North Jersey Humane Society’s Horrible Inspection Report Exposes a Fake No Kill Organization

Last year, many people applauded Bloomfield’s decision to accept Bergen County Humane Enforcement’s and Bergen Protect and Rescue’s bid to run the Bloomfield Animal Shelter. After years of problems with the Bloomfield Department of Health and Human Services’ running of the animal shelter, which included banning virtually all volunteers and prohibiting a well-known trainer from keeping a dog with very minor behavioral problems, people were understandably eager to welcome an organization stating it would run a no kill shelter. Given Vincent Ascolese’s charismatic personality and him saying all the right things during a presentation to the town, one could hardly blame people for cheering Bloomfield’s decision to hire this organization.

Personally, I was very skeptical of Bergen County Humane Enforcement and North Jersey Humane Society, which was formed to run the Bloomfield Animal Shelter. First and foremost, I knew Vincent Ascolese, who is the Director of both Bergen Protect and Rescue and North Jersey Humane Society and the Supervising Animal Control Officer, previously brought animals from Hudson County to the horrific Jersey Animal Coalition. Second, Vincent Ascolese’s shelters contract with a for profit animal control company with a checkered history in Hudson County.

I was extremely disappointed when my spouse, my young child and I visited Bergen Protect and Rescue’s Cliffside Park shelter. The facility was extremely small and cramped and two people could barely pass each other through the tiny hallway inside the facility. After being ignored for 10 minutes by the the person in charge that day, we asked if we could see the dogs. This person told us no dogs were up for adoption at the facility and we had to make an appointment to see the animals even if they had any dogs up for adoption. The staff person’s claim seemed odd as many dogs were in a small area just around the corner from us. Even worse, the very next day I saw the shelter post one of the dogs I saw outside on their Facebook page as available for adoption. In addition, the staff person told us the adoption fee for an adult pit bull was over $300. While the staff person said we could drive to an adoption event the shelter was having that day, it was impractical as we did not know the area. Thus, my personal experience with this organization was not good.

Subsequently, I read about policies not consistent with well-run no kill animal control shelters. First, I saw high adoption fees on their web site (now the shelter does not even state what the fees are) which were consistent with the over $300 adoption fee communicated to us at the Cliffside Park shelter. The shelter’s web site states it may take up to a week to adopt an animal resulting in reduced lifesaving and potential overcrowding. Additionally, the Cliffside Park shelter transports many dogs in from out of state despite having what seemed like a very undersized facility. Not surprisingly, my analyses of the Cliffside Park facility’s 2013 performance showed the shelter only adopted out 35% of the number of dogs and 33% of the number of cats the shelter should adopt out. Finally, I was concerned seeing North Jersey Humane Society adopts out at least some intact animals where the shelter refers the adopter to a low cost vet clinic participating in the state subsidized spay/neuter program (funding often runs out during the year resulting in significant delays for the discounted spay/neuter services). Typically, I only see poorly run pounds use this program rather than doing the surgeries themselves with the shelter’s veterinarian. Thus, North Jersey Humane Society’s polices were not consistent with those of well-run no kill animal control shelters.

Last week’s news about the NJ SPCA charging Vincent Ascolese with animal cruelty floored me. The NJ SPCA rightfully charged Mr. Ascolese with 14 counts of animal cruelty for killing an injured deer fawn by slashing its neck with a knife and other issues with animal care at his facility. As bad as this news sounded, it paled in comparison to what I read in the recent New Jersey Department of Health inspection report of North Jersey Humane Society’s Bloomfield shelter.

Bloomfield and North Jersey Humane Society Allow Animals to Reside in a Dump

North Jersey Humane Society’s bid to perform animal sheltering services at the Bloomfield Animal Shelter required the town to bring the facility up to the standards of N.J.A.C. 8.23A. As a result, Bloomfield had a contractual obligation to ensure the building complied with the state law’s standards. Additionally, North Jersey Humane Society had a legal and moral obligation as the shelter operator to ensure the animals were housed in a safe facility.

The inspection report stated the facility was under construction and did not have the required permits. Additionally, the Bloomfield Department of Health and Human Services did not perform the required annual inspection and therefore the shelter did not have a license to operate.

The facility was occupied while under construction without evidence of local occupancy approvals and electrical, mechanical (HVAC), and building or construction permits.

The facility was not inspected by the local health authority for the current year and was not in compliance with these rules, and therefore, was not licensed at the time of this inspection.

Despite the shelter having many unsafe areas, North Jersey Humane Society housed animals in these conditions. The shelter kept dogs in a room without a ceiling with uncovered electrical wires and various dangerous items were hanging down from above.

The ceiling of the guillotine room was removed and was completely open to the rafters in the attic space. Dogs were being housed in this room at the time of this inspection. Electrical wires and junction boxes were exposed and hanging and were not properly secured as required; insulated ventilation ducts and other items were exposed and hanging down from the rafters (Pictures 2834 through 2836).

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North Jersey Humane Society left exposed screws adjacent to dog enclosures and the shelter’s entrance putting both people and animals at risk of injury.

There were boards with long protruding screws located on the ground near the entrance gate of the facility adjacent to an outdoor animal enclosure. These screws could cause injury to both animals and people (Picture 2829).

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The shelter had inadequate ventilation and smelled like urine. Furthermore, insufficient lighting prevented shelter staff from properly cleaning the animal enclosures resulting in a build up of feces and urine. North Jersey Humane Society apparently placed an outdoor animal enclosure on a surface that shelter staff cannot effectively disinfect. Furthermore, the town and North Jersey Humane Society did not repaint the surfaces of the outdoor animal enclosures and the staff could therefore not properly clean these kennels.

There was a strong, stale urine odor in the first animal enclosure room located next to the main office of the facility at the time of this inspection; the ventilation was not sufficient to remove odors as required.

The lighting in the facility was not sufficient to allow the viewing of all the interior surfaces of the animal enclosures to ensure that the enclosures had been cleaned and disinfected. The enclosures in the first animal enclosure room contained small pools of urine and small fragments of feces in the corners and bottom edges that had not been removed during the cleaning process. These corners and edges were unable to be viewed clearly due to the insufficient distribution of lighting in this room.

There was a chain link enclosure placed on the pavement in the driveway in front of the facility. This asphalt pavement was not impervious to moisture and not able to be readily cleaned and disinfected. This enclosure did not have any drains to contain and properly dispose of run off as required (Picture 2831).

The surfaces of the outdoor animal enclosures attached to the side of the building and accessible to the animals in these enclosures by a guillotine door were not impervious to moisture. These surfaces were originally painted, but the paint was peeling, and the surfaces were no longer impervious to moisture (Picture 2844).

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North Jersey Humane Society housed dogs in dangerous enclosures posing a risk of injury and possible death. The shelter left one dog in an outdoor enclosure without sufficient shade for two hours on a hot day in August and the inspector observed the dog drooling. Furthermore the dog bed in this enclosure was broken and had sharp exposed points. Another dog named Benny had a sharp metal wire that was in his cage.

The outdoor dog enclosure on the concrete slab in the driveway next to the entrance gate of the facility had a tarp type of material strapped to the top of the enclosure, but this tarp was not suitable to provide sufficient shade to avoid overheating or discomfort of the animals housed in this enclosure. ACO Stewart stated that the dog housed in this enclosure at the time of this inspection had been in the enclosure approximately two hours and the dog’s drooling was normal and not caused by overheating (Picture 2828).

A dog bed located in an outdoor enclosure near the entrance gate of the facility was broken and in need of repair. The bed contained metal triangle screw plates that had become separated from the frame. The points of the plate were exposed in an upward position and the legs of the bed were bent over (Picture 2828).

A small, thin, red coated dog named Benny was housed in an upper level enclosure in the annex room. The door of the enclosure had a wire that was bent over and protruding into the enclosure at the level of the dog that could cause injury (Picture 2856).

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To make matters worse, the shelter housed two large Rottweilers in kennels that were approximately 30% smaller than required by N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.6 (b):

Two large Rottweilers at the facility at the time of this inspection were each housed in primary enclosures that provided approximately 10.34 square feet of floor space when measured from the inside of the enclosure. These dogs were estimated to be approximately 39 to 42 inches long and required approximately 14 to 16 square feet of floor space.

North Jersey Humane Society Fails to Properly Clean its Shelter

North Jersey Humane Society failed to use proper procedures to clean the shelter. Specifically, the shelter did not remove cat litter, hair and other debris from an enclosure holding multiple cats. The shelter did not use EPA registered cleaning products. Even worse, the facility did not have suitable measuring devices to ensure staff applied the proper concentration of disinfectants.

Cats were being placed in a three tier cat cage during the daily cleaning process. This enclosure was being sprayed down with a spray bottle and immediately wiped out with a towel between each cat, but this cage was not being disinfected as required. There was an accumulation of cat litter, hair, and other debris trapped in the wire along the edges of the resting benches and at the bottom of this wire enclosure that had not been removed, cleaned and disinfected between each cat during the cleaning process. Toys were also being sprayed with the contents of the spray bottle and immediately wiped off, without allowing the required contact time for disinfection.

The bleach that was being used on the day of this inspection was Clorox Scented, Spashless bleach, which is not an EPA registered disinfectant. Two small bottles of Clorox regular bleach were later found in the upstairs storage area.

The disinfectants used at the facility, sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) and Accel (accelerated hydrogen peroxide), were not being used at the correct dilution for disinfecting animal contact surfaces. The Accel requires a dilution ratio of 8 ounces (one cup) per gallon of water and the chlorine bleach that was found in the upstairs storage area requires 4 ounces (one half cup) per gallon of water according to the instructions on the product labels for disinfection of smooth and impervious animal contact surfaces.

There were no suitable measuring devices being used at the time of this inspection. One capful of these products (said to be approximately one ounce of concentrated solution) was being mixed into a one and a half gallon sprayer that was labeled as “Bleach” (Picture 2857). The cages were said to be sprayed down with this solution, allowed to sit for approximately 10 minutes while other cages are being sprayed down, and then the cages are rinsed with a hose and the remaining water was removed with a squeegee. The cages were not manually scrubbed clean at any time during the cleaning process.

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Furthermore, shelter staff stated they cleaned animal enclosures, but the inspector’s tape measure became covered with urine and feces when she was examining the cages.

The animal enclosures located in the first room of the facility near the office and main entrance to the facility were said to have been cleaned, but when a metal tape of a tape measure was placed in one of the upper cages while measuring the cage size, the length of tape became contaminated with urine and small bits of feces that remained inside of the cage after the cleaning process. The facility staff was not following proper cleaning and disinfection procedures to reduce disease hazards and odors caused by bacteria and other contaminants that remained on animal enclosure surfaces.

Finally, North Jersey Humane Society failed to use a proper cleaning solution to disinfect the animals’ food and water receptacles.

Food and water receptacles were being washed with a dishwashing liquid, rinsed and placed on a towel to dry, but they were not being disinfected daily as required. ACO Ascolese stated over the phone on the day of this inspection that the receptacles were being washed with an antibacterial type hand dishwashing liquid, but this type of dishwashing liquid was not an EPA registered disinfectant for use in animal facilities.

Cruel Treatment of Wildlife

North Jersey Humane Society treated wildlife in a way that constituted animal cruelty in my view. Two days prior to the inspection, the shelter impounded a 3 week old baby squirrel that was too young to eat, drink, urinate and defecate on its own. Instead of bottle-feeding this animal or sending the animal to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center, the shelter tried to feed the animal with a honey seed stick. The inspector told both the ACO at the shelter and Vincent Ascolese that the shelter must transport the squirrel to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center immediately. Furthermore, a New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife agent also stated the squirrel needed to go to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center right away. Despite this emergency, Vincent Ascolese refused to do so and said he’d take the animal to the animal hospital the shelter uses.

Frankly, I am appalled that the shelter does not take injured wildlife to licensed wildlife rehabilitation centers. Even some very regressive kill shelters transport wild animals to these facilities. Furthermore, North Jersey Humane Society and Bergen Protect and Rescue could have made a simple plea on their social media pages and many people would have gladly transported the animal and offered monetary assistance.

To make matters worse, the baby squirrel and an iguana were housed in the feral cat room where the door is left open overnight. The inspection report noted some type of animal entered the room as evidenced by feces found in one of the cages. Additionally, the bars in the baby squirrel’s cage were wide enough for the animal to fall through. Given the young squirrel had not yet opened its eyes, this was a very real possibility. In fact, this did happen and the inspector actually caught the baby squirrel falling from its cage. Furthermore, the shelter staff left water in a bowl for the baby squirrel that was deep enough for the animal to drown in. As a result, the baby squirrel was housed in a room with potential predators, feral cats and wildlife that could enter the room, and left in an environment where it could drown or even fall to its death.

A baby squirrel that was impounded at the facility on 8/17/15 was crying in distress in search of its mother at the time of this inspection. This squirrel was approximately 3 weeks old and was too young to eat, drink and eliminate on its own and at this young age, may have been unable to regulate its body temperature. This squirrel was not receiving proper care and nourishment as required and was not placed in a suitable housing environment to maintain the safety and wellbeing of this animal for the two days that it was housed at the facility (Pictures 2849 and 2850).

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A baby squirrel, approximately 3 weeks of age with its eyes not yet open, that was impounded at the facility on 8/17/15 was not being fed as required to meet the nutritional needs of this young squirrel. There was no infant replacement formula of any kind or any electrolytes or other preparation for rehydration at the facility for this squirrel at the time of this inspection.

The baby squirrel detailed in 1.7 (b) was not fed or provided with a rehydration solution during the entire inspection period. A squirrel of this age requires feeding approximately every three hours.

ACO Stewart stated that George, who was not at the facility at the time of this inspection, had been feeding the squirrel seeds and honey on a stick. Although the squirrel was too young to forage, the staff had placed the honey seed stick in the red cedar chip bedding with the assumption that the squirrel would search for its food.

