2014 New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Show Little Improvement

East Orange Animal Shelter Dog

Most New Jersey animal shelters voluntarily report detailed data to state authorities. Last September, I shared the 2014 summary statistics for New Jersey animal shelters on my Facebook page. Each year, the New Jersey Department of Health requests each licensed animal shelter in the state to submit animal shelter data for the previous year. Animal shelters voluntarily submit this data in the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report.” The New Jersey Department of Health takes these Shelter/Pound Annual Reports and compiles the number of dogs, cats and other animals impounded, redeemed, adopted and euthanized to prepare its Animal Intake and Disposition report. However, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include additional information on how animals were impounded (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, rescued from in-state facilities, rescued from out of state shelters, and cruelty/bite cases) and disposed of (i.e. returned to owner, adopted, sent to rescue/another shelter, and died/missing). Additionally, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include the number of animals in shelters at the beginning and end of the year as well as the maximum number of animals facilities can hold. Thus, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include very important data not found in the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report.

I compiled the data from these reports and analyze the results in this blog. 2014 statistics for each New Jersey animal shelter are listed at this link.

Garbage Data Raises Serious Questions About New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Statistics

Several animal shelters, which reported statistics in prior years, failed to submit data in 2014. Specifically, Livingston Animal Shelter, Hunterdon Hills Animal Hospital, All Pets Veterinary Hospital and Warren Animal Hospital disclosed this data in 2013, but did not do so in 2014. These shelters failure to disclose data raises serious questions. For example, are they trying to hide embarrassing statistics from the public?

Most New Jersey animal shelters do not properly account for their animals. Simple math dictates the number of animals at a facility at the beginning of the year, plus all animals coming in during the year, less all animals leaving for the period, should equal the number of animals a shelter has at the end of the year. Stunningly, 67 out of 96 shelters reporting these dog statistics and 68 out of 95 facilities submitting this cat data failed to get this right. This raises serious questions about the accuracy of these shelters’ reported statistics. Even worse, 42 of the 67 shelters with flawed dog statistics and 43 of the 68 facilities with incorrect cat statistics should have had more animals at the end of the year then reported. While these errors could have been due to incorrect counts of the number of animals at facilities, the more likely answer is many outcomes, such as animals killed, dying, or gone missing, were not recorded. Given 63% of the errors were due to shelters having less rather than more animals on hand at the end of the year than they should have had lends credence to the theory that errors were mostly due to shelters failing to account for various outcomes. To put it another way, 2,699 cats and dogs should have had outcomes reported and did not. Thus, there is the potential that as many as 2,699 additional dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing from New Jersey animal shelters than were reported in the last year.

Shelters may have failed to classify animals adopted out and sent to rescue properly. Both Paterson Animal Control and Elizabeth Animal Shelter reported no animals were sent to rescues and all dogs and cats leaving their facilities alive were owner reclaims or adoptions. However, rescues I know who work closely with these two facilities told me both shelters rarely adopt animals directly to the public. This makes sense as neither shelter advertized animals for adoption (i.e. no adoption web site or social medial pages run by the two shelters) in 2014. One has to wonder how many other facilities failed to properly classify adoptions and rescues properly. This data is very important as it provides details on the burden rescues and other shelters are taking from these facilities.

We need better oversight of New Jersey animal shelters’ data reporting. Currently, these statistics are voluntarily reported and most shelters are not taking this seriously. For example, I noticed a large number of reports were submitted many months after the end of the year. This data should be easy to compile since facilities can utilize animal shelter software programs, some of which are free, to do this task. Furthermore, New Jersey animal shelter laws mandate facilities maintain much of the raw data found in the Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Unfortunately, New Jersey Department of Health inspections routinely find shelters do not properly keep records on animals. We need to make the Shelter/Pound Annual Report mandatory for animal shelters along with serious penalties for significant errors (especially if deliberate). In order for animal shelters to take data reporting seriously, we may also need to require audits of these reports. Thus, these results show we need stronger laws and the New Jersey Department of Health to play a greater role in ensuring reported animal shelter statistics are in fact accurate.

Despite the errors in these reports, the data provided still reveals important information.

More Animals Losing Their Lives in New Jersey Animal Shelters Than Disclosed in Summary Report

The more detailed data in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports allows one to more critically examine the percentage of locally impounded animals dying in New Jersey’s animal shelters. The following table summarizes my analysis of the kill/death rate calculated from the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report and the data reported in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports.

