Why New Jersey Residents Must Support Animal Shelter Reform Bill S3019

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

Bill Requires Shelters to Make Efforts to Save Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

S3019 Requires Shelters to Try and Reunite Lost Pets with Families

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

Bill Requires Humane Care

S3019 mandates shelters provide the following to their animals:

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

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

S3019 Requires Humane Euthanasia Techniques

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

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

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

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

Animal Shelters Must Share Animal Intake and Outcome Statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Jersey Department of Health Must Increase Oversight of Animal Shelters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/districts/districtnumbers.asp

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

http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/abcroster.asp

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

Linden Animal Control Fails Office of Animal Welfare Inspection

Linden Animal Control, which has had a terrible reputation for years, recently came under fire. At an April 15 City Council meeting, Robert Scutro and several other people passionately argued the shelter needed drastic changes (see 2 hour and 21 minute mark of the video). During the meeting, City Health Officer, Nancy Koblis, and City Council Member, Michele Yamakaitis, largely dismissed the concerns. Yamakaitis heads the Animal Control Committee which was formed to investigate and rectify Linden Animal Control’s issues. Elizabeth’s Health Department, at the request of Yamakaitis’s committee, found serious problems during a May 8 inspection. On July 23, New Jersey Department of Health’s Office of Animal Welfare, which typically conducts much more thorough inspections, visited the facility and failed Linden Animal Control. The city plans to shut the shelter down at the end of 2014, contract with another facility in 2015, and open a new shelter in 2016.

Linden issued a stunning press release after the Office of Animal Welfare inspection report. The city clearly attempted to downplay the shelter’s problems and make it seem as if they were on top of the issue. Basically, Yamakaitis stated the facility is run down, but animals aren’t being neglected. Mayor Richard Gerbounka blamed the issues on Union County not building a facility, but said all was good:

“Our facility certainly wasn’t the best in the area, but we attempted to maintain it with reasonable standards while Union County was proposing a county-wide facility. Many of these issues came with age, which would require larger scale remodeling with a large cost associated, and this remodeling would have been moot if Union County built a facility that would have not only been more modern, but larger.”

Yamakaitis made several general short-term recommendations, but all the recommendations are dependent on “materials, financing, and ability becoming available.” As a result, the recommendations are meaningless because they are not mandatory. Its like a 500 pound man saying “I’ll lose weight if somehow I end up eating healthier and exercising.” In other words, the recommendations are pointless.

Linden’s Animal Control Committee plans on building the new shelter with private funding. As you will see below, Linden Animal Control’s problems were primarily the result of the individuals in charge and we should not donate one cent to these same people.

Office of Animal Welfare Inspection Report Shows Problems Due to People Running the Shelter

The Office of Animal Welfare inspection report revealed little to no effort was made to clean the shelter. Despite only housing 7 dogs from animal control and a handful of cats, shelter staff did not pick up feces. Instead, they sprayed feces with a hose without removing dogs from adjacent kennels, resulting in chunks of feces and chemicals hitting animals. Even worse, spraying rather than scooping feces caused a toxic urine, feces, and chemical filled soup to pass by each animal. Given the trenches were not maintained, this feces, urine, and chemical brew just sat in front of all the animals to breathe in. As a result, Linden Animal Control’s staff allowed the animals to literally live in crap.

Linden Animal Control’s cleaning protocol used frighteningly toxic chemicals. In the report, one animal control officer admitted to using bleach at a concentration 32 times higher than required for safely cleaning with animals present in nearby kennels. In fact, the bleach concentration used with animals in the facility was 10 times higher than the level used to disinfect a facility with no animals present. Additionally, the inspector noted the high concentration of bleach was so corrosive it could have led to the deterioration of the building’s structure. Thus, Linden Animal Control exposed animals to hazardous levels of chemicals and may have contributed to the dangerous conditions of the building itself.

Linden Animal Control did little to contain or treat diseases at the shelter. The facility had no legally required isolation area for sick animals. Additionally no legally required disease control program was put in place by the alleged supervising veterinarian, Dr. Shukla of Rahway Animal Hospital. Also, nothing was being done to alleviate stress or provide for the psychological well-being of animals. In fact, Linden Animal Control had no records or documentation showing many animals received any medical treatment to “alleviate pain and suffering” as required by law. One dog who was lucky enough to see the veterinarian apparently did not receive its required medicine for various worms and Giardia as significant amounts of the medicine were missing during the inspection. The inspector also noted “this dog was not provided with any means of stress relief, such as separation or barriers to prevent the direct view of other dogs, soft bedding, and a clean, dry environment, free from the strong odor of urine and the scent of other bodily secretions that had permeated the porous concrete in the dog enclosures.” As a result, Linden Animal Control’s management did little to help the animals under its care.

