Associated Humane Societies-Newark Violates State Law and the New Jersey and Newark Health Departments Look the Other Way

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 uncovered horrific problems and former Mayor Cory Booker tried to build a new no kill shelter to replace AHS-Newark. I published blogs about how the shelter killed massive numbers of Newark animals and broke state law left and right.

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 former Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, with animal cruelty. Ultimately, the prosecutor and Roseann Trezza entered into an agreement in 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.

After the October 20, 2017 New Jersey Department of Health inspection, the state health department stopped inspecting AHS-Newark. As I documented at that time, the City of Newark and its health department inadequately inspected the shelter for years and tried to sweep the problems under the rug. In fact, the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness reported few to no issues around the same times the state health department found massive problems in the past and in 2017.

The Department of Health and Community Wellness official overseeing the AHS-Newark inspection process uncovered the City of Newark’s intentions in 2017. Specifically, Michael Wlison, City of Newark Manager of Environmental Health, stated a “feasibility study” found it was cheaper for the City of Newark to contract with AHS-Newark than to build and operate their own shelter. Additionally, Michael Wilson mentioned unnamed “political issues” in what seemed as a justification to keep contracting with AHS-Newark.

Ultimately, the City of Newark did not pursue operating its own shelter. After Newark and AHS-Newark had a significant contract dispute in March 2018, AHS-Newark stopped providing any services during a second dispute in November 2018. Subsequently, AHS-Newark contracted with St. Hubert’s for around six months. St. Hubert’s terminated its arrangement with Newark citing “financial hardship” in April 2019 and the City of Newark contracted again with AHS-Newark at around a 50% higher monthly cost than its previous arrangement with the shelter.

Has AHS-Newark improved since this time? Is the New Jersey Department of Health and Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness ensuring AHS-Newark follows state law and treats animals properly?

Data Reviewed

To get a better understanding of the job the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness did at inspecting AHS-Newark, I submitted an Open Public Records Request for all AHS-Newark inspection reports conducted from January 1, 2019 until early September 2020. The City of Newark sent me a number of inspection reports, emails and AHS-Newark records. You can see all the records at this link.

Overall, the inspection reports were of poor quality. Specifically, the inspectors frequently reacted to complaints and did not proactively inspect the shelter for other problems. Additionally, the inspectors did not even take the time to type out their findings. Instead, they appeared to just quickly write down a few notes that were often difficult to read. Additionally, it was often impossible to determine which set of inspection report notes related to which specific inspection. Thus, the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness continued to do a poor job at inspecting AHS-Newark.

City of Newark’s Poor Quality Inspections Still Find Problems in 2019

Michael Wilson inspected AHS-Newark on April 15, 2019 and gave the shelter a Conditional A grade. As you can see, the inspection only took a mere one hour and 15 minutes and noted an isolation room violation. Unfortunately, I could not find any accompanying notes detailing the nature of the violations.

While I could not determine if the inspection notes below were from the April 15, 2019 inspection, they did lay out some serious issues. AHS-Newark again had food debris, which can lead to rodent infestations, a broken baseboard, an unsanitary isolation room in the shelter’s infamous basement, had a dirty area with dead animals and also failed to finish the required painting in the facility. Thus, even the inept Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness found serious problems.

Miraculously, Michael Wilson came back to the shelter eight days later and gave the shelter a “Satisfactory” grade with no comments in the inspection report provided to me.

Newark Health Department Finds Massive Problems in 2020

After receiving a complaint on January 6, 2020, Michael Wilson inspected the shelter three days later. The complaint alleged the shelter had a foul odor, unsanitary conditions and cats having upper respiratory infections. During the inspection, the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness found the shelter had a “strong animal odor”, all the main dog kennels required painting/stripping and pigeons inside the facility. Mr. Wilson ordered the shelter to separate dogs and cats to reduce stress (i.e. cats are a prey to dogs and cats understandably are scared in such an environment) and get more volunteers to provide mental stimulation to the animals.

In February 2020, the New Jersey Department of Health received multiple complaints about a serious disease in a dog that died at AHS-Newark and the shelter imposing a quarantine in part of the facility. Instead of inspecting AHS-Newark, the New Jersey Department of Health inspector, Linda Frese, told the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness to investigate and ensure there was no outbreak at the shelter and in the community.

Once again, Michael Wilson conducted a reactionary and low quality inspection on February 19, 2020. In the report, Mr. Wilson noted AHS-Newark had 284 dogs and 359 cats at the facility. This was a dramatic increase from the 117 dogs and 49 cats the shelter had in the April 15, 2019 inspection report. Therefore, the risk of a disease outbreak was much greater. Despite this, the inspector only noted a fire inspection violation. Mr. Wilson did not even provide an inspection grade nor write down when he completed the inspection to let us know how long this inspection was.

The inspection report comments raise serious question about the job Michael Wilson did. Mr. Wilson obtained an “Interim Report” from Cornell University that showed the deceased dog had a “Moderate Positive” result for Coronavirus PCR and “High Positive PCR, Beta” for Mycoplasma cynos. The report stated these were preliminary results and additional testing was in progress. While Michael Wilson’s inspection report comments stated he was waiting for final results, the City of Newark did not provide them to me. Thus, the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness did not appear to obtain the final report.

The inspection report comments also showed no proactive efforts in this inspection. Basically, Mr. Wilson reiterated the Cornell University preliminary report’s findings. Additionally, he wrote some quick notes about cleaning protocols, but they seemed more like what the shelter told him rather than him actually observing the staff. For example, the report states the shelter cleaned daily, but then cleaned more after receiving the preliminary report. However, Mr. Wilson could not obtain a cleaning log to verify that claim. Also, I also found it a bit unusual that the shelter stated it got a new supervising veterinarian on the very day this sick dog died in his cage. Thus, I did not get a warm fuzzy feeling after reading this shoddy inspection report.

Massive Problems Emerge Recently

The Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness inspected AHS-Newark after receiving a complaint about cats at the shelter on August 10, 2020. During this inspection, Michael Wilson, who apparently got a promotion to Chief REHS, assigned another person to inspect the shelter. Based on the inspector’s report and email to Michael Wilson, the inspector simply talked with Assistant Executive Director, Ken McKeel, and the shelter manager, reviewed “some med records” and hardly did anything else.

Despite this being an inadequate inspection, the report noted 60 under 8 week kittens died of Feline panleukopenia. According to the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, Feline panleukopenia is a devastating disease that “causes vomiting, diarrhea, and can cause sudden death in cats”, is transmitted through cat feces or poop and can last in a shelter for months or even years without proper disinfection. The virus is transmitted primarily by the fecal-oral route (including through exposure to objects/clothing/hands contaminated with virus from feces). FPV is very durable and can persist in the environment for months or even years unless inactivated by an effective disinfectant. However, the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program also states its very preventable through common sense measures:

Although panleukopenia can be 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.

Even though AHS-Newark was clearly not following these disease prevention and control guidelines, the wonderful Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness inspector simply stated management was doing things to minimize this disease. The inspector made some general comments about vaccination protocols, cleaning and isolating animals. Nothing in the report indicates they observed the shelter doing these things, obtained the specific detailed protocols from the supervising veterinarian and observed all the shelter’s cats for signs of disease. However, the report noted AHS-Newark had over 400 cats (up from 49 cats and 284 cats from other inspections) and 589 other animals in the building. Based on AHS-Newark’s 2019 Shelter/Pound Annual Report, the shelter’s cat capacity is 300 cats and 275 dogs and other animals. In other words, the shelter exceeded its cat capacity by over 33% and its dog and other animal capacity by almost 100%. Thus, AHS-Newark was at high risk of disease outbreaks.

The Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness inspection did little to reduce AHS-Newark’s issues as complaints poured into the New Jersey Department of Health. In a September 2, 2020 email from New Jersey Department of Health inspector, Linda Frese, Ms. Frese stated the shelter received “a few extensive complaints regarding the current conditions at the Associated Humane Societies in Newark.” Specifically, Ms. Frese mentioned cats dying from Feline panleukopenia, animals not being properly identified, the shelter cleaning with animals in their cages that resulted in chemical burns, animals not receiving proper medical care and the shelter possibly not having a required supervising veterinarian. Additionally, AHS-Newark was alleged to not have air conditioning in its ACO vans that potentially caused a dog to die last August.

At the end of the email, Linda Frese requested they have a conference call to discuss the complaints. What was Michael Wilson’s response just twenty minutes later? Three words: “Will investigate ASAP.”

Clearly, Linda Frese was alarmed at this response as she laid out a detailed email stating all the things the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness should look for. Additionally, Ms. Frese asked Michael Wilson to have his inspectors check “all the hidden rooms throughout the facility.” After reading this email, I got the impression Linda Frese did not trust Michael Wilson’s inspectors to do the job correctly.

In response, Michael Wilson sent one of his inspectors in and they once again did a reactive and poor quality inspection. First, the inspector did not even complete an inspection report. Instead, they just listed out the New Jersey Department of Health’s areas to investigate and wrote mostly one or two sentence responses. Once again, the inspector often relied on AHS-Newark’s assertions. For example, the inspector simply accepted management’s word that 1) animals are removed from cages during deep cleaning, 2) all the animal control vans have air conditioning despite multiple allegations that these vehicles don’t and one dog died and another dog became seriously ill in one of these vehicles and 3) that animals are euthanized humanely. Thus, this was another inadequate inspection.

Despite the poor quality inspection, the report still found numerous violations of state animal shelter laws. The shelter admitted more kittens died the night before which could indicate violations of N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.9 (c) that requires animals be observed daily for illness and receive prompt treatment. AHS-Newark also didn’t know the amount of water and disinfectant used in its solutions to clean cages. Obviously, the correct ratio of water to disinfectant in these solutions is critical to ensure proper disinfection and safety for the animals (i.e. avoid chemical burns, breathing in chemicals, etc.). Clearly, the shelter violated N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.8 (c) that states shelters must clean with “all soiled surfaces with a detergent solution followed by a safe and effective disinfectant.” The shelter also violated N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.6 and N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.8 by not taking animals out of their cages during cleaning and allowing the animals to be in the enclosures while they were still wet. Also, AHS-Newark did not have hand drying paper which also violates N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.8 (d) that states “Premises (buildings and grounds) shall be kept clean and in good repair in order to protect the animals from injury and disease, to facilitate the prescribed sanitary practices as set forth in these rules, and to prevent nuisances.” AHS-Newark also had numerous cats with no identification cards (i.e. how can the shelter know the medical history of animals and provide treatment if it can’t tell which cats are which). This violates N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13 which requires the shelter have accurate records of each animal.

The inspection report indicates AHS-Newark may have violated the humane euthanasia regulations in N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.11. AHS-Newark records did not show it weighing animals to ensure it gave sufficient sedatives and euthanasia drug doses. Similarly, the euthanasia records did not indicate the shelter used the required humane injection method (typically intravenous). Additionally, the shelter provided no documentation that individuals who were not veterinarians were properly certified to humanely euthanize animals. Finally, AHS-Newark provided no documentation that it confirmed euthanized animals lacked a heartbeat, pulse, respiration and eye movement to ensure the animals were in fact dead before they was disposed of or cremated. Thus, AHS-Newark’s records indicate it may have violated N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.11.

Subsequently, Michael Wilson stated AHS-Newark had several of these violations. In addition, Mr. Wilson said AHS-Newark broke the law by not reporting bites to the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness.

Miraculously, Michael Wilson’s inspectors visited AHS-Newark the next day and jotted down a few messy handwritten sentences stating the shelter fixed the violations. Furthermore, the inspectors gave AHS-Newark a “Satisfactory” grade despite the report indicating the inspectors did not do a full inspection. Does anyone in their right mind believe AHS-Newark should have a “Satisfactory” rating?

Subsequently, the New Jersey Department of Health’s Deputy State Public Health Veterinarian (i.e. Linde Frese’s boss) told Michael Wilson to investigate a case of a Shih-tzu dog alleged to have its coat matted with maggots and to not have received medical care for days. In fact, the complaint alleged the infection was bad enough that it could require a veterinarian to amputate the leg. This dog allegedly arrived at AHS-Newark on the very day the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness last inspected AHS-Newark and gave it a “Satisfactory” grade. Interestingly, Michael Wilson forwarded this email to two of his inspectors stating he wanted them to jointly inspect AHS-Newark. In my opinion, this seems like he lacked confidence in his inspectors to individually do the job right.

The Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness inspected AHS-Newark the very next day and found everything hunky dory. Specifically, the inspectors saw the dog and the animal had his/her wound treated with pain medicine and an antibiotic. The shelter’s records indicated the dog came in on September 11, 2010, which was a day after the September 10, 2020 date the person making the complaint stated. While the inspector did review the shelter’s intake records for September 10, 2020, I don’t think the inspector can rely on such records given AHS-Newark’s repeated inability to keep accurate records. In other words, if the dog really came in on September 10, 2020 (i.e. if AHS-Newark did not enter the animal into its records until September 11, 2020) and did not receive treatment until the next day, AHS-Newark would have violated N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.9(d) 1 that requires prompt veterinary care to relieve pain and suffering. Thus, the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness once again relied on AHS-Newark’s assertions instead of thoroughly inspecting the shelter.

New Jersey Department of Health Fails to Do its Job

Twenty one years ago the New Jersey Commission of Investigation’s first report on the state and county SPCAs analyzed the animal shelter inspection system. You can read this report starting on page 126 of this link. In summary, the report found local health departments did not properly inspect animal shelters.

The rules and regulations governing the operation and conditions of shelters are contained in a document entitled Sanitary Operation of Kennels, Pet Shops, Shelters and Pounds, which was promulgated by the state DOH. Generally, it is acknowledged that the rules and regulations are adequate, but that they are not enforced vigorously. It is evident that the thoroughness of the inspection, the findings of deficiencies and the ultimate rating of the facility are dependent upon the discretion, thoroughness and skill of the inspector. As candidly admitted by one local inspector who had not conducted thorough and probing inspections, he simply had lacked the training and experience to perform anything more than a perfunctory visit. Based upon an examination of the inspection system, inspections and the effectiveness of the system vary greatly.

The New Jersey Commission of Investigation clearly described how the state health department did much better inspections than local health departments.

There were also differences in the types of inspections that were conducted by state officials versus state inspectors and by state versus local personnel. With rare exception, the inspections conducted by state DOH officials were more thorough and more likely to cite violations than those conducted by state DOH inspectors. Examples appear below in the inspections of the Cape May County and Hudson County SPCA shelters. Where SPCA shelters were problematic, the inspections conducted by the state DOH were more thorough and consistent than those conducted by the local authorities. As evidenced by the inspection findings for the Cape May County and Hudson County SPCA shelters, more thorough inspections were performed and significant violations cited when state officials visited the shelters.

Furthermore, the New Jersey Commission of Investigation explained how local health departments (e.g. the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness) often did not want to identify problems due to the difficulty in finding an alternative shelter. In fact, they cited Jersey City’s Hudson County SPCA. Subsequent to the New Jersey Commission of Investigation’s report, Jersey City did find a facility for the newly formed Liberty Humane Society to operate and handle the city’s homeless animals.

The Commission was told that the dilemma perceived by local inspecting authorities in dealing with any shelter that is constantly in violation is that there is no realistic alternative facility if the shelter is shut down. Clearly, this was the situation with the licensing of the Hudson County SPCA shelter, despite the persistent and serious problems found there.

In the early 1990s, the state health department had more staff and was more focused on animal shelter inspections. As the New Jersey Commission of Investigation report explains, the state health department inspected every animal shelter once every two years. Based on the number of animal shelters in New Jersey today, that would amount to around 45 to 50 inspections each year. Additionally, the New Jersey Department of Health would spend time going over the issues with the local health departments.

The role of the state DOH in conducting shelter inspections has changed dramatically over the past decade. At the beginning of the 1990s, the department’s Infectious and Zoonotic Diseases Program had more staff and its focus was considerably more narrow than it is today. There were four field veterinary technicians who inspected shelters once every two years, in addition to a coordinator who occasionally conducted inspections. Typically, joint inspections with the local health official were conducted, and the DOH inspector spent time reviewing procedures and pertinent issues with the local authority.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, the New Jersey Department of Health conducted far fewer inspections. As a result of budget cuts, the department had fewer staff and were responsible for more things. The state health department stopped inspecting shelters proactively and only responded to certain complaints. In fact, just as the New Jersey Department of Health is currently doing with AHS-Newark and other shelters, it often just referred the problems to incompetent local health departments. Nonetheless, the state health department’s animal shelter inspection function, which had three people, conducted six shelter inspections in 1999. As a comparison, the New Jersey Department of Health’s animal shelter inspection team has two members currently, and hasn’t inspected a single shelter in almost two years. In fact, the New Jersey Department of Health has not inspected any shelter other than Hamilton Township Animal Shelter since October 21, 2017 (i.e. about three years). Thus, the New Jersey Department of Health is doing an even worse job now than it did twenty one years ago when the New Jersey Commission of Investigation wrote its scathing criticism of the agency.

Commencing in about 1994, as department budgets were cut throughout state government and positions were eliminated through attrition, the program’s staff was reduced drastically. Currently, the program is not only responsible for many more areas of the public health, but its staff consists merely of the State Public Health Veterinarian, the Senior Public Health Veterinarian and one field veterinary technician. The routine, biannual inspection has been replaced by a reactive inspection, which occurs only when substantive complaints are received. The DOH, which is besieged by numerous complaints daily, dismisses many complaints because it lacks jurisdiction over the matter alleged and routinely refers complainants to the local health office even when it has jurisdiction. In 1999, the DOH conducted approximately six shelter inspections and only three as of August 2000.

The New Jersey Commission of Investigation report also criticized the state health department for failing to fine shelters for violations. While the individual fines of $5-$50 per violation are small, they can add up if the infractions involve many animals and exist for many days. At a minimum, fines can send the message the shelter must improve. As in the past, the New Jersey Department of Health failed to fine AHS-Newark for its repeated violations or even pressure the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness to close AHS-Newark down. Given the New Jersey Department of Health did fine the East Orange Animal Shelter $4,000 in 2015 (the shelter has significantly improved since then) and asked and got the Linden Health Department to close Linden Animal Control in 2014, the state health department can take positive action. However, the New Jersey Department of Health has simply chose to do nothing in recent years.

However, the DOH does possess the statutory authority to institute enforcement proceedings to assess fines against a shelter. According to DOH officials, this remedy is reserved for only the most egregious cases. The department’s clear preference has been to bring a facility into compliance through recommendations, technical assistance and frequent reinspections. Its reluctance to institute enforcement proceedings is reflected in the facts that it has imposed sanctions only twice in the past 15 years or more and that both cases were instituted in 2000, the first at the insistence of the Attorney General’s Office and the second on DOH’s initiative.

The New Jersey Commission of Investigation severely criticized the state and local health departments coddling approach to regressive shelters twenty one years ago. Specifically, the New Jersey Commission of Investigation stated the health departments, who were doing far more then than now, must issue large fines to regressive shelters and close those facilities if they choose to not fix their problems. Most notably, the New Jersey Commission of Investigation clearly said municipalities must take over these shelters or find other ones to use.

The approach of the state Department of Health to counsel and advise a shelter’s management on how to remedy the violations and improve the conditions is admirable. However, such an approach is effective only when the management is amenable to making the improvements. When it becomes clear that such an approach is unsuccessful, then the department must be aggressive in pursuing legal proceedings. The language threatening enforcement proceedings, which typically appears in letters from the department to a shelter’s management, must be more than mere words. The failure to follow through leads to a loss of credibility for the department and reinforces the cavalier attitude of the shelter’s management. The inspecting and licensing authorities on the local level must conduct themselves in similar fashion. In the event of mounting fines and continued lack of responsiveness by shelter management, the municipality must be prepared to assume control of the shelter or entrust its operation to a suitable alternative.

The New Jersey Commission of Investigation repeated its conclusions about the inspection system in a scathing report on AHS-Newark in 2003. You can read that report here. The report made the following conclusion:

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

As a result of the New Jersey Commission of Investigation’s reports on the SPCAs and AHS, the state formed the Office of Animal Welfare and a large group of stakeholders, which was formed by an Executive Order from Governor McGreevey, issued the Animal Welfare Task Force Report in 2004. The report recommended local health authorities conduct at least two annual inspections (not counting those relating to complaints) of shelters. Additionally, the Animal Welfare Task Force report said the state health department should inspect every animal shelter at least once a year.

Local health departments should inspect each animal facility a minimum of two times per year (inspections conducted in response to complaints should not count for this purpose). DHSS should supplement local oversight by inspecting each facility at least once each year

As a result of the report’s recommendations, the Office of Animal Welfare had a staff of five people to inspect animal shelters that was in addition to the New Jersey Department of Health’s inspection staff. After a couple of years, the Office of Animal Welfare only had two staff left and they were merged into the New Jersey Department of Health’s inspection team. Based on conversations with a knowledgeable person, the two remaining Office of Animal Welfare staff conducted significantly more inspections of shelters, pet stores, etc. each year than the state health department does today. Sadly, the New Jersey Department of Health did not replace these inspectors when they left a number of years later.

Despite the New Jersey Department of Health having less personnel, I found the state health department was somewhat responsive to complaints when I began NJ Animal Observer in 2014. The New Jersey Department of Health’s inspections over this time and the results are listed below.

Even with the limited actions the state health department took, the inspections often had some positive impact on shelters (i.e. closing regressive facilities down and/or getting rid of bad management). With the strong animal advocacy community in New Jersey and the power of social media, these terrible inspection reports became known to many people. In addition, print and/or television media also often ran stories on these inspections. Thus, even with the New Jersey Department of Health doing little more than inspecting animal shelters, the impact often was significant.

As the timeline of state health department inspections shows, the New Jersey Department of Health started inspecting far fewer shelters after the 2017 AHS-Newark inspections and stopped inspecting altogether after its January 2019 Hamilton Township Animal Shelter inspection. In the last two years, numerous people have asked the New Jersey Department of Health to inspect shelters after making serious allegations. Also, staffing cannot explain the state health department’s refusal to inspect as it has the same number of inspectors over the entire time period above (i.e. 2014 to 2020). Thus, there is no substantive reason why the New Jersey Department of Health stopped inspecting animal shelters.

Clearly, the New Jersey Department of Health’s refusal to inspect animal shelters has had dire results for the animals at AHS-Newark and other regressive shelters. As the information above shows, AHS-Newark’s problems not only remain, they may be getting worse. The inspection reports indicate animals piling up in the shelter and rampant disease outbreaks. As of the time I’m writing this blog, AHS-Newark stopped adopting out dogs and sending dogs to rescues due to canine parvovirus at the shelter. In fact, the public’s frustration has grown to the point where shelter reform bill S636 includes a provision requiring the state health department to inspect every animal shelter three times a year. Given the ongoing problems at one of the state’s largest animal shelters, Governor Murphy and New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Persichilli must provide an explanation as to why the state health department has not performed its job, make the New Jersey Department of Health inspect animal shelters, particularly those with repeated major problems, and take the actions the New Jersey Commission of Investigation and Animal Welfare Task Force demanded they do in 1999, 2003 and 2004.

New Jersey’s Highest Kill Shelters in 2019

Recently, I wrote a blog discussing decreased killing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2019. This blog will explore the 2019 statistics in more detail and assess the current status of the state’s animal shelters.

Most New Jersey animal shelters voluntarily report detailed data to state authorities. Earlier this year, I shared the 2019 summary statistics for New Jersey animal shelters on my Facebook page. Each year, the New Jersey Department of Health requests each licensed animal shelter in the state to submit animal shelter data for the previous year. Animal shelters voluntarily submit this data in the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report.” The New Jersey Department of Health takes these Shelter/Pound Annual Reports and compiles the number of dogs, cats and other animals impounded, redeemed, adopted and euthanized to prepare its Animal Intake and Disposition report. However, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include additional information on how animals were impounded (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, rescued from in-state facilities, rescued from out of state shelters, and cruelty/bite cases/other) and disposed of (i.e. returned to owner, adopted, sent to rescue/another shelter, and died/missing/other outcome). Additionally, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include the number of animals in shelters at the beginning and end of the year as well as the maximum number of animals facilities can hold. Thus, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include very important data not found in the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report.

I compiled the data from these reports and analyze the results in this blog. 2019 statistics for each New Jersey animal shelter are listed at this link. You can also view each “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” at this link.

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

Most New Jersey animal shelters do not properly account for their animals. Simple math dictates the number of animals at a facility at the beginning of the year, plus all animals coming in during the year, less all animals leaving for the period, should equal the number of animals a shelter has at the end of the year. Stunningly, 47 out of 91 shelters reporting these dog statistics and 50 out of 89 facilities submitting this cat data failed to get this right. This raises serious questions about the accuracy of these shelters’ reported statistics. 31 of the 47 shelters with flawed dog statistics and 32 of the 50 facilities with incorrect cat statistics should have had more animals at the end of the year than reported. While these errors could have been due to incorrect counts of the number of animals at facilities, these shelters may have not recorded outcomes, such as animals who were killed, died, or went missing. To put it another way, 1,934 cats and dogs should have had outcomes reported and did not. Thus, there is the potential that as many as 1,934 additional dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing from New Jersey animal shelters than were reported in 2019.