The inspector, Frese, explained to ACO Stewart that this squirrel was a nursing squirrel and was too young to eat, drink, and eliminate on its own. Frese stated that this squirrel needed to be transported to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately. ACO Stewart stated that the squirrel could not be transported at that time, but would be transported the next day. Frese stated that the squirrel may not live that long and then called the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA) for assistance. Neither agency was available to transport the squirrel; the agent from the Division of Fish and Wildlife said the squirrel needed to be transported immediately to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

The Supervising ACO, Vincent Ascolese, called and spoke to Frese on the phone and explained that the squirrel was being cared for adequately with the seed stick placed in the bedding to teach the squirrel to find its food. Frese explained again that the squirrel was too young to forage and needs to be transported immediately to a rehabilitator. ACO Ascolese stated that they do not take any wildlife to a wildlife rehabilitator. He stated that he would instruct the staff to take the squirrel to Franklin Lakes Animal Hospital; that is where they take all injured and orphaned wildlife. ACO Ascolese stated that it is their policy for all injured and orphaned wildlife to be transported directly to the Franklin Lakes Animal Hospital, Wildlife Division.

There was a hole in the ceiling of the room named the “feral cat” room (Picture 2851) and the animal control officer (ACO) Nicole Stewart, confirmed that the door to this room had been left open to the outside of the building overnight. There were feces in one of the cages in this room from some type of animal that had entered the room and perched on the top of the cage (Picture 2848). An iguana and a baby squirrel were housed in this room at the time of this inspection and had been in the room while the door was open overnight. ACO Stewart stated that this room is used for the feral cats that free roam the grounds of the facility.

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A baby squirrel was housed in an enclosure that had bars on the enclosure door that were wide enough for the squirrel to fit through. The squirrel was too young to walk normally, but was able to crawl. The squirrel crawled to the front of the enclosure and fit itself through the bars of the door. The squirrel had come halfway out of the enclosure, but was caught by the inspector, Frese, before it fell and was placed into the back into the enclosure. The squirrel was vocalizing a distress call as it crawled out of the cage (Picture 2866).

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The baby squirrel that was too young to eat and drink on its own was provided with a straight sided bowl filled with water in the enclosure that was deep enough that the squirrel could have become trapped and drowned in the water, due to the age and inadequate mobility of the squirrel.

The inspection report documented Vincent Ascolese killing an injured deer fawn. North Jersey Humane Society picked up a deer fawn with two broken legs in Woodland Park 12 minutes after the animal hospital the shelter uses closed (the animal hospital’s web site currently states it is open on the day of the week and time this happened). Instead of immediately taking the injured deer to another animal hospital or better yet, a licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility, as required by law, North Jersey Humane Society brought the animal back to the Bloomfield shelter. Vincent Ascolese subsequently slashed the deer’s throat in what one could consider an audition for joining the terrorist group, ISIS. Irregardless of whether the animal was hopelessly suffering, the shelter was required to send this animal for veterinary treatment. Even if euthanasia was required, slashing a deer’s throat is not humane and is illegal in New Jersey. Thus, Vincent Ascolese acted in an illegal and unethical manner and is now rightfully charged with animal cruelty.

A deer that was picked up by ACO McGowan in Woodland Park, Passaic County, on 6/29/15 was described on the “Animal Control Incident Transport Record” form as being severely injured and bleeding, with both hind legs broken and bone protruding through skin. The form stated “Well Pet Animal Hospital closed.” According to the website for this animal hospital, the normal business hours on Mondays, the day of the incident, are 9 AM to 6 PM. According to the animal control incident form, the ACO had arrived at the scene of the severely injured deer (fawn) at 6:12 PM, which was outside of this hospital’s posted hours of operation. The deer was transported to the Shelter facility at 6:47 PM. The “Animal Control Incident Transport Record” form indicated that the ACO did not immediately obtain emergency veterinary care from a licensed veterinarian as required by this regulation.

ACO Ascolese, stated during a phone call at the time of this inspection, that it is their policy for all injured and orphaned wildlife to be transported directly to the Franklin Lakes Animal Hospital, Wildlife Division. The severely injured deer that was picked up on 6/29/15 was not transported to the Franklin Lakes Animal Hospital in accordance with the policy stated by ACO Ascolese. The website for the Franklin Lakes Animal Hospital shows that the hospital’s regular operating hours are from 9 AM to 8 PM on Mondays.

A deer (fawn) that was impounded at the facility on 6/29/15 was killed by ACO Ascolese who cut the throat of the deer with a knife resulting in exsanguination (death from loss of blood). Exsanguination is an unacceptable method of euthanasia in accordance with these regulations.

Furthermore, even if throat slashing was a legal euthanasia method, Vincent Ascolese was not allowed to euthanize animals under state law at that time since he lacked the certification to do so.

Dr. Diaz confirmed that he had certified ACO Ascolese in August, 2015. On 6/29/2015, ACO Ascolese killed a deer (fawn), prior to the animal euthanasia training that had been conducted on or about 8/12/2015.

North Jersey Humane Society Fails to Provide Adequate Care to its Animals

The shelter did not provide prompt veterinary care to an injured dog. Benny had open sores on his legs and was not placing any weight on his left front leg during the inspection. Despite these issues, North Jersey Humane Society provided no veterinary care for the 3 days he was at the shelter before the inspection.

A dog named Benny was not placing any weight on his left front leg at the time of this inspection. This dog also had several ulcer type sores in various locations on all four of his legs, most of which were covered with smooth, hairless, blackened skin tissue with a raised outer edge, but some of these sores were shallow open wounds with a red and pink wound bed. This dog had not received any veterinary care since it arrived at the facility on Sunday, August 16, 2015 (Picture 2856).

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North Jersey Humane Society also did not provide some animals adequate amounts of water. Specifically, an iguana had no water during the 7 hour inspection and the inspector had to tell shelter staff to provide water to a thirsty Rottweiler.

An iguana located in the feral cat room had spilled its water and the water had not been replaced during the inspection.

A Rottweiler that was housed in an outdoor enclosure did not have water in his water bucket at the time of this inspection. This dog was subsequently provided with water after this was brought to the attention of ACO Stewart (Picture 2868 through 2870).

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Shelter staff also left an iguana to sit in a wet bed during the entire 7 hour inspection.

An iguana that was impounded at the facility on 8/17/15 was housed in an enclosure with wet bedding after the water from the water bowl had been spilled in the enclosure. This wet bedding had not been changed during the entire inspection period (Picture 2867).

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North Jersey Humane Society did not isolate sick animals from healthy animals. The facility’s HVAC system emitted air from the isolation area, which is supposed to house sick animals, to locations holding healthy animals. In fact, the shelter used the ineffective isolation area it did have to house four healthy dogs due to overcrowding. And just how did the shelter become overcrowded? The facility transported 15 dogs, which made up 60% of the facility’s dog population at the time of the inspection, from Georgia 3 days before.

The facility did not have any isolation procedures in place and did not have a proper isolation area at the time of this inspection.

The ventilation in the dog and cat isolation rooms was not separated from the air used for the general population. The ventilation for the isolation rooms was supplied through the HVAC system for the facility and mixed with the air for the general population and did not exhaust directly to the outdoors as required.

Due to lack of space, the dog isolation room was being used to house 4 healthy dogs at the time of this inspection and the cat isolation room housed 13 cats that were not exhibiting signs of or being treated for a communicable disease. The dog isolation room did not have floor to ceiling walls and was open at the top of the walls to the holding area of the general dog population. The cat isolation room had windows that were open to the room where the general cat population was housed (Pictures 2861 and 2865).

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The 15 dogs that had been imported from Georgia and arrived at the facility on Sunday, 8/16/15, did not have completed cage cards as of the date of this inspection.

The shelter also did not answer its supervising veterinarian’s requests going back as far as five months to acquire medicines and diagnostic equipment to treat sick and/or injured animals.

A notebook was located on the premises that showed the supervising veterinarian’s findings along with the veterinarian’s signature and date of each visit. The notes in this log book indicated that the veterinarian had recommended the pharmacy stock at the facility be increased (this would require prescriptions from the supervising veterinarian with the required prescribing information) and suggested medical and diagnostic equipment be purchased for use at the facility. These notations had been recorded in the log book since March of 2015, with the last request for equipment dated 8/2/15. The facility did not have the diagnostic equipment on the premises as requested by the supervising veterinarian.

North Jersey Humane Society also had drugs without required information, such as the animal it was prescribed for, directions for use, date dispensed, and name of the facility distributing the medication. This raises serious questions as to whether the shelter illegally obtained these medicines and whether expired drugs were given to animals.

There were medications at the facility that did not contain prescription labels with the required information, including the animal’s name or identification, directions for use, the date dispensed, and the name and license number of the licensee and facility dispensing the medication. A 200 ml bottle of Toltrazuril, used for the treatment of coccidia in horses, was located on the top of a cart in the medical treatment room. The manufacturer’s label on the bottle stated to refrigerate after opening and expires one year after opening, but the bottle was not refrigerated and there was no date on the bottle indicating when the bottle had been opened. There were no records or directions from the supervising veterinarian indicating what the medication was to be used for and to which animal it had been prescribed. There was also a box of MilbeMite brand ear mite medication for cats on this cart with no prescription label, animal identification, and instructions for use (Pictures 2871 through 2873).

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North Jersey Humane Society’s Euthanasia Statistics May Not Be Accurate

North Jersey Humane Society reported it only euthanized one cat and three dogs died or went missing in its 2014 Shelter/Pound Annual Report. However, the inspection report noted 4 dead animals were in the facility’s freezer. To make matters worse, the shelter could not produce accurate and legally required intake and disposition records at the time of the inspection. Furthermore, Vincent Ascolese, who illegally killed the fawn, conveniently removed all the wildlife intake and disposition records and stored them in another county. As a result, I have no confidence in North Jersey Humane Society’s reported euthanasia and other statistics since the shelter could not produce the supporting documents.

There were also approximately four animals in the freezer that were bagged, but the bags were not labeled with a name or ID number.

Paper records were maintained on dogs and cats that were received at the facility, but the intake and disposition log which correlates when each animal arrived at the facility and the final disposition was maintained as a computer record. There was no one at the facility at the time of this inspection that had access to the computer records to ascertain when animals were received and the final dispositions. A notebook that was labeled “stray animal log” was not up to date and did not include all animals that were received at the facility. The log only listed dogs that had been impounded and the last entry was dated 7/1/15.

The “Animal Control Incident Transport Record” forms, which were the only records created for the intake and disposition of certain wildlife or other species of animals received at the facility, including the deer that was received at the facility on 6/29/15, were not kept at the premises. Kristi, the Executive Director of Shelter Services stated during a telephone conversation at the time of this inspection that all animal control records were removed from the establishment by ACO Ascolese and stored in an office located in different county.

No People Admit to Euthanizing Animals

The inspection report documented the supervising veterinarian contradicting the shelter’s statement about who performs euthanasia. Specifically, the ACO on staff during the inspection stated Dr. Nelson Diaz performs all euthanasia procedures for the shelter’s animals. However, the veterinarian stated he never euthanized any animals from the shelter despite the shelter reporting 1 euthanized cat in 2014 and four dead animals in shelter’s freezer at the time of the inspection.

Furthermore, the shelter had no required euthanasia equipment at the facility or documentation that any shelter staff were certified to euthanize animals. As a result, one has to wonder if Vincent Ascolese or some other people at the shelter illegally killed animals like Vincent Ascolese did with the deer fawn.

At the time of the inspection, no certification documents were found on the premises or made available to the inspectors to indicate which staff members were certified by a licensed veterinarian to perform humane euthanasia at the facility. ACO Stewart stated at the time of this inspection that all animal euthanasia was performed by the supervising veterinarian, Dr. Diaz. Dr. Diaz was contacted by phone and confirmed that he had not performed any animal euthanasia for this facility and he was not contacted regarding the deer (fawn) that was killed by ACO Ascolese. ACO Stewart also stated that ACO Ascolese was trained by Dr. Diaz to euthanize animals at the facility one week prior to the inspection (8/12/2015). Dr. Diaz confirmed that he had certified ACO Ascolese in August, 2015. On 6/29/2015, ACO Ascolese killed a deer (fawn), prior to the animal euthanasia training that had been conducted on or about 8/12/2015.

None of the required euthanasia equipment was on the premises at the time of this inspection; there were no posted instructions, and no euthanasia, tranquilizing or immobilizing agents on the premises. This facility was not equipped with the supplies to perform humane euthanasia on any animals at the time of this inspection and there were no records or other evidence provided at the facility during this inspection to indicate that the facility was equipped as required to perform euthanasia on 6/29/2015 when the deer (fawn) was killed by ACO Ascolese.

North Jersey Humane Society Violates Basic No Kill Principles

No kill shelters essentially need to do three broad things. First and foremost, no kill sheltering mandates not killing or allowing healthy and treatable animals to die. Second, no kill facilities must perform at a high level resulting in animals quickly leaving the shelter and going to good homes. Third, no kill sheltering requires animals be provided with an elite level of care.

North Jersey Humane Society violated all three of these principles. Vincent Ascolese never even tried to get the injured fawn to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center. In fact, Mr. Ascolese’s organization does not use licensed wildlife rehabilitation centers for any wild animals per the inspection report. His shelter’s careless disregard for an extremely vulnerable baby squirrel also violated no kill’s unwavering standard of not killing. Whether the shelter killed the baby squirrel directly or simply allowed it to die makes no difference. The shelter must have a passion for saving animals. Clearly, Vincent Ascolese’s organization has an attitude that some animals are simply not worth saving. After all, when the Director of North Jersey Humane Society slices open the throat of a fawn, is it any wonder other staff members will not do anything to save a baby squirrel?

North Jersey Humane Society’s and Bergen Protect and Rescue’s polices resulting in prolonged lengths of stay also violate no kill principles. To make a no kill animal control shelter work, the organization must quickly place animals into good homes. With excessive adoption fees, long waiting periods to adopt animals and poor customer service, Vincent Ascolese’s shelters simply do not perform in the manner they should.