2533 Exterior dog enclosures need repair; dog transferred to AHS

Linden Animal Control also failed to perform legally required procedures to reunite lost pets with their families. Records indicated animals were not properly scanned for microchips. Additionally, records proved numerous animals were not held the legally required 7 days. Holes in the ceiling allowed 10 cats to escape over 16 weeks from the Linden prison, which prevented their owners from finding the cats at the shelter. Also, the shelter was left open during the day when the ACOs were out allowing anyone to take any animal they wish.

Linden Animal Control failed to document it humanely killed its animals. The shelter has no euthanasia room so animals can see, smell, and hear other animals being killed. No legally required euthanasia instructions, weighing animals for proper drug dosage, or method of killing were documented. Additionally, no one kept records of how these drugs were used as required by law. While City Council member Yamakaitis claimed animals are now being killed at Rahway Animal Hospital, the inspection showed Ketamine, which is widely abused drug, was dispensed and numerous used syringes were found.

2502 Ketamine

2504 Used Syringes in Drawer

Of course Yamakaitis also said “extremely injured or sick animals” are still killed at Linden Animal Control. I guess Linden has lots of “extremely injured or sick animals.” Good thing those pesky animals are suffering so much as Yamaitikis’s dream team can give them the wonderful gift of a cruel death in front of all their cell mates.

Linden Animal Control devoted a significant portion of the shelter’s space for their own and their friend’s dogs. The shelter, which took in 226 dogs in 2012, only has 11 kennels. On average, Linden Animal Control would only have 18 days before it ran out of kennel space. Despite this shortage of space, employees used one kennel to house their personal dog and another enclosure to hold a Linden Department of Transportation employee’s dog. Making matters worse, Linden Animal Control only impounds strays (i.e. does not accept owner surrenders) and is licensed as a pound and not a boarding facility. The staff also used another kennel to hold a scale for euthanasia which they are supposedly not doing. As a result, the shelter lost nearly 30% of its already small amount of kennel space due to employees selfish decisions.

Linden failed to perform even basic maintenance at its shelter. Crumbling cinder blocks, rusted steel posts, dirty food bowls lying around, accumulations of fur and dirt under cat cages, improperly working air conditioning, an oil furnace without its front panel, and overgrowing vegetation engulfing the facility all indicate neglect of the shelter. Similarly, allowing a drainage system to fall into disrepair, which contributed to a feces, urine and chemical soup surrounding the animals like a toxic moat, also indicates the management couldn’t care less about the facility or its animals. In fact, the shelter had holes in the cat room so large that rodents and small mammals could “freely walk in.” To make the shelter more inviting for wild animals, the shelter left open bags of cat food adjacent to these openings. Additionally, if rodents and small mammals were not enough to welcome in, shelter staff allowed a mop to lie in dirty water for god knows how long allowing mosquitoes and other insects to breed at will.

2519 Cat enclosures rusted, stick inside cage

2496 Floor in front of furnace

2498 Mop bucket, dirty water stored outside, rusted mop head

Linden Should Get Out of the Animal Control and Sheltering Business

Mayor Gerbunka’s claim the condition of the shelter was due to Union County failing to build an animal shelter is ridiculous. Employees negligence or downright sadism caused most of these problems. Furthermore, the Union County shelter was not under construction and the idea that it was coming anytime soon is a joke. Additionally, Linden failed to maintain the basic fixtures at the shelter, such as fencing, enclosures, and even doors to the facility. The fact Linden plans to close the shelter at the end of the year and build a new facility clearly shows it failed to do the right thing for many years.

Linden residents must hold Mayor Gerbunka accountable this November. Mayor Gerbunka, in addition to presiding over this disgraceful shelter, has consistently denied the allegations and defended those directly responsible for the situation. Animal advocates need to send a strong message that this behavior has consequences.

Linden, Roselle, Fanwood, Clark, and Winfield residents need to demand a real no kill shelter. All these municipalities will contract with a new facility in 2015. The people running any new shelter must truly care for the animals. Clearly, Mayor Gerbunka Council Member Yamakaitis, Linden Health Officer, Nancy Koblis, and Linden Animal Control staff must have no role in animal control or the operation and oversight of a new shelter. At this time in history, animal control shelters are saving well over 95% of their animals and providing high quality care. We know how to do it and just have to demand it. After all the animals have gone through at Linden Animal Control for decades, the least we can do in those creatures memories is to provide state of the art care for homeless animals in the future.

