Humane Society of the United States Expo Presentation Tells Shelters to Breed Dogs Instead of Rescuing Them

The number of animals killed in shelters decreased dramatically over the last 50 years. In 1973, animal shelters killed approximately 14 million dogs and cats. In 2019, the ASPCA estimated shelters killed 920,000 dogs and cats. Shelter Animals Count data showed killing dropped 39% after the pandemic. If we extrapolate from the 2019 ASPCA data, this suggests shelters killed around 560,000 dogs and cats in 2021.

The dramatic decrease in shelter killing is primarily due to widespread spay/neuter and adoption campaigns. Spay/neuter reduces the number of animals coming into shelters. Adoption campaigns increase the number of animals leaving shelters alive.

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog about a group advocating for shelters to breed animals. The Functional Dog Collaborative is a coalition of breeders, anti-pit bull dog trainers, mass transporters and high kill shelters. What do all these individuals have in common? They have no respect for life and put their personal interests ahead of the needs of animals.

Subsequently, this group conducted a six and a half hour “Learning Lab” at the 2022 Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) Expo. This presentation, “Family dogs for inclusive community: Alternative to puppy mills”, contained documents called “Shelter Messaging and Policies”, “Overpopulation, or too many challenging dogs” and “Determining your community’s dog replacement needs.” Additionally, the presentation included two of the The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Position Statements” that I previously analyzed on my Facebook page.

What ideas does this group propose? How would those ideas affect shelter animals? If this group got its way, what would the future look like?

Puppy Mill Prevention Propaganda

The Functional Dog Collaborative’s Shelter Messaging and Policies document argues a pet shortage exists, but real world data disproves this claim. As I wrote in my last blog, a pet shortage does not exist nationally as both dog and cat adoptions share of the national pet acquisition market has not decreased over the last decade. In fact, more recent American Pets Products Survey data from 2021-2022 shows the dog adoption market share (40% if just counting dogs adopted from shelters and rescues and 44% if also counting people adopting stray dogs they found) is actually higher than a decade ago. Even in New England where The Functional Dog Collaborative claims the “pet shortage” is greatest, the adoption percentage of the dog acquisition market (26%) is still greater than the breeder, pet store and online sellers percentage of the pet acquisition market (24%). The New England cat market share data shows adoption having an even greater advantage over breeders (39% verses 8%). Furthermore, if a pet shortage really existed, prices of animals would skyrocket, puppy mills would greatly expand and shelter intake would increase as more of those animals breed. In reality, none of this occurred. Thus, a pet shortage does not exist.

The shelter breeding pushers argue they must create more dogs to stop puppy mills, but data shows puppy mills are on the decline. The anti-puppy mill group, Bailing Out Benji, shared data showing a 30% decrease in U.S. Department of Agriculture licensed breeders (i.e. puppy mills) and brokers (middle men who facilitate puppy mill sales) from 2008 to 2021. In fact, Bailing Out Benji stated the following:

While there is a small fluctuation each year in federal and state licensees, the overall trend is showing that more commercial dog and cat breeders are not only going out of business, but many of the worst puppy mills have either been shut down or downsized greatly. 

Furthermore, Omaha World provided data showing half of Nebraska’s commercial breeders closed down:

Nebraska Department of Agriculture records show that half of the state’s commercial dog and cat breeders have left the business over the past seven years. The decline was particularly sharp between June 30, 2018, when there were 216 state-licensed breeders, and the same date this year, when the number was down to 138.

Bailing Out Benji quotes two Nebraska commercial breeders stating anti-puppy mill laws and competition from shelters and rescues are major reasons behind the closing of puppy mills:

Rising overhead costs, laws limiting pet store sales and competition from animal rescue organizations.  

Midwest breeders were hurt by a California law that banned pet stores from selling commercially bred puppies, kittens and rabbits.

In fact, Bailing Out Benji quotes the IBIS World Dog and Pet Breeders Industry’s explanation for the decline in puppy mills (i.e. anti-puppy mills laws):

The Dog and Pet Breeders industry has been subject to a moderate level of revenue volatility over the past five years. Recent efforts to regulate the industry and fight against puppy mills have contributed to strong revenue declines.

Furthermore, the IBIS World Dog and Pet Breeders Industry stated “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaigns have caused pet stores to stop selling puppy mill sourced animals and to instead offer rescue animals:

Clearly, shelters do not need to breed animals to stop puppy mills. Instead, laws banning pet stores from selling puppy mill sourced animals and “Adopt, Don’t Shop” public campaigns kill the cruel puppy mill industry.

Breed Animals Even When Your Shelter is Full and Killing Pets

The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Shelter Messaging and Policies” and “Overpopulation, or too many challenging dogs” documents tell many shelters to breed animals. The organization states shelters should breed animals, via helping others do so, when “true overpopulation doesn’t exist.” In fact, The Functional Dog Collaborative says shelters should breed animals even if they “are still working really hard to save animals.” In order to convince shelters to breed animals, The Functional Dog Collaborative tells shelters to do so in the following circumstances:

  1. When the shelter is still killing large numbers of other species, such as cats
  2. When the shelter is still killing all animals in the summer time only
  3. When the shelter is struggling to “save more difficult animals”
  4. When the shelter has lots of puppies, but they are adopted quickly

The Functional Dog Collaborative narrowly defines the circumstances when shelters should not breed. For example, it says shelters shouldn’t breed if the community has “a wide variety of dogs available for adoption nearly all the time” and gives the following indicators:

A wide variety, of all sizes, breeds, and ages, including lots of small & fluffy dogs, and puppies of many different sizes/breeds.

A wide variety of purebred dogs of many breeds and sizes, including a significant percentage of dogs in the AKC top 30 most popular breeds. They are the most common in your community, whether you are seeing those dogs in your shelter or not

Easy, family friendly dogs that are great for first time pet owners, who have other pets & kids.

Furthermore, The Functional Dog Collaborative tells shelters to breed animals in the following circumstances:

  1. When those facilities are killing healthy, friendly dogs/puppies for time and space as long as these organizations aren’t doing so for most of the year
  2. When those shelters transport out certain types of dogs (specific breeds, sizes, ages, health or behaviors) for most of the year

In fact, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s guidance only tells shelters not to breed animals when:

  1. They are killing healthy, friendly dogs/puppies for time and space during most of the year
  2. They can’t find homes for “small & fluffy dogs, and easy family friendly dogs”
  3. They rely on “unrestricted transport” to save “all dogs and puppies”, including “healthy, friendly family dogs”

The Functional Dog Collaborative instructs shelters to breed animals when they are full in the following situations:

Kennels may be full, but it’s nearly all the same type of dog. In most areas, it’s pittie types. In some areas there may be just too many of something else, such as chihuahuas or large hounds

Many or most dogs have significant medical or behavioral issues, such as needs to be the only dog, needs experienced owner, or no kids.

Many or most dogs have restrictions on who can adopt them, which volunteers or fosters are allowed to care for them, and/or behavior plans needed. Appropriate adopters and fosters who are successful with the pets are hard to find.

To illustrate its complete disdain for rescue animals, The Functional Dog Collaborative states some shelters are full with dogs having “significant medical or behavior challenges” that “aren’t matches for the general public looking for an easy/normal family dog.” In other words, the pro-breeding group denigrates treatable dogs by stating they are not “normal” and are unsuitable for most people.

To summarize, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters to breed when people “find it difficult to adopt” the following dogs:

Small & fluffy dogs, puppies of various sizes & breeds

Starter dogs/family friendly dogs – easy pets who can live with first time dog owners, families with kids, people with other pets, people who don’t have experience managing dogs with issues

If someone can’t buy one of these dogs at “an affordable cost” or “with financing” or has to wait for the time a “responsible breeder” requires today, shelters should breed according to The Functional Dog Collaborative.

As you see from the above, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants nearly all shelters, including those that kill and transport out many dogs, to breed animals by helping others in their communities do so.

Massive Breeding Operations Wanted

The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Determining your community’s dog replacement needs” document illustrates how many dogs this organization seeks to breed. This document uses a formula to estimate how may dogs people acquire each year in a state. Below are the number of dogs several states should produce annually according to this guidance compared to the number of unclaimed dogs those state’s shelters take in a year:

While The Functional Dog Collaborative’s guidance states shelters should reduce these figures by the number of puppies produced from “ethical sources” in the area, I’m skeptical whether many shelters would do so. First, history shows us most shelters, especially those that have little respect for life, rarely do extra work. Second, shelters would have a financial interest to breed and sell more popular animals. Third, many breeders would be reluctant to share confidential data about their business even if shelters sought it. Thus, I’d expect shelters who want to produce puppies inside their shelters or with their breeder partners would create as many as possible to maximize their profits.

In reality, The Functional Dog Collaborative guidance could urge shelters to produce more puppies than the numbers above. Since the organization deems many shelter dogs unworthy of a home with most families, large numbers of the dogs shelters take in wouldn’t count in these calculations of how many dogs shelters and communities should produce.

The Functional Dog Collaborative’s support for commercial breeders (i.e. puppy mills) with supposed better care standards shows how massive breeding would be. In The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Shelter Messaging and Policies” document, the organization recommends shelters urge puppy mills to pursue a Purdue University certification program. This is extremely disturbing as these “certification” efforts are simply a marketing tool for puppy mills to dupe the public into thinking their operations are humane. Simply put, producing puppies in kennels or factory farms are cruel and barbaric. However, this is a small price to pay for The Functional Dog Collaborative which is trying to kill rescue animals and bring back a world where almost all people buy animals from breeders.

Destroying the System That Decreased Shelter Killing

The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Shelter Messaging and Policies” guide tells shelters to favor breeding over adoption. Animal shelters successfully used “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaigns to persuade the public to save lives. However, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s guide tries to convince shelters to end “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaigns:

Stop using language that implies -or explicitly states- that adoption is the only acceptable option for acquiring pets, such as “Adopt, don’t shop”.

Ensure that your organization is not using generalized language such as “when you buy, shelter pets die”.

In fact, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants to change the “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaign to “breed local/buy local” in an apparent attack on competition from domestic and international transported rescue dogs:

Reinforce the importance of providing local dogs, locally. Change messaging to actively encourage and support “breed local/buy local”.

To make matters worse, The Functional Dog Collaborative tells the public to breed dogs so their “friends and family can find good dogs.”:

Actively message your community that “good family dogs having some puppies” is how we ensure that people can have dogs from an ethical source

Shift your messaging from “your dog having babies is irresponsible and kills other dogs” to “your successful family dog having babies is a neighborly service to ensure that your friends and family can find good dogs”.

Instead of using veterinarians to increase adoptions, the Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters use those veterinarians to promote breeding.

Include specific outreach to private practice veterinarians in your community in your messaging

The Functional Dog Collaborative also wants to tear down the country’s spay/neuter infrastructure. Specifically, the organization states the following:

Stop advocating for universal spay/neuter for every animal, without exception.

Ensure that you have eliminated all messaging and storytelling that says or implies that intact animals and/or accidental litters are inherently irresponsible.

Furthermore, the pro-breeding organization tells shelters to do the following:

  • Focus spay/neuter on animals that are being killed in shelters (i.e. pit bulls, feral cats)
  • Stop advocating for spay/neuter on most young animals

If that was not bad enough, The Functional Dog Collaborative instructs shelters to convince the public to breed their animals and not sterilize them immediately:

Encourage people with healthy, behaviorally sound dogs to have a litter or two before bringing the dog in for spay/neuter.

Actively counsel people asking about scheduling a spay or neuter with your organization about whether their dog should be passing on their great genes and having a litter or two before surgery! Where’s the bar for who should be reproducing? At a minimum, animals who have been successfully living with a family, are demonstrating good behavior as a family pet, and are not experiencing known health issues. Preference is a pre-breeding exam to better evaluate.

Shelters Increase Breeding

The Functional Dog Collaborative tells shelters to do the following:

  • “Provide resources to people who are already breeding locally”
  • “Provide resources to people who are seeking puppies and dogs” to help them buy those animals from breeders

When we look at this organization’s specific recommendations, it becomes apparent it is trying to recreate a world where people don’t adopt many animals and instead buy pets from breeders. First, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters to “Help your community understand the ideal pet that should have a litter before being spayed or neutered.” Second, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters to actively help not just “breeders”, but even the worst of the backyard breeders, by providing the following:

Routine vaccinations & parasite control for breeding animals & litters

Classes on best practices for breeding and raising litters

Socialization opportunities: they don’t have kids at home, people in wheelchairs, men with beards: you might provide this under the expertise of your behavior department

If you find that an owner cannot manage the care and raising of a litter, can your organization offer temporary foster care until the puppies are weaned, then mom goes back to her family?

