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.

Jersey Pits Rescue Proves People Want Pit Bulls

Frequently, New Jersey shelters complain they must kill pit bulls due to no one wanting these animals. Similarly, many rescues and rescue oriented shelters state the same thing when they choose to transport in easy to adopt dogs instead of saving pit bulls who are killed in local shelters. Certainly, pit bull like dogs face legitimate challenges, such as housing restrictions and discrimination from some potential dog owners.

Over the years I’ve written extensively about animal control shelters, including high volume ones, saving all their healthy and treatable pit bull like dogs. In 2014, when I first started NJ Animal Observer, I wrote about a number of shelters outside of New Jersey saving around 90% of their pit bull like dogs and placing them relatively quickly. Later that year, I wrote about Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society saving 96% of their pit bull like dogs and adopting out these animals pretty fast. In early 2015, I wrote about a small Colorado animal control shelter in a poor area that went from killing 40% of its pit bulls in 2012 to adopting out every single one of its pit bulls in 2013. Similarly, in 2016 I posted Salt Lake County Animal Services’ 2015 pit bull statistics showing the shelter saved 93% of the 600 pit bulls it took in. Finally, I wrote about Austin Animal Center saving 99% of their pit bulls in both 2017 and 2018.

New Jersey animal shelter data suggests some facilities can save their pit bulls. In 2015, I wrote a blog about Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saving 90% of the pit bulls they took in during 2014 and the first half of 2015. Additionally, Old Bridge Animal Shelter data from 2014, which was when the facility was much more progressive, showed that shelter saved 100% of their pit bulls. However, both these shelters took few pit bulls in on a per capita basis and in total. Therefore, these two shelters data were not sufficient to conclusively prove New Jersey people wanted pit bulls.

Do New Jersey residents want pit bulls? Can New Jersey animal shelters adopt out many more pit bulls and stop killing these pets?

Jersey Pits Rescue Adopts Out More Pit Bulls Than Many Local Shelters

Jersey Pits Rescue is a relatively new rescue run by two women, Dani and Kay. Dani and Kay previously volunteered at Associated Humane Societies-Newark and with other local rescues, including ones dealing mostly with pit bulls. In 2018, Dani and Kay started Jersey Pits Rescue to focus on the many pit bulls killed in local shelters. Both women work full time jobs and run Jersey Pits Rescue in their spare time.

While Jersey Pits Rescue does evaluate dogs to determine if they are safe enough to place in foster homes, it still takes in many pit bulls shelters often kill. According to Dani, Jersey Pits Rescue saves many jumpy dogs and a good number of mouthy ones as well. Additionally, they’ve taken in fearful dogs and dogs with barrier aggression. Based on my personal experience dealing with hundreds, if not thousands of pit bulls in New Jersey animal shelters, Jersey Pits Rescue is likely pulling well over 90% of the types of pit bulls in local shelters. Thus, this is not a rescue cherry picking the easy to adopt dogs and neglecting the ones needing help.

Recently, Dani provided me Jersey Pits Rescue’s 2019 pit bull adoption data. The organization rescued dogs mostly from urban shelters and took in a number of owner surrenders. In particular, Jersey Pits Rescue saved a large number of dogs from Paterson Animal Shelter.

To better understand Jersey Pits Rescue’s performance with pit bull like dogs, I compared this information with numerous New Jersey animal shelters’ pit bull adoption figures in the table below. The animal shelters’ data, except for Old Bridge Animal Shelter, in the following tables comes from previous blogs I’ve written. The Old Bridge Animal Shelter figures are in an unpublished analysis I previously did.

Jersey Pits Rescue adopted out significantly more pit bulls than every single shelter. In fact, Jersey Pits Rescue adopted out around twice as many or more pit bulls than most of the other shelters.

Jersey Pits Rescue also adopted out its pit bulls among the quickest. The table below shows the average length of stay for adopted pit bulls from shelters adopting out 10 or more pit bulls. As you can see, Jersey Pits Rescue adopted out its dogs in 43 days on average. If I counted three dogs classified as foster to adopt as adoptions, that figure would drop to 41 days. Several shelters took 50% or longer to adopt out their pit bull like dogs.

Jersey Pits Rescue’s performance is even better than it appears. Many of the shelters on this list killed a large percentage of their pit bulls. For example, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility had 13% of their pit bulls and 25% of their nonreclaimed pit bulls lose their lives. In 2016, Gloucester County Animal Shelter had 28% of their pit bulls and 50% of their nonreclaimed pit bulls lose their lives. From 2015 to 2017, Bergen County Animal Shelter had 31%-47% of their pit bulls and 50%-64% of their nonreclaimed pit bulls lose their lives. Therefore, these shelters likely placed easier to adopt dogs than Jersey Pits Rescue. Thus, many of the other shelters’ adoption length of stay figures make their performance look better than that what it was.

Jersey Pits Rescue’s performance is more impressive considering it lacks many of the advantages animal control shelters have. First, shelters are open to the public and give people the opportunity to walk in without making appointments. Second, the public generally knows about shelters in their areas. In contrast, rescues, particularly newer ones, have to work harder to attract adopters and volunteers. Third, the news media share stories more often about the needs (such as an adoption promotion, volunteer help, donations, etc.) of a shelter than of a rescue. Fourth, Jersey Pits Rescue does not get taxpayer funding that animal control shelters receive. Thus, animal control shelters have many structural advantages over a small rescue that works to save local pit bull like dogs.

Jersey Pits Rescue’s Strategies to Save Pit Bulls

Jersey Pits Rescue uses social media to aggressively promote their dogs. Despite being around just two years, the Jersey Pits Rescue Facebook page has nearly 10,000 followers. Similarly, Jersey Pits Rescue has 12,000 followers on Instagram. The organization frequently makes engaging posts seeking adopters. Additionally, Jersey Pits Rescue posts many “alumni” stories that give a positive vibe. Finally, the organization uses social media to seek donations and sell Jersey Pits Rescue apparel, such as t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats.

Jersey Pits Rescue relies on individual meet and greets and pack walks to introduce adopters to the dogs. The organization prefers this method to doing adoption events, which can sometimes put dogs in difficult situations. Therefore, the rescue is able to attract adopters through social media and make the adoptions happen through individual meet and greets and pack walks.

The organization uses volunteers and no paid staff to care for and place its dogs. Jersey Pits Rescue has a foster/adoption coordinator, merchandise manager and an events manager. Additionally, the organization uses volunteers to organize special events, such as foster dog outings, and transporting dogs to veterinarian appointments. Finally, the rescue has around 10 people that regularly foster dogs.

Jersey Pits Rescue’s success proves people want pit bulls. If a new organization run by individuals with full time jobs can adopt out more pit bulls than large local shelters, this proves people want pit bulls. In other words, local shelters can and should adopt out many more pit bulls instead of killing those pets. Similarly, local rescue oriented shelters and many rescues can save and adopt out far more local pit bulls.

Taxpayers and donors should demand New Jersey animal shelters do far better with their pit bulls. As my blogs over recent years show, many New Jersey animal shelters needlessly kill many pit bull like dogs based on false beliefs about “behavior” and the public not wanting these animals. Clearly, the Jersey Pits Rescue’s data proves we can save local pit bulls. As such, the public must demand taxpayer and other donor funded organizations do the right thing and also save these dogs.

The Dog That Transformed My Life

Once I heard a story where an old man remembered his life through each dog he had. At the time, I thought the story was interesting. Now, I know it makes perfect sense.

Over the years, I’ve had several dogs. My first dog, Trixie, will forever be the dog I associate with being a child and growing up. Additionally, I learned how to manage a human aggressive dog that affects my thinking to this day. My second dog, Rusty, sparked my interest in the world of dogs, adopting pets (she was my first rescue) and wildlife. She also taught me about high prey drives and escape artists. A third dog, Jerry, taught me about dog aggression. Both Rusty and Jerry will always remind me of the period when I become an adult.

Daphne Comes into My Life

After I graduated college, I had no pets for over a decade. While I would see Rusty and Jerry at my parents house for the first few years when I visited, this was no substitute for having a pet. At the time, I rented apartments that allowed no dogs. Even if my landlords allowed dogs, I lived alone and worked too many hours to have one. My life was missing something very important for a long time.

Over the years, I would visit Petfinder and look at the dogs I wished I could have. It was forbidden fruit. When my wife, Estrella, and I were dating, we would occasionally look at Petfinder together and even visited an animal shelter I would go to in high school. Again, this was all a fantasy as none of these dogs could come home with me.

A few months after Estrella and I got married, I started a job where I worked long hours. At the time, I was out of work for many months due to the financial crisis and the related recession. This was not the job I wanted, but it was the job I needed.

One Sunday in late December 2009, I felt bad about not spending time with Estrella due to the many hours I worked in this new job. Since we lived very close to Bergen County Animal Shelter, I suggested we visit to do something fun. As we did before we got married, we had no intention of adopting a pet when we walked into the shelter.

Upon entering the dog section of the facility, we ran right into Daphne in a glass showcase kennel. Immediately, I was in awe of her beauty and her athletic physique. Estrella took a photo and Daphne barked at her. Estrella didn’t like that! Soon a shelter volunteer greeted us and tried to sell Daphne to us. It was quite convincing. How could I tell her we were just there to spend some time and were not going to adopt a dog?

Subsequently, we looked at the other dogs on the adoption floor. We were shocked to see so many pit bulls. Prior to this I did not like pit bulls. After my family got Rusty, I became a voracious reader of every dog book I could find. In my local library I came across a book from Richard Stratton. Richard Stratton clearly glorified dog fighting. Additionally, he portrayed pit bulls as a supernaturally powerful animal with a perfect temperament with people. In other words, pit bulls were a super hero caricature. Over the years, I would see other books and hear people say similar things and how all other dogs were worthless compared to pit bulls. Basically, I associated pit bulls with these distasteful people. When coupled with the many negative pit bull stories in the news media, I disliked pit bulls.

All these negative pit bull biases went out the window that day. As we walked the kennels seeing so many pit bulls, my desire to save the animals most needing help came out. Over and over, we walked back and forth looking at the dogs and read the information on their kennels. We became obsessed! That night, we played a game where we’d say to each other “if you were going to adopt a dog at the shelter, which one would you choose?” As time went by, the list grew until we picked around our top 10 dogs!

Over the next week, Estrella went to the shelter every day after work. At that time Bergen County Animal Shelter had different management and was very friendly to adopters. Estrella and the shelter veterinarian bonded and she even allowed Estrella to see dogs not on the adoption floor. When we looked at our lease, we found out we could have any dog we wanted. By the time New Years Eve came on that Thursday, Estrella and I were ready to adopt. In just four short days, we went from killing some time at the shelter to going to adopt a dog.

The shelter brought three dogs to us in a fenced in yard. Daphne, who was our second choice before this, immediately kicked a tennis ball to Estrella. When Estrella threw the ball, Daphne ran like a bullet to fetch it. Estrella was sold. I had to convince her to even see the other two dogs, Sylvester and Miles. After seeing these dogs, Estrella and I decided to pick Daphne.

The shelter mentioned Daphne was a “special needs” dog. First, we were told she seriously injured another dog who somehow got into her kennel. Second, Daphne had incredible amounts of energy and would require tons of exercise. Third, she would throw up in the car almost immediately. Perhaps these were the reasons she spent a year at the shelter and was there the second longest of any dog? We couldn’t care less, we wanted her! The shelter told us to come back on Saturday, January 2, 2010 to adopt her since the facility was closing soon.

On the day we were to adopt Daphne, we ran to PetSmart and got tons of pet food and supplies. When we got to the shelter, it seemed as if the shelter tried to convince us not to adopt Daphne. First, the shelter told us she became very aggressive with the veterinary staff as they prepped her for adoption. Then a new employee, who I would learn much more about years later, tried to convince us not to adopt Daphne. Again, our minds were made up. We were doing this!

The shelter volunteer who loved Daphne took a long time to take her to us. Estrella said he looked quite sad. Was he going to miss Daphne or did he think we couldn’t handle her? As someone who managed an aggressive dog as a child and two challenging dogs as a young adult, I knew I was ready. While Estrella didn’t have this experience, she was always adept at handling life’s challenges. Finally, we adopted Daphne and drove her to our home five minutes away. Within 30 seconds, she threw up in the car!

Daphne immediately showed us how amazing she was that first day with us. She was obsessed with playing ball and insisted we join her. Our reward? A dog who would cuddle with us on the couch!

Over the next several months I continued to work long hours in the stressful job. However, Daphne with her high intensity energy was ready when I got home. Despite Estrella walking Daphne for long distances, Daphne still wanted more. I would throw her ball inside our townhouse endlessly, play tug of war and play wrestle. When we play wrestled, Daphne was so quick, balanced and athletic, I was simply in awe. When we were lucky enough to find a nearby dog park empty, Daphne showed us her athletic ability and fetching skills.

On weekends, I would walk Daphne in the Saddle River County Park in Saddle Brook. When we got her, it was impossible to walk her near people or other dogs. If we did, she would lunge at them. Her reactivity was off the charts. Nonetheless, we adapted.

Once the sun set later, Estrella would bring Daphne to this park every day. They would do a long walk around the park and then engage in extended fetch sessions on the ball field. On weekends I would join as well. We’d usually bring a tennis racket and hit the ball as far as we could. Daphne would run full tilt and would take seemingly forever to tire in the summer. We’d also bring a cloth frisbee and Daphne would catch it in the most acrobatic ways. In fact, people would often stop to watch her and be in awe. We’d have to end before she’d run herself to exhaustion. In the winter time, this dog seemed to almost never tire out. Simply put, she was a superstar canine athlete with the heart of a champion.

We also hiked and found a lake for her to play fetch in during the summer.

Daphne Inspires Us to Help Animal Shelters

Over these first few months with Daphne, I continued to visit the Bergen County Animal Shelter web site. First, I wanted to see if the other dogs we looked at got adopted. Subsequently, I’d look at the new dogs arriving and wondered what their story was. Were they special in their own way like Daphne? Eventually, I remembered a shelter existed in Newark. I wondered if a smaller suburban shelter like Bergen County Animal Shelter had so many amazing pit bulls, what would a larger urban shelter have? Each day, I would then look at Associated Humane Societies-Newark’s Petfinder web site as well. After seeing some intriguing dogs, I mustered the courage to visit the shelter on President’s Day in 2010. Unfortunately, I hardly spent any time in the shelter due to me running late for a doctor’s appointment. Additionally, the deafening barking noises in the kennels drove me out. I knew I’d be back one day.

Seven months later I convinced Estrella to go with me to Associated Humane Societies-Newark as a late birthday present. Despite it being a Sunday, the shelter seemed devoid of adopters. We fell in love with dog after dog. One dog, Lonzo, a leggy pit bull like dog was our favorite. At the same time, we knew no one was coming for these dogs and they were just waiting to die. How did no one know about these wonderful animals like we knew about Daphne? The next day Estrella called me at work and told me she started a Facebook page called Friends of Newark NJ Animal Shelter. Our lives and Daphne’s would change forever.