2014 Summary Stats (1) (1) (2)The Animal Intake and Disposition report prepared by the New Jersey Department of Health only allows one to calculate the number of animals killed as a percentage of total animals impounded or intake. I prefer calculating the kill rate as a percentage of outcomes rather than intake as this metric directly compares positive and negative outcomes. Using intake depresses the kill rate since shelters can simply hold animals for a long time to the point of overcrowding. Calculating kill rate based on outcomes rather than intake increases the cat kill rate from 34.6% to 35.2% and the dog kill rate remains the same.

To calculate the statewide kill rate, we must also back out transfers from one New Jersey animal shelter to another state facility to avoid counting animals still in the state’s shelter system or registering two outcomes for the same animal (i.e. one New Jersey animal shelter transfers a dog or cat to another state facility who then adopts out the animal). This adjustment increases the dog kill rate from 13.5% to 14.2% and the cat kill rate from 35.2% to 37.4%.

In addition, we should increase the kill rate for animals who died or went missing in shelters. I label this metric the death rate as these animals are likely dead or in a very bad situation. After making this adjustment, the dog death rate increases from 14.2% to 14.8% and the cat death rate rises from 37.4% to 43.4%.

Also, many shelters transport easy to adopt animals from out of state which artificially increases live release rates. To properly calculate the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives, we need to adjust for transports. Unfortunately, shelters don’t break out their save rates by local and out of state animals. However, most likely nearly all of the out of state animals (primarily puppies and easy to adopt dogs) make it out of shelters alive. Therefore, I back out the number of out of state transports to estimate the local death rate except for St. Hubert’s. Since St. Hubert’s subsequently transfers many of these animals to other shelters, I only subtract out the number of dogs St. Hubert’s rescues from out of state less the dogs it transfers to other shelters. This adjustment increases the New Jersey dog death rate from 14.8% to 17.7% and the state cat death rate from 43.4% to 43.8%.

Also, I estimate a maximum local death rate by including the number of unaccounted for animals described in the section above. Making this adjustment increases the maximum potential New Jersey dog death rate from 17.7% to 20.6% and the maximum potential state cat death rate from 43.8% to 47.3%.

Some animal shelters quickly return large percentages of their animals to owners. At these shelters, the populations served are typically well-off and animals are licensed and have microchips. To account for the animals facilities actually have to shelter, I calculated a death rate for non-reclaimed animals and a maximum potential death rate for non-reclaimed local animals. The non-reclaimed death rate and maximum potential death rate for dogs is 20.9% and 31.7%. Non-reclaimed cats had a 44.8% death rate and a 48.9% maximum potential death rate. Thus, the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives in our state’s animal shelters may be much higher than previously thought.

Overall, the statewide statistics showed little improvement from 2013. The dog death rate in 2014 only was three tenths of one percent lower than 2013. While the maximum potential dog death rate was 3.4 percentage points lower in 2014, we don’t know whether that is due to better record keeping or actually improved life saving. The cat death rate and maximum potential death rate decreased by 3.4% and 4.2%. The growing acceptance of TNR likely slightly decreased the percentage of cats losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters this year. That being said, the improvements were very small and the percentage of dogs and cats losing their lives in the state’s animal shelters is still way too high.

Death Rates Extremely High at a Number of New Jersey Animal Shelters

Dogs and cats are likely to lose their lives or go missing at a number of New Jersey animal shelters. Shelters with the highest death rates for dogs and cats (excluding very low intake facilities) are listed in the following tables:

Dog Death rate 2014

Cat Death Rate 2014

Thus, both dogs and cats have a very good chance of leaving many New Jersey animal shelters dead rather than alive.

In terms of raw numbers, the following shelters had the most animals lose their lives or go missing:

Total Killed Died 2014 Dogs

Total Killed Died 2014 Cats

Many shelters fail to account for large numbers of their animals. As discussed above, a shelter’s number of animals at the end of the year should be calculated as follows:

Beginning number of animals + animals impounded – animals leaving the shelter

Unfortunately, a large number of shelters take in far more animals than they can explain where they went. Shelters having the highest numbers of unaccounted for dogs and cats are listed in the following tables:

Unacct dogs

Unacct cats 2014

Dog and cat death rates at many shelters may be even higher if these unaccounted for animals are counted as dead or missing. If we only consider animal shelters which reported transporting few or no animals in 2014, facilities with the highest dog and cat death rates considering the unaccounted for animals described above are as follows:

Max Pot Dr 2014 Dogs

Max Pot cats 2014

Thus, the plight of dogs and cats may be far worse in New Jersey animal shelters when we consider the unaccounted for animals.