In other words, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters to use their own veterinary, employee and volunteer resources to support breeders, including those who treat animals poorly to make a buck.

Most disturbing, “The Functional Dog Collaborative” wants shelters to sell these breeders’ animals and “coach” the breeders on finding customers:

Offer for the shelter to place the puppies in homes or consider coaching on best practices to the mom’s owner in making placements.

HSUS Makes Lame Excuses for Shelter Breeding Session

After facing severe backlash about its shelter breeding “Learning Lab”, HSUS wrote a “position” document defending its conference presentation on shelter breeding. HSUS claimed it just wanted to have “thoughtful conversations about industry best practices and about current and future challenges – some controversial – faced by local organizations and pet owners.” In response to the public outrage, HSUS also stated none of the speakers worked for HSUS and HSUS didn’t create the presentations. While that is true, that is the case for almost all presentations at conferences. The fact of the matter is HSUS provided shelter breeding zealots a “daylong session” at its conference to sell this pet killing idea.

HSUS attempted to deceive the public into thinking the conference presenters didn’t call for shelter breeding. While the conference presentation didn’t explicitly state shelters should breed animals within their physical facilities, it did say shelters should do everything possible to help breeders, including abusive ones, produce more animals. This includes the following:

  • Using the shelter’s behavior department to make bred puppies more adoptable
  • Using shelter resources to teach people about breeding animals
  • Providing foster homes for breeder puppies
  • Teaching breeders on how to find buyers for their puppies
  • Finding buyers for the breeders’ puppies
  • Ending successful “Adopt, Don’t Shop” marketing campaigns and starting “Breed Local, Buy Local” breeder advertising efforts

The HSUS “position” document used politically deceptive language to help shelter breeders make their case. Specifically, HSUS parroted the arguments from the high kill shelters, such as the high kill Dakin Humane Society and Massachusetts SPCA, who want to breed animals (via third party sources):

they also left space for local shelters to express their concerns that even with robust transport programs, they feel they are not able to meet the demand for adoption and are watching as community members seek out other ways to obtain dogs, including through Internet sites that are keeping puppy mills in business.

whether animal welfare organizations should play a role in ensuring every person who wants a dog can find one from a humane source

while also identifying communities where, due to a lack of dogs at local shelters and rescues, people may be opting to purchase puppies from pet stores or Internet sales that are actually supporting puppy mills.

While HSUS didn’t say the shelters wanted to breed animals, it used the presenters coded language that advocates for shelter breeding. For example, statements, such as shelters that are “not able to meet the demand for adoption”, “ensuring every person who wants a dog can find one from a humane source” and “while also identifying communities where, due to a lack of dogs at local shelters and rescues, people may be opting to purchase puppies from pet stores or Internet sales” are code language for shelters to breed animals.

HSUS stated it opposes shelters breeding animals and supports large scale spay/neuter, but its specific positions are more ambiguous. For example, HSUS supports providing “wellness care” to breeder animals. Additionally, HSUS left the door open for shelter breeding in the future by stating we should be “talking about hard issues” (i.e. shelter breeding) and “support safe and open dialogue that welcomes all viewpoints as a means to reach our collective goal to help pets and stop puppy mills” (i.e. shelter breeders claimed goal). Thus, HSUS opposition to shelter breeding is a weak response to public outrage and appears temporary (i.e. could reverse if it becomes politically palatable).

Shelter Breeding is a Catastrophic Threat to Companion Animals

The Functional Dog Collaborative’s anti-spay/neuter ideas will lead to a massive increase in unwanted dogs. Given dogs can reproduce twice a year and have large litters, these animals can quickly grow their populations exponentially. For example, one spay/neuter group estimates a single female dog can produce 508 puppies over a seven year period. Similarly, The Functional Dog Collaborative believes breeding just 4% of female dogs can create millions of puppies for Americans. In reality, once the social stigma against having intact dogs and breeding ends, many more dogs will be intact and breed intentionally and unintentionally. Thus, we will end up in a 1970s world where animal shelters are overwhelmed with dogs.

The promotion of bred verses adopted dogs will decrease demand for this increased number of homeless dogs. Once the social stigma of “buying” dogs ends, people will be less inclined to adopt a dog in need of a home. As Nathan Winograd recently wrote about, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s attempts to normalize breeding and buying bred animals will return us to the 1970s world where shelters were filled with homeless animals and the public did not adopt most of them. Thus, the Functional Dog Collaborative would return us to an era where shelters kill massive numbers of dogs and people buy most of their animals from breeders.

Nathan Winograd eloquently explained how shelter breeding programs will increase rather than decrease the puppy mill business. First, shelter breeding programs (through their third party partner breeders) will incentivize puppy mills to incorporate as not for profits and breed their own “functional” mixed breed dogs. Second, shelter breeding will cause lawmakers to question pet store bans on the sale of bred animals, which have been highly effective at actually closing cruel puppy mills. For example, if shelters are selling bred animals, why couldn’t pet stores? Third, high kill and regressive shelters will hardly do a better job at getting backyard breeders to treat their animals well given these organizations’ horrific track records with their own animals. As a result, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s shelter breeding idea will increase rather than decrease cruel puppy mill operations.

The Functional Dog Collaborative breeding scheme would destroy animal shelters from within. Shelters and breeders have long competed for pet acquisition market share. However, The Functional Dog Collaborative would have shelters help their competitors and in turn destroy the shelters’ own homeless pets. This is akin to a vegan restaurant encouraging its customers to go to a place selling veal, foie gras and shark fin soup. Similarly, this would be like an anti-smoking organization telling people to buy cigarettes or an environmental group to tell its supporters to give money to polluters. Frankly, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s efforts look like a deliberate attempt to destroy animal shelters and rescues to enrich breeders.

While shelter breeding is an absurd idea, it is a very real threat. First, The Functional Dog Collaborative has many influential members, such as the former Executive Director of PetSmart Charities, an ex-director of behavior at the ASPCA and a PhD veterinarian with great influence in academic circles. Second, powerful animal welfare organizations, such as HSUS, Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund and Humane Network gave The Functional Dog Collaborative platforms to sell their shelter breeding idea. Third, shelters have a strong financial interest to breed animals (directly or via third parties) rather than rescue them. Thus, shelter breeding could become the norm if its proponents successfully sell their false narrative.

At the end of the day, shelter breeding represents the most severe threat shelter animals have faced in 50 years. As advocates, we must fight this idea tooth and nail. If we don’t prevail, we will return to the 1970s’ world where shelters will kill many millions of healthy and treatable pets. Our society has come too far to allow that to happen again.

St. Hubert’s Kills Newark’s Homeless Dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newark Proposed Shelter Site 1

Newark Proposed Shelter Site 2

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

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

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

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

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

Data Reviewed

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

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

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

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

St. Hubert’s also had too many small dogs and other medium to large size breeds from Newark lose their lives. Overall, the shelter had 18% of small dogs and 25% of other medium to large size breeds with known outcomes lose their lives. Frankly, shelters should be able to save nearly all small dogs due to the fact such animals cannot seriously injure dog savvy adult owners. Even the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, which is far from a progressive facility, only had 1% of small dogs lose their lives in 2017Austin Animal Center only had 1% of small dogs and 1% of other medium to large size breeds lose their lives in 2018. Thus, St. Hubert’s had both small dogs and other medium to large size breeds lose their lives at 18 times and 25 times Austin Animal Center’s rates.

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

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

Cat Data Suggests Good Performance Due to Rescue Assistance

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

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

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

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

St. Hubert’s Absurd “Community Outreach” Claim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additionally, the Humane Rescue Alliance press release said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why New Jersey Residents Must Support Animal Shelter Reform Bill S3019

Over the last three years I’ve documented New Jersey animal shelters routinely violating state law, abusing animals and killing pets for ridiculous reasons. During this time, I learned our state’s animal shelter system is broken and desperately needs reform. Recently, Senator Linda Greenstein introduced a bill, S3019, to “establish additional requirements for operation and oversight of animal shelters, pounds, kennels operating as shelters or pounds, and veterinary holding facilities.” Will S3019 improve New Jersey’s animal shelter system? Will more animals make it out of our shelters alive? Will shelters treat animals more humanely?

Bill Requires Shelters to Make Efforts to Save Lives

S3019 requires shelters and municipalities to conduct “community outreach” efforts to increase adoptions. Such efforts include using web sites and social media pages to promote adoptable animals. Furthermore, shelters must notify people who surrender animals, such as a good Samaritan who finds a stray animal and brings the pet to the shelter, prior to killing the animal if the person wants the shelter to contact them. In addition, the municipality where each shelter is located must post information about adoptable animals that is easily accessible to the public.

The bill makes shelters notify rescues, other shelters and interested individuals before killing an animal. Specifically, shelters must contact these organizations in writing or through electronic communication at least two business days before killing an animal. Unfortunately, the law allows shelter directors to still kill animals rescues and other shelters are willing to take if the shelter director determines an organization is “incapable of proper care for the animal.” While shelter directors should have that power when it comes to individuals, this provision provides regressive shelters a big loophole to kill animals other reputable groups want to save. Instead, the law should allow any 501(c)(3) rescue/other animal shelter to save an animal the shelter intends to kill unless the rescuing organization has pending animal cruelty charges, animal cruelty convictions, had its 501(c)(3) status revoked or seriously violated any rescue/shelter regulation.

S3019 also requires shelter directors to attest they made efforts to save an animal before killing the creature. Shelter directors must certify the following conditions apply:

  1. Animal was offered to rescues, other shelters and interested individuals and no suitable one wanted to save the animal.
  2. No cage space, whether permanent or temporary, exists (i.e. prevents killing with empty kennels)
  3. Animal cannot be housed with another animal
  4. No suitable foster homes exist
  5. No TNR programs in the state are willing to take a cat the shelter intends to kill

The bill also requires shelters to consider, study, and if possible, implement a TNR program. In addition, S3019 requires ACOs, NJ SPCA agents and officers and other law enforcement personnel to try and bring cats with no apparent owner to a shelter with a TNR program rather than a catch and kill facility.

Finally, the bill mandates animal shelters be open at least five hours on each weekday and one weekend day and stay open until at least 7 pm on one weekday. Given many New Jersey animal shelters are hardly open to the public, particularly when people are not working, this will greatly increase owner reclaims, adoptions, and transfers to rescues.

S3019 Requires Shelters to Try and Reunite Lost Pets with Families

The bill requires shelters to do three significant things to reunite more families with their lost pets. First, shelters must maintain continuously updated lost pet lists maintained by local law enforcement or other community groups (e.g. various lost pet Facebook pages covering each part of the state) and match the shelter’s animals with these lost pet listings. Once the shelter identifies an owner, the shelter must contact the owner. Second, shelters must post photographs and descriptions of stray animals with no identified owners on the internet (or in the local municipal clerk’s office if a shelter has no web site) along with the facility’s location, hours and contact information. Third, shelters must use universal microchip scanners, which can read all microchips, to identify and contact owners of lost pets. Thus, these required actions will increase the chances owners find their lost pets.

Bill Requires Humane Care

S3019 mandates shelters provide the following to their animals:

  1. Fresh water
  2. Appropriate food
  3. Environmental enrichment, such as socialization with staff or volunteers, toys and healthy treats
  4. Exercise outside of kennels at least once a day and more if required to maintain good condition and health and support recovery from diseases and injuries
  5. Prompt cage cleaning at least twice a day to prevent disease
  6. Not expose animals to spray from hoses and toxic cleaning agents
  7. Prompt and necessary veterinary care, including antibiotics, vaccines, fluid therapy, pain management and cage rest
  8. Specialized care for vulnerable animals, such as nursing females, infant animals, sick and injured animals, scared and reactive animals, older animals, and animals requiring therapeutic exercise
  9. Isolation of sick and diseased animals away from healthy ones
  10. Age appropriate vaccines that cover specific diseases upon intake to shelter
  11. Sick or diseased and injured animals must see a licensed veterinarian immediately and licensed veterinarian must document the animals’ condition, health and any health concerns

Thus, these provisions will make shelter animals healthier and more adoptable.