Each week, we’d go back to AHS-Newark. At the time, the shelter had no volunteer program. To get the dogs out for photos and exercise, we’d pretend we were interested in adopting a dog. We’d spend hours at the shelter and many more at home trying to save the dogs. After a few weeks, the workers caught on to our game and gave us keys to the dog kennels (each was locked). During this time, the public came in droves to help the shelter. AHS-Newark had to unofficially allow volunteers. People came to walk dogs, do adoption events and photograph and market cats. Rescues contacted us to pull animals. We held successful food and supply drives. Things were improving.

Over the next two and a half years, we worked seemingly 24/7 to save AHS-Newark’s dogs. I’d write down the cage card information of all 100 or so medium to large size dogs each week. Additionally, I’d follow-up with the front desk to see what dogs left alive and what dogs the shelter killed. Even to this day, I remember how my heart broke when I heard the front desk person tell me “euthanized” for so many dogs and how I felt relieved when I heard the words “reclaimed”, “adopted” and “rescued” for others. At home, I’d compile the updated inventory list of dogs to ensure we could give adopters and rescuers accurate information about what dogs were available (very few were on Petfinder due to the shelter not having enough people evaluating dogs). I would also get the most difficult dogs out of their kennels for Estrella. Estrella would evaluate dogs, photograph them and take photos. Additionally, she created Petfinder profiles, ran the Facebook page and dealt directly with the shelter, adopters and volunteers. At the time, I told Estrella she should run the shelter based on how hard she worked and the fantastic job she did.

Around this time, I got a job that I wanted. I would work long hours in New York City, but it was something I enjoyed. Between the job, our volunteering and taking care of Daphne, I had little free time for anything else. Estrella was just as, if not more, busy. Despite this, we were very happy making a positive difference.

Daphne would soon experience our work directly. After about six months volunteering at AHS-Newark, we decided to foster a dog for a rescue. At the time, we were terrified about it. Daphne was the dog who we were told seriously injured another dog at Bergen County Animal Shelter. Also, we had seen how she reacted to strange dogs on our walks. Were we going to cause a disaster?

We selected Booker as our foster. Booker was an 85 pound older American bulldog with a sad story. At the shelter, he appeared unhappy and was not in great physical shape. Also, we were told he was used as a guard dog (he was not aggressive at all) by a landlord in abandoned apartments (the separation anxiety we would learn about seemed to confirm this). We were certain he had zero chance to make it out alive. For Daphne, we thought he’d be a perfect fit. Not dominant enough to challenge her, but big enough survive an attack by our supposedly dog aggressive pit bull.

On the day we picked Booker up from the shelter, we had a plan to introduce the dogs. We took them to Saddle Brook County Park and started walking them far apart. Over a period of time, we gradually walked them closer together. They seemed happy! Would this continue? When we came to our tiny yard at our townhouse, we placed both leashes down. Daphne and Booker wrestled and then Daphne rolled around on her back beneath Booker. This was going to work!

During their time together, Daphne was the boss. Despite being around half Booker’s weight, Daphne would win their regular wrestling matches. She’d stand toe to toe with Booker, out-maneuver him and hump him! Booker took it all in stride and enjoyed his new very active friend.

Each day, Estrella would take both Daphne and Booker together for long walks. Booker went from a sad and slow moving older dog to a happy vibrant boy. Perhaps Daphne’s energy rubbed off on him? People would come from everywhere to ask about him. Booker went from an old dog “no one wanted” to a highly desirable dog. We began to realize people really wanted bully breeds. After only a few weeks, Booker found a home.

Our next foster dog would be a huge challenge. Major was a two year old 75 pound pit bull. Unlike Booker, Major was a dominant dog and much more athletic. At AHS-Newark, his striking good looks captivated us. At the same time, we knew large pit bulls fared poorly at this shelter. Outside the shelter, Daphne confirmed our suspicions that these two were going to be a handful. When Daphne and Major met, Daphne nipped Major on the head after he got in her face. As we did with Booker, Estrella and I walked Daphne and Major together for long time moving progressively closer together. Finally, we got the dogs together, but this time it was more like a truce than true love.

Daphne and Major got along, but the two always battled to see who was the boss. The two dogs would have epic wrestling matches. Despite Major weighing around 75% more than Daphne, Daphne would go toe to toe with him and hold her own. Usually, she would out-maneuver Major and tire him out. However, Major still would not accept Daphne being the top dog and we had to actively maintain the peace between them. When we walked Major and Daphne together, both dogs acted like they owned the joint. It was truly amazing. As with Booker, we quickly found a great adopter after a short period of time.

Soon after adopting out Major, we fostered Chance. Chance was an energetic pit bull-Labrador mix that spent a long time at AHS-Newark. Daphne clearly did not like Chance’s Labrador type energy. Estrella and I had to keep a constant eye on Daphne to ensure she behaved. Miraculously, she did. While we were on vacation, the rescue we fostered for adopted Chance out.

Several months after we adopted Major we purchased a home. As with everything at that time, Daphne was a key part of this decision. We would only buy a home with a large flat yard Daphne could play ball on. Additionally, the home had to be near places where we could hike. After a long and difficult process, we found a home with a big backyard and a pool. To get this home, I had to accept not having a usable garage to put my car in. This was a huge sacrifice for me as I love cars and always made sure my previous rented apartments had one. Once in the home, the very first improvement we made was to get the backyard fenced in. Daphne now had a yard to play ball in everyday. In the summer, she could swim and fetch balls in the pool.

After a couple of months in the home, we fostered Beanie. Beanie came to AHS-Newark as a few month old puppy and grew up in the shelter. As with other dogs we fostered, we knew we had to get him out. Beanie ended up as a perfect match for Daphne. He was a little larger than Daphne, but had a good amount of energy. Additionally, he was not threatening. Daphne found someone she could roughhouse with and be comfortable with. She truly loved Beanie. As with other dogs we adopted out, we found a great adopter. Beanie would be very happy.

Over the next several months, we fostered a couple of other dogs that rescues pulled from AHS-Newark. Gouda was a lovable and goofy dog Daphne did not know what to make of. AJ was a smaller pit bull Daphne felt comfortable with, but was not rough enough to have the fun she enjoyed. Still they had many sweet moments together.

Our Lives Change Forever

Nearly a year after moving into our home Estrella gave birth to our son Gavin. During the time Estrella was in the hospital, I rushed home numerous times to take Daphne out. After Gavin was born, I put one of Gavin’s blankets from the hospital in Daphne’s bed. Daphne was always tense and “iffy” around strangers. Honestly, we were concerned how she’d react. When we brought Gavin home, we had Daphne sniff him. She seemed indifferent and that’s how it would be when he was very young.

Daphne’s life changed initially, but not by too much. Estrella would still take Daphne for walks, but now they’d be alongside Gavin’s carriage and would move at a slower pace. I’d continue taking her for hikes, playing ball in the backyard and swimming in the pool.

Daphne continued to show her heart and courage. When we hiked Daphne’s huge prey drive was so intense that she’d even try and pursue black bears! Daphne also subdued a large chow chow that charged at Estrella and the carriage Gavin was in during a walk. When strangers came to the house, they were greeted by a dog determined to defend the place (luckily having the person throw a ball to her got her to warm up). On the other hand, Daphne would be scared of certain inanimate objects.

Gavin’s birth would totally change my volunteering activities at AHS-Newark. While Estrella continued to volunteer until only a few weeks before giving birth, I took over the things she did after that point and still continued to do my things. That meant, I evaluated dogs, took photos, wrote adoption profiles, administered the Facebook page, worked with rescues, counseled adopters, coordinated adoption events, compiled the records of dogs in the shelter and dealt directly with AHS staff. My life was crazy. The dogs I met during this time still stick in my mind.

During this period, our relationship with AHS-Newark deteriorated. When we volunteered at AHS-Newark, we knew the organization was completely dysfunctional. The shelter frequently provided poor care, did little to save the animals, operated using a 1970s style sheltering philosophy and needlessly killed many pets. We never defended the shelter, but bit our tongues to keep helping the animals. While I previously heard of Nathan Winograd, who is widely regarded as the leader of the no kill movement, I began reading his blogs voraciously. It seemed as if he described my exact experiences at AHS-Newark. By this time, we could stay quiet no more. We raised our concerns to shelter management and to other volunteers. It was clear shelter management had to take decisive actions to end the killing. We could only save so many animals with the shelter frequently acting against us. As AHS-Newark would do to so many other volunteers, the shelter banned us. To make matters worse, the shelter did so in the most cowardly way as explained in our Facebook post at the time.

My volunteer work would go on without AHS-Newark. Given I had a lot of success saving pit bull like dogs at one of the state’s largest and most notorious shelters, I thought others would welcome my help. After inquiring about helping numerous inner city shelters, such as Paterson Animal Shelter, Passaic Animal Shelter and Elizabeth Animal Shelter, I was saddened none of these facilities even allowed volunteers. Several others allowed volunteers, but did not want my assistance. Therefore, I began using our Facebook page to aggressively market dogs from a number of northern New Jersey animal shelters.

Once again, we had lot of success with social media promotion. In particular, we aggressively promoted Liberty Humane Society’s dogs for its Maddie’s free pet adoption events in 2013 and 2014. For several weeks, we promoted the event by posting the shelter’s dogs many times a day. Additionally, we created albums based on dog size and personality type. Liberty Humane Society ended up adopting out 120 dogs and cats (57 dogs and 63 cats) in 2013 and 128 dogs and cats (47 dogs and 81 cats) in 2014. People wanted homeless animals and pit bull like dogs like Daphne.

During this time, we yearned to volunteer at a shelter. One day, I came across Jersey Animal Coalition and contacted this South Orange animal shelter. At the time, the woman who did the Petfinder profiles and adoption photos was getting foot surgery. They were happy to let me fill in.

Jersey Animal Coalition was a dysfunctional shelter. When Estrella and I visited, we nearly cried to see large numbers of distressed dogs in small kennels and crates. Many dogs spent not just months, but many years at the facility. Even though the shelter was “no kill”, it didn’t properly implement the no kill equation to ensure animals quickly left the shelter alive and received elite care while at the facility. We were determined to help. Once again, I started evaluating dogs, taking photos and marketing them on social media.

While volunteering at Jersey Animal Coalition, I received the opportunity to become a board member. During my time as a board member, I made it clear the organization needed to remove the day to day management as well as many long-time board members that led to the organization’s poor treatment of animals and inability to implement the 11 no kill equation programs. Additionally, I strongly opposed the shelter transporting in massive numbers of puppies while adult dogs languished in the back of the facility. After a little more than two months and attending just two board meetings (one of which didn’t even have the board members responsible for the mess), I resigned when the shelter refused to change course. At that time, I was also told my volunteer activities were no longer welcome.

Soon after, numerous volunteers contacted me about Jersey Animal Coalition deteriorating even more. At the time, I told them to report their concerns to the New Jersey Department of Health and to request an inspection. Several months later the New Jersey Department of Health inspected and found serious problems. Ultimately, Jersey Animal Coalition closed after it did not fix all the issues.

Daphne Inspires Me to Become an Animal Advocate

After my time with Jersey Animal Coalition, I was at a crossroads. Would I go back to my life before volunteering at animal shelters? Certainly, I had a very bad taste in my mouth from experiences with AHS-Newark, Jersey Animal Coalition and other local animal shelters.

Each day I contemplated my next move, Daphne would remind me I had to do more. When I saw her, I thought of the many dogs that desperately needed a voice. At the time, I read many great no kill blogs, such as Nathan Winograd, KC Dog Blog, YesBiscuit!, Wisconsin Watchdog, Out the Front Door and Dogged. Additionally, I also regularly read successful wildlife and economics blogs. Soon the light bulb would go off. While I could save dozens of dogs a year directly, I could help save thousands of dogs each year if I could get shelters to implement lifesaving policies. I needed to create my own no kill advocacy blog.

In January 2014, I created the NJ Animal Observer blog and Facebook page. At the time, I wondered if anyone would listen to me. Most people seemed to blindly follow large and dysfunctional animal welfare organizations, such as Associated Humane Societies and NJ SPCA. Initially, the blog was similar to many of the other no kill blogs where I merely expressed opinions. Several months later I wrote my first data driven blog called We Can Save All the Pit Bulls. At the time, this was one of my most viewed blogs and Nathan Winograd shared it. Later that year, I used a data driven approach to write about the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter. That blog was by far my most viewed blog at the time. More importantly, the local reform advocates used the material to assist their effort to reform that shelter. In fact, those local advocates would go on to become a major force in reforming animal sheltering and animal cruelty enforcement in New Jersey. Subsequently, I would use this data driven approach to evaluate almost every animal shelter in the state.

The animal shelter reform movement in New Jersey began to grow. Local animal advocates contacted me and we exchanged ideas. They fought to reform local animal shelters. Some reformed. Several other really bad ones closed thankfully. In 2013, which was the year before I started NJ Animal Observer and other animal advocates came to prominence, New Jersey animal shelters killed 23,490 dogs and cats (4,509 dogs and 18,981 cats). In 2018, New Jersey animal shelters killed 9,832 dogs and cats (1,895 dogs and 7,937 cats). Over the course of five years, killing decreased by nearly 60%. Even when compared to prior trends, things dramatically improved. New Jersey’s kill rate decreased at a rate 2-3 times greater after the first four years I created NJ Animal Observer compared to the four years before I started the blog. This improvement was even more startling since its harder to decrease kill rates when they become lower (i.e. the animals still being killed are harder to save).

Animal advocates didn’t directly save these animals, but their efforts helped others do so. Advocates pressured elected officials and shelter directors to pursue policies that saved lives. Once those policies went into effect, shelter workers, volunteers and rescues could do the hard work to save those animals. While we still know more must be done, we’ve made tremendous progress.

Daphne’s Life Dramatically Changes

As Gavin grew, our focus on Daphne decreased. Estrella couldn’t take Daphne for daily walks when Gavin got too big for a stroller. We also toned down the length and intensity of her ball fetching sessions in the backyard due to several mild cranial cruciate ligament injuries to her knees. Nonetheless, she continued to be a spectacular star by making catches that put Willie Mays famous “catch” to shame. Additionally, she continued to swim in the pool during the summer.

We could no longer foster dogs due to our concerns Gavin could get in the middle of a fight between Daphne and another dog. Instead, Estrella helped rescues and owners rehome their dogs. Once again, we found people sought dogs others said “no one wants.”

Daphne’s life would change yet again after we brought a cat named Pepper into our home. Due to Daphne’s intense prey drive, both animals could not be out together. We had specific procedures to keep both animals apart given the potential for disaster. While Pepper would become my “office cat”, Daphne would spend several hours alone each day while Pepper ran through the whole house. Ultimately, we would do it at times when Daphne typically napped. Still, Daphne made the sacrifice.

Estrella would soon foster mother cats and their litters of kittens. Now, we had to keep Daphne separate from both Pepper and all these cats. This was in addition to the two small dogs each of our next door neighbors would often have run loose in our front yard. We were always on alert! As we found out with pit bull like dogs, people wanted cats and kittens too!

