In 2004, Passaic Animal Shelter banned its volunteer group for allegedly “violating a number of policies.” However, the volunteers, who were also known as Helping Hands Passaic, also complained about the facility’s poor conditions and unnecessary killing. Therefore, Passaic Animal Shelter, like many regressive facilities, banned the volunteers in order to protect themselves at the expense of the animals.
The New Jersey Department of Health vindicated the volunteers after it issued a scathing inspection report later that year. The inspection report’s key findings were as follows:
- Illegal killing of stray cats during the seven day hold period
- Inadequate isolation of a kitten with ringworm
- Several cats and dogs did not have access to water
- Two outdoor dog runs had metal pipes with rusty and sharp edges that could cause serious injuries
- Improper food storage, including cleaning solution spilled on dog food bags
- Improper record keeping
- No required inspection performed by the Passaic Health Department
- An animal control officer left an opossum in a vehicle for two hours in 107 degree temperatures
After the inspection, the NJ SPCA issued three summonses to shelter staff for needlessly killing the stray cats during the seven day hold period and leaving the opossum in the hot vehicle. Despite this horrific treatment of animals, one of the charged staff, Marilyn Comerford, stayed on as the Animal Control Officer for 10 more years until she retired in 2014. Even worse, the City of Passaic honored Ms. Comerford, who also was the shelter manager, “for her years of dedication and service.”
How does the Passaic Animal Shelter perform today? Is the shelter a refuge for homeless animals or a place where they go to die?
Passaic Runs a High Kill Shelter
Passaic Animal Shelter killed many dogs at its shelter in 2016. You can view the actual records here. Overall, 22% of all dogs who were impounded in 2016 lost their lives at the Passaic Animal Shelter. If we just count the dogs not reclaimed by owners (i.e. dogs the shelter had to find new homes for), 39% of all the dogs Passaic Animal Shelter took in during 2016 were killed or died. In other words, more than one out of three dogs Passaic Animal Shelter had to find new homes for lost their lives.
Passaic Animal Shelter killed large numbers of pit bulls. Of the 86 pit bulls arriving at Passaic Animal Shelter in 2016, 33 or 39% of these animals lost their lives. If we just count pit bulls Passaic Animal Shelter had to find new homes for, 58% of these dogs lost their lives. Thus, Passaic Animal Shelter operated more like a pit bull killing factory than a shelter for pit bulls.
While Passaic Animal Shelter’s live release rate appeared good for small dogs and other non-pit bull like dogs, it still killed too many of these animals. 10% of small dogs and 13% of other non-pit bull like dogs impounded during 2016 and not reclaimed by owners lost their lives. As a comparison, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, which is not a role model shelter, only euthanized 2% of nonreclaimed small dogs and 6% of nonreclaimed medium-large sized breeds other than pit bulls in 2016. Thus, Passaic Animal Shelter killed too many small dogs and medium to large sized non-pit bull like dogs.
Passaic Animal Shelter adopted out hardly any dogs. Of the 170 dogs arriving at Passaic Animal Shelter in 2016, the facility adopted out just 8 dogs or 5% of the dogs it took in. To put it another way, the shelter adopted out just 1 dog every 1.5 months. Frankly, a single person could foster and adopt out more dogs than the Passaic Animal Shelter did last year. Given this tiny number of dog adoptions, is it any wonder why the shelter kills so many dogs?
Passaic Animal Shelter also killed large numbers of cats. You can read the actual records here. Overall, 48% of the 292 cats who were impounded during 2016 lost their lives. 45% of neonatal kittens (under 6 weeks old), 43% of older kittens (6 weeks to under 1 year) and 58% of adult cats (1 year and older) failed to leave the shelter alive. Simply put, Passaic Animal Shelter performed terribly for all types of cats.
Austin Animal Center in Texas proves Passaic Animal Shelter can save all of its healthy and treatable cats. Only 5% of all cats, 7% of cats 1 year and older, 3% of kittens aged 6 weeks to just under 1 year and 5% of kittens under 6 weeks lost their lives or went missing at Austin Animal Center in 2016. In other words, the death rate at Passaic Animal Shelter was 8 to 14 times greater for cats of various ages. Therefore, despite Passaic Animal Shelter impounding far fewer cats than Austin Animal Center in total and on a per capita basis, Passaic Animal Shelter killed a much higher percentage of these animals.
Passaic Animal Shelter also hardly adopted out any cats. Of the 292 cats entering the shelter in 2016, only 32 cats or 11% were adopted out. In fact, Passaic Animal Shelter only adopted out 1 cat every week and a half. To put it bluntly, the shelter seemed to make little to no effort to adopt out its cats.