S3019 Requires Humane Euthanasia Techniques

The bill requires shelters do the following among other things when euthanizing animals:

  1. Only use licensed veterinarians or veterinarian technicians who are certified by the New Jersey Department of Health in humane euthanasia
  2. Use a properly ventilated and disinfected room
  3. No animal can see other animals, whether dead or alive, when sedated and euthanized
  4. Must lower animal after he or she is given the euthanasia drug onto a flat surface where the animal can lie or be held
  5. Shelter personnel must be with animal at all times during euthanasia

Shelters must verify an animal’s death by confirming no heartbeat, no respiration, pale bluish gums and tongue and no eye response to stimuli

Furthermore, S3019 allows shelters to immediately euthanize hopelessly suffering animals when a licensed veterinarian documents this diagnosis. Specifically, the veterinarian must document “the physical condition of the animal indicates that the animal cannot continue to live without severe, unremitting pain even with prompt, necessary, and comprehensive veterinary care, or the animal has an illness that cannot be remediated with prompt, necessary, and comprehensive veterinary care and will cause the animal continuing, unremitting pain.”

Animal Shelters Must Share Animal Intake and Outcome Statistics

Currently, New Jersey Animal Shelters voluntarily submit animal intake and outcome statistics annually to the New Jersey Department of Health. These statistics detail how animals arrived at the shelter (i.e. stray, owner surrender, confiscated by authorities, etc.) and how they left the shelter (returned to owner, adopted, euthanized, rescued, etc.). In addition, shelters report the population of dogs and cats and the facility’s capacity at the beginning and end of the year as well as the municipalities the shelter provides animal control and shelter services to. Based on my review of underlying records of several New Jersey animal shelters, these summary statistics are sometimes inaccurate.

S3019 requires shelters to report most of these statistics each year to the New Jersey Department of Health. This mandate would make these reports subject to inspection and could result in more accurate statistics. In addition, the bill requires the New Jersey Department of Health to publish these statistics, in total and broken out by shelter, on its web site. Furthermore, the New Jersey Department of Health must post other information it gathers under this bill on its web site.

The bill should provide some additional data to improve transparency. Specifically, it should require the additional data shelters currently voluntarily report, such as the population of dogs and cats and the facility’s capacity at the beginning and end of the year as well as the municipalities the facility provides animal control and shelter services to. Additionally, in order to provide more transparency on how shelters handle local animals, the bill should require shelters to report the following:

  1. Number of animals broken out by species impounded from New York and Pennsylvania during the year
  2. Number of animals broken out by species impounded from other states during the year
  3. Number of New Jersey animals broken out by species euthanized during the year

S3019 also should add the required data in the Shelter Animal Count project. The Shelter Animal Count project is led by several major national animal welfare organizations, such as Maddie’s Fund, HSUS, ASPCA and Best Friends, as well as a number of other animal welfare organizations. Shelters voluntarily provide this data and the goal is to use these statistics to analyze national and regional animal sheltering trends. S3019 should add the following data reporting requirements from the Shelter Animal Count project:

  1. Break out data to show dogs and cats 5 months and younger and over 5 months of age
  2. Number of cats placed into barn cat and warehouse cats homes during the year
  3. Number of cats released through TNR programs if such cats were impounded for reasons other than TNR (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, etc.) during the year
  4. Number of animals broken out by species that died during the year
  5. Number of animals broken out by species that were lost during the year

Mandating the sharing of animal shelter statistics with the public will increase transparency and allow people to pressure animal shelters to save more lives.

New Jersey Department of Health Must Increase Oversight of Animal Shelters

Under the bill, the New Jersey Department of Health must educate shelter directors and certify these individuals are properly trained. The New Jersey Department of Health is required to use Rutgers University to provide this training. The training would cover state shelter and animal cruelty laws as well as shelter operations.

While this sounds good in practice, Senator Greenstein should amend the bill to make clear that this curriculum must emphasize life saving. If the training requires traditional animal sheltering practices, such as killing dogs and cats for silly “behavioral issues” or to reduce disease outbreaks (e.g. killing cats with ringworm), then this feature in the bill will increase rather than reduce shelter killing.

New Jersey animal shelters regularly violate state law due to the lack of regular high quality inspections. Currently, local health departments must inspect an animal shelter each year. Unfortunately, local health departments routinely perform poor quality inspections, and in some cases do not even perform the required inspections. While the New Jersey Department of Health has the right to inspect animal shelters and does an excellent job, it rarely inspects animal shelters. Over the last decade, the number of New Jersey Department of Health inspectors decreased from five to one and the state essentially stopped inspecting animal shelters. Thus, New Jersey desperately needs high quality inspections at its animal shelters.

S3019 requires at least three unannounced inspections each year. Unfortunately, the bill allows the New Jersey Department of Health to delegate these inspections to local health departments if the local health department inspectors complete a New Jersey Department of Health/Rutgers University training. While this training may educate these inspectors, local inspectors will not deal with enough shelters to gain the practical experience they need to conduct high quality inspections. Furthermore, local health departments typically either run a shelter or report to local governments that run or contract with animal shelters. In other words, these inspectors have an inherent conflict of interest that often results in poor quality inspections and shelters routinely violating state law. Thus, Senator Greenstein should amend the bill to require at least a majority, if not all three annual required inspections, be performed by the New Jersey Department of Health.

The bill also increases penalties for noncompliance with state shelter laws. Individuals and organizations that violate the law are subject to a fine of $100-$200 for the first violation, $200-$400 for the second violation, and $300-$800 for any subsequent violations. In addition, shelters having a third violation may have their license to operate suspended or revoked. Also, individuals and organizations conducting inhumane euthanasia face increased fines of $125 ($25 previously) for the first offense and $250 ($50 previously) for the second offense. Thus, shelters and employees would have a much greater incentive to comply with state law.

S3019 also provides funding mechanisms to help shelters comply with its provisions. All collected fines except those for illegal euthanasia would go towards the bill’s training programs and grants to animal control shelters for spay/neuter and other veterinary care. In addition, New Jersey taxpayers will have an option to voluntarily contribute money for these programs on their tax returns.

Animal Lovers Must Call and Write their State Senator and Assemblyman to Support S3019

While I think Senator Greenstein should make some changes to this bill, S3019 still is a game changer in its current form. Clearly, this bill will cause shelters to improve, save more lives and treat animals more humanely. In other words, animal lovers should support this bill wholeheartedly.

Unfortunately, regressive shelters will try and kill this bill behind closed doors. Based on the history of similar legislation in other states, poorly performing shelters will contact elected officials to stop this bill. Many will not do so publicly since their positions are clearly unpopular. For example, many people believe Gloucester County Animal Shelter was behind Senator Sweeney’s recent quick kill bill. Given S3019 would force shelters to do more work and no major New Jersey shelters have publicly supported this bill to the best of my knowledge, many more regressive organizations will oppose this bill.

To make matters worse, some national animal welfare organizations will also likely oppose S3019. While Alley Cat Allies urged New Jersey residents to support S3019, other powerful animal welfare organizations will not do the same. For example, HSUS fought to stop similar bills in other states. In addition, HSUS has not made any public statements on S3019 despite urging New Jersey residents to support other animal bills in the state legislature. Simply put, HSUS should step up and support this bill or at least have the courage to make its position public.

Despite these influential adversaries, we have a secret weapon. The public overwhelmingly supports this bill. For example, 7 out of 10 Americans think shelters should not kill animals and only take the lives of hopelessly suffering animals or those that are too aggressive to place. In an animal friendly state like New Jersey, more people probably oppose shelter killing. Last month, the animal loving public stood up and forced Senator Sweeney to remove language from a bill allowing shelters to kill owner surrenders during the 7 day protection period. In fact, the public outrage was so strong that the change was made just two days after I posted about that bill.

So how can you make sure S3019 becomes state law? Call and/or write your local State Senator and Assemblyman and demand they support S3019, preferably with the changes outlined in this blog. Each municipality’s State Senator and Assemblyman are listed in the link below along with additional links containing their phone numbers.

Also, you can write your local State Senator and Assemblyman using the link below:

If there was ever a time for you to step up for the animals, this is it. Thousands of animals lives will be saved in the future if you make a quick call and/or write a short note to your elected representatives. Be on the right side of history and tell others to do the same.

Elizabeth’s Enigma of an Animal Shelter (Part 2 of 2)

In my last blog, I discussed the recent history of the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Specifically, I wrote about how the shelter’s illegal killing of Jennifer Arteta’s two dogs, Daphne and Rocko, during the 7 day hold period in June 2014 sparked an effort to reform the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Additionally, I analyzed the shelter’s 2015 statistics to see if the changes the shelter made improved the plight of animals entering the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. To read Part 1 of this blog, please click this link.

Part 2 of this blog analyzes Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s compliance with New Jersey shelter laws. This blog also examines the shelter’s recent actions. Finally, I provide an answer to the question as to whether the Elizabeth Animal Shelter still needs reform.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Illegally Kills Massive Numbers of Animals Prior to the End of the 7 Day Hold Period

Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed animals during the 7 day hold before and after the illegal killing of Daphne and Rocko. Despite Daphne being playful and Rocko loving to cuddle, Elizabeth Animal Shelter wrote “aggressive” on their intake and disposition records and killed them on the day the two dogs arrived at the shelter. Under New Jersey shelter law, shelters cannot kill any animal, whether stray or surrendered by their owners, until after 7 full days. Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 48 dogs and 35 cats in 2014 prior to the end of the 7 day hold period. To put it another way, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 49% of the dogs and 85% of the cats it killed in 2014. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 25 dogs and 14 cats in 2014 after News 12 New Jersey reported Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s illegal killing of Daphne and Rocko. Even worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter resumed the illegal killings less than a month after the News 12 story came out and the related uproar. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter thumbed its nose at animal advocates, state law and all Elizabeth pet owners.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter continued to illegally kill animals during the 7 day hold period in 2015. Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 28 dogs and 96 cats during the 7 day hold period in 2015. To state it another way, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 53% of the dogs and 86% of the cats it killed in 2015. In addition, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 9 of those dogs and 5 of those cats after the New Jersey Department of Health issued a memo on October 20, 2015 reminding all shelters that it is illegal to kill animals during the 7 day hold period. Under New Jersey law, shelters technically can’t kill animals who are hopelessly suffering during the 7 day hold period, but the New Jersey Department of Health generally does not go after shelters if a veterinarian documents the animal was hopelessly suffering in a detailed manner. While Elizabeth Animal Shelter labeled some animals as “sick” or “medical euthanasia”, the city provided no veterinary records proving these animals were in fact hopelessly suffering. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed even more animals in 2015 than 2014.

You can find all the intake and disposition records for 2014 here and for 2015 here.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Illegally Adopts Out and Sends Stray Animals to Rescues During the 7 Day Hold Period

Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally adopted out and sent large numbers of dogs and cats to rescues during the 7 day stray/hold period in 2014. Under New Jersey shelter law, shelters must hold stray animals for 7 days prior to adopting those pets out or sending them to rescues. The law is designed to provide pet owners a reasonable opportunity to find their animals. In 2014, Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out/transferred to rescues 21 stray dogs and 120 stray cats during their stray/hold periods. 13% and 36% of all dogs and cats Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out/sent to rescues were done so illegally in 2014. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter violated the 7 day stray hold period on a massive scale in 2014.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter continued to illegally adopt out and send large numbers of animals to rescues during the 7 day hold period in 2015. In 2015, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally adopted out/transferred to rescues 30 dogs and 75 cats. 14% and 25% of all dogs and cats Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out/sent to rescues were done so illegally in 2015. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed or adopted out/sent to rescues 106 of 171 stray cats or 62% of these animals during the 7 day stray/hold period in 2015. Similarly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed or adopted out/sent to rescues 35 out of 209 stray dogs or 17% of these animals during the 7 day stray/hold period in 2015. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter willfully violated state shelter law and potentially prevented scores of animals from finding their families.

While I can understand Elizabeth Animal Shelter feels pressure to place animals quickly with its small facility, the shelter’s actions are not justified. Certainly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s limited space causes the shelter to fill up quickly. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter did not appear to consistently use its full capacity. The following table compares the “required length of stay” or the maximum time the shelter could keep each animal on average before it runs out of room each month with the average length of of stay for these periods. In other words, this metric estimates how much shelter capacity was used. As you can see, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only used around 61% and 27% of its dog and cat capacity on average during the year. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter did not come close to reaching its maximum capacity in any one month.

