Last year, Clifton Animal Control Officer, Robert Boyle, made headlines when he told a cop to shoot and kill a dog named Wildfire that was lying down in the woods. Mr. Boyle was also listed as the “Shelter Manager” on Clifton Animal Shelter’s 2016 Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Additionally, Robert Boyle was the Chief of the Passaic County SPCA and a board member of the NJ SPCA.
Does Clifton Animal Shelter also kill healthy and treatable animals when lifesaving alternatives exist? Is the shelter complying with state law?
Deadly Dog Data
In order to get a better understanding of the job Clifton Animal Shelter did in 2017, I obtained the intake and disposition records for each individual dog and cat the shelter took in during the year. You can find those records here. In addition, I obtained all supporting records for each dog and cat the shelter killed. You can find those records here.
Clifton Animal Shelter killed too many dogs in 2017. While the overall dog kill rate of 12% was not extremely high, it was still much greater than kill rates at elite municipal shelters. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 1% of its dogs in 2017. Thus, Clifton Animal Shelter killed dogs at 12 times Austin Animal Center’s rate.
Pit bulls fared far worse at the Clifton Animal Shelter in 2017. The shelter killed 19% of pit bulls. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 1% of its pit bulls in 2017. As a result, Clifton Animal Shelter killed pit bulls at 19 times Austin Animal Center’s rate.
Clifton Animal Shelter also killed too many small dogs and other medium to large size breeds in 2017. Overall, the shelter killed 10% of both small dogs and other medium to large size dogs. 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 euthanized 1% of small dogs in 2017. Austin Animal Center only euthanized 1% of small dogs and 1% of other medium to large size breeds last year. Thus, Clifton Animal Shelter killed both small dogs and other medium to large size dogs at 10 times Austin Animal Center’s rate.
While Clifton Animal Shelter’s overall dog kill rates were bad, the shelter’s kill rates for dogs not reclaimed by their owners were far worse. Since dogs reclaimed by their owners typically have licenses and/or microchips and quickly leave the shelter, its informative to look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners. When we just look at dogs not reclaimed by owners, Clifton Animal Shelter killed 29% of all dogs, 50% of pit bulls, 21% of small dogs and 31% of other medium to large size breeds. In other words, Clifton Animal Shelter killed around 1 out of 3 dogs, 1 out of 2 pit bulls, 1 out of 5 small dogs and 1 out of 3 other medium to large size breeds not reclaimed by owners. As a comparison, only 2% of all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size dogs not reclaimed by their owners at Austin Animal Center lost their lives in 2017. Thus, Clifton Animal Shelter killed all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size breeds not reclaimed by owners at 15 times, 25 times, 11 times and 16 times Austin Animal Center’s rates.
Too Many Cats Lose Their Lives
Clifton Animal Shelter’s statistics reveal the shelter killed too many cats. Overall, 19% of cats lost their lives at Clifton Animal Shelter in 2017 or about four times the percentage at Austin Animal Center last year. Both adult cats and neonatal kittens lost their lives at higher rates, 25% and 32%. As a comparison, only 7% and 9% of adult cats and neonatal kittens lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2017. Therefore, adult cats and neonatal kittens were four times more likely to lose their lives at Clifton Animal Shelter than at Austin Animal Center in 2017.
Other Domestic Animals and Wildlife Killed in Droves
Clifton Animal Shelter’s other domestic animals’ kill rate was too high. Overall, the shelter killed 13% of all domestic animals and 14% of nonreclaimed other domestic animals in 2017.
The shelter killed wildlife at an astronomical rate during 2017. Clifton Animal Shelter killed 109 of 145 wild animals or 75% of those it took in. If we add the 5 wild animals that died, the shelter had a 78% death rate for wild animals. In other words, 4 out of 5 wild animals lost their lives after encountering Clifton’s animal control officers in 2017.