Additional Information – Key Extracts From Office of Animal Welfare Inspection Report

“The concrete trenches inside the interior and exterior dog enclosures had settled and were in disrepair. Contaminated and stagnant water and excrement collected in these trenches and did not progress to the drain. These trenches and drains were not covered and the dogs housed in these enclosures were not protected from contamination, injury, and disease transmission from the animal waste and chemicals in this water.”

“Feces was not scooped and removed from animal enclosures, but was forced into the drainage trenches with a hose. This action not only increases the risk of contamination of adjacent animal enclosures and animals due to the particles of feces that become air borne when sprayed with a high pressure hose, but large chunks of fecal matter then has to be forced down the trenches toward the drain with the hose. These drainage trenches were not covered inside these animal enclosures and this fecal matter and other waste material had to pass along each animal enclosure, exposing each of these animals in adjacent enclosures to this waste material.”

“Animals in adjacent enclosures were not being protected from water and other waste material when the feces were being sprayed into the drainage trenches. The animal enclosures did not have a barrier between each enclosure to prevent the flow of water and waste materials from contaminating animals and adjacent enclosures. Each time a hose is used in animal enclosures, the animal in that enclosure as well as animals in adjacent enclosures will need to be removed from the enclosures to prevent contamination.”

“The dog enclosures were not sloped appropriately in some areas to allow liquids to run toward the drain. Urine from some of the dog enclosures had streamed into the main walkway at the time of this inspection.”

“There were no grates or other type of coverings over the drainage trenches inside each of the indoor and outdoor dog enclosures. Dogs were not protected from contamination and disease transmission from the animal waste that collected in these trenches.”

“The facility was not being cleaned and disinfected properly. The enclosures were not being cleaned with a detergent followed by a safe and effective disinfectant and feces were not being scooped and removed from enclosures before the enclosures were hosed down. When asked how the facility was cleaned and disinfected on a daily basis, the Animal Control Officer stated that he mixes a half-gallon (8 cups) of bleach into a half-gallon of water and this mixture is poured onto the walls and floors of the animal enclosures. Some of the bottles of bleach found in the facility at the time of this inspection contained a concentration of more than 8% sodium hypochlorite. Bleach to water at a ratio of 1:1 is highly corrosive and could cause eroding of the cinder blocks and other building materials and could also cause skin burns and inhalation injuries to people and animals. The highest concentration of bleach that would be used as a disinfectant for resistant fungal spores in an animal facility is a ratio of 1:10 (1 ½ cups to 1 gallon water) with a product containing 6% sodium hypochlorite. The animals would need to be removed from rooms where this high concentration of bleach is used. The ratio for standard disinfection of animal facilities on a daily basis would be 1:32 (1/2 cup bleach per gallon of water.)”

“The facility did not have a separate isolation room available on the premises to house animals that display signs of communicable disease from healthy animals.”

“Premises were not clean and in good repair to protect animals from injury and disease and to facilitate the prescribed husbandry practices and prevent nuisances. Animal enclosures were in severe disrepair and were unable to be properly disinfected due to the large cracks and chunks of missing concrete in the flooring, around expansion joints, in the walls of the dog enclosures, and in the areas around the guillotine doors. The surfaces of these enclosures were not impervious to moisture and there was a strong odor of urine and animal waste that had permeated these concrete and cinder block surfaces and the odor was unable to be abated, even though the surfaces had been doused with a 1:1 ratio of bleach to water. There was an accumulation of algae or other growth on the mortar joints and the cinder blocks in the outdoor animal enclosures.”

“All areas throughout the facility were not being cleaned on a daily basis. The building was in severe disrepair and the floors, walls, ceilings, exterior doors and other surfaces were not being maintained in good repair.”

“The supervising veterinarian for the facility was said to be Dr. Shukla of the Rahway Animal Hospital, but there was no documentation available at the facility to indicate that a disease control and health care program had been established and was being maintained under the direction of a supervising veterinarian at the facility. There was no evidence that a program to address the psychological well-being of animals, including stress induced behaviors, was in effect at the facility.”

“There were no medical records, no veterinary signatures, and no treatment logs to document that any medical treatments were being or had been administered at the facility and there was no documentation to indicate that a veterinarian had visited the facility and was in charge of a disease control and health care program.”

“Records that were available in the office of the Linden Health Department showed that some animals were described as displaying signs of illness and some of these animals had died at the facility. There were no medical records available to indicate that these animals were provided with at least prompt basic veterinary care to relieve pain and suffering.”