Passaic Animal Shelter’s length of stay data reveals it quickly killed dogs. On average, Passaic Animal Shelter killed all dogs after 18.9 days, pit bulls after 41.9 days, and small dogs after 10.7 days. Only one dog from other breeds was killed making its 103 day length of stay irrelevant.
To make matters worse, Passaic Animal Shelter killed dogs with empty kennels. Based on an equation for determining a shelter’s population, we can estimate the Passaic Animal Shelter’s average dog population during the year. Using the 170 annual dog intake figure and the 19.3 day average length of stay for all dogs, we can estimate Passaic Animal Shelter had on average 9 dogs in its shelter during 2016. The Passaic Department of Health’s June 7, 2016 inspection report (10 dogs at facility) and Passaic Animal Shelter’s 2016 Shelter/Pound Annual Report (7 dogs and 10 dogs at facility on 1/1/16 and 12/31/16) indicate this estimate was reasonable. 9 dogs only represents 3/4 of the shelter’s 12 dog capacity per its 2016 Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Thus, Passaic Animal Shelter killed dogs while other kennels remained empty during the year.
Passaic Animal Shelter quickly killed cats and took too long to safely place the other cats. On average, the shelter killed all cats after 23.3 days, neonatal kittens after 20.5 days, older kittens after 29.0 days and adult cats after just 19.5 days. With Passaic Animal Shelter killing so many cats, one would expect the facility to have an easy time adopting out the remainder who should have exhibited few behavioral or medical issues. On average, Passaic Animal Shelter adopted out all cats after 56.9 days, neonatal kittens after 71.7 days, older kittens after 40.0 days and adult cats after 71.8 days. Similarly, Passaic Animal Shelter took 43.4 days to send cats of all ages to rescues with adult cats taking nearly 2 months. As a comparison, Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society, which serves as an animal control shelter, achieved a live release rate of 91% for cats over 4 months of age as well as for kittens 4 months and under with average lengths of stay of just 23 days for the older cats and 27 days for the younger cats in 2016. In other words, cats at Passaic Animal Shelter lost their lives at 5 times the rate as Longmont Humane Society despite Longmont Humane Society impounding more cats and having a 30% lower average length of stay than Passaic Animal Shelter (24.4 days verses 34.6 days).
The shelter also killed cats when empty cages existed. Based on the same equation used for dogs above, Passaic Animal Shelter only had an average population of 28 cats in 2016 compared to a capacity of 35 cats. The Passaic Department of Health’s June 7, 2016 inspection report (25 cats at facility) and Passaic Animal Shelter’s 2016 Shelter/Pound Annual Report (13 cats and 17 cats at facility on 1/1/16 and 12/31/16) indicate this estimate was not too low. While the shelter may have been full during certain kitten season months, the shelter clearly killed cats while empty cages existed in many other parts of the year.
Passaic Animal Shelter Fails to Provide Good Reasons for Killing
Passaic Animal Shelter killed most of its dogs for no reason. Overall, Passaic Animal Shelter listed no documented reason in the records provided to me for 69% of the dogs it killed. In other words, the shelter could not even explain why it took these animals’ lives. The shelter listed “aggressive” and “unpredictable” as reasons for 11% of the dogs it killed. Of the remaining reasons for killing dogs, Passaic Animal Shelter reported 8% were for bite cases, 6% were for serious injuries, 3% were for being nervous and 3% had an undisclosed illness.
Hazel was an adult pit bull surrendered by her owner to the Passaic Animal Shelter on May 22, 2016. According to the shelter, Hazel had a “good” temperament, was not “aggressive” and had not bitten anyone. Despite this dog being clearly adoptable, Passaic Animal Shelter killed her for no documented reason 12 days later.
Kahloua was a 4 year old pit bull surrendered to the Passaic Animal Shelter by her owner on August 1, 2016. Her owner wrote a letter stating the dog was “not aggressive”, was “friendly”, was “happy”, “likes attention”, has “a good appetite” and “likes to play.” The owner also informed the shelter that Kahloua barked a little bit at people at first, but stopped once she got to know them. Despite the owner’s obvious plea to not kill her dog, Passaic Animal Shelter killed Kahloua 18 days later for no documented reason.
King was a stray adult pit bull picked up at a Burger King on December 21, 2016. Passaic Animal Shelter stated King had a “good” temperament, was not aggressive and was not involved in a bite incident. Despite King being obviously adoptable and arriving at a time of the year when few animals come into animal shelters, Passaic Animal Shelter killed King just 8 days later.