Finally, North Jersey Humane Society fails to follow basic animal sheltering practices let alone the elite level standards of a no kill facility. Housing sick animals together, leaving animals without water, not providing prompt veterinary care, keeping animals in filthy enclosures, exposing animals to dangerous kennels, and potentially providing animals with expired medicines is unacceptable for any shelter, kill or no kill. Clearly, North Jersey Humane Society failed its animals and does not deserve the no kill or even a shelter label.

Bloomfield Needs to Take Immediate Action

Bloomfield and the shelter’s other contracting municipalities should expect far better service. Assuming North Jersey Humane Society’s annual fees are the same as its $120,000 bid for animal control and $145,000 bid for sheltering services, North Jersey Humane Society receives $265,000 a year in revenue from these towns. Based on the Bloomfield Animal Shelter’s total reported intake in 2014, this works out to nearly $1,500 of revenue per animal the shelter impounds. Also, the shelter receives donations in addition to these contract fees. Surely, North Jersey Humane Society can afford to provide proper care to its animals.

Bloomfield no longer can trust Vincent Ascolese to do the right thing. First, Bloomfield must make all necessary structural improvements to the shelter to ensure the facility can comply with state law. Second, the town must form an Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, which should have qualified members dedicated to ensuring the town has an elite no kill shelter and to oversee and regulate whoever runs the Bloomfield Animal Shelter. Third, Bloomfield must enact the Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”) that residents have demanded for years. Fourth, the town should pass a no kill resolution mandating at least a 95% live release rate for dogs and a 90% live release rate for cats impounded from the towns the shelter contracts with. Fifth, the town should demand North Jersey Humane Society stop transporting animals from southern states into the Bloomfield Animal Shelter. Simply put, the town can no longer take the word of a charismatic person with a dark side.

New Jersey Department of Health, the NJ SPCA and the Towns Contracting with Bergen Protect and Rescue Must Investigate That Shelter

Based on the egregious performance of North Jersey Humane Society, the New Jersey Department of Health and NJ SPCA must investigate Bergen Protect and Rescue to see if Vincent Ascolese’s other facility is also violating New Jersey shelter and animal cruelty laws. Furthermore, Cliffside Park should also do the same things as I recommend for Bloomfield to ensure the shelter is effectively supervised and regulated. Sadly, Vincent Ascolese’s organizations have lost all credibility and it is time these shelters prove to everyone they are ready to step up their game. If not, then the municipalities must move on and bring an organization in that will do the right things for the animals.

East Orange Animal Control Kills a Dog Adopted from Another Animal Shelter

One year ago, East Orange Animal Control made news for all the wrong reasons. At the time, the city’s recently hired Animal Control Officer, Amanda Ham, dramatically increased the animal shelter’s live release rate. However, East Orange Health Officer, Rochelle Evans, fired the ACO after Ms. Ham complained to the NJ SPCA about dreadful conditions the city refused to fix. Shortly after Ms. Evans fired Amanda Ham, the New Jersey Department of Health inspected the shelter and documented horrific conditions. Specifically, the New Jersey Department of Health reported animals inundated with a toxic feces and chemical filled soup, a fly infestation so severe that animals with open wounds and skin lesions were in danger of having maggots grow inside them, cats not provided with enough water and water they did have was contaminated with cat litter, and improper isolation of sick animals. Thus, East Orange Animal Control’s shelter was a complete mess last year.

East Orange Animal Control Kills a Friendly Dog Adopted from Liberty Humane Society

East Orange Animal Control killed a friendly dog recently adopted from Liberty Humane Society. Roxy was adopted from Liberty Humane Society in late April and was a sweet dog according to the shelter’s volunteers. For some reason, the adopter decided not to keep Roxy and turned her into East Orange Animal Control in late May. On Tuesday, June 2, Liberty Humane Society heard East Orange Animal Control might have Roxy and attempted to contact East Orange Animal Control, but East Orange Animal Control did not respond to Liberty Humane Society that day. On Wednesday, June 3, East Orange Animal Control killed Roxy and two other dogs while the facility had empty kennels.

 

Roxy Killed by East Orange 2

While some people may blame the owner for this event, this criticism is unfair. The owner did a noble thing and adopted the dog from Liberty Humane Society, a shelter with very little space, and surely saved a life. Certainly, the owner should have returned the dog to Liberty Humane Society. However, we don’t know if there were extenuating circumstances. For example, perhaps the owner could not travel to Liberty Humane Society due to lack of transportation. Alternatively, perhaps East Orange Animal Control was close to her home and she thought the shelter would do its job and get Roxy back to Liberty Humane Society. Either way, East Orange Animal Control decided to kill the dog and must shoulder 100% of the blame.

East Orange Animal Control’s actions raises serious questions. If Roxy was surrendered to East Orange Animal Control on May 28 or after, East Orange Animal Control would have violated N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.16 e. requiring shelters to offer an animal for adoption for at least 7 days before killing that animal. While East Orange Animal Control is not legally required to scan animals surrendered by their owners for a microchip, one would think a shelter would do so. If East Orange Animal Control did scan Roxy for a microchip, East Orange Animal Control would have known Roxy was recently adopted from Liberty Humane Society. If East Orange Animal Control knew Roxy was recently adopted from Liberty Humane Society, the killing of her would be even more heinous. Tragically, Liberty Humane Society had plenty of empty kennels to house Roxy after the shelter adopted out 37 animals a few days earlier during a fee-waived adoption promotion.

Liberty Humane Society Empty Kennels May 2015

East Orange Animal Control’s Questionable Veterinarian

The New Jersey State Board of Veterinary Examiners concluded Dr. Kimani Griffith was grossly negligent in the care he provided a patient’s dog. In September 2004, Dr. Griffith spayed a female dog and performed a mastectomy after noticing a lump on the dogs’s teats. After the owner’s dog experienced complications from the surgery, Dr. Griffith failed to properly diagnose the problem and delayed appropriate treatment that resulted in the dog’s death. The New Jersey State Board of Veterinary Examiners ordered Dr. Griffith to pay nearly $2,500 in fines and complete 20 hours of continuing education in the area of General Surgery.

South Orange Takes Animals to East Orange Animal Control and to Dr. Griffith

South Orange has taken at least one animal this year to East Orange’s animal shelter. After Jersey Animal Coalition left South Orange in 2014 due to conflicts related to a failed New Jersey Department of Health inspection, South Orange brought animals to the high kill Associated Humane Societies – Newark shelter. In 2015, after AHS-Newark required South Orange to also purchase animal control services, South Orange ended its relationship with AHS-Newark. Earlier this year, South Orange ACO, Melanie Troncone stated South Orange currently was taking stray animals to Puppy Love, a pet groomer in Maplewood, and South Orange Animal Hospital. Ms. Trancone stated the animals would be held for 7-10 days at these locations and then released to an unnamed rescue or a shelter. Around the same time as the ACO made this statement, she wrote the following comment on a Facebook post saying she brought a large stray dog to East Orange’s animal shelter:

South Orange Taking Dogs to East Orange

One has to question why South Orange would choose to take a lost dog to one of the state’s worst pounds? Does South Orange have a contract with East Orange Animal Control or Dr. Giffith’s Country Lakes Animal Clinic in Mine Hill? Either alternative is not good and to not notify residents is despicable while the town drags its feet on re-opening the old JAC shelter with new management.

Companion Animal Protection Act Desperately Needed

The Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”) requires several things that would have prevented the tragic killing of Roxy. First, CAPA requires all, not just stray, animals be scanned for microchips and possible owners or caretakers be contacted. In the case of Roxy, a micochip scan would have identified Liberty Humane Society as the faciity she came from and East Orange Animal Control would have had to contact Liberty Humane Society. Second, under CAPA animal shelters cannot kill animals when

(1) there are empty cages, kennels, or other living environments in the shelter; and,

(2) a foster home is available; and,

(3) a rescue groups is willing to accept the animal; and,

(4) the animal can be transferred to another shelter with room to house the animal; and

(5) the director of the agency does not certify that he or she has no other alternative.

Under CAPA, East Orange Animal Control would have been prohibited from killing Roxy since the shelter had empty kennels at that time. Additionally, the shelter would have had to contact rescues, fosters and other shelters before killing Roxy which likely would have caused people to identify her earlier. Certainly, if East Orange Animal Control contacted Liberty Humane Society, which had room, Liberty Humane Society would have taken Roxy back. Thus, CAPA would likely have prevented Roxy’s killing assuming the law was properly enforced.

Mayor Lester Taylor Must Do the Right Thing for His Community and the Animals

East Orange Animal Control is currently spending much more money than other municipal shelters who save their animals. In 2013, the city spent $345 per dog and cat and likely killed most of their animals (the facility did not report outcome data). On the other hand, Perth Amboy only spent $281 per dog and cat in 2013 and saved 97% of its dogs and 93% of its cats. In 2014 East Orange budgeted $2.63 per person on its animal control and sheltering operations while Perth Amboy only spent $2.34 per person in 2014. Thus, East Orange is wasting taxpayers money and embarrassing the city in the process.

East Orange Animal Control currently bans volunteers from its shelter. Basically, the only exposure animals got until recently were pictures a couple of select people were allowed to take through the kennels. Clearly, such pictures are depressing and don’t do nearly enough to promote the adoption of these animals.

East Orange Shelter Photo 1 East Orange Shelter Photo 2 East Orange Shelter Photo 3 East Orange Shelter Photo 4

Sadly, East Orange Animal Control has now illegally banned people from even taking these photos. Furthermore, East Orange Animal Control bars the public from taking photos of the animal shelter as well.

East orange Photo ban

Nathan Winograd, who is a no kill leader and an accomplished attorney, provided the following summary of why it is illegal for animal control shelters to ban photos and videos:

Banning photography and video in public areas of the shelter limits free speech. See Animal Legal Defense Fund vs. Otter, 2014 WL 4388158*10 (D. Idaho 2014). The taking of a photograph or video is “included with the First Amendment’s guarantee of speech and press rights as a corollary of the right to disseminate the resulting recording.” ACLU vs. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583, 597 (7th Cir. 2012). As the ACLU has correctly argued, “Videotaping and capturing images of poor shelter conditions or neglected animals are indistinguishable from ‘commenting’ or ‘speaking out’ on such conditions.” Volunteers, rescuers, and members of the public have a right to document things they believe are improper. They also can take photographs and videotape to assist in finding animals homes.

Not only is East Orange Animal Control needlessly killing animals, it now is violating our First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of the press. As a result, East Orange Animal Control has added violating the First Amendment to the United States Constitution to its breaking of state animal shelter laws.

Volunteering at an animal shelter does as much good for the people giving their time as the animals themselves. People need to have meaning to their life. Rehabilitating an animal and being part of its metamorphosis is incredibly moving. Animals open up the most hardened hearts as evidenced by the many successful animal shelter programs at prisons. Senior citizens, young people who need direction, and families looking to spend time together can join up, save lives, and be part of something that builds up their self-esteem and their community. Thus, animal shelter volunteer programs help the people volunteering just as much as the animals those folks help.

East Orange must stop depriving its own citizens from experiencing the opportunity to volunteer and better themselves. Countless communities, such as ones with high poverty rates like Perth Amboy, have come together and made their animal shelter a source of pride. Mayor Taylor touts his community support programs yet his animal shelter refuses to let those citizens help. It is time Mayor Taylor clean house in his Animal Control department, hire caring and compassionate people, and let his community help its animals. If Perth Amboy, which has a higher poverty rate than East Orange, can do this then why can’t East Orange?

East Orange’s residents must come together and demand more from their city government. Illegal activities, unethical actions, and depriving the city’s own citizens the opportunity to better themselves have made the city’s animal shelter an urgent issue. If the elected officials refuse to fix the animal shelter, then East Orange’s citizens should make sure those officials are shown the door.

Associated Humane Societies Spends Exorbitant Amounts of Money on Lawyers

Courtesy of Barry Langdon-Lassagne

Courtesy of Barry Langdon-Lassagne

In my last blog, I detailed Associated Humane Societies’ history of conflicts. As you will see below, this combative behavior may also have severe financial consequences.

Outrageous Legal Expenditures Under Current AHS Leadership

High legal expenses are a sign of poor performance. Organizations may enter into litigation after failing to resolve conflicts amicably. Additionally, organizations may go to court if they conduct significant wrongdoings. In either case, this does not reflect well on an animal shelter. From an animal welfare organization perspective, money spent on legal fees means less resources are available to save animals and care for them.

The table below details legal expenses incurred at Associated Humane Societies (“AHS”), Monmouth County SPCA and Cumberland County SPCA over the last decade since Roseann Trezza became AHS’s Executive Director. The two SPCAs are included for comparative purposes since animal welfare organizations could theoretically incur legal costs relating to cruelty cases. AHS incurred 358 and 262 times more legal costs than Monmouth County SPCA and Cumberland County SPCA. To put it another way, AHS spent around $3.3 million more on legal fees than the two SPCAs combined over the last decade.

AHS Legal Fees (3)

While we don’t know exactly what AHS’s legal bills relate to, we do know about some of their disputes during this time period. In 2005, AHS paid $138,057 to settle alleged violations of the State’s Consumer Fraud Act and Charitable Registration and Investigation Act relating to deceptive fundraising practices. In 2003, AHS adopted out a dog who subsequently killed its owner. The dog’s previous owner paid AHS a $205 fee to keep the dog under observation for ten days, then euthanize, and cremate it. AHS subsequently fired an employee who objected to the adoption. The employee’s lawsuit against AHS went on until at least 2007. From 2011 to 2013, AHS fought to take the emaciated pit bull, Patrick, away from the veterinarians who helped save his life. Thus, AHS had plenty of disputes over the last decade.

The Patrick case was particularly appalling. Literally, AHS tried to use the court system to remove Patrick from the only loving home he ever knew since Patrick had “trademark registration number 23699” and was a “very valuable brand for commercial exploitation and fundraising.” While we don’t know how much of the nearly $1 million of legal expenses AHS incurred from 2011-2013 were due to the Patrick case, even 1 cent would be too much to pay.