Shelters Turn Their Backs on New Jersey’s Animals

New Jersey animal shelters rescue far more animals from out of state than other New Jersey animal shelters. Specifically, 5,090 dogs were transferred from out of state animal shelters compared to only 1,692 dogs taken in from other New Jersey animal shelters. The number of out of state dogs transported into New Jersey decreased in 2014, but that is due to problems at Jersey Animal Coalition and Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter during the year. These problems likely resulted in fewer transported dogs. However, Jersey Animal Coalition, which is now closed, did not report any statistics for 2014. Furthermore, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter erroneously reported it transported no dogs during 2014 as the facility imported many dogs from the south before the shelter’s problems received media attention in the summer of 2014. Thus, the decrease in transports is likely due to a combination of  incorrect reporting and increased regulatory pressure on these two shelters that transported many dogs into New Jersey.

While perhaps some shelters, such as Animal Alliance in Lambertville, take animals from nearby New York or Pennsylvania animal control shelters, the overwhelming majority of these dogs most certainly came from down south. In fact, New Jersey animal shelters transported more dogs from out of state than dogs who were killed in, died in and went missing from New Jersey animal shelters. This number does not include additional dogs transported in from out of state by rescues operating without a physical facility. Shelters transporting the most dogs from out of state were as follows:

Dogs Transported 2014

Return to Owner Rates Better Than Average at Most Shelters

Return to owners (“RTO”) rates are one of the positive results from this analysis. Overall, the dog and cat RTO rates of 55% and 5% are approximately twice the national average. As I noted in my blog on reuniting lost pets with owners, return to owner rates are highly correlated with socioeconomic status. Wealthier people likely have more resources/knowledge to license and microchip their dogs. Similarly, people with greater incomes are more likely to afford reclaim fees or ransom payments to animal shelters. New Jersey’s RTO rates for dogs clearly fit this pattern with shelters serving wealthy towns returning most stray dogs to owners while many urban shelters are only returning about around a quarter of lost dogs to owners. Clearly, we need to help people in urban areas get microchips and ID tags on their dogs. Additionally, we need to create pet help desks at shelters in these cities to help people pay the reclaim fees, which are often mandated by the cities themselves, when necessary. The statewide cat reclaim rate, like figures from across the nation, is still very low and suggests shelters need to figure out better ways to get lost cats back to their families. New Jersey should allow shelters to transfer stray cats to rescues during the mandatory 7 day hold period since few are returned to owners at shelters. This would open up space to save more cats and reduce the chance of disease (i.e. cats spending less time in shelters are not as likely to get sick).

To get a better idea how organizations are doing with animals they actually have to shelter, I also examined what percentage of non-reclaimed dogs lose their lives at each facility. Shelters with the highest non-reclaimed dogs death rates are as follows:

non-reclaimed dog death rate

Shelters with the highest maximum non-reclaimed local dogs death rates are as follows (excluding facilities that reported transporting many dogs and taking very few animals in):

Max non-reclaimed dog death rate

Shelters Leave Animal Enclosures Empty While Dogs and Cats Die

New Jersey animal shelters fail to use their space to save animals. Based on the average number of animals at all of New Jersey’s animal shelters at the beginning and the end of 2014, only 53% of dog and 65% of cat capacity was used. Given December is a low intake month, I also increased these populations to an average intake month. This adjustment only raised the dog and cat capacity utilization to 62% and 85%. These estimates likely overestimate the average capacity utilized as many facilities kill animals once they reach a certain population level. Many animal shelters with low kill rates failed to rescue animals with their excess space. Additionally, other shelters used little of their available space and still killed a large percentage of their animals. Some examples after increasing the population (and therefore capacity utilization) based on the adjustment discussed above are as follows:

Space usage dogs 2014

Space usage Cats 2014

Thus, many New Jersey animal shelters are killing dogs and cats despite having ample space to house these animals.

New Jersey’s animal shelters continue to fail the state’s animals. The state’s animal shelters only impound 9.0 dogs and cats per 1,000 New Jersey residents. If we just count animals originating from New Jersey, the state’s animal shelters only impound 7.9 dogs and cats per 1,000 people. As a comparison, the average community in the country impounds anywhere from 14-30 animals per 1,000 residents based on estimates from Animal People Newspaper and the Humane Society of the United States. Despite New Jersey shelters impounding a fraction of the animals other no kill communities take in on a per capita basis, the state’s animal control facilities continue to kill and allow animals to die under their care. Even worse, many of these shelters can’t even properly keep track of how many animals leave their facilities dead or alive. Our state’s animals deserve far better treatment than this. Contact your local city council members and mayor and demand better from the animal shelter serving your community. We can do so much better and it is time our shelters operate this way.