Elizabeth Dog Capacity Used

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (25)

Clearly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s space constraints did not force it to adopt out and send animals to rescues during the 7 day stray/hold period. The city and the shelter simply wanted to save money and do less work by handing animals to rescues as quickly as possible.

To further support the shelter having enough space to obey the state’s 7 day hold period, I recalculated Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s average length of stay if it kept animals for the required 7 day hold period. If the shelter held animals it either illegally killed or adopted out or sent to rescues during the 7 day hold period for 7 days, the shelter’s average length of stay would only rise to 6.3 days for cats and 8.2 days for dogs. As a comparison, the shelter’s required length of stay each month was significantly below these figures (8.8 days to 62 days for cats and 9.2 days to 25.7 days for dogs). Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter did not have to violate the state’s 7 day hold law to avoid overcrowding.

Animals Killed Off the Books

Elizabeth Animal Shelter took a number of injured and sick animals directly to an outside veterinarian and did not report doing so in its intake and disposition records. The veterinarian killed/euthanized almost all of these animals (3 dogs, 12 cats plus a number of wild animals). While many were hopelessly suffering, the veterinarian’s invoices inadequately documented the reason for killing/euthanasia in some cases. The example below provides one such example where the veterinarian killed a cat and listed the animal as “injured” without any specific details:

Elizabeth Vet Invoice

Furthermore, the shelter provided me no additional veterinary records in response to my OPRA requests. Given this veterinarian killed most of these dogs and cats on behalf of Elizabeth Animal Shelter prior to the 7 day hold period, the inadequate documentation represents additional shelter law violations. Also, I could not find any of these animals included in the Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records. Therefore, the shelter violated N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13 which requires intake and disposition data on every single impounded animal. Finally, the shelter’s inability to count these animals in its records raises questions as to whether the shelter is also killing other animals off the books.

If I add these dogs and cats to the intake and disposition records, the shelter’s death rates increase by 1-2 percentage points:

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (23).jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (24)

Highly Questionable Categorization of Animals as Owner Surrenders

Elizabeth Animal Shelter classified an unusually large number of dogs and cats as owner surrenders. Specifically, the shelter classified 42% of dogs and 60% of cats as being surrendered by their owners. As a comparison, New Jersey animal shelters as a whole only classified 32% and 27% of stray and surrendered dogs and cats as owner surrenders in 2014. Furthermore, shelters serving poor areas, such as Liberty Humane Society (20% of both stray and owner surrendered dogs and cats classified as surrendered by owners), Camden County Animal Shelter (28% and 19% of stray and owner surrendered dogs and cats classified as surrendered by owners), and Atlantic County Animal Shelter (19% and 11% of stray and owner surrendered dogs and cats classified as surrendered by owners), categorized much lower percentages of animals as owner surrenders. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter placed unusually large numbers of animals into the owner surrender category.

In fact, per the records I reviewed, the shelter classified nearly every single animal turned in by a person as an owner surrender. However, in reality, shelters receive significant numbers of strays from people finding animals and turning them over to the shelter. Below is an example of one of the shelter’s animal surrender forms (I removed certain information to protect the person’s personal information). As you can see, the form does not state the person surrendering the animal is the owner nor does the form seek any documentation that the animal is in fact owned by the person.

Elizabeth Surrender form.jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s convenient classification of most animals as owner surrenders rather than strays reduces costs and saves shelter staff from doing more work. Under current state law, shelters must hold all strays for 7 days to provide the animal’s owner the opportunity to get their family member back. If Elizabeth Animal Shelter classifies the animal as an owner surrender rather than a stray under current law, the shelter can immediately hand the animal over to a rescue instead of caring for the animal for 7 days. Prior to 2011, the shelter could also immediately kill an owner surrendered animal upon intake. As discussed above, Elizabeth Animal Shelter still operates as if the old law relating to owner surrendered animals was still in place and often kills owner surrenders during the 7 day hold period. To make matters worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only accepts owner surrenders on Thursdays, the day its part-time veterinarian comes to the shelter, and kills large numbers of so-called owner surrenders on that day. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 77 or 72% of the 107 “owner surrender” dogs and cats it killed in 2015 on the day the shelter accepted those animals. In other words, just like Daphne and Rocko, Elizabeth Animal Shelter conveniently classifies animals as owner surrenders to kill them as soon as possible, even if doing so is illegal.

Records Raise Serious Questions as to Whether Elizabeth Animal Shelter Humanely Euthanizes Animals 

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s euthanasia records do not specify how the shelter killed or euthanized animals. Specifically, the records do not state whether the shelter euthanized/killed each animal by an intravenous (preferred method), intraperitoneal or intracardiac (i.e. heart sticking) injection. Per New Jersey law, shelters can only use intraperitoneal injections on comatose animals and neonatal kittens. Under this method, animals are injected in the abdominal cavity and can take up to 30 minutes to die. Heart sticking, as the name implies, involves stabbing an animal in the heart with Fatal Plus poison and New Jersey shelters can only use this method on heavily sedated, anesthetized or comatose animals. Additionally, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s records do not state what specific euthanasia drug the facility used for each animal. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s euthanasia records do not indicate whether animals are in fact humanely euthanized.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter chooses to sedate rather than comfort animals prior to euthanasia. Specifically, the shelter injected Ketamine into nearly every animal to restrain them prior to administering a poison to kill the animals. The Humane Society of the United States Euthanasia Reference Manual states shelters should avoid using a preeuthanasia anesthetic and hold and comfort animals when appropriate:

When appropriate, it is often best practice to hold and comfort an animal for direct IV or IP injection of sodium pentobarbital rather than injecting a preeuthanasia anesthetic, but neglecting or refusing to use pre-euthanasia drugs when direct injection would cause the animal undue stress is equally ill-advised.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s decision to sedate virtually every animal instead of comforting these creatures speaks volumes about how the shelter feels about animals. While some animals are aggressive and require sedatives, surely not 163 of 164 cats and dogs were vicious or incapable of being comforted. After all, when you order the “owner surrenders” to come in on Thursdays for killing you don’t have time to hold and comfort animals. You just stick them with Ketamine and then poison them to death.

To make matters worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s use of pure Ketamine as a preeuthanasia drug is cruel. The Humane Society of United State Euthanasia Reference Manual states shelters should not use Ketamine alone to sedate an animal for killing as it makes the animal’s muscles rigid and the injection stings so much that the animal reacts very negatively to it. If that was not bad enough, large doses can cause convulsions and seizures.

Ketamine (available commercially as Ketaset, Ketaject, and others) is an anesthetic agent that renders an animal completely immobile. However, when used alone it can cause the muscles to become rigid, causing the body to  stiffen. It also stings so much upon injection that it creates a fairly pronounced reaction in most animals. Moreover, in large doses it can produce convulsions and seizures. For these reasons, ketamine is recommended for use only when combined with another drug (like xylazine to create PreMix, above), that tempers these negative effects.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also used excessive doses of Ketamine. Elizabeth Animal Shelter administered 1.5 cubic centimeters of Ketamine to virtually every adult cat. The product label states 1 milliliter, which equals 1 cubic centimeter, of the Ketamine drug contains 100 milligrams of the active Ketamine ingredient. In addition, the product label states cats requiring restraint should receive a dose of 5 milligrams/pound of cat. The product label also states veterinary personnel should use a dose of 10-15 milligrams/pound of cat to produce anesthesia. Based on most cats weighing 8 pounds, that means the cats should have only received 40-120 milligrams or 0.4-1.2 cubic centimeters of the Ketamine drug. In other words, Elizabeth Animal Shelter provided doses up to 4 times greater than the label indicates. In addition, cats weighing as little as 5 pounds, which would require 0.25-0.75 cubic centimeter doses per the product label, also received the 1.5 cubic centimeter dose. Given large doses can “produce convulsions and seizures”, this indicates many animals could have experienced agony prior to their killing.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also used incorrect doses of its euthanasia drug assuming it used sodium pentobarbital or Fatal Plus. Per the Humane Society of United States Euthanasia Reference Manual, shelters should use 1 cubic centimeter of Fatal Plus per 10 pounds of animal body weight for intravenous and heart sticking injections and 3 cubic centimeters of Fatal Plus per 10 pounds of animal body weight for intraperitoneal injections. For an 8 pound cat, that would equal 0.8 cubic centimeters of Fatal Plus. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter used 2 cubic centimeters of its euthanasia drug for just about every adult cat weighing 8 pounds and for most adult cats of different weights. If the shelter used intraperitoneal injections on the 8 pound cats, that would require 2.4 cubic centimeters of the drug compared to the 2 cubic centimeters used by the shelter. Animals receiving too small of a dose may have been still alive before being dumped in the trash or an incinerator if the shelter used intraperitoneal injections. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s use of these drugs raises serious questions about whether the facility humanely euthanizes animals.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s euthanasia logs list questionable weights for the animals and raise questions as to whether the shelter actually weighed the animals. Under N.J.A.C. 8:23A-1.11 (f) 3 and 4, shelters must weigh each animal and keep a log of those body weights as well as the drugs used to immobilize and euthanize the animals. Almost all the adult cats weighed exactly 8 pounds. Additionally, most of the weights listed for dogs were convenient numbers, such as 60, 65, and 80 pounds. Frankly, I find it highly unlikely that many dogs just happened to weigh in at these user friendly amounts.

Perhaps the most egregious example was Elizabeth Animal Shelter listing a groundhog weighing 40 pounds in its euthanasia log below. Groundhogs typically weigh from 4-9 pounds with 31 pounds being the maximum weight. Now either Elizabeth Animal Shelter impounded the largest groundhog in world history or it didn’t actually weigh the animal. Conveniently, the animal preceding this mammoth sized groundhog was a raccoon weighing the same 40 pounds.

Elizabeth Groundhoug weight.jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s questionable record keeping raise concerns about whether controlled substances at the shelter are secure. If the shelter reports using more of these controlled substances than they actually do (i.e. a possibility if they are in fact running a humane operation), that provides staff the opportunity to steal some of these drugs. In the case of Ketamine, this is a highly sought after black market recreational drug. As a result, the shelter’s euthanasia records raise concerns that go beyond animal welfare.

Shelter Budget Reflects Misguided Priorities

Elizabeth spends almost its entire shelter budget on employee salaries. Unlike most municipalities that separately disclose the animal shelter’s budget, Elizabeth buries the shelter’s projected expenditures within its Health Department budget. The Health Department’s 2016 budget reveals the Elizabeth Animal Shelter pays salaries totaling $144,481 for its ACOs and $23,241 for a part-time veterinarian. In addition, the Health Officer, Mark Colicchio, who spends part of his time overseeing the shelter, receives a salary of $92,787 a year. Unfortunately, the budget provides no other details on animal shelter expenditures. Unless other animal shelters costs are covered in the $145,000 “Other Charges” line in the Health Department budget, the shelter devotes nearly 100% of its costs to paying people’s salaries and not on animal care.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s part-time veterinarian seems to do nothing more than come in and kill animals. Based on discussions I’ve had with several people familiar with the shelter, the part-time veterinarian works at the shelter every Thursday. As discussed above, the shelter only accepts “owner surrenders”, which seems to include both animals actually surrendered by their owners and stray animals found by people, on the day the veterinarian comes in. Sadly, the shelter kills many of these animals on that very day. In fact, that is exactly what happened to Daphne and Rocko. Despite requesting veterinary records under OPRA, the shelter provided me no such records other than those for emergency care performed by an outside veterinarian (most of these animals were euthanized). In other words, Elizabeth’s part-time veterinarian appears to receive around $450 to come in on each Thursday to kill animals.

Videos Reveal Poor Animal Sheltering Practices

In a recent video, Darcy Del Castillo and another ACO were not conducting behavioral evaluations according to the ASPCA’s guidance. Specifically, the ASPCA guidance states:

  1. The room should be quiet: no phones, intercoms, pagers, barking dogs, people talking, and animals housed here
  2. No distractions during the test such as phones, multi-tasking assessors, side conversations and smells that can capture the dog’s interest.
  3. Tester should hold leash with slack

During the video, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s evaluator uses a room filled with distractions, talks with another person, and tethers the dog on a tight leash to a kennel. Additionally, another staff member yells at the dog.

Furthermore, the shelter still conducts food guarding tests despite the ASPCA recommending that shelters stop using these inaccurate tests and instead provide all adopters information on how to manage food aggression. Many shelters classify and kill dogs for being food aggressive that don’t display food guarding in a home. Additionally, many dogs who pass food aggression tests in a shelter display the trait in a home setting. Thus, the shelter’s continued use of food aggression tests puts both animals and people at risk.