Despite these changes, Daphne bonded with us even more. In particular, she really loved to be around Gavin. Perhaps, it was because they spent so much time together? Whatever it was, she enjoyed sharing the couch with him. Even with him doing typical kid things, she shrugged them off. If he got really out of hand, she quietly walked away. With us, she became more and more affectionate.

Over the last few years, life changes made it more difficult to focus on Daphne. Estrella changed her career and worked many more hours, especially nights and weekends. As Gavin got older, he had more school work we had to help him with and other activities. Of course, we still played ball in the backyard and in the pool during the summer. However, our long hikes became far less frequent. Still, Daphne cherished her time with us.

Our World Comes Crashing Down

Last summer, as with past ones, Daphne had a blast. On most days, she’d swim in the pool to fetch her ball. When we were in the pool, Daphne would run laps around to entice us to throw the ball into the pool. As a result of all the swimming and running, Daphne was in amazing physical shape.

In late August, we went to spend a week in Wildwood. As a child, I loved Wildwood and was eager to share the experience with Gavin. Additionally, Gavin got to spend much of the vacation with our friend and her two daughters. Several days into the vacation, we all went to the boardwalk to go on the rides. Seeing Gavin and his two friends have a blast on the rides was one of those wonderful moments a parent has. Everything seemed perfect. After awhile, we decided to get pizza on the boardwalk before going to another pier with the really fun rides.

While eating dinner in a crowded boardwalk pizza joint, I received a text from the person watching Daphne. Daphne was having a very difficult time getting up and walking around. As I sat at the crowded table, it was hard to process the news. Still, I began to worry. After we finished up, I went back to the place we rented to take the leftover food and everyone else went to the rides on other other pier. I received another text stating Daphne had bloody diarrhea. My heart raced as I knew something was gravely wrong. As I walked back to the pier, I googled the symptoms that confirmed this was an emergency situation. Once I got to the pier, Estrella and I rushed back to the place we stayed at. I quickly left to make the two and half hour drive home.

Once I got home at midnight, I carried Daphne into the car and rushed to the emergency veterinarian. When I got there, the staff immediately took Daphne in. As I sat there, I wondered how everything changed so quickly. How could Daphne go from swimming several days ago to this? Was I at fault for not worrying about the few times Daphne decided to cut off her swims a little early this year (which I attributed to old age/minor arthritis)? How did things go from absolutely perfect to a horror show so quickly this evening?

The emergency veterinarian soon came out and delivered devastating news. Daphne had canine hemangiosarcoma, which is an extremely aggressive cancer that grows on blood vessels. The tumor ruptured and she would bleed to death if we didn’t act. I had to decide if I would euthanize her or spend significant amounts of money to try and save her. The veterinarian advised me that attempts to save her may not work, and even if they did save her, she’d only live for a very short period. Unfortunately, Estrella had fallen asleep and I had to make the decision for both of us. Daphne could not die like this. I had to give her a chance. That night, the emergency veterinarian gave her a blood transfusion and stabilized her until they could determine if they could remove the tumor in the morning.

We received some good news the next morning. Daphne’s tumor was located on her spleen. Since Daphne could live without a spleen, the veterinarian could remove the spleen and the tumor. She went into surgery immediately after we agreed to move forward. Later in the day, we learned Daphne’s spleen removal surgery was successful.

That day I researched canine hemangiosarcoma extensively. Everything I seemed to read was dire. As I experienced, most owners also never knew their dogs had the disease until their tumors ruptured. Dogs having their spleens removed only survived 1-3 months without any other treatments. Even with additional chemotherapy, dogs typically would only survive 3-6 months. Additionally, I learned Yunzhi mushrooms, which are found in the I’m Yunity supplement, and Yunnan Baiyao, a Chinese herbal supplement, also were helpful. At a minimum, we’d give Daphne the two supplements and consider chemotherapy after consulting with a veterinary oncologist.

Since Daphne was stable and would need to spend a few days recovering at the veterinary hospital, I returned to Gavin and Estrella in Wildwood. Since our friend had left with her two daughters, our family would spend one last day together down there. While we were distraught over Daphne, we had a welcome distraction to prevent us from obsessing over her situation.

Soon after returning home, we picked Daphne up from the veterinarian. Initially, we were alarmed as she could barely get up and was wobbly when she did. Additionally, she was urinating on her bed. Had we made a grave mistake going through with the surgery? Did we keep her alive for our and not her benefit? Luckily, we’d find out these symptoms were due to a high dose of the sedating pain medication she received. Within a couple of days, she was ready to start her life again.

After consulting with the veterinary oncologist, we decided to do chemotherapy. We learned most dogs have few side effects compared to people. As with past veterinary visits, we’d have to sedate her and make her wear a a “hannibal lecter” style muzzle. Once the sedation wore off, she didn’t seem too affected by the chemotherapy. In fact, she’d routinely play tug of war and fetch with me.

On a Sunday in late September, we got the opportunity to take Daphne to the beach. After learning of Daphne’s illness, we promised her we’d take her to Wildwood next summer if she was still alive. Since we knew that was not likely, we jumped at the chance to take her to Sandy Hook on an unusually warm day.

Over the next several months, Daphne became incredibly affectionate with us. Did she know we saved her life? Did she know her time with us would not be long? Whatever the reason, we cherished these moments.

Last January, Daphne passed her first post-chemotherapy appointment with flying colors. All her blood test results were great and she seemed healthy and happy. The veterinary oncologist recommended we aggressively continue treating Daphne’s canine hemangiosarcoma. In addition to the I’m Yunity mushrooms and Yunnan Baiyao, we gave her the drug rapamycin, which had some limited evidence of being helpful for the disease. The veterinary oncologist also decided to add metronomic chemotherapy, which uses a low dose oral chemotherapy drug, in one month’s time. We were hopeful Daphne could spend many more great moments with us.

Once again, our world crumbled down in late February. Suddenly, Daphne became very weak. She started to have trouble getting around. When we brought her back to the veterinary oncologist, we knew what we’d hear. Daphne’s cancer had come back and spread. The oncologist had no other treatments and consoled us and gave us a pet hospice and in-home euthanasia service pamphlet. When I asked her if Daphne would be in pain, she said no. Instead, she told us Daphne would be very weak, and would get weaker, like when people have the flu.

Making matters worse, I was scheduled to go to Austin in two days to present at the American Pets Alive Conference. This would be the first time I presented at an animal welfare conference. Additionally, I was scheduled to speak with some amazingly talented people. Needless to say, I had been looking forward to this for months. As I wrestled with my decision, I realized I might not get home in time before we had to euthanize Daphne or when she passed away on her own. Additionally, I knew Estrella could not provide Daphne the care she needed on her own. Therefore, I had to do something I never do, cancel less than two days before I was scheduled to speak. Thankfully, my friend Davyd Smith from No Kill Colorado filled in for me.

Over the next three weeks, Daphne would amaze me yet again. Daphne began to eat less and less and became progressively weaker. She stopped eating dry dog food first, then the can dog food, then the cat can food and then various dog treats. She went down and up the stairs very slowly. When she went to the bathroom, she couldn’t squat very long. Despite her difficulties, she still came down to be with Gavin and me when we played video games downstairs. For some reason, she really enjoyed hanging with us on the couch when we started doing this around a year or so ago. Was it she liked being with us when we had fun? Whatever the reason, she mustered the strength to come down the stairs and would do a slow trot and use her all her energy to hop on the couch. When we took her out to poop, she would pull energy from nowhere to slowly walk around 50 yards away to a little wooded area. How was she doing this?

By mid-March, Daphne stopped eating entirely on her own and became incredibly weak. We resorted to squeezing baby food into her mouth. Unfortunately, she would only eat a little bit and it would come no where near her nutritional needs. She lost a tremendous amount of weight. Now, we’d have to carry Daphne up and down the stairs to go to the bathroom. She could only walk a few steps to go to urinate and defecate. Afterwards, she was exhausted. At home, she would sleep the whole day. She could no longer get up on her own. Still, everyday, she’d lift her head up for us to bring her to her feet so she could walk a few steps to our deck. Even in her grim condition, this was something she looked forward to everyday. Was it seeing the pool and backyard she played in so much? Was it the sounds of the birds, the wind or just the fresh air? Whatever it was, she fought to experience this. One day, she even found the strength to bark at a nearby train.

Soon Daphne would get even weaker. We decided it was close to the time to euthanize Daphne. Due to Daphne’s fear of veterinarians, we knew the procedure had to be at our home. I scheduled an appointment with an in-home veterinarian service, but we had to wait four days. Frankly, I didn’t even think Daphne might live that long. I contacted another veterinarian who would do it in three days and scheduled an appointment. When it came time for the first appointment, we canceled it. We were not ready. That evening, Daphne began to have a harder time breathing. Based on my experience with people at the end of their lives and the many hopelessly suffering animal records I’ve reviewed over the years, I knew it was time. The next day, when our second appointment was due, we again struggled going through with it. Could we give Daphne a couple a more days? After hearing Daphne’s labored breathing, we knew we couldn’t wait another three or four more days. This was the time.

Estrella carried Daphne and her bed to the deck around noon after it stopped raining. For the next few hours, Daphne would rest in the place she loved. When the veterinarian arrived, Daphne didn’t even look up. We spent some time alone saying good bye to her. When it was time, we both held Daphne while she laid on her dog bed on the deck. In contrast to Daphne’s past veterinarian visits, Daphne hardly reacted. When she smelled the anti-septic the veterinarian used, she looked back for a second and then went back to rest after we reassured her. Daphne never noticed the injection of the sedative or the euthanasia drug. She simply breathed lighter and lighter until she passed. Estrella cried and I felt crushed inside. As bad as it was seeing her leave us, I couldn’t think of a better place and more peaceful way for it to happen. Still, that didn’t take our pain away.

Since Daphne’s passing, I still sometimes think she is here. Unconsciously, I think its time to take her out before bed time. Similarly, before bed and when I wake up I look at the spot where she slept to see if she is there. Often times, I look to the couch to see if she is there. These habits are ingrained in me. They don’t break easily.

Going back to the story I started this blog off with, Daphne has taught me many things. Daphne will forever be connected to starting a family. Additionally, she led me into the world of animal rescue and animal advocacy. Most importantly, she taught me to fight for the things and ones I love. That’s a lesson I will always hold dear to my heart.

Ocean County’s Outrageous Animal Facilities

Ocean County Health Department operates two animal control shelters. These two shelters are Northern Ocean County Animal Facility, which is located in Jackson, and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility, which is located in Mahahawkin. In 2018, these two shelters impounded 80% of the local dogs and cats coming into Ocean County’s animal shelters.

Do the two Ocean County Health Department run animal shelters kill healthy and treatable animals when lifesaving alternatives exist? Are the facilities complying with state law?

Data Reviewed

In order to get a better understanding of the job Ocean County Health Department did in 2018, I obtained the intake and disposition records for each individual dog and cat the two shelters took in during the year. You can find those records here. In addition, I obtained all supporting records for each dog killed. You can find those records in the following links:

Also, I obtained the “Animal Record” for a large number of cats the two facilities killed. This report provides a summary of the animal and the reason the shelter killed the cat. You can find those records in the following links.

I obtained all other records for several of the killed cats. You can view those records here. In addition, I also obtained the two shelters’ 2018 euthanasia and controlled dangerous substance logs, which detail how the shelters euthanized their animals. You can find those records for Northern Ocean County Animal Facility here and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility here.

Finally, I obtained Ocean County Health Department’s 2017-2019 inspection reports of Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility. You can find those inspection reports here and here.

Since Ocean County Health Department’s intake and disposition records did not break out the Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility data, I presented both shelters together as “Ocean County Animal Facility” in the statistics below. Based on the combined data below being similar to the totals both shelters reported to the New Jersey Department of Health, those wanting to see each shelter’s statistics can use the data reported to the state health department. You can view that data and my related death rate metrics here.

Disturbing Dog Data

Ocean County Animal Facility had too many dogs lose their lives in 2018. While the overall dog death rate of 8% was not extremely high, it was still much greater than death rates at elite municipal shelters. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only had 1% of its dogs lose their lives in 2018. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility had dogs lose their lives at eight times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

Pit bulls fared far worse at Ocean County Animal Facility in 2018. The shelter killed 13% of pit bulls. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 1% of its pit bulls in 2018. As a result, Ocean County Animal Facility killed pit bulls at 13 times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

Ocean County Animal Facility also had too many small dogs and other medium to large size breeds lose their lives in 2018. Overall, the shelter had 5% of small dogs and 8% of other medium to large size dogs 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 last year. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility had both small dogs and other medium to large size dogs lose their lives at five times and eight times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

While Ocean County Animal Facility’s overall dog death rates were bad, the shelter’s death rates for dogs not reclaimed by their owners were far worse. Since dogs reclaimed by their owners typically have licenses and/or microchips and quickly leave the shelter, its informative to look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners. When we just look at dogs not reclaimed by owners, Ocean County Animal Facility had 17% of all dogs, 25% of pit bulls, 10% of small dogs and 17% of other medium to large size breeds lose their lives. In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility had 1 out of 6 dogs, 1 out of 4 pit bulls, 1 out of 10 small dogs and 1 out of 6 other medium to large size breeds not reclaimed by owners lose their lives. As a comparison, only 2% of all dogs, pit bulls and small dogs not reclaimed by owners and 1% of other medium to large size dogs not reclaimed by owners at Austin Animal Center lost their lives in 2018. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility had all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size breeds not reclaimed by owners lose their lives at 9 times, 13 times, 5 times and 17 times Austin Animal Center’s rates.

2018 Ocean County Animal Facility Dog Statistics

Cats Killed in Droves

Ocean County Animal Facility’s statistics reveal the shelter killed too many cats in 2018. Since Ocean County Animal Facility did not list specific ages of animals, I could not break down cats into the more expansive age categories I typically use (i.e. 1 year and older cats, kittens from 6 weeks to just under 1 year and kittens under 6 weeks). Frankly, I’m shocked a large shelter would not have age information readily available given how critical this data is for shelters to evaluate their handling of cats. Overall, 48% of cats lost their lives at Ocean County Animal Facility in 2018 or about twelve times the percentage at Austin Animal Center last year. More than half of nonreclaimed cats, or 51% of these animals, lost their lives at Ocean County Animal Facility in 2018. As a comparison, only 5% of nonreclaimed cats lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018. Therefore, cats and nonreclaimed cats were twelve times and ten times more likely to lose their lives at Ocean County Animal Facility than at Austin Animal Center in 2018.

2018 Ocean County Animal Facility Cat Statistics.jpg

Ocean County Animal Facility Quickly Kills Animals with Empty Cages

Ocean County Animal Facility’s dog length of stay data revealed the shelter quickly killed dogs. Specifically, the shelter killed all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size breeds after 10 days, 12 days, 9 days and 9 days on average in 2018. Clearly, this is not nearly enough time to determine if the shelter can save these animals.

