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.

2018 Dog Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

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

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

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

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

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

This year I expanded shelter capacity to include the number of foster homes shelters should use. Based on a target American Pets Alive and other progressive shelter directors communicated at this year’s American Pets Alive Conference, shelters should have 3% of their annual dog intake in foster homes at any one time. These estimates are based on what several no kill animal control shelters already accomplish. Given fostering increases capacity and provides more humane care to animals, it is critical shelters have large scale foster programs. Therefore, I added 3% of each shelter’s annual dog intake to the shelter’s physical capacity.

For shelters with animal control contracts, I place 10% of all dogs that are not reclaimed by owners into the targeted sent to rescue category. Austin Pets Alive used data from Austin Animal Center, which is the local municipal shelter, to determine large dogs with behavioral challenges are part of the last 10% of animals losing their lives. While shelters can save most of these dogs through behavioral rehabilitation and/or foster programs, I decided to put an estimate of these dogs into the sent to rescue category since that is another good outcome for these dogs.

My analysis puts a cap on the targeted numbers of dogs rescued from other shelters and adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I want to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animals shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita dog adoption rate of around 25% to 70% of the level found at some of the nation’s best animal control shelters. Similarly, the unmodified model yielded a statewide pit bull per capita adoption rate (2.3 pit bulls per 1,000 people) that is not much more than the pit bull per capita adoption rate at one of the best animal control shelters in the country. In my opinion, New Jersey shelters could more easily achieve that per capita pit bull adoption rate given my model includes far fewer dogs from competing breeds than those in this role model animal control shelter.

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

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

In simple terms, a shelter is expected to achieve this per capita adoption rate unless the facility lacks enough space. If a shelter does not have sufficient room, it won’t have the time to reach all the potential adopters and requires assistance from rescues and/or other facilities. Given my model assumes 80% of rescued dogs are pit bull like dogs, my targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted are quite low as detailed in the section below. For example, shelters in counties where dog adoptions are capped have extra space that they do not use to adopt out other dog breeds.

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

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

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save all of the state’s healthy and treatable dogs. The table below details the targeted numbers of dog outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 21,614 New Jersey dogs coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2018, 10,684 and 1,619 dogs should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the dogs in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had more than enough capacity to rescue the 1,619 dogs from space constrained facilities. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters should be able to able to adopt out every single healthy and treatable dog taken in from the state and not require any support from rescue organizations without physical facilities from a space perspective.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many dogs from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out 11,394 dogs from out of state after achieving a 95% live release rate for New Jersey dogs. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters could make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for dogs and increase those cities’ dog live release rates to 95% in 2018 as follows:

  • New York City – 1,288 additional dogs need saving
  • Philadelphia – 856 additional dogs need saving

Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters could save another 9,250 dogs from other locations outside of the state. Of course, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some dogs from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. However, most of these dogs are likely easy to adopt and therefore have short lengths of stay. As a result, the additional number of dogs New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere is probably not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for dogs as well as many other places.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 2.7 dogs per 1,000 people in the state (1.4 dogs if no dogs rescued from out of state). As a comparison, recent per capita dog adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 15.3 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 9.4 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Lake County Animal Shelter (Lake County, Florida) – 5.2 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas) – 5.0 dogs per 1,000 people

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

Some naysayers may claim New Jersey would have a more difficult time due to the state’s shelters taking in many pit bulls. However, this is a myth. My model estimates New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out roughly 0.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people to save 95% of New Jersey’s dogs. Our shelters would only need to adopt out around 1.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people if New Jersey shelters also rescued and adopted out the targeted number of pit bulls from other states. As a comparison, I estimate Longmont Humane Society adopts out 2.0 pit bulls per 1,000 people based on the number of pit bulls impounded in 2014 as a percentage of total dogs impounded in 2014 and multiplying that number by the 9.4 dogs per 1,000 people adoption rate in 2018. Furthermore, the pit bull adoption targets are even more reasonable given the model assumes there are roughly 1/6 of the number of dogs from other breeds to compete with in the New Jersey adoption market compared to the Longmont, Colorado area.