“An emaciated female dog, ticket number 1054, was picked up on 7/22/14 according to the information on the ticket, and was taken to an animal hospital for emergency veterinary care before being transported to the impoundment facility. This dog was said to have been prescribed Panacur (prescription brand of Fenbendazole) by a local veterinarian for the treatment of roundworms and Giardia. This medication is required to be given three days in a row to be effective against certain species of roundworm, hookworm, whipworm and tapeworm and up to five days in a row for Giardia, but only one packet was found in the pouch on the gate of her enclosure on the date of this inspection. There were no records documenting that this medication had been administered, when it may have been administered, and by whom it may have been administered. This dog was also prescribed a feeding regimen by the veterinarian. Instructions indicated that this dog was to be fed small amounts of canned food every four hours; but there were no treatment records available on the premises to document that this dog had been fed as instructed.
This dog also had enlarged and distended teats and may have recently nursed puppies before being impounded. This dog was displaying signs of stress at the time of this inspection; she was pacing from side to side and was snapping at the dogs housed on either side of her enclosure. This dog was not provided with any means of stress relief, such as separation or barriers to prevent the direct view of other dogs, soft bedding, and a clean, dry environment, free from the strong odor of urine and the scent of other bodily secretions that had permeated the porous concrete in the dog enclosures.”

“The facility did not have an isolation room to separate animals with signs of a communicable disease and there were no procedures in place at the time of this inspection to control the dissemination of disease as recommended by the supervising veterinarian.”

“Records indicated that numerous animals that were impounded by Linden Animal Control Officers were not being held for the required seven day holding period before being euthanized, transferred or adopted. Records also indicated that numerous cats had escaped soon after being transported to the facility.”

“No records were available at the facility to indicate that a written description of lost animals and proof of ownership, such as a license for or picture of the animal, was being obtained from persons searching for lost pets. There were no procedures and security measures established at the facility for the viewing of confined animals to prevent the spread of disease.”

“Since the date of this inspection, the NJDOH has received documentation indicating that at least two impounded dogs had been transferred out of the facility before being held the required seven days. One dog, number 1054 described previously, had been transferred to another non-contracting animal facility due to the inability of the Linden Animal Shelter staff to

“The certifications signed by various veterinarians for the three persons administering animal euthanasia at the facility did not state the technique or techniques for which the individuals were certified.”

“It was not determined at the time of this inspection where the euthanasia procedures were carried out. Written instructions for euthanasia is required to be posted in the euthanasia area. This area should not be in the direct view of or within close proximity of other animals housed at the facility to prevent undue stress that may be caused to animals housed in the vicinity.”

“Records were not maintained on the premises that contained the body weight and dosages of the immobilizing and tranquilizing agents administered to each animal being euthanized. There were no records created or maintained that indicated the route of injection of each substance administered to animals as required. There was a bottle of Ketamine on the premises that had been used, as evidenced by the needle punctures and a crystalized residue on the rubber stopper of the bottle. There were no logs and disposition records on the premises documenting the appropriate use of this drug.”

“Some records did not contain complete information as required for animals that had been impounded or otherwise taken into the facility and the final disposition was not being recorded
or was incomplete on most of the documents for impounded animals. There were no medical records available for animals that may have received veterinary medical treatment; and the method of euthanasia, including the dosages by weight and the route of injection, was not being recorded in the animal’s final disposition record for the animals that had been euthanized.”

“When the owner’s identification or other form of identification that could be traced back to the owner was found on an animal picked up by Linden Animal Control Officers, no records were available to indicate that notification was being served by the Animal Control Officers to the owners or persons charged with the care of the animal that the animal had been seized and would be liable to be offered for adoption or euthanized if not claimed within seven days after service of the notice.”

“The facility did not have a certificate of inspection issued by the local health authority showing compliance with these rules. There was no documentation at the facility indicating that the facility was licensed to operate as required under N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.8. The application for licensure shall be accompanied by the written approval of the local municipal and health authorities showing compliance with the local and State rules and regulations governing the location of and sanitation at such establishment. This facility was not in compliance with State rules and regulations at the time of this inspection, which is a prerequisite for licensing.”

“There were two dogs at the facility that were not impounded animals, but were said to be owned by municipal or other employees. One dog was being housed at the facility for long term boarding, but there were no records or other identifying information for the dog or the employee. Another dog was said to be surrendered by its owner and the owner was a Department of Transportation employee. There was no owner information for this dog on the animal’s ticket and there were no other records available for this dog. This facility was not licensed as a boarding kennel at the time of this inspection. The facility has eleven dog enclosures available to house impounded animals for five municipalities, including Linden. One of these enclosures was being used to store the scale for animal euthanasia, and two other’s housed employee’s dogs, and one enclosure housed a dog being held under a court order, leaving seven available enclosures to house impounded animals.”

“The housing facilities for animals were not maintained in good repair, to protect the animals from injury, to contain the animals, and to restrict the entrance of other animals. The soffit panels over the exterior dog enclosures had fallen down and the attic roof space was exposed. This space was large enough to allow wildlife and other animals to enter the building.”