Passaic Animal Shelter Kills Cats for No Reasons and Preventable Conditions
Passaic Animal Shelter killed cats using the reasons in the table below. Overall, the shelter most commonly killed cats for no documented rationale. Additionally, the facility often killed cats for exhibiting illnesses, such as Feline Panleukopenia and upper respiratory infections, that it could significantly reduce by vaccinating cats upon intake to the facility, using volunteers to provide enrichment (improves immune response to disease), cleaning the shelter properly, and reducing the animals’ length of stay in a good way. Also, many of the cats with undisclosed illnesses likely had one of these preventable diseases. Thus, Passaic Animal Shelter killed numerous cats for no reasons and preventable causes.
Cat C66 was a 1 year old cat surrendered to the Passaic Animal Shelter by its owner on May 23, 2016. After just 11 days, Passaic Animal Shelter killed this cat for no documented reason.
Cat C188 was a 4 month old cat picked up a stray on August 25, 2016. Subsequently, the cat was surrendered to the Passaic Animal Shelter by his owner on September 6, 2016. After 21 days, Passaic Animal Shelter killed him and 3 other cats he came in with for having Feline Panleukopenia. Given the 14 day incubation period and the many other cases at Passaic Animal Shelter, it is likely Cat C188 and the other cats he came in with contracted the disease at the shelter.
Frankly, the large number of Feline Panleukopenia cases at Passaic Animal Shelter are disturbing. Shelter medicine experts state shelters can greatly reduce the instances of this disease by vaccinating animals upon intake, housing cats appropriately, and cleaning effectively:
Although a scary and potentially devastating disease in a shelter, reliable vaccination on intake, effective routine cleaning with a parvocidal disinfectant, and housing that minimizes fomite transmission will greatly reduce the risk of spread. With new tools for diagnosis and risk assessment, even outbreaks can generally be managed without resorting to depopulation.
Furthermore, if Passaic Animal Shelter welcomed volunteers, it could treat cats with Feline Panleukopenia by sending these animals to specially trained fosters (technically the shelter has a foster program, but the facility does not promote fostering and few people would be willing to return fostered kittens to a high kill shelter). At these homes, the cats would receive anti-nausea drugs, antibiotics and fluid therapy in an safe environment where they would not infect other animals.
Cat C175 was a stray adult cat taken to the Passaic Animal Shelter on August 17, 2016. After 27 days, Passaic Animal Shelter killed her for being dehydrated, underweight and being icteric (i.e. having jaundice). Since this cat was at the Passaic Animal Shelter for nearly a month, she likely contracted the disease causing these symptoms at the facility.
Veterinarian Contracts Support Killing
Passaic Animal Shelter contracts with Rutherford Animal Hospital to provide veterinary care. On the surface, Rutherford Animal Hospital looks like an excellent choice given it is a large and modern veterinary facility. However, when one looks at the specifics in the contracts, major concerns arise.
Passaic Animal Shelter rarely vaccinates animals upon intake. While Rutherford Animal Hospital vaccinates the shelter’s animals, it visits the shelter as little as twice a week. Since Rutherford Animal Hospital, and not anyone who works at the shelter, vaccinates animals, many dogs and cats, including ones carrying highly contagious diseases, will sit in the facility spreading disease until the outside veterinarian comes to the shelter. The UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program clearly explains why shelters must immediately vaccinate animals to control diseases in their facilities:
When should the vaccine be given?
Immediately upon intake, if not sooner! In almost all cases, shelter animals should be vaccinated immediately upon intake. A delay of even a day or two will significantly compromise the vaccine’s ability to provide protection. In a cost saving effort, some shelters delay vaccination until the animal is made available for adoption, or even until it is adopted. While this does provide a service to adopters, the protective effect of the vaccine within the shelter is greatly reduced or eliminated. (In some cases, the chance of the vaccine preventing disease may be 90% or better if given the day before exposure, but will drop to less than 1% if given the day after exposure.) When possible, vaccination prior to intake is ideal (e.g. for owner surrendered animals or those returning from foster care).
Therefore, Passaic Animal Shelter’s vaccination program is ineffective and this may partially explain why the facility killed so many cats for illnesses and had so many other cats die.
Passaic Animal Shelter’s contract provides details on the veterinary funding it provides. In the City of Passaic’s contract with Rutherford Animal Hospital, Passaic only pays $1,516 per month for veterinary services and $70.82 per month to test the cats it adopts out for FIV testing. Based on the details of the arrangement outlined in Rutherford Animal Hospital’s response to Passaic’s request for proposal, the city will only pay $850 per year for the FIV testing. Therefore, Passaic could pay Rutherford Animal Hospital a maximum of $19,150 per year ($20,000 total fee cap – $850 FIV fee) to provide veterinary care (excluding FIV testing and spay/neuter which adopters pay for) or $41.45 per dog and cat the shelter impounded in 2016.