Rescued Helmetta Dogs Killed

Updated on 2/25/15 for additional information

After facing much public pressure for months, the NJ SPCA raided the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter on November 13, 2014. Around two weeks later, the NJ SPCA took over the shelter and put Niki Dawson in charge. At the time, I questioned the move due to past complaints about Ms. Dawson. On December 23, 2014, the NJ SPCA proudly announced all the animals were “safely relocated out of the shelter.” However, the NJ SPCA never provided any details on where these animals went and if they are still alive.

We now know four dogs (three of which were pit bull like dogs) were sent to a kill shelter in Pennsylvania. The Humane Society of Harrisburg Area is an animal control shelter that openly admits it has “so many pit bulls.” Furthermore, this shelter refuses to call itself “no kill” and one would expect it to kill many pit bulls. In fact, the shelter placed a 150 pit bull limit into its animal control contract with Harrisburg a few years ago. Less than a year later, the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area stopped accepting dogs from Harrisburg altogether allegedly due to a $6,300 overdue bill from the financially distressed city. As a result of this policy, police would be the judge, jury and executioner based on this excerpt from a Harrisburg police memo:

“If the animal is vicious and a danger to the public and/or officers, or if the animal is obviously sick, injured or suffering the animal may be destroyed in as safe a manner as possible. The animal will then be taken to the Agriculture Bldg. (near the loading dock area) on Cameron St. for disposal.”

Some local animal rescuers argued this policy allowed police to simply shoot certain stray dogs. Subsequently, the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area started taking dogs from the city again.

Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter activists recently uncovered deeply disturbing news about some of these dogs sent to Harrisburg. After getting the runaround from the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area for awhile, the organization admitted the following two dogs, Max and Romeo, were killed for behavioral reasons.

Max Helmetta Killed in Pa

Romeo Helmetta Killed in Pa

One dog was adopted. The fourth dog, Athena, is currently up for adoption with some “restrictions.” Of course, given where Athena is, she too could end up being another casualty of the decision to send these dogs to the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area.

Athena Helmetta Killed in Pa
Niki Dawson’s response to one of the animal activists was quite unsettling. Ms. Dawson said she sent the dogs to this animal control shelter due to it being a HSUS and American Humane Association (“AHA”) partner shelter. HSUS and AHA are well-known for their defense of kill shelters. While Niki Dawson also stated the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area would try and rehabilitate these dogs, one has to question this shelter’s ability to do so given its past history.

The NJ SPCA and Niki Dawson could and should have saved these dogs. Romeo’s and Max’s evaluations conducted by a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant just before leaving Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter stated both dogs showed “no aggression” outside their kennels:

Helmetta Dog Romeo Killed Evaluation

Helmetta Dog Max Killed Evaluation

While no one wants truly aggressive dogs adopted out, many rescues and limited admission shelters surely would have been better equipped than a Pennsylvania animal control shelter with “so many pit bulls” to provide any behavioral rehabilitation these dogs needed. Certainly, with the media attention Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter received, many rescues or limited admission shelters would have likely stepped up and helped. Clearly, the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area assisted in part due to the positive media attention it received. No doubt rescues or limited admission facilities would also get similar media coverage which could help with fundraising. Furthermore, even if these dogs could not be rehabilitated, the public would have easily donated the funds to send these dogs to a reputable sanctuary. Thus, the decision to send these four dogs, three of which were pit bull like dogs, to an animal control shelter with “so many pit bulls” is indefensible.

As I previously stated, the NJ SPCA and Niki Dawson need to provide a full accounting for each animal at the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter when the NJ SPCA and Niki Dawson took over. Specifically, we need to know where each animal went, and where it is today. The longer we don’t receive this information, the less confidence the public will have in the NJ SPCA.

Significant Implications for New Jersey Shelter Reform

Both Niki Dawson and the NJ SPCA were invited to participate in State Senator Greenstein’s shelter reform roundtable. During that roundtable, Ms. Dawson argued no kill shelters were “polarizing.” Killing rescued animals and never publicly mentioning these animals were subsequently killed is “polarizing.” Frankly, this episode further reduces my confidence in these individuals to reform our shelter system. We need true reformers and not people who need reform themselves to really change New Jersey’s animal shelter system for the better.

Helmetta’s Hellhole of a Shelter

Recently, Helmetta Regional Animal shelter has come under fire. A newly created Facebook page, Reform the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter, and web page details very concerning issues on a daily basis. The documentation includes terrible inspection reports, shocking photos, and detailed accounts from adopters, volunteers and former employees. Most impressively, the Facebook and web pages clearly articulate these points and come across as highly credible.