AHS’s Board of Trustees is a Disgrace

That State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation (“SCI”) report on AHS railed against the organization’s Board of Trustees. The SCI report argued AHS consistently failed to fulfill its role of properly overseeing the organization:

The Board constitutes an ineffectual body that has ignored the mission of AHS to care for the animals and has allowed Bernstein free reign to operate the organization as he pleases.

This report called out AHS’s longstanding practice of putting too many employees on its Board of Trustees. Currently, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance states no more than 10% of a board should be paid staff members or indirectly compensated people. Additionally, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance states organizations should not appoint compensated persons as the chairperson or treasurer.

Despite the SCI report’s criticism, AHS still places too many employees on its board. Rosenna Trezza, AHS’s Executive Director, and John Bergmann, Popcorn Park Executive Director, both serve on the board. Furthermore, AHS’s most recent Form 990 listed Roseann Trezza as President of the Board of Trustees in violation of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance guidance. Additionally, Dr. Adriana Hordynsky also appears to work for AHS and is not listed as an independent Board of Trustees member. Assuming Dr. Hordynsky is an AHS employee, 3 of 8 or 38% of AHS’s Board of Trustees members work for the organization. Thus, AHS’s Board of Trustees still includes too many employees.

AHS’s continued practice of loading its Board of Trustees with employees creates conflicts of interest. Will paid staff members vote for things that are best for the animals, but not for themselves? For example, the Board of Trustees could vote for polices that require more of staff members to save animals. Will those Board of Trustees members vote to add work for themselves? Additionally, will Board of Trustees members who work for Roseann Trezza vote against her? Even if these staff members had employee contracts, its not too hard to imagine ways their boss could make life difficult for them. Thus, AHS’s practice of stacking its Board of Trustees with employees creates huge conflicts of interests.

AHS Board of Trustee member Barbara Lathrop has served for far too long. While AHS lists Ms. Lathrop as “Independent”, I highly doubt that is the case in the real world. Ms. Lathrop has sat on the Board of Trustees since 1976, which included 27 years during the horrific reign of Lee Bernstein. Personally, I think someone who has served on a board for nearly 40 years must be part of the organization’s status quo. Additionally, I’ve noticed Barbara Lathrop defending AHS on social media and even going as far to repeat verbatim AHS’s claim that the volunteers were to blame for AHS suspending the Tinton Falls volunteer program. In fact, in 2001 AHS’s auditors stated the organization should rotate its board members:

We believe that when the terms of certain Board members expire, the Organization should consider bringing in new Board members. This provides the Organization the opportunity to obtain the insights of new members. This would also allow the Organization to develop and further enhance their fundraising efforts and strategies by exposing the Organization to new contacts and ideas.

Two other AHS Board of Trustees members may also potentially have conflicts of interest. If Lynette Bono is the person named Lynn Bono in this article, this Board of Trustees member would be a former employee. This would be consistent with AHS’s past practices described in the SCI report. While a former employee may not have the perverse incentives of a current staff member, it is possible her perspective could be skewed towards management based on her past experience. Assuming Justin Rand is the same person as the Popcorn Park volunteer with the same name, this could also create a conflict of interest if Mr. Rand still volunteers at the shelter. For example, will a volunteer be willing to vote against the Executive Director and Board of Trustees member at an organization known for banning volunteers? Thus, as many as 6 of of AHS’s 8 Board of Trustees members may potentially have conflicts of interest.

While five of AHS’s current Board of Trustees members cannot be blamed for decisions made before their arrival over the last two years, AHS’s board has had a similar structure since 2003. For example, Roseann Trezza, John Bergmann and Barbara Lathrop all served on AHS’s Board of Trustees during the period the legal expenses in the table above were incurred. Thus, AHS’s dysfunctional board clearly allowed this wasteful spending on lawyers.

Donors and Contracting Municipalities Need to Open Their Eyes

Donors and municipalities contracting with AHS should be alarmed at these figures. AHS could have used this $3.3 million to help build a new shelter or at least significantly upgrade its existing outdated facilities in Newark and Tinton Falls. Alternatively, AHS could have spent more on rehabilitating animals both physically and mentally that were eventually killed. Instead, AHS wasted this money on lawyers.

As a donor and a taxpayer, you need to ask yourself how do you want your money spent? Should a significant portion of the money you provide an organization through philanthropic and tax dollars go to the animals or to lawyers? If an organization is so combative that it cannot settle its disputes amicably, what does that say about its compassion and empathy towards the thousands of animals that come through its doors each year? The time has come for AHS to remove and replace all of its senior management and Board of Trustees members with competent and compassionate people. If AHS chooses not to do so, donors and taxpayers should send their money to an organization that will do the right things for their animals.

Associated Humane Societies’ History of Conflicts

Recently, Associated Humane Societies made headlines after it banned volunteers from its Tinton Falls shelter. On Saturday, April 11 I saw a number of social media posts about AHS banning all of its volunteers. On the next day, which ironically fell on the eve of National Volunteer Appreciation Week, the Associated Humane Popcorn Park Facebook page announced AHS suspended the Tinton Falls programs due to alleged misdeeds by the Tinton Falls volunteers. The banned volunteers responded and disputed the shelter’s allegations. While I am not close enough to the situation to comment on the validity of both sides claims, I think looking at AHS’s history of disputes is quite revealing.

Corrupt Start to the Modern AHS Era

Lee Bernstein, who served as AHS’s Executive Director from 1969 to 2003, used highly unethical tactics to raise money for AHS and himself. Bernstein, who was a Newark City Councilman and AHS Board of Trustees member, voted to significantly increase the animal control contract fee Newark paid to AHS in 1968. After this fact became known, Mr. Bernstein faced a recall election to remove him from the Newark City Council. On the day before another Newark City Council resolution in 1969 to increase the fees paid to AHS again, Bernstein told the AHS Board that the new Newark contract was contingent on AHS hiring him as Executive Director for 5 years and paying him a specific salary if Bernstein lost his recall election. Newark residents subsequently booted the corrupt Bernstein from office in the recall election and Bernstein became AHS’s Executive Director.

The City of Newark later won a lawsuit against AHS to render the contract null and void. The judge’s ruling included the following statement:

In the light of the foregoing, the Court is satisfied that the contract of March 25, 1969 had its genesis in a corrupt understanding by which Lee Bernstein would receive employment and be supplied with a regular source of income, in the event that his political tenure (and income) were terminated by the recall election of June 1969. A corrupt understanding that undoubtedly was conceived in the mind of Mr. Bernstein, but to which the other members of the Board of Trustees of the defendant Humane Societies, nevertheless, gave their prior approval and assent.

Ultimately, Lee Bernstein was sentenced to jail for four months relating to this matter. Thus, AHS’s modern history had a corrupt beginning.

Horrific Treatment of Animals During Lee Bernstein Era

In 2003, the State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation (“SCI”) issued a scathing report on AHS. Some of the report’s key findings were as follows:

  • AHS raised massive amounts of money and failed to use enough of it to properly care for its animals
  • Shelters were mismanaged and ruled by then Executive Director, Lee Bernstein, with an iron fist
  • Ineffective oversight by AHS’s Board of Trustees

The SCI report summarized the history under Lee Bernstein as follows:

The history of AHS’s shelter operation has been dominated by deplorable kennel conditions, inhumane treatment of animals by workers, mismanagement and nonexistent or inadequate medical care. The problems were neither singular nor occasional.The accounts and descriptions provided by members of the public and former and current staff members, including veterinarians, paint a bleak picture of shelter life. The reality for the animals belied AHS’s propaganda that its “sole purpose” has been “the care and welfare of animals” and that it has “a high adoption rate.”

One example of Lee Bernstein’s cruelty was when he ordered a veterinarian to use only one needle per animal. Apparently, Bernstein thought the 5 cents savings per animal was more important than the pain an animal endured from being stabbed multiple times with a dull needle:

Bernstein reacted by issuing a memorandum to the veterinarian that “effective immediately, use only ONE needle per animal. . . .

In a responding memorandum, the veterinarian countered that the needles “are not especially high quality to begin with, become much more dull [with one or two passages through a vial’s rubber stopper] and, therefore, more painful to the animal upon injection.” She asserted, “According to you, the cost is $0.03-$0.04 per animal for an additional needle (plus probably at most $0.01 for medical waste disposal) – a bargain for an organization concerned about animal welfare.” She noted that “some shelter personnel are not especially adept at administering injections and a dull needle make[s] the job harder on everyone” and cited a recent complaint by a woman “who was appalled by her cat being stabbed four times before the vaccine was successfully administered at the shelter.” During this timeframe, AHS realized profits in excess of $1 million and had cash and investment balances valued at more than $8 million.

The SCI report stated Bernstein was a firm believer of survival of the fittest when it came to spending money on veterinary care:

His philosophy was that the strong ones would survive and the others would not. Assistant Director Terry Clark also expressed disapproval of her treating shelter animals. In an apparent attempt to dissuade her, Clark stated in one conversation that Bernstein’s remedy would be to euthanize any shelter animals that he finds in the clinic.

While some may say this report is old news, AHS’s current Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, worked at AHS and served on the AHS Board of Trustees for three decades prior to the release of the SCI report. In fact, she was the Assistant Executive Director when the report was released. Popcorn Park Director, John Bergmann, also worked at AHS and was a Board of Trustees member during some of the time period covered by this report. Similarly, AHS Board of Trustees member and Treasurer, Barbara Lathrop, also had been with AHS for 27 years prior to the release of the SCI report. Thus, many people in AHS’s current leadership worked at AHS for many years during the horrible Lee Bernstein era.

Additionally, the SCI report alleged Roseann Trezza helped Bernstein implement his don’t treat the shelter animals plan:

In addition, Dr. Binkowski’s practice of returning animals under treatment to the shelter with instructions to the worker to administer certain medications was thwarted when Trezza issued a memorandum, dated March 9, 1994, to the front office and kennel staff that she was assigning one individual in the front office to “be responsible for dispensing the medication [and that n]o medications are to be held or given out by the kennel staff.” According to Dr. Binkowski, this rule effectively deprived many, if not most of the animals of their medications because the front office employee had numerous other responsibilities and administering to the shelter animals was not her primary assignment.

Finally, Roseann Trezza showed her true colors when AHS published a glowing memorial article on Lee Bernstein in a 2008 issue of the Humane News. Remarkably, AHS made no mention of Lee Bernstein’s egregious acts towards the shelter animals detailed in the SCI report.

Two years after the SCI report was published, AHS paid $138,057 to settle alleged violations of the State’s Consumer Fraud Act and Charitable Registration and Investigation Act. Unfortunately, the settlement agreement only mandated a two year monitoring program to ensure AHS’s compliance.

History of Conflicts with Shelter Veterinarians in SCI Report

The SCI report detailed recurring conflicts between AHS and its veterinarians over the care provided to animals at the organization’s Newark, Tinton Falls and Popcorn Park shelters. The striking thing about these conflicts was the consistency in the accounts from various veterinarians. The following statements by one AHS-Newark veterinarian summarized the theme of all these accounts well:

After you received my letter of resignation, you asked me what it would take to get me to sign a contract. One of the main reasons I am resigning is because insufficient resources are allocated for basic needs – housing, food, and medical well-being of the shelter animals and the operation of the Medical Department. As a result, it is my professional judgment that minimal standards of care are not being met and that delivery of medical care to animals is sorely lacking to the point that animals are suffering. Indeed, I am becoming increasingly alarmed at the level of care provided by AHS which I think is often below the minimal standard of humane care provided by state anti-cruelty laws. Also, I am concerned that AHS is acting negligently toward animal owners and the public that it is supposed to serve. I should state that I have many examples in addition to ones described below which I will discuss with you or any interested party.

Frankly, any animal welfare organization that repeatedly fights with its own veterinarians to provide less care to its animals should get out of the animal sheltering business.

AHS also responded in a defiant tone to the SCI report. The organization did state it would try to improve, accepted Lee Bernstein’s resignation and appointed Roseann Trezza as the new Executive Director. However, AHS also wrote the report was “replete with outdated information, pervasive exaggeration, factual embellishments, and intellectually impossible conclusions.” Thus, I did not leave with a warm fuzzy feeling that AHS was going to become a hunky dory organization.

AHS Throws a Concerned Employee Under the Bus

AHS fired an employee shortly after he raised concerns about a dog that eventually killed an adopter according to court documents. The employee expressed reservations about AHS’s and Roseann Trezza’s decision to adopt out a dog with a serious bite history. The dog’s previous owner paid AHS a $205 fee to keep the dog under observation for ten days, then euthanize, and cremate it. The dog killed the adopter nine days after the adoption in an attack that was eerily similar to the one on the previous owner. After hearing this news, the employee told other workers that he knew this would happen. Two weeks later AHS fired the employee under Roseann Trezza’s orders per the court documents.

AHS allowed another employee to continue working at the organization after he was charged with altering records related to the case. Several months after the dog killed the adopter, Burlington County authorities brought charges against AHS-Newark’s shelter manager at the time, Denton Infield, for allegedly deleting portions of the dog’s records indicating prior vicious behavior. Despite this act, AHS not only continued to employ Mr. Infield for years after this incident, but allowed him to represent the shelter in a number of media interviews.

While I don’t think AHS thought this dog could have killed this woman, the organization’s treatment of the two employees speaks volumes about AHS. The employee who correctly pointed out the issue was fired while the staff member who was charged with tampering with evidence stayed on in a prominent role with AHS. Evidently, loyalty is more important than doing the right thing at AHS.

AHS Fights Against Proposed Improvements from the Animal Welfare Task Force

After the SCI report on AHS and an earlier one on the the state’s SPCAs, Governor McGreevey formed the Animal Welfare Task Force to improve animal welfare in New Jersey. The Animal Welfare Task Force Report made the following recommendations:

  • Update animal cruelty laws
  • Replace the NJ SPCA with specially trained police officers to enforce animal cruelty laws
  • Use low cost financing to build more animal shelters
  • Implement progressive animal shelter policies
  • Make TNR legal and encourage its practice
  • Increase quality and quantity of animal shelter inspections
  • Improve training and oversight of animal control officers

While anyone seriously concerned about animals would enthusiastically support this report, Roseann Trezza came out strongly against a preliminary version. Specifically, Roseann Trezza seemed to parrot PETA, which kills almost all of its shelter animals, with this frightening quote:

“What they want is obviously unrealistic,” said Roseann Trezza, executive director of the Associated Humane Societies, the largest private animal shelter operation in the state with three shelters and a zoo. “In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to euthanize any animal. But in reality, people do not want to adopt many animals we find and the job of animal protectors is not to merely prolong life, but to relieve suffering,” said Trezza.