Even worse, a number of animal shelters reported having a different number of animals at the end of 2018 and at the beginning of 2019. Obviously, shelters should report the same number of animals at the end of the prior year and the start of the current year. However, 32 of 88 shelters reported different numbers of dogs at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. Similarly, 37 of 87 shelters reported different numbers of cats at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. The worst offenders are listed in the tables below:

Shelters may have failed to classify animals adopted out and sent to rescues properly. Both Paterson Animal Control and Elizabeth Animal Shelter reported no animals were sent to rescues and all dogs and cats leaving their facilities alive were owner reclaims or adoptions. However, intake and disposition records I reviewed at both of these shelters in recent years revealed almost all “adopted” animals are actually rescued. One has to wonder how many other facilities failed to properly classify adoptions and rescues properly. This data is very important as it provides details on the burden rescues and other shelters are taking on from these facilities.

We need better oversight of New Jersey animal shelters’ data reporting. Currently, these statistics are voluntarily reported and most shelters are not taking this seriously. For example, I noticed a large number of reports were submitted many months after the end of the year. This data should be easy to compile since facilities can utilize animal shelter software programs, some of which are free, to do this task. Furthermore, New Jersey animal shelter laws mandate facilities maintain much of the raw data found in the Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Unfortunately, New Jersey Department of Health inspections routinely find shelters do not properly keep records on animals. We need to make the data reporting mandatory for animal shelters as the shelter reform bill, S636, does along with serious penalties for significant errors (especially if deliberate). In order for animal shelters to take data reporting seriously, we may also need to require audits of these reports. Thus, these results show we need stronger laws and the New Jersey Department of Health to play a greater role in ensuring reported animal shelter statistics are in fact accurate.

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

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

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

The statistics include an estimate to remove animals St. Hubert’s transfers in and quickly transfers out through its Sister Shelter WayStation program. Since St. Hubert’s is effectively acting as a middle man and not holding these animals very long, it makes sense to exclude these dogs and cats from the various kill rate statistics. If I did not exclude these animals, I would understate the dog and cat kill rates due to inflated intakes and outcomes numbers. Therefore, I removed all of St. Hubert’s dogs transferred out from the intake and outcomes figures in the metrics. Since St. Hubert’s primarily uses the Sister Shelter Waystation program to quickly transfer in cats and send them to out of state facilities, I only backed out the cats St. Hubert’s transferred to out of state organizations in the various kill rates. This adjustment increased the dog kill rate (intake) from 5.1 to 5.7% and the cat kill rate (intake) from 15.2% to 15.4%.

The Animal Intake and Disposition report prepared by the New Jersey Department of Health only allows one to calculate the number of animals killed as a percentage of total animals impounded or intake. I prefer calculating the kill rate as a percentage of outcomes rather than intake as this metric directly compares positive and negative outcomes. Using intake may depress the kill rate since shelters can simply hold animals for a long time to the point of overcrowding. Calculating the kill rate based on outcomes rather than intake caused the dog kill rate to decrease from 5.7% to 5.6% and the cat kill rate to increase from 15.4% to 15.6%.

To calculate the statewide kill rate, we must also back out transfers from one New Jersey animal shelter to another state facility to avoid counting animals still in the state’s shelter system or registering two outcomes for the same animal (i.e. one New Jersey animal shelter transfers a dog or cat to another state facility which then adopts out the animal). This adjustment increases the dog kill rate from 5.6% to 6.0% and the cat kill rate from 15.6% to 16.6%.

In addition, we should increase the kill rate for animals who died or went missing in shelters. In the past, I’ve labeled this metric the death rate as these animals are likely dead or in a very bad situation. Unfortunately, the Shelter/Pound Annual Report includes animals who died or went missing in the “Other” outcome category. The “Other” category contains positive live releases, such as TNR for cats, at a few shelters. While including the “Other” category in the death rate for most shelters is appropriate (i.e. those facilities that don’t do TNR or don’t include cats released through TNR programs in “Other” outcomes), I’m no longer doing this due to an increasing number of shelters implementing TNR. Instead, I calculated the kill rate by subtracting out “Other” outcomes from total outcomes. If a shelter specifies the number of animals included in “Other” that left the shelter alive, I count this as “Other Live Release” and do not back these amounts out of total outcomes. After making this adjustment, the dog kill rate increased from 6.0% to 6.1% and the cat kill rate stayed at 16.6%. For those interested in seeing the estimated death rates, you can find them in the supporting spreadsheet.

Also, many shelters transport easy to adopt animals from out of state which artificially increases live release rates. To properly calculate the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives, we need to adjust for transports. Unfortunately, shelters don’t break out their kill rates by local and out of state animals. However, most likely nearly all of the out of state animals (primarily puppies and easy to adopt dogs and cats) make it out of shelters alive. Therefore, I back out the number of out of state transports from total outcomes to estimate the local kill rate. This adjustment increases the New Jersey dog kill rate from 6.1% to 7.7% and the state’s cat kill rate from 16.6 to 17.8%.

Also, I estimate a maximum local kill rate by including the number of unaccounted for animals described in the section above. Making this adjustment increases the maximum potential New Jersey dog kill rate from 7.7% to 10.2% and the maximum potential state cat kill rate from 17.8% to 20.7%.

Some animal shelters quickly return large percentages of their animals to owners. At these shelters, the populations served are typically well-off and animals are licensed and have microchips. To account for the animals facilities actually have to shelter, I calculated a kill rate for non-reclaimed animals and a maximum potential kill rate for non-reclaimed local animals. The non-reclaimed kill rate and maximum potential kill rate for dogs is 9.0% and 17.8%. Non-reclaimed cats had a 18.8% kill rate and a 22.1% maximum potential kill rate. Thus, the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives in our state’s animal shelters may be much higher than the state summary report suggests.

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

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

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

In terms of raw numbers, the following shelters killed the most animals:

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

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

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

Dog and cat kill rates at many shelters may be even higher if these unaccounted for animals are counted as killed. If we only consider animal shelters which reported transporting few or no animals in 2019, facilities with the highest dog and cat kill rates considering the unaccounted for animals described above are as follows:

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

Shelters Turn Their Backs on New Jersey’s Animals

New Jersey animal shelters rescue far more dogs from out of state than from other New Jersey animal shelters. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters transferred in 8,197 dogs from out of state animal shelters and only rescued 2,308 dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. However, St. Hubert’s frequently transfers a substantial number of its transports quickly to its partners in New Jersey and other states. If I back out St. Hubert’s transfers of dogs to out of state organizations, the number of transports decreases from 8,197 dogs to 5,269 dogs. While the state’s local kill rate decreased in 2019, it is likely the local kill rate would have decreased by more if not for the massive number of out of state transports.

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

Shelters Do Far Worse with Animals Requiring New Homes

Since dogs reclaimed by their owners typically have licenses and/or microchips and quickly leave the shelter, its informative to look at dogs shelters have to find new homes for. To get a better idea of how organizations are doing with animals they actually have to shelter, I also examined what percentage of non-reclaimed dogs lose their lives at each facility. Shelters with the highest non-reclaimed dogs kill rates are as follows (excluding shelters taking few unclaimed dogs in):

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

Shelters Leave Animal Enclosures Empty While Dogs and Cats Die

New Jersey animal shelters fail to use their space to save animals. Based on the average number of animals at all of New Jersey’s animal shelters at the beginning and the end of 2019, only 57% of dog and 75% of cat capacity was used. Given December is a low intake month, I also increased these populations to an average intake month. This adjustment only raised the dog capacity utilization to 62%. While this adjustment did increase the cat capacity utilization to over 100%, it is highly unlikely this happened in reality. Shelter inspection reports I’ve reviewed often did not reveal significantly larger dog and cat populations in the summer and winter months. This is likely due to the influx of highly adoptable kittens having short lengths of stay and shelters killing cats with empty cages.

Many animal shelters with low kill rates failed to rescue animals with their excess space. Additionally, other shelters used little of their available space and still killed a large percentage of their animals. Some examples after increasing the population (and therefore capacity utilization) based on the adjustment discussed above are as follows:

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

New Jersey’s animal shelters continue to fail the state’s animals. The state’s animal shelters only impound 8.9 dogs and cats per 1,000 New Jersey residents. If we just count animals originating from New Jersey, the state’s animal shelters only impound 7.2 dogs and cats per 1,000 people. As a comparison, Florida’s Lake County Animal Shelter took in 15.1 dogs and cats in 2019 and saved 99% of its dogs, 98% of its pit bull like dogs and 91% of its cats due to it fully implementing the No Kill Equation. Despite New Jersey shelters impounding a fraction of the animals many no kill communities take in on a per capita basis, the state’s animal control facilities continue to kill and allow animals to die under their care. Even worse, many of these shelters can’t even properly keep track of how many animals leave their facilities dead or alive. Our state’s animals deserve far better treatment than this. Contact your local city council members and mayor and demand better from the animal shelter serving your community. We can do so much better and it is time our shelters operate this way.

New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Slightly Improve in 2019

In 2018, New Jersey animal shelter statistics significantly improved. This decrease in killing was driven by decreased dog intake and increased numbers of cats returned to owners, adopted out, sent to rescues and released through TNR programs.

How did New Jersey animal shelters perform in 2019 compared to 2018? What caused these changes? What shelters had positive and negative impacts on the state’s kill rates in 2019?

Killing Decreased Modestly in 2019

The tables below summarize the statewide dog and cat statistics in 2019 and 2018. To see how I calculate the various metrics, please review the footnotes in this link and my blog analyzing the 2015 statistics. You can view the full 2019 statistics here and the statistics 2018 here.

The statistics reflect adjustments to remove dogs and cats quickly transported in and out of St. Hubert’s through its transport program. In the organization’s Sister Shelter WayStation program, the shelter effectively acts as a middle man between source and destination shelters. Therefore, it makes sense to exclude these dogs and cats from the various kill rate statistics below. If I did not exclude these animals, I would understate the dog and cat kill rates due to inflated numbers of intakes and outcomes. As a result, I removed all of St. Hubert’s dogs transferred out from the intake and outcome figures in the data below. Since St. Hubert’s primarily uses the Sister Shelter Waystation program to quickly transfer in cats and send them to out of state facilities, I only backed out the cats St. Hubert’s transferred to out of state organizations in the data below.

The dog statistics improved in 2019 with some metrics improving at a slower and faster rate. The dog kill rates decreased, but at about one third to two thirds the rate those kill rates decreased in 2018 verses 2017. On the other hand, the local kill rate metrics, which exclude out of state transported dogs, decreased by around 15% to 100% more in 2019 verses 2018 compared to 2018 verses 2017.

The cat statistics improved in 2019, but at a much slower rate than the prior year. Overall, the kill rate metrics decreased in 2019 verses 2018 around 15%-60% as much as the decreases in 2018 verses 2017.

While we’d like the kill rate decreases in 2019 verses 2018 to equal or exceed the decreases in 2018 verses 2017, I would note as shelters kill fewer animals, the remaining animals become more challenging to save. That being said, this data may suggest shelters need to invest more efforts in programs to get animals out of their facilities alive.

Decreased Intake Results in Fewer Killed Dogs

The statewide dog kill rate decreased due to New Jersey animal shelters taking fewer dogs in. New Jersey animal shelters reported killing 320 fewer dogs (208 dogs if we assume the animals in “Other” outcomes died). However, New Jersey shelters’ live outcomes, with the exception of owner reclaims, decreased significantly. Given New Jersey animal shelters fell far short of my dog adoption targets I set for 2018, these results are deeply disappointing. Therefore, New Jersey animal shelters killed fewer dogs due to these facilities taking fewer dogs in rather than saving more dogs.

The following shelters contributed most to the decrease in the statewide dog kill rate.

The table below provides insight as to why these shelters decreased the statewide dog kill rate the most. As you can see, the shelters, which are relatively large, had kill rates much greater than the state average in 2018 and those kill rates decreased significantly in 2019. All the shelters had fewer outcomes primarily due to decreased dog intake, but the decrease was not much different than the statewide decrease in intake.

The following table explains why most of these shelters’ kill rates decreased. All the shelters increased owner reclaims. While all the shelters, except for Trenton Animal Shelter, increased adoptions, these increases were more than offset by decrease in transfers to other shelters and rescues. Trenton Animal Shelter transferred more dogs, but its decrease in adoptions more than offset this. Overall, live outcomes went down in 2019 at these shelters, but the decrease was small enough relative to the decrease in total outcomes to reduce the statewide dog kill rate.