Helmetta’s Questionable Shelter Project

The shelter opened up in 2011 with a lot of publicity. Helmetta issued $1.9 million in bonds to fund the construction. Mayor Nancy Martin at the time stated “The borough took an area which was in need of redevelopment and built a beautiful state of the art facility that serves 21 Middlesex and Monmouth County municipalities.” Helmetta uses the facility to shelter its homeless animals and numerous other municipalities in exchange for animal control contract fees.

Mayor Nancy Martin hired friends and family to run the shelter. Nancy Martin, who also serves as tax collector of Perth Amboy, hired Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s former shelter’s managers, Michal Cielesz, and her husband, Richard Ceilesz, to run the new shelter. The couple killed 37% of Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s dogs and cats per the shelter’s report to New Jersey’s Office of Animal Welfare during their last year in 2010 compared to the new management’s 4% euthanasia rate in 2013. However, Perth Amboy’s police department records show the Cielesz’s killed 43% of the dogs and cats impounded in 2010. Additionally, the Perth Amboy police department reported only 12 dogs and cats were adopted out of 507 dogs and cats impounded during the Cielesz’s last year running the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter. Mayor Nancy Martin also landed her son, Brandon Metz, the head Animal Control Officer job at the shelter and even got the town to approve her son receiving $50 per animal control call “after normal business hours (which may be as early as 3 pm on weekdays and weekends based on some animal control contracts). According to a 2011 town newsletter, the Mayor’s son also receives $1,000 per animal control contract. To further support her son, Mayor Martin even got the town’s taxpayers to pay her son additional hourly wages to clean kennels. Mayor Martin’s son also serves as Borough Laborer, Water Meter Reader, and Certified Recycling Coordinator. As a result, Mayor Martin appears to use a significant amount of the shelter’s funding to pay her friends and family.

The shelter brings in a significant amount of money to Helmetta. In 2013, the shelter earned $415,959 in revenue from its animal control contracts and shelter operations and only incurred $280,125 in related expenses. As a result, Helmetta earned a $135,834 profit from running its shelter. However, the shelter also has debt service costs to cover from Helmetta’s $1.9 billion bond issuance to build the shelter. Per borough officials, Helmetta pays $80,000 – $90,000 of debt service costs each year resulting in the shelter’s net positive cash flow of only around $45,834 – $55,834. The shelter would have negative cash flow of approximately $63,000 – $73,000 without other fees primarily from dogs transported for adoption from out of state shelters. As a result, Nancy Martin’s shelter project has a very thin margin of error to financially succeed.

Helmetta’s Flawed Financial Model Requires Running a Regressive Shelter

Helmetta’s shelter was designed as a profit making enterprise. In a 2011 newsletter to Helmetta residents, Mayor Nancy Martin argued Helmetta was building the shelter to provide a “source of revenue to keep the tax base stable” after the town’s previously hyped real estate redevelopment project on the property fell apart. Mayor Martin also stated each additional animal control contract brought “additional revenue” and was “pure profit.” Thus, the town and the Mayor’s son were to profit from homeless animals in Middlesex and Monmouth Counties.

Helmetta entered into animal control contracts with too many municipalities. To a certain extent, entering into multiple contracts makes financial sense as the revenues earned from such contracts more adequately cover fixed overhead costs, such as the Executive Director’s salary and utilities. However, Helmetta took this to an extreme and impounds too many animals for the space it has. For example, in 2012 Helmetta impounded 483 local dogs. Based on the shelter’s assumed capacity of 33 dogs, these dogs would only have 25 days before no space was left for these animals. To make matters worse, the shelter’s animal control contracts pay Helmetta on a per animal basis and encourage impounding more animals. Furthermore, Mayor Martin’s son, Brandon Metz, opposes TNR in most places and conveniently allows him to bring in more of his $50 per hour “after normal business hours” fees. As a result, Helmetta and the Mayor’s son literally profit off taking in too many animals and killing them.

Helmetta’s original shelter projections grossly underestimated the cost to properly care for animals. In the 2011 newsletter, Helmetta only forecasted total shelter costs, which includes expenses unrelated to animal care, would equal $57 per animal. Even the most efficient and effective shelters, such as KC Pet Project and Nevada Humane Society, incur much higher costs. For example, if Helmetta spent the $218-$395 per animal as these shelters pay, Helmetta’s originally projected $58,000 profit from running the shelter would turn into a $204,000 – $602,000 loss. These private shelters make up for their funding deficiency through fundraising, but Helmetta cannot receive these kind of monetary donations as a government run shelter. As a result of this gross underestimation of sheltering costs, the shelter needed to find other ways to make money to support the Mayor’s grand plan.