Ocean County Animal Facility quickly killed dogs despite having plenty of space to house these animals. Based on Ocean County Animal Facility taking in 978 dogs during 2018, its 13 day average length of stay for dogs and shelter capacity calculations, we can estimate the shelter only held around 35 dogs on average in 2018 compared to a reported capacity of 75 dogs. This 35 dog average population is similar to the 33 dog average of the January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018 dog populations reported to the state health department. In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility used less than half of its physical dog capacity. Furthermore, the shelter should be able to house another 29 dogs in foster homes, which is equal to 3% of the 978 dogs impounded in 2018, at all times based on the performance of well-run no kill animal control shelters. Therefore, Ocean County Animal Facility held only around one third of the number of dogs it could keep in its shelters and foster homes. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility quickly killed dogs while failing to use ample space to house these animals.

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Ocean County Animal Facility’s quick killing practices become apparent when we look at the distribution of the lengths of stay for the dogs it killed. The shelter killed 40% of the dogs it killed after just eight days or less. Ocean County Animal Facility killed 29 of these 31 dogs after they spent just eight days at the shelter. In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility killed these dogs immediately after the state’s seven day protection period when shelters cannot kill animals. Remarkably, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 94% and 97% of the dogs it killed within 13 days and 18 days after their arrival. Only 1 killed dog stayed at the shelter for 28 or more days and no killed dog was at the shelter for 60 days or more. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility gave the dogs it killed virtually no chance to become adoptable.

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Ocean County Animal Facility also quickly killed cats. The shelter killed cats after just nine days on average in 2018. In other words, the shelter almost always killed its cats just after the state’s seven day protection period.

Ocean County Animal Facility also quickly killed cats despite having plenty of space to house these animals. Based on Ocean County Animal Facility taking in 2,126 cats during 2018, its 24 day average length of stay for cats and shelter capacity calculations, we can estimate the shelter only held around 140 cats on average in 2018 compared to a reported capacity of 290 cats. In fact, my 140 cat estimated population is higher than what the shelter reported holding at the beginning and end of 2018 (this may be due to lower cat intake in colder months). In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility used less than half of its physical cat capacity. Furthermore, the shelter should be able to house another 159 cats in foster homes, which is equal to 7.5% of the 2,126 cats impounded in 2018, at all times based on the performance of well-run no kill animal control shelters. Therefore, Ocean County Animal Facility held less than one third of the number of cats it could keep in its shelters and foster homes. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility quickly killed cats while failing to use ample space to house these animals.

2018 Ocean County Animal Facility Cats Average Length of Stay

Ocean County Animal Facility quick cat kill operation becomes clear when we look at the length of stay distribution of the cats the shelter killed. The shelter killed 6% of the cats it killed during the seven day protection period. Later in the blog, I’ll examine this issue more closely. Incredibly, the shelter killed 615 cats after just 8 days and killed 72% of the cats it killed within 8 days or less. In fact, the shelter killed 94% of the cats it killed within 15 days or less. Amazingly, only 1% of the killed cats had a length of stay in excess of 38 days and no killed cats stayed at the shelter for more than 68 days. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility gave the cats it killed virtually no opportunity to get out of the shelter alive.

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Dogs Killed for Ridiculous Reasons

Ocean County Animal Facility killed unusually large percentages of dogs for various aggression and behavior issues. Overall, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 6.2% of all the dogs it took in for bite history, behavior and aggression. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.1% of the dogs it took in during 2018 for aggression and behavior related reasons. In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility killed dogs for aggression related reasons at 62 times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility erroneously labeled dogs aggressive and did not do enough to rehabilitate those that had some issues.

While some of the dogs with bite histories had serious bites, many others were not. In many cases, the shelter simply killed the dog if the owner reported any kind of bite. Other times, the bite had a well-defined trigger, such as removing the dog’s food or bowl. Most importantly, Ocean County Animal Facility made no effort to rehabilitate any of these dogs and simply killed them.

The shelter also killed too many dogs for medical reasons. During 2018, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 1.5% of all dogs for medical reasons. However, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.6% of all dogs for medical reasons. Therefore, Ocean County Animal Facility killed dogs for medical related reasons at two and half times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility killed treatable dogs.

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Ocean County Animal Facility killed a very high percentage of pit bulls for aggression and related issues. As you can see in the table below, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 11.6% of all the pit bulls it took in for aggression related reasons. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.05% of the pit bulls it took in during 2018 for aggression. Amazingly, Ocean County Animal Facility killed pit bulls for aggression at 232 times the rate as Austin Animal Center in 2018.

To put this into perspective, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 29 of the 131 non-reclaimed pit bulls it took in for aggression. In other words, Ocean County Animal Facility stated 22% or more than 1 in 5 of the pit bulls it had to find new homes for were aggressive.

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Ocean County Animal Facility also killed unusually high percentages of both small dogs and other medium to large dogs for aggression. The shelter killed 2.3% of all small dogs and 6.5% of all other medium to large dogs for aggression related issues. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center euthanized no small dogs and 0.2% of other medium to large dogs it took in during 2018 for aggression and behavior related reasons. Frankly, its shocking Ocean County Animal Facility would kill nine small dogs for aggression since such animals do not pose a serious risk to experienced adult dog owners. Ocean County Animal Facility also killed other medium to large size dogs for aggression related reasons at 33 times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility simply killed dogs with behavior issues rather than treat them.

2018 Ocean County Animal Facility Small Dogs Killed Reasons

2018 Ocean County Animal Facility Other Dogs Killed Reasons

Charlie was 6-7 year old Pekingese surrendered to Northern Ocean County Animal Facility on April 15, 2018. Charlie’s owner stated he surrendered the dog due his wife being ill and Charlie acting protective of the wife when a nurse was around. Additionally, Charlie bit a person’s ankle a year before. However, this is not unusual behavior for many small dogs. The dog’s owner stated Charlie was good with other dogs and lived with cats and birds. In addition, the owner said he could take food and bones away from Charlie and could pick the dog up without issues. While the owner stated Charlie was nervous around kids, the owner also said the dog was adoptable to a home without kids.

Despite Charlie having no serious bite on his record and the owner stating the dog was adoptable to the right home, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility killed Charlie as soon as it could under state law. Specifically, Ocean County Animal Facility killed Charlie after just eight days on April 23, 2018. The shelter’s records indicated it made zero effort to save this dog let alone provide behavioral rehabilitation. Thus, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility simply killed a small dog for having a minor ankle bite on his record.

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Dog ID# S-9422 was a stray adult American bulldog brought to Southern Ocean County Animal Facility on June 6, 2018. After a mere five days at the shelter, when the dog was still adjusting to the stressful environment, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility decided to conduct a behavioral evaluation on this dog. During the evaluation, the shelter noted Dog ID# S-9422 was “very excited”, “jumped up on the window” and “enjoyed being petted.” The evaluation also noted the dog knew the “sit” and “give paw” commands, but needed to walk easier on a leash and could use some training. Despite Southern Ocean County Animal Facility using intrusive tooth examination and “safe hug” tests, which often frighten dogs stressed in shelters, Dog ID# S-9422 passed with flying colors. Finally, the evaluator noted “She is a nice dog” and “she is a very happy dog.”

Despite Dog ID# S-9422 being a wonderful dog, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility killed the dog for having “food aggression.” During the evaluation, the tester struck the dog’s muzzle with a fake hand and the dog had the nerve to snap. When the evaluator moved the fake hand, the dog growled and showed teeth. In reality, the dog acted appropriately since she warned the person antagonizing her before actually biting.

In reality, shelters should never kill dogs for food aggression. A recent scientific study authored by several individuals from the ASPCA concluded shelters should not use food guarding tests at all. Why? Multiple studies indicate food aggression or guarding behavior in a shelter often does not occur in a home. Even when a dog does aggressively defend his or her food in a home, most owners deal with it by leaving the animal alone when he or she eats. Thus, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility needlessly killed “a very happy dog.”

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Finn was a 3 year old golden retriever surrendered by his owner to Southern Ocean County Animal Facility on September 6, 2018 due to a conflict with another dog in the home. While the owner mentioned Finn didn’t get along with the other dog, the owner also stated Finn never got into a fight. The owner also stated Finn was good with their 1-3 year old grandchildren, never bit anyone, was housebroken, walked well on-leash and had good off-leash manners. Furthermore, the owner stated Finn had no problems having his food or bones taken away, did not jump or bark excessively and was fine with having his nails trimmed and being picked up. Finally, the owner stated Finn was adoptable into a home with no other dog.

Despite Finn’s owner clearly stating Finn was a great dog with people, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility killed him as soon as they could under state law. The shelter said Finn was “Not adjusting to the shelter” after he was there a mere eight days. Southern Ocean County Animal Facility provided no records indicating how Finn was “not adjusting to the shelter” let alone any efforts the shelter made to help him adjust. Simply put, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility killed an adoptable golden retriever as soon as it could.

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Shelters Kills Scared and Other Treatable Cats

Due to Ocean County Animal Facility killing so many cats, I selected a sample of the cats it killed (387 of the 944 cats) and obtained the reasons the shelter killed these animals. Additionally, I also reviewed the shelter’s controlled dangerous substance logs, which had various abbreviations for the reasons it killed 626 cats. Since both data sets yielded similar results and the supporting records provided more details, I used the supporting records in the table below.

Ocean County Animal Facility killed huge numbers of cats for being “feral” and various behavior issues. Overall, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 29% of all the cats it took in for being “feral.” If we add cats the shelter killed for “not adjusting”, “aggression”, “behavior”, “bite case”, “bite history” and being “semi-feral”, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 36% of the cats it took in for having behaviors it did not like. As a comparison Austin Animal Center did not kill a single cat in 2018 for being feral, aggressive or having other behaviors. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility needlessly killed more than 1 out of 3 cats and likely around 750 cats in total for nonsensical behavior reasons.

While Ocean County Animal Facility could argue its hands are tied due to local laws not allowing trap-neuter-return and shelter-neuter-return, this arguments holds no water. First, the shelter can force municipalities to change those laws if it refuses to contract with towns that prohibit these programs. Second, most cats initially labeled feral at shelters are not feral. A recent study documented 18% of impounded cats were feral/aggressive, but all these cats became safe enough to adopt out after people gently touched the cats and spoke to them softly for 6 days. Similarly, the TNR group, Tiny Kittens, has adopted out 77% of injured adult feral cats and 65% of pregnant feral cats. As a result, Ocean County Animal Facility can get TNR and SNR implemented and adopt out large percentage of the cats its deeming “feral.”

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Ocean County Animal Facility killed these “feral” cats as soon as it legally could. As you can see in the following table, Ocean County Animal Facility killed 85% of the “feral” cats it killed in seven or eight days. In fact, the shelter killed 92%, 96% and 98% of these “feral” cats within 9 days, 10 days and 11 days. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility simply labeled scared cats “feral” and killed them right after the seven day protection period.

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Cat ID# N8703 was a stray neutered male cat brought into Northern Ocean County Animal Facility on April 5, 2018. According to the shelter’s “Animal Record”, the adult cat was in good condition and had an ear tip. As those familiar with TNR know, an ear tip is a universal sign that someone spent time and money ensuring the cat was neutered, vaccinated and released. In other words, someone did the right thing to ensure Cat ID# N8703 would not breed, spread disease and not be a nuisance (neutering eliminates mating behaviors that frequently cause human conflict). Instead of recognizing the great work this person did, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility labeled Cat ID# N8703 “feral” and killed him as soon as the shelter legally could eight days after he arrived at the shelter.

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Doby and Shadow were 5 month old kittens surrendered to Northern Ocean County Animal Facility on August 31, 2018. The owner found the kittens in their backyard, but could not keep the animals after having them for one month. According to the shelter’s veterinary notes, both cats were “apparently healthy.” The owner described Doby as shy, quiet, mellow, lovable, playful and friendly. Similarly, the owner said Shadow was shy, lovable, playful and quiet. While the owner mentioned Shadow accidentally scratched or bit someone, they said he was scared. Most importantly, the owner stated both cats were adoptable and should go to a quiet home.

Despite Doby and Shadow clearly being adoptable, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility labeled both cats “not adjusting” and killed both cats on September 10, 2018 after the animals spent just 11 days at the shelter. Frankly, what is the chance that both cats were “not adjusting” and could not be helped at the exact same time? Slim to none. This is supported by the shelter not providing any documentation of the animals’ behaviors and anything the shelter did to treat those supposed behavior problems. Instead, Northern Ocean County Animal Facility quickly killed Doby and Shadow for convenience.

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Ocean County Animal Facility Breaks State Law

Ocean County Animal Facility’s euthanasia records, which you can find here and here, do not specify how the shelter killed or euthanized animals. Specifically, the records do not state whether the shelter euthanized/killed each animal by an intravenous (preferred method), intraperitoneal or intracardiac (i.e. heart sticking) injection. Per New Jersey law, N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.11(f)4 and N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13A, shelters must document the method they use to kill animals. According to N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.11(c) shelters can only use intraperitoneal injections on comatose animals and neonatal kittens. Under this method, animals are injected in the abdominal cavity and can take up to 30 minutes to die. Heart sticking, as the name implies, involves stabbing an animal in the heart with Fatal Plus poison and New Jersey shelters can only use this method on heavily sedated, anesthetized or comatose animals. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility’s euthanasia records do not comply with state law and do not indicate whether animals are in fact humanely euthanized in accordance with state law.

Under state law, shelters cannot kill either owner surrendered or stray animals until seven days pass. The purpose of this law is to provide owners a chance to reclaim their lost pets and prevent shelters from immediately killing animals. In practice, the New Jersey Department of Health allows shelters to euthanize animals during this seven day period if facilities meet both of the following conditions:

  1. If a veterinarian deems euthanasia necessary for humane reasons to prevent excessive suffering when illness and injury is severe and the prognosis for recovery is extremely poor
  2. Only a licensed veterinarian should perform euthanasia in the above situation and they must clearly document the rationale in the animal’s medical record

Overall, Ocean County Animal Facility killed two dogs and 55 cats before seven days in 2018. While the cases I reviewed, which were both dogs and a portion of the cats, did not show egregious violations I’ve seen at some other shelters, it seemed clear Ocean County Animal Facility did not do all it could to save many of these animals. For example, the shelter immediately killed a number of very young kittens, but did not seem to make much, if any, effort to get them into foster homes.

Moses was a 5 year old Boston terrier mix surrendered by his owner’s family to Southern Ocean County Animal Facility on January 12, 2018 due to seizures and related behavior problems. According to the shelter’s veterinary paperwork, which was not signed by a veterinarian, Moses had a two year history of having serious seizures. The shelter recommended killing Moses for having “a poor quality of life.” The owner wrote a short letter to the shelter stating they wanted to euthanize Moses due to him “suffering mentally and forgetting who he even is.” Southern Ocean County Animal Facility killed Moses on the day he arrived at the shelter.