Other Shelters Increased the Statewide Dog Kill Rate

While the statewide dog kill rate dropped in 2019, several shelters partially offset this decrease. Specifically, the following shelters increased the dog kill rate, but this was more than offset by the facilities above.

The following table provides more details on these shelters.  All three shelters’ kill rates increased in 2019 from levels that were under 10% in 2018

The table below explains why several of these shelters’ dog kill rates increased. Burlington County Animal Shelter transferred significantly fewer dogs to other shelters and rescues. Atlantic County Animal Shelter reported significantly fewer adoptions. While Liberty Humane Society’s live outcomes remained unchanged, total outcomes increased and live outcomes therefore made up a smaller percentage. Thus, these shelters inability to generate enough live outcomes led to increased kill rates.

Cat Killing Drops Due to Lower Intake

New Jersey animal shelters killed fewer cats in 2019 than in 2018. Overall, New Jersey animal shelters killed 696 less cats. If we count cats that died or went missing, the decrease in the number of cats who lost their lives in 2019 would probably not be as great. While the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports shelters fill out do not include a separate category for animals who died or went missing, shelters include these animals in the “Other” outcomes line. If we take out the cats from “Other” outcomes that certain shelters separately disclosed as TNR, “Other” outcomes (which should mostly represent cats who died or went missing) increased by 346 cats. Thus, shelters killed fewer cats in 2019, but more cats may have died or went missing.

The decrease in killing was driven by decreased cat intake. With the exception of owner reclaims, which increased modestly, live outcomes decreased. However, this decrease was outpaced by the large decrease in total outcomes that reduced the cat kill rate.

The following shelters decreased the statewide cat kill rate the most.

The following table provides insight as to why these shelters decreased the statewide cat kill rate the most. As you can see, all the shelters had high kill rates, which were 21% to 50%, in 2018, and all reported decreases in those kill rates during 2019. All the shelters had fewer outcomes, which was greater on a percentage basis than the decrease statewide, primarily due to decreased cat intake. Therefore, these higher kill shelters made up a smaller portion of cat outcomes in the state and that partially decreased the statewide cat kill rate in 2019.

The table below explains why these shelters’ kill rates decreased. Overall, all the shelters either modestly increased their live outcomes (i.e. Gloucester County Animal Shelter and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility) or reported fewer live outcomes. AHS-Newark did adopt more cats out, but this were more than offset by reduced transfers. As a result, these shelters decreased their kill rate by reducing cat intake rather than generating more live outcomes.

We must also be highly skeptical of AHS-Newark’s data. As the shelter’s data shows, AHS-Newark had 229 unaccounted for cats in 2019 and its kill rate decrease was less than half as great when we look at the metric taking these unaccounted for cats into account. Given serious allegations of mismanagement have been raised again recently, we should scrutinize the shelter’s data.

Other Shelters Increased the Statewide Cat Kill Rate

While the statewide cat kill rate decreased in 2019, several shelters partially offset this decrease. Specifically, the following facilities increased the cat kill rate, but this was more than offset by the shelters above.

The following table provides more details on these shelters. All the shelters had higher cat kill rates in 2019 compared to 2018. In addition, Burlington County Animal Shelter’s and Vorhees Animal Orphanage’s kill rate rates increased by 6% and 5% and were over 20% in 2019.

The table below explains why these shelters’ kill rates increased. Burlington County Animal Shelter adopted out and transferred significantly fewer cats in 2019. While Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center and Vorhees Animal Orphanage generated more live outcomes in 2019, this did not keep up with the significant increase in animal outcomes/intake.

Shelters Impound Less Dogs and More Cats 

The tables below detail the change in dog and cat intake at New Jersey shelters in 2019 verses 2018. I removed all St. Hubert’s transfers out from the out of state dog rescue figures and St. Hubert’s out of state transfers out from its in state cat rescue figures based on the reasoning discussed above.

Overall, New Jersey animal shelters took in 2,583 less dogs during 2019 than in 2018. New Jersey animal shelters took in over 850 fewer stray dogs during 2019 than in 2018. The state’s shelters took 3% fewer dogs in as owner surrenders and 6% fewer stray dogs. While managed intake programs can decrease owner surrenders, they do not affect stray numbers. Therefore, the decrease in stray dog intake may be related to decreased animal control efforts, animal control officers returning dogs to owners in the field (not counted as shelter intake) or simply fewer stray dogs. If ACOs really are not impounding dogs that need help or ones that are a public safety threat, that does not help people or animals. As a result, we should monitor this number in the future and determine why stray dog intake is decreasing.

New Jersey animal shelters rescued far fewer dogs after making the St. Hubert’s adjustment described above. While rescues from New Jersey shelters decreased, the decrease was less than the overall dog intake decrease. On the other hand, out of state transports into New Jersey shelters decreased by 18%.

While New Jersey animal shelters took in 16% fewer dogs due to cruelty cases, bite cases and other reasons in 2019, shelters still took in more dogs for these reasons than in any of the five prior years. On August 1, 2018, county prosecutors along with local police took control over animal cruelty law enforcement. While we can’t definitively state this caused the increase in this other category of dog intake, it seems like this may be the case. Typically, other sources of intake in this category, such as bite cases and puppies born in shelters, are not large and do not vary much. Thus, animal advocates should monitor this figure to see how the new animal cruelty law enforcement system is working.

New Jersey animal shelters impounded slightly fewer cats in 2019 than in 2018. With the exception of a slight increase in strays, all other types of cat intake significantly decreased. In particular, cats rescued from both New Jersey and out of state shelters significantly decreased. As with dogs, the other types of cat intake in 2019 decreased from the 2018 level, but was in the upper part of the range of the amounts from 2013 through 2017 after removing Bergen County Animal Shelter’s other intake figure (this shelter appeared to classify many cats brought in for TNR in this category in several years). As a result, the new animal cruelty law enforcement system may also be having a positive effect.

Advocacy Works

Clearly, growing animal advocacy efforts are pressuring shelters to improve. Individuals contacting their elected representatives puts pressure on shelters to do better. Similarly, donors communicating their concerns to privately run facilities also makes it difficult for these organizations to not make positive changes. Most importantly, this pressure provides strong incentives to these shelters to work with boots on the ground animal advocates, such as TNR groups, rescues and shelter volunteers. Thus, the synergistic efforts of no kill advocates and people working directly with animals helped drive the state’s improved animal sheltering statistics.

That being said, the reduced positive outcomes for dogs and cats is a troubling sign. Shelters can’t permanently rely on fewer animals coming in to reduce killing. Instead, they must enact the 11 No Kill Equation programs to generate more live outcomes. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters must invest in behavioral programs to treat dogs who need help and do a much better job adopting out dogs. Additionally, these shelters must enact better medical protocols for cats and implement large scale TNR and Return to Field programs. Otherwise, shelters will reach a plateau and not increase their live release rates anymore.

St. Hubert’s Kills Newark’s Homeless Dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newark Proposed Shelter Site 1

Newark Proposed Shelter Site 2

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

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

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

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

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

Data Reviewed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cat Data Suggests Good Performance Due to Rescue Assistance

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

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

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

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

St. Hubert’s Absurd “Community Outreach” Claim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additionally, the Humane Rescue Alliance press release said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Jersey Animal Shelters Kill Fewer Animals in 2017

In 2016, New Jersey animal shelter statistics significantly improved. This decrease in killing was driven by increased numbers of animals adopted out, sent to rescues and released through TNR programs.

How did New Jersey animal shelters perform in 2017 compared to 2016? What caused these changes? What shelters had positive and negative impacts on the state’s kill rates in 2017?

Killing Decreases Significantly in 2017

The tables below summarize the statewide dog and cat statistics in 2017 and 2016. To see how I calculate the various metrics, please review the footnotes in this link and my blog analyzing the 2015 statistics. You can view the full 2017 statistics here.

This year I revised the dog statistics to remove an estimate of the dogs St. Hubert’s transfers in and quickly transfers out through its Sister Shelter WayStation program. Since St. Hubert’s is effectively acting as a middle man and not holding these animals very long, it makes sense to exclude these dogs from the various kill rate statistics below. If I did not exclude these animals, I would understate the dog kill rate due to inflated intake and outcomes numbers. Therefore, I removed all of St. Hubert’s dogs transferred out from the intake and outcomes figures to calculate the kill rates below. While St. Hubert’s also transfers in and transfers out cats through the Sister Shelter WayStation program, the numbers did not have a material impact on the statewide kill rates. As a result, I did not revise the cat statistics.

All dog and cat statistics improved in 2017 verses 2016 at a faster rate when compared to 2016 verses 2015. Most of the dog kill rates decreased around 0.5% more in 2017 verses 2016 when compared to 2016 verses 2015. Similarly, most of the cat kill rates decreased around 3% to 4% more, with some kill rates dropping even more, in 2017 verses 2016 when compared to 2016 verses 2015. In fact, the decrease in most of the cat kill rates in 2017 verses 2016 were nearly double the decrease in the cat kill rates in 2016 verses 2015. In particular, the kill rates for non-reclaimed dogs and cats decreased more than most of the other kill rates. Since high reclaim rates sometimes mask killing of animals at shelters, this is good news. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters’ kill rates decreased at an even faster pace in 2017 than in 2016.

2017 New Jersey Animal Shelters Dog Statistics

2017 New Jersey Animal Shelters Cat Statistics

Decreased Intake and More Positive Outcomes Drive Increased Life Saving

Since a number of high kill shelters, such as Ron’s Animal Shelter and T. Blumig Kennels, did not report data in 2017, I added their 2016 numbers to the 2017 analysis below. Similarly, I did the same thing for several shelters that failed to report 2016 statistics, but disclosed 2017 data. As a result of doing this, the 2017 dog kill rate (outcomes) increased from 7.3% to 7.6% while the 2016 dog kill rate (outcomes) remained at 9.2%.

New Jersey animal shelters’ dog kill rate decreased due to both fewer animals taken in and increased live outcomes. New Jersey animal shelters reported killing 574 fewer dogs (626 dogs if we assume the animals in “Other” outcomes died). While a substantial percentage of this decrease was due to 479 fewer dog outcomes, New Jersey animal shelters sent 217 more dogs to rescues in 2017. Even though dog adoptions increased in 2017, local dog adoptions decreased after we take higher numbers of transported dogs into account.

2017 Verses 2016 Dog Outcomes.jpg

The following shelters contributed most to the decrease in the statewide dog kill rate.

2017 Verses 2016 Dog Kill Rate Decrease Shelters

The table below provides insight as to why these shelters decreased the statewide dog kill rate the most. As you can see, most of the shelters, which are relatively large, had kill rates over 10% in 2016. All the shelters except for Camden County Animal Shelter, Burlington County Animal Shelter and Vorhees Animal Orphanage had fewer outcomes primarily due to decreased dog intake. In particular, Associated Humane Societies-Newark’s much lower intake, which may partially be due to its loss of animal control contracts relating to several horrific state health department inspections, was significant. Since these facilities have above average kill rates, these shelters had a smaller impact on the state’s dog kill rate in 2017. Finally, all these shelters had lower kill rates in 2017 compared to 2016.

2017 Verses 2016 Dog Kill Rate Change Shelters

The following table explains why most of these shelters’ kill rates decreased. In the case of Burlington County Animal Shelter, it adopted out many more dogs. On the other hand, Trenton Animal Shelter, Camden County Animal Shelter, Bergen County Animal Shelter and East Orange Animal Shelter all sent more animals to rescues. Camden County Animal Shelter, Burlington County Animal Shelter and Vorhees Animal Orphanage also significantly increased the number of dogs returned to owners. Most of the other facilities had fewer positive outcomes due to fewer animal outcomes, but the decrease in killing was greater. Thus, these shelters improved primarily due to having fewer animals come in.

2017 Verses 2016 Shelter Kill Rate Decrease Outcomes

Other Shelters Increased Statewide Dog Kill Rate

While the statewide dog kill rate decreased in 2017, several shelters partially offset this decrease. Specifically, the following shelters increased the dog kill rate, but this was more than offset by the facilities above.

2017 Verses 2016 Dog Kill Rates Shelters Increase

The following table provides more details on these shelters. Hamilton Township’s Animal Shelter’s and Harmony Animal Hospital’s dog kill rates increased dramatically to very high levels in 2017. Hamilton Township Animal Shelter recently came under fire for its needless killing and other problems. Both Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls’, Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park’s, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s and Humane Society of Atlantic County’s kill rates increased from under 10% in 2016 to 10% and higher in 2017. While St. Hubert’s-Madison’s kill rate decreased in 2017, its kill rate was still higher than the statewide kill rate. Therefore, this shelter’s increased number of dog outcomes in 2017 increased the statewide kill rate more in 2017 than in 2016. All the other shelters reported kill rate increases from relatively low levels.