Another video shows an ACO using a chokepole on a friendly dog abandoned in a home. Given chokepoles can strangle a struggling dog, ACOs should only use these devices as a last resort. Frankly, this video speaks volumes about how some of Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s ACOs feel about animals.

Elizabeth Tries to Dupe the Public Into Believing the Shelter Saved Lots of Animals During the Holidays

In late December, a local news story raved about the job Elizabeth Animal Shelter is doing. The article, which appeared like it was hastily written by the Elizabeth Health Department, stated the shelter saved all of its animals prior to Christmas. Additionally, the news story mentioned positive changes began in the Fall of 2013 (actually it was in 2014) after the facility started evaluating animals and allowing people to post the shelter’s animals on social media. Furthermore, the article touted the city’s pet limit law and policy requiring adopters to alter their animals or face fines. Finally, the article praised Darcy Del Castillo’s sharing of animals on her Shelter Helpers Facebook page and also made a quick reference to the Friends of Elizabeth Animal Shelter Facebook page.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed many animals during the month of December. As the tables below show, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 44% and 20% of all non-reclaimed cats and dogs. In fact, the shelter’s kill rate in December was higher than the average for the year despite very low animal intake relative to most months. While the shelter labeled some of these animals as “sick” and “medical euthanasia”, the city provided me no actual veterinary documentation that these animals were in fact hopelessly suffering. Furthermore, the high kill rate makes it highly unlikely that most of these animals were in a permanent state of severe physical distress. Thus, Elizabeth failed to tell the public about its entire performance during the holiday season.Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (20)

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (28)

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter also violated the 7 day hold period during December 2015. The shelter illegally killed 7 dogs and cats prior the end of the 7 day hold period during December 2015. In fact, the facility illegally killed two owner surrendered cats on December 31 just before the New Years Day holiday. Furthermore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out/sent to rescue 3 stray dogs during their 7 day hold period in December 2015. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter patted itself on the back while it operated in an illegal manner.

Elizabeth’s touting of its more stringent animal control laws reveals a city putting into place policies that will take rather than save lives. First and foremost, the shelter’s hypocritical requirement that Elizabeth residents alter adopted dogs when the city shelter refuses to do so discourages adoptions. How many companies sell you a product with the threat of heavy fines if you don’t do what they say? Its like Toyota selling you an automobile without seat belts and fining you if you don’t put them in yourself. Frankly, that type of policy scares adopters away. Second, pet limit laws reduce the number of homes for animals and lead to increased shelter intake and killing. The ASPCA, HSUS, Best Friends and the No Kill Advocacy Center all oppose these laws as these statutes waste scarce resources that cities can use to save animals and lead to increased shelter killing. Furthermore, cities can enforce animal cruelty statutes without having pet limit laws. Thus, Elizabeth brags about animal control policies that exacerbate rather than reduce shelter killing.

The glowing Elizabeth Animal Shelter story failed to recognize many of the other people responsible for emptying the shelter out before last Christmas. Specifically, the press release failed to recognize Jennifer Arteta, who runs the Friends of Elizabeth Animal Shelter Facebook page mentioned in the story. Ms. Arteta was the owner of the two dogs, Daphne and Rocko, who Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed in June 2014 and who led the effort to reform the shelter. In addition, the story failed to mention the Union County Lost Pets Facebook group which actively promotes and finds placement for Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s animals. The person running the Union County Lost Pets group also worked to reform Elizabeth Animal Shelter after the Daphne and Rocko incident. As a result, the article failed to mention that the very people fighting against the city to reform the shelter played a key role in emptying out the Elizabeth Animal Shelter.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Still Needs Reform

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter has improved in some respects since it illegally killed Daphne and Rocko in June of 2014. Certainly, the shelter decreased its dog kill rate and Darcy Del Castillo deserves some credit. However, the shelter’s cat kill rate increased since Ms. Del Castillo’s arrival at the shelter. That being said, Elizabeth Animal Shelter is a far safer place for animals than the atrocious Associated Humane Societies-Newark shelter located a few miles away.

However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s improvement with dogs is primarily due to the rescue community and not the city or its shelter. After following Facebook pages, such as Union County Lost Pets and Friends of the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, and reviewing the shelter’s records, I can clearly see how hard local rescues, animal advocates and Elizabeth residents work to save animals from the shelter. The shelter basically throws out a terrible photo and tells the rescue community to save the animal or the dog or cat will die. Even the few animals the shelter adopts out are due to local animal advocates promoting the pets rather than the shelter itself. Other than Ms. Del Castillo, no one at the shelter appears to do anything proactive to save the animals. Even worse, the near 100% reliance on rescues likely results in little to no net increase in lifesaving in the region due to rescues pulling from Elizabeth Animal Shelter rather than other local kill shelters.

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter fails to even do basic animal sheltering. The shelter typically provides no veterinary care other than killing. The city does not spay/neuter or even vaccinate its animals. Furthermore, the shelter willfully violates New Jersey’s shelter laws relating to public operating hours and the 7 day hold period. In other words, the shelter still regularly does the very thing that sparked reform efforts at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Additionally, the shelter may be violating state shelter laws in the areas of humane euthanasia as well as record keeping.

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter also violates many of the standards of care advocated by the ASPCA. The ASPCA is a traditional shelter advocacy group and it typically recommends far lower standards than what no kill groups do. However, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter violates even these lower standards. Specifically, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter fails to do the following things:

  1. Have minimum standards for facilities, sanitation, medical protocols, and enrichment/socialization
  2. Shelters should never use the expiration of applicable holding periods or owner relinquishment as license to immediately euthanize animals simply because, at least legally, their “time is up”
  3. Shelters must provide clear notice to the public concerning shelter locations, hours, fees and the return-to-owner process
  4. Shelters should be accessible during reasonable hours to owners seeking to reclaim their pet. These hours should include some reasonable additional period of time beyond the typical workday (e.g. 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday) so that pet owners who may not have flexible work schedules have the best opportunity to reclaim their pets.
  5. Shelters should make written descriptions of key processes and information easily and readily available for public inspection.

Despite the increase in the facility’s dog live release rate, too many animals still lose their lives at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. 1 out of 3 pit bull like dogs and cats requiring new homes lose their lives at the shelter. In this day and age where animal control shelters in large cities, such as Jacksonville, Florida, Baltimore, Maryland, Salt Lake City, Utah, Portland, Oregon Austin, Texas, Atlanta, Georgia, Kansas City, Missouri, and Washington DC achieved or are close to reaching no kill status (90% or higher live release rate), we should expect far more from the Elizabeth Animal Shelter.

Elizabeth needs to operate its shelter using the no kill equation in an enthusiastic manner. The key programs are as follows:


For far too long, the city’s leaders have chosen to operate the Elizabeth Animal Shelter as cheaply as possible. The city’s shelter is literally located in a public works area hidden from public view.Elizabeth Dog Warden - Google Maps

City officials never expanded the facility, despite plenty of land being available, and allowed it to remain undersized. Furthermore, city officials compensated by violating its own residents’ rights by killing and transferring animals illegally during the 7 day hold period. Simply put, Elizabeth’s political leaders view homeless animals as trash and only allow rescuers to pick that trash up before its taken to the garbage dump.

Elizabeth residents should demand far more than an old school pound that expects rescues to save the day and completely pay the bills. Clearly, the city of Elizabeth’s residents have spoken up and taken actions that prove they desperately want a no kill city shelter. Just imagine what animal advocates could achieve if they had a city and a shelter determined to do its part in saving lives. Instead of desperately trying to take animals off of death row, these volunteers could urgently work with the shelter to treat, rehabilitate and quickly get homeless animals into permanent homes. In return, hundreds of people would come to the city to adopt, volunteer, donate funds to the shelter and spend money at local businesses.

If the city chooses to not operate the shelter according to state law as well as its residents’ desires, Elizabeth should issue an RFP to allow one or more of the rescues to take the facility over. Clearly, the city of Elizabeth is failing its animals and its pet owning residents. If elected officials won’t act, then its time for Elizabeth voters to replace these politicians with folks who will do the right thing for Elizabeth’s animals and citizens.

2014 Dog Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

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

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

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

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

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

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

I modified the methodology for space-constrained shelters for this year’s analysis. Space constrained shelters do not have enough room to adopt out all of the animals they need to. Therefore, these shelters require rescue help. In the past, I assumed these shelters adopted out each dog based on the average time it takes to adopt out all dogs. However, many dogs require much less time to get adopted. Therefore, I assumed space-constrained shelters adopted out these animals first and then sent the dogs taking longer to adopt out to rescues. While this significantly changed the results for space-constrained shelters, this assumption only had a minor impact on the overall results for all New Jersey animal shelters.

I also revised my analysis this year to put a cap on the targeted numbers of rescued dogs from other shelters and adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I wanted to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animals shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita dog adoption rate less than half the level found at some of the best animal control shelters. Similarly, the unmodified model yielded a statewide pit bull per capita adoption rate (2.1 pit bulls per 1,000 people) equal to one of the best animal control shelters in the country. In my opinion, New Jersey shelters could more easily achieve that pit bull adoption rate given my model has far fewer dogs from competing breeds than those in this role model animal control shelter.

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

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

In simple terms, a shelter is expected to achieve this per capita adoption rate unless the facility lacks enough space. If a shelter does not have sufficient room, it won’t have the time to reach all the potential adopters and requires assistance from rescues and/or other facilities. Given my model assumes most rescued dogs are pit bull like dogs, my targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted are quite low as detailed in the section below. For example, shelters in counties where dog adoptions are capped have extra space that they do not use to adopt out other dog breeds. See Appendix I at the end of this blog for a comparison of how the unmodified model’s results compare to the revised model with caps on rescued and adopted animals.

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

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save all of the state’s healthy and treatable dogs. The table below details the targeted numbers of dog outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 25,408 New Jersey dogs coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2014, 14,033 and 1,145 dogs should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the dogs in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had more than enough capacity to rescue the 1,145 dogs from space constrained facilities. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters should be able to able to adopt out every single healthy and treatable dog taken in from the state and not require any support from rescue organizations without physical facilities.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many dogs from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out 8,603 dogs from out of state after achieving a 95% live release rate for New Jersey dogs. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters could make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for dogs and increase those cities’ dog live release rates to 95% in 2014 as follows:

  • New York City – 1,877 additional dogs need saving
  • Philadelphia – 2,113 additional dogs need saving

Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters could save another 4,613 dogs from other locations outside of the state. Of course, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some dogs from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. However, most of these dogs are likely easy to adopt and therefore have short lengths of stay. As a result, the additional number of dogs New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere is probably not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for dogs as well as many other places.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 2.7 dogs per 1,000 people in the state (1.7 dogs if no dogs rescued from out of state). As a comparison, recent per capita dog adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 9.4 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 9.1 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada area) – 8.2 dogs per 1,000 people
  • KC Pet Project (Kansas City, Missouri) – 7.3 dogs per 1,000 people

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

Some naysayers may claim New Jersey would have a more difficult time due to the state’s shelters taking in many pit bulls. However, this is a myth. My model estimates New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out roughly 0.7 pit bulls per 1,000 people to save 95% of New Jersey’s dogs. Our shelters would only need to adopt out around 1.4 pit bulls per 1,000 people if New Jersey shelters also rescued and adopted out the targeted number of pit bulls from other states. As a comparison, I estimate Longmont Humane Society adopts out 2.1 pit bulls per 1,000 people based on its per capita pit bull intake and the percentage dog adoptions are of total outcomes at the shelter. Furthermore, the pit bull adoption targets are even more reasonable given the model assumes there are roughly 1/5 of the number of dogs from other breeds to compete with in the New Jersey adoption market compared to the Longmont, Colorado area.

TD Cap

Animal Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

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

The table below details the local death rates for dogs from my last blog. Consistent with the Life Saving Model’s assumptions, the actual dogs euthanized/killed/died/missing assumes these dogs came from the local community. All dogs missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Shelters having local dog death rates less than and greater than 5% are highlighted in green and red in the table below.