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Animal Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

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

The tables below detail how many dogs should lose their lives at each state animal shelter per my model and the actual numbers of dogs that did. All missing or lost dogs are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Based on my review of a number of shelters’ underlying documents, virtually all of the dogs in the “Other” outcome category died or went missing. Shelters having the number of dogs losing their lives at or below my targets and above my targets are highlighted in green and red in the tables below.

The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Overall, 1,108 dogs needlessly lost their lives at New Jersey animal shelters in 2018 (i.e. the sum of all shelters killing too many dogs). 13 out of 92 or 14% of the shelters accounted for 83% of the dogs unnecessarily losing their lives under the model’s assumptions. Associated Humane Societies’ three shelters needlessly killed 219 dogs per the model or 20% of the total dogs unnecessarily dying in the state’s shelters. Trenton Animal Shelter, Gloucester County Animal Shelter, Bergen County Animal Shelter and Paterson Animal Control, which all broke state law in recent years, needlessly killed 335 dogs per the model or 30% of the total dogs unnecessarily dying in the state’s shelters. Shelters with the greatest number of unnecessary dog deaths (assuming all dogs killed were local animals) are as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark (158)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter (142)
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter (121)
  • St. Hubert’s – Madison (116)
  • Humane Society of Atlantic County (69)
  • South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter (58)
  • Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center (53)
  • Atlantic County Animal Shelter (39)
  • Paterson Animal Control (38)
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter (34)

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

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Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Require Little Rescue Assistance

Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake, very limited space, and few stray dogs returned to owners, it will need more help than other shelters. In an ideal world, rescues would take all shelter animals. However, due to limited numbers of foster homes, lesser ability to find foster homes due to many rescue organizations’ small sizes, and most rescues’ restrictive adoption policies, all shelters cannot heavily rely on rescues. The tables below compare the number of dogs a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of dogs actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.

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

51 shelters received too much help, 17 facilities received just enough assistance and 24 shelters received too little help from other animal welfare organizations. However, the excess dogs rescued (1,940 dogs) at shelters receiving too much assistance was far higher than the rescue deficits at other shelters (237 dogs) resulting in the state’s shelters sending 1,703 more dogs than needed to rescues and other animal welfare organizations. Some shelters, such as Elizabeth Animal Shelter and Paterson Animal Control, report transfers to rescues and other shelters as adoptions. While I made adjustments for these facilities based on my reviews of these facilities underlying records in past years, its certainly possible other shelters incorrectly reported their data (i.e. counting animals sent to rescues as adoptions). Nonetheless, the New Jersey shelter system as a whole is receiving enough rescue assistance, but some shelters are hurt by rescues pulling animals from less needy facilities.

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

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

Given killing animals for space is intolerable, the space-constrained shelters need to expand their effective dog capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house dogs on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians to house and adopt out some dogs. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program, implementing a proper managed intake policy (i.e. where animals are impounded when in danger and waiting periods for owner surrenders are relatively short) and making serious efforts to return lost dogs to owners could free up space in these shelters. Finally, space-constrained shelters with multiple animal control contracts should terminate some of these arrangements to bring their capacity for care in line with the number of dogs they take in. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

In certain circumstances, it may make sense for shelters with excess space to send dogs to rescues. For example, a unique breed or a dog needing very specialized behavioral or medical rehabilitation. However, these cases are accounted for in my targeted sent to rescue figures for animal control shelters.

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

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

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

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

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 4 out of 92 shelters met the adoption goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

A number of other rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets, but this may at least partially be due to inaccurate records and the types of dogs they impounded. Common Sense for Animals operates more like a rescue oriented than an animal control shelter. While this organization exceeded its adoption targets, the shelter’s figures were off by 128 dogs using the methodology outlined in another blog. Beacon Animal Rescue also exceeded its adoption target, but this is likely due to this organization rescuing easier to adopt dogs from New Jersey shelters. Thus, I believe these rescue oriented shelters’ high local dog adoption numbers were due to inaccurate records or these organizations selecting easier to adopt local dogs.