Clifton Animal Shelter Quickly Kills Animals
Clifton Animal Shelter’s dog length of stay data revealed the shelter quickly killed dogs. Specifically, the shelter killed all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size breeds after 13 days, 21 days, 10 days and 10 days on average in 2017. Clearly, this is not nearly enough time to determine if the shelter can save these animals. Based on the shelter taking in 228 dogs during 2017, its 8 day average length of stay for dogs and shelter capacity calculations, we can estimate the shelter only held around five dogs on average at the shelter in 2017 compared to its reported capacity of 16 dogs. Thus, Clifton Animal Shelter killed dogs throughout the year while it only on average used less than one third of the shelter’s dog capacity.
Clifton Animal Shelter also quickly killed cats. Amazingly, Clifton Animal Shelter killed all cats on average after just a single day. The shelter killed adult cats, older kittens, neonatal kittens and cats with no age listed after one day, two days, one day and zero days on average in 2017. In fact, the shelter killed 47 of the 59 cats it killed before seven days went by. Given shelters cannot kill either stray or owner surrendered cats until seven days pass (except for cats a veterinarian documents as hopelessly suffering and the veterinarian euthanizes the animals), this could indicate the shelter illegally killed these animals (see below for more details).
Based on the shelter taking in 361 cats during 2017, its 41 day average length of stay for cats and shelter capacity calculations, we can estimate the shelter only held around 41 cats on average at the shelter in 2017 compared to its reported capacity of 52 cats. Thus, Clifton Animal Shelter killed cats throughout the year despite only using 79% of its cat capacity on average during the year.
Clifton Animal Shelter also quickly killed other domestic animals and wildlife in 2017. The shelter killed the other domestic animals after just six days on average. Two of these three animals were killed immediately for being “injured”, but the records I received never specified what those injuries were. More disturbing, Clifton Animal Shelter killed wild animals after zero days on average. Of the 109 wild animals the shelter killed in 2017, 107 were killed immediately and two were killed after one day. Given the shelter’s astronomical wildlife kill rate and the fact it killed virtually all these animals immediately, one must conclude the shelter has the same lack of respect towards wildlife as Robert Boyle did for the dog Wildfire.
Dogs Killed for Absurd Reasons
Clifton Animal Shelter killed most of its dogs for alleged aggression and behavior problems. The table below shows 65% of the dogs the shelter killed were for aggression and behavior problems, 8% for being “old”, 8% for no documented reason and most of the rest for health related reasons. When we look at all dogs, Clifton Animal Shelter killed 7% of all dogs for aggression related reasons. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.2% of the dogs it took in during 2017 for aggression and behavior related reasons. In other words, Clifton Animal Shelter killed dogs for aggression and behavior related reasons at 35 times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, Clifton Animal Shelter erroneously labeled dogs aggressive in its shelter just as its ACO, Robert Boyle, did when he told a police officer to shoot the dog Wildfire.
The shelter also killed too many dogs for medical reasons. During 2017, Clifton Animal Shelter killed 3% of all dogs for medical reasons. However, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.8% of all dogs for medical reasons. Thus, Clifton Animal Shelter killed dogs for medical reasons at four times Austin Animal Center’s rate.
Lokie or D-022 was a stray adult husky impounded by Clifton Animal Shelter on February 9, 2017. Upon intake, the shelter noted Lokie was not aggressive. After eight days passed, Clifton Animal Shelter offered Lokie to the Friends of the Shelter. What did this “Friends” group do? Friends of the Shelter refused to accept Lokie into their adoption program due to food aggression/resource guarding. Given that multiple studies have found food aggression tests unreliable and even the creator of one of the major food aggression tests has come out against using these evaluations, it is shocking the Friends of the Shelter would not accept this dog. Even more perplexing, huskies are in high demand and many people would adopt one with or without food aggression. On the day after Friends of the Shelter refused to save Lokie, Clifton Animal Shelter killed him.