2017 Dog Kill Rate Increase Shelters Kill Rates.jpg

The table below explains why most of these shelters’ dog kill rates increased. Hamilton Township Animal Shelter, Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls, St. Hubert’s-North Branch, Elizabeth Animal Shelter, Harmony Animal Hospital, Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park and North Jersey Community Animal Shelter all adopted out fewer dogs in 2017. Northern Ocean County Animal Facility’s increased kill rate was driven by lower owner reclaims and more dogs killed. St. Hubert’s-North Branch and St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark killed a greater percentage of dogs and had fewer live releases relative to total outcomes in 2017 verses 2016.

2017 Verses 2016 Dog Kill Rates Shelters Increase Reasons

More Cats Leave Shelters Alive

Since a number of high kill shelters, such as Ron’s Animal Shelter and T. Blumig Kennels, did not report numbers in 2017, I added their 2016 numbers to the 2017 analysis below. Similarly, I did the same thing for several shelters that failed to report 2016 statistics, but disclosed 2017 data. In addition, Bergen County Animal Shelter included cats it brought in explicitly to TNR (not included in statistics per the Shelter Animals Count methodology) as intake and returned to owners in 2016 and intake and adopted in 2017. Therefore, I replaced Bergen County Animal Shelter’s summary data with numbers I obtained via an OPRA request that excluded Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR cats. As a result of doing this, the 2017 statewide cat kill rate (outcomes) increased from 18.8% to 20.4% while the 2016 cat kill rate (outcomes) increased from 24.8% to 25.6%.

New Jersey animal shelters killed many fewer cats in 2017. The decrease in killing was driven by shelters taking less cats in (i.e. reflected in reduced outcomes). Since owner reclaims increased and shelters often classify cats that are impounded and then neutered and released as reclaimed, TNR efforts likely played a role in shelters impounding fewer cats. Even if shelters simply took in fewer cats, that still is a good thing since cats on the streets have a better chance surviving and finding their owners than cats entering into high kill shelters.

2017 Verses 2016 New Jersey Cat Statistics Changes Adjusted

The following shelters decreased the statewide cat kill rate the most.

2017 Verses 2016 Shelters Impact on Decrease in Cat Kill Rate

The following table provides insight as to why these shelters decreased the statewide cat kill rate the most. As you can see, the shelters, which are relatively large, had kill rates over 16% in 2016 and all reported decreases in those kill rates. All the shelters except for Bergen County Animal Shelter and Vorhees Animal Orphanage had fewer outcomes primarily due to decreased cat intake.

2017 Verses 2016 Cat Kill Rate Decrease Shelters.jpg

The table below explains why these shelters’ kill rates decreased. Associated Humane Societies-Newark’s positive outcomes all went down and indicates the decrease in its cat kill rate was due to reduced intake. This may be due to the shelter’s loss of some contracts after its abysmal state health department inspection reports in 2017. Most of the other shelters had fewer positive outcomes, but most increased their adoptions. Therefore, these shelters’ decreased cat kill rates were primarily due to taking fewer cats in. In the case of Woodbridge Animal Shelter, the decrease in cat intake is due to the fact the facility had an unusually large number of hoarding cases in 2016. On the other hand, Bergen County Animal Shelter and Vorhees Animal Orphanage significantly increased their number of positive outcomes. Both shelters sent more animals to rescues and Bergen County Animal Shelter also adopted out a good number more animals. As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been criticizing Bergen County Animal Shelter’s high kill rate since the Fall of of 2016.

2017 Verses 2016 Cat Kill Rate Decrease Shelter Outcomes

Other Shelters Increased Statewide Cat Kill Rate

While the statewide cat kill rate decreased in 2017, several shelters partially offset this decrease. Specifically, the following facilities increased the cat kill rate, but this was more than offset by the shelters above.

2017 Shelters Increasing Cat Kill Rate

The following table provides more details on these shelters. All the shelters, with the exception of Monmouth SPCA, had higher cat kill rates in 2017 compared to 2016. In addition, most of the shelters had kill rates of around 20% or higher in 2017. Hamilton Township Animal Shelter recently came under fire for its needless killing. Similarly, Old Bridge Animal Shelter effectively banned its volunteers a couple of years ago and that could have resulted in the shelter killing more cats.

2017 Verses 2016 Cat Kill Rate Increase Shelter Reasons

The table below explains why most of these shelters’ kill rates increased. Southern Ocean Animal Facility’s and Hamilton Township Animal Shelter’s increased cat kill rates were due to decreased adoptions. Liberty Humane Society’s increased cat kill rate was due to decreased numbers of cats sent to rescues and lower adoptions. North Jersey Community Animal Shelter’s increased kill rate was due to it sending fewer cats to rescues. St. Hubert’s-Madison, Old Bridge Animal Shelter and Humane Society of Atlantic County Animal Shelter did not achieve enough increased positive outcomes after these facilities took more cats in during 2017.

2017 Verses 2016 Cat Kill Rate Increase Outcomes

Advocacy Works

Overall, New Jersey’s 2017 animal shelter statistics are good news. While decreased animal intake was a major driver of the reduced kill rates in the state, shelters did send more dogs to rescues in 2017 compared to 2016. In addition, expanding TNR efforts may be a reason explaining the decreased cat intake at the state’s shelters in 2017.

Clearly, growing animal advocacy efforts are pressuring shelters to improve. Individuals contacting their elected representatives puts pressure on shelters to do better. Similarly, donors communicating their concerns to privately run facilities also makes it difficult for these organizations to not make positive changes. Most importantly, this pressure provides strong incentives to these shelters to work with boots on the ground animal advocates, such as TNR groups, rescues and shelter volunteers. Thus, the synergistic efforts of no kill advocates and people working directly with animals helped drive the state’s improved animal sheltering statistics.

The data proves this theory correct. In 2014, I and other shelter reform advocates started making the public aware of the needless killing going on in our state’s shelters. From 2013 to 2017, both the dog and cat kill rates decreased more than twice as much as the kill rates over the prior four year time period (2009 to 2013). Therefore, shelter reform advocacy is helping the animal welfare community save lives.

That being said, many New Jersey animal shelters are still horrific. In my next blog, I will identify these shelters and detail how they are failing their animals.

2016 New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Reveal Many High Kill Shelters

11/1/17 Update: An earlier version of this blog had the Beginning Missing Cats table erroneously list Tabby’s Place-Cat Sanctuary as having 112 missing cats. That shelter had no Beginning Missing Cats. That table is now corrected.

Earlier this month, I wrote a blog discussing decreased killing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2016. This blog will explore the 2016 statistics in more detail and assess the current status of the state’s animal shelters.

Most New Jersey animal shelters voluntarily report detailed data to state authorities. Last month, I shared the 2016 summary statistics for New Jersey animal shelters on my Facebook page. Each year, the New Jersey Department of Health requests each licensed animal shelter in the state to submit animal shelter data for the previous year. Animal shelters voluntarily submit this data in the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report.” The New Jersey Department of Health takes these Shelter/Pound Annual Reports and compiles the number of dogs, cats and other animals impounded, redeemed, adopted and euthanized to prepare its Animal Intake and Disposition report. However, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include additional information on how animals were impounded (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, rescued from in-state facilities, rescued from out of state shelters, and cruelty/bite cases/other) and disposed of (i.e. returned to owner, adopted, sent to rescue/another shelter, and died/missing/other outcome). Additionally, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include the number of animals in shelters at the beginning and end of the year as well as the maximum number of animals facilities can hold. Thus, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include very important data not found in the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report.

I compiled the data from these reports and analyze the results in this blog. 2016 statistics for each New Jersey animal shelter are listed at this link. You can also view each “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” at this link.

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

Most New Jersey animal shelters do not properly account for their animals. Simple math dictates the number of animals at a facility at the beginning of the year, plus all animals coming in during the year, less all animals leaving for the period, should equal the number of animals a shelter has at the end of the year. Stunningly, 60 out of 99 shelters reporting these dog statistics and 64 out of 98 facilities submitting this cat data failed to get this right. This raises serious questions about the accuracy of these shelters’ reported statistics. 35 of the 60 shelters with flawed dog statistics and 37 of the 64 facilities with incorrect cat statistics should have had more animals at the end of the year than reported. While these errors could have been due to incorrect counts of the number of animals at facilities, these shelters may have not recorded outcomes, such as animals who were killed, died, or went missing. To put it another way, 1,424 cats and dogs should have had outcomes reported and did not. Thus, there is the potential that as many as 1,424 additional dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing from New Jersey animal shelters than were reported in 2016.

Even worse, a number of animal shelters reported having a different number of animals at the end of 2015 and at the beginning of 2016. Obviously, shelters should report the same number of animals at the end of the prior year and the start of the current year. However, 40 of 99 shelters reported different numbers of dogs at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016. Similarly, 44 of 98 shelters reported different numbers of cats at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016. The worst offenders are listed in the tables below:

2016 Beginning Missing Dogs.jpg

2016 Beginning Missing Cats

Shelters may have failed to classify animals adopted out and sent to rescue properly. Both Paterson Animal Control and Elizabeth Animal Shelter reported no animals were sent to rescues and all dogs and cats leaving their facilities alive were owner reclaims or adoptions. However, intake and disposition records I reviewed at both of these shelters in recent years revealed virtually all “adopted” animals are actually rescued. One has to wonder how many other facilities failed to properly classify adoptions and rescues properly. This data is very important as it provides details on the burden rescues and other shelters are taking on from these facilities.

We need better oversight of New Jersey animal shelters’ data reporting. Currently, these statistics are voluntarily reported and most shelters are not taking this seriously. For example, I noticed a large number of reports were submitted many months after the end of the year. This data should be easy to compile since facilities can utilize animal shelter software programs, some of which are free, to do this task. Furthermore, New Jersey animal shelter laws mandate facilities maintain much of the raw data found in the Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Unfortunately, New Jersey Department of Health inspections routinely find shelters do not properly keep records on animals. We need to make the data reporting mandatory for animal shelters as the shelter reform bill, S3019, does along with serious penalties for significant errors (especially if deliberate). In order for animal shelters to take data reporting seriously, we may also need to require audits of these reports. Thus, these results show we need stronger laws and the New Jersey Department of Health to play a greater role in ensuring reported animal shelter statistics are in fact accurate.

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

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

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

2016 Dog and Cat Stats

The Animal Intake and Disposition report prepared by the New Jersey Department of Health only allows one to calculate the number of animals killed as a percentage of total animals impounded or intake. I prefer calculating the kill rate as a percentage of outcomes rather than intake as this metric directly compares positive and negative outcomes. Using intake may depress the kill rate since shelters can simply hold animals for a long time to the point of overcrowding. However, that did not happen this year primarily due to several shelters reporting significantly more outcomes than intake. Associated Humane Societies-Newark had the largest discrepancy and it was likely due to the shelter reporting incorrect numbers. Calculating the kill rate based on outcomes rather than intake caused the dog kill rate to go from 8.9% to 8.7% and the cat kill rate to change from 25.4% to 24.8%.

To calculate the statewide kill rate, we must also back out transfers from one New Jersey animal shelter to another state facility to avoid counting animals still in the state’s shelter system or registering two outcomes for the same animal (i.e. one New Jersey animal shelter transfers a dog or cat to another state facility who then adopts out the animal). This adjustment increases the dog kill rate from 8.7% to 9.5% and the cat kill rate from 24.8%% to 26.8%.

In addition, we should increase the kill rate for animals who died or went missing in shelters. In the past, I’ve labeled this metric the death rate as these animals are likely dead or in a very bad situation. Unfortunately, the Shelter/Pound Annual Report includes animals who died or went missing in the “Other” outcome category. The “Other” category contains positive live releases, such as TNR for cats, at a few shelters. While including the “Other” category in the death rate for most shelters is appropriate (i.e. those facilities that don’t do TNR or don’t include cats released through TNR programs in “Other” outcomes), I’m no longer doing this due to an increasing number of shelters implementing TNR. Instead, I calculated the kill rate by subtracting out “Other” outcomes from total outcomes. If a shelter specifies the number of animals included in “Other” that left the shelter alive, I count this as “Other Live Release” and do not back these amounts out of total outcomes. After making this adjustment, the dog kill rate increases from 9.5% to 9.6% and the cat kill rate rises from 26.8% to 28.5%. For those interested in seeing the estimated death rates, I included them in the Appendix to my last blog as well as the supporting spreadsheet.

