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

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

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

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

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

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

SNR Program Would Dramatically Increase Life Saving in New Jersey

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

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

NJ Shelter Cats Model for Blog SNR Summary

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

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

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

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

NJ Shelter Cats Model for Blog SNR s2r

NJ Shelter Cats Model for Blog SNR s2r (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Large Scale SNR/TNR Makes Complete Sense for Municipalities

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

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

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

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

Linden Animal Control Fails Office of Animal Welfare Inspection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2533 Exterior dog enclosures need repair; dog transferred to AHS

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

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

2502 Ketamine

2504 Used Syringes in Drawer

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

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

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

2519 Cat enclosures rusted, stick inside cage

2496 Floor in front of furnace

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

Linden Should Get Out of the Animal Control and Sheltering Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Losing Prejudices Reunites Families

Reuniting Lost Pets With Their Families Represents a Huge Opportunity to Save Lives and Reduce Costs

Owners reclaiming their pets saves lives. Pets returned to owners do not get killed at shelters. Additionally, returning dogs to their owners boosts save rates since dogs who might fail shelter behavioral tests could safely live with the family these dogs already trust. Similarly, cats who might be killed for being incorrectly classified as feral could leave the shelter alive with their family. Thus, returning stray pets to their owners increases life saving.

Owners reclaiming their pets, particularly dogs, saves shelters significant costs. 80% of reclaimed stray dogs at Kansas City’s open admission no kill shelter occur within 5 days of arriving at the shelter. Similarly, 80% of lost dogs in California shelters reunite with their families within 4 days of entering the shelter. While animals getting adopted/transferred to rescue or killed may impact these quick turnaround times (i.e. the dog or cat may not get reclaimed by owner after a long time since they are out of the shelter), most shelters cannot hold animals for extended periods of time. As a result, shelters can most quickly get stray animals, which must be held 7 days in New Jersey for owner reclaim, out of shelters alive by finding the pets owners. Finding stray pets owners therefore saves significant costs associated with housing, adopting, or killing dogs or cats.

Many shelters return few lost pets to their owners. Currently, many of New Jersey’s large urban shelters only return approximately 20%-30% of stray dogs and around 2% of stray cats to owners. Nationally, owner reclaim rates are also similar. While some cats may be feral and have no owner, the percentage of stray owned cats returned to owners likely is still very low. Given about 2/3 and 80% of our dogs and cats are strays, respectively, at some of New Jersey’s large urban shelters, boosting owner reclaim rates will significantly increase life saving and reduce shelter costs.

Licensing is a Seductive Mirage

Licensing is often seen as the go to solution for owners to find their lost pets. Certainly, animal shelters will return licensed dogs wearing their tags to their owners. In fact, shelters have to do little work when a dog is licensed. Not surprisingly, shelters have strongly advocated pet licensing for a long time.

While I’m not aware of precise dog licensing rates for New Jersey municipalities, logic suggests dog licensing and microchipping rates should be higher in wealthier areas. For example, St. Huberts – Madison served the well to do towns of Bernardsville, Chatham Boro, and East Hanover in 2012 and returned virtually all stray dogs and nearly 80% of stray cats to their owners (all three towns require cat licenses). Similarly, Tyco Animal Control, which serves 22 wealthy North Jersey towns returned 88% of all stray dogs (Tyco Animal Control typically does not accept regular owner surrenders) to their owners in 2012. Despite killing more dogs than they adopted out, Tyco Animal Control still saved 96% of its impounded dogs in 2012 by virtue of its high return to owner rate. Thus, licensing and microchipping are wildly successful in saving lives and reducing shelter costs in wealthy areas.

Calgary’s successful licensing model has long been advocated to increase return to owner and live release rates. Licensing is a key component of Calgary’s “Responsible Pet Ownership” initiative which challenges the community to license their pets, spay/neuter, and be good pet owners in general. Calgary’s licensing program uses various incentives, such as discounts at retail stores, and no fee promotions for first time pet licenses. Calgary also imposes a steep $250 fine on owners of unlicensed pets. Like the wealthy communities in North Jersey above, Calgary has high licensing compliance rates and returned 84% and 47% of stray dogs and cats to their owners in 2012. As a result of these high reclaim rates, Calgary saved 95% and 80% of stray dogs and cats during this period. Unfortunately, we do not know Calgary’s total save rate since owner surrenders go to Calgary Humane Society, which kills for space, and does not report its live release rate. Additionally, licensing revenues fully fund animal control and sheltering for Calgary’s stray pets. As a result of Calgary Animal Services’ success, other cities are looking to emulate the Calgary model.

Calgary significant differs socioeconomically from poor areas of the United States with high kill rates. Calgary has had the highest per capita income of major Canadian cities going back to at least 1980. Additionally, the economy grew and diversified significantly since the 1980s. Calgary’s population also is among the most educated of all Canadian cities and over 2/3 of people over 25 have attended college. Additionally, 73% of Calgary household owned homes compared to only 23 percent in Newark, New Jersey. Calgary had a very high dog reclaim rate of around 45% in 1985 before the city aggressively pursued dog licensing efforts. In fact, the pace of dog reclaim rate increases was virtually indistinguishable from the mid-late 1980s (before aggressive dog licensing efforts began) to periods after. Also, dog reclaim rates just about reached today’s levels by the mid 1990s. The city’s cat reclaim rates remained flat from before cat licensing began in 2006 until now. Ironically, Bill Bruce, the man largely credited with the success of Calgary, joined the Calgary’s Animal Services in 2000 after the high dog and cat reclaim rates were achieved. Thus, high licensing rates in Calgary like the wealthy communities served by St. Huberts and Tyco Animal Control are more reflective of socioeconomic status than policy choices.

