of this rescue deficit, the large size of this number points to other causes as well. For example, New Jersey shelters as a whole significantly exceeded their dog rescue needs and a much smaller number of shelters failed to receive enough rescue support, but just 53% of shelters needing cat rescue assistance received the needed support. Certainly, some of these cats are feral and not candidates for most rescues. However, many other cats surely are home-able. Many high kill facilities may not reach out to rescues for cats, such as during kitten season, as much as they do for dogs. This data supports the need for New Jersey to pass shelter reform bill S725 which requires shelters to contact rescues and other facilities at least two business days before killing animals. On the other hand, shelters with excess capacity may not be doing their part to save cats from space constrained facilities.

Several shelters received too much rescue help. Rescues may want to help these organizations due to rescue friendly policies. Alternatively, these shelters may be relying too heavily on rescues to save their animals. Shelters (excluding St. Hubert’s which transfers cats as part of national rescue campaigns) receiving the most extra rescue support were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 942 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 524 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Paterson Animal Control – 317 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center – 265 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Byram Township Animal Shelter – 177 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Northern Ocean County Animal Facility – 167 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Elizabeth Animal Shelter – 162 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 148 more cats transferred than necessary

Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Gloucester County Animal Shelter, Paterson Animal Control, Elizabeth Animal Shelter and Trenton Animal Shelter are terrible facilities. Associated Humane Societies-Newark has a history of problemskills animals for ridiculous reasons and its Executive Director had animal cruelty charges filed against her. Gloucester County Animal Shelter illegally killed hundreds of animals before seven day, broke state law, and is a high kill shelter. Paterson Animal Control has no volunteer program, no social media page or even a website with animals for adoption and violated state law left and right. Elizabeth Animal Shelter previously illegally killed large numbers of animals before seven days, broke other laws and killed many animals for absurd reasons. Trenton Animal Shelter violated state law in 2017 per a New Jersey Department of Health limited scope inspection report. Thus, many shelters receiving greater than expected rescue support seem to do little more than allow rescues to save the day.

On the other hand, many space constrained shelters received far less rescue help than needed. Facilities receiving the lowest amount of rescue support in relation to their needs were as follows:

  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 332 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Vorhees Animal Orphanage – 240 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Monmouth SPCA – 210 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Cape May County Animal Shelter – 179 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter – 150 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Liberty Humane Society – 102 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Franklin Township Animal Shelter – 42 fewer cats transferred than necessary

The million dollar question is why do these shelters receive very little rescue help? Some shelters may report no cats sent to rescues and incorrectly count these animals as adopted. As you will see below, Cape May County Animal Shelter and Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopted out many cats and are doing a pretty good job. On the other hand, Franklin Township Animal Shelter kills many cats for absurd reasons, breaks state law and does not do a good job of reaching out to the public for help. As a result, shelters receiving too little rescue help may or may not be doing their part to get that assistance.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull cats from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the tables below. If shelters not needing rescue support get that extra help, these shelters will not take the steps necessary to properly run their facilities. As a result of enabling poorly performing shelters and not pulling cats from truly space constrained facilities, rescuing cats from shelters with enough space leads to less lifesaving.

Shelters receiving less than needed rescue support should also examine their own policies and performance. Are the shelter’s operating processes allowing too many animals to get sick and therefore discouraging organizations to rescue their animals due to subsequent medical costs? Does the shelter actively reach out to rescues/other shelters and treat them with respect? Does the shelter make it convenient for other organizations to pull their animals?

Given killing animals for space is intolerable, the space-constrained shelters need to expand their effective cat capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house cats on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians and local pet stores to house and adopt out some cats. Furthermore, shelters can create or expand foster programs to increase the number of cats cared for. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program and an appointment system for owners willing to delay surrendering their cats could free up space in these shelters. Finally, space-constrained shelters with multiple animal control contracts should terminate some of these arrangements to bring their capacity for care in line with the number of cats they take in. Similarly, many shelters can use their bargaining power to require municipalities to allow TNR. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

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Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Come Close to Reaching Their Cat Adoption Potential

We can assess each shelter’s contribution to making New Jersey and nearby areas no kill. While a shelter may be able to avoid killing healthy and treatable animals, it still may not live up to its potential for adopting out cats. On the other hand, a space constrained shelter may kill healthy and treatable cats, but still do a good job adopting animals out.

The tables below compare the number of cats from New Jersey and nearby states each animal shelter should adopt out with the number of cats actually adopted out.

Rescue oriented organizations may look better than they actually are. Many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt cats than the bulk of cats needing to get rescued from local facilities.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 5 out of 91 shelters met the cat adoption goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets. Animal Welfare Association exceeded its adoption target by the most of any shelter in terms of total adoptions. This shelter runs reduced and no adoption fee promotions. Animal Welfare Association also waives fees for certain cats who may take longer to adopt out, such as cats who are older or have behavior or health issues. Furthermore, the shelter’s “Best Friends” program allows people who adopt a cat to pay just $25 for a second cat who is 1 year or older. Animal Welfare Association also waives cat adoption fees for active military personnel and veterans in its Pets for Vets program. The shelter also waives adoption fees for senior citizens adopting certain senior pets. Additionally, Animal Welfare Association uses an open adoption process focused on properly matching animals and people rather than an overly judgmental procedure based on black and white rules. To aid its open adoptions process, Animal Welfare Association uses the ASPCA’s Feline-ality program. Animal Welfare Association’s adoption rate increased by 20% and its cat length of stay decreased by 23 days after the shelter implemented the Feline-ality program. Finally, Animal Welfare Association installed perches in their cat enclosures to provide cats more vertical space which keeps the cats happier and more adoptable. Beacon Animal Rescue also exceeded its adoption target and charges a reasonable $75 fee for adult cats and offers military personnel and veterans discounted adoption fees. Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter also exceeded its adoption target by a significant amount. From what I can tell, this shelter was customer friendly and also had a strong cat foster program in 2018. Thus, several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their cat adoption targets and Animal Welfare Association used a variety of innovative strategies to adopt out many cats.

Several animal control shelters exceeded their adoption targets or came close to doing so. St. Hubert’s-Madison adopted out more cats than I targeted the facility to do. This shelter is open seven days a week, including all holidays except Thanksgiving and Christmas, and has a very customer friendly adoption process. Vorhees Animal Orphanage also came close to meeting its adoption goal. The shelter also is open seven days a week, including weekday evenings and weekends (except one Wednesday a month and certain holidays), which makes it convenient for working people to adopt animals. Additionally, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts cats out at one PetSmart store and three PetValu locations. Father John’s Animal House also came close to reaching its adoption target. This shelter adopts out cats that are one to six years old for $50 and cats that are six years old and over for $25. Despite not being open many hours, West Milford Animal Shelter almost met its adoption goal. This shelter charges a very reasonable $35 fee for all cats and runs a creative Facebook page called “The Real Cats at West Milford Animal Shelter.” Thus, several animal control shelters exceeded or came close to achieving their cat adoption goals and therefore prove these adoption targets are achievable.

Rescues should focus on pulling animals from Vorhees Animal Orphanage. This shelter’s cat kill rate is too high and its need for rescues greatly exceeds the amount of animals actually pulled from this organization. While some of these cats may be feral and therefore not adoptable, many other cats surely could be rescued from this shelter. Given this shelter is adopting cats out at a good rate, rescues and other other shelters should help this facility out by pulling more cats from Vorhees Animal Orphanage.

Some municipal animal control shelters may be doing a better job with cats than the numbers below indicate. In some cases, municipalities may frown on government run shelters using taxpayer funds to rescue cats from elsewhere (i.e. leaving empty cat cages). My suggestion to these shelters is to find ways to use more of their capacity to expand their lifesaving work to other areas. For example, these shelters should consider taking in animals from other shelters for a fee or even contracting with other municipalities.

Associated Humane Societies performance is particularly disappointing. Specifically, Associated Humane Societies has the physical capacity to significantly reduce the killing of healthy and treatable cats. Associated Humane Societies’ adoption shortfall of 6,306 cats nearly equaled the 6,757 cats who unnecessarily lost their lives in New Jersey animal shelters in 2018. Associated Humane Societies has the funding to reach these adoption targets as the organization took in $7.7 million of revenue for the fiscal year ending 6/30/18. This works out to $777 of revenue per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in per my Life Saving Model. Given many no kill animal control shelters take in significantly less revenue per dog and cat impounded, Associated Humane Societies could achieve these adoption targets and effectively end the killing of healthy and treatable cats in its facilities and in almost all the state’s shelters. Activists wanting to increase life saving in New Jersey should focus on changing Associated Humane Societies’ policies given the lifesaving potential of this organization and its recent dismal performance.