“There were holes in the ceiling of the cat room; one appeared to be for a pipe which had been removed and one was a framed access opening with no panel with which to cover it. This access opening in the ceiling of the cat room was large enough to allow easy escape into the attic space and out of the building through the fallen soffit panels over the exterior dog enclosures. A portion of records that were reviewed documented that ten cats had escaped from the facility within a 16 week period.”

“There was a hole in the wall in the cat room with a white PVC pipe in it that led directly to the outside of the facility and was large enough for rats and other small animals to enter and exit freely. There was a hole in the floor in the cat room which could have originally been some type of drain, but its function was unable to be determined. This hole was not covered and contained an accumulation of cat litter, food, and other waste material.”

“The exterior concrete slab under and surrounding the steel posts which were supporting the roof of the facility was crumbling and the steel posts were severely rusted and deteriorated. The cinder blocks of the lower section of the interior and exterior wall of the building which were surrounding the guillotine doors inside the dog enclosures were separating and the blocks were showing signs of deterioration. The cinder blocks at the end of the wall of the building in the exterior dog enclosures were separating outward from the top of the wall, creating a diminishing gap from top to bottom along the blocks in a step pattern. The steel access door to the underground concrete utility or valve box where the pipe clean outs were located was severely rusted and the hinges were rusted into a position that prevented the lid from closing completely.”

“There was a mop bucket and string mop attached to a severely rusted mop handle that was sitting outside in front of this green metal structure. This bucket was filled with dirty water and appeared to have not been used for some time and was creating a harborage for mosquitos and other water breeding insects.”

“Although the main entrance gate was locked on the morning of this inspection, the exterior door to the main indoor housing area of the facility was ajar and the facility was left unlocked when the animal control officer left the facility. There were no other employees or volunteers at the facility at that time.”

“Inside the building there was an accumulation of food, fur, dirt, and other materials under cat cages, between the filing cabinet and refrigerator, around and behind the utility sink, around and behind the furnace and the base of the wall, and there was a buildup of dirt on the floors in front of the furnace and other areas throughout the facility. There were cobwebs and debris around the wiring that passed through the walls below the ceiling and there were cobwebs and debris around the open bags of food and other items stored in the cat room.”

“The oil furnace had a large rusted area above the oil burner assembly. The facility had working air conditioning at the time of this inspection, but the Health Officer said the unit has to be watched because it was not working properly; it freezes up and the unit shuts down. The unit needs to defrost before it can be started up again. The front panel for the oil furnace that was said to be missing was found during the inspection, but the screws to attach it to the front of the furnace were missing.”

“The concrete flooring in the cat room was in disrepair and was not smooth in many areas and was not easily cleaned and disinfected. The interior and exterior surfaces, including the doors of the cat enclosures were rusted and peeling and unable to be properly cleaned and disinfected.”

“Surfaces of the indoor and outdoor dog enclosures were severely deteriorating, had cracks and chunks of broken concrete in some areas, and the multiple layers of paint on these surfaces had peeled off and the surfaces were not impervious to moisture and able to be readily cleaned and disinfected. There were numerous areas of unsealed concrete that was not impervious to moisture and was unable to be disinfected. The plastic dog beds used inside the enclosures were scratched and chewed in some areas and had crevices that were unable to be properly cleaned and disinfected.”

We Can Save All The Pit Bulls

Most people in the animal welfare movement believe pit bulls are overpopulated and massive shelter killing is unavoidable. The ridiculously inaccurate “1 in 600 pit bulls make it out of the shelter alive” meme frequently appears on Facebook. Merritt Clifton, who is well-known for his discredited pit bull bite data, argues shelters can’t save any more pit bulls without banning breeding and 60% is the highest pit bull live release rate a shelter can hope for. Even certain pit bull rescue groups believe too few homes exist for pit bulls and adoption prospects are bleak. Are these claims true and should we just accept shelters killing pit bulls in droves?

Some Shelters Are Already Saving All of the Pit Bulls

Required save rates for no kill may be lower for pit bulls. No kill requires only irremediably suffering animals and dogs who present a serious danger to people be euthanized. The 90% save rate standard is the threshold for shelters to achieve no kill. In theory, pit bulls should have a lower save rate due to these dogs above average size. Simply put, an untreatable aggression issue may be forgivable in a small dog, but not a larger dog. Thus, no kill for pit bulls may potentially be achieved at a lower save rate than other dogs due to pit bull type dogs larger size.