Also, many shelters transport easy to adopt animals from out of state which artificially increases live release rates. To properly calculate the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives, we need to adjust for transports. Unfortunately, shelters don’t break out their save rates by local and out of state animals. However, most likely nearly all of the out of state animals (primarily puppies and easy to adopt dogs) make it out of shelters alive. Therefore, I back out the number of out of state transports to estimate the local kill rate except for St. Hubert’s. Since St. Hubert’s subsequently transfers many of these animals to other shelters, I only subtract out the number of dogs St. Hubert’s rescues from out of state less the number of dogs it transfers to other shelters. This adjustment increases the New Jersey dog kill rate from 9.6% to 11.9% and the state cat death rate from 28.5% to 28.6%.

Also, I estimate a maximum local kill rate by including the number of unaccounted for animals described in the section above. Making this adjustment increases the maximum potential New Jersey dog kill rate from 11.9% to 14.1% and the maximum potential state cat kill rate from 28.6% to 31.6%.

Some animal shelters quickly return large percentages of their animals to owners. At these shelters, the populations served are typically well-off and animals are licensed and have microchips. To account for the animals facilities actually have to shelter, I calculated a kill rate for non-reclaimed animals and a maximum potential kill rate for non-reclaimed local animals. The non-reclaimed kill rate and maximum potential kill rate for dogs is 13.4% and 22.2%. Non-reclaimed cats had a 30.8% kill rate and a 34.3% maximum potential kill rate. Thus, the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives in our state’s animal shelters may be much higher than the state summary report suggests.

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

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

2016 Dog Kill Rate Less Other V2

2016 Cat Kill Rate Less Other

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

In terms of raw numbers, the following shelters killed the most animals:

2016 Dogs Killed

2016 Cats Killed.jpg

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

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

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

Unaccounted for Dogs.jpg

Unaccounted for Cats.jpg

Dog and cat kill rates at many shelters may be even higher if these unaccounted for animals are counted as killed. If we only consider animal shelters which reported transporting few or no animals in 2016, facilities with the highest dog and cat kill rates considering the unaccounted for animals described above are as follows:

2016 Dog Maximum Potential Kill Rate

2016 Cat Maximum Potential Kill Rate

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

Shelters Turn Their Backs on New Jersey’s Animals

New Jersey animal shelters rescue far more dogs from out of state than from other New Jersey animal shelters. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters transferred in 7,948 dogs from out of state animal shelters and only rescued 2,669 dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. However, St. Hubert’s frequently transfers a substantial number of its transports quickly to its partners in New Jersey and other states. If I back these out of the transports figure, it decreases from 7,948 dogs to 6,117 dogs. As a comparison, the total and adjusted transports in 2015 were 5,350 dogs and 5,004 dogs. While the state’s local kill rate decreased in 2016, it is likely the local kill rate would have decreased by more if not for the massive number of out of state transports.

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

Dogs Transported In

Return to Owner Rates Better Than Average at Most Shelters

Return to owners (“RTO”) rates are one of the positive results from this analysis. Overall, the dog and cat RTO rates of 56% and 10% are several times the national average. However, several shelters included cats placed into TNR programs as owner reclaims and therefore overstated their cat reclaim rates. As I noted in my blog on reuniting lost pets with owners, return to owner rates are highly correlated with socioeconomic status. Wealthier people likely have more resources/knowledge to license and microchip their dogs. Similarly, people with greater incomes are more likely to afford reclaim fees or ransom payments to animal shelters. New Jersey’s RTO rates for dogs clearly fit this pattern with shelters serving wealthy towns returning most stray dogs to owners while certain urban shelters are returning a much lower percentage of lost dogs to owners. Clearly, we need to help people in urban areas get microchips and ID tags on their dogs. Additionally, we need to create pet help desks at shelters in these cities to help people pay the reclaim fees, which are often mandated by the cities themselves, when necessary. The statewide cat reclaim rate, like figures from across the nation, is still very low and suggests shelters need to figure out better ways to get lost cats back to their families.

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

Non-Reclaimed Dog Kill Rate

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

Max Potential Nonreclaimed Kill Rate.jpg

Shelters Leave Animal Enclosures Empty While Dogs and Cats Die

New Jersey animal shelters fail to use their space to save animals. Based on the average number of animals at all of New Jersey’s animal shelters at the beginning and the end of 2016, only 46% of dog and 65% of cat capacity was used. Given December is a low intake month, I also increased these populations to an average intake month. This adjustment only raised the dog capacity utilization to 47%. While this adjustment did increase the cat population to a level exceeding capacity, it is highly unlikely this happened in reality. Shelter inspection reports I’ve reviewed did not reveal significantly larger dog and cat populations in the summer and winter months. This is likely due to the influx of highly adoptable kittens having short lengths of stay and shelters killing cats with empty cages.

Many animal shelters with low kill rates failed to rescue animals with their excess space. Additionally, other shelters used little of their available space and still killed a large percentage of their animals. Some examples after increasing the population (and therefore capacity utilization) based on the adjustment discussed above are as follows:

Space Usage Dogs.jpg

Space Usage Cats

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

New Jersey’s animal shelters continue to fail the state’s animals. The state’s animal shelters only impound 8.5 dogs and cats per 1,000 New Jersey residents. If we just count animals originating from New Jersey, the state’s animal shelters only impound 7.6 dogs and cats per 1,000 people. As a comparison, the average community in the country impounds anywhere from 14-30 animals per 1,000 residents based on estimates from Animal People Newspaper and the Humane Society of the United States. Despite New Jersey shelters impounding a fraction of the animals other no kill communities take in on a per capita basis, the state’s animal control facilities continue to kill and allow animals to die under their care. Even worse, many of these shelters can’t even properly keep track of how many animals leave their facilities dead or alive. Our state’s animals deserve far better treatment than this. Contact your local city council members and mayor and demand better from the animal shelter serving your community. We can do so much better and it is time our shelters operate this way.

 

New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Improve in 2016

In 2015, New Jersey animal shelter statistics significantly improved. More cats left the state’s shelters alive, but the dog live release rate increased primarily due to lower animal intake. While the decrease in the kill rate in 2015 was great news, it might not be sustainable if shelters take in more animals.

How did New Jersey animal shelters perform in 2016 compared to 2015? What caused these changes? What shelters had positive and negative impacts on the state’s kill rate in 2016?

Killing Decreases at a Slower Rate in 2016

The table below summarizes the dog statistics in 2016 and 2015. To see how I calculate the various metrics, please review the footnotes in this link and my blog analyzing the 2015 statistics. You can view the 2016 statistics here.

This year I replaced the “death rate” metrics with “kill rate less other” ones. More shelters are including cats released into TNR programs in the other outcomes category. Therefore, counting other outcomes as died or missing may no longer be appropriate for cats. As such, I subtracted other outcomes from total outcomes to calculate a kill rate based on known outcomes. In order to be consistent, I also used this calculation for dogs. To see the “death rate” calculations, please look in the Appendix at the end of this blog. The year over year changes between the “kill rate less other” and “death rate” calculations were not significantly different.

All dog and cat statistics improved in 2016 verses 2015. On the positive side, the kill rate for non-reclaimed dogs decreased more than the other kill rates. Since high reclaim rates sometimes mask killing of dogs at shelters, this is good news. On the other hand, the much more modest improvement in the maximum potential kill rate metrics are concerning. Since more animals were unaccounted for in 2016 than 2015, this could indicate shelters killed animals they did not include in their statistics.

2016 Verses 2015 Dog Kill Rates.jpg

2016 Verses 2015 Cat Kill Rates

All of these metrics improved at much slower rate in 2016 compared to 2015. Overall, the dog kill rate adjusted for New Jersey transfers in 2016 only decreased at 57% of the rate as in 2015 (1.7% verses 3.0% decrease). Similarly, the cat kill rate adjusted for New Jersey transfers only decreased at 54% of the rate as in 2015 (3.7% verses 6.9% decrease). Since the year over year change in the death rate metrics in the Appendix were very similar to the kill rate data in the tables above, we can compare those death rate tables to the same data from my blog from last year. The maximum local death rate for dogs in 2016 decreased at just 10% (0.5% decrease in 2016 and 5.2% drop in 2015) of the rate in 2015. For cats, this metric decreased at just 16% of the rate in 2015 (1.6% decrease in 2016 and 9.8% drop in 2015). Finally, the non-reclaimed dog death rate decreased at 72% of the rate in 2015 (2.8% decrease in 2016 and 3.9% decrease in 2015) while the non-reclaimed cat death rate dropped by 34% of the rate in 2015 (2.4% decrease in 2016 verses 7.1% decrease in 2015).

While the decreased rate of improvement in 2016 is disappointing, this may be due to an unusually large drop in killing in 2015. In 2016, both the dog and cat kill rates adjusted for New Jersey transfers decreased more than these metrics did in 2014 (dogs: 1.7% verses 0.3% decrease; cats: 3.7% verses 3.4% decrease).

Positive Outcomes Drive Increased Life Saving

New Jersey animal shelters significantly increased the number of dogs leaving their facilities alive in 2016. Despite animal intake increasing (i.e. reflected in 3,619 more dog outcomes and a 12% rise from 2015), New Jersey animal shelters reported killing 242 fewer dogs. Even if we count “other” outcomes as died or missing, 219 fewer dogs lost their lives in 2016. Adoptions and transfers to rescues increased by 1,873 dogs or 12% and 1,731 dogs or 62%. While dogs transported in accounts for some of the increased adoptions, local adoptions still increased by 700 dogs.

2016 Vs 2015 Dog Outcomes.jpg

Even if I exclude St. Hubert’s, which transports many dogs in and quickly transports those dogs out (i.e. inflating total outcomes and sent to rescue amounts), the general trend remains the same.

2016 Vs 2015 Dog Outcomes Excluding St. Hubert'sThe following shelters contributed most to the decrease in the statewide dog kill rate.

2016 Verses 2015 Dog Kill Rate Largest Impacts.jpg

The table below provides insight as to why these shelters decreased the statewide dog kill rate the most. As you can see, all the shelters, which are relatively large, had kill rates over 10% in 2015 and all except Associated Humane Societies-Newark reported decreases in those kill rates. All the shelters except for Burlington County Animal Shelter, AHS-Newark and Cumberland County SPCA had fewer outcomes primarily due to decreased dog intake. Since outcomes and intake increased overall in the state and these facilities have above average kill rates, these shelters had a smaller impact on the state’s dog kill rate in 2016. This also applies to AHS-Newark since its dog outcomes were essentially flat last year.

2016 Large Decrease in Dog Kill Rate Shelters.jpg

The following table explains why most of these shelters’ kill rates decreased. In the case of Burlington County Animal Shelter, it adopted out many more dogs. On the other hand, Cumberland County SPCA sent more animals to rescues. Almost Home Animal Shelter switched from operating a kill shelter with animal control contracts to a limited admission facility. Most the other facilities except for AHS-Newark had fewer positive outcomes due to fewer animal outcomes, but the decrease in killing was greater. Thus, these shelters improved primarily due to having fewer animals come in.

2016 Verses 2015 Dog Decrease in Kill Rate Outcomes.jpg

Other Shelters Increased Statewide Dog Kill Rate

While the statewide dog kill rate decreased in 2016, several shelters partially offset this decrease. Specifically, the following shelters increased the dog kill rate, but this was more than offset by the facilities above.

2016 Shelters Increasing State Dog Kill Rate

The following table provides more details on these shelters. Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s dog kill rate increased dramatically to a very high level in 2016. Tyco Animal Control-Wyckoff’s increase in its dog kill rate in 2016 was due to it taking in dogs in 2016 and not 2015. All the other shelters reported kill rate increases from relatively low levels. However, the increased dog kill rates at some facilities could reflect changing management philosophies. For example, Old Bridge Animal Shelter effectively banned its volunteers and that could have resulted in the shelter killing more dogs for behavioral and other reasons. Finally, several shelters having much lower kill rates than the statewide kill rate took fewer dogs in during 2016 causing the statewide kill rate to increase.

2016 Dog Kill Rate Increasing Shelters

The table below explains why most of these shelters’ dog kill rates increased. Despite total outcomes increasing, all types of live releases decreased at Franklin Township Animal Shelter while the facility killed many more dogs. Liberty Humane Society’s and Edison Animal Shelter’s increased kill rates were driven by lower owner reclaims and more dogs killed. Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s increased kill rate seemed to result from fewer adoptions and more dogs killed. Montville Animal Shelter’s owner reclaims and adoptions decreased significantly while it killed more animals. Most of the other shelters killed a greater percentage of dogs and had fewer live releases relative to total outcomes in 2016 verses 2015.