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Cats

To further examine New Jersey animal shelters’ performance in saving homeless cats, I compared the targeted number of cats each shelter should pull from nearby shelters to the number actually rescued from local facilities. I assume all cats rescued from out of state came from nearby areas, such as Philadelphia and New York City. While some of the out of state rescued cats may have comes from far away areas, I believe this is a small number and does not significantly impact the results.

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of cats they should. 84 of the 91 shelters should rescue some cats from other local shelters. In fact, 46 of the 84 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single cat from other animal shelters. Only three shelters with significant amounts of space to rescue cats from nearby shelters met or exceeded their cat rescue targets. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of healthy and treatable cats.

2018 NJ Shelter Model Cats Rescued 1

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TNR Is Essential, But Should Not Be An Excuse to Do Nothing

TNR must be instituted to end the killing of healthy and treatable cats. While many shelters may potentially come close to or reach a 90% live release rate, feral cats may still be killed. Simply put, New Jersey cannot become a no kill state without TNR becoming the law of the land. The Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”) prevents shelters and municipalities from taking actions to hinder TNR, such as banning feral cat colony caretakers from feeding cats and lending traps out to the public for catching and killing feral cats. Even without an explicit law allowing TNR, the New Jersey Department of Health should encourage municipalities to implement TNR by changing its neutral stance on TNR to an endorsement of the practice. Furthermore, shelters, especially private facilities with animal control contracts, should refuse to take feral cats from places where TNR is prohibited and the shelters cannot place these feral cats as barn cats or send these animals to reputable sanctuaries per recommendations of many national animal welfare groups.

Shelters should not use anti-feral cat laws as an excuse for failing to institute innovative programs. Too many times shelters blame anti-feral cat ordinances for their outrageously high cat kill rates. However, my analysis proves cats are not dying in New Jersey’s shelter system due to too many cats coming in. While TNR certainly would reduce cat intake and make saving lives easier, our state’s shelter system has more than enough space to handle the number of cats that come in. Shelters need to implement key programs, such as foster care, high volume adoptions and vaccination upon intake. Additionally, shelters need to stay open weeknights and weekends when working people can adopt. Similarly, shelters should use innovative marketing, customer friendly open adoption processes, multiple off-site adoption locations, and frequent discounted adoption promotions to quickly move cats into good homes. Furthermore, implementing a program where fearful and aggressive cats are touched gently and spoken to softly likely will significantly reduce the number of cats labeled as “feral” and increase adoptions. Thus, anti-TNR ordinances do not prevent shelters from implementing other life saving policies.

Shelters Do Not Need to Leave Friendly Cats on the Street

Shelters do not need to neuter and release friendly cats or refuse to take these cats in given enough capacity exists within the New Jersey shelter system. In 2013, a group of animal welfare leaders, which included the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) and the ASPCA, prepared a white paper stating a shelter should not impound cats if those cats or other cats in the shelter would subsequently be killed. The evidence supporting this policy, such as cats being more likely to find homes on the street than in traditional shelters, is quite strong. Subsequently, many shelters across the nation implemented these policies. However, my analysis shows the entire New Jersey shelter system does have enough space to handle friendly cats. While certain shelters are space constrained and could benefit from refusing to admit healthy and friendly cats, other shelters in the state have more than enough capacity to step in and find these cats homes. Thus, New Jersey shelters do not need to resort to refusing to take in friendly cats or neutering and releasing friendly cats to avoid killing cats provided these shelters work together and follow best practices.

Kitten Nurseries and Ringworm Wards Key to Saving Vulnerable Cats

Orphaned kittens are typically automatically killed in traditional animal shelters due to the time commitment required to care for these animals. Unweaned kittens require bottle feeding as frequently as every 1-2 hours. As a result, kittens not placed into foster care are typically killed in most animal shelters.

Kitten nurseries or bottle baby wards radically increase the save rate for orphaned kittens still requiring milk. While foster care and rescue programs can save unweaned kittens, kitten nurseries are more efficient and make the job easier. Austin Animal Services, which is the animal control shelter in Austin, Texas, killed 1,200 plus kittens a year before Austin Pets Alive created a bottle baby program. Volunteers work in two hour shifts to feed and care for the kittens. Additionally, nursing mothers are pulled from the city shelter and used to help nurse highly vulnerable young kittens who are orphaned. Kittens are put on antibiotics and treated for fleas and worms immediately to help prevent complications from transitioning from breast milk to formula. Austin Pets Alive pulled 100% of unweaned kittens from the city shelter since 2011. Best Friends created a kitten nursery in South Salt Lake City, Utah and saved more than 1,400 kittens from Salt Lake City area shelters in 2016. Thus, kitten nursery programs can save young and vulnerable kittens.

Ringworm ward programs easily save cats with this skin fungus. In traditional animal shelters, cats with ringworm are killed due to the risk that other animals and humans will catch this skin fungus. Austin Pets Alive created a specific “Ringworm Ward” program to treat and adopt out these cats. These cats are treated both topically and orally in an isolated area. After the cats are no longer contagious, the cats are sent to foster homes to complete their treatment and regrow their hair. Austin Pets Alive uses steeply discounted adoption fees of only $15 along with catchy slogans like “Adopt a Fun Guy (Fungi)”, “Lord of the Ringworm”, and “Hairy(less) Potter” to quickly place these cats and open up space for additional cats with ringworm. 100% of cats entering this program are saved. Thus, shelters can save cats with ringworm.

Regional kitten nurseries and ringworm wards are the practical solution to saving these vulnerable cats. Given the New Jersey shelter system has significant excess capacity to care for cats, certain shelters should convert some of that excess space for use as kitten nurseries and ringworm wards. Creating regional centers to care for unweaned kittens and cats with ringworm would allow the programs to run at a large enough scale to work efficiently. Shelters, such as Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park, Monmouth SPCA, and St. Hubert’s-Madison appear to have the space and financial resources to implement these programs. Furthermore, the Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey (“AWFNJ”) should take the steps needed to create kitten nurseries and ringworm wards in regional centers throughout the state. Surely, the AWFNJ has the connections to convince key decision makers to implement these programs and obtain any necessary funding. Thus, New Jersey shelter leaders must immediately take the steps needed to save the large numbers of treatable kittens and cats with ringworm in our state’s shelters.

Results Require New Jersey Animal Shelters to Take Action

The findings from this analysis mandate New Jersey animal shelters change their ways. While TNR remains a significant issue, most shelters are clearly not taking steps to save large numbers of healthy and treatable cats. Many shelters are not vaccinating upon intake, charging excessive adoption fees, making it too difficult to adopt, not being open when working people can go to shelters, leaving cat enclosures empty, not trying to rehabilitate fearful and aggressive cats and not using barn cat, foster care, kitten nursery and ringworm ward programs. Simply put, too many shelters are not doing what it takes to save lives. With New Jersey’s shelters killing around one in five cats, our state’s shelters are failing these animals.

New Jersey shelters have a cat crisis and it is time for the killing to stop. We have the information and even the blueprints from numerous communities which stopped killing and started saving their cats. It is time the excuses end and action begins. The public is fed up with the killing and demands shelters save their animals. Our state’s animal welfare organizations need to get on board the lifesaving wagon or risk getting run over by it. Which will they choose?

Appendix Life Saving Model Assumptions

The Life Saving Model utilizes the following basic animal shelter population equations to calculate the targeted cat outcomes for each facility:

Daily capacity or population = Daily animal intake x average length of stay

Average length of stay = Daily capacity or population/daily intake

Each shelter’s community cat intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty cases), number of cats returned to owners, and maximum cat capacity were taken from its 2018 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health. Additionally, I added 7.5% of each shelter’s annual cat intake to account for foster capacity shelters should use based on my discussions with American Pets Alive leadership. Thus, total cat capacity equaled the shelter’s capacity plus foster capacity. You can see the full data set I compiled from these reports here.