Surprisingly, several rescue oriented shelters had very high local dog death rates. While this number may be higher if some rescued dogs are euthanized/killed (i.e. targeted number assumes no rescued dogs are killed/euthanized) or many terminally ill dogs are surrendered for owner-requested euthanasia, this may possibly point to overly strict temperament testing at these facilities. In the case of St. Hubert’s-Madison, which has a total dog death rate of 11% (i.e. percentage of all dogs taken in and not just community dogs), the total death rate may be artificially depressed by easy to adopt transported dogs. For the Humane Society of Atlantic County, which has no animal control contracts, the total dog death rate of 22% is shockingly high for a rescue oriented shelter and raises serious questions about how life and death decisions are made by this organization. The local death rates at other rescue oriented shelters, such as Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge and Common Sense for Animals (local death rates of 2% and 3%) are much lower than St. Hubert’s-Madison and the Humane Society of Atlantic County (local death rates of 23% and 69%).

Thus, I find it difficult to believe St. Hubert’s-Madison’s and Humane Society of Atlantic County’s larger than expected local death rate is due to them rescuing a large percentage of their dogs from other shelters.

The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Specifically, 12 out of 96 or 13% of the shelters accounted for 80% of the 3,364 unnecessary dogs unnecessarily losing their lives. Shelters with the greatest number of unnecessary dog deaths are as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark (693)
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter (306)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter (247)
  • Cumberland County SPCA (211)

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

Local Dog Death rate 2014

Local Dog Death rate 2014 (2)

Local Dog Death rate 2014 (3)

Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Require Little Rescue Assistance

Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake, very limited space, and few stray dogs returned to owners, it will need more help than other shelters. The table below compares the number of dogs a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of dogs actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.

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

Some New Jersey shelters are not receiving enough help from other animal welfare organizations. While the overall number of dogs rescued from all of the state’s shelters was more than needed, the actual number of dogs needing rescue was higher since many dogs were rescued from facilities who did not need any rescue assistance. Only 14 out of the 96 facilities require any rescue support. In other words, 82 of the 96 animal shelters in the state should not need rescues or other shelters to pull any dogs. As a result, 203 dogs were not rescued from shelters who truly need that support and instead were pulled from shelters not requiring this help.

Associated Humane Societies-Newark hogged up the most rescue support. Specifically, rescues and other shelters pulled 965 more dogs than needed from AHS-Newark. Even worse, AHS-Tinton Falls and AHS-Popcorn Park rescued far fewer dogs than they should. As a result of this poor performance, AHS diverted much needed rescue assistance from more needy shelters.

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

  • Hamilton Township Animal Shelter – 114 fewer dogs transferred than necessary
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 64 fewer dogs transferred than necessary

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

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

Given killing animals for space is intolerable, the space-constrained shelters need to expand their effective dog capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house dogs on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians to house and adopt out some dogs. Furthermore, shelters can create or expand foster programs to increase the number of dogs cared for. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program and making serious efforts to return lost dogs to owners could free up space in these shelters. Finally, space-constrained shelters with multiple animal control contracts should terminate some of these arrangements to bring their capacity for care in line with the number of dogs they take in. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

DR Cap

DR Cap (2)

DR Cap (3)

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

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

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

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

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 5 out of 96 shelters met the adoptions goals computed by the Life Saving Model. 1 of the 5 facilities reaching the adoption targets (Denville Township Animal Shelter) had space to only place a small number of animals. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Several shelters exceeded or came close to achieving their adoption targets. Beacon Animal Rescue and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge adopted out more animals than I targeted. While these organizations are both rescue-oriented shelters that appear to pull fewer pit bulls than I target, these two shelters do at least have a reasonable number of pit bull like dogs up for adoption. Additionally, these shelters rescue animals primarily from other New Jersey animal shelters rather than transport large numbers of dogs from the south. While Animal Alliance and Country Lakes Animal Clinic exceeded their adoption targets, this result is due to these shelters pulling easier to adopt dogs (i.e. few pit bull like dogs) from other shelters. Large animal control shelters coming closest to reaching their adoption targets include St. Hubert’s-North Branch (88% of target) and Burlington County Animal Shelter (75% of target). Unfortunately, I have doubts about the accuracy of the adoption totals of some of the other large animal control shelters that came close to reaching their adoption targets.

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

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 1,827 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park – 830 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls – 706 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 621 fewer dogs adopted than targeted

Unsurprisingly, Associated Humane Societies has archaic adoption policies that make it more difficult to adopt than the procedures recommended from national animal welfare organizations.

Shelters transporting dogs from out of state also significantly failed to achieve their adoption targets for New Jersey dogs. In fact, shelters rescuing dogs from out of state facilities have a New Jersey dog adoption shortfall exceeding half the number of New Jersey dogs unnecessarily dying in our state’s shelters. Not surprisingly many of these facilities’ total adoptions including transported dogs exceeded the local dog adoption targets as most transported dogs are easier to adopt. These transporting shelters’ local adoption performance is even worse considering most of these organizations likely take in much more adoptable local dogs than my model targets. In addition, the revenues these transporting shelters bring in from adoption fees and dramatic fundraising stories likely divert funding from New Jersey animal control shelters. Thus, it is quite clear most transporting shelters are not doing their part in helping New Jersey’s homeless dogs.

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Local Dogs

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

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of local dogs they should. 87 of the 96 shelters should rescue some dogs from other local shelters. In fact, 54 of the 87 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single dog from a New Jersey animal shelter. Of the 87 shelters with the space to rescue dogs from nearby shelters, only Beacon Animal Rescue, Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge, Animal Welfare Association, Animal Alliance, County Lakes Animal Clinic, Pennsville Township Pound and Salem County Humane Society met or exceeded their local dog rescue targets. As mentioned above, scores for Animal Alliance, Country Lakes Animal Clinic and Animal Alliance are inflated due to these shelters cherry picking highly adoptable animals to rescue. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of local healthy and treatable dogs.

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

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New Jersey Animal Shelters Need to Form Life-Saving Coalitions

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

Sobering Results Require Shelter Leaders to Critically Examine Themselves

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

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

Appendix I – Animal Shelter Report Cards Without Adoption and Rescue Caps

Below are the shelter report cards’ targets using the model without caps for adopted and rescued animals. New Jersey shelters could adopt out nearly 7,000 or around 30% more dogs if I did not place a cap on dog adoption in certain counties. Overall, the unmodified model yields pit bull and dog per capita adoption rates of 3.5 dogs per 1,000 people and 2.1 pit bulls per 1,000 people in New Jersey. As a comparison, several animal control shelters per capita dog adoption rates are 2-3 times higher than this target and Longmont Humane Society’s per capita pit bull adoption rate is equal to this benchmark.

The dog adoption tables below compare the results using the modified and unmodified models for each shelter. Overall, the targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted were capped in Camden County, Cape May County, Essex County, Hunterdon County, Morris County, Ocean County, Salem County, Sussex County and Warren County. In other words, the targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted were capped in 9 of the 21 New Jersey counties.

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Appendix II – Life Saving Model Assumptions

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

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

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

Each shelter’s community dog intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty bite cases), number of dogs returned to owners, and maximum dog capacity were taken from its 2014 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the Office of Animal Welfare. Unfortunately, all the 2015 data will not be available until the end of August in 2016.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community dog intake and dogs returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 dogs were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 dogs (240/12). In July, the dog intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 dogs by 1.2 to equal 24 dogs. If 120 dogs were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of dogs returned to owners in July would equal 12 dogs (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off 2014 dog intake data on the New York Animal Care & Control web site.
  • The estimated number of community dogs returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country. If anything, this estimate is conservative (i.e. average length of stay for dogs returned to owners may be less than 5 days and therefore frees up more shelter space for adoptions) based on some shelters returning the bulk of their dogs to owners within 3 days.
  • The number of community dogs euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 5% of intake. 5% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate for shelters in New Jersey to meet given few vulnerable stray puppies (i.e. who could die or require euthanasia) arrive in the state’s animal shelters. The average length of stay for euthanized dogs is assumed to equal 14.5 days. Half of dogs are assumed euthanized for untreatable aggression towards people and 21 days is the time estimated to make that determination. The other half of dogs are assumed euthanized for severe and untreatable health issues and I estimate these dogs are euthanized after 8 days (subsequent to the end of the stray and owner surrender hold periods).
  • Adopted dogs are assumed to stay at shelters for varying lengths of time. Adoption length of stay was based on data from a study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare and the figures used (except for space-constrained shelters) are located in a prior blog on pit bull adoption. The data primarily comes from Tompkins County SPCA during a time it saved over 90% of its dogs. This was a fairly conservative data set to use as other no kill open admission shelters’ average length of stay are substantially shorter. Specifically, the following assumptions were made:
    1. 80% and 20% of each communities dogs (including pit bulls) were adults 1 year and older and under 1 year.
    2. Pit bulls were assumed to comprise 50%, 35% and 25% of community dog intake at poor, middle/upper middle class, and wealthy area animal control shelters. While some shelters may have pit bulls comprising more than 50% of their shelter dog population at a given time, this is due to pit bulls longer average length of stay. For example, a shelter with pit bulls making up 50% of their dog intake and pit bulls having an average length of stay three times longer than other dogs will have pit bulls constituting 75% of the dog population. Shelters without animal control contracts were assumed to only have pit bulls make up 10% of their community dogs (i.e. strays and owner surrenders) based on most of these shelters’ highly selective admission practices.
    3. Pit bull length of stay was taken directly from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare study. The average lengths of stay for other breeds from this study were averaged and used for dogs other than pit bulls in the analysis
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they ran out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used pit bull adoption length of stay data from Greenhill Humane Society from March 2013 through May 2014. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted pit bulls in the Greenhill Humane Society data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average dog adoption length of stay determined in the previous bullet and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • Dogs transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community dogs not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month. However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, dogs are moved from adoption (i.e. with a longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter dogs are saved, I assume additional dogs are pulled from nearby states with similar types of dogs. I assume all rescued dogs will not be killed since the transferring and receiving shelters should evaluate these dogs’ behavior. Based on pit bull type dogs having longer lengths of stay at shelters, I assume 80% of dogs rescued from local animal shelters are pit bulls and 20% are non-pit bulls. 80% and 20% of pit bull and non-pit bull type dogs are considered 1 year and older and under 1 year. The average length of stay for rescued pit bulls and other dogs are the same as above.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many local dogs New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue, rescue from other nearby animal shelters and euthanize.
  • The targeted number of dogs rescued and adopted were capped at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted were equal to this cap using the pit bull percentage assumptions above. For shelters in these counties, I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of dogs rescued and adopted for the county to equal the cap. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted rescues in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of rescues in the county to yield the targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted in the modified model.

Racism in Rescue

Racism is one of the dirty little secrets in the sheltering and rescue community. From my experience, some people in the animal welfare community hide behind the claim of protecting animals to justify racist attitudes. Even worse, such attitudes result in more shelter killing.

Several incidents opened my eyes to the issue of racism in animal welfare. While I volunteered at an urban animal control shelter with a high kill rate, a fellow volunteer took several dogs to a Boys and Girls Club in the city the facility was located in. After the event, the volunteer felt great as a number of dogs received some very good applications from families who were minorities. Subsequently, the shelter denied every single application for no good reason. Another time I helped organize an adoption event for a different shelter, which had many dogs spending years at the facility, in a middle to upper middle class community where around 45% of the population is black or Hispanic. During the event we met many potential adopters and the pet store chain was going to allow us to hold adoption days every weekend. Subsequently, a high ranking person at the shelter told us that we would not return to the location because they “didn’t like the element.” After several failed attempts to get that person to explain what they meant by “element”, we were told to drop it and the decision was final. We’ve also helped organize an adoption event that is part of a street fair for several years in a nice section of a large city. Despite having lots of people going to this street fair year after year, we’ve had great difficulty getting many local rescues and shelters to attend. While these animal welfare groups never said it was due to the location, I no doubt believe this is the reason they did not attend. Thus, I’ve directly experienced overt racism in my volunteer experience at animal shelters.

Additionally, I’ve seen shelters and rescues belittle people in urban areas. For example, Associated Humane Societies Assistant Executive Director, Scott Crawford, shared a joke that people shouldn’t go to Newark, which is where his organization’s largest shelter is located, since its a “shadowy place.” Similarly, I’ve seen rescues call urban areas around shelters they pull animals from as “ghettos.” In fact, I’ve even seen some rescues express deep sorrow that animals at high kill shelters were returned to their owners in urban areas.