Tri-Boro Animal Welfare’s and St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark’s higher than targeted local dog adoption results are a bit misleading. These facilities benefited from the method I used to cap adoptions in the county and reduce the adoption targets for these two shelters. For example, Tri-Boro Animal Welfare only reached 52% of its adoption target using my unadjusted model only taking the shelter’s physical space and targeted number of foster homes into account. Similarly, St. Hubert’s Noah’s Ark’s actual adoptions percentage of its targeted adoptions figure dropped from 271% to 111% when I looked at the unadjusted model. Since Morris County has many shelters that collectively have a very large capacity (i.e. very high adoption potential), my model reduces all Morris County animal shelters’ target adoptions to my county adoption cap. Therefore, these two shelters have relatively low dog adoption targets. Additionally, St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark may rescue a number of dogs from other St. Hubert’s facilities and those dogs may come from out of state. Thus, these shelters really didn’t do an excellent job adopting out local dogs.

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

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 1,222 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Monmouth SPCA – 775 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park – 579 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Plainfield Area Humane Society – 532 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Tyco Animal Control – Paramus – 442 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Burlington County Animal Shelter – 441 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 396 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 388 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Paterson Animal Control – 387 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 384 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • St. Hubert’s – Madison – 281 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Shake a Paw-Union – 281 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Greyhound Angels – 278 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Montclair Township Animal Shelter – 273 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • New Jersey Humane Society – 250 fewer dogs adopted than targeted

Several shelters’ poor performance is quite predictable. Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Trenton Animal Shelter, Paterson Animal Shelter, Shake a Paw-Union, New Jersey Humane Society, Gloucester County Animal Shelter, Monmouth SPCA and Bergen County Animal Shelter had troublesome stories involving the shelters and/or prominent people affiliated with these organizations over the last several years. Tyco Animal Control-Paramus performed poorly due to this for profit company having a regressive view of animal sheltering. Shake a Paw-Union’s low local adoption numbers are also not surprising since it also operates a for profit pet store and transports almost all of its dogs it rescues from out of state. Similarly, St. Hubert’s-Madison, Monmouth SPCA, Greyhound Angels (due to it being a greyhound rescue oriented shelter) and Montclair Township Animal Shelter all transported in many dogs from outside of New Jersey during 2018. Burlington County Animal Shelter had a 200 local dog adoption decrease in 2018 due primarily to the facility sending more dogs to rescues and other shelters. Finally, Plainfield Area Humane Society’s local dog adoption deficit is quite disturbing since this organization could easily take on Plainfield’s dogs who currently go to the horrific and high kill Associated Humane Societies-Newark.

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Local Dogs

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

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of local dogs they should. 89 of the 92 shelters should rescue some dogs from other local shelters. In fact, 45 of the 89 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single dog from a New Jersey animal shelter. Of the 89 shelters that should have rescued dogs, only four shelters met or exceeded their local dog rescue targets. However, three of those shelters, Beacon Animal Rescue, St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark and Tri-Boro Animal Welfare, may not have truly helped the number of medium to large size local dogs they should based on these shelters taking easier to adopt animals and possibly out of state animals (i.e. St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark may have rescued out of state transported dogs from other St. Hubert’s facilities that originally came from the south).

As mentioned above, many shelters local rescue numbers are inflated due to these organizations cherry picking highly adoptable animals to rescue. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of local healthy and treatable dogs.