To make matters worse, Roseann Trezza appeared to fight against the recommendation to make TNR legal and the preferred practice for dealing with feral cats:

Trezza recited a litany of New Jersey cases––familiar to ANIMAL PEOPLE––involving cat colony caretakers who worked without backups, then died, fell ill, or moved, leaving unfed cats behind.

While I don’t know if AHS opposed TNR for financial or philosophical reasons, the end result was the Animal Welfare Task Force recommendation for TNR never was adopted statewide.

AHS Fights With New Jersey Department of Health Inspectors

New Jersey Department of Health inspectors found horrific problems at AHS in 2009. While I could write an entire series of blogs on these inspection reports, the photos below summarize the conditions very well:

6 Puppy with wounded ears 13 Dogs in feces 14 Dog covered in feces 15 Dogs in dirty kennel 21 Dead animals in shopping cart 24 Closeup of Mange Dog 40 Dead Cat That Was Found in Colony Room 43 Dead Dogs in Shopping Carts. Blood. Maggots 44 Severe Fly And Maggot Infestation

AHS complained the inspectors were just too hard on them. In an interview with NBC New York, Denton Infield, who was charged with tampering with evidence in the dog killing an adopter case six years earlier, basically said dogs are going to poop at night and you can’t prevent them from wallowing in it. Mr. Infield went on to say poor AHS contracts with dozens of municipalities and might close due to potential fines. Ironically, New Jersey animal shelter regulations only allow fines of up to $50 per offense. During that year AHS had a $1.5 million profit and over $10 million in net assets. Clearly, Mr. Infield and AHS were full of it.

Sadly, the New Jersey Department of Health continued to find significant issues during another inspection in 2011. The inspection report noted dogs housed in kennels with a collapsed roof and workers throwing damaged roof material directly over these dogs. Additionally the report stated outdoor drains were in severe disrepair, no isolation areas for sick large dogs existed, automatic dog feeders were filthy, dogs were exposed to contaminated water and chemicals during the cleaning process, and some animals were not receiving prompt medical care.

The following photos were taken during the 2011 inspection:

AHS 2011 Insepction Sick Rottie AHS 2011 Inspection Cakes on Food 2 AHS 2011 Inspection Dog Near Feces in Drain AHS 2011 Inspection Dog Under Roof Construction AHS 2011 Inspection Smeared Feces

Outrageous Fight with Veterinarians and Animal Welfare Activists for Patrick

In 2011, AHS helped rescue an incredibly emaciated pit bull named Patrick. The dog was found in a garbage chute by workers in an apartment building and was rushed to AHS. To AHS’s credit, the shelter’s veterinarian stabilized Patrick and then sent him to a New Jersey veterinary hospital for intensive treatment. After bonding with Patrick, the veterinarians that ran the animal hospital wanted to adopt Patrick.

Instead of celebrating the fact that the severely abused dog finally had a loving home, AHS filed a lawsuit to take Patrick back. The lawsuit stated Patrick was “trademark registration number 23699” and was a “very valuable brand for commercial exploitation and fundraising.” Unsurprisingly, the animal welfare community was outraged by this action. Luckily, AHS ultimately lost the case after a judge awarded custody to the veterinarians who cared for Patrick.

Vicious Fights with Cory Booker

AHS fought with Cory Booker during the Senator’s tenure as Newark’s mayor. In 2011, the former Mayor announced his intention to build a new no kill shelter in Newark. Instead of rejoicing that AHS may have to kill fewer animals with another shelter in the city, AHS trotted out Denton Infield and spewed out all sorts of nonsense about no kill shelters. This nonsense seemed eerily similar to what PETA, which kills almost all of the shelter animals it takes in, says about no kill shelters. Ironically, AHS stated that Cory Booker should give the money he raised to AHS. Newark’s Deputy Mayor at the time, Adam Zipkin, rightfully called AHS on this BS, and cited no kill animal control shelters in Reno, Nevada, Tompkins County, New York, Charlottesville, Virginia, Marquette, Michigan, Berkeley, California, and Austin, Texas to prove Newark can be a no kill community.

AHS again fought with Cory Booker in 2013. This time AHS sent out Scott Crawford who complained former Mayor Booker was “belittling us and causing us problems.” After all, how dare the Mayor question the record of the high kill shelter with such a sordid history in his own city? Deputy Mayor Zipkin stated the city intended to build a new no kill shelter “due to our extreme dissatisfaction with the level of care at the existing AHS facility – and because far too many of the animals are unnecessarily killed there each year by AHS.” Thus, AHS could not get along with the popular mayor of the city where the organization’s largest shelter is.

Repeated Fights with Volunteers

AHS-Tinton Falls banned its volunteers in 1998 after the volunteers complained about poor shelter conditions. When complaints to AHS and the New Jersey Department of Health resulted in no meaningful actions, one volunteer reached out to her Assemblywoman on the matter. Subsequently, the NJ SPCA was contacted and around a week or so later AHS ended its volunteer program at the shelter for “insurance reasons.” At the time, Lee Bernstein said the volunteers complained about shelter conditions because they were just bitter about being banned. The volunteers were ultimately proven right after the SCI report came out citing the deplorable conditions at AHS’s shelters.

AHS-Newark’s relationship with volunteers running two separate “Friends” pages ended in recent years. In 2013, AHS banned the volunteers running the “Friends of Newark NJ Animal Shelter” Facebook page which currently has over 6,700 fans. At the time, the page primarily focused on saving the shelter’s dogs. In 2012, the last full year this page supported the shelter, AHS-Newark reported 15% of its dogs were killed, died, went missing or were unaccounted for. In 2013, after these volunteers were banned, 38% of AHS-Newark’s dogs were killed, died, went missing or were unaccounted for. Subsequent to the banning of these volunteers, another volunteer formed a Facebook page called the “Friends of Associated Humane Society – Newark.” However, the volunteer parted ways with AHS on less than friendly terms in 2014. Thus, AHS has a history of fighting with and banning the very volunteers giving their all to help the organization’s animals.

History Repeats Itself

To be fair, AHS has improved since the Lee Bernstein era. The SCI report did detail Roseann Trezza fighting with Lee Bernstein at times. For example, Roseann Trezza advocated for sending more animals to rescues.

However, AHS has a very long way to go. The organization’s kill rate is still way too high based on recent data. Furthermore, the three AHS shelters only adopted out 14-39 percent and 6-44 percent of cats and dogs that AHS should adopt out based on my recent analyses of the organization’s performance.

At the end of the day, I firmly believe the banned volunteers side of the story verses AHS’s version. This organization’s history of conflict and highly questionable activities is consistent with them banning volunteers for nefarious reasons. George Santayana stated:

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”

Unfortunately with AHS’s history, fighting with volunteers and other animal advocates is par for the course. Until AHS’s senior leadership is replaced with competent and compassionate people, AHS’s history of not doing right by the animals will continue.

Potential Impact of Large Scale Shelter-Neuter-Return in New Jersey

In my last blog, I analyzed how New Jersey shelters can save the cats coming into their facilities. How would these results change if all New Jersey animal control shelters implemented large scale shelter-neuter-return (“SNR”) programs? Could these programs save municipalities money? What would be the potential lifesaving impact in New Jersey and beyond?

California Shelter-Neuter-Return Program Significantly Reduces Cat Intake and Killing

San Jose, California has offered a low cost spay-neuter program for owned and feral cats since 1994. Under the program, people use a voucher to get any owned or feral cat spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and microchipped for $25. In other words, the city practiced a traditional subsidized trap-neuter-return (“TNR”) program. The public trapped cats, brought them to clinics for spay/neuter surgery, and subsequently released the cats back to their habitats. Despite this program, the local animal control shelter, San Jose Animal Care and Services, still killed over 70% of its adult cats.

San Jose Animal Care and Services implemented a SNR program several years ago. Based on a 2005 survey, 93% of owned cats were altered while just 5.5% of fed community cats were spayed/neutered. As a result of these findings, the city implemented a SNR program to better target the community cat population that continued to breed. Healthy feral and some fearful cats were impounded by the shelter, altered, vaccinated, microchipped, ear tipped for identification purposes and returned to the location where these cats were found. Shelter personnel impounded the cats, performed the veterinary work, and volunteers returned the cats to their habitats. Friendly, shy and some fearful cats did not enter the SNR program (i.e. shy and and fearful cats were sent to rescue or rehabilitated by the shelter).

San Jose Animal Care and Services’ SNR program drastically reduced the facility’s cat intake and killing after starting this initiative. The scientific journal, PeerJ, published a study that documented a decrease in San Jose Animal Care and Services’ cat intake of 29% over the four year study. Additionally, the shelter’s cat kill rate dropped from over 70% to 23% in four years. Furthermore, dead cats found on the streets decreased by 20% over the period presumably due to a smaller cat population resulting from the SNR program. Additionally, the number of cats euthanized for Upper Respiratory Infections (“URI”) at the shelter decreased by 99% over the four year study. Thus, the SNR program significantly reduced cat intake, cat killing and the outdoor cat population.

SNR Program Would Dramatically Increase Life Saving in New Jersey

In order estimate the impacts from implementing similar SNR programs in New Jersey, I used my cat Life Saving Model. As discussed in more detail in my prior blog on how New Jersey animal shelters are performing with their cats, the Life Saving Model computes each shelter’s targeted number of animal outcomes, such as euthanasia, animals sent to rescue, adoptions, and animals rescued from other shelters, based on each facility’s reported capacity and past cat intake. To estimate the impact of a well-run SNR program, I reduced each animal control shelter’s cat intake and owner reclaims by 29% (i.e. the decrease in San Jose Animal Care and Services cat intake). Cat intake and owner reclaims were not reduced at facilities without animal control contracts. The 29% decrease in cat intake assumption is reasonable given San Jose’s preexisting TNR program was likely as or more effective than most New Jersey programs (i.e. San Jose’s $25 low cost spay/neuter fee is lower than the amount New Jersey TNR caretakers typically pay for spay/neuter).

The table below compares the Life Saving Model’s targeted outcomes for the entire New Jersey shelter system based on the most recent number of cat impounds and projected cat intake after implementing a well-run SNR program. The targeted community or New Jersey cat intake decreased by 13,456 cats or 27%. Notably, the targeted number of New Jersey cats euthanized also decreased by 27% due to fewer cats coming into shelters. Additionally, the reduction in cat intake also significantly reduced the targeted number of cats sent to rescue by 6,594 cats or 54%. The extra capacity freed up from reduced New Jersey cat intake would allow shelters to rescue and adopt out at least another 13,777 more cats from out of state shelters or New Jersey’s streets. As a result, well-run SNR programs could significantly increase lifesaving in New Jersey.

NJ Shelter Cats Model for Blog SNR Summary

SNR Significantly Reduces the Number of Cats Needing Rescue from Animal Control Shelters

SNR would allow many space constrained animal control shelters to rely much less on rescues to save their cats. The table below compares the targeted number of cats needing to go to rescues with and without a large scale SNR program at the state’s animal control shelters. Shelters having the largest decreases in cats needing rescue as a result of implementing a large scale SNR program along with their most recently reported cat kill rates (counting cats who died, went missing and were unaccounted for as killed) are as follows:

  • Camden County Animal Shelter – 1,223 fewer cats needing rescue; current kill rate: 67%
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 998 fewer cats needing rescue; current kill rate: 82%
  • Atlantic County Animal Shelter – 882 fewer cats needing rescue; current kill rate: 83%
  • Cumberland County SPCA – 681 fewer cats needing rescue; current kill rate: 72%

Thus, SNR significantly reduces the need for animal control shelters to rely on rescues and rescue oriented shelters.

NJ Shelter Cats Model for Blog SNR s2r

NJ Shelter Cats Model for Blog SNR s2r (2)

SNR Greatly Expands the Ability of New Jersey Animal Shelters to Rescue Cats

SNR would significantly increase the ability of New Jersey animal shelters to save more cats from other facilities and the streets. The table below compares the targeted number of cats shelters should rescue with and without a large scale SNR program at the state’s animal control shelters. The following shelters would be able to increase their targeted number of rescued cats the most:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark – 630 additional cats could be rescued
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 442 additional cats could be rescued
  • Cumberland County SPCA – 441 additional cats could be rescued
  • Monmouth SPCA – 437 additional cats could be rescued
  • Liberty Humane Society – 397 additional cats could be rescued
  • Associated Humane Societies – Tinton Falls – 346 additional cats could be rescued

Thus, many animal control shelters could not only save their feral cats, but rescue many additional friendly cats as well.

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Large Scale and Targeted SNR or TNR Programs Could Reduce Cat Intake Even More in Some Urban Areas

The Veterinary Journal published a study recently detailing the results of a large scale and targeted TNR program. The Alachua County, Florida animal control shelter increased the scale of its existing TNR program in one urban zip code where many of the shelter’s cats came from. Specifically, sterilizations increased from 4-10 cats/1,000 people to 57-64 cats/1,000 people in the target area while an adjacent area (i.e. the non-target area) maintained its sterilization rate of 8-12 cats/1,000 people. This high sterilization rate is important given altering a large percentage of the overall community cat population is critical to reducing the number of outdoor cats. Significant community outreach efforts were conducted, such as mailing information about the program to residents and businesses 5 times over the two year study, volunteers going door to door explaining the program, and TNR program administrators helping solve community cat nuisance problems. After 2 years, shelter intake decreased by 66% in the target area and only 12% in the adjacent non-target region. As a result, we can attribute the 54% (66%-12%) excess decrease in shelter intake as the net impact of this program.