The sad incident of Quattro the cat also brought out some nasty racial tensions. Last year, a 12 year old, a 10 year old and a 6 year old boy stoned a cat to death in a horrific incident in Paterson. Local animal advocates were rightfully appalled. However, online comments became so racist and vulgar that the local newspaper had to delete many of them. The animal advocates demanded all 3 boys, including the 6 year old, be charged with animal cruelty. While I certainly agree with prosecuting the older boys, I find it hard to believe that a 6 year old, who was in the presence of 2 much older boys, should have had been charged with this crime.

Subsequently, local animal advocates held a rally for Quattro in Paterson and local residents clashed with the animal activists. While I certainly understand the motivations to hold the rally, I think it was counterproductive to animal welfare in Paterson. Paterson Animal Control kills hundreds of dogs each year at its shelter and acts in secrecy. Those very residents that clashed with animal welfare activists need to become advocates for the many animals being killed at the so called city shelter. Rightly or wrongly local residents equated the racist online comments with the animal welfare activists’ desire to charge all 3 children with animal cruelty. Additionally, the Paterson residents felt the animal activists were outsiders and were ignoring the very real issue of children being killed in the city. Clearly, this effort did not help many Paterson residents become sympathetic to the cause of animal welfare despite the organizers’ good intentions.

Humane organizations until fairly recently used to profile black pit bull owners and seize their dogs. In 2003, Sociologist Arnold Arluke published an article titled “Ethnozoology and the Future of Sociology,” in The International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy. The following extract from that article provides a frightening summary of this practice:

Seizing Black Pit Bull Owners dogs

Kim Wolf, who formerly worked at Animal Farm Foundation and currently runs an organization supporting inner city pet owners, rightfully explained that this practice led people in the inner city to distrust animal welfare organizations. After all, if humane organizations are seen as groups that will steal your family member and likely kill them in the process, then how can you expect people in inner cities to support animal shelters and rescues?

Racism may also happen unconsciously in ways we are not aware of. Research over the last two decades on implicit or unconscious bias has shown almost all people naturally discriminate in many ways. In fact, 20% of large companies in the United States even have training classes on this topic. Basically, our brains evolved to make split second decisions to help us avoid dangers. During prehistoric times, our brains needed biases to make these quick decisions, such as hiding from or attacking anything unfamiliar to us. In the modern world, these biases can have nasty effects, such as wrongly denying a qualified minority a job, a promotion or a shelter animal. The key thing is nearly every person has these biases and it does not mean everyone is a racist. However, people need to always step back and review their actions and try to uncover their natural biases that may have negative unintended consequences. For example, if a shelter or rescue refuses to adopt out an animal to a young black or Hispanic man from an urban area, is it for legitimate reasons or is it simply unconscious bias? Thus, shelters and rescues should become aware of their own natural biases and work to eliminate those that serve no legitimate purpose for animal welfare.

Racism’s Deadly Consequences for Homeless Animals

Rescues and shelters must increase their market share to end the killing of healthy and treatable animals. Approximately 17 million people in the country will acquire a dog or cat each year and would consider obtaining that animal from a shelter or rescue. Around 3 million dogs and cats are adopted while about 3 million of these animals are killed in shelters each year. If shelters can increase their market share from 3 million to 6 million of those 17 million potential homes, shelters will no longer kill healthy and treatable animals. Thus, shelters and rescues must persuade 35% of these 17 million people to choose to adopt.

Animal welfare organizations must make in-roads in under-served communities to increase market share to end the killing of healthy and treatable shelter animals. According to HSUS, 30% of dogs and cats in American homes came from a shelter or a rescue. On the other hand, in poor or under-served urban communities, which have very large minority populations, only 3% of owned dogs and cats came from shelters or rescues. 71% of people in these areas acquire their dogs from family, friends, neighbors or breeders. Furthermore, HSUS stated that they are seeing pet stores, which obtain puppies from cruelly bred puppy-mill dogs, market more aggressively to people in poor urban areas through things such as layaway plans. These facts suggest that a significant portion of the increased market share needed to end shelter killing must come from minority groups living in poor urban areas.

Increasing market share in poor under-served communities will raise spay/neuter rates and improve the welfare of pets. HSUS found 87% of dogs and cats in these areas were not altered and most pets had not seen a veterinarian. However, HSUS noted poor urban areas had no veterinarians, and even when present, these veterinarian offices were often far away and hard to reach for pet owners. If shelters adopt out dogs and cats to pet owners in under-served areas, these folks will have spayed/neutered rather than intact animals and the homeless pet population should decrease over time. Furthermore, shelters can build relationships with pet owners in poor urban areas through adoptions and can then help these folks access low-cost veterinary care. Thus, shelters and rescues can help end shelter killing and increase animal welfare by gaining market share in under-served communities.

Sadly, many shelters and rescues refuse to adopt out animals to people in under-served communities. A recent study obtained demographic data from people who adopted animals from shelters and pit bull rescues. Blacks adopted less than 1% of the dogs from the shelters and the pit bull rescues. Additionally, Hispanics only adopted 3% and less than 1% of the dogs from the shelters and the pit bull rescues. On the other hand, whites adopted 90% and 93% of the shelters’ and the pit bull rescues’ dogs. As a comparison, blacks, Hispanics and whites make up 13%, 17% and 63% of the country’s population. Less than 5% of the adopters did not attend college. Also, only 12% and 7% of the animal shelters’ and pit bull rescues’ adopters earned less than $30,000 a year. Thus, the study found few minorities, people with less education, and lower income people obtained pets from shelters and pit bull rescues.

Shelters and rescues need to abandon their fears and reach out to minorities and under-served communities to save lives. While I understand the concerns of shelters and rescues about placing animals in poor communities, I think these fears are grossly exaggerated. HSUS’s Pets for Life program has found people in under-served communities generally are viable adoption candidates. In fact, many people already do informal rescue by taking animals in from the streets. Additionally, HSUS has been able to persuade 74% of people they meet with intact animals in under-served communities to alter their pets and nearly 90% of these folks actually spay/neuter their dog or cat. Downtown Dog Rescue and Beyond Breed documented people lined up for hours to access free/true low-cost spay/neuter services. Certainly, adopters with less economic resources and education need more support, but that outreach already is needed. Like it or not, these folks will obtain a dog or cat from some source. If it is your shelter or rescue, you can then supply them with an altered and vaccinated animal. Perhaps more importantly, you will establish a relationship that can help provide education on pet ownership. Thus, shelters and rescues need to reach out to under-served communities and minorities to save lives and improve animal welfare.

Shelters and rescues need to take proactive steps to reduce racism and save lives. Animal welfare organizations should compare their percentage of minority adoptions and the percentage minorities comprise of the overall population in their areas and set goals to reduce the divergence in these numbers. In other words, if blacks and Hispanics make up 30% of the population in a shelter’s/rescue’s area, the shelter/rescue should strive to adopt out a roughly similar percentage of their animals to these racial groups. Of course, shelters and rescues should do this by reaching out to new adopters who can help the organization save lives. Even if shelters and rescues can’t achieve this perfect balance, there is no reason they can’t improve adoption numbers to minorities and/or those folks who live in under-served areas.

At the end of the day, shelters and rescues have to make a decision whether they want to end the killing of healthy and treatable animals. While a state with a relatively low per capita intake of homeless animals like New Jersey may not need to reach as many new adopters as other areas, we do need to do so if we want a no kill country. Based on the numbers above, our country needs to adopt out roughly 19 dogs and cats per 1,000 people to end the killing of healthy and treatable pets. This per capita adoption rate is towards the upper portion of the range of existing no kill animal control shelters. States with low intake like New Jersey not only need to take care of their own animals, but must help other states as well. We can save these animals, but will rescues and shelters abandon their racial and other biases to do so? Hopefully, the sheltering and rescue community chooses to save more lives and help ease racial tensions.

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.

Shelter Reform Roundtable Set Up to Fail


As a response to the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter debacle, State Senator Linda Greenstein took up the issue of shelter reform. State Senator Greenstein’s district contains several municipalities which contracted with Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter. Ms. Greenstein found out firsthand what the true nature of many New Jersey’s shelters are like when she was denied access to the facility.

State Senator Greenstein convened a roundtable recently on reforming New Jersey’s animal shelter system. Understandably, Ms. Greenstein attempted to bring together a variety of people who could provide valuable input into the eventual drafting of shelter reform legislation. Unfortunately, many of these individuals represent obstacles to meaningful shelter reform legislation.

Humane Society of the United States and Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey Dominate Roundtable

Despite its name, the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) has been one of the biggest opponents to real shelter reform in the nation. In the 1990’s, HSUS told shelters to kill rather than send animals to rescues due to moving the animals being potentially “stressful.” In 2003, HSUS argued a shelter should not give a euthanasia list to a rescue group dedicated to saving animals from a local kill shelter. HSUS advised the shelter not to work with this rescue group arguing the rescue group was holding the shelter “hostage.” Ironically, regressive shelters often hold animals hostage in exchange for rescues not speaking the truth about these organizations. In 1998, HSUS opposed Hayden’s Act in California which prevented shelters from killing animals that rescues were willing to save. Luckily, California enacted this legislation which resulted in rescues saving large numbers of animals. During the 1990s, feral cat activists in North Carolina requested HSUS help them persuade their local shelter to allow TNR in their area. Not only did HSUS refuse to help the TNR advocates, HSUS wrote a letter to the local prosecutor stating feral cat colony caretakers should be charged with abandonment. Around 2007, HSUS raised funds from the public to “care for the dogs” seized during the Michael Vick dog fighting case, but did not care for the dogs and actually lobbied authorities to kill these dogs. Last year, HSUS stopped a Minnesota bill which would prevent shelters from killing animals rescues were willing to take, ban the gas chamber and heart sticking, and killing owner surrenders immediately. Thus, HSUS has long opposed progressive shelter reform efforts.

HSUS actions are consistent with an industry lobbying group focused on protecting the organizations it represents and not the animals. Most industries have a lobbying group to advocate for its companies’ interests. For example, the American Bankers Association works to undermine financial regulations. The American Petroleum Institute spends large sums of money to open up lands to exploit natural resources at the cost of the the environment. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which is the major lobbyist for the food industry, has fought to kill legislation requiring food companies to label products with genetically modified (“GMO”) ingredients. Similarly, HSUS tries to block efforts designed to make shelters do more work and face more scrutiny. Thus, HSUS is nothing more than an industry lobbyist group with a kind name when it comes to shelter reform legislation.

The Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey (“AWFNJ”) also has a poor track record. This group’s mission statement includes “uniting all New Jersey animal protection organizations”, but makes no mention of reducing the death toll at New Jersey animal shelters. Based on the most recently reported data to the Office of Animal Welfare, 27,936 dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing at New Jersey Animal shelters in a single year. This number rises to 30,048 if dogs and cats shelters failed to account for are included in the totals. Despite the severe problems at numerous New Jersey shelters in the last year, the AWFNJ was shockingly silent. In fact, the AWFNJ’s web site currently lists the former manager of one of these problem shelters as a member of its Board of Directors. The Montclair Township Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, whose Vice Chair is a local respected veterinarian, long advocated the Shelter Manager, Melissa Neiss, be replaced due to the shelter’s alleged neglect of its animals. Why should we trust an organization which allows this sort of person to serve on their Board of Directors? Even worse, the AWFNJ wrote a letter to Governor Christie in 2011 opposing new legislation preventing shelters from killing owner surrenders during a 7 day hold period. Luckily, the 7 day hold period for owner surrendered animals became law and killing owner surrendered animals within minutes of arriving at shelters is now illegal. Thus, the AWFNJ has done little to nothing to stop recent shelter abuses and tried to block essential shelter reform.

HSUS and AWFNJ have too much influence over the shelter reform roundtable. New Jersey State Director of HSUS and AWFNJ board member, Kathleen Schatzmann, serves on the roundtable. Niki Dawson, who worked at HSUS in 2012, and recently served as AWFNJ President is also a member of the roundtable. Similarly, St. Huberts Executive Director, Heather Cammissa, held several positions at HSUS, including Kathleen Schatzmann’s current job, and and is on the Advisory Board of AWFNJ. Additionally, the current AWFNJ President and Director of Animal Alliance, Anne Trinkle, also serves on the shelter reform roundtable. Thus, the shelter establishment industry has too much of a voice in actually reforming and regulating New Jersey’s animal shelters.

Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s Failed Regulator Serves on Shelter Reform Roundtable

The Director of Middlesex County Department of Health, Lester Jones, is also a roundtable member. Mr. Jones’ agency allowed the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter to go on its merry way for years despite large numbers of complaints and poor inspection reports. Even worse, Lester Jones actually defended the shelter last August saying the problems were no big deal and again in September. Additionally, the Middlesex County Department of Health opposes TNR and Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter fulfilled Lester’s department’s wish with the facility’s catch and kill policy for feral cats. While Lester Jones did make some meaningful suggestions at the roundtable, the past history of his organization is worrisome.

Shelter Establishment Shows its True Colors at Shelter Reform Roundtable

State Senator Greenstein made some key points about New Jersey’s shelters. Specifically, State Senator Greenstein said existing shelter law and its enforcement allows many shelters to do bad things. Ms. Greenstein cited Helmetta as an example of a shelter which took too many animals in to properly care for them.

State Senator Greenstein correctly pointed out the distinction between kill and no kill shelters as follows:

“My take on this whole thing standing back on it and looking at it is that it comes down to these competing philosophies,” she said. “There’s the old-fashion philosophy which we call a kill shelter. I realize that you are pretty much taking the animals in like you would any other trash and you have to keep them for a week then you probably much expect to get rid of them and that leads to the idea of that it’s ok for them to get sick and it’s ok for the conditions not to be too clean and the state standards don’t require too much.”

She said then there the whole new philosophy that you shelters that are doing a good job are into this “no kill philosophy.”

“Try to get them adopted and do whatever you can to keep them healthy,” she said.

Despite this correct and common sense summary of the situation, the shelter industry hacks jumped in and said don’t use the words “kill” and “no kill” as it apparently hurts the feelings of people killing their animals:

New Jersey State Director of the Humane Society of the United States Kathleen Schatzmann warned that the term “no kill shelter” could be “very polarizing to certain groups.” “If perhaps we cannot use that terminology I think all of the good groups have the same end goal in mind to lessen the euthanasia rates and have as much adoption and volunteer participation as possible,” said Ms. Schatzmann.

No kill is mainstream now as major national groups, such as Maddies Fund and Best Friends use the term. In fact, Best Friends argues we should start being honest and drop the word “euthanasia” altogether and use “kill” when shelters take the lives of healthy and treatable animals. Both these groups directly are working on making large communities no kill while HSUS contributes hardly any of its funds to saving companion animals. Additionally, the more we avoid being honest about what is at stake (i.e. whether we kill animals or not), the less likely we will take action to stop it. Thus, HSUS employee and AWFNJ board member, Kathleen Schatzmann, once again shows these groups are more focused on protecting the shelter industry than the animals who are being slaughtered by the people running these so called shelters.

Former HSUS employee and ex-AWNJ President, Niki Dawson, showed where her allegiances lie with this doozy of a remark:

Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter Interim Director Niki Dawson agreed that the phrase should be “avoided.” “It is polarizing for those animal facilities that are doing the best that they can but may not have the resources to have an on-site behavioral trainer to work with some of the more difficult dogs,” said Ms. Dawson.

So shelters are killing animals because they can’t afford a behaviorist? This is a joke as shelters across the nation with few financial resources manage to save their dogs. Perth Amboy Animal Shelter, which serves a community with a higher poverty rate than Jersey City, saved 97% of its dogs in 2013 and only euthanized 5 dogs in 2014. Additionally, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter only spent $281 per cat and dog in 2013. As a comparison, East Orange Animal Shelter, which had horrific problems last year, spent $345 per dog and cat in 2013. Associated Humane Societies, which has its largest kill shelter in Newark, took in revenue of around $1,000 per dog and cat based on its most recently reported data. Similarly, Old Bridge Animal Shelter, which serves a middle class area, saved 99% of its dogs despite only having a budget of $152 per dog and cat in 2013. If Perth Amboy Animal Shelter and Old Bridge Animal Shelter can achieve this success with their meager funding, then other shelters can do so as well.

Shelters do not require an on-site behavioral trainer to save their dogs. Approximately 80-90% of dogs coming into shelters do not have severe behavior issues. Therefore, shelters can achieve no kill or come close to doing so without needing serious behavior rehabilitation. Shelters can hire a trainer on a part time basis or even get a trainer to volunteer their services to help the few dogs with serious behavior issues. Finally, shelters can run large scale dog play groups, such as Amy Sadler’s Playing for Life program, which significantly reduces behavior problems in shelter dogs. Most importantly, these types of playgroups do not require a trainer or behaviorist.

Niki Dawson’s comments are very disappointing, but not surprising. While I held out hope Ms. Dawson changed her ways, her past experience working at HSUS and at high kill shelters likely still impacts her mindset. While serving as Executive Director at Camden County Animal Shelter, the dog kill rate increased from approximately 20% in 2007 and 19% in 2008, the two years before Ms. Dawson’s tenure as Executive Director began near the end of 2008, to 28% in her last calender year at the shelter in 2010. In 2013, Camden County Animal Shelter’s kill rate was back down to 19%. In 2010 while Niki Dawson was assisting Liberty Humane Society, many people in the community criticized her shelter for killing dogs. In a roughly one month span, Liberty Humane Society killed 25 dogs along with 47 cats and some people questioned how the shelter used temperament testing to make life and death decisions for dogs. No kill leader, Nathan Winograd, told Ms. Dawson she was not doing enough positive outreach and she had alternatives to killing dogs. Thus, Ms. Dawson’s defense of high kill shelters is not surprising based on her fairly recent experience running these types of facilities.

St. Huberts Executive Director, Heather Cammisa, who used to work at HSUS and is on the AWFNJ Advisory Board, said New Jersey’s animal shelters are just dandy:

Executive Director of St. Hubert’s Heather Cammisa said that they have made tremendous progress in New Jersey in not euthanizing animals.”We’ve come a really far way so now that we can share how we got there with our states they look up to us as a leader,” said Ms. Cammisa. She attributes it to responsive, effective animal control in every municipality, low-cost spay and neutering accessibility and the law in 1983.

Call me crazy, but I don’t consider the loss of as many as 30,000 or more dog and cat lives in New Jersey shelters during 2013 a success. Furthermore, would you consider Ron’s Animal Shelter an example of “tremendous progress?” Ron’s Animal Shelter killed 65% and 86% of its dogs and cats in 2013 and reported virtually identical kill rates in 2006. Any state that allows a shelter to keep on operating a slaughterhouse like that is no “leader.” Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters had a combined dog and cat kill rate of 28% in 2013 while only 11% of dogs and cats were euthanized in Colorado’s animal shelters during that same year. New Jersey’s kill rate was nearly 3 times higher than Colorado’s euthanasia rate despite Colorado shelters taking in nearly 3.5 times as many dogs and cats per capita. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters are not “leaders”, they are an embarrassment.

Like Niki Dawson, Heather Cammissa’s past history working for a kill shelter likely influences her views. Ms. Cammissa served as Executive Director of the Jersey Shore Animal Center for 5 years. During her last year as Executive Director in 2006, the shelter killed 45% of its cats. Furthermore, she worked for HSUS during a tumultuous time when HSUS vehemently opposed the no kill movement. Not surprisingly, her current shelter refuses to use the term “no kill” and says its “divisive among animal welfare professionals.”

That being said, Ms. Cammissa did say New Jersey shelters need to “clean up” their data reporting. Unfortunately, many more things need fixing as well.

Animal Alliance Director and AWFNJ President Anne Trinkle claimed our laws are fine and we just need better enforcement:

“The law, as it is written, is pretty comprehensive it is just a matter of enforcement,” said Annie Trinkle, director of Animal Alliance and Welfare Federation of New Jersey.

I do agree that New Jersey animal shelter laws are reasonably good relating to humane care. Certainly, effective enforcement would help. However, the penalties for noncompliance are too weak and municipalities hold too much power when things go wrong. Additionally, more specificity on how humane care is provided, such as requiring animal enclosures be cleaned twice a day, is needed. As a result, a horrific shelter like Helmetta can continue on its merry way for far too long.

Enforcing shelter laws mandating humane care may lead to increased killing if lifesaving requirements are not put into law. Simply put, shelters can comply with existing laws cheaply and easily by killing animals right after their 7 day hold period. That is why I recommend that New Jersey enact the Companion Animal Protection Act.

Shelter Reform Roundtable Members from Outside the Animal Shelter Lobby Must Stand Up and Fight for What is Right

The shelters invited to the roundtable are not role model shelters in my opinion. While these shelters do have relatively low euthanasia rates and I’m sure provide humane care, these organizations’ contribution to making New Jersey a no kill state falls far below their potential. Specifically, these shelters are blessed with excess space relative to the number of local animals they need to adopt out and some serve very affluent areas. Unfortunately, based on my recent analysis of these shelters’ performance on dogs and an upcoming one on cats, these organizations do not save nearly as many animals from New Jersey as they should. Thus, these groups are not rock star shelters and their low euthanasia rates are due more to favorable circumstances than highly successful operations.

State Senator Greenstein said certain members of the roundtable were not interested in fundamental change. Unfortunately, this is not surprising given the number of the establishment shelter industry insiders on the roundtable.

As I’ve previously stated, our state’s shelter system needs monumental changes if we are going to become a no kill state. Specifically, we need to do the following things to end the killing of healthy and treatable animals in New Jersey:

  1. Require the Office of Animal Welfare to do quarterly inspections for every shelter in the state
  2. Institute the Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”)
  3. Enact a no kill resolution instructing all shelters to develop a plan to reach at least a 90% save rate as the Austin, Texas City Council did
  4. Mandatory data reporting in the Companion Animal Protection Act should require an audit or at least a thorough independent review for accuracy

CAPA and a no kill resolution are essential as regressive shelters will simply kill more animals after the 7 day hold period if we raise humane care standards. Furthermore, too many shelters, such as Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter, will bully volunteers and rescues from speaking up about poor treatment of animals without explicit laws making this illegal. CAPA requires shelters to follow many parts of the no kill equation, which is a series of programs proven to reduce or actually end the killing of savable animals. Specifically, CAPA requires animal shelters/municipalities do the following common sense things:

  1. Implement TNR and prohibit anti-feral cat policies
  2. Develop detailed animal care protocols for all animals, which includes nursing mothers, unweaned kittens and puppies, and animals which are old, sick, injured or needing therapeutic exercise
  3. Clean animal enclosures at least two times per day to maintain proper hygiene and be welcoming to prospective adopters
  4. Not kill any animal a rescue is willing to take
  5. Prohibit banning of rescues unless the rescue is currently charged with or convicted of animal cruelty/neglect
  6. Contact all rescues at least two business days before an animal is killed
  7. Match lost pet reports with animals in shelter and post stray animals on the internet immediately to help find lost pets owners
  8. Promote animals for adoption using local media and the internet
  9. Adopt animals out seven days a week for at least six hours each day, which includes evenings and weekends when potential adopters are likely to visit
  10. Not have discriminatory adoption policies based on breed/age/species/appearance (i.e. can’t prohibit pit bull, elderly pet, etc. adoptions)
  11. Offer low cost spay/neuter services, substantive volunteer opportunities to the public, and pet owner surrender prevention services
  12. Not kill any animals when empty cages exist, enclosures can be shared with other animals, or foster homes are available
  13. Shelter Executive Director must certify they have no other alternative when killing/euthanizing an animal
  14. Publicly display animal shelter intake and disposition statistics (i.e. numbers of animals taken in, adopted, returned to owner, killed, etc) for the prior year
  15. Provide the local government and the public access to the intake and disposition statistics each month
  16. Pet licensing revenues must be used to fund low cost spay/neuter and medical care for shelter animals rather than go to other government uses

My advice to the other roundtable members, such as the two former Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter volunteers and State Senator Greenstein, is to stand up for what is right. Do not let people with imposing sounding job titles intimidate you. The public is behind you and wants you to enact the above things. As in Austin, Texas, activists fought the Austin Animal Services shelter director and the ASPCA and made their city the largest no kill community in the country. Like the HSUS and former HSUS members on the roundtable, the ASPCA told activists not to criticize the high kill city shelter. After 1 year of implementing the ASPCA plan, killing actually increased by 11%. No kill activists subsequently convinced the City Council to implement the no kill resolution despite the ASPCA’s opposition and Austin has been a no kill city for the last four years.

To those not on the shelter reform roundtable, please contact State Senator Greenstein at this link and tell her you want fundamental change like the recommendations above.

Our shelter system is in crisis and we need to call out the defenders and enablers of the status quo. If we truly want to save our state’s homeless animals, we need to say enough is enough. Only then will we put the policies into place to make New Jersey the no kill state it should be.