While I empathize with the family, Ocean County Animal Facility illegally killed Moses in my humble opinion. The owner’s veterinarian’s records, which were from 10 days and seven days before Moses was surrendered to the shelter, indicated the owner and the veterinarian decreased the dog’s seizure medication dose. When Moses started having more seizures, the veterinarian discussed increasing the seizure medicine dose. Even though I recognize owning a dog with a serious case of epilepsy is a major challenge, it does not rise to the standard of hopelessly suffering. For example, the No Kill Advocacy Center considers epilepsy a treatable condition. At a minimum, Southern Ocean County Animal Facility should have kept Moses alive for the full seven days as required by state law and fully explored all veterinary options instead of killing him on the spot. Thus, I believe Southern Ocean County Animal Facility illegally killed Moses before seven days.

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Ocean County Animal Facility’s “Animal Record” reports, which you can find here and here, indicated the shelter’s veterinarian did not euthanize many of the cats euthanized before seven days. While some of the records indicated the veterinarian approved the decision, some of which were via phone calls, a shelter worker rather than a veterinarian certified the euthanasia of these animals. Therefore, the shelter’s documents indicate the veterinarian did not euthanize these animals who were euthanized before seven days. Thus, Ocean County Animal Facility broke state law by not having a veterinarian euthanize these cats even if the animals were in fact hopelessly suffering.

Shelter’s Sham Self-Inspections

Ocean County Health Department conducted the required annual inspections of the two shelters it runs. You can read its 2017-2019 inspection reports of Northern Ocean County Animal Facility here and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility here. Amazingly, Ocean County Health Department spent just 30 minutes and 15 minutes inspecting each shelter in 2017 and 2019 (the inspection reports did not provide this information in 2018). Given the absurdly short inspection times, its not surprising that Ocean County Health Department only wrote a few boilerplate comments in each inspection report. For example, some of these comments were “Facility is operating in a satisfactory condition”, “all dogs and cats housed appear to be responsive and in good health” and “The facility is well kept and clean.” Thus, Ocean County Health Department’s inspections of the shelters it runs were short and not thorough.

Ocean County Health Department did not address specific aspects of state shelter law and the issues I found. Given these two shelters took in 3,104 dogs and cats in 2018, one would think the county health department would evaluate each aspect of state shelter law and comment how the shelter performed. For example, the state health department frequently writes up to a dozen pages of comments in its inspection reports. Perhaps, if Ocean County Health Department spent more than 15-30 minutes conducting inspections, it would have noted the shelter was not documenting how it killed each animal and its violation of the state’s seven day protection period. Instead, Ocean County Health Department gave itself a free pass.

As regular readers know, local health departments typically are incapable of conducting proper inspections of animal shelters due to incompetence and conflicts of interest. Therefore, a state health department inspection would likely find many more significant problems. Thus, Ocean County Health Department’s sham inspections prove the need to mandate a robust state health department inspection process as required by shelter reform bill S725.

Clearly, Ocean County Health Department runs two high kill shelters, kills for convenience and broke state law. In a future blog, I’ll explore the reasons why these shelters are high kill.

2018 Cat Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

Cats are losing their lives at an alarming rate in New Jersey animal shelters. New Jersey animal shelters killed nearly 8,000 cats or 18% of those cats having known outcomes in 2018. Additionally, a number of other cats died or went missing. This blog explores the reasons why this tragedy is occurring and whether we can end the massacre.

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 cats 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 areas cats.

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

This year I expanded shelter capacity to include the number of foster homes shelters should use. Based on a target I obtained from Target Zero’s now defunct “Humane Dash” tool, which I confirmed is appropriate with American Pets Alive leadership, shelters should have 7.5% of their annual cat 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 7.5% of each shelter’s annual cat intake to the shelter’s physical capacity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ideally, I would perform two analyses as follows:

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

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

The second analysis assumes local laws cannot be changed and shelters are stuck receiving unadoptable feral cats. Unfortunately, I do not have the data to calculate the percentage of truly feral cats received at each New Jersey animal shelter. Based on an analysis of Michigan animal shelter data, Nathan Winograd estimated at least 6% of cat intake at Michigan animal shelters are truly feral cats. Similarly, Wisconsin’s Clark County Humane Society 2014 cat statistics show feral cats who were trapped, vaccinated and returned to the community made up 7% of cat outcomes. Based on these numbers and the success of barn cat programs in places such as the Maryville, Tennessee area, barn cat programs should be able to save most feral cats in similar communities. In fact, a recent study documented 18% of impounded cats were feral/aggressive, but all these cats became safe enough to adopt out after people gently touched the cats and spoke to them softly for 6 days. Similarly, the TNR group, Tiny Kittens, has adopted out 77% of injured adult feral cats and 65% of pregnant feral cats. Thus, the number of truly feral cats may be much lower than the amount of cats most shelters label as aggressive.

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

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

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save the state’s healthy and treatable cats. The table below details the targeted numbers of cat outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 44,499 New Jersey cats coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2018, 29,260 and 7,140 cats should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the cats in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had enough capacity to rescue 35,107 cats or about five times the number of cats needing rescue from space constrained facilities. Unfortunately, some of the cats needing rescue, such as very young kittens, should not stay in a shelter and still must go to either kitten nurseries or foster homes. That being said, many adult cats are in fact killed in New Jersey animal shelters and many facilities with excess space could save these cats.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space and potential foster homes to save many cats from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue 27,967 cats from out of state shelters or New Jersey’s streets after achieving a 92% live release rate for cats coming into the state’s animal shelters. In reality, the New Jersey shelter system could rescue more than 27,967 cats from out of state shelters or from New Jersey’s streets given the 27,967 figure assumes all cats needing rescue from space constrained New Jersey shelters are sent to other New Jersey shelters as opposed to rescue groups. As explained above, some of the cats needing rescue from New Jersey shelters with a shortage of space are young kittens which should not go to most animal shelters. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters contain enough space to make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for cats and increase those cities’ cat live release rates to 92% as follows (per 2018 data):

  • New York City – 493 additional cats need saving
  • Philadelphia – 1,051 additional cats need saving

Certainly, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. While some of the 659 cats New Jersey animal shelters rescued from out of state facilities may have come from New York City and Philadelphia shelters, its likely many came from other states since transporting shelters, such as St. Hubert’s, pulled a sizable number of these cats. Even though some of these cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters are young kittens, which should not go to a normal animal shelter, many other cats could go to New Jersey animal shelters and be adopted out. As a result, the additional number of cats New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City and Philadelphia is not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for cats and help other states reach that goal as well.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 7.0 cats per 1,000 people in the state (4.1 cats per 1,000 people if no cats were rescued from out of state and all cats sent to rescue were rescued by other New Jersey animal shelters and adopted out). As a comparison, recent per capita cat adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia area) – 10.3 cats per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Washoe County, Nevada and Carson City, Nevada) – 9.1 cats per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 8.0 cats per 1,000 people

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

2018 Cat Model Summary Targets

Cat Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

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

The tables below detail how many cats should lose their lives at each state animal shelter per my model and the actual numbers of cats that did. All missing or lost cats 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 cats in the “Other” outcome category died or went missing. While a small numbers of shelters could have included some live releases in the “Other” outcome category, it would be misleading to not count these deaths for the overwhelming majority of shelters. The “targeted” numbers in the table are based on the shelter’s actual cat intake rather than targeted cat intake to ensure an apples to apples comparison with the actual cats losing their lives. Shelters having the number of cats losing their lives at or below my targets and above my targets are highlighted in green and red in the tables below.

The overall results show too many cats are unnecessarily losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. New Jersey animal shelters had 6,757 cats needlessly lose their lives in 2018 (i.e. the sum of all shelters with too many cats needlessly losing their lives in the table below).

The largest number of cats unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. 10 out of 91 or 11% of the shelters accounted for 81% of the cats unnecessarily losing their lives under the model’s assumptions. Half of these ten shelters had negative stories reported in the press and/or on my blog or Facebook page over the last several years. Shelters with the greatest numbers of unnecessary cat deaths are as follows:

  1. Atlantic County Animal Shelter (1,118)
  2. Gloucester County Animal Shelter (1,059)
  3. Burlington County Animal Shelter (641)
  4. Associated Humane Societies-Newark (594)
  5. South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter (581)
  6. Northern Ocean County Animal Facility (567)
  7. Southern Ocean County Animal Facility (284)
  8. Vorhees Animal Orphanage (251)
  9. Bergen County Animal Shelter (206)
  10. Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls (179)

Rescue oriented shelters generally had fewer cats lose their lives than targeted. While saving large numbers of cats is what we all want, some of these shelters may have achieved this result by taking in easier cats. Austin Pets Alive, which is a rescue oriented shelter in Texas, has developed some of the most innovative cat programs and only had a cat live release rate of 89.3% in 2018. This was due to Austin Pets Alive taking in many cats requiring significant treatment, such as neonatal kittens, from the city animal control shelter. As a result, some of the rescue oriented shelters with significantly fewer cats euthanized than targeted may have avoided taking in many of the more difficult cases.

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

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

Overall, New Jersey shelters are not receiving enough help from other animal welfare organizations. While New Jersey animal shelters sent more cats to rescues and other shelters than my model targeted, many cats were rescued from facilities which did not require so much rescue assistance. Only 37 out of the 70 facilities needing rescue assistance received the required support. In other words, only 53% of the animal shelters needing rescue help received the amount these facilities require.

We truly need to understand the reasons for this rescue shortfall. While poor data collection (i.e. shelters classifying rescues as adoptions) may explain part of this rescue deficit, the large size of this number points to other causes as well. For example, New Jersey shelters as a whole significantly exceeded their dog rescue needs and a much smaller number of shelters failed to receive enough rescue support, but just 53% of shelters needing cat rescue assistance received the needed support. Certainly, some of these cats are feral and not candidates for most rescues. However, many other cats surely are home-able. Many high kill facilities may not reach out to rescues for cats, such as during kitten season, as much as they do for dogs. This data supports the need for New Jersey to pass shelter reform bill S725 which requires shelters to contact rescues and other facilities at least two business days before killing animals. On the other hand, shelters with excess capacity may not be doing their part to save cats from space constrained facilities.

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

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 942 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 524 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Paterson Animal Control – 317 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center – 265 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Byram Township Animal Shelter – 177 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Northern Ocean County Animal Facility – 167 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Elizabeth Animal Shelter – 162 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 148 more cats transferred than necessary

Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Gloucester County Animal Shelter, Paterson Animal Control, Elizabeth Animal Shelter and Trenton Animal Shelter are terrible facilities. Associated Humane Societies-Newark has a history of problemskills animals for ridiculous reasons and its Executive Director had animal cruelty charges filed against her. Gloucester County Animal Shelter illegally killed hundreds of animals before seven day, broke state law, and is a high kill shelter. Paterson Animal Control has no volunteer program, no social media page or even a website with animals for adoption and violated state law left and right. Elizabeth Animal Shelter previously illegally killed large numbers of animals before seven days, broke other laws and killed many animals for absurd reasons. Trenton Animal Shelter violated state law in 2017 per a New Jersey Department of Health limited scope inspection report. Thus, many shelters receiving greater than expected rescue support seem to do little more than allow rescues to save the day.

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

  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 332 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Vorhees Animal Orphanage – 240 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Monmouth SPCA – 210 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Cape May County Animal Shelter – 179 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter – 150 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Liberty Humane Society – 102 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Franklin Township Animal Shelter – 42 fewer cats transferred than necessary

The million dollar question is why do these shelters receive very little rescue help? Some shelters may report no cats sent to rescues and incorrectly count these animals as adopted. As you will see below, Cape May County Animal Shelter and Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopted out many cats and are doing a pretty good job. On the other hand, Franklin Township Animal Shelter kills many cats for absurd reasons, breaks state law and does not do a good job of reaching out to the public for help. As a result, shelters receiving too little rescue help may or may not be doing their part to get that assistance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 5 out of 91 shelters met the cat adoption goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets. Animal Welfare Association exceeded its adoption target by the most of any shelter in terms of total adoptions. This shelter runs reduced and no adoption fee promotions. Animal Welfare Association also waives fees for certain cats who may take longer to adopt out, such as cats who are older or have behavior or health issues. Furthermore, the shelter’s “Best Friends” program allows people who adopt a cat to pay just $25 for a second cat who is 1 year or older. Animal Welfare Association also waives cat adoption fees for active military personnel and veterans in its Pets for Vets program. The shelter also waives adoption fees for senior citizens adopting certain senior pets. Additionally, Animal Welfare Association uses an open adoption process focused on properly matching animals and people rather than an overly judgmental procedure based on black and white rules. To aid its open adoptions process, Animal Welfare Association uses the ASPCA’s Feline-ality program. Animal Welfare Association’s adoption rate increased by 20% and its cat length of stay decreased by 23 days after the shelter implemented the Feline-ality program. Finally, Animal Welfare Association installed perches in their cat enclosures to provide cats more vertical space which keeps the cats happier and more adoptable. Beacon Animal Rescue also exceeded its adoption target and charges a reasonable $75 fee for adult cats and offers military personnel and veterans discounted adoption fees. Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter also exceeded its adoption target by a significant amount. From what I can tell, this shelter was customer friendly and also had a strong cat foster program in 2018. Thus, several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their cat adoption targets and Animal Welfare Association used a variety of innovative strategies to adopt out many cats.

Several animal control shelters exceeded their adoption targets or came close to doing so. St. Hubert’s-Madison adopted out more cats than I targeted the facility to do. This shelter is open seven days a week, including all holidays except Thanksgiving and Christmas, and has a very customer friendly adoption process. Vorhees Animal Orphanage also came close to meeting its adoption goal. The shelter also is open seven days a week, including weekday evenings and weekends (except one Wednesday a month and certain holidays), which makes it convenient for working people to adopt animals. Additionally, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts cats out at one PetSmart store and three PetValu locations. Father John’s Animal House also came close to reaching its adoption target. This shelter adopts out cats that are one to six years old for $50 and cats that are six years old and over for $25. Despite not being open many hours, West Milford Animal Shelter almost met its adoption goal. This shelter charges a very reasonable $35 fee for all cats and runs a creative Facebook page called “The Real Cats at West Milford Animal Shelter.” Thus, several animal control shelters exceeded or came close to achieving their cat adoption goals and therefore prove these adoption targets are achievable.

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

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

Associated Humane Societies performance is particularly disappointing. Specifically, Associated Humane Societies has the physical capacity to significantly reduce the killing of healthy and treatable cats. Associated Humane Societies’ adoption shortfall of 6,306 cats nearly equaled the 6,757 cats who unnecessarily lost their lives in New Jersey animal shelters in 2018. Associated Humane Societies has the funding to reach these adoption targets as the organization took in $7.7 million of revenue for the fiscal year ending 6/30/18. This works out to $777 of revenue per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in per my Life Saving Model. Given many no kill animal control shelters take in significantly less revenue per dog and cat impounded, Associated Humane Societies could achieve these adoption targets and effectively end the killing of healthy and treatable cats in its facilities and in almost all the state’s shelters. Activists wanting to increase life saving in New Jersey should focus on changing Associated Humane Societies’ policies given the lifesaving potential of this organization and its recent dismal performance.