Urban New Jersey animal shelters may be able to reduce their cat intake even further based on the experience in Alachua County, Florida. While some of the decreased shelter cat intake in this one zip code relative to San Jose may have been due to Alachua County spaying/neutering and releasing friendly cats in addition to feral cats, the significantly higher sterilization rate of community cats (57-64 cats/1,000 people in Alachua County verses ~2.5 cats/1,000 residents in San Jose) no doubt played a significant role. In addition to not breeding, sterilized cats tend to roam and fight each other less resulting in fewer nuisance complaints. Fewer nuisance complaints leads to shelters impounding less cats. Certainly, a TNR program at this large of a scale is expensive, but running such a program in a small area, such as single zip code with a large intact cat population, is realistic. Thus, urban New Jersey animal shelters may be able to reduce their cat intake by even more than the tables above suggest.

Large scale SNR and TNR programs are significantly more effective than traditional TNR programs. In the case of many TNR programs, a few volunteers capture cats for the program. Often, animal control shelters still impound feral cats outside of official colonies or just leave unaltered feral cats in the community. The SNR program in San Jose is more effective as ACOs capture feral cats who subsequently are spayed/neutered, vaccinated and returned to their outdoor homes. Similarly, the Alachua County TNR program used massive community outreach to sterilize and vaccinate more of the community’s cats. As a result, large scale SNR and TNR programs alter a greater percentage of the community cat population which ultimately results in reduced outdoor cat populations that are easier for people to live with.

Large Scale SNR/TNR Makes Complete Sense for Municipalities

Municipalities will save significant amounts of money over the long term from implementing large scale SNR programs. Assuming 20% of the cats impounded at New Jersey shelters are feral, that works out to 1.1 cats per 1,000 New Jersey residents. Multiplying 1.1 feral cats by the estimated cost of $72 to perform SNR on a feral cat gives us a cost of $79.20 per 1,000 resident or 7.9 cents per person. Now, let’s assume the average New Jersey community pays $3 per capita for animal control and sheltering. If we assume 50% of these costs are for animal control services and cats make up 2/3 of of these animal control calls (cats make up 66% of stray animals taken in by New Jersey shelters), then a 29% reduction in cat intake would result in a 28.7 cent per resident reduction in animal control costs. The animal control savings of 28.7 cents per residents is nearly four times greater than the 7.9 cent cost to run a SNR program. Furthermore, Maddie’s Fund’s Financial Management Tool estimates it costs around $40 to provide care to adult feral cats/kittens and kill them after the 7 day hold period. Based on New Jersey animal shelters taking in roughly 5.5 cats per 1,000 residents on average, the 29% reduction in cat intake would result in cat sheltering cost savings of 6.4 cents/resident. In other words, taxpayers would save a net 27.2 cents per resident as a result of implementing San Jose’s SNR program. These cost savings exclude likely lower sheltering costs relating to less disease from lower cat intake and increased donations/volunteer services due to lower kill rates. Thus, implementing SNR is a no-brainer from a taxpayer perspective.

SNR also reduces nuisance complaints in the community. Smaller community cat populations are less likely to cause problems. Additionally, altered cats are far less likely to roam long distances in search of mates, and don’t get into loud fights over mating or territory which bother people. Furthermore, the reduction in shelter intake will allow ACOs to respond more quickly to animal control calls for nuisance complaints. Thus, SNR would result in fewer complaints about community cats to local officials over the long-term.

SNR programs are growing in popularity. Unsurprisingly, several other animal control shelters near San Jose also implemented similar SNR programs and experienced similar reductions in cat intake. Clearly, nearby communities are incentivized or pressured to do better when their neighbors do great things. Furthermore, similar successful programs were implemented in Los Angeles, California, Albuquerque, New Mexico, San Antonio, Texas, and the Atlanta, Georgia area. In Albuquerque, cat intake and killing decreased by 39% and 86% after just two years. Thus, large scale and targeted SNR and TNR programs are a major innovation in animal welfare.

Shelters and municipalities need to get behind SNR. SNR will clearly save the lives of countless feral cats, but will also indirectly save many more cats through increased space opening up at shelters and a reduction in disease outbreaks. It is time shelter leaders, the Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey, and of course the public come together and demand these programs be put into place. We have the evidence and the argument behind us. Now is the time to fight for what is right.

Role Model Shelter Saves Its Pit Bulls

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Earlier this year, I wrote a blog on how many progressive open admission animal shelters are saving all of their pit bull type dogs. One of these progressive facilities was Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society. Longmont Humane Society’s Executive Director, Elizabeth Smokowski, was kind enough to share some data with me showing how impressive this facility is.

Longmont Humane Society places all of its savable pit bulls in a very short period of time. Based on raw data provided to me, Longmont Humane Society saved 96% of its pit bull type dogs impounded in 2014 (through November 21). Additionally, pit bulls on average only stay at the shelter for 33 days. As a comparison, Longmont Humane Society saves 98% of its non-pit bull type dogs and non-pit bull type dogs stay on average around 9.5 days at the shelter. Both pit bull type dogs and other kinds of dogs are saved at rates far exceeding the typical 90% threshold required for no kill status. Thus, Longmont Humane Society does an amazing job for all of its dogs.

Longmont Humane Society impounds far more pit bull type dogs than New Jersey animal shelters. Through November 21, Longmont Humane Society impounded around 430 pit bull type dogs this year (483 annualized). This equates to 3.59 pit bull type dogs per 1,000 people in Longmont Humane Society’s service area. As a comparison, Associated Humane Societies – Newark, which many people believe impounds extraordinary numbers of pit bulls, only takes in 2.06 pit bull type dogs per 1,000 people in its service area assuming 50% of impounded dogs are pit bull type dogs. Thus, Longmont Humane Society impounds far more pit bull type dogs than New Jersey’s urban shelters “filled with pit bulls.”

Longmont Humane Society Performance with Pit Bull Type Dogs Dispels Many Excuses Shelters Use for Killing or Refusing to Rescue Pit Bull Type Dogs

Pit bull type dogs are adopted quickly at Longmont Humane Society. Assuming a similar percentage of pit bull type dogs and all dogs are returned to owners (i.e. 35.6% of all dogs with outcomes) and those dogs are returned to owners in 5 days on average (i.e. Longmont’s hold period policy), we can estimate pit bull type dogs take 48.5 days to get adopted. However, pit bull type dogs likely take less time to get adopted than 48.5 days due to fewer pit bull type dogs probably getting returned to owners. Restrictive landlord policies often force owners to surrender their pit bull type dogs to shelters and such dogs typically aren’t returned to owners. Furthermore, breed-specific legislation in nearby communities may also result in more owners surrendering their pit bulls. With such a high save rate, many dogs likely require physical and/or behavioral rehabilitation and Longmont Humane Society still successfully adopts its pit bull type dogs out quickly. Thus, Longmont Humane Society has a high pit bull live release rate and quickly adopts out its pit bull type dogs.

Longmont Humane Society has a high pit bull live release rate and quickly adopts its dogs out despite the shelter having lots of pit bulls. Many shelters argue they have to kill or can’t rescue pit bulls due to having too many pit bulls. Longmont Humane Society’s pit bulls and other breeds short lengths of stay prove this is a meritless claim. For example, we can estimate the percentage of pit bull type dogs in Longmont Humane Society’s shelter and foster care dog population by using pit bull and non-pit bull lengths of stay and standard shelter population equations. Based on this data, 45% of Longmont Humane Society’s dog population at the shelter and in foster care should be pit bull type dogs. Furthermore, the large number of pit bulls do not negatively impact adoptions of other breeds given the non-pit bulls length of stay only averages 9.5 days. Unlike many shelters who complain about too many pit bull type dogs coming in and being forced to kill or warehouse scores of them, Longmont Humane Society rolls up its sleeves and saves these dogs.

Winning Strategies Save at Risk Dogs

Longmont Humane Society actively tries to return lost dogs to their owners. Returning lost dogs to owners is often the quickest way to get stray dogs safely out of the shelter. While Longmont Humane Society does not disclose its return to owner rate (i.e. dogs returned to owners/stay dogs taken in), it likely has a high return to owner rate given 35.6% of all dogs received (i.e. strays and owner surrenders) are returned to owners. The shelter’s web site lists lost pets both at the shelter and found by private individuals in the community. The animals can be sorted by type of animal and/or sex to allow someone to quickly find their lost family member. Additionally, people can report lost pets electronically on the shelter’s web site which can help the shelter quickly match lost dogs with their families. Thus, Longmont Humane Society takes active measures to help families find their lost pets.

Longmont Humane Society makes huge efforts at rehabilitating dogs at the shelter and in the community. Amy Sadler instituted her Playing for Life program at Longmont Humane Society several years ago. This program uses playgroups to give shelter dogs much needed exercise, which reduces stress, and increases adoptability. Furthermore, the shelter has a world class behavioral rehabilitation program helping dogs overcome treatable issues and trains other shelters in these methods. All dogs adopted from Longmont Humane Society come with lifetime behavioral support from the people running this program. Even more impressive, Longmont Humane Society provides reasonably priced classes to the public to help their dogs become model canine citizens. For example, Longmont Humane Society only charges $10 for one hour supervised playgroups designed to socialize dogs. Additionally, the shelter also offers a free new adopter workshop for Longmont Humane Society adopters (adopters from other shelters only pay $10). Thus, Longmont Humane Society makes great efforts to help dogs become emotionally healthy and build strong community support.

The shelter put into place many other innovative programs to adopt animals into loving homes. Longmont Humane Society uses foster families to help animals become more healthy, both physically and mentally, and therefore adoptable. In 2013, 656 animals or around 19% of all animals taken in spent time in foster homes. Longmont Humane Society rightly adheres to breed-neutral policies at the shelter focusing on individual behavior rather than breed labels. Also, Longmont Humane Society walks dogs outside the shelter with “Adopt Me” vests and gives interested people information about adopting. The adoption section of Longmont Humane Society’s web site is very user-friendly and allows people to quickly sort dogs who are good with other dogs or cats. Finally, the shelter has 850 active volunteers who logged over 59,000 hours helping the shelter last year. Thus, Longmont Humane Society uses a variety of innovative programs to save lives of all types of dogs.

Longmont Humane Society is a goal oriented organization. The shelter has a strategic plan for 2012-2018 listed on their website laying out measurable goals with specific deadlines. For example, Longmont Humane Society is seeking to reduce its average length of stay for dogs from 18 days to 9 days and for cats from 28 days to 14 days while maintaining no kill level save rates by 2018. Frankly, most shelters would be ecstatic with the old lengths of stay and would sit on their laurels. However, Longmont Humane Society continues to improve and has made substantial progress towards achieving its goal by reducing its average length of stay for dogs from 18 days to 14 days and for cats from 28 days to 21 days in two years. Another goal, using a mobile outreach program to help adopt animals out to underserved communities by 2018, will likely significantly reduce average length of stay for pit bull type dogs even further. Longmont Humane Society also has a goal to maintain a 95% adopter satisfaction rating on surveys and another goal to measure customer satisfaction for other programs, such as training, by 2017. Finally, the shelter lays out specific goals for attracting the best employees and financial performance. This focus on excellence allowed the shelter to turn its financial performance around while it was in danger of bankruptcy and continue improving its service to the community. Thus, Longmont Humane Society’s success with pit bull type dogs is a function of a goal oriented organization focused on continuously improving.

Longmont Humane Society proves that focusing on excellence yields impressive achievements. For far too long, most shelters have not set standards or goals and unsurprisingly fail to save their animals. Longmont Humane Society saves its pit bull type dogs and places them quickly despite taking large numbers of these dogs in and facing a severe financial crisis. Shelters need to drop the excuses for killing pit bull type dogs and do the hard work necessary to save them. Ghandi once said “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Pit bulls are the most vulnerable dogs in shelters and we should judge shelters on how they treat these animals. We know these dogs can be saved. Will those with the power to save pit bull type dogs do so or will the killing and excuses continue to win out at most shelters?

We Can Save All The Pit Bulls

Most people in the animal welfare movement believe pit bulls are overpopulated and massive shelter killing is unavoidable. The ridiculously inaccurate “1 in 600 pit bulls make it out of the shelter alive” meme frequently appears on Facebook. Merritt Clifton, who is well-known for his discredited pit bull bite data, argues shelters can’t save any more pit bulls without banning breeding and 60% is the highest pit bull live release rate a shelter can hope for. Even certain pit bull rescue groups believe too few homes exist for pit bulls and adoption prospects are bleak. Are these claims true and should we just accept shelters killing pit bulls in droves?

Some Shelters Are Already Saving All of the Pit Bulls

Required save rates for no kill may be lower for pit bulls. No kill requires only irremediably suffering animals and dogs who present a serious danger to people be euthanized. The 90% save rate standard is the threshold for shelters to achieve no kill. In theory, pit bulls should have a lower save rate due to these dogs above average size. Simply put, an untreatable aggression issue may be forgivable in a small dog, but not a larger dog. Thus, no kill for pit bulls may potentially be achieved at a lower save rate than other dogs due to pit bull type dogs larger size.

Many open admission shelters are on the verge of, if not already, achieving no kill for pit bull type dogs. Over a decade ago, which was before many advances in shelter medicine and behavioral rehabilitation, Nathan Winograd saved 86% of all pit bulls at Tompkins County SPCA in upstate New York despite not adopting out pit bulls with dog or cat aggression. Lane County, Oregon’s Greenhill Humane Society saved 91% of the nearly 150 stray pit bulls taken in over the most recently available 12 month period (March 2013 – February 2014).  Salt Lake County Animal Services saved 90% of its impounded pit bull type dogs in both 2013 and the first four months of 2014. During KC Pet Project’s second year in control of Kansas City’s animal control shelter, the organization saved 86% of its over 1,000 impounded pit bull type dogs. Amazingly, the primary facility is small and outdated and Breed Specific Legislation (“BSL”) is prevalent in the area. Most importantly, both KC Pet Project’s and Salt Lake County Animal Services’ live release rates increased significantly in recent years and greater than 90% save rates for pit bull type dogs seem very possible in the near future.