Helmetta’s Money Making Rescue Operation

Helmetta’s shelter transports massive numbers of easy to adopt dogs and puppies each year from southern states to the detriment of local dogs. Per the facility’s 2012 Shelter/Pound Annual Report, Helmetta transported 400 dogs in from other communities, 382 of which came from out of state. These additional animals reduce the time dogs have to stay in the shelter before space runs out from 25 to 14 days based on the assumptions above. Furthermore, the shelter impounded many more dogs in 2013 presumably due to increased transports. Based on the 1,296 dogs impounded in 2013 and the assumed capacity of 33 dogs, dogs would only have 9 days before space ran out at the shelter. Thus, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter significantly reduces the chances of the contracting towns dogs from finding loving homes by transporting massive numbers of out of state dogs.

Transporting animals increases risk of disease at the destination shelter. Transported dogs often bring new and virulent diseases to shelters. The shelters exporting the dogs usually lack proper disease prevention/containment procedures. For example, the source shelter’s need to transport (i.e. overcrowding, lack of resources) often leads to animals being more likely to come down with serious diseases. Additionally, the trip to the new shelter can cause the animals to get sick due to overcrowding in vehicles and stress. Making matters worse, young puppies, whose mothers might not be vaccinated, transported on such trips do not have fully developed immune systems may be even more susceptible to getting sick. Dr. Kate Hurley, Director of the University of California Davis Shelter Medicine Program, who is one of the nation’s leading shelter medicine experts, argues shelters, such as Helmetta, must “have adequate veterinary resources and isolation rooms to
quarantine the animals.” Thus, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter must have a top notch facility and procedures to transport hundreds of out of state animals each year.

Helmetta should incur significant costs for transporting and caring for these dogs brought to New Jersey. The town’s accounting records show Helmetta pays $400 to transport 10-13 dogs and puppies or approximately $35 per dog/puppy. Maddie’s Fund shelter financial management template estimates dogs staying at the shelter 21 days on average should cost $245 ($16 to feed, $50 to spay/neuter, $53 to vaccinate/de-worm, $66 to hold in facility, $10 for dog supplies and $50 to treat medical problems) to properly care for assuming all animals require medical treatment. Similarly, puppies staying at the shelter for only 14 days should cost $187 ($5 to feed, $50 to spay/neuter, $54 to vaccinate/de-worm, $18 to hold in facility, $10 for dog supplies and $50 to treat medical problems). The town’s adoption fees of $200 per puppy, $150 per vaccinated dog and $100 per unvaccinated dog would result in the following losses per animal:

1) Puppy – $22 loss
2) Dog ($150 fee) – $130 loss
3) Dog ($100 fee) – $180 loss

Helmetta’s shelter must cut corners to make a profit off the transported dogs and puppies. The shelter does not vaccinate animals upon intake or spay/neuter dogs and cats it adopts out. Additionally, Helmetta does not have enough staff to care for its animals. The National Animal Control kennel staffing guidelines argue Helmetta should have 15 kennel staff caring for the 182 animals it had at the shelter on July 16, 2014. However, the Middlesex County Department of Health found only 4 employees cleaned the facility in the morning and either the shelter director or another employee, such as an animal control officer, cared for animals after 12 noon when the shelter had a similar number of animals.  Skimping on cleaning staff leads to the following heartbreaking images at Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter:

Helmetta Filth 3

Helmetta Filth 2

Helmetta Filth 1

Furthermore, Helmetta provides little to no medical care for its animals. For example, the shelter’s veterinarian, Dr. Ehab Ibraheim, only visits the shelter monthly for a paid inspection. While Helmetta’s contracts allow the shelter to bill the municipalities for veterinary costs, the shelter does not profit from providing care and the extra fees could encourage these municipalities to not renew their contracts. The billings from several large contracting municipalities show Helmetta rarely provides veterinary care. Additionally, numerous adopters have come forward complaining of gravely sick animals to the point the borough council had to vote to refund the adoption fees. Countless images show the ramifications of not providing proper veterinary care for the shelter’s animals:

Helmetta sick animals 2

Helmetta sick animals

Helmetta sick animals 3

Helmetta’s cutting corners turns its shelter’s financial performance around. The $22 loss per transported puppy transforms into $142 profit per puppy when you don’t employ enough kennel staff and withhold vaccinations, veterinary care, and dog supplies. Similarly, the $130 loss per transported dog with a $150 adoption fee turns into a $33 profit per dog when proper care is not provided. Thus, Helmetta literally makes money off animals suffering.