The City of Passaic’s veterinary funding is inadequate. After we back out the cost of vaccines of approximately $15.53 per animal (based on $21.25 per adult dog, $27.25 per puppy, $9.25 per adult cat and $13.25 per kitten according the Maddie’s Fund’s Financial Management Tool) from the average $41.45 veterinary care fee per animal, Passaic Animal Shelter would have just $25.92 to treat each animal for all other illnesses and injuries. Clearly, that is not nearly enough to treat sick or injured animals. Given this fee also must cover the cost of killing, the city and Rutherford Animal Hospital have strong incentives to kill any animal where veterinary treatment may be costly or might not work. Thus, the contract’s financial terms encourage killing.
Rutherford Animal Hospital plays a major role in Passaic Animal Shelter’s high kill operation. Specifically, Rutherford Animal Hospital “makes the final determination of status of animal for adoption, fostering or euthanasia.” In other words, Rutherford Animal Hospital approves all the absurd reasons for killing animals documented in this blog. Sadly, Rutherford Animal Hospital apparently chooses to kill for financial reasons rather than treat the shelter animals like valued clients from its private practice.
Passaic Animal Shelter’s contract with Rutherford Animal Hospital seems to indirectly cap adoptions at a low number. According to the City of Passaic’s contract for spay/neuter services with Rutherford Animal Hospital, it only pays a maximum of $6,000 per year with $80, $55 and $130 fees to spay/neuter each female cat, male cat and dog of either sex. Assuming the shelter used its spay/neuter fees based on the proportions of dogs and cats it took in (i.e. 37% dogs, 63% cats) and altered equal numbers of each sex, it could only spay/neuter 17 dogs and 56 cats. Based on the shelter’s Petfinder web site indicating the adoption fees include spay/neuter and the shelter’s policy and procedure manual indicating all adopted animals must be altered, this suggests the shelter could only adopt out 17 dogs and 56 cats for the entire year. However, Passaic Animal Shelter would need to have adopted out 39 dogs and 148 cats last year to achieve 95% dog and 92% cat live release rates. Thus, Passaic Animal Shelter cannot come close to achieving no kill status based on its contract.
Despite Rutherford Animal Hospital being required under its contract to maintain legally required euthanasia records, an unusually large number of dogs had weights ending in convenient numbers such as 0 or 5. Under state law, the shelter must weigh each animal prior to killing/euthanizing. If Passaic Animal Shelter only estimated weights, the shelter could have provided the wrong amount of tranquilizing and killing agents to these dogs. Thus, the shelter’s dog euthanasia records raise questions as to whether the facility actually humanely killed/euthanized dogs.
Passaic Must Take a New Path
Clearly, Passaic Animal Shelter took action to protect itself at the expense of the city’s homeless animals after volunteers exposed its dirty little secrets more than a decade ago. After banning volunteers, the shelter no longer had anyone to make sure they tried to save lives. Instead, the shelter used its unilateral control to take the easy way out and kill animals needlessly. Why? The shelter’s leadership, within the facility, the Passaic Health Department, and its elected officials, simply found it easier to save a few animals and kill the rest. In fact, Passaic Animal Shelter’s “Animal Control Policy and Procedure Manual” explicitly states it will not run a no kill shelter.
Passaic Animal Shelter has more than enough resources to run a no kill facility where it only euthanizes hopelessly suffering animals. In 2016, Passaic Animal Shelter received $384 of city funding per each of the 462 dogs and cats it impounded. As a comparison, Michigan’s Chippewa County Animal Shelter only received $253 of funding per dog and cat and saved 99.5% of the 398 dogs and 99.2% the 471 cats who had outcomes in 2016. Furthermore, Chippewa County Animal Shelter impounded more animals in total (851 dogs and cats at Chippewa County Animal Shelter verses 462 dogs and cats at Passaic Animal Shelter) and on a per capita basis (22.4 dogs and cats per person at Chippewa County Animal Shelter verses 6.5 dogs and cats per resident at Passaic Animal Shelter). Unlike Passaic Animal Shelter, Chippewa County Animal Shelter welcomes volunteers and operates its facility using no kill methods. Thus, Passaic Animal Shelter has no excuse for running a high kill shelter.
Passaic residents must call newly elected Mayor Hector Lora at 973-365-5510 and make sure the mayor keeps the following promise he made:
This was about leaving a legacy for our children and (setting) an example for all.
Clearly, Passaic must set an example that taking the easy way out and killing homeless animals for convenience is unacceptable. Mayor Lora can leave a legacy for Passaic’s children by turning his shelter around and allowing his constituents and others to help him do so. Teaching children the value of life and hard work is priceless. Let’s help Mayor Lora understand this.