Mathematically speaking, shelters with very high dog save rates and pit bulls comprising a reasonable percentage of dogs will save 90% plus of pit bulls. For example, shelters will automatically save 90% or more of pit bulls with the following statistics:

  • 99% dog save rate with pit bulls equaling 10% or more of dog impounds assuming all dogs euthanized are pit bulls
  • 98% dog save rate with pit bulls equaling 20% or more of dog impounds assuming all dogs euthanized are pit bulls

In reality, even the best no kill shelters typically euthanize 1-2% of animals for medical reasons which makes the pit bull 90% save rate even easier to achieve. Thus, open admission shelters with very high dog live release rates are likely automatically saving 90% plus of their pit bull type dogs.

Other open admission shelters are likely saving 90% or more of their pit bulls. Long Island’s Southampton Animal Shelter’s dog save rate is 97% and pit bulls make up 24% of impounded dogs. If Southampton Animal Shelter euthanizes only 1% of its non-pit bull dogs, the pit bull save rate will equal 91%. The pit bull save rate increases to 94% if 2% of Southampton Animal Shelter’s non-pit bull dogs are euthanized. Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society saves 97% of its dogs and pit bull type dogs made up 8.1% of impounds in the recent past. If Longmont Humane Society euthanizes 1.3% of its non-pit bulls, the pit bull save rate would reach 90%. Monmouth County SPCA states “over a third” of its impounded dogs are pit bull type dogs. Based on pit bulls making up 35% of impounds and assuming all euthanized dogs are pit bulls, the pit bull save rate would equal 96%. If we were to assume the 35% of impounded dogs only applied to local canines (i.e. excluding dogs transferred in from other communities) and all dogs euthanized were pit bulls, the pit bull save rate would be around 90%. Thus, many shelters are likely already saving 90% plus of pit bull type dogs.

Pit Bulls Can Leave Shelters Alive Quicker Than Advertised

The length of time an animal spends in a shelter is critical to saving its life. Reducing the average length of stay in a shelter increases the number of animals a shelter can save. Additionally, reducing the length of stay decreases the chance an animal becomes mentally or physically ill. Also, reducing length of stay decreases the cost of care, such as feeding, cleaning, veterinary treatment, etc. As a result, shelters must do everything they can to get animals out of shelters alive as quickly as possible.

Recent research detailed the length of stay of bully and other major breed groups. Brown, et al. conducted a study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science on factors impacting the time it took dogs to get adopted at two upstate New York animal shelters. Both animal shelters, Tompkins County SPCA and Humane Society of Yates County, serve as the animal control shelters for dogs and are no-kill. 84% of the data came from Tompkins County SPCA, which is the shelter Nathan Winograd used to run, and was collected from 2008-2011. Several major dog groups were evaluated, which included “bully” breeds (150 American pit bull terriers, 1 American Staffordshire terrier, 1 Staffordshire bull terrier, and 3 American bulldogs), as adults (12 months and older) and puppies (under 12 months).

The study’s results detailed below proved pit bull type dogs do not take that much longer to get adopted than other breeds. Adult pit bull type dogs only took a week longer to get adopted than adults of other breed groups. Additionally, pit bull type dogs length of stay until adoption fell into the medium of the range of dogs around their size (i.e. companion, sporting, hound and guard). Also, pit bull type dogs were adopted quicker than both hound and guard dogs. Similarly, pit bull puppies under a year old took only slightly more time to get adopted than most other breeds and were adopted much quicker than guard and terrier puppies. Furthermore, the 49.3 and 27.5 days it took on average to adopt pit bull adults and puppies is not a long time for shelters to care for dogs.

LOS Study Table

The pit bull adoption length of stay figures are consistent with Greenhill Humane Society’s performance with stray pit bulls. Over the most recently reported 12 month period (March 2013 – February 2014), Greenhill Humane Society’s stray pit bulls took 41 days on average to get adopted. Given most strays are likely not puppies, this figure probably contains mostly adult dogs. As a result, the 41 day pit bull adoption length of stay is actually 8 days shorter than the adult pit bull adoption length of stay from the two upstate New York open admission no kill shelters.

Pit bulls actual length of stay at shelters may be lower due to rescues/fosters and owners reclaiming lost pets. For example, dogs may get pulled by rescues or fostered by volunteers long before the normal time it takes to get adopted. Similarly, owners reclaiming their pets tend to do so shortly after the animal arrives at the shelter. Additionally, animals euthanized due to severe medical or behavioral issues may occur long before the typical time it takes to get adopted. Thus, pit bulls actual length of stay at shelters may be lower than the length of stay until adoption figures from the study above.

Pit bulls have short lengths of stay at several other high performing open admission shelters. Salt Lake County Animal Services adoptable pit bulls, which have a 100% save rate, average length of stay is 30 days. Longmont Humane Society’s pit bulls only stay 38 days on average at their shelter. Greenhill Humane Society’s stray pit bulls had an average length of stay of only 16 days over the most recently reported 12 month period. Southampton Animal Shelter’s pit bull length of stay was 65 days in 2011 and 73 days in 2012.

We can also roughly estimate the pit bull length of stay at other open admission shelters with high pit bull save rates. KC Pet Project reports pit bulls make up around 25% of impounds and 40% or more of the shelter’s population. Additionally, they report most dogs get into playgroups after their 5 day stray hold period and take 9 days on average to leave the shelter via adoption or rescue after entering playgroups. Given we know the following formula for estimating a shelter population size, we can use simple algebra and math to estimate the pit bull length of stay:

Shelter Population Size = Daily Intake * Length of Stay

Using this formula, we can determine pit bulls length of stay is approximately 2 times longer than other dogs assuming pit bulls are 25% of dog impounds 40% of the shelter’s dog population. Based on some basic math and knowing most stray dogs not returned to owners stay 14 days at the shelter, we can estimate stray pit bulls not returned to owners take around 22 days to leave the shelter. Assuming owner surrenders enter playgroups after 3 days and dogs returned to owners happen in 5 days on average, I estimate the KC Pet Project’s overall pit bull length of stay is around 19 days. This estimate assumes pit bulls euthanized and those not entering playgroups do not have significantly different lengths of stay. Additionally, the estimate assumes pit bulls and other dogs are similarly represented in strays not returned to owners, owner surrenders, and returned to owner figures. While this is admittedly a rough estimate, it does provide a reasonable view of how effective this shelter is at getting its pit bulls safely out the door.

Monmouth County SPCA reports “over a third” of its impounded dogs are pit bulls and pit bulls are around 50% of the shelter’s population. Based on the shelter’s reported 54 day average length of stay for dogs and assuming 35% of dog impounds and 50% of the shelter’s population are pit bulls, I estimate pit bulls stay 77 days on average at Monmouth County SPCA.

Pit bulls with behavioral issues can also have a relatively short length of stay at shelters. Austin Pets Alive, which pulls dogs off of Austin Animal Services kill list, reports a 52 day average length of stay for its large dogs with behavioral issues (pit bulls represent a significant portion of such dogs). In other words, Austin Pets Alive is able to rehabilitate and place many pit bull type dogs in a reasonably short period of time.

Successful Shelters Use a Variety Strategies to Save Pit Bulls

Playgroups are used by most of these shelters who successfully save pit bull type dogs. Aimee Sandler created playgroup programs to efficiently exercise dogs at the Southampton Animal Shelter and Longmont Humane Society. Subsequently, KC Pet Project and Salt Lake County Animal Service implemented Aimee Sadler’s program.

Playgroups improve the care of dogs at shelters and help get dogs adopted. In a large shelter, taking out and walking every single dog is time-consuming. Additionally, many pit bull type dogs are high energy and require a lot of exercise. Aimee Sadler estimates a 30 minute playgroup session equates to a 2 hour walk. Given large shelters may have over 100 large dogs, the cost savings becomes immediately apparent. Time spent walking dogs can be devoted to cleaning, marketing, off-site events, fundraising, etc. Additionally, dogs in playgroups tend to overcome many pre-existing behavioral issues, such as fear, anxiety, dog aggression, and reactivity. Playgroups also help dogs act calmer in kennels which increases adoption chances. People are frequently drawn to playgroups and are more likely to adopt a dog who is having fun. Also, dogs who play together are more likely to share a kennel peacefully which increases effective shelter capacity and the dog’s mental well-being at the facility. Finally, playgroups provide lots of information about the dogs and help shelters properly match dogs with adopters. Thus, playgroups are critically important to help pit bull type dogs live in shelters and safely get out of these facilities.

Greenhill Humane Society and KC Pet Project use differing strategies to save their pit bull type dogs. Greenhill Humane Society relies on a very high return to owner rate of 68% to achieve impressive pit bull live release rates and reduce these dogs length of stay. On the other hand, KC Pet Project uses a customer oriented, retail business philosophy, to promote adoptions. For example, KC Pet Project uses “open adoptions” which focuses on educating adopters and making great matches verses overzealous screening. Additionally, KC Pet Project set up adoption centers in a strip mall outlet and a local Petco. KC Pet Project also transfers some large dogs to colder rural areas, which have high demand for these dogs, due to local rescues not wanting to take such dogs.

Salt Lake County Animal Services uses a balanced approach for its pit bull type dogs. Several years ago the shelter formed the Salt Lake County Pit Crew program to increase the pit bull live release rate. The program utilizes a variety of programs, such as community support and education, and also promotes adoptions. Community support programs include free spay/neuter, microchipping and leash and collar exchanges. As a result of these programs, pit bull intakes decreased and the pit bull return to owner rate increased over the last several years. Additionally, the percentage of dogs adopted, fostered/rescued increased significantly since the Salt Lake County Pit Crew program started. The shelter uses an “open adoptions” process to make great matches for adopters. Additionally, the shelter adopts pit bulls out at a retail location called the Best Friends Sugar House Adoption Center and does many off-site events. Finally, the Salt Lake County Animal Services’ adoption fee for large dogs is only $50 and discounted adoption fee programs are also offered.

Longmont Humane Society, Southampton Animal Shelter and Monmouth County SPCA use other strategies to save pit bull type dogs. All three organizations invested in facilities which make the dogs stay at the shelters more pleasant and create an atmosphere where the dogs are more appealing to adopters. Additionally, all three shelters have qualified behaviorists to treat and rehabilitate dogs. Also, both Southampton Animal Shelter and Monmouth County SPCA provide free spay/neuter for pit bull type dogs.

Challenges Can Be Overcome

Recently, Dr. Emily Weiss of the ASPCA hypothesized high pit bull intake rather than too few pit bull adoptions results in large numbers of pit bulls killed in shelters. Dr. Weiss concluded shelters were doing a good job with pit bull adoptions due to pit bulls being the 5th most common dog admitted to Banfield Animal Hospitals (i.e. a measure of overall popularity) and the third most frequently adopted dog at animal shelters. The five major flaws in this analysis are as follows:

  1. Pit bulls tend to have more owners who are poor and lack resources to take dogs to animal hospitals (i.e. understating pit bull popularity)
  2. Most shelters do a poor job at adopting dogs so adoption potential is much greater than current level
  3. Pit bulls having more restrictive adoption polices
  4. Overly strict temperament testing for pit bulls reduces the number placed for adoption
  5. Pit bulls were the most frequently impounded dog which suggests the shelter adoption numbers are due to high intake rather than successful adoption efforts

That being said, pit bulls do tend to have above average lengths of stay at shelters. At the high performing shelters above, pit bull type dogs had a length of stay about 2-3 times the average of non-pit bull type dogs. However, these shelters non-pit bull type dogs length of stay is short so the 2-3 times longer length of stay for pit bulls is still reasonable. Also, the study above suggests pit bulls length of stay until adoption is not much different than other large breeds. As a result, pit bull adoption/foster/rescue efforts should be prioritized as these are the primary ways pit bulls not returned to owners leave shelters alive.

Over the longer term efforts to reduce intake and end BSL are key to saving pit bull lives. BSL restricts pit bull type dog ownership in some communities. However, the bigger problem are landlords and/or insurance companies preventing tenants from owning pit bull type dogs. Animal welfare groups need to advocate for legislation requiring landlords to allow pets. The New Jersey Animal Welfare Task Force Report issued a decade ago argued for this and used precedents of Federal Section 527 public housing and New Jersey subsidized senior citizen housing projects requiring landlords to allow pets.

Until the housing availability disparity between pit bulls and other dogs disappears, animal welfare groups should step up efforts to prevent pit bulls from ending up at shelters. Pet owner prevention programs are especially beneficial for pit bull type dogs where housing options are more limited. Downtown Dog Rescue in South Los Angeles is a great example as this organization prevented 2,622 pets from entering the shelter system over the first year of its pet owner support program. Similarly, increased efforts by animal control officers and shelters to return lost dogs to owners are particularly important for pit bulls. Additionally, free pit bull spay/neuter programs may help reduce pit bull intakes over the longer term.

At the end of the day, we can save all the pit bulls. We just need to enact proven successful policies and do the necessary hard work.

Losing Prejudices Reunites Families

Reuniting Lost Pets With Their Families Represents a Huge Opportunity to Save Lives and Reduce Costs

Owners reclaiming their pets saves lives. Pets returned to owners do not get killed at shelters. Additionally, returning dogs to their owners boosts save rates since dogs who might fail shelter behavioral tests could safely live with the family these dogs already trust. Similarly, cats who might be killed for being incorrectly classified as feral could leave the shelter alive with their family. Thus, returning stray pets to their owners increases life saving.

Owners reclaiming their pets, particularly dogs, saves shelters significant costs. 80% of reclaimed stray dogs at Kansas City’s open admission no kill shelter occur within 5 days of arriving at the shelter. Similarly, 80% of lost dogs in California shelters reunite with their families within 4 days of entering the shelter. While animals getting adopted/transferred to rescue or killed may impact these quick turnaround times (i.e. the dog or cat may not get reclaimed by owner after a long time since they are out of the shelter), most shelters cannot hold animals for extended periods of time. As a result, shelters can most quickly get stray animals, which must be held 7 days in New Jersey for owner reclaim, out of shelters alive by finding the pets owners. Finding stray pets owners therefore saves significant costs associated with housing, adopting, or killing dogs or cats.