State and Local Inspections Consistently Reveal Significant Problems

Helmetta’s shelter performed poorly in two New Jersey Office of Animal Welfare inspections. In October 2011, the inspector found the new facility’s kennel flooring was not impervious to moisture and therefore a disease vector. Furthermore, the inspection report noted kennels were not physically cleaned due to lacking enough staff. Additionally, Helmetta did not use the proper cleaning solution when they did happen to attempt to disinfect animal enclosures. The inspection report also noted the shelter’s “Veterinarian of Record” did not approve the shelter’s disease control program and the facility lacked a dedicated isolation area to prevent the spread of disease. The inspection report also noted improper euthanasia documentation and record keeping. In a follow-up inspection a month later, these same problems persisted.

Middlesex County Health Department inspections in October 2012 and July 2014 also documented widespread violations of New Jersey shelter laws. Both inspections revealed the “Veterinarian of Record” did not design, review or approve the facility’s disease control program or individual animal treatment protocols. The inspection reports also revealed kennel flooring continued to allow moisture to build up creating a ripe environment for disease to spread. Additionally, shelter management failed to isolate sick animals and keep proper records. The July 2014 report also noted management failed to properly clean the facility and even used food cans as water bowls. If lack of veterinary care at Helmetta wasn’t bad enough, the shelter transported dogs from out of state without legally required health certificates from a veterinarian. Thus, Helmetta continued to allow serious problems to persist for nearly three years at their “state-of the art facility.”

The repeated violations of New Jersey shelter law are consistent with Helmetta’s profit off the back of animals financial model. Hiring more people to clean, having a veterinarian approving a disease control program and providing proper care to animals, building a proper isolation area all cost money. Additionally, inaccurate record keeping could allow the shelter to kill animals before the 7 day required hold period, over-bill municipalities and even allow employees to sell pets themselves. As a result of Helmetta’s stated goal of profiting from the shelter are consistent with these recurring violations.

NJ SPCA Has No Credibility on the Helmetta Shelter Issue

Monmouth County SPCA’s Chief Humane Law Enforcement Officer’s recent email to Mayor Martin destroyed the NJ SPCA’s credibility on this issue. In the letter, Buddy Amato praised Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s cleanliness, staff, and shelter operations contradicting numerous inspection reports and countless other accounts. Helmetta subsequently posted the letter on their web site to discredit activists trying to reform this disgraceful “shelter.” Apparently, Buddy Amato did not expect his letter to cause him “embarrassment” and told Mayor Martin to remove the letter from Helmetta’s web site. Apart from the numerous grammatical errors in Buddy Amato’s emails, the “inspection” itself lacked detail and hardly represents anything close to a thorough inspection. As a result, no one should take this report seriously.

Unfortunately, Buddy Amato, despite working for the no kill Monmouth County SPCA, has a history of defending heinous actions by animal control officers. In 2012, Buddy Amato defended 3 Monmouth County towns who routinely killed stray cats before the legal 7 day stray hold period ended. According to Buddy Amato, there was “no cruelty” and towns just had “administrative issues” and “no one should lose their job.” In what world, is illegally killing a healthy cat not cruelty? If you or I trapped a stray cat and injected it with poison, Buddy Amato certainly would prosecute us and rightly so. Apparently Buddy Amato and the Monmouth County SPCA believe illegally killing animals is fine as long as its done by their friends in the business. Thus, Buddy Amato’s glowing report on Helmetta’s shelter lacks any credibility given it comes from the “no one should lose their job” for illegally killing healthy cats guy.

The NJ SPCA conducted an official investigation subsequent to the Buddy Amato debacle, but it raised more questions than provided answers. Specifically, the NJ SPCA prepared a report and issued 6 warnings, but will not release it to the public. Instead, the state’s animal police gave Helmetta 30-60 days to correct their problems. Helmetta has known about the significant issues at their shelter for 3 years from various local and state inspections. Frankly, the NJ SPCA’s coddling of shelters is disgraceful and enough is enough. Given the NJ SPCA’s own guy in Monmouth County went to bat for the shelter recently, how confident should we be that the NJ SPCA will really make sure the shelter gets cleaned up?

Middlesex County Board of Health Cannot Be Trusted to Do the Right Thing

The Middlesex County Board of Health has a history of being anti-animal. Despite all major animal welfare organizations, such as HSUS, ASPCA, Best Friends and no kill advocates, supporting TNR, Middlesex County Board of Health opposes TNR. Even worse, the Middlesex County Board of Health parrots false claims by cat hating groups, such as the American Bird Conservancy Association and PETA, who actively advocate rounding up and killing cats. To further destroy their credibility, the Middlesex Board of Health claims they advocate trapping and adopting out feral cats (impossible if cat is truly feral). Additionally, the Middlesex County Board of Health openly opposed the construction of a Middlesex County animal shelter in a letter to Mayor Martin. Interestingly, three years later Helmetta opened up its own for profit county animals shelter which fulfilled Middlesex County Board of Health’s catch and kill wish for feral cats.