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Cats

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

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of cats they should. 84 of the 91 shelters should rescue some cats from other local shelters. In fact, 46 of the 84 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single cat from other animal shelters. Only three shelters with significant amounts of space to rescue cats from nearby shelters met or exceeded their cat rescue targets. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of healthy and treatable cats.

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

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

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

Shelters Do Not Need to Leave Friendly Cats on the Street

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

Kitten Nurseries and Ringworm Wards Key to Saving Vulnerable Cats

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

Kitten nurseries or bottle baby wards radically increase the save rate for orphaned kittens still requiring milk. While foster care and rescue programs can save unweaned kittens, kitten nurseries are more efficient and make the job easier. Austin Animal Services, which is the animal control shelter in Austin, Texas, killed 1,200 plus kittens a year before Austin Pets Alive created a bottle baby program. Volunteers work in two hour shifts to feed and care for the kittens. Additionally, nursing mothers are pulled from the city shelter and used to help nurse highly vulnerable young kittens who are orphaned. Kittens are put on antibiotics and treated for fleas and worms immediately to help prevent complications from transitioning from breast milk to formula. Austin Pets Alive pulled 100% of unweaned kittens from the city shelter since 2011. Best Friends created a kitten nursery in South Salt Lake City, Utah and saved more than 1,400 kittens from Salt Lake City area shelters in 2016. Thus, kitten nursery programs can save young and vulnerable kittens.

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

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

Results Require New Jersey Animal Shelters to Take Action

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

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

Appendix Life Saving Model Assumptions

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

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

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

Each shelter’s community cat intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty cases), number of cats returned to owners, and maximum cat capacity were taken from its 2018 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health. Additionally, I added 7.5% of each shelter’s annual cat intake to account for foster capacity shelters should use based on my discussions with American Pets Alive leadership. Thus, total cat capacity equaled the shelter’s capacity plus foster capacity. You can see the full data set I compiled from these reports here.

  • Community cat intake and cats returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 cats were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 cats (240/12). In July, the cat intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 cats by 1.2 to equal 24 cats. If 120 cats were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of cats returned to owners in July would equal 12 cats (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off the average of the 2018 cat intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • The estimated number of community cats returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country.
  • The number of community cats euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 8% of intake. 8% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate to use given other open admission animal shelters, such as Austin Animal Services, equal or exceed this target and New Jersey’s much lower per capita cat intake makes it easier to save lives. The average length of stay for euthanized cats is assumed to equal 8 days. I assume these cats have severe and untreatable health issues and are euthanized immediately after their required 7 day hold period.
  • The average length of stay used for adopted community cats was 42 days. This estimate was roughly halfway between the average cat length of stay figures for a number of no kill animal control shelters. For example, the average length of stay for cats in recent years was 12 days at Texas’s Williamson County Animal Shelter, less than two weeks at Nevada Humane Society 15 days at Montana’s Flathead County Animal Shelter, 24 days at Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society, 32 days at Kansas City Pet Project and 61 days for adopted cats only at New York’s Tompkins County SPCA. While the average length of stay of adopted cats at these shelters other than Tompkins County SPCA may have been slightly higher since this data is for all cats and not just those adopted, the difference is not likely significant given adoptions represent most of the outcomes at these shelters. Unfortunately, I was not able to break down the adoption length of stay figures by age or breed for New Jersey’s shelters like I did in my analysis on dogs due to a lack of detailed cat intake data at New Jersey animal shelters. Upon reviewing cats up for adoption at several New Jersey animal control shelters and a few of the high performing facilities above, I did not see any significant differences in types of cats taken in. In the future, I hope to refine this analysis further.
  • The average length of stay used for community cats adopted out from rescue oriented shelters was 30 days. Rescue oriented animal shelters typically carefully select animals taken into their shelters. Based on the San Francisco’s SPCA’s 22 day and Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation’s 23 day average length of stay figures reported a number of years ago, I used a shorter length of stay for community cats adopted from New Jersey animal shelters without animal control contracts. I chose 30 days as a conservative estimate.
  • Cats transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community cats not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month outside of kitten season (i.e. November-March). However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, cats are moved from adoption (i.e. with a longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • During kitten season (April-October), animal control shelters are assumed to send a certain percentage of cats to rescues even if they have excess space. Due to the large numbers of kittens coming into shelters during these months, I assume shelters will not be able to place all of them into foster homes or a kitten nursery at this time. As a result, I assume animal control shelters will send 10% of their annual community cat intake to rescues based on the shelters’ estimated relative cat intake each month. For example, if a shelter took 100 cats in during the year and August made up 50% of the total cat intake from April to November, 5 cats would go to rescue in August (i.e. 100*10% = 10 cats; 10*50% = 5 cats). I used 10% based off the rescue percentage of cat intake in 2014 (it currently is only 2%) at Kansas City’s KC Pet Project. KC Pet Project is a no kill open admission shelter with an inadequate facility and is a good comparison for some of our state’s run down shelters. Shelters requiring rescue support due to space constraints are assumed to send these additional cats to rescues during kitten season.
  • Shelters are not expected to use the excess space created by fosters taking kittens to rescue and adopt out additional cats. This is based on the assumption that the kittens will return to shelters once old enough to safely stay at the facilities.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out cats from other New Jersey animal shelters. Given some of these cats will be young and highly vulnerable kittens, I assume 5% of these rescues will be euthanized for humane reasons. I used 5% based off Austin Pets Alive’s and Austin Humane Society’s weighted average cat euthanasia rate in 2014. These two shelters pull many cats from Austin Animal Services, which is the city’s animal control shelter, and their cat euthanasia rate is a reasonable proxy for the percentage of hopelessly suffering cats rescued from animal control shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter cats are saved, I assume additional cats are pulled from nearby states. The average length of stay for rescued and adopted cats is the same as the cats taken in by animal control shelters (i.e. 42 days). Similarly, I used 8 days as the average length of stay for rescued and euthanized cats from other shelters.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many cats New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue and rescue from other nearby animal shelters.
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they run out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used cat adoption length of stay data from Perth Amboy Animal Shelter from 2014 and the first half of 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted cats in the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average cat adoption length of stay determined in the model above and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • The targeted number of cats adopted were capped at 8 cats per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of cats adopted were equal to this cap. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted adoptions in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of cats adopted in the county to yield the targeted numbers of cats adopted in the modified model. Rescued and euthanized cats for these shelters were reduced based on the modified model’s assumption that shelters adopted out and euthanized 95% and 5% of rescued cats.

Franklin Township Animal Shelter Illegally Kills Animals and Breaks State Law

In my last Franklin Township Animal Shelter blog, I detailed the facility frequently killing healthy and treatable animals. Additionally, I documented the shelter taking too long to safely place animals. In this blog, I’ll examine whether Franklin Township Animal Shelter complies with state law and discuss some of the reasons why it needlessly kills animals.

Illegal Killing During Seven Day Protection Period

Under state law, shelters cannot kill either owner surrendered or stray animals until seven days pass. The purpose of this law is to provide owners a chance to reclaim their lost pets and prevent shelters from immediately killing animals. In practice, the New Jersey Department of Health allows shelters to euthanize animals during this seven day period if facilities meet both of the following conditions:

  1. If a veterinarian deems euthanasia necessary for humane reasons to prevent excessive suffering when illness and injury is severe and the prognosis for recovery is extremely poor
  2. Only a licensed veterinarian should perform euthanasia in the above situation and they must clearly document the rationale in the animal’s medical record

Overall, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records revealed it killed six dogs and six cats during the state’s seven day protection period. All six dogs were owner surrenders. Four of the six cats were strays and the other two cats were surrendered by their owners. Based on my review of the paperwork the shelter provided to me, several of these animals did not appear to be hopelessly suffering. Even when the shelter wrote some notes suggesting the animals might have serious medical issues, the intake and disposition records, except for possibly one, and supporting paperwork did not indicate a veterinarian made a diagnosis and euthanized the animal during the seven day hold period as required by the above regulations. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter violated state law when it killed each of these animals.

Mink or Dog ID# 76 was a three year old Shar-Pei-Cane Corso mix that was surrendered to Franklin Township Animal Shelter on February 14, 2018. On the only supporting document Franklin Township Animal Shelter provided me, the shelter stated “very aggressive”, “owner request” and “E&D.” According to the shelter’s intake and disposition log as well as its euthanasia drug log, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed Mink on the very day he arrived at the facility. Under state law, a shelter cannot kill a dog before seven days unless its hopelessly suffering. Clearly, aggression does not meet that standard. Furthermore, the euthanasia record indicates the shelter’s head animal control officer, Katie Nordhous (abbreviation: KN), and another shelter staff member (abbreviation: RH) killed Mink. Thus, Franklin Township illegally killed Mink before seven days since Mink was not hopelessly suffering and a veterinarian did not kill the animal during this period.

Mink Illegally Killed FTAS

Mink Illegally Killed FTAS 2.jpg

Mink Illegally Killed FTAS 3

Nevada or Dog ID# 155 was a 12 year old pit bull like dog surrendered to Franklin Township Animal Shelter on March 27, 2018. According to the shelter’s paperwork, the owner surrendered the dog due to cancer (unclear if the owner or dog had it), a divorce and the owner moving. The owner also stated they could not afford a surgery that the dog apparently needed. As an example of Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s terrible record keeping, the intake and disposition record stated the shelter killed Nevada the day before he arrived at the shelter. However, the euthanasia record showed Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed Nevada on the day she came in on March 27, 2018.

Once again, Franklin Township Animal Shelter illegally killed an animal before seven days. The shelter did not have a veterinarian document Nevada was hopelessly suffering. Furthermore, the animal apparently required a surgery which suggests Nevada had a reasonable chance for treatment. Second, the euthanasia record indicates the shelter’s head animal control officer, Katie Nordhous (abbreviation: KN), and not a veterinarian killed Nevada on the day she came into the shelter. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter violated state law since the shelter did not have a veterinarian document Nevada was hopelessly suffering and did not have a veterinarian euthanize the animal even if she was hopelessly suffering.

Nevada Illegally Killed FTAS 1

Nevada Illegally Killed FTAS 2.jpg

Nevada Illegally Killed FTAS 3

Cat ID# 429 was surrendered to Franklin Township Animal Shelter on June 27, 2018. According to paperwork the shelter provided me, the shelter stated the cat was “very old + sick” and this was an “Elective Euthanasia.” Per the shelter’s euthanasia record, the facility killed Cat ID# 429 on the day the shelter took the animal in.

While its possible this cat was hopelessly suffering, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s records do not indicate a veterinarian made that determination as required by state law. Furthermore, the euthanasia record lists “RH” as the individual killing the animal who has the same initials as a shelter employee. Under state law, even if an animal can be humanely euthanized before seven days, a veterinarian must be the person who euthanizes the animal. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter violated state law by killing Cat ID# 429 before seven days and not having a veterinarian be the person conducting the procedure.

Cat ID 429 Illegally Killed FTAS 1.jpg

Cat ID 429 Illegally Killed FTAS 2.jpg

Cat ID 429 Illegally Killed FTAS 3.jpg

Potential Inhumane Killing 

Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s Telazol log shows the shelter used too little of this sedative when killing large dogs. According to the Humane Society of the United State Euthanasia Reference Manual, shelters should use 0.3-0.5 milliliters for each 10 pounds of an animal’s body weight. However, the manual recommends using 0.5 milliliters per 10 pounds of an animal body weight. As you can see in the shelter’s Telazol log below, the shelter did not provide enough Telazol to the following dogs:

  • Dog ID# 669 weighed 89 pounds and received 1.5 milliliters when it should have received 4.5 milliliters
  • Dog ID# 928 weighed 62 pounds and received 1.5 milliliters when it should have received 3.1 milliliters
  • Dog ID# 76 weighed 82 pounds and received 2.0 milliliters when it should have received 4.1 milliliters
  • Dog ID# 112 weighed 27 pounds and received 0.5 milliliters when it should have received 1.4 milliliters

Clearly, Franklin Township Animal Shelter did not provide enough Telazol to calm dogs, who required a sedative, before killing them.

FTAS Uses Too Little Sedatives for Some Dogs.jpg

Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s euthanasia records do not specify how the shelter killed or euthanized animals. Specifically, the records do not state whether the shelter euthanized/killed each animal by an intravenous (preferred method), intraperitoneal or intracardiac (i.e. heart sticking) injection. Per New Jersey law, N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.11(f)4 and N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13A, shelters must document the method they use to kill animals. According to N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.11(c) shelters can only use intraperitoneal injections on comatose animals and neonatal kittens. Under this method, animals are injected in the abdominal cavity and can take up to 30 minutes to die. Heart sticking, as the name implies, involves stabbing an animal in the heart with Fatal Plus poison and New Jersey shelters can only use this method on heavily sedated, anesthetized or comatose animals. Thus, Franklin Animal Shelter’s euthanasia records do not comply with state law and do not indicate whether animals are in fact humanely euthanized in accordance with state law.

Additionally, the shelter’s Telazol log does not indicate what individual administered this controlled substance to each animal. Per the New Jersey Department of Health July 16, 2018 inspection report on Hamilton Township Animal Shelter, shelters must have individuals certified to euthanize animals sign off on both the euthanasia drug and sedatives amounts used when killing an animal to comply with New Jersey’s controlled dangerous substance laws. While Franklin Township Animal Shelter personnel did sign off in the euthanasia drug logs, they did not do so in their sedative logs. Thus, the shelter violated state law.

If this was not bad enough, Franklin Township Animal Shelter violated New Jersey’s controlled dangerous substance law by having Telazol at the shelter. As you can see here, Telazol is a Schedule III Controlled Substance. Per the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs, animal shelters cannot have Telazol at their shelters unless the controlled substance is the property of the veterinarian. As the invoice below shows, Easton Animal Clinic sold Telazol to Franklin Township Animal Shelter. Furthermore, Franklin Township Animal Shelter does not have an in-house veterinarian. Therefore, the shelter illegally kept Telazol in the facility.

Animal Shelters Holding of Controlled Dangerous Substances

FTAS Purchase of Telazol

Inadequate Disease Control Program

Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s disease control program does not vaccinate all animals entering the shelter. Specifically, the shelter only vaccinates animals that are available for adoption. Given the shelter kills large numbers of dogs and cats, it is not vaccinating a substantial portion of the shelter population. The UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program clearly explains why shelters must immediately vaccinate animals to control diseases in their facilities:

When should the vaccine be given?

Immediately upon intake, if not sooner! In almost all cases, shelter animals should be vaccinated immediately upon intake. A delay of even a day or two will significantly compromise the vaccine’s ability to provide protection. In a cost saving effort, some shelters delay vaccination until the animal is made available for adoption, or even until it is adopted. While this does provide a service to adopters, the protective effect of the vaccine within the shelter is greatly reduced or eliminated. (In some cases, the chance of the vaccine preventing disease may be 90% or better if given the day before exposure, but will drop to less than 1% if given the day after exposure.) When possible, vaccination prior to intake is ideal (e.g. for owner surrendered animals or those returning from foster care).