2016 Dog Kill Rate Increasing Shelters Outcomes.jpg

More Cats Leave Shelters Alive

New Jersey animal shelters significantly increased the number of cats leaving their facilities alive in 2016. Despite animal intake increasing (i.e. reflected in 1,717 more cat outcomes and a 4% rise from 2015), New Jersey animal shelters reported killing 1,219 fewer cats. Even if we count “other” outcomes as died or missing, 872 fewer cats lost their lives in 2016. Adoptions and transfers to rescues increased by 929 cats or 4% and 605 cats or 8%. Additionally, the significant increase in return to owners of 1,055 cats or 48% and other outcomes of 347 cats or 12% likely reflects shelters practicing TNR/SNR more.

2016 Cat Changes

The following shelters decreased the statewide cat kill rate the most.

2016 verses 2015 cat kill rate shelter decreases.jpg

The following table provides insight as to why these shelters decreased the statewide cat kill rate the most. As you can see, all the shelters, which are relatively large, had kill rates over 20% in 2015 and all reported decreases in those kill rates. All the shelters except for Bergen County Animal Shelter and Camden County Animal Shelter had fewer outcomes primarily due to decreased cat intake. Since outcomes and intake increased overall in the state and most of these facilities have above average kill rates, these shelters had a smaller impact on the state’s kill rate in 2016.

2016 verses 2015 cat kill rate decreases shelters.jpg

The table below explains why most of these shelters’ kill rates decreased. Cumberland County SPCA’s kill rate decreased due to it sending many more cats to rescues. Bergen County Animal Shelter’s kill rate decreased due to the organization sending many more cats into its TNR program (classified as return to owner). Camden County Animal Shelter’s kill rate dropped due to increased adoptions and more cats sent to rescues. Almost Home Animal Shelter switched from operating a kill shelter with animal control contracts to a limited admission facility. The other facilities had fewer positive outcomes due to fewer animal outcomes, but the decrease in killing was greater. Thus, these shelters improved primarily due to having fewer animals come in.

2016 Verses 2015 Cat LR Improve Shelter Outcomes.jpg

Other Shelters Increased Statewide Cat Kill Rate

While the statewide cat kill rate decreased in 2016, several shelters partially offset this decrease. Specifically, the following facilities increased the cat kill rate, but this was more than offset by the shelters above.

2016 verses 2015 cat increases kill rate

The following table provides more details on these shelters. T. Blumig Kennels’ cat kill rate increased dramatically to a very high level in 2016. Tyco Animal Control-Wyckoff’s increase in its cat kill rate in 2016 is due to it taking in cats in 2016 and not 2015. All the other shelters, except for Burlington County Animal Shelter, reported increases in their cat kill rates in 2016. Finally, many of these shelters had above average kill rates and took many more cats in during the year. Therefore, these shelters’ cat outcomes represented a larger portion of total cat outcomes in New Jersey and caused an increase in the statewide cat kill rate.

2016 verses 2015 cat kr increases shelters.jpg

The table below explains why most of these shelters’ kill rates increased. Most of these facilities’ kill rates increased due to these shelters taking in and killing more animals in 2016. Woodbridge Animal Shelter had several hoarding cases that increased intake and killing. These facilities need to improve their adoption and other programs to handle increased intake. AHS-Newark and Hamilton Township Animal Shelter reported a significant decrease in cat adoptions despite having more total cat outcomes. T. Blumig Kennels reported significantly fewer cat adoptions and less cats sent to rescue despite total cat outcomes barely decreasing.

2016 cat kr increase shelter outcomes.jpg

Advocacy Works

Overall, New Jersey’s 2016 animal shelter statistics are good news. While killing decreased at a lower rate last year than in 2015, New Jersey animal shelters took in more animals in 2016. Therefore, New Jersey animal shelters had to work harder to save additional animals. Given New Jersey animal shelters saved more animals, this suggests the state’s shelters as a whole are improving their lifesaving programs.

Clearly, growing animal advocacy efforts are pressuring shelters to improve. Individuals contacting their elected representatives puts pressure on shelters to do better. Similarly, donors communicating their concerns to privately run facilities also makes it difficult for these organizations to not make positive changes. Most importantly, this pressure provides strong incentives to these shelters to work with boots on the ground animal advocates, such as TNR groups, rescues and shelter volunteers. Thus, the synergistic efforts of no kill advocates and people working directly with animals helped drive the state’s improved animal sheltering statistics.

That being said, many New Jersey animal shelters are still horrific. In my next blog, I will identify these shelters and detail how they are failing their animals.

Appendix – Death Rates 

The statistics below calculate “death rates” assuming animals in “Other” outcomes lost their lives or went missing using the methodology from last year’s blog. The change in the “death rates” used below and “kill rates” in the tables above from 2016 and 2015 were not significantly different.

2016 Verses 2015 Dog Death Rates

2016 Verses 2015 Cat Death Rates

2015 Cat Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

Cats are losing their lives at an alarming rate in New Jersey animal shelters. Nearly 16,000 cats or 36% of the cats coming into New Jersey animal shelters in 2015 were killed, died or went missing. This blog explores the reasons why this tragedy is occurring and whether we can end the massacre. Additionally, I’ll try and answer the question whether shelters need to resort to neutering and releasing healthy friendly cats or not impounding these cats at all to avoid killing cats in shelters.

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. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey cats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ideally, I would perform two analyses as follows:

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

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

The second analysis assumes local laws cannot be changed and shelters are stuck receiving unadoptable feral cats. Unfortunately, I do not have the data to calculate the percentage of truly feral cats received at each New Jersey animal shelter. Based on an analysis of Michigan animal shelter data, Nathan Winograd estimated at least 6% of cat intake at Michigan animal shelters are truly feral cats. Similarly, Wisconsin’s Clark County Humane Society 2014 cat statistics show feral cats who were trapped, vaccinated and returned to the community made up 7% of cat outcomes. Based on these numbers and the success of barn cat programs in Pflugerville, Texas and the Maryville, Tennessee area, barn cat programs should be able to save most feral cats in similar communities. On the other hand, California’s Orange County Animal Care reported approximately 24% of the cats it took in during 2012, which was before it practiced TNR, were feral and euthanized. However, I suspect at least some of these cats were fearful rather than truly feral and could have been socialized and eventually adopted out. In fact, a recent study documented 18% of impounded cats were feral/aggressive, but all these cats became safe enough to adopt out after people gently touched the cats and spoke to them softly for 6 days. Thus, the number of truly feral cats may be much lower than the amount of cats most shelters label as aggressive.

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

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

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save most of the state’s healthy and treatable cats. The table below details the targeted numbers of cat outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 44,418 New Jersey cats coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2015, 30,099 and 8,582 cats should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the cats in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had enough capacity to rescue 26,383 cats or more than three times the number of cats needing rescue from space constrained facilities. Unfortunately, some of the cats needing rescue, such as very young kittens, should not go to a shelter and still must go to either kitten nurseries or foster homes. That being said, many adult cats are in fact killed in New Jersey animal shelters and many facilities with excess space could save these cats.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many cats from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out at least 17,801 cats from out of state shelters or New Jersey’s streets after achieving a greater than 90% live release rate for cats coming into the state’s animal shelters. In reality, the New Jersey shelter system could rescue more than 17,801 cats from out of state shelters or from New Jersey’s streets given the 17,801 figure assumes all cats needing rescue from space constrained New Jersey shelters are sent to other New Jersey shelters as opposed to rescue groups. As explained above, some of the cats needing rescue from New Jersey shelters with a shortage of space are young kittens which should not go to most animal shelters. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters contain enough space to make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for cats and increase those cities’ cat live release rates to 92% as follows (per 2015 data):

  • New York City – 2,267 additional cats need saving
  • Philadelphia – 2,786 additional cats need saving

Certainly, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. Even if I assumed all of the out of state cats rescued by New Jersey animal shelters came from New York City and Philadelphia, that number is only 6% of the number that New Jersey shelters could rescue from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. While some of these cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters are young kittens which should not go to a normal animal shelter, many other cats could go to New Jersey animal shelters and be adopted out. As a result, the additional number of cats New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City and Philadelphia is not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for cats and help other states reach that goal as well.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 6.3 cats per 1,000 people in the state (4.4 cats per 1,000 people if no cats were rescued from out of state and all cats sent to rescue were rescued by other New Jersey animal shelters and adopted out). As a comparison, recent per capita cat adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 17.2 cats per 1,000 people
  • Tompkins County SPCA (Ithaca, New York area) – 14.8 cats per 1,000 people
  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 11.9 cats per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada and Carson City, Nevada areas) – 9.7 cats per 1,000 people

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

Additionally, the adoption target, 6.3 cats per 1,000 people, I set for New Jersey animal shelters is lower than the state of Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate of 7.7 cats per 1,000 people. Given Colorado still has some regressive animal shelters and only an 84% live release rate for cats, Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate can increase. Thus, the cat adoption targets I laid out for New Jersey animal shelters are quite achievable.

2015-cat-model-summary

Cat Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

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

The tables below detail the cat kill rates at each New Jersey animal shelter. These figures do not include cats who died or went missing. Shelters having cat kill rates equal to or less than 8% and greater than 8% are highlighted in green and red in the tables below.

The overall results show too many cats are unnecessarily losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. 12,370 savable cats lost their lives or went missing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2015 under the assumption cats classified as “Other” in each shelter’s statistics died or went missing. While some of the cats in the “Other” Category may have went through TNR programs, it has been my experience based on reviews of underlying records from several local shelters that most of the cats in the “Other” category died or went missing. Obviously, some of the cats shelters killed were truly feral and required TNR or placement as barn/warehouse cats, but surely many others could have been adopted out. Thus, New Jersey’s shelter system is failing its cats.

Several animal shelters in South Jersey and elsewhere account for a large percentage of the savable cats unnecessarily losing their lives. Specifically, Gloucester County Animal Shelter, Cumberland County SPCA, Burlington County Animal Shelter, Atlantic County Animal Shelter and Camden County Animal Shelter account for 5,695 or 46% of the 12,370 cats needlessly losing their lives. Associated Humane Societies three shelters had 2,285 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2015. Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility had 978 cats lose their lives needlessly in 2015. Bergen County Animal Shelter, which happens to serve many towns in one of the country’s wealthiest counties, had 495 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2015. Collectively, these 11 shelters are 11% of the state’s shelters and account for 9,453 or 76% of the cats needlessly losing their lives.

Rescue oriented shelters generally had fewer cats lose their lives than targeted. While saving large numbers of cats is what we all want, some of these shelters may have achieved this result by taking in easier cats. Austin Pets Alive, which is a rescue oriented shelter in Texas, has developed some of the most innovative cat programs and only had a cat live release rate of 94% in 2015. This was due to Austin Pets Alive taking in many cats requiring significant treatment, such as neonatal kittens, from the city animal control shelter. As a result, some of the rescue oriented shelters with significantly fewer cats euthanized than targeted may have avoided taking in many of the more difficult cases.

Several animal control shelters euthanized the targeted number of cats or fewer. Borough of Hopatcong Pound, Byram Township Animal Shelter, Cape May County Animal Shelter, Denville Animal Shelter, Edison Animal Shelter, Ewing Animal Shelter, Father John’s Animal House, Humane Society of Ocean County, Liberty Humane Society, Monmouth SPCA, Montclair Animal Shelter, Montgomery Township Animal Shelter, Pequannock Township Animal Shelter, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter, Randolph Township Pound, Rockaway Animal Hospital LLC, Secaucus Animal Shelter, Somerset Regional Animal Shelter, St. Hubert’s-Madison, Trenton Animal Shelter, Wayne Animal Shelter and West Milford Animal Shelter prove animal control shelters can avoid killing healthy and treatable cats.

2015 Cat Kill Rate.jpg

2015 Cat Kill Rate (2).jpg

2015 Cat Kill Rate (3).jpg

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

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

Overall, New Jersey shelters are not receiving enough help from other animal welfare organizations. While the overall number of cats rescued was 93% of the amount needed for the state as a whole, the actual number was 48% since many cats were rescued from facilities which did not require so much rescue assistance. Only 25 out of the 74 facilities needing rescue assistance received the required support. In other words, only 34% of the animal shelters needing rescue help received the amount these facilities require.

We truly need to understand the reasons for this rescue shortfall. While poor data collection (i.e. shelters classifying rescues as adoptions) may explain part of this rescue deficit, the large size of this number points to other causes as well. For example, New Jersey shelters significantly exceeded their dog rescue needs, but just 34% of shelters needing cat rescue assistance received the needed support. Certainly, some of these cats are feral and not candidates for most rescues. However, many other cats surely are home-able. Many high kill facilities may not reach out to rescues for cats, such as during kitten season, as much as they do for dogs. This data supports the need for the Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”), which requires shelters to contact rescues and other facilities at least two business days before killing animals. On the other hand, shelters with excess capacity may not be doing their part to save cats from space constrained facilities.