  • Community cat intake and cats returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 cats were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 cats (240/12). In July, the cat intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 cats by 1.2 to equal 24 cats. If 120 cats were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of cats returned to owners in July would equal 12 cats (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off the average of the 2018 cat intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • The estimated number of community cats returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country.
  • The number of community cats euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 8% of intake. 8% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate to use given other open admission animal shelters, such as Austin Animal Services, equal or exceed this target and New Jersey’s much lower per capita cat intake makes it easier to save lives. The average length of stay for euthanized cats is assumed to equal 8 days. I assume these cats have severe and untreatable health issues and are euthanized immediately after their required 7 day hold period.
  • The average length of stay used for adopted community cats was 42 days. This estimate was roughly halfway between the average cat length of stay figures for a number of no kill animal control shelters. For example, the average length of stay for cats in recent years was 12 days at Texas’s Williamson County Animal Shelter, less than two weeks at Nevada Humane Society 15 days at Montana’s Flathead County Animal Shelter, 24 days at Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society, 32 days at Kansas City Pet Project and 61 days for adopted cats only at New York’s Tompkins County SPCA. While the average length of stay of adopted cats at these shelters other than Tompkins County SPCA may have been slightly higher since this data is for all cats and not just those adopted, the difference is not likely significant given adoptions represent most of the outcomes at these shelters. Unfortunately, I was not able to break down the adoption length of stay figures by age or breed for New Jersey’s shelters like I did in my analysis on dogs due to a lack of detailed cat intake data at New Jersey animal shelters. Upon reviewing cats up for adoption at several New Jersey animal control shelters and a few of the high performing facilities above, I did not see any significant differences in types of cats taken in. In the future, I hope to refine this analysis further.
  • The average length of stay used for community cats adopted out from rescue oriented shelters was 30 days. Rescue oriented animal shelters typically carefully select animals taken into their shelters. Based on the San Francisco’s SPCA’s 22 day and Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation’s 23 day average length of stay figures reported a number of years ago, I used a shorter length of stay for community cats adopted from New Jersey animal shelters without animal control contracts. I chose 30 days as a conservative estimate.
  • Cats transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community cats not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month outside of kitten season (i.e. November-March). However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, cats are moved from adoption (i.e. with a longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • During kitten season (April-October), animal control shelters are assumed to send a certain percentage of cats to rescues even if they have excess space. Due to the large numbers of kittens coming into shelters during these months, I assume shelters will not be able to place all of them into foster homes or a kitten nursery at this time. As a result, I assume animal control shelters will send 10% of their annual community cat intake to rescues based on the shelters’ estimated relative cat intake each month. For example, if a shelter took 100 cats in during the year and August made up 50% of the total cat intake from April to November, 5 cats would go to rescue in August (i.e. 100*10% = 10 cats; 10*50% = 5 cats). I used 10% based off the rescue percentage of cat intake in 2014 (it currently is only 2%) at Kansas City’s KC Pet Project. KC Pet Project is a no kill open admission shelter with an inadequate facility and is a good comparison for some of our state’s run down shelters. Shelters requiring rescue support due to space constraints are assumed to send these additional cats to rescues during kitten season.
  • Shelters are not expected to use the excess space created by fosters taking kittens to rescue and adopt out additional cats. This is based on the assumption that the kittens will return to shelters once old enough to safely stay at the facilities.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out cats from other New Jersey animal shelters. Given some of these cats will be young and highly vulnerable kittens, I assume 5% of these rescues will be euthanized for humane reasons. I used 5% based off Austin Pets Alive’s and Austin Humane Society’s weighted average cat euthanasia rate in 2014. These two shelters pull many cats from Austin Animal Services, which is the city’s animal control shelter, and their cat euthanasia rate is a reasonable proxy for the percentage of hopelessly suffering cats rescued from animal control shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter cats are saved, I assume additional cats are pulled from nearby states. The average length of stay for rescued and adopted cats is the same as the cats taken in by animal control shelters (i.e. 42 days). Similarly, I used 8 days as the average length of stay for rescued and euthanized cats from other shelters.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many cats New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue and rescue from other nearby animal shelters.
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they run out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used cat adoption length of stay data from Perth Amboy Animal Shelter from 2014 and the first half of 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted cats in the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average cat adoption length of stay determined in the model above and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • The targeted number of cats adopted were capped at 8 cats per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of cats adopted were equal to this cap. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted adoptions in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of cats adopted in the county to yield the targeted numbers of cats adopted in the modified model. Rescued and euthanized cats for these shelters were reduced based on the modified model’s assumption that shelters adopted out and euthanized 95% and 5% of rescued cats.

Franklin Township Animal Shelter Illegally Kills Animals and Breaks State Law

In my last Franklin Township Animal Shelter blog, I detailed the facility frequently killing healthy and treatable animals. Additionally, I documented the shelter taking too long to safely place animals. In this blog, I’ll examine whether Franklin Township Animal Shelter complies with state law and discuss some of the reasons why it needlessly kills animals.

Illegal Killing During Seven Day Protection Period

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, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records revealed it killed six dogs and six cats during the state’s seven day protection period. All six dogs were owner surrenders. Four of the six cats were strays and the other two cats were surrendered by their owners. Based on my review of the paperwork the shelter provided to me, several of these animals did not appear to be hopelessly suffering. Even when the shelter wrote some notes suggesting the animals might have serious medical issues, the intake and disposition records, except for possibly one, and supporting paperwork did not indicate a veterinarian made a diagnosis and euthanized the animal during the seven day hold period as required by the above regulations. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter violated state law when it killed each of these animals.

Mink or Dog ID# 76 was a three year old Shar-Pei-Cane Corso mix that was surrendered to Franklin Township Animal Shelter on February 14, 2018. On the only supporting document Franklin Township Animal Shelter provided me, the shelter stated “very aggressive”, “owner request” and “E&D.” According to the shelter’s intake and disposition log as well as its euthanasia drug log, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed Mink on the very day he arrived at the facility. Under state law, a shelter cannot kill a dog before seven days unless its hopelessly suffering. Clearly, aggression does not meet that standard. Furthermore, the euthanasia record indicates the shelter’s head animal control officer, Katie Nordhous (abbreviation: KN), and another shelter staff member (abbreviation: RH) killed Mink. Thus, Franklin Township illegally killed Mink before seven days since Mink was not hopelessly suffering and a veterinarian did not kill the animal during this period.

Mink Illegally Killed FTAS

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Mink Illegally Killed FTAS 3

Nevada or Dog ID# 155 was a 12 year old pit bull like dog surrendered to Franklin Township Animal Shelter on March 27, 2018. According to the shelter’s paperwork, the owner surrendered the dog due to cancer (unclear if the owner or dog had it), a divorce and the owner moving. The owner also stated they could not afford a surgery that the dog apparently needed. As an example of Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s terrible record keeping, the intake and disposition record stated the shelter killed Nevada the day before he arrived at the shelter. However, the euthanasia record showed Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed Nevada on the day she came in on March 27, 2018.

Once again, Franklin Township Animal Shelter illegally killed an animal before seven days. The shelter did not have a veterinarian document Nevada was hopelessly suffering. Furthermore, the animal apparently required a surgery which suggests Nevada had a reasonable chance for treatment. Second, the euthanasia record indicates the shelter’s head animal control officer, Katie Nordhous (abbreviation: KN), and not a veterinarian killed Nevada on the day she came into the shelter. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter violated state law since the shelter did not have a veterinarian document Nevada was hopelessly suffering and did not have a veterinarian euthanize the animal even if she was hopelessly suffering.

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Nevada Illegally Killed FTAS 3

Cat ID# 429 was surrendered to Franklin Township Animal Shelter on June 27, 2018. According to paperwork the shelter provided me, the shelter stated the cat was “very old + sick” and this was an “Elective Euthanasia.” Per the shelter’s euthanasia record, the facility killed Cat ID# 429 on the day the shelter took the animal in.

While its possible this cat was hopelessly suffering, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s records do not indicate a veterinarian made that determination as required by state law. Furthermore, the euthanasia record lists “RH” as the individual killing the animal who has the same initials as a shelter employee. Under state law, even if an animal can be humanely euthanized before seven days, a veterinarian must be the person who euthanizes the animal. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter violated state law by killing Cat ID# 429 before seven days and not having a veterinarian be the person conducting the procedure.