Furthermore, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s disease control program does not mandate all necessary vaccines. While the disease control program states the shelter vaccinates animals available for adoption for rabies, distemper and bordatella or kennel cough (dogs only), the UC David Koret Shelter Medicine program also recommends shelters vaccinate dogs for adenovirus-2, parvovirus and parainfluenza and cats for feline herpesvirus-1 (feline viral rhinotracheitis/FHV-1) and feline calicivirus.

Therefore, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s vaccination program is ineffective and this may partially explain why the facility killed so many cats for illnesses and had so many other cats die.

Franklin Township Animal Shelter also “screens” all cats for FIV and FeLV prior to spay/neuter. Shelter medicine experts recommend facilities not test healthy cats for these two diseases based on the following reasons:

  1. The tests are often inaccurate
  2. Tests are expensive and prolong animals’ length of stay at shelters
  3. Tests are used to kill cats who are not sick or treatable

Based on the shelter’s policy of routinely testing cats for FIV and FeLV, its unsurprising the shelter’s records revealed it killing cats who tested positive for these illnesses. As mentioned in my earlier Franklin Township Animal Shelter blog, many shelters adopt out cats who actually have these diseases as well. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s disease control program may be causing the shelter to needlessly kill cats for simply testing positive for FIV or FeLV.

FTAS Vaccination and FeLV and FIV Protocol.jpg

Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s disease control program is not compliant with state law. Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.9(a)1., the disease control program must address both the “physical and psychological well-being of animals.” However, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s disease control program does not address the psychological well-being of animals. Given the shelter killed 80 cats for being feral, aggressive and having certain behavior issues or nearly 20% of all the cats impounded, the shelter’s inadequate disease control program is costing many cats their lives. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s disease control program violates state law and is leading to unnecessary killing at the shelter.

§ 8:23A-1.9 Disease control

(a) Facilities subject to this subchapter as provided in N.J.A.C. 8:23A-1.2 shall establish and maintain a program of disease control and adequate health care (program) under the supervision and assistance of a doctor of veterinary medicine.

1. The program shall address the physical and psychological well-being of animals at the facility, including stress-induced behaviors, such as repetitious behavior or vocalizations, from auditory, visual, and olfactory stimuli.

Finally, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s disease control program does not have other important provisions. As the New Jersey Department of Health mentioned in its October 21, 2015 inspection report on Gloucester County Animal Shelter, shelters must have written protocols to properly feed animals and have workers avoid passing pathogens throughout the facility (e.g. procedures on employees dealing with sick animals in an isolation area and then moving to parts of the facility with healthy animals). While the disease control program mentions employees should not be in contact with healthy animals after entering the isolation area, it has no protocols for staff to do that (i.e. protective clothing in isolation area and discarding after dealing with sick animals, etc.). Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s disease control program violates state law by not addressing these key areas of disease control.

Shelter Makes Little Effort to Save Animals

Franklin Township Animal Shelter hardly is ever open for people to save animals. The shelter’s hours are as follows:

  • Tuesday-Friday: 12 pm to 3 pm
  • Saturday: 12 pm to 6 pm
  • Sunday and Monday: Closed

While the shelter has decent hours on Saturdays, the facility is virtually never open for most working people on other days. Most people cannot go to the shelter in the early afternoon on weekdays. If that was not bad enough, the shelter is closed to the public on two days, including Sundays when many people adopt or reclaim lost pets. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter makes it extremely difficult for the public to save the shelter’s animals.

Given shelters already incur costs to feed and care for animals on days the shelter is closed, it makes complete sense to allow the public to adopt and reclaim animals on those days. Based on the shelter’s high kill rate, long lengths of stay and large shelter population, this facility should be open many more hours.

Franklin Township Animal Shelter violates state law since its not open on Mondays. Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.10(b)1., shelters must be open to the public at least two hours a day on weekdays and one weekend day. As a result, Franklin Township Animal Shelter breaks state law by not being open on Mondays.

Franklin Township Animal Shelter has no active Facebook page. While a Franklin Township Animal Shelter Facebook page exists, its “unofficial” and just has information about the facility and reviews (i.e. animals up for adoption are not posted). In this day and age, its shocking any shelter would not have an active Facebook page. While Second Chance for Animals, which is a volunteer group supporting the shelter, has a Facebook page it uses to promote Franklin Township Animal Shelter pets, most people would not know to look there for the shelter’s animals. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter needs its own active Facebook and other social media pages.

The shelter’s web site hardly has any useful information. Even though the shelter has a Petfinder page, it currently only has 21 pets listed for adoption while its September 9, 2019 inspection report had 135 animals at the facility. While Second Chance for Animals does have a web site about the shelter, most people would not know to look there. Additionally, the web site does not contain enough information about the shelter. As a result, Franklin Township Animal Shelter must create its own web site and make it useful to the public.

Second Chance for Animals plays a key role at the shelter. This group has helped Franklin Township Animal Shelter since 1998. On its web site, Second Chance for Animals states it pays for spay/neuter, microchips, emergency and senior pet veterinary care, pet food, cat litter and other things. According to the Second Chance for Animals 2018 Form 990, the organization spent $51,544 on food, cat litter, veterinary care and FIV and FeLV testing on Franklin Township Animal Shelter pets. Additionally, the Form 990 states Second Chance for Animals paid $20,390 to spay/neuter 255 animals, which I presume most if not all were from Franklin Township Animal Shelter. Second Chance for Animals’ web site also states the organization takes Franklin Township Animal Shelter pets to adoption events. Its also possible the organization contributed more funds to the shelter since Second Chance for Animals had another $17,732 of reported expenses in its 2018 Form 990. Finally, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s web site mentions Second Chance for Animals administers the shelter’s volunteer program. Thus, Second Chance for Animals is an integral part of Franklin Township Animal Shelter.

While Second Chance for Animals assistance to Franklin Township Animal Shelter is admirable, it has not resulted in the shelter becoming no kill. I’ve seen other long term arrangements between shelter-based rescue groups and regressive shelters not serve the animals well. For example, Friends of Shelter Animals at Clifton Animal Shelter has had a similar long-term relationship with Clifton Animal Shelter and that shelter still performs poorly. Similarly, Hamilton Township Animal Shelter also had an exclusive relationship with Animal Friends for Education and Welfare (AFEW). AFEW defended Hamilton Township Animal Shelter despite that facility violating state law, being high kill and wasting taxpayer dollars. Thus, I’m concerned when rescue groups are closely connected to regressive shelters for long periods of time and those facilities remain high kill.

Franklin Township provided me no documented animal shelter policies and procedures other than the disease control program. In other words, the shelter apparently has no written procedures concerning interactions with the public, marketing animals, recruiting and retaining volunteers, reclaiming lost pets and various other shelter activities.

Worthless County Inspections

Somerset County Health Department inspected Franklin Township Animal Shelter on August 29, 2017 and reported the shelter violated N.J.A.C. 8.23-1.3 for having food and/or bedding unprotected and having buildings and grounds dirty or hazardous. To support, these findings the county health department wrote a few one sentence notes. The inspector noted the shelter used inadequate eye wash bottles and had a vet trailer with a door that didn’t close properly. The shelter’s head animal control officer also did not sign the inspection report. Despite this, Somerset County Health Department gave Franklin Township Animal Shelter a “Satisfactory” grade.

Somerset County Health Department 8.29.17 Inspection Report on Franklin Township Animal Shelter

Somerset County Health Dept. 8.29.17 Inspection of FTAS Page 2.jpg

Somerset County Health Dept. 8.29.17 Inspection of FTAS Page 3

Somerset County Animal Shelter inspected Franklin Township Animal Shelter on November 14, 2018 and reported the shelter violated N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.2 for not having a certificate of an annual fire inspection and N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.3 for having food and/or bedding unprotected. The county health department provided no details on these violations. As in the prior year, the shelter’s head animal control officer did not sign the inspection form.

Remarkably, Somerset County Health Department did not cite the shelter’s blatant violations of state law. Specifically, the county health department missed the shelter illegally killing animals before seven days, the lack of an adequate disease control program, improper keeping of intake and disposition and euthanasia records and not being open when it should be. Also, the county health department did not catch the shelter violating controlled dangerous substance laws by having Telazol at the facility and employees not signing off on the Telazol usage logs. Despite all these violations of state law, and two violations the inspection report did note, Somerset County Health Department gave Franklin Township Animal Shelter a “Satisfactory” grade.

Somerset County Health Department 11.14.18 Inspection Report on Franklin Township Animal Shelter.jpg

Somerset County Health Department also inspected Franklin Township Animal Shelter on September 9, 2019. Once again, the shelter violated N.J.A.C. 8.23-1.2 by not having a certificate of annual fire inspection. As in the 2018 inspection, Somerset County Health Department provided no comments on how it conducted its inspection or its findings. Also, the shelter’s head animal control officer did not sign the inspection report.

Somerset County Health Department 9.9.19 Inspection Report on Franklin Township Animal Shelter.jpg

Franklin Township Animal Shelter should not have had a license to operate for around two months in 2017, four and half months in 2018 and over two months in 2019. Under N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.8(b), a shelter’s license expires on June 30th each year. N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.2 requires a shelter to comply with state law and receive a Certificate of Inspection for the current licensing year. As you can see above, Somerset County Animal Shelter inspected Franklin Township Animal Shelter on 8/29/17, 11/14/18 and 9/9/19. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter should not have had a license to operate for substantial parts of the last three years.

Finally, the inspection reports confirm the shelter’s excessive average lengths of stay documented in my last blog lead to the facility holding too many animals. While I’m a strong supporter of shelters using their full capacity, they must also maintain short average lengths of stay to save lives, treat animals humanely, reduce disease and save costs. Despite Franklin Township Animal Shelter having enough capacity for dogs and cats to the extent it could have rescued 388 cats and 117 dogs in addition to the animals it took in during 2018, the shelter exceeded its 24 dog capacity in all three years’ inspection reports and also went over its 107 cat capacity in two of the three years’ inspection reports. As a result, Franklin Township Animal Shelter must enact progressive programs to reduce its average length of stay by developing a proactive adoption program, decrease intake (such as through TNR and SNR) and expand its capacity by implementing a large scale foster program.

Franklin Township Fails to Use Money to Fund Shelter

Franklin Township had plenty of money to fund its shelter in 2018. Per the town’s 2018 Annual Financial Statements, the town’s Current Fund paid animal control and shelter salaries and wages of $124,354. However, the town spent another net $106,526 from its Animal Control Fund on animal control and sheltering. While I can’s find anything explicitly stating the up to $12,025 donation Second Chance for Animal contractually agreed to provide the shelter is included in the Animal Control Fund, I suspect it is. However, I cannot tell if the additional amounts Second Chance for Animals spent on the shelter are included in these figures. Therefore, the shelter received at least $230,880 of total funding in 2018 or approximately $361 per dog and cat impounded.

Franklin Township failed to use large amounts of its Animal Control Fund to help animals. As you can see in the following table, which excludes license fees the town must send to the state of New Jersey, Franklin Township had $266,675 in this fund at the start of 2018 and collected another $140,731 for licenses, Current Fund budget appropriations and donations and shelter fees charged to the public during the year. Therefore, the town had an astounding $407,406 to fund its shelter in addition to the $124,354 it spent out of its Current Fund on shelter staff salaries and wages. However, the town only gave the shelter $106,526 of the $407,406 in the Animal Control Fund during 2018. Even worse, the town took $29,657 of this funding to use for other government functions since it failed to spend enough money (shelters must use these funds within three years under state law or the funds go to general government use). In other words, the town could have given the shelter an additional $300,880 in 2018. Even if the shelter only used half of this in 2018, and reserved the rest for use in 2019, Franklin Township could have nearly doubled the shelter’s funding and had at least $596 of funding per dog and cat. Based on the performance of many successful no kill animal control shelters, Franklin Township Animal Shelter has plenty of funding to do right by its animals.

Franklin Township Animal Shelter is not serving the city’s homeless animals and residents well. In 2018, Franklin Township Animal Shelter impounded just 9.7 dogs and cats per 1,000 people and should have received funding of at least $596 per dog and cat. As a comparison, Michigan’s Chippewa County Animal Shelter took in 21.0 dogs and cats per 1,000 people and received $551 of revenue per dog and cat impounded. Franklin Township Animal Shelter had nonreclaimed animal death rates of 26% for dogs and 45% for cats in 2018 while Chippewa County Animal Shelter had nonreclaimed death rates of 2% for dogs and 1% for cats in 2018. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s nonreclaimed dogs and cats lost their lives at 18 times and 45 times the rate as an animal control shelter receiving far more animals on a per capita basis (and in total too) and having less funding on a per animal basis.

Franklin Township 2018 Animal Control Fund Activity.jpg

2018 Franklin Township Animal Control Fund Activity Part 2

In reality, Franklin Township Animal Shelter can significantly reduce its sheltering costs and increase its funding per animal by implementing TNR. The town’s municipal code actually requires property owners to trap so-called feral cats, which are “destructive or an annoyance”:

If feral (wild) cats become destructive or an annoyance, it shall be the responsibility of property owners to set and maintain traps for the removal of such feral (wild) cats inhabiting their private property. Once trapped, the Township Division of Animal Control will accept the animals for disposal. For purposes of this section, the term “private property” shall include common areas owned by homeowners’ associations, regardless of whether or not the homeowners’ association has granted permission to the Township to enter upon said common areas for the purpose of enforcing owners regarding dogs and/or cats running at large.

Clearly, the town spends exorbitant amounts of money rounding up and killing these cats. Instead, Franklin can implement TNR to drastically reduce cat intake and killing. If the town did this, it would significantly reduce costs to taxpayers.

Franklin Township Residents Must Demand Better

As discussed in my last Franklin Township Animal Shelter blog, this facility kills large percentages of the animals it takes in. For example, the shelter killed 26% and 56% of all dogs and pit bulls not reclaimed by an owner in 2018. Similarly, 45% of all cats and 69% of adult cats not reclaimed by an owner lost their lives last year. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter is failing many of the animals it takes in.