Many open admission shelters are on the verge of, if not already, achieving no kill for pit bull type dogs. Over a decade ago, which was before many advances in shelter medicine and behavioral rehabilitation, Nathan Winograd saved 86% of all pit bulls at Tompkins County SPCA in upstate New York despite not adopting out pit bulls with dog or cat aggression. Lane County, Oregon’s Greenhill Humane Society saved 91% of the nearly 150 stray pit bulls taken in over the most recently available 12 month period (March 2013 – February 2014).  Salt Lake County Animal Services saved 90% of its impounded pit bull type dogs in both 2013 and the first four months of 2014. During KC Pet Project’s second year in control of Kansas City’s animal control shelter, the organization saved 86% of its over 1,000 impounded pit bull type dogs. Amazingly, the primary facility is small and outdated and Breed Specific Legislation (“BSL”) is prevalent in the area. Most importantly, both KC Pet Project’s and Salt Lake County Animal Services’ live release rates increased significantly in recent years and greater than 90% save rates for pit bull type dogs seem very possible in the near future.

Mathematically speaking, shelters with very high dog save rates and pit bulls comprising a reasonable percentage of dogs will save 90% plus of pit bulls. For example, shelters will automatically save 90% or more of pit bulls with the following statistics:

  • 99% dog save rate with pit bulls equaling 10% or more of dog impounds assuming all dogs euthanized are pit bulls
  • 98% dog save rate with pit bulls equaling 20% or more of dog impounds assuming all dogs euthanized are pit bulls

In reality, even the best no kill shelters typically euthanize 1-2% of animals for medical reasons which makes the pit bull 90% save rate even easier to achieve. Thus, open admission shelters with very high dog live release rates are likely automatically saving 90% plus of their pit bull type dogs.

Other open admission shelters are likely saving 90% or more of their pit bulls. Long Island’s Southampton Animal Shelter’s dog save rate is 97% and pit bulls make up 24% of impounded dogs. If Southampton Animal Shelter euthanizes only 1% of its non-pit bull dogs, the pit bull save rate will equal 91%. The pit bull save rate increases to 94% if 2% of Southampton Animal Shelter’s non-pit bull dogs are euthanized. Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society saves 97% of its dogs and pit bull type dogs made up 8.1% of impounds in the recent past. If Longmont Humane Society euthanizes 1.3% of its non-pit bulls, the pit bull save rate would reach 90%. Monmouth County SPCA states “over a third” of its impounded dogs are pit bull type dogs. Based on pit bulls making up 35% of impounds and assuming all euthanized dogs are pit bulls, the pit bull save rate would equal 96%. If we were to assume the 35% of impounded dogs only applied to local canines (i.e. excluding dogs transferred in from other communities) and all dogs euthanized were pit bulls, the pit bull save rate would be around 90%. Thus, many shelters are likely already saving 90% plus of pit bull type dogs.

Pit Bulls Can Leave Shelters Alive Quicker Than Advertised

The length of time an animal spends in a shelter is critical to saving its life. Reducing the average length of stay in a shelter increases the number of animals a shelter can save. Additionally, reducing the length of stay decreases the chance an animal becomes mentally or physically ill. Also, reducing length of stay decreases the cost of care, such as feeding, cleaning, veterinary treatment, etc. As a result, shelters must do everything they can to get animals out of shelters alive as quickly as possible.

Recent research detailed the length of stay of bully and other major breed groups. Brown, et al. conducted a study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science on factors impacting the time it took dogs to get adopted at two upstate New York animal shelters. Both animal shelters, Tompkins County SPCA and Humane Society of Yates County, serve as the animal control shelters for dogs and are no-kill. 84% of the data came from Tompkins County SPCA, which is the shelter Nathan Winograd used to run, and was collected from 2008-2011. Several major dog groups were evaluated, which included “bully” breeds (150 American pit bull terriers, 1 American Staffordshire terrier, 1 Staffordshire bull terrier, and 3 American bulldogs), as adults (12 months and older) and puppies (under 12 months).

The study’s results detailed below proved pit bull type dogs do not take that much longer to get adopted than other breeds. Adult pit bull type dogs only took a week longer to get adopted than adults of other breed groups. Additionally, pit bull type dogs length of stay until adoption fell into the medium of the range of dogs around their size (i.e. companion, sporting, hound and guard). Also, pit bull type dogs were adopted quicker than both hound and guard dogs. Similarly, pit bull puppies under a year old took only slightly more time to get adopted than most other breeds and were adopted much quicker than guard and terrier puppies. Furthermore, the 49.3 and 27.5 days it took on average to adopt pit bull adults and puppies is not a long time for shelters to care for dogs.