Jack was an adult Labrador-pit bull mix that was surrendered to the Clifton Animal Shelter on April 23, 2017 and adopted on the very same day. On May 18, 2017, Jack was returned to the Clifton Animal Shelter. The shelter stated Jack had “anxiety issues” and offered him to Friends of the Shelter as a “courtesy.” Friends of the Shelter “rejected” Jack on May 25, 2017 and the shelter killed him on the very same day. Why did Friends of the Shelter reject Jack? They claimed he had “severe separation anxiety.” Both the shelter and their partners in crime, Friends of the Shelter, refused to treat Jack and the shelter killed him.
Cliff was an adult stray poodle that the Clifton Animal Shelter impounded on December 18, 2017. The shelter noted the dog had a matted coat and was dirty. Therefore, this dog was likely on the streets for a period of time and likely had difficulty finding food. Despite poodles being highly sought after by adopters, Friends of the Shelter “rejected” Cliff on December 30, 2017 for having “food aggression.” On that very day, Clifton Animal Shelter killed Cliff. Even though most adopters do not care about food aggression and the behavior frequently disappears in a home, both the shelter and Friends of the Shelter thought Cliff was not worth saving.
Pops was a stray senior Papillion that Clifton Animal Shelter impounded on May 30, 2017. According to the shelter, the dog was sleeping a lot, not eating and had “nasty and loose” teeth. Given the condition of the dog’s teeth, one could easily see why the dog was not eating and was acting lethargic. While the Clifton Animal Shelter stated Pops was “seen by vet”, the shelter provided me no documents proving the dog saw a veterinarian and any orders for ensuring the dog received proper nourishment. In reality, even toothless dogs can eat if given the proper soft food. On June 6, 2017, Friends of the Shelter “rejected” Pops claiming he was in “very poor health” and “10-12+” years old.
Instead of reaching out to the community for help, Clifton Animal Shelter apparently just gave its henchman, Friends of the Shelter, the chance to save Pops. However, when it comes to Friends of the Shelter, having a medical condition and being old means your not worth saving.
Cats Killed for Having Treatable Medical Conditions
Clifton Animal Shelter killed cats for many treatable conditions. As you can see in the table below, the shelter killed many cats for testing positive for FeLV or FIV, being feral, having no mother, having ringworm (which is very treatable), testing for rabies (requires killing the cat and the results frequently reveal cats do not have the disease) and no documented reasons.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV is a disease similar to HIV that weakens a cat’s immune system. Generally speaking, FIV is difficult to spread as it is only passed to other cats through deep bite wounds. While the disease can compromise a cat’s immune system, some cats can live many years pretty much like a normal cat. Practically speaking, FIV cats should be altered and live either alone or with other cats that are compatible with them. While these cats may need extra care, progressive shelters save these animals and adopt them out.
Feline Leukemia Virus or FeLV is a retrovirus that only affects cats. Healthy cats with normal immune systems quickly fight off the disease. However, the disease can infect cats with impaired immune systems. The disease suppresses a cat’s immune system and most cats live 2-3 years with the disease, but some animals live for a much longer period of time. In a shelter environment, FeLV positive cats won’t spread the disease as long as the animals are housed in separate areas and shelters adhere to proper cleaning and disease control protocols. Progressive no kill shelters, such as Austin Pets Alive, adopt out FeLV positive cats successfully. Furthermore, shelters can use foster programs to effectively house these animals outside a shelter environment.
Pumpkin was 5-7 year old neutered cat the Clifton Animal Shelter took to its veterinarian after he was hit by a car. While Pumpkin did have two broken canines and had a short post-trauma seizure after he was brought to the veterinarian, Pumpkin’s medical records stated he “ate well”, was “alert, purring” and was “very friendly.” However, Clifton Animal Shelter told the veterinarian to kill Pumpkin after he tested positive for FeLV on the day after the shelter impounded him.