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Potential Inhumane Killing 

Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s Telazol log shows the shelter used too little of this sedative when killing large dogs. According to the Humane Society of the United State Euthanasia Reference Manual, shelters should use 0.3-0.5 milliliters for each 10 pounds of an animal’s body weight. However, the manual recommends using 0.5 milliliters per 10 pounds of an animal body weight. As you can see in the shelter’s Telazol log below, the shelter did not provide enough Telazol to the following dogs:

  • Dog ID# 669 weighed 89 pounds and received 1.5 milliliters when it should have received 4.5 milliliters
  • Dog ID# 928 weighed 62 pounds and received 1.5 milliliters when it should have received 3.1 milliliters
  • Dog ID# 76 weighed 82 pounds and received 2.0 milliliters when it should have received 4.1 milliliters
  • Dog ID# 112 weighed 27 pounds and received 0.5 milliliters when it should have received 1.4 milliliters

Clearly, Franklin Township Animal Shelter did not provide enough Telazol to calm dogs, who required a sedative, before killing them.

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Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s euthanasia records 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, Franklin Animal Shelter’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.

Additionally, the shelter’s Telazol log does not indicate what individual administered this controlled substance to each animal. Per the New Jersey Department of Health July 16, 2018 inspection report on Hamilton Township Animal Shelter, shelters must have individuals certified to euthanize animals sign off on both the euthanasia drug and sedatives amounts used when killing an animal to comply with New Jersey’s controlled dangerous substance laws. While Franklin Township Animal Shelter personnel did sign off in the euthanasia drug logs, they did not do so in their sedative logs. Thus, the shelter violated state law.

If this was not bad enough, Franklin Township Animal Shelter violated New Jersey’s controlled dangerous substance law by having Telazol at the shelter. As you can see here, Telazol is a Schedule III Controlled Substance. Per the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs, animal shelters cannot have Telazol at their shelters unless the controlled substance is the property of the veterinarian. As the invoice below shows, Easton Animal Clinic sold Telazol to Franklin Township Animal Shelter. Furthermore, Franklin Township Animal Shelter does not have an in-house veterinarian. Therefore, the shelter illegally kept Telazol in the facility.

Animal Shelters Holding of Controlled Dangerous Substances

FTAS Purchase of Telazol

Inadequate Disease Control Program

Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s disease control program does not vaccinate all animals entering the shelter. Specifically, the shelter only vaccinates animals that are available for adoption. Given the shelter kills large numbers of dogs and cats, it is not vaccinating a substantial portion of the shelter population. The UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program clearly explains why shelters must immediately vaccinate animals to control diseases in their facilities:

When should the vaccine be given?

Immediately upon intake, if not sooner! In almost all cases, shelter animals should be vaccinated immediately upon intake. A delay of even a day or two will significantly compromise the vaccine’s ability to provide protection. In a cost saving effort, some shelters delay vaccination until the animal is made available for adoption, or even until it is adopted. While this does provide a service to adopters, the protective effect of the vaccine within the shelter is greatly reduced or eliminated. (In some cases, the chance of the vaccine preventing disease may be 90% or better if given the day before exposure, but will drop to less than 1% if given the day after exposure.) When possible, vaccination prior to intake is ideal (e.g. for owner surrendered animals or those returning from foster care).

Furthermore, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s disease control program does not mandate all necessary vaccines. While the disease control program states the shelter vaccinates animals available for adoption for rabies, distemper and bordatella or kennel cough (dogs only), the UC David Koret Shelter Medicine program also recommends shelters vaccinate dogs for adenovirus-2, parvovirus and parainfluenza and cats for feline herpesvirus-1 (feline viral rhinotracheitis/FHV-1) and feline calicivirus.

Therefore, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s vaccination program is ineffective and this may partially explain why the facility killed so many cats for illnesses and had so many other cats die.

Franklin Township Animal Shelter also “screens” all cats for FIV and FeLV prior to spay/neuter. Shelter medicine experts recommend facilities not test healthy cats for these two diseases based on the following reasons:

  1. The tests are often inaccurate
  2. Tests are expensive and prolong animals’ length of stay at shelters
  3. Tests are used to kill cats who are not sick or treatable

Based on the shelter’s policy of routinely testing cats for FIV and FeLV, its unsurprising the shelter’s records revealed it killing cats who tested positive for these illnesses. As mentioned in my earlier Franklin Township Animal Shelter blog, many shelters adopt out cats who actually have these diseases as well. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s disease control program may be causing the shelter to needlessly kill cats for simply testing positive for FIV or FeLV.

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Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s disease control program is not compliant with state law. Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.9(a)1., the disease control program must address both the “physical and psychological well-being of animals.” However, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s disease control program does not address the psychological well-being of animals. Given the shelter killed 80 cats for being feral, aggressive and having certain behavior issues or nearly 20% of all the cats impounded, the shelter’s inadequate disease control program is costing many cats their lives. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s disease control program violates state law and is leading to unnecessary killing at the shelter.

§ 8:23A-1.9 Disease control

(a) Facilities subject to this subchapter as provided in N.J.A.C. 8:23A-1.2 shall establish and maintain a program of disease control and adequate health care (program) under the supervision and assistance of a doctor of veterinary medicine.

1. The program shall 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.

Finally, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s disease control program does not have other important provisions. As the New Jersey Department of Health mentioned in its October 21, 2015 inspection report on Gloucester County Animal Shelter, shelters must have written protocols to properly feed animals and have workers avoid passing pathogens throughout the facility (e.g. procedures on employees dealing with sick animals in an isolation area and then moving to parts of the facility with healthy animals). While the disease control program mentions employees should not be in contact with healthy animals after entering the isolation area, it has no protocols for staff to do that (i.e. protective clothing in isolation area and discarding after dealing with sick animals, etc.). Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s disease control program violates state law by not addressing these key areas of disease control.

Shelter Makes Little Effort to Save Animals

Franklin Township Animal Shelter hardly is ever open for people to save animals. The shelter’s hours are as follows:

  • Tuesday-Friday: 12 pm to 3 pm
  • Saturday: 12 pm to 6 pm
  • Sunday and Monday: Closed

While the shelter has decent hours on Saturdays, the facility is virtually never open for most working people on other days. Most people cannot go to the shelter in the early afternoon on weekdays. If that was not bad enough, the shelter is closed to the public on two days, including Sundays when many people adopt or reclaim lost pets. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter makes it extremely difficult for the public to save the shelter’s animals.

Given shelters already incur costs to feed and care for animals on days the shelter is closed, it makes complete sense to allow the public to adopt and reclaim animals on those days. Based on the shelter’s high kill rate, long lengths of stay and large shelter population, this facility should be open many more hours.

Franklin Township Animal Shelter violates state law since its not open on Mondays. Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.10(b)1., shelters must be open to the public at least two hours a day on weekdays and one weekend day. As a result, Franklin Township Animal Shelter breaks state law by not being open on Mondays.

Franklin Township Animal Shelter has no active Facebook page. While a Franklin Township Animal Shelter Facebook page exists, its “unofficial” and just has information about the facility and reviews (i.e. animals up for adoption are not posted). In this day and age, its shocking any shelter would not have an active Facebook page. While Second Chance for Animals, which is a volunteer group supporting the shelter, has a Facebook page it uses to promote Franklin Township Animal Shelter pets, most people would not know to look there for the shelter’s animals. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter needs its own active Facebook and other social media pages.

The shelter’s web site hardly has any useful information. Even though the shelter has a Petfinder page, it currently only has 21 pets listed for adoption while its September 9, 2019 inspection report had 135 animals at the facility. While Second Chance for Animals does have a web site about the shelter, most people would not know to look there. Additionally, the web site does not contain enough information about the shelter. As a result, Franklin Township Animal Shelter must create its own web site and make it useful to the public.

Second Chance for Animals plays a key role at the shelter. This group has helped Franklin Township Animal Shelter since 1998. On its web site, Second Chance for Animals states it pays for spay/neuter, microchips, emergency and senior pet veterinary care, pet food, cat litter and other things. According to the Second Chance for Animals 2018 Form 990, the organization spent $51,544 on food, cat litter, veterinary care and FIV and FeLV testing on Franklin Township Animal Shelter pets. Additionally, the Form 990 states Second Chance for Animals paid $20,390 to spay/neuter 255 animals, which I presume most if not all were from Franklin Township Animal Shelter. Second Chance for Animals’ web site also states the organization takes Franklin Township Animal Shelter pets to adoption events. Its also possible the organization contributed more funds to the shelter since Second Chance for Animals had another $17,732 of reported expenses in its 2018 Form 990. Finally, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s web site mentions Second Chance for Animals administers the shelter’s volunteer program. Thus, Second Chance for Animals is an integral part of Franklin Township Animal Shelter.