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

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New Jersey Animal Shelters Need to Form Life-Saving Coalitions

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

Sobering Results Require Shelter Leaders to Critically Examine Themselves

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

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

Appendix – Life Saving Model Assumptions

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

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

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

Each shelter’s community dog intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty bite cases), number of dogs returned to owners, and maximum dog capacity were taken from its 2018 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health. Additionally, I added 3% of each shelter’s annual dog intake to account for foster capacity shelters should use based on American Pets Alive guidelines. Thus, total dog capacity equaled the shelter’s capacity plus foster capacity.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community dog intake and dogs returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 dogs were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 dogs (240/12). In July, the dog intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 dogs by 1.2 to equal 24 dogs. If 120 dogs were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of dogs returned to owners in July would equal 12 dogs (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off the average of the 2018 dog intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • The estimated number of community dogs returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country. If anything, this estimate is conservative (i.e. average length of stay for dogs returned to owners may be less than 5 days and therefore frees up more shelter space for adoptions) based on some shelters returning the bulk of their dogs to owners within 3 days.
  • The number of community dogs euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 5% of intake. 5% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate for shelters in New Jersey to meet given few vulnerable stray puppies (i.e. who could die or require euthanasia) arrive in the state’s animal shelters. The average length of stay for euthanized dogs is assumed to equal 14.5 days. Half of dogs are assumed euthanized for untreatable aggression towards people and 21 days is the time estimated to make that determination. The other half of dogs are assumed euthanized for severe and untreatable health issues and I estimate these dogs are euthanized after 8 days (subsequent to the end of the stray hold and owner surrender protection periods).
  • Adopted dogs are assumed to stay at shelters for varying lengths of time. Adoption length of stay was based on data from a study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare and the figures used (except for space-constrained shelters) are located in a prior blog on pit bull adoption. The data primarily comes from Tompkins County SPCA during a time it saved over 90% of its dogs. This was a fairly conservative data set to use as other no kill open admission shelters’ average length of stay are substantially shorter. Specifically, the following assumptions were made:
    1. 80% and 20% of each communities dogs (including pit bulls) were adults 1 year and older and under 1 year.
    2. Pit bulls were assumed to comprise 50%, 35% and 25% of community dog intake at poor, middle/upper middle class, and wealthy area animal control shelters. While some shelters may have pit bulls comprising more than 50% of their shelter dog population at a given time, this is due to pit bulls longer average length of stay. For example, a shelter with pit bulls making up 50% of their dog intake and pit bulls having an average length of stay three times longer than other dogs will have pit bulls constituting 75% of the dog population. Shelters without animal control contracts were assumed to only have pit bulls make up 10% of their community dogs (i.e. strays and owner surrenders) based on most of these shelters’ highly selective admission practices.
    3. Pit bull adoption length of stay was taken directly from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare study. The average adoption lengths of stay for other breeds from this study were averaged and used for dogs other than pit bulls in the analysis
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they ran out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used pit bull adoption length of stay data from Greenhill Humane Society from March 2013 through May 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 pit bulls in the Greenhill Humane Society data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average dog adoption length of stay determined in the previous bullet and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • Dogs transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community dogs not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month. However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, dogs are moved from adoption (i.e. 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.
  • Animal control shelters have a minimum of 10% of unclaimed dogs go to rescues. To the extent shelters transfer 10% of unclaimed dogs to rescues despite having space (i.e. reclassifying dogs from adoptions with a longer length of stay to rescues with a shorter length of stay), I do not require these facilities to use that space to rescue additional dogs.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s total capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter dogs are saved, I assume additional dogs are pulled from nearby states with similar types of dogs. I assume all rescued dogs will not be killed since the transferring and receiving shelters should evaluate these dogs’ behavior. Based on pit bull type dogs having longer lengths of stay at shelters, I assume 80% of dogs rescued from local animal shelters are pit bulls and 20% are non-pit bulls. 80% and 20% of pit bull and non-pit bull type dogs are considered 1 year and older and under 1 year. The average length of stay for rescued pit bulls and other dogs are the same as the adoption length of stay figures above.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many local dogs New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue, rescue from other nearby animal shelters and euthanize.
  • The targeted number of dogs rescued and adopted were capped at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of dogs adopted were set to equal to this cap using the pit bull percentage assumptions above. 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 adoptions in the county to yield the targeted numbers of dogs adopted in the modified model. If the shelter also rescued animals from other shelters, the rescued numbers were also reduced since I assume rescued animals are adopted.