The Calgary licensing model should not be followed by large United States cities with high poverty rates. Poor people have an extremely difficult time caring for their pets and insisting they pay licensing fees will not help them nor will they likely comply. Simply put, asking poor pet owners in low income cities to solely fund animal control and sheltering is unfair and not likely to succeed. If poor pet owners must solely fund animal control and sheltering, governments should use a pet food/supplies tax to allow these pet owners to pay in small bits throughout the year instead of all in one shot. Also, some minority groups poor experiences with animal control in the past may lead to low licensing compliance rates as well. Additionally, like most animal control mandates strict enforcement of licensing may lead to more impounds and shelter killing. Finally, large resources devoted to an unlikely to succeed licensing endeavor may divert resources from other life saving initiatives.

Providing Outreach and Support in Poor Communities Will Increase Reclaim Rates

Communities can achieve the benefits of licensing by conducting strong outreach efforts. Licensing’s two primary benefits, other than raising funds, are identifying lost dogs and ensuring pets are vaccinated for rabies. Recently, geographic information systems have been used to target areas generating large numbers of shelter impounds. Additionally, groups such as Beyond Breed in Brooklyn, Spay/Neuter Kansas City, and Downtown Dog Rescue in Los Angeles go into these underserved communities and provide much needed support. If we were to step up such efforts and offer free microchips, identity tags, and rabies vaccines, we would achieve what licensing efforts seek. Literally, driving around these communities in a service van and going door to door could go a long way to getting identification on the community’s animals and increasing rabies vaccination rates. I’d suggest even offering free goodies, such as ice cream, to draw people in to start important conversations. Animal welfare groups could engage Petco Foundation and Petsmart Charities and request identity tags since their retail stores offer these tags at relatively affordable prices. Given people in these underserved communities rarely shop at Petco and Petsmart, the stores would not lose any significant revenues from such an endeavor. Thus, building a relationship within the community can start getting lost pets home.

Local governments and animal shelters must break down barriers to reuniting owners and lost pets. Unfortunately, many shelters presume stray animals are mostly “dumped on the streets” by their owners and do not make any real effort to get these animals home. However, Kathy Pobloski, Director of Lost Dogs Wisconsin and writer of Wisconsin Watchdog blog, provides the following reasons why owners fail to reclaim lost pets:

  1. The owner didn’t know the animal was at the shelter
  2. The owner can’t afford to reclaim the pet
  3. The owner has no transportation
  4. The owner has outstanding warrants or is illegal so doesn’t want to go to a government agency
  5. The owner has a language barrier
  6. The owner does not have internet access or the ability to effectively search for their dog

Most of these barriers can be torn down with effective outreach. For example, the same community programs used to tag and microchip dogs can also educate pet owners to immediately go to the local shelter.  Similarly, community outreach can inform pet owners that they can reclaim their pets and not be reported for potentially being an illegal or undocumented resident. Also, shelters can have volunteers distribute fliers widely in areas with high numbers of strays to inform people their lost pets may be at the shelter. Additionally, shelters should have people who speak foreign languages, allow volunteers to transport lost pets back to their owners, and be flexible on redemption fees if the owner cannot afford them. In fact, redemption fees can total hundreds and even thousands of dollars in some cases. Over the long term, shelters as well as animal advocates should lobby local governments to drop redemption fees altogether. Shelters are funded by taxes and people should not pay a ransom fee to return a family member. When a child is lost, we don’t make the parents pay a redemption fee. We shouldn’t do so either with people’s furry kids either. Finally, shelters can make pleas for animal advocates to form lost pet search groups, such as Lost Dogs Wisconsin and Lost Dogs Illinois, which have remarkable track records in reuniting pets to their families.

Animal control officers should make every effort to redeem pets they find in the field. Nevada Humane Society, which has a return to owner rate of nearly 60%, has its animal control officers check for tags and microchips in the field, examines lost pet reports, and asks people in the area if they know the stray animal’s owner.  By finding the owner in the field, the animal never even goes to the shelter reducing sheltering costs and stress to the animal.

The Wisconsin Watchdog blog posted a “how to” guide for shelters to increase their return to owner rates. Tips include immediately posting stray dog photos to shelter web sites and Facebook pages (Lost and Found Pets New Jersey is another great place for shelters in this state). Additionally, Wisconsin Watchdog recommends having specific volunteers check lost pet reports and help owners coming to shelters to find their lost pets. Also, they recommend giving guidance to owners on how to find their lost pet who is not at the shelter. Shelters should read and implement all the recommendations.

Nationally, animal welfare groups should use a single web site for posting and searching for stray pets coming into their facilities. These groups should heavily promote this web site so the general public posts their animals there to facilitate owners finding their lost dogs at shelters. In fact, one such web site already exists. Thus, national animal welfare groups and local shelters should strongly advocate the use of a specific web site by the public and shelters.

Strategically, these specific actions by shelters will boost reclaim rates in the short term. Over the long-term, greater numbers of pets with identity tags and microchips through community outreach efforts should increase reclaim rates to the very high levels seen in wealthy places. At the end of the day you have to work for positive changes and this means engaging and supporting your community. Unfortunately, their are no free lunches unless your shelter serves a wealthy community.