While Second Chance for Animals assistance to Franklin Township Animal Shelter is admirable, it has not resulted in the shelter becoming no kill. I’ve seen other long term arrangements between shelter-based rescue groups and regressive shelters not serve the animals well. For example, Friends of Shelter Animals at Clifton Animal Shelter has had a similar long-term relationship with Clifton Animal Shelter and that shelter still performs poorly. Similarly, Hamilton Township Animal Shelter also had an exclusive relationship with Animal Friends for Education and Welfare (AFEW). AFEW defended Hamilton Township Animal Shelter despite that facility violating state law, being high kill and wasting taxpayer dollars. Thus, I’m concerned when rescue groups are closely connected to regressive shelters for long periods of time and those facilities remain high kill.

Franklin Township provided me no documented animal shelter policies and procedures other than the disease control program. In other words, the shelter apparently has no written procedures concerning interactions with the public, marketing animals, recruiting and retaining volunteers, reclaiming lost pets and various other shelter activities.

Worthless County Inspections

Somerset County Health Department inspected Franklin Township Animal Shelter on August 29, 2017 and reported the shelter violated N.J.A.C. 8.23-1.3 for having food and/or bedding unprotected and having buildings and grounds dirty or hazardous. To support, these findings the county health department wrote a few one sentence notes. The inspector noted the shelter used inadequate eye wash bottles and had a vet trailer with a door that didn’t close properly. The shelter’s head animal control officer also did not sign the inspection report. Despite this, Somerset County Health Department gave Franklin Township Animal Shelter a “Satisfactory” grade.

Somerset County Health Department 8.29.17 Inspection Report on Franklin Township Animal Shelter

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Somerset County Health Dept. 8.29.17 Inspection of FTAS Page 3

Somerset County Animal Shelter inspected Franklin Township Animal Shelter on November 14, 2018 and reported the shelter violated N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.2 for not having a certificate of an annual fire inspection and N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.3 for having food and/or bedding unprotected. The county health department provided no details on these violations. As in the prior year, the shelter’s head animal control officer did not sign the inspection form.

Remarkably, Somerset County Health Department did not cite the shelter’s blatant violations of state law. Specifically, the county health department missed the shelter illegally killing animals before seven days, the lack of an adequate disease control program, improper keeping of intake and disposition and euthanasia records and not being open when it should be. Also, the county health department did not catch the shelter violating controlled dangerous substance laws by having Telazol at the facility and employees not signing off on the Telazol usage logs. Despite all these violations of state law, and two violations the inspection report did note, Somerset County Health Department gave Franklin Township Animal Shelter a “Satisfactory” grade.

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Somerset County Health Department also inspected Franklin Township Animal Shelter on September 9, 2019. Once again, the shelter violated N.J.A.C. 8.23-1.2 by not having a certificate of annual fire inspection. As in the 2018 inspection, Somerset County Health Department provided no comments on how it conducted its inspection or its findings. Also, the shelter’s head animal control officer did not sign the inspection report.

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Franklin Township Animal Shelter should not have had a license to operate for around two months in 2017, four and half months in 2018 and over two months 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. As you can see above, Somerset County Animal Shelter inspected Franklin Township Animal Shelter on 8/29/17, 11/14/18 and 9/9/19. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter should not have had a license to operate for substantial parts of the last three years.

Finally, the inspection reports confirm the shelter’s excessive average lengths of stay documented in my last blog lead to the facility holding too many animals. While I’m a strong supporter of shelters using their full capacity, they must also maintain short average lengths of stay to save lives, treat animals humanely, reduce disease and save costs. Despite Franklin Township Animal Shelter having enough capacity for dogs and cats to the extent it could have rescued 388 cats and 117 dogs in addition to the animals it took in during 2018, the shelter exceeded its 24 dog capacity in all three years’ inspection reports and also went over its 107 cat capacity in two of the three years’ inspection reports. As a result, Franklin Township Animal Shelter must enact progressive programs to reduce its average length of stay by developing a proactive adoption program, decrease intake (such as through TNR and SNR) and expand its capacity by implementing a large scale foster program.

Franklin Township Fails to Use Money to Fund Shelter

Franklin Township had plenty of money to fund its shelter in 2018. Per the town’s 2018 Annual Financial Statements, the town’s Current Fund paid animal control and shelter salaries and wages of $124,354. However, the town spent another net $106,526 from its Animal Control Fund on animal control and sheltering. While I can’s find anything explicitly stating the up to $12,025 donation Second Chance for Animal contractually agreed to provide the shelter is included in the Animal Control Fund, I suspect it is. However, I cannot tell if the additional amounts Second Chance for Animals spent on the shelter are included in these figures. Therefore, the shelter received at least $230,880 of total funding in 2018 or approximately $361 per dog and cat impounded.

Franklin Township failed to use large amounts of its Animal Control Fund to help animals. As you can see in the following table, which excludes license fees the town must send to the state of New Jersey, Franklin Township had $266,675 in this fund at the start of 2018 and collected another $140,731 for licenses, Current Fund budget appropriations and donations and shelter fees charged to the public during the year. Therefore, the town had an astounding $407,406 to fund its shelter in addition to the $124,354 it spent out of its Current Fund on shelter staff salaries and wages. However, the town only gave the shelter $106,526 of the $407,406 in the Animal Control Fund during 2018. Even worse, the town took $29,657 of this funding to use for other government functions since it failed to spend enough money (shelters must use these funds within three years under state law or the funds go to general government use). In other words, the town could have given the shelter an additional $300,880 in 2018. Even if the shelter only used half of this in 2018, and reserved the rest for use in 2019, Franklin Township could have nearly doubled the shelter’s funding and had at least $596 of funding per dog and cat. Based on the performance of many successful no kill animal control shelters, Franklin Township Animal Shelter has plenty of funding to do right by its animals.

Franklin Township Animal Shelter is not serving the city’s homeless animals and residents well. In 2018, Franklin Township Animal Shelter impounded just 9.7 dogs and cats per 1,000 people and should have received funding of at least $596 per dog and cat. As a comparison, Michigan’s Chippewa County Animal Shelter took in 21.0 dogs and cats per 1,000 people and received $551 of revenue per dog and cat impounded. Franklin Township Animal Shelter had nonreclaimed animal death rates of 26% for dogs and 45% for cats in 2018 while Chippewa County Animal Shelter had nonreclaimed death rates of 2% for dogs and 1% for cats in 2018. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s nonreclaimed dogs and cats lost their lives at 18 times and 45 times the rate as an animal control shelter receiving far more animals on a per capita basis (and in total too) and having less funding on a per animal basis.

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2018 Franklin Township Animal Control Fund Activity Part 2

In reality, Franklin Township Animal Shelter can significantly reduce its sheltering costs and increase its funding per animal by implementing TNR. The town’s municipal code actually requires property owners to trap so-called feral cats, which are “destructive or an annoyance”:

If feral (wild) cats become destructive or an annoyance, it shall be the responsibility of property owners to set and maintain traps for the removal of such feral (wild) cats inhabiting their private property. Once trapped, the Township Division of Animal Control will accept the animals for disposal. For purposes of this section, the term “private property” shall include common areas owned by homeowners’ associations, regardless of whether or not the homeowners’ association has granted permission to the Township to enter upon said common areas for the purpose of enforcing owners regarding dogs and/or cats running at large.

Clearly, the town spends exorbitant amounts of money rounding up and killing these cats. Instead, Franklin can implement TNR to drastically reduce cat intake and killing. If the town did this, it would significantly reduce costs to taxpayers.

Franklin Township Residents Must Demand Better

As discussed in my last Franklin Township Animal Shelter blog, this facility kills large percentages of the animals it takes in. For example, the shelter killed 26% and 56% of all dogs and pit bulls not reclaimed by an owner in 2018. Similarly, 45% of all cats and 69% of adult cats not reclaimed by an owner lost their lives last year. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter is failing many of the animals it takes in.