Many shelters return few lost pets to their owners. Currently, many of New Jersey’s large urban shelters only return approximately 20%-30% of stray dogs and around 2% of stray cats to owners. Nationally, owner reclaim rates are also similar. While some cats may be feral and have no owner, the percentage of stray owned cats returned to owners likely is still very low. Given about 2/3 and 80% of our dogs and cats are strays, respectively, at some of New Jersey’s large urban shelters, boosting owner reclaim rates will significantly increase life saving and reduce shelter costs.

Licensing is a Seductive Mirage

Licensing is often seen as the go to solution for owners to find their lost pets. Certainly, animal shelters will return licensed dogs wearing their tags to their owners. In fact, shelters have to do little work when a dog is licensed. Not surprisingly, shelters have strongly advocated pet licensing for a long time.

While I’m not aware of precise dog licensing rates for New Jersey municipalities, logic suggests dog licensing and microchipping rates should be higher in wealthier areas. For example, St. Huberts – Madison served the well to do towns of Bernardsville, Chatham Boro, and East Hanover in 2012 and returned virtually all stray dogs and nearly 80% of stray cats to their owners (all three towns require cat licenses). Similarly, Tyco Animal Control, which serves 22 wealthy North Jersey towns returned 88% of all stray dogs (Tyco Animal Control typically does not accept regular owner surrenders) to their owners in 2012. Despite killing more dogs than they adopted out, Tyco Animal Control still saved 96% of its impounded dogs in 2012 by virtue of its high return to owner rate. Thus, licensing and microchipping are wildly successful in saving lives and reducing shelter costs in wealthy areas.

Calgary’s successful licensing model has long been advocated to increase return to owner and live release rates. Licensing is a key component of Calgary’s “Responsible Pet Ownership” initiative which challenges the community to license their pets, spay/neuter, and be good pet owners in general. Calgary’s licensing program uses various incentives, such as discounts at retail stores, and no fee promotions for first time pet licenses. Calgary also imposes a steep $250 fine on owners of unlicensed pets. Like the wealthy communities in North Jersey above, Calgary has high licensing compliance rates and returned 84% and 47% of stray dogs and cats to their owners in 2012. As a result of these high reclaim rates, Calgary saved 95% and 80% of stray dogs and cats during this period. Unfortunately, we do not know Calgary’s total save rate since owner surrenders go to Calgary Humane Society, which kills for space, and does not report its live release rate. Additionally, licensing revenues fully fund animal control and sheltering for Calgary’s stray pets. As a result of Calgary Animal Services’ success, other cities are looking to emulate the Calgary model.

Calgary significant differs socioeconomically from poor areas of the United States with high kill rates. Calgary has had the highest per capita income of major Canadian cities going back to at least 1980. Additionally, the economy grew and diversified significantly since the 1980s. Calgary’s population also is among the most educated of all Canadian cities and over 2/3 of people over 25 have attended college. Additionally, 73% of Calgary household owned homes compared to only 23 percent in Newark, New Jersey. Calgary had a very high dog reclaim rate of around 45% in 1985 before the city aggressively pursued dog licensing efforts. In fact, the pace of dog reclaim rate increases was virtually indistinguishable from the mid-late 1980s (before aggressive dog licensing efforts began) to periods after. Also, dog reclaim rates just about reached today’s levels by the mid 1990s. The city’s cat reclaim rates remained flat from before cat licensing began in 2006 until now. Ironically, Bill Bruce, the man largely credited with the success of Calgary, joined the Calgary’s Animal Services in 2000 after the high dog and cat reclaim rates were achieved. Thus, high licensing rates in Calgary like the wealthy communities served by St. Huberts and Tyco Animal Control are more reflective of socioeconomic status than policy choices.

The Calgary licensing model should not be followed by large United States cities with high poverty rates. Poor people have an extremely difficult time caring for their pets and insisting they pay licensing fees will not help them nor will they likely comply. Simply put, asking poor pet owners in low income cities to solely fund animal control and sheltering is unfair and not likely to succeed. If poor pet owners must solely fund animal control and sheltering, governments should use a pet food/supplies tax to allow these pet owners to pay in small bits throughout the year instead of all in one shot. Also, some minority groups poor experiences with animal control in the past may lead to low licensing compliance rates as well. Additionally, like most animal control mandates strict enforcement of licensing may lead to more impounds and shelter killing. Finally, large resources devoted to an unlikely to succeed licensing endeavor may divert resources from other life saving initiatives.

Providing Outreach and Support in Poor Communities Will Increase Reclaim Rates

Communities can achieve the benefits of licensing by conducting strong outreach efforts. Licensing’s two primary benefits, other than raising funds, are identifying lost dogs and ensuring pets are vaccinated for rabies. Recently, geographic information systems have been used to target areas generating large numbers of shelter impounds. Additionally, groups such as Beyond Breed in Brooklyn, Spay/Neuter Kansas City, and Downtown Dog Rescue in Los Angeles go into these underserved communities and provide much needed support. If we were to step up such efforts and offer free microchips, identity tags, and rabies vaccines, we would achieve what licensing efforts seek. Literally, driving around these communities in a service van and going door to door could go a long way to getting identification on the community’s animals and increasing rabies vaccination rates. I’d suggest even offering free goodies, such as ice cream, to draw people in to start important conversations. Animal welfare groups could engage Petco Foundation and Petsmart Charities and request identity tags since their retail stores offer these tags at relatively affordable prices. Given people in these underserved communities rarely shop at Petco and Petsmart, the stores would not lose any significant revenues from such an endeavor. Thus, building a relationship within the community can start getting lost pets home.

Local governments and animal shelters must break down barriers to reuniting owners and lost pets. Unfortunately, many shelters presume stray animals are mostly “dumped on the streets” by their owners and do not make any real effort to get these animals home. However, Kathy Pobloski, Director of Lost Dogs Wisconsin and writer of Wisconsin Watchdog blog, provides the following reasons why owners fail to reclaim lost pets:

  1. The owner didn’t know the animal was at the shelter
  2. The owner can’t afford to reclaim the pet
  3. The owner has no transportation
  4. The owner has outstanding warrants or is illegal so doesn’t want to go to a government agency
  5. The owner has a language barrier
  6. The owner does not have internet access or the ability to effectively search for their dog

Most of these barriers can be torn down with effective outreach. For example, the same community programs used to tag and microchip dogs can also educate pet owners to immediately go to the local shelter.  Similarly, community outreach can inform pet owners that they can reclaim their pets and not be reported for potentially being an illegal or undocumented resident. Also, shelters can have volunteers distribute fliers widely in areas with high numbers of strays to inform people their lost pets may be at the shelter. Additionally, shelters should have people who speak foreign languages, allow volunteers to transport lost pets back to their owners, and be flexible on redemption fees if the owner cannot afford them. In fact, redemption fees can total hundreds and even thousands of dollars in some cases. Over the long term, shelters as well as animal advocates should lobby local governments to drop redemption fees altogether. Shelters are funded by taxes and people should not pay a ransom fee to return a family member. When a child is lost, we don’t make the parents pay a redemption fee. We shouldn’t do so either with people’s furry kids either. Finally, shelters can make pleas for animal advocates to form lost pet search groups, such as Lost Dogs Wisconsin and Lost Dogs Illinois, which have remarkable track records in reuniting pets to their families.

Animal control officers should make every effort to redeem pets they find in the field. Nevada Humane Society, which has a return to owner rate of nearly 60%, has its animal control officers check for tags and microchips in the field, examines lost pet reports, and asks people in the area if they know the stray animal’s owner.  By finding the owner in the field, the animal never even goes to the shelter reducing sheltering costs and stress to the animal.

The Wisconsin Watchdog blog posted a “how to” guide for shelters to increase their return to owner rates. Tips include immediately posting stray dog photos to shelter web sites and Facebook pages (Lost and Found Pets New Jersey is another great place for shelters in this state). Additionally, Wisconsin Watchdog recommends having specific volunteers check lost pet reports and help owners coming to shelters to find their lost pets. Also, they recommend giving guidance to owners on how to find their lost pet who is not at the shelter. Shelters should read and implement all the recommendations.

Nationally, animal welfare groups should use a single web site for posting and searching for stray pets coming into their facilities. These groups should heavily promote this web site so the general public posts their animals there to facilitate owners finding their lost dogs at shelters. In fact, one such web site already exists. Thus, national animal welfare groups and local shelters should strongly advocate the use of a specific web site by the public and shelters.

Strategically, these specific actions by shelters will boost reclaim rates in the short term. Over the long-term, greater numbers of pets with identity tags and microchips through community outreach efforts should increase reclaim rates to the very high levels seen in wealthy places. At the end of the day you have to work for positive changes and this means engaging and supporting your community. Unfortunately, their are no free lunches unless your shelter serves a wealthy community.

Disrespecting Your Shelter’s Hometown Leads You Down the Wrong Road

Associated Humane Societies – Newark’s Assistant Executive Director, who is the organization’s number 2 ranking person and representative in many media interviews, posted an insulting joke about Newark’s residents on his personal Facebook page recently. The photo is identical to the following image except “New Jersey” replaces “Ohio “and” “Newark” takes the place of “Michigan.”

Ohio Shadowy place

Additionally, several of Associated Humane Societies – Newark’s employees also commented about how much they liked the photo. Associated Humane Societies – Newark operates a large animal shelter in Newark and receives up to $632,000 in animal control contract fees from the city of Newark.

This behavior demonstrates a clear disrespect for Associated Humane Societies’ community. Telling your shelter’s hometown they live in a “shadowy place” and “you should never go there” is deeply insulting. If you lived in Newark, would you want to support this shelter? Perhaps, this attitude towards the city’s residents along with a past scathing investigation and poor performances in Office of Animal Welfare inspections in 2009 and 2011 led to the popular Cory Booker administration’s displeasure with Associated Humane Societies.

The remark sends the message to people outside of Newark to not visit the shelter since the facility is in a “shadowy place” that “you must never go” to. The “you must never go to Newark” message makes even less sense when you consider  Associated Humane Societies, to the best of my knowledge, does not adopt out dogs at its off-site events (i.e. you have to go back to the shelter in Newark to adopt the animal you meet outside of the shelter). As a result, the Assistant Executive Director of Associated Humane Societies’ Facebook post hurts the cause of his shelter’s animals.

Unfortunately, Associated Humane Societies’ attitude toward its hometown has an even more detrimental effect on shelter policy. In an article last year, the same Assistant Executive Director stated he wanted more stringent spay/neuter laws and backyard breeder bans to reduce Associated Humane Societies unacceptably high kill rates. KC Dog Blog, which is written by Kansas City’s no kill open admission shelter’s Board President, clearly demonstrates how Kansas City’s pit bull mandatory spay/neuter policy increased impounds and kill rates. Additionally, KC Dog Blog also documents most large animal welfare organizations, such as the ASPCA, Best Friends, Humane Society of the United States (via the California Sheltering White Paper), No Kill Advocacy Center and the American Veterinary Medical Association oppose mandatory spay/neuter laws. Such laws increase impounds and shelter killing and also waste limited resources which could be used more productively. The main barrier to spay/neuter is cost for poor folks and mandatory spay/neuter laws with their punitive fines simply exacerbate the problem. Similarly, breeding bans, which sound great, are also ineffective and drain limited resources as evidenced by Long Beach, California’s 30 year breeding ban’s failed efforts at achieving a no kill community.

The “irresponsible public” argument and resulting attitude communicated by Associated Humane Societies represents a huge obstacle to creating a no kill community. While the shelter’s personnel may have negative experiences with the public, those interactions are not representative of the entire population. Newark most likely is more responsible than the average American community. Associated Humane Societies – Newark took in approximately 8 dogs and cats per 1000 residents in its service area during 2012. Unfortunately, we do not know what the city of Newark’s per capita intake rate is since Associated Humane Societies impounds dogs and cats from numerous other communities. However, the nearby urban communities of Elizabeth, Paterson plus surrounding towns and Jersey City – Hoboken took in approximately 7 dogs and cats per 1000 people. Nationally, Maddie’s Fund states the average community impounds 14.5 dogs and cats per 1000 people. Thus, Newark likely impounds around half the number of animals as the average American community on a per capita basis. Therefore, “shadowy” Newark is likely more responsible than many less “shadowy” places.

Associated Humane Societies – Newark’s animals would benefit greatly from a significant change in attitude. While Associated Humane Societies prefers to blame the not so irresponsible public for killing shelter animals, the blame lands squarely with the shelter. Associated Humane Societies – Newark needs to stop fighting successful no kill policies and enthusiastically implement these programs to quickly move animals from the shelter into loving homes. Personally, I’d suggest following KC Pet Project’s model which made Kansas City a no kill community 18 months after taking over the shelter. As recently as 2008, this shelter killed more than 60% of its impounded animals. However, KC Pet Project now saves roughly 90% of its animals despite taking in around twice as many dogs and cats in total and per capita as Associated Humane Societies – Newark.  KC Pet Project accomplished this without Associated Humane Societies’ vast financial resources and with an undersized and outdated primary shelter having only one third of the recommended capacity.

Associated Humane Societies should also implement targeted spay/neuter and pet owner support programs to help struggling pet owners in areas with higher impound rates. For example, the ASPCA’s Operation Pit in New York City and Monmouth County SPCA’s Pittie Project programs offer free spay/neuter, vaccinations and microchips to pit bulls. Spay & Neuter Kansas City provides another great example of not only substantive programs, but a helpful and nonjudgmental attitude towards the people requiring help. This organization literally goes door to door in some of the poorest neighborhoods to help struggling pet owners. As a result of these programs and relationship with the community, Spay & Neuter Kansas City assisted over 15,000 people with spay/neuter surgeries, veterinary services, and pet outreach programs in 2013.

Let’s drop the “shadowy” jokes about people and get onto helping folks and their animals. That is how you save lives!