New Jersey animal shelter law clearly states shelters must not kill animals, whether they are strays or owner surrenders, for at least 7 days. Furthermore, the New Jersey Department of Health recently issued guidance summarizing the law’s requirements:
Pursuant to State law (N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.16 a. through l.) all municipalities must have a licensed animal impoundment facility (pound) designated where stray and potentially vicious animals can be safely impounded. Impounded stray animals shall be held at the pound for at least seven days (i.e., 168 hours) from the time impounded before the animal is offered for adoption or euthanized, relocated or sterilized, regardless of the animal’s temperament or medical condition.
Animals that are voluntarily surrendered by their owners to licensed pounds or shelters shall be offered for adoption for at least seven days prior to euthanasia or shelter/pound management may transfer the animal to an animal rescue organization facility or a foster home prior to offering it for adoption if such a transfer is determined to be in the best interest of the animal.
In practice, the New Jersey Department of Health allows shelters to euthanize animals during the 7 day hold period if both of the following conditions are met as discussed in this section of the New Jersey Department of Health’s July 30, 2009 inspection report on Associated Humane Societies-Newark.
- If a veterinarian deems euthanasia necessary for humane reasons to prevent excessive suffering when illness and injury is severe and the prognosis for recovery is extremely poor
- Only a licensed veterinarian should perform euthanasia in the above situation and they must clearly document the humane rationale in the animal’s medical record
Clearly, Pumpkin was not hopelessly suffering since he was eating well, acting friendly and most vital signs were normal. Thus, Clifton Animal Shelter illegally killed Pumpkin before seven days passed.
Given Pumpkin was neutered and very friendly, he likely had an owner. Clifton Animal Shelter ensured Pumpkin would never get the chance to go back to his family.
Cat ID#s 025, 026, 027, 028 and 029 were a litter of newborn kittens the Clifton Animal Shelter impounded on March 31, 2017. After the shelter could not find the mother, it decided to kill every single one of the kittens stating they were “not viable.”
As with Robert Boyle’s order to kill Wildfire, the shelter’s lack of respect for life is apparent. Instead of killing these kittens right away, the shelter could have sent them to a foster home or had volunteers set up a nursery to bottle feed the animals. Instead, the shelter illegally killed the kittens immediately without making any effort to save them.
Midnite was a two month old stray cat the Clifton Animal Shelter impounded on June 4, 2017. After two days, Clifton Animal Shelter’s veterinarian, Dr. Barbara Barrow, wrote a letter authorizing the killing of Midnite. According to the veterinarian, she would have to amputate the kitten’s tail and he was too feral to be handled by staff while he recovered.
While the veterinarian can write this letter, this animal was not hopelessly suffering and the shelter and veterinarian illegally killed Midnite in my view. First, no person can determine if a cat is truly feral after just two days. Second, even if the cat was feral, the animal was not hopelessly suffering. Third, shelter workers get paid to handle all types of animals, including feral ones. Thus, the veterinarian’s claim the animal was difficult to handle does not allow the shelter or the veterinarian to kill an animal during the stray/hold period.
Marina was an “older” stray cat the Clifton Animal Shelter took in on October 16, 2017. According to the shelter, their outside veterinarian, Dr. Aziz, approved killing Marina for “severe ringworm.” According to the veterinarian’s record, Marina “most likely” had ringworm “all over the face”, but the record never mentioned killing Marina. The shelter then killed Marina on the very day it took her in.
Frankly, ringworm is a highly treatable condition and never should be a reason to kill an animal. Even more egregious, Clifton Animal Shelter killed this stray cat immediately and blatantly violated the state’s stray hold period. Thus, Clifton Animal Shelter illegally killed Marina.
Clearly, Clifton Animal Shelter, like its former ACO, Robert Boyle, frequently chooses to kill animals since its easier. Even more egregious, the shelter often violates the state’s seven protection period when it kills animals. While this all goes on, the Friends of the Shelter group, like its name suggests, acts more like a friend to the shelter than the animals that reside in it. Thus, Clifton Animal Shelter and Friends of the Shelter have a dysfunctional relationship that is not helping the animals as much as it should.
In my next blog, I’ll examine whether Clifton Animal Shelter humanely euthanizes animals and violates other aspects of state law.