LOS Study Table

The pit bull adoption length of stay figures are consistent with Greenhill Humane Society’s performance with stray pit bulls. Over the most recently reported 12 month period (March 2013 – February 2014), Greenhill Humane Society’s stray pit bulls took 41 days on average to get adopted. Given most strays are likely not puppies, this figure probably contains mostly adult dogs. As a result, the 41 day pit bull adoption length of stay is actually 8 days shorter than the adult pit bull adoption length of stay from the two upstate New York open admission no kill shelters.

Pit bulls actual length of stay at shelters may be lower due to rescues/fosters and owners reclaiming lost pets. For example, dogs may get pulled by rescues or fostered by volunteers long before the normal time it takes to get adopted. Similarly, owners reclaiming their pets tend to do so shortly after the animal arrives at the shelter. Additionally, animals euthanized due to severe medical or behavioral issues may occur long before the typical time it takes to get adopted. Thus, pit bulls actual length of stay at shelters may be lower than the length of stay until adoption figures from the study above.

Pit bulls have short lengths of stay at several other high performing open admission shelters. Salt Lake County Animal Services adoptable pit bulls, which have a 100% save rate, average length of stay is 30 days. Longmont Humane Society’s pit bulls only stay 38 days on average at their shelter. Greenhill Humane Society’s stray pit bulls had an average length of stay of only 16 days over the most recently reported 12 month period. Southampton Animal Shelter’s pit bull length of stay was 65 days in 2011 and 73 days in 2012.

We can also roughly estimate the pit bull length of stay at other open admission shelters with high pit bull save rates. KC Pet Project reports pit bulls make up around 25% of impounds and 40% or more of the shelter’s population. Additionally, they report most dogs get into playgroups after their 5 day stray hold period and take 9 days on average to leave the shelter via adoption or rescue after entering playgroups. Given we know the following formula for estimating a shelter population size, we can use simple algebra and math to estimate the pit bull length of stay:

Shelter Population Size = Daily Intake * Length of Stay

Using this formula, we can determine pit bulls length of stay is approximately 2 times longer than other dogs assuming pit bulls are 25% of dog impounds 40% of the shelter’s dog population. Based on some basic math and knowing most stray dogs not returned to owners stay 14 days at the shelter, we can estimate stray pit bulls not returned to owners take around 22 days to leave the shelter. Assuming owner surrenders enter playgroups after 3 days and dogs returned to owners happen in 5 days on average, I estimate the KC Pet Project’s overall pit bull length of stay is around 19 days. This estimate assumes pit bulls euthanized and those not entering playgroups do not have significantly different lengths of stay. Additionally, the estimate assumes pit bulls and other dogs are similarly represented in strays not returned to owners, owner surrenders, and returned to owner figures. While this is admittedly a rough estimate, it does provide a reasonable view of how effective this shelter is at getting its pit bulls safely out the door.

Monmouth County SPCA reports “over a third” of its impounded dogs are pit bulls and pit bulls are around 50% of the shelter’s population. Based on the shelter’s reported 54 day average length of stay for dogs and assuming 35% of dog impounds and 50% of the shelter’s population are pit bulls, I estimate pit bulls stay 77 days on average at Monmouth County SPCA.

Pit bulls with behavioral issues can also have a relatively short length of stay at shelters. Austin Pets Alive, which pulls dogs off of Austin Animal Services kill list, reports a 52 day average length of stay for its large dogs with behavioral issues (pit bulls represent a significant portion of such dogs). In other words, Austin Pets Alive is able to rehabilitate and place many pit bull type dogs in a reasonably short period of time.

Successful Shelters Use a Variety Strategies to Save Pit Bulls

Playgroups are used by most of these shelters who successfully save pit bull type dogs. Aimee Sandler created playgroup programs to efficiently exercise dogs at the Southampton Animal Shelter and Longmont Humane Society. Subsequently, KC Pet Project and Salt Lake County Animal Service implemented Aimee Sadler’s program.

Playgroups improve the care of dogs at shelters and help get dogs adopted. In a large shelter, taking out and walking every single dog is time-consuming. Additionally, many pit bull type dogs are high energy and require a lot of exercise. Aimee Sadler estimates a 30 minute playgroup session equates to a 2 hour walk. Given large shelters may have over 100 large dogs, the cost savings becomes immediately apparent. Time spent walking dogs can be devoted to cleaning, marketing, off-site events, fundraising, etc. Additionally, dogs in playgroups tend to overcome many pre-existing behavioral issues, such as fear, anxiety, dog aggression, and reactivity. Playgroups also help dogs act calmer in kennels which increases adoption chances. People are frequently drawn to playgroups and are more likely to adopt a dog who is having fun. Also, dogs who play together are more likely to share a kennel peacefully which increases effective shelter capacity and the dog’s mental well-being at the facility. Finally, playgroups provide lots of information about the dogs and help shelters properly match dogs with adopters. Thus, playgroups are critically important to help pit bull type dogs live in shelters and safely get out of these facilities.