To add insult to injury, Franklin Township Animal Shelter blatantly violated various laws as follows:

  1. Killed animals during the seven day protection period
  2. Euthanasia records did not indicate the method of killing to determine if it was a humane way
  3. Euthanasia records did not indicate what individuals administered the sedative Telazol to animals
  4. Held Telazol at the facility in violation of the state’s controlled dangerous substance laws
  5. Shelter did not have an adequate disease control program meeting state law requirements
  6. Shelter was not open at the times required by state law
  7. Shelter was not inspected as required by June 30th in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and should not have had licenses to operate for parts of those three years

Additionally, Franklin Township and its animal shelter did/does the following things:

  1. Used inadequate sedative doses to calm some dogs before killing them
  2. Fails to adequately vaccinate large numbers of animals and therefore increases risk of disease at the facility
  3. Shelter hardly is open when working people can adopt animals and reclaim lost pets
  4. Had excessively long lengths of stay and large shelter populations that likely raise disease rates and increase costs
  5. Has no documented procedures for many of the shelter’s activities
  6. Failed to use large sums of money from the Animal Control Fund (i.e. includes dog license fees)
  7. Needlessly raises taxpayer costs by mandating residents round up so-called feral cats for the shelter to kill

Franklin Township residents and people who shop in the town should contact the elected officials below and demand the following:

  1. The shelter stop illegally killing animals during the seven day protection period
  2. The shelter follow all state laws
  3. The shelter fully and comprehensively implement the No Kill Equation
  4. The city pass the Companion Animal Protection Act and require the shelter to save at least 90% of its animals
  5. The city replace the ACO in charge with an effective and compassionate shelter manager
  6. Eliminate Second Chance for Animals’ monopoly over the volunteer program and allow the effective and compassionate leader to build such a program based on best practices across the country

The contact information for these officials is as follows:

Mayor Phillip Kramer: 732-675-7912; Mayor.Kramer@franklinnj.gov

Deputy Mayor and Council Member James Vassanella: 732-873-2500 ext. 6328; Councilman.Vassanella@franklinnj.gov

Council Member Rajiv Prasad: 732-873-2500, ext. 6319; Councilman.Prasad@franklinnj.gov

Council Member Kimberly Francois: 732-873-2500 ext. 6395; Councilwoman.Francois@franklinnj.gov

Council Member Crystal Pruitt: 732-873-2500 ext. 6329; Councilwoman.Pruitt@franklinnj.gov

Council Member Theodore Chase: 732-873-2500 ext. 6318; Councilman.Chase@franklinnj.gov

Council Member Charles Onyejiaka: 732-873-2500 ext. 6396; Councilman.Onyejiaka@franklinnj.gov

Council Member Carl R.A. Wright: 732-873-2500 ext. 6397; Councilman.Wright@franklinnj.gov

Township Manager Robert G. Vornlocker: 732-873-2500 ext. 6201; Robert.Vornlocker@franklinnj.gov

2018 Dog Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

In a blog from earlier this year, I disclosed New Jersey’s depressing animal shelter statistics. This blog explains why so many dogs are losing their lives in the state’s animal shelters and whether these facilities can end the killing.

Successful organizations set measurable goals and regularly monitor their performance. Examples include financial budgets, customer and employee satisfaction surveys, and product reliability metrics. Unfortunately, many animal shelters for far too long have failed to set lifesaving goals and standards. Municipalities, donors and volunteers need to know where their resources will be best utilized. Time and money are scarce resources and people should allocate these assets to organizations who will best utilize them. As a result, animal shelters need to set goals and hold their leadership and staff accountable for achieving these objectives.

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

In order to assess how good of a job New Jersey animal shelters are doing, I’ve developed an analysis I call the “Life Saving Model.” While shelter performance is dependent on many variables, such as finances, facility design, local laws, etc., the most critical factor impacting potential life saving is animal holding capacity. Without having enough physical space and foster homes, a shelter might not have enough time to find loving homes for its animals. Shelters can overcome financial limitations through creative fundraising or recruiting more volunteers. Similarly, organizations can save their dogs despite having run down facilities if these groups enthusiastically implement policies to get animals into loving homes quickly. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey and nearby states dogs.

The Life Saving Model measures the number of local animals a shelter should adopt out, rescue from other facilities, send to rescues or other shelters, and euthanize. The targeted outcomes take into account each facility’s physical capacity plus the amount of foster homes it should use and the number and types of dogs the organization receives from its community (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, cruelty/bite cases). I assume a target euthanasia rate, take the number of dogs actually returned to owners and then estimate how many community dogs a shelter should adopt out. To the extent space runs out, I then calculate how many dogs the shelter must send to rescues. If the shelter has excess space after properly serving its local community, the facility uses that room to rescue and adopt out dogs from nearby areas. The targeted results calculated from this model are compared to the actual or estimated actual results from each shelter below.

This year I expanded shelter capacity to include the number of foster homes shelters should use. Based on a target American Pets Alive and other progressive shelter directors communicated at this year’s American Pets Alive Conference, shelters should have 3% of their annual dog intake in foster homes at any one time. These estimates are based on what several no kill animal control shelters already accomplish. Given fostering increases capacity and provides more humane care to animals, it is critical shelters have large scale foster programs. Therefore, I added 3% of each shelter’s annual dog intake to the shelter’s physical capacity.

For shelters with animal control contracts, I place 10% of all dogs that are not reclaimed by owners into the targeted sent to rescue category. Austin Pets Alive used data from Austin Animal Center, which is the local municipal shelter, to determine large dogs with behavioral challenges are part of the last 10% of animals losing their lives. While shelters can save most of these dogs through behavioral rehabilitation and/or foster programs, I decided to put an estimate of these dogs into the sent to rescue category since that is another good outcome for these dogs.

My analysis puts a cap on the targeted numbers of dogs rescued from other shelters and adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I want to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animals shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita dog adoption rate of around 25% to 70% of the level found at some of the nation’s best animal control shelters. Similarly, the unmodified model yielded a statewide pit bull per capita adoption rate (2.3 pit bulls per 1,000 people) that is not much more than the pit bull per capita adoption rate at one of the best animal control shelters in the country. In my opinion, New Jersey shelters could more easily achieve that per capita pit bull adoption rate given my model includes far fewer dogs from competing breeds than those in this role model animal control shelter.

My modified analysis capped pit bull adoptions at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people within each New Jersey county. In other words, the targeted numbers of dogs rescued from other shelters and adopted below are the lesser of

  1. Number predicted by model
  2. Number determined by capping pit bull adoptions at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in the county

In simple terms, a shelter is expected to achieve this per capita adoption rate unless the facility lacks enough space. If a shelter does not have sufficient room, it won’t have the time to reach all the potential adopters and requires assistance from rescues and/or other facilities. Given my model assumes 80% of rescued dogs are pit bull like dogs, my targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted are quite low as detailed in the section below. For example, shelters in counties where dog adoptions are capped have extra space that they do not use to adopt out other dog breeds.

To read specific details and assumptions used in the model, please see the Appendix at the end of this blog.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Contain Enough Space to Save All of New Jersey’s Dogs and Many More from Other States

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save all of the state’s healthy and treatable dogs. The table below details the targeted numbers of dog outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 21,614 New Jersey dogs coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2018, 10,684 and 1,619 dogs should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the dogs in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had more than enough capacity to rescue the 1,619 dogs from space constrained facilities. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters should be able to able to adopt out every single healthy and treatable dog taken in from the state and not require any support from rescue organizations without physical facilities from a space perspective.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many dogs from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out 11,394 dogs from out of state after achieving a 95% live release rate for New Jersey dogs. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters could make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for dogs and increase those cities’ dog live release rates to 95% in 2018 as follows:

  • New York City – 1,288 additional dogs need saving
  • Philadelphia – 856 additional dogs need saving

Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters could save another 9,250 dogs from other locations outside of the state. Of course, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some dogs from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. However, most of these dogs are likely easy to adopt and therefore have short lengths of stay. As a result, the additional number of dogs New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere is probably not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for dogs as well as many other places.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 2.7 dogs per 1,000 people in the state (1.4 dogs if no dogs rescued from out of state). As a comparison, recent per capita dog adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 15.3 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 9.4 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Lake County Animal Shelter (Lake County, Florida) – 5.2 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas) – 5.0 dogs per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out around two to six times as many dogs as the goal set for New Jersey animal shelters.

Some naysayers may claim New Jersey would have a more difficult time due to the state’s shelters taking in many pit bulls. However, this is a myth. My model estimates New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out roughly 0.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people to save 95% of New Jersey’s dogs. Our shelters would only need to adopt out around 1.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people if New Jersey shelters also rescued and adopted out the targeted number of pit bulls from other states. As a comparison, I estimate Longmont Humane Society adopts out 2.0 pit bulls per 1,000 people based on the number of pit bulls impounded in 2014 as a percentage of total dogs impounded in 2014 and multiplying that number by the 9.4 dogs per 1,000 people adoption rate in 2018. Furthermore, the pit bull adoption targets are even more reasonable given the model assumes there are roughly 1/6 of the number of dogs from other breeds to compete with in the New Jersey adoption market compared to the Longmont, Colorado area.