New Jersey’s Highest Kill Shelters in 2018

Recently, I wrote a blog discussing decreased killing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2018. This blog will explore the 2018 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 2018 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. 2018 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, 56 out of 92 shelters reporting these dog statistics and 59 out of 91 facilities submitting this cat data failed to get this right. This raises serious questions about the accuracy of these shelters’ reported statistics. 32 of the 56 shelters with flawed dog statistics and 34 of the 59 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, 2,002 cats and dogs should have had outcomes reported and did not. Thus, there is the potential that as many as 2,002 additional dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing from New Jersey animal shelters than were reported in 2018.

Even worse, a number of animal shelters reported having a different number of animals at the end of 2017 and at the beginning of 2018. 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 92 shelters reported different numbers of dogs at the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018. Similarly, 37 of 91 shelters reported different numbers of cats at the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018. 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, S725, 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.

This year I revised the cat statistics to remove an estimate of the cats St. Hubert’s transfers in and quickly transfers out through its Sister Shelter WayStation program. Previously, I made this adjustment only for dogs. 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 5.5 to 6.3% and the cat kill rate (intake) from 16.1% to 16.3%.

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 increase from 6.3% to 6.4% and the cat kill rate to increase from 16.3% to 16.7%.

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 6.4% to 6.8% and the cat kill rate from 16.7% to 18.0%.

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 remained at 6.8% and the cat kill rate also stayed at 18.0%. 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 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 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 6.8% to 9.2% and the state’s cat kill rate from 18.0 to 19.3%.

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 9.2 to 12.9% and the maximum potential state cat kill rate from 19.3% to 21.3%.

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 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 9.7% and 21.0%. Non-reclaimed cats had a 20.4% kill rate and a 22.9% 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 2018, 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 10,131 dogs from out of state animal shelters and only rescued 2,399 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 10,131 dogs to 6,360 dogs. While the state’s local kill rate decreased in 2018, 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:

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:

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):

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 2018, only 62% 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 70%. 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 8.6 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 7.4 dogs and cats per 1,000 people. As a comparison, the average community in the country impounds anywhere from 14 animals per 1,000 residents based on estimates from Animal People Newspaper and No Kill Movement. 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 Shelters Kill Fewer Animals in 2018, but Some Red Flags Exist

In 2017, New Jersey animal shelter statistics significantly improved. This decrease in killing was driven by decreased animal intake and increased numbers of animals adopted out, sent to rescues and released through TNR programs.

How did New Jersey animal shelters perform in 2018 compared to 2017? What caused these changes? What shelters had positive and negative impacts on the state’s kill rates in 2017?

Killing Decreased Significantly in 2018

The tables below summarize the statewide dog and cat statistics in 2018 and 2017. 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 2018 statistics here and the 2017 statistics here.

This year I revised the cat statistics to remove an estimate of the cats St. Hubert’s transfers in and quickly transfers out through its Sister Shelter WayStation program. Previously, I made this adjustment only for dogs. 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 below. 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 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.

All dog and cat statistics improved in 2018 verses 2017, but at a much slower rate when compared to 2017 verses 2016. The dog kill rates decreased, but at about one half to two thirds the rate those kill rates decreased in 2017 verses 2016. Similarly, the cat kill rates decreased in 2018 verses 2017, but this decrease was only at about 30%-40% of the rate those kill rates decreased in 2017 verses 2016. While we’d like the kill rate decreases in 2018 verses 2017 to equal or exceed the decreases in 2017 verses 2016, the kill rate decreases in 2017 verses 2016 were extraordinarily large. Additionally, 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 413 fewer dogs (432 dogs if we assume the animals in “Other” outcomes died). However, New Jersey shelters’ live outcomes decreased significantly. Given New Jersey animal shelters fell far short of my dog adoption targets I set for 2017, 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, most of the shelters, which are relatively large, had kill rates over 10% in 2017. All the shelters 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 the Newark animal control contract in November 2018, 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, except for Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center (formerly Camden County Animal Shelter), had lower kill rates in 2018 compared to 2017.