Helmetta traps

As a result, we must view the Middlesex County Board of Health’s regulatory actions in light of these conflicts of interest.

The Middlesex County Board of Health’s response to Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s problems are distressing. Despite Helmetta violating New Jersey animal shelter laws for nearly three years, the Middlesex County Board of Health Director, Lester Jones, said do not worry about it after the issues became widely publicized in August. In fact, Lester Jones performed another inspection about a week later without the Office of Animal Welfare and miraculously reported improvements. After the NJ SPCA got involved one month later, Lester Jones performed another inspection and suddenly the same problems from before recurred, such as failing to isolate sick animals, out of state dogs without proper records, filthy conditions, and improper animal and medical record keeping. Remarkably, four days later Lester and Company inspected the shelter again and said things were greatly improving. Sorry Lester, I and many others are very worried about the conditions at this shelter. Given Middlesex County Board of Health’s failure to take effective action for three years and the conflicts of interest above, we cannot take this agency seriously. Time after time, local health departments fail to inspect shelters properly and ensure problems get fixed. Frankly, the Middlesex County Board of Health needs to request the state Office of Animal Welfare inspect the facility and then get completely out of the way. The Middlesex County Board of Health must have no involvement in the inspection and subsequent corrective actions for this intervention to have any credibility.

Helmetta Attempts to Cover Up its Disgraceful Shelter and Government

Helmetta’s Mayor and Borough Council are trying to hide the shelter’s and local government’s embarrassing facts from the public. During the summer, a former adopter, who adopted a gravely ill puppy from the shelter, took a video of an OPRA request he served at the borough’s municipal building. A part time police officer, who is also collecting a public pension, angrily told the man to stop taking the video and the officer said he did not need to follow the US Constitution. After the video went viral and Helmetta faced wide criticism, the officer resigned. As a response, Helmetta drafted an ordinance to ban all videos and pictures in public buildings, which would include the animal shelter, without a permit approved by the borough. The ACLU of New Jersey stated the proposed ordinance is illegal and would be subject to a legal challenge. In addition to making the borough’s taxpayers pay unnecessary legal expenses, Helmetta is clearly trying to operate under a veil of secrecy. Most disturbingly, Helmetta’s proposed ordinance is a blatant attempt to prevent the public from seeing the consequences of the borough’s for profit shelter.

Helmetta and Other Contracted Municipalities Residents Must Take Action

Residents in towns contracting for animal control and sheltering with Helmetta must demand their governments terminate these contracts. Clearly, Helmetta has no intention of running an animal shelter for the right reasons. The shelter’s stated goal, which is to run a for profit shelter, conflicts with the shelter’s duty to properly care for the animals. Repeated New Jersey shelter law violations over the course of three years prove the town’s elected officials and shelter management do not intend to improve the situation. Additionally, the lack of proper record keeping calls into question the validity of the amounts, which are largely based off these records, these municipalities taxpayers are paying Helmetta. Sayreville, the largest municipality contracting with Helmetta, seriously is considering terminating their arrangement with the shelter. Residents of these municipalities need to openly campaign to remove these politicians if these disgraceful arrangements continue.

Helmetta never needed to build an animal shelter. Based on New Jersey communities with similar demographics, the borough Helmetta should only need to impound around 15 animals a year from its borders. Assuming an average length of stay in the shelter of 30 days, the borough would typically only need to house 1 animal at a time. Literally, someone could foster the borough’s stray animals in their house. Helmetta residents need to question why the town incurred $1.9 million of debt to build a county animal shelter and allowed atrocities to occur at this facility when Helmetta itself barely had to house any animals.

The Mayor previously brought shame on the town by requiring police officers to aggressively write speeding tickets for nonresidents. Now, three officers in a police force of around six are suing Helmetta about this issue. Even worse, one of the lawsuits alleges discrimination based on one officer’s sexual orientation to force him to quit. Like the animal shelter, Mayor Martin tried to use the police department as a revenue source to reduce the need to raise property taxes. As with the animal shelter, the Mayor’s plan appears illegal and highly unethical and has brought negative publicity and embarrassment to this once quiet town.

Helmetta residents must recall Mayor Nancy Martin and all her allies on the Borough Council. At a certain point, Helmetta residents have to say enough is enough. Residents can no longer tolerate elected officials who run the town to the ground and then try to pass laws to hide these facts. Unfortunately, corruption and cruelty to animals go hand and hand in Helmetta. To end the cruelty at the animal shelter, residents must remove the corrupt politicians who caused it.