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Animal Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

The goal of any properly managed animal shelter is to save all of its healthy and treatable animals. In some cases, such as selective admission rescue oriented shelters, it is pretty easy to not kill animals. In addition, other animal shelters with easy to service animal control contracts (i.e. few animals impounded, most strays quickly returned to owners) can avoid unnecessary killing due to having lots of extra space. As a result, some shelters may have an easier time than others in preventing killing at their shelters.

The tables below detail how many dogs should lose their lives at each state animal shelter per my model and the actual numbers of dogs that did. All missing or lost dogs are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Based on my review of a number of shelters’ underlying documents, virtually all of the dogs in the “Other” outcome category died or went missing. Shelters having the number of dogs losing their lives at or below my targets and above my targets are highlighted in green and red in the tables below.

The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Overall, 1,108 dogs needlessly lost their lives at New Jersey animal shelters in 2018 (i.e. the sum of all shelters killing too many dogs). 13 out of 92 or 14% of the shelters accounted for 83% of the dogs unnecessarily losing their lives under the model’s assumptions. Associated Humane Societies’ three shelters needlessly killed 219 dogs per the model or 20% of the total dogs unnecessarily dying in the state’s shelters. Trenton Animal Shelter, Gloucester County Animal Shelter, Bergen County Animal Shelter and Paterson Animal Control, which all broke state law in recent years, needlessly killed 335 dogs per the model or 30% of the total dogs unnecessarily dying in the state’s shelters. Shelters with the greatest number of unnecessary dog deaths (assuming all dogs killed were local animals) are as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark (158)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter (142)
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter (121)
  • St. Hubert’s – Madison (116)
  • Humane Society of Atlantic County (69)
  • South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter (58)
  • Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center (53)
  • Atlantic County Animal Shelter (39)
  • Paterson Animal Control (38)
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter (34)

Thus, the bulk of the dogs unnecessarily dying at New Jersey animals shelters occurs at a small number of facilities.

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Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Require Little Rescue Assistance

Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake, very limited space, and few stray dogs returned to owners, it will need more help than other shelters. In an ideal world, rescues would take all shelter animals. However, due to limited numbers of foster homes, lesser ability to find foster homes due to many rescue organizations’ small sizes, and most rescues’ restrictive adoption policies, all shelters cannot heavily rely on rescues. The tables below compare the number of dogs a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of dogs actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.

Overall, most New Jersey animal shelters require little rescue support if space-constrained facilities fast-track their most highly adoptable dogs. Shelter medicine experts advocate prioritizing the processing of highly adoptable animals to make the best use of space and reduce disease. For example, making sure these animals are the first to get spayed/neutered and vaccinated and receive microchips to ensure they can leave as soon as the shelter finds a good home.

51 shelters received too much help, 17 facilities received just enough assistance and 24 shelters received too little help from other animal welfare organizations. However, the excess dogs rescued (1,940 dogs) at shelters receiving too much assistance was far higher than the rescue deficits at other shelters (237 dogs) resulting in the state’s shelters sending 1,703 more dogs than needed to rescues and other animal welfare organizations. Some shelters, such as Elizabeth Animal Shelter and Paterson Animal Control, report transfers to rescues and other shelters as adoptions. While I made adjustments for these facilities based on my reviews of these facilities underlying records in past years, its certainly possible other shelters incorrectly reported their data (i.e. counting animals sent to rescues as adoptions). Nonetheless, the New Jersey shelter system as a whole is receiving enough rescue assistance, but some shelters are hurt by rescues pulling animals from less needy facilities.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull dogs from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the tables below. If shelters not needing rescue support get that extra help, these shelters will not take the steps necessary to properly run their facilities. As a result of enabling poorly performing shelters and not pulling dogs from truly space constrained facilities, rescuing dogs from shelters with enough space leads to less lifesaving.

Shelters receiving less than needed rescue support should also examine their own policies and performance. Are the shelter’s operating processes allowing too many animals to get sick and therefore discouraging organizations to rescue their animals due to subsequent medical costs? Does the shelter actively reach out to rescues/other shelters and treat them with respect? Does the shelter make it convenient for other organizations to pull their animals?

Given killing animals for space is intolerable, the space-constrained shelters need to expand their effective dog capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house dogs on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians to house and adopt out some dogs. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program, implementing a proper managed intake policy (i.e. where animals are impounded when in danger and waiting periods for owner surrenders are relatively short) and making serious efforts to return lost dogs to owners could free up space in these shelters. Finally, space-constrained shelters with multiple animal control contracts should terminate some of these arrangements to bring their capacity for care in line with the number of dogs they take in. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

In certain circumstances, it may make sense for shelters with excess space to send dogs to rescues. For example, a unique breed or a dog needing very specialized behavioral or medical rehabilitation. However, these cases are accounted for in my targeted sent to rescue figures for animal control shelters.

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Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Come Close to Reaching Their Local Dog Adoption Potential

We can assess each shelter’s contribution to making New Jersey and nearby areas no kill. While a shelter may be able to avoid killing healthy and treatable animals, it still may not live up to its potential for adopting out local dogs. On the other hand, a space constrained shelter may kill healthy and treatable dogs, but still do a good job adopting animals out.

The tables below compare the number of dogs from New Jersey and nearby states each animal shelter should adopt out with the estimated number of local dogs actually adopted out.

Many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt dogs than the bulk of dogs needing to get rescued from local facilities. Thus, the results from rescue oriented shelters may look better than they actually are.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 4 out of 92 shelters met the adoption goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

A number of other rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets, but this may at least partially be due to inaccurate records and the types of dogs they impounded. Common Sense for Animals operates more like a rescue oriented than an animal control shelter. While this organization exceeded its adoption targets, the shelter’s figures were off by 128 dogs using the methodology outlined in another blog. Beacon Animal Rescue also exceeded its adoption target, but this is likely due to this organization rescuing easier to adopt dogs from New Jersey shelters. Thus, I believe these rescue oriented shelters’ high local dog adoption numbers were due to inaccurate records or these organizations selecting easier to adopt local dogs.

Tri-Boro Animal Welfare’s and St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark’s higher than targeted local dog adoption results are a bit misleading. These facilities benefited from the method I used to cap adoptions in the county and reduce the adoption targets for these two shelters. For example, Tri-Boro Animal Welfare only reached 52% of its adoption target using my unadjusted model only taking the shelter’s physical space and targeted number of foster homes into account. Similarly, St. Hubert’s Noah’s Ark’s actual adoptions percentage of its targeted adoptions figure dropped from 271% to 111% when I looked at the unadjusted model. Since Morris County has many shelters that collectively have a very large capacity (i.e. very high adoption potential), my model reduces all Morris County animal shelters’ target adoptions to my county adoption cap. Therefore, these two shelters have relatively low dog adoption targets. Additionally, St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark may rescue a number of dogs from other St. Hubert’s facilities and those dogs may come from out of state. Thus, these shelters really didn’t do an excellent job adopting out local dogs.

Shelters adopting out the fewest animals in total relative to their targets were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 1,222 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Monmouth SPCA – 775 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park – 579 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Plainfield Area Humane Society – 532 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Tyco Animal Control – Paramus – 442 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Burlington County Animal Shelter – 441 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 396 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 388 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Paterson Animal Control – 387 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 384 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • St. Hubert’s – Madison – 281 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Shake a Paw-Union – 281 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Greyhound Angels – 278 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Montclair Township Animal Shelter – 273 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • New Jersey Humane Society – 250 fewer dogs adopted than targeted

Several shelters’ poor performance is quite predictable. Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Trenton Animal Shelter, Paterson Animal Shelter, Shake a Paw-Union, New Jersey Humane Society, Gloucester County Animal Shelter, Monmouth SPCA and Bergen County Animal Shelter had troublesome stories involving the shelters and/or prominent people affiliated with these organizations over the last several years. Tyco Animal Control-Paramus performed poorly due to this for profit company having a regressive view of animal sheltering. Shake a Paw-Union’s low local adoption numbers are also not surprising since it also operates a for profit pet store and transports almost all of its dogs it rescues from out of state. Similarly, St. Hubert’s-Madison, Monmouth SPCA, Greyhound Angels (due to it being a greyhound rescue oriented shelter) and Montclair Township Animal Shelter all transported in many dogs from outside of New Jersey during 2018. Burlington County Animal Shelter had a 200 local dog adoption decrease in 2018 due primarily to the facility sending more dogs to rescues and other shelters. Finally, Plainfield Area Humane Society’s local dog adoption deficit is quite disturbing since this organization could easily take on Plainfield’s dogs who currently go to the horrific and high kill Associated Humane Societies-Newark.