The following table explains why most of these shelters’ kill rates decreased. In the case of Hamilton Township Animal Shelter, it adopted out more dogs. Shelter reform advocates in Hamilton pressured the shelter to improve. However, this facility was hardly doing any adoptions before and still does not adopt out nearly enough dogs. On the other hand, Associated Humane Societies-Newark sent more animals to rescues and other shelters. Like Hamilton Township Animal Shelter, Associated Humane Societies-Newark faced mounting public pressure to do better as a result of numerous negative news stories. The other facilities with decreased kill rates had fewer positive outcomes due to fewer animal outcomes, but the decrease in killing was greater. Thus, these shelters’ kill rates decreased primarily due to having fewer animals come in.

Other Shelters Increased the Statewide Dog Kill Rate

While the statewide dog kill rate dropped in 2018, 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. Animal Welfare Association, Humane Society of Atlantic County and Monmouth SPCA all reported higher kill rates in 2018 verses 2017. In the cases of Animal Welfare Association and Monmouth SPCA, these shelters kill rates increased from very low levels. On the other hand, Humane Society of Atlantic County’s dog kill rate increased from a shockingly high level for a rescue oriented shelter. While Trenton Animal Shelter and Atlantic County Animal Shelter reported lower dog kill rates in 2018, these shelters’ kill rates are still above the statewide average. Therefore, these shelters increased the statewide dog kill rate since both shelters took in more dogs and represented a greater share of the state’s dog intake in 2018.

The table below explains why several of these shelters’ dog kill rates increased. Monmouth SPCA reported significantly fewer dogs transferred to rescues and other shelters in 2018. On the other hand, Animal Welfare Association reported decreased adoptions. While Humane Society of Atlantic County reported more live outcomes in 2018, the shelter also killed more dogs in 2018. Therefore, Humane Society of Atlantic County’s increased positive incomes were not enough to stop the facility’s kill rate from increasing.

More Cats Leave Shelters Alive

Since 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 adopted out in 2018 and 2017, 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 2018 statewide cat kill rate (outcomes) increased from 16.7% to 17.7% while the 2017 cat kill rate (outcomes) increased from 19.0% to 19.9%.

New Jersey animal shelters killed many fewer cats in 2018 than in 2017. Overall, New Jersey animal shelters killed 719 less cats. If we count cats that died or went missing, even fewer cats would have lost their lives in 2018. 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) decreased by 507 cats. Thus, significantly fewer cats lost their lives in New Jersey shelters in 2018.

The decrease in killing was driven by more cats transferred to rescues and other shelters, increased adoptions, more owner reclaims and more cats sent out via TNR programs. Since cat owner reclaims generally are low at most shelters and shelters often classify cats that are impounded and then neutered and released as reclaimed, TNR efforts likely played a role in the higher number of cats returned to owners in 2018. Additionally, shelters that separately disclosed TNR cats (in “Other” outcomes) showed 298 additional cats sent out via these programs in 2018. New Jersey animal shelters adopted out 382 more cats in 2018, but its possible some of these were actually TNR since some shelters include TNR in their adoption figures. The increase in cat transfers was almost entirely due to cats transferred to out of state shelters and rescues. Specifically, 1,688 of the 1,755 increase in cats transferred relate to rescues by out of state organizations. Thus, despite shelters impounding significantly more cats in 2018, the cat kill rate decreased significantly due to increased live outcomes.

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, the shelters, except for Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center, had kill rates over 25% in 2017 and all reported decreases in those kill rates. All the shelters except for South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter and Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center had fewer outcomes 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 2018.

The table below explains why these shelters’ kill rates decreased. All the shelters, except for Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls, reported increased transfers to shelters and rescues. Interestingly, both South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter and Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center reported significantly greater numbers of cats transferred to out of state organizations (South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter: 559 cats; Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center: 1,106 cats) and large decreases in transfers to New Jersey organizations (South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter: 546 cats; Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center: 984 cats). Both Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center and South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter also reported large increases in cat adoptions which is an excellent sign. On the other hand, most of the other shelters, which already did not adopt out enough cats in 2017, adopted out fewer cats in 2018. Unfortunately, this is a big red flag as high kill shelters almost never become and stay no kill unless they adopt out the bulk of their animals themselves.