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

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 648 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Paterson Animal Control – 264 more cats transferred than necessary (estimated due to the shelter’s incorrect reporting of rescues as adoptions)
  • Liberty Humane Society – 176 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 167 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Atlantic County Animal Shelter – 165 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Toms River Animal Facility – 163 more cats transferred than necessary

While Liberty Humane Society is known as a progressive shelter, most of the other facilities are not good in my opinion. Local activists have campaigned to remove Toms River Animal Facility’s Shelter Director, Jim Bowen. Associated Humane Societies-Newark has a history of problems and kills animals for ridiculous reasons. Paterson Animal Control has no volunteer program, no social media page or even a website with animals for adoption. Thus, many shelters receiving greater than expected rescue support seem to do little more than allow rescues to save the day.

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

  • Cumberland County SPCA – 668 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Northern Ocean County Animal Facility – 420 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Vorhees Animal Orphanage – 266 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Southern Ocean County Animal Facility – 243 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 194 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 168 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Parsippany Animal Shelter – 155 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Camden County Animal Shelter – 104 fewer cats transferred than necessary

The million dollar question is why do these shelters receive very little rescue help? Some, such as Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility, reported no cats sent to rescues and may incorrectly count these animals as adopted. As you will see below, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts out many cats and is doing a good job. On the other hand, Gloucester County Animal Shelter routinely illegally killed animals during the 7 day hold period, allowed disease to spread like wildfire and does not adopt out animals at the shelter on weekends. Similarly, Bergen County Animal Shelter is a high kill facility and refuses to even give information to rescues over the phone. Parsippany Animal Shelter has long had a tumultuous relationship with the animal welfare community. As a result, shelters receiving too little rescue help may or may not be doing their part to get that assistance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 7 out of 97 shelters met the cat adoption goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets. Animal Welfare Association exceeded its cat adoption target by the most of any shelter in terms of total adoptions. Animal Welfare Association has reasonable normal adoption fees of $95 for kittens and $65 for adult cats, but runs reduced and no adoption fee promotions as well. Animal Welfare Association also waives fees for certain cats who may take longer to adopt out, such as cats who are older or have behavioral or health issues. Furthermore, the shelter’s “Best Friends” program allows people who adopt a cat to pay just $25 for a second cat who is 1 year or older. Animal Welfare Association also waives cat adoption fees for active military personnel and veterans in its Pets for Vets program. The shelter also waives adoption fees for senior citizens adopting certain senior pets. Additionally, Animal Welfare Association uses an open adoption process focused on properly matching animals and people rather than an overly judgmental procedure based on black and white rules. To aid its open adoptions process, Animal Welfare Association uses the ASPCA’s Feline-ality program. Animal Welfare Association’s adoption rate increased by 20% and its cat length of stay decreased by 23 days after the shelter implemented the Feline-ality program. Finally, Animal Welfare Association installed perches in their cat enclosures to provide cats more vertical space which keeps the cats happier and more adoptable. Beacon Animal Rescue also exceeded its adoption target and charges a reasonable $75 fee for all cats. Other rescue oriented shelters exceeding their adoption targets were Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge. Thus, several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their cat adoption targets and Animal Welfare Association used a variety of innovative strategies to adopt out many cats.

Several animal control shelters also exceeded their adoption targets. Despite not being open many hours, West Milford Animal Shelter exceeded its adoption goal. This shelter charges a very reasonable $35 fee for all cats and runs a creative Facebook page called “The Real Cats at West Milford Animal Shelter.” Byram Township Animal Shelter also exceeded its adoption goal. While the shelter has very limited adoption hours, the shelter’s volunteer organization partner also holds frequent adoption days at high traffic retail stores. The shelter’s volunteer organization charges reasonable adoption fees of $65 and $85 for cats and kittens, but also sometimes offers discounts when two or more cats are adopted together. Also, adoption fees for senior and special needs cats are only $35. Vorhees Animal Orphanage also exceeded its adoption goal. This shelter’s normal adoption fees are quite reasonable. For example, senior cats and special needs cats are $25 and adult cats are $75. The shelter also is open 7 days a week, including weekday evenings and weekends (except one Wednesday a month and certain holidays), which makes it convenient for working people to adopt animals. Additionally, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts cats out at one PetSmart store and three PetValu locations. Thus, several animal control shelters exceeded or came close to achieving their cat adoption goals and therefore prove these adoption targets are achievable.

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

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

Associated Humane Societies performance is particularly disappointing. Specifically, Associated Humane Societies has the physical capacity to significantly reduce the killing of healthy and treatable cats. Associated Humane Societies adoption shortfall of 6,971 cats is 56% of the 12,370 cats unnecessarily losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters. Associated Humane Societies has the funding to reach these adoption targets as the organization took in nearly $9 million of revenue last year. This works out to $462 of revenue per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in per my Life Saving Model. As a comparison, KC Pet Project, which is a no kill open admission shelter in Kansas City, Missouri, took in only $318 of revenue per dog and cat. Activists wanting to increase life saving in New Jersey should focus on changing Associated Humane Societies’ policies given the lifesaving potential of this organization.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adoption shortfall of 1,768 cats is quite disappointing. Bergen County is among the top 1% of the nation’s wealthiest counties and the shelter received $470 of funding per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in based on direct support from Bergen County and the revenue from the local charity that helps support the shelter.

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Cats

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

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of cats they should. 82 of the 97 shelters should rescue some cats from other local shelters. In fact, 48 of the 82 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single cat from other animal shelters. Only 5 shelters with significant amounts of space to rescue cats from nearby shelters met or exceeded their cat rescue target. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of healthy and treatable cats.2015-rr

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

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

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

Shelters Do Not Need to Leave Friendly Cats on the Street

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

Kitten Nurseries and Ringworm Wards Key to Saving Vulnerable Cats

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

Kitten nurseries or bottle baby wards radically increase the save rate for orphaned kittens still requiring milk. While foster care and rescue programs can save unweaned kittens, kitten nurseries are more efficient and make the job easier. Austin Animal Services, which is the animal control shelter in Austin, Texas, killed 1,200 plus kittens a year before Austin Pets Alive created a bottle baby program. Volunteers work in two hour shifts to feed and care for the kittens. Additionally, nursing mothers are pulled from the city shelter and used to help nurse highly vulnerable young kittens who are orphaned. Kittens are put on antibiotics and treated for fleas and worms immediately to help prevent complications from transitioning from breast milk to formula. Austin Pets Alive has pulled as many as 1,600 kittens a year from the city shelter and saved nearly 90% of these kittens in recent years through this bottle baby program. Best Friends created a kitten nursery in South Salt Lake City, Utah and saved 1,400 kittens from Salt Lake City area shelters. Thus, kitten nursery programs can save young and vulnerable kittens.

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

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

Results Require New Jersey Animal Shelters to Take Action

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

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

Appendix Life Saving Model Assumptions

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

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

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

Each shelter’s community cat intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty cases), number of cats returned to owners, and maximum cat capacity were taken from its 2015 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health. You can see the full data set I compiled from these reports here.

  • Community cat intake and cats returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 cats were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 cats (240/12). In July, the cat intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 cats by 1.2 to equal 24 cats. If 120 cats were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of cats returned to owners in July would equal 12 cats (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off the average of the 2015 cat intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • The estimated number of community cats returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country.
  • The number of community cats euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 8% of intake. 8% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate to use given other open admission animal shelters, such as Austin Animal Services, equal or exceed this target and New Jersey’s much lower per capita cat intake makes it easier to save lives. The average length of stay for euthanized cats is assumed to equal 8 days. I assume these cats have severe and untreatable health issues and are euthanized immediately after their required 7 day hold period.
  • The average length of stay used for adopted community cats was 42 days. This estimate was roughly halfway between the average cat length of stay figures for a number of no kill animal control shelters. For example, the average length of stay for cats in recent years was 14.2 days at Texas’s Williamson County Animal Shelter, less than 18 days at Nevada Humane Society, 19 days (25 days for cats and 8 days for kittens) at Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society, 33 days (32 days for cats and 34 days for kittens) at New Hampshire SPCA, 35 days at Montana’s Flathead County Animal Shelter, 40 days at Lynchburg Humane Society, and 61 days for adopted cats only at New York’s Tompkins County SPCA. While the average length of stay of adopted cats at these shelters other than Tompkins County SPCA may have been slightly higher since this data is for all cats and not just those adopted, the difference is not likely significant given adoptions represent most of the outcomes at these shelters. Unfortunately, I was not able to break down the adoption length of stay figures by age or breed for New Jersey’s shelters like I did in my analysis on dogs due to a lack of detailed cat intake data at New Jersey animal shelters. Upon reviewing cats up for adoption at several New Jersey animal control shelters and a few of the high performing facilities above, I did not see any significant differences in types of cats taken in. In the future, I hope to refine this analysis further.
  • The average length of stay used for community cats adopted out from rescue oriented shelters was 30 days. Rescue oriented animal shelters typically carefully select animals taken into their shelters. Based on the San Francisco’s SPCA’s 21 day and Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation’s 23 day average length of stay figures reported a number of years ago, I used a shorter length of stay for community cats adopted from New Jersey animal shelters without animal control contracts. I chose 30 days as a conservative estimate.
  • Cats transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community cats not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month outside of kitten season (i.e. November-March). However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, cats are moved from adoption (i.e. with a longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • During kitten season (April-October), animal control shelters are assumed to send a certain percentage of cats to rescues even if they have excess space. Due to the large numbers of kittens coming into shelters during these months, I assume shelters will not be able to place all of them into foster homes or a kitten nursery at this time. As a result, I assume animal control shelters will send 10% of their annual community cat intake to rescues based on the shelters’ estimated relative cat intake each month. For example, if a shelter took 100 cats in during the year and August made up 50% of the total cat intake from April to November, 5 cats would go to rescue in August (i.e. 100*10% = 10 cats; 10*50% = 5 cats). I used 10% based off the rescue percentage of cat intake in 2014 at Kansas City’s KC Pet Project. KC Pet Project is a no kill open admission shelter with an inadequate facility and is a good comparison for some of our state’s run down shelters. Shelters requiring rescue support due to space constraints are assumed to send these additional cats to rescues during kitten season.
  • Shelters are not expected to use the excess space created by fosters taking kittens to rescue and adopt out additional cats. This is based on the assumption that the kittens will return to shelters once old enough to safely stay at the facilities.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out cats from other New Jersey animal shelters. Given some of these cats will be young and highly vulnerable kittens, I assume 5% of these rescues will be euthanized for humane reasons. I used 5% based off Austin Pets Alive’s and Austin Humane Society’s weighted average cat euthanasia rate in 2014. These two shelters pull many cats from Austin Animal Services, which is the city’s animal control shelter, and their cat euthanasia rate is a reasonable proxy for the percentage of hopelessly suffering cats rescued from animal control shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter cats are saved, I assume additional cats are pulled from nearby states. The average length of stay for rescued and adopted cats is the same as the cats taken in by animal control shelters (i.e. 42 days). Similarly, I used 8 days as the average length of stay for rescued and euthanized cats from other shelters.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many cats New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue and rescue from other nearby animal shelters.
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they run out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used cat adoption length of stay data from Perth Amboy Animal Shelter from 2014 and the first half of 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted cats in the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average cat adoption length of stay determined in the model above and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • The targeted number of cats adopted were capped at 8 cats per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of cats adopted were equal to this cap. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted adoptions in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of cats adopted in the county to yield the targeted numbers of cats adopted in the modified model. Rescued and euthanized cats for these shelters were reduced based on the modified model’s assumption that shelters adopted out and euthanized 95% and 5% of rescued cats.

2014 New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Show Little Improvement

East Orange Animal Shelter Dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dog Death rate 2014

Cat Death Rate 2014

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

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

Total Killed Died 2014 Dogs

Total Killed Died 2014 Cats

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

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

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

Unacct dogs

Unacct cats 2014

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

Max Pot Dr 2014 Dogs

Max Pot cats 2014

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

Shelters Turn Their Backs on New Jersey’s Animals

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

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

Dogs Transported 2014

Return to Owner Rates Better Than Average at Most Shelters

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

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

non-reclaimed dog death rate

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

Max non-reclaimed dog death rate

Shelters Leave Animal Enclosures Empty While Dogs and Cats Die

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

Space usage dogs 2014

Space usage Cats 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SNR Program Would Dramatically Increase Life Saving in New Jersey

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

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

NJ Shelter Cats Model for Blog SNR Summary

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

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

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

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

NJ Shelter Cats Model for Blog SNR s2r

NJ Shelter Cats Model for Blog SNR s2r (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Large Scale SNR/TNR Makes Complete Sense for Municipalities

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

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

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

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