Greenhill Humane Society and KC Pet Project use differing strategies to save their pit bull type dogs. Greenhill Humane Society relies on a very high return to owner rate of 68% to achieve impressive pit bull live release rates and reduce these dogs length of stay. On the other hand, KC Pet Project uses a customer oriented, retail business philosophy, to promote adoptions. For example, KC Pet Project uses “open adoptions” which focuses on educating adopters and making great matches verses overzealous screening. Additionally, KC Pet Project set up adoption centers in a strip mall outlet and a local Petco. KC Pet Project also transfers some large dogs to colder rural areas, which have high demand for these dogs, due to local rescues not wanting to take such dogs.

Salt Lake County Animal Services uses a balanced approach for its pit bull type dogs. Several years ago the shelter formed the Salt Lake County Pit Crew program to increase the pit bull live release rate. The program utilizes a variety of programs, such as community support and education, and also promotes adoptions. Community support programs include free spay/neuter, microchipping and leash and collar exchanges. As a result of these programs, pit bull intakes decreased and the pit bull return to owner rate increased over the last several years. Additionally, the percentage of dogs adopted, fostered/rescued increased significantly since the Salt Lake County Pit Crew program started. The shelter uses an “open adoptions” process to make great matches for adopters. Additionally, the shelter adopts pit bulls out at a retail location called the Best Friends Sugar House Adoption Center and does many off-site events. Finally, the Salt Lake County Animal Services’ adoption fee for large dogs is only $50 and discounted adoption fee programs are also offered.

Longmont Humane Society, Southampton Animal Shelter and Monmouth County SPCA use other strategies to save pit bull type dogs. All three organizations invested in facilities which make the dogs stay at the shelters more pleasant and create an atmosphere where the dogs are more appealing to adopters. Additionally, all three shelters have qualified behaviorists to treat and rehabilitate dogs. Also, both Southampton Animal Shelter and Monmouth County SPCA provide free spay/neuter for pit bull type dogs.

Challenges Can Be Overcome

Recently, Dr. Emily Weiss of the ASPCA hypothesized high pit bull intake rather than too few pit bull adoptions results in large numbers of pit bulls killed in shelters. Dr. Weiss concluded shelters were doing a good job with pit bull adoptions due to pit bulls being the 5th most common dog admitted to Banfield Animal Hospitals (i.e. a measure of overall popularity) and the third most frequently adopted dog at animal shelters. The five major flaws in this analysis are as follows:

  1. Pit bulls tend to have more owners who are poor and lack resources to take dogs to animal hospitals (i.e. understating pit bull popularity)
  2. Most shelters do a poor job at adopting dogs so adoption potential is much greater than current level
  3. Pit bulls having more restrictive adoption polices
  4. Overly strict temperament testing for pit bulls reduces the number placed for adoption
  5. Pit bulls were the most frequently impounded dog which suggests the shelter adoption numbers are due to high intake rather than successful adoption efforts

That being said, pit bulls do tend to have above average lengths of stay at shelters. At the high performing shelters above, pit bull type dogs had a length of stay about 2-3 times the average of non-pit bull type dogs. However, these shelters non-pit bull type dogs length of stay is short so the 2-3 times longer length of stay for pit bulls is still reasonable. Also, the study above suggests pit bulls length of stay until adoption is not much different than other large breeds. As a result, pit bull adoption/foster/rescue efforts should be prioritized as these are the primary ways pit bulls not returned to owners leave shelters alive.

Over the longer term efforts to reduce intake and end BSL are key to saving pit bull lives. BSL restricts pit bull type dog ownership in some communities. However, the bigger problem are landlords and/or insurance companies preventing tenants from owning pit bull type dogs. Animal welfare groups need to advocate for legislation requiring landlords to allow pets. The New Jersey Animal Welfare Task Force Report issued a decade ago argued for this and used precedents of Federal Section 527 public housing and New Jersey subsidized senior citizen housing projects requiring landlords to allow pets.

Until the housing availability disparity between pit bulls and other dogs disappears, animal welfare groups should step up efforts to prevent pit bulls from ending up at shelters. Pet owner prevention programs are especially beneficial for pit bull type dogs where housing options are more limited. Downtown Dog Rescue in South Los Angeles is a great example as this organization prevented 2,622 pets from entering the shelter system over the first year of its pet owner support program. Similarly, increased efforts by animal control officers and shelters to return lost dogs to owners are particularly important for pit bulls. Additionally, free pit bull spay/neuter programs may help reduce pit bull intakes over the longer term.

At the end of the day, we can save all the pit bulls. We just need to enact proven successful policies and do the necessary hard work.