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Local Dogs

To further examine New Jersey animal shelters’ performance in saving the state’s homeless dogs, I compared the targeted number of dogs each shelter should pull from nearby shelters and compared it to the number actually rescued from local facilities. I assume all reported out of state rescued dogs came from southern states or other far away places. While some of the out of state rescued dogs may have comes from nearby areas, I believe this is a small number and does not significantly impact the results.

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of local dogs they should. 89 of the 92 shelters should rescue some dogs from other local shelters. In fact, 45 of the 89 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single dog from a New Jersey animal shelter. Of the 89 shelters that should have rescued dogs, only four shelters met or exceeded their local dog rescue targets. However, three of those shelters, Beacon Animal Rescue, St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark and Tri-Boro Animal Welfare, may not have truly helped the number of medium to large size local dogs they should based on these shelters taking easier to adopt animals and possibly out of state animals (i.e. St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark may have rescued out of state transported dogs from other St. Hubert’s facilities that originally came from the south).

As mentioned above, many shelters local rescue numbers are inflated due to these organizations cherry picking highly adoptable animals to rescue. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of local healthy and treatable dogs.

Shelters can overcome challenges in rescuing dogs from outside their service area. In some cases, municipalities may frown on government run shelters using taxpayer funds to rescue dogs from elsewhere. However, shelter directors at these facilities can encourage individuals to form a non-profit or raise money on their own to pay for these rescued dogs. Additionally, shelters with limited capacity or even some of the well-off private shelters could contribute funding for each dog rescued. For example, Maddie’s Fund paid an approximate $160 subsidy to rescues pulling dogs from New York Animal Care & Control. Similarly, private shelters with excess space, but limited financial resources, could expand their fundraising efforts to save more local dogs. Thus, perceived obstacles to rescuing local dogs can and should be overcome.

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New Jersey Animal Shelters Need to Form Life-Saving Coalitions

The improper allocation of space within the state’s animal shelter system requires organizations to form coalitions. While putting a competent and compassionate director in every shelter would likely be even more effective, that will likely take time to do. No kill coalitions between animal control facilities and selective admission shelters have been used in places, such as Portland, Oregon, Reno, Nevada, Jacksonville, Florida and Austin, Texas to radically increase life saving. Maddie’s Fund, which has supported using coalitions for over a decade, has many resources for organizations seeking to collaborate with each other. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters need to formally work together, develop quantifiable and measurable goals (such as the targeted outcomes in this blog), and hold each organization accountable for meeting these benchmarks.

Sobering Results Require Shelter Leaders to Critically Examine Themselves

Shelters should examine the reasons why their adoption numbers fall far short of these benchmarks. In some cases, shelters need to expand the hours they are open for adoptions. Many shelters should switch from an overly judgmental adoption process based on black and white rules to a conversational one focused on educating the adopter. Organizations will need to radically increase their off-site events and do same day adoptions. Similarly, many shelters must reduce adoption fees and run frequent promotions. Executive Directors should monitor the latest life-saving programs on Maddie’s Fund’s, American Pets Alive Conference’s, and the Best Friends National Conference’s web sites and put some of these policies into place. Shelter management teams will need to ensure their facilities are clean and customers are treated with respect (this can be measured by encouraging the public to complete surveys). Thus, poorly performing shelters need to stop making excuses and do what it takes to reach their adoption potential.

We can turn New Jersey, New York City and Philadelphia into no kill communities. It is time we give our money and volunteer efforts to organizations who raise their performance to help us reach that goal. To do otherwise, would betray all the animals whose lives are on the line.

Appendix – Life Saving Model Assumptions

The Life Saving Model utilizes the following basic animal shelter population equations to calculate the targeted dog outcomes for each facility:

Daily capacity or population = Daily animal intake x average length of stay

Average length of stay = Daily capacity or population/daily intake

Each shelter’s community dog intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty bite cases), number of dogs returned to owners, and maximum dog capacity were taken from its 2018 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health. Additionally, I added 3% of each shelter’s annual dog intake to account for foster capacity shelters should use based on American Pets Alive guidelines. Thus, total dog capacity equaled the shelter’s capacity plus foster capacity.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community dog intake and dogs returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 dogs were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 dogs (240/12). In July, the dog intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 dogs by 1.2 to equal 24 dogs. If 120 dogs were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of dogs returned to owners in July would equal 12 dogs (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off the average of the 2018 dog intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • The estimated number of community dogs returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country. If anything, this estimate is conservative (i.e. average length of stay for dogs returned to owners may be less than 5 days and therefore frees up more shelter space for adoptions) based on some shelters returning the bulk of their dogs to owners within 3 days.
  • The number of community dogs euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 5% of intake. 5% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate for shelters in New Jersey to meet given few vulnerable stray puppies (i.e. who could die or require euthanasia) arrive in the state’s animal shelters. The average length of stay for euthanized dogs is assumed to equal 14.5 days. Half of dogs are assumed euthanized for untreatable aggression towards people and 21 days is the time estimated to make that determination. The other half of dogs are assumed euthanized for severe and untreatable health issues and I estimate these dogs are euthanized after 8 days (subsequent to the end of the stray hold and owner surrender protection periods).
  • Adopted dogs are assumed to stay at shelters for varying lengths of time. Adoption length of stay was based on data from a study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare and the figures used (except for space-constrained shelters) are located in a prior blog on pit bull adoption. The data primarily comes from Tompkins County SPCA during a time it saved over 90% of its dogs. This was a fairly conservative data set to use as other no kill open admission shelters’ average length of stay are substantially shorter. Specifically, the following assumptions were made:
    1. 80% and 20% of each communities dogs (including pit bulls) were adults 1 year and older and under 1 year.
    2. Pit bulls were assumed to comprise 50%, 35% and 25% of community dog intake at poor, middle/upper middle class, and wealthy area animal control shelters. While some shelters may have pit bulls comprising more than 50% of their shelter dog population at a given time, this is due to pit bulls longer average length of stay. For example, a shelter with pit bulls making up 50% of their dog intake and pit bulls having an average length of stay three times longer than other dogs will have pit bulls constituting 75% of the dog population. Shelters without animal control contracts were assumed to only have pit bulls make up 10% of their community dogs (i.e. strays and owner surrenders) based on most of these shelters’ highly selective admission practices.
    3. Pit bull adoption length of stay was taken directly from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare study. The average adoption lengths of stay for other breeds from this study were averaged and used for dogs other than pit bulls in the analysis
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they ran out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used pit bull adoption length of stay data from Greenhill Humane Society from March 2013 through May 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted pit bulls in the Greenhill Humane Society data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average dog adoption length of stay determined in the previous bullet and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • Dogs transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community dogs not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month. However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, dogs are moved from adoption (i.e. longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • Animal control shelters have a minimum of 10% of unclaimed dogs go to rescues. To the extent shelters transfer 10% of unclaimed dogs to rescues despite having space (i.e. reclassifying dogs from adoptions with a longer length of stay to rescues with a shorter length of stay), I do not require these facilities to use that space to rescue additional dogs.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s total capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter dogs are saved, I assume additional dogs are pulled from nearby states with similar types of dogs. I assume all rescued dogs will not be killed since the transferring and receiving shelters should evaluate these dogs’ behavior. Based on pit bull type dogs having longer lengths of stay at shelters, I assume 80% of dogs rescued from local animal shelters are pit bulls and 20% are non-pit bulls. 80% and 20% of pit bull and non-pit bull type dogs are considered 1 year and older and under 1 year. The average length of stay for rescued pit bulls and other dogs are the same as the adoption length of stay figures above.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many local dogs New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue, rescue from other nearby animal shelters and euthanize.
  • The targeted number of dogs rescued and adopted were capped at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of dogs adopted were set to equal to this cap using the pit bull percentage assumptions above. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted adoptions in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of adoptions in the county to yield the targeted numbers of dogs adopted in the modified model. If the shelter also rescued animals from other shelters, the rescued numbers were also reduced since I assume rescued animals are adopted.