Other Shelters Increased the Statewide Cat Kill Rate

While the statewide cat kill rate decreased in 2018, 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, with the exception of Associated Humane Societies-Newark, had higher cat kill rates in 2018 compared to 2017. In addition, most of the shelters had kill rates of 16% or higher in 2018. Most notably, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cat kill rate per its underlying records, which I obtained under an OPRA request and used in this analysis, was significantly higher than the kill rate based on the numbers it reported to the state health department. Phillipsburg Animal Facility did not report numbers in the past and therefore it increased the statewide cat kill rate in 2018. All the other shelters, except for Atlantic County Animal Shelter, also had more outcomes in 2018 than in 2017. Since most of these shelters had kill rates that exceeded the statewide average, increased outcomes at these facilities raised the statewide cat kill rate.

The table below explains why most of these shelters’ kill rates increased. Bergen County Animal Shelter, Atlantic County Animal Shelter and Liberty Humane Society reported fewer cat adoptions and cats transferred. In addition, both Atlantic County Animal Shelter and Liberty Humane Society had fewer owner reclaims. While St. Hubert’s-Madison transferred more cats to rescues and other shelters, its cat adoptions significantly decreased. Therefore, St. Hubert’s increased positive outcomes did not make up for its increased cat intake. Like St. Hubert’s, Vorhees Animal Orphanage’s increased positive outcomes were not great enough to make up for its increased cat intake.

Shelters Impound Less Dogs and More Cats 

The tables below detail the change in dog and cat intake at New Jersey shelters in 2018 verses 2017. Since Bergen County Animal Shelter did not break out the sources of their intake in their underlying records provided to me, I excluded this shelter from the cat intake analysis. As mentioned above, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cat intake and outcome numbers on its state report are overstated and I used its underlying records in the outcome analysis. However, this shelter did not have a large change in its cat intake. Additionally, 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 1,427 less dogs during 2018 than in 2017. New Jersey animal shelters took in over 900 fewer stray dogs during 2018 than in 2017. The state’s shelters took 5% 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 explore why stray dog intake is decreasing.

New Jersey animal shelters rescued far fewer dogs after making the St. Hubert’s adjustment described above. Most concerning, New Jersey animal shelters rescued 19% fewer dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters in 2018. While rescues and out of state shelters picked up some of the slack, it was not enough as overall transfers out decreased in 2018.

On the other hand, New Jersey animal shelters took in nearly 50% more dogs due to cruelty cases, bite cases and other reasons. Trenton Animal Shelter and Burlington County Animal Shelter reported a 231 dog and a 230 dog increase to these other sources of intake. In November 2018, Burlington County Animal Shelter coordinated the handling of a 161 dog hoarding case in Shamong. 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. Additionally, the 2018 cruelty/bite cases/other figure of 1,504 dogs was significantly higher than any of the amounts recorded over the past five years (937 to 1,293 dogs). Thus, animal advocates should monitor this figure to see how the new animal cruelty law enforcement system is working.

New Jersey animal shelters impounded more cats in 2018 than in 2017. With the exception of a slight decrease in owner surrenders, all other types of cat intake significantly increased. Interestingly, cruelty/bite cases/other also increased, but not as much as for dogs. However, as with dogs, the other types of cat intake in 2018 (1,111 cats) was significantly higher than any of the amounts from 2013 through 2017 (728 to 895 cats) 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 driving the significant increase in other types of cat intake.

Advocacy Works

Overall, New Jersey’s 2018 animal shelter statistics are good news. While decreased dog intake was a major driver of the reduced dog kill rates in the state, shelters did achieve higher cat live release rates due to generating more live outcomes.

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 is a troubling sign. If shelters continue to rely too heavily on rescues, they will not save all healthy and treatable dogs. 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. Otherwise, shelters will reach a plateau and not increase their dog live release rates anymore.