To add insult to injury, Franklin Township Animal Shelter blatantly violated various laws as follows:

  1. Killed animals during the seven day protection period
  2. Euthanasia records did not indicate the method of killing to determine if it was a humane way
  3. Euthanasia records did not indicate what individuals administered the sedative Telazol to animals
  4. Held Telazol at the facility in violation of the state’s controlled dangerous substance laws
  5. Shelter did not have an adequate disease control program meeting state law requirements
  6. Shelter was not open at the times required by state law
  7. Shelter was not inspected as required by June 30th in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and should not have had licenses to operate for parts of those three years

Additionally, Franklin Township and its animal shelter did/does the following things:

  1. Used inadequate sedative doses to calm some dogs before killing them
  2. Fails to adequately vaccinate large numbers of animals and therefore increases risk of disease at the facility
  3. Shelter hardly is open when working people can adopt animals and reclaim lost pets
  4. Had excessively long lengths of stay and large shelter populations that likely raise disease rates and increase costs
  5. Has no documented procedures for many of the shelter’s activities
  6. Failed to use large sums of money from the Animal Control Fund (i.e. includes dog license fees)
  7. Needlessly raises taxpayer costs by mandating residents round up so-called feral cats for the shelter to kill

Franklin Township residents and people who shop in the town should contact the elected officials below and demand the following:

  1. The shelter stop illegally killing animals during the seven day protection period
  2. The shelter follow all state laws
  3. The shelter fully and comprehensively implement the No Kill Equation
  4. The city pass the Companion Animal Protection Act and require the shelter to save at least 90% of its animals
  5. The city replace the ACO in charge with an effective and compassionate shelter manager
  6. Eliminate Second Chance for Animals’ monopoly over the volunteer program and allow the effective and compassionate leader to build such a program based on best practices across the country

The contact information for these officials is as follows:

Mayor Phillip Kramer: 732-675-7912; Mayor.Kramer@franklinnj.gov

Deputy Mayor and Council Member James Vassanella: 732-873-2500 ext. 6328; Councilman.Vassanella@franklinnj.gov

Council Member Rajiv Prasad: 732-873-2500, ext. 6319; Councilman.Prasad@franklinnj.gov

Council Member Kimberly Francois: 732-873-2500 ext. 6395; Councilwoman.Francois@franklinnj.gov

Council Member Crystal Pruitt: 732-873-2500 ext. 6329; Councilwoman.Pruitt@franklinnj.gov

Council Member Theodore Chase: 732-873-2500 ext. 6318; Councilman.Chase@franklinnj.gov

Council Member Charles Onyejiaka: 732-873-2500 ext. 6396; Councilman.Onyejiaka@franklinnj.gov

Council Member Carl R.A. Wright: 732-873-2500 ext. 6397; Councilman.Wright@franklinnj.gov

Township Manager Robert G. Vornlocker: 732-873-2500 ext. 6201; Robert.Vornlocker@franklinnj.gov

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.

Franklin Township’s Frightening Animal Shelter

Franklin Township Animal Shelter routinely ranks as one of the higher kill shelters in New Jersey based on the summary statistics it reports. However, this Somerset County shelter’s underlying records should reveal whether the animals it kills are healthy and treatable and whether certain types of animals are more likely to lose their lives.

Does Franklin Township Animal Shelter kill healthy and treatable animals when lifesaving alternatives exist? Is the shelter complying with state law?

Deadly Dog Data

In order to get a better understanding of the job Franklin Township Animal Shelter did in 2018, I obtained the intake and disposition records for each individual dog and cat the shelter took in during the year. You can find those records here. In addition, I obtained all supporting records for each dog and cat the shelter killed. You can find those records here.

Overall, the shelter’s summary statistics were a mess. As you can see in the first linked file above, the shelter used a manual spreadsheet to input animals and I noticed numerous errors. For example, animals who had outcomes before the date they came in. As such, I had to correct a number of typos. Additionally, the shelter did not list specific ages of animals. Frankly, its shocking that Franklin Township Animal Shelter, like a number of facilities I’ve reviewed, fails to use readily available shelter software systems that make it easier for the facility to track its animals.

Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed too many dogs in 2018. While the overall dog kill rate of 11% was not extremely high, it was still much greater than kill rates at elite municipal shelters. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 1% of its dogs in 2018. Thus, Franklin Animal Shelter killed dogs at 11 times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

Pit bulls fared far worse at the Franklin Township Animal Shelter in 2018. The shelter killed 20% of pit bulls. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 1% of its pit bulls in 2018. As a result, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed pit bulls at 20 times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

Franklin Township Animal Shelter also killed too many small dogs and other medium to large size breeds in 2018. Overall, the shelter killed 8% of both small dogs and other medium to large size dogs. Frankly, shelters should be able to save nearly all small dogs due to the fact such animals cannot seriously injure dog savvy adult owners. Even the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, which is far from a progressive facility, only euthanized 1% of small dogs in 2017. Austin Animal Center only euthanized 1% of small dogs and 1% of other medium to large size breeds last year. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed both small dogs and other medium to large size dogs at eight times Austin Animal Center’s rate.

While Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s overall dog kill rates were bad, the shelter’s kill rates for dogs not reclaimed by their owners were far worse. Since dogs reclaimed by their owners typically have licenses and/or microchips and quickly leave the shelter, its informative to look at dogs who were not reclaimed by owners. When we just look at dogs not reclaimed by owners, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed 26% of all dogs, 56% of pit bulls, 16% of small dogs and 23% of other medium to large size breeds. In other words, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed around 1 out of 4 dogs, 1 out of 2 pit bulls, 1 out of 6 small dogs and 1 out of 4 other medium to large size breeds not reclaimed by owners. As a comparison, only 2% of all dogs, pit bulls and small dogs not reclaimed by owners and 1% of other medium to large size dogs not reclaimed by owners at Austin Animal Center lost their lives in 2018. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size breeds not reclaimed by owners at 13 times, 28 times, 8 times and 23 times Austin Animal Center’s rates.

2018 Franklin Township Animal Shelter Dog Statistics

Too Many Cats Lose Their Lives

Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s statistics reveal the shelter killed too many cats in 2018. Since Franklin Township did not list specific ages of animals, I could only break down cats into adults and kittens rather than the more expansive age categories I typically use (i.e. 1 year and older cats, kittens from 6 weeks to just under 1 year and kittens under 6 weeks). Overall, 43% of cats lost their lives at Franklin Township Animal Shelter in 2018 or about ten times the percentage at Austin Animal Center last year. Both adult cats and kittens lost their lives at higher rates, 64% and 25%. As a comparison, only 6% of adult cats and 3% of kittens lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018. Therefore, adult cats and kittens were eleven times and eight times more likely to lose their lives at Franklin Township Animal Shelter than at Austin Animal Center in 2018.

2018 Franklin Township Animal Shelter Cat Statistics

Franklin Township Animal Shelter Takes Too Long to Place Animals

Length of stay is the most critical metric impacting a shelter’s ability to achieve no kill and provide humane care to its animals. If a shelter takes three times as long to place an animal as it should, the shelter would require three times as much space to avoid overcrowding. Additionally, as the UC Davis Koret School of Shelter Medicine states, multiple studies show longer lengths of stay significantly increase disease risks. Therefore, increased lengths of stay result in higher animal care and veterinary costs. Thus, shelters must minimize average length of stay to achieve no kill and treat animals humanely.

Franklin Township Shelter’s dog length of stay data revealed the shelter took way too long to safely place dogs. Overall, all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size breeds stayed on average 52 days, 46, days, 67 days and 38 days (note these figures reflect my adjustments to obvious typos in the shelter’s data). As a comparison, Kansas City’s KC Pet Project saved 94% of its dogs in 2016 and had an overall dog average length of stay of 18 days. Similarly, Williamson County Animal Shelter in Texas saved 98% of its dogs in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2018 and its dogs stayed at the shelter only 9 days on average.

Even more shocking, all dogs, pit bulls, small dogs and other dogs at Franklin Township Animal Shelter took on average 85 days, 84 days, 92 days and 69 days to get adopted. As a comparison, well-run no kill animal control shelters adopt out their dogs on average in three weeks or less and even their pit bulls in around 40-50 days. In fact, Hound Manor reported adult pit bulls took around one month to get adopted out at Austin Animal Center from October 2015 to September 2016. Given these facilities adopt out more challenging dogs than Franklin Township Animal Shelter due to their much higher live release rates, this makes Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s performance even more abysmal.

If that was not bad enough, Franklin Township Animal Shelter reported only transferring out one dog during the entire year to rescues/other shelters. Since transfers are often a quick way shelters save animals, the facility barely used this approach that could have reduced the time dogs spend in the shelter. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter allowed dogs to stay too long at the facility.

2018 Franklin Township Animal Shelter Dogs Length of Stay

Franklin Township Shelter’s cat length of stay data revealed the shelter took way too long to safely place cats. Overall, all cats, adult cats and kittens stayed 84 days, 80 days and 87 days at the shelter (note this includes my adjustments for obvious typos in the shelter’s data). As a comparison, the average length of stay for cats in recent years was 12 days at Texas’s Williamson County Animal Shelter, less than two weeks at Nevada Humane Society, 15 days at Montana’s Flathead County Animal Shelter, 24 days at Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society (all these facilities save 90% or more of their cats). Thus, cats stay four to seven times longer at Franklin Township Animal Shelter than many well-run no kill animal control facilities despite Franklin Township frequently killing cats.

2018 Franklin County Animal Shelter Cat Length of Stay

Dogs Killed for Absurd Reasons

Franklin Township Animal Shelter most commonly killed dogs for alleged aggression problems. When we look at all dogs, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed 4% of all dogs for aggression related reasons. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.1% of the dogs it took in during 2018 for aggression and behavior related reasons. In other words, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed dogs for aggression related reasons at 40 times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter erroneously labeled dogs aggressive and did not do enough to rehabilitate those that had some issues.

The shelter also killed too many dogs for medical reasons. During 2018, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed 2% of all dogs for medical reasons and another 2% for being “old.” However, Austin Animal Center only euthanized 0.6% of all dogs for medical reasons (they killed none for just being “old”). Therefore, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed dogs for medical related reasons at seven times Austin Animal Center’s rate. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed treatable dogs.

Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed a very high percentage of pit bulls for aggression. As you can see in the table below, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed 16% of all the pit bulls it took in for so-called aggression. As a comparison, Austin Animal Center only euthanized, 0.05% of the pit bulls it took in during 2018 for aggression. Amazingly, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed pit bulls for aggression at 320 times the rate as Austin Animal Center in 2018.

To put this into perspective, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed 8 of the 23 non-reclaimed pit bulls it took in for aggression. In other words, Franklin Township stated 35% or more than 1 in 3 of the pit bulls it had to find new homes for were aggressive.

Mr. Boz was a six year old pit bull like dog surrendered to Franklin Township Animal Shelter on August 31, 2018 due to a landlord issue. In March 2018, the owner’s veterinarian stated Mr. Boz was good with kids and the dog lived with a nine year old child. Despite this, Franklin Township Animal Shelter claimed Mr. Boz was “Not good w/ other animals!” and killed him on February 23, 2019. The shelter provided no documents as to how it reached this conclusion and if it made any efforts to rehabilitate the animal. As many owners of dogs with high prey drives and/or dog aggression know, this is a very manageable issue.

Dolly was an eleven year old Shih Tzu surrendered by her owner to Franklin Township Animal Shelter on April 6, 2018 due to an inability to handle the dog’s medical problems. On the shelter’s intake record, the facility made sure to highlight Dolly’s age. According to the shelter, the owner couldn’t handle the dog’s “severe skin issues.” As far as I could tell, the shelter’s paperwork did not indicate the facility provided any veterinary care to Dolly. Furthermore, I found no effort to reach out to rescues or the public in general to save this animal. Instead, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed Dolly on August 29, 2018. Given even small dogs like Dolly are highly sought after, even with medical and behavior issues, its shocking how the shelter apparently made no effort to save this animal.

Cats Killed for Crazy Reasons

Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed massive numbers of cats for being “feral” and many treatable conditions. As you can see in the table below, the shelter killed 17% of all cats for being “feral” and another 2% of all cats for aggression/behavior. In other words, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed nearly 1 out of 5 cats for behavior the facility did not like. As a comparison Austin Animal Center did not kill a single cat in 2018 for being feral, aggressive or other behaviors. Thus, Franklin Township Animal Shelter needlessly killed 1 out of 5 cats.

Franklin Township Animal Shelter had too many cats with feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). FIP is a mutation of the more common feline coronavirus and can be deadly for kittens. Feline coronavirus is shed from infected cat feces. Feline corona virus mutates in certain cats and becomes FIP. Typically, this occurs subsequent to a stressful event and and the disease symptoms occur after a few weeks to 18 months. Overall, the shelter reported killing 16 cats or 4% of all the cats it took in for having FIP (note some cats killed for other reasons, such as being feral, also had FIP). However, its possible this number was higher if cats the shelter did not kill also had FIP. According to research cited by the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, only 0.6% of cats in an open intake shelter had FIP and rates over rates over 1% are a concern. In fact, the UC David Koret Shelter Medicine Program noted length of stay is a key risk factor and cats staying on average over 60 days in a shelter are over five times more likely to contract feline coronavirus (and likely FIP) than shelters where cats stay on average a few weeks. Given cats stayed on average 84 days at the Franklin Township Animal Shelter last year, its highly likely this was a key factor causing so many cats to have FIP.

Alternatively, its possible Franklin Township Animal Shelter classified some cats with feline coronavirus as having FIP. 12 of the 16 cats Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed for having FIP were adults. Given this disease mostly occurs in cats under 18 months and over 12 years, its quite possible many of these adult cats had feline coronavirus and not the mutated version known as FIP. Since feline coronavirus is highly treatable, its quite possible Franklin Township Animal Shelter needlessly killed at least some of these cats.

Franklin Township Animal Shelter also killed several cats for having Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia Virus or FeLV. Progressive shelters adopt out both FIV and FeLV positive cats as many cats with these diseases can live good lives. As American Pets Alive discussed in their recent blog, FeLV cats can be adopted out to people who take a few extra precautions, such as not having cats without FeLV in the home and seeking veterinary treatment quickly when the cats get sick. Similarly cats with the less serious FIV disease generally can live in homes with other cats, if they are compatible, since cats spread the disease through deep bites.

Finally, Franklin Township Animal Shelter killed a number of cats for no documented reasons. As a result, Franklin Township Animal Shelter did not even try to justify why it killed these cats.

Cat ID# 500 was a stray cat brought to the Franklin Township Animal Shelter on July 20, 2019. Despite the cat having an ear tip, which is the universal sign that a TNR caregiver has spent time and effort neutering, vaccinating and releasing the cat, the shelter labeled the cat feral and killed the animal on September 5, 2018.

Ginger, Cinnamon and Chino were surrendered by their owner to Franklin Township Animal Shelter on June 13, 2018. As of the time I received the shelter’s intake and disposition records in March 2019, Ginger, who was described by the shelter as “very friendly”, did not have an outcome. The shelter noted Cinnamon was diabetic and killed her on August 31, 2018. No records provided to me indicate any effort to treat her or find a live outcome for her. Franklin Township Animal Shelter described Chino as “Mean Aggressive”, even though he lived in a home, and killed him on June 28, 2018 just 15 days after he arrived at the shelter. Once again, the shelter made no attempts to socialize Chino or find a live outcome.

Clearly, Franklin Township Animal Shelter kills many animals for absurd reasons and does not adopt out nearly enough animals. As a result, the shelter kills too many animals.

In my next blog, I’ll examine whether Franklin Township Animal Shelter violates state law.

Bergen County Animal Shelter Keeps on Killing Pets in 2018

Over the last several years, I wrote numerous blogs about the high kill Bergen County Animal Shelter. You can view my blog from last year here. That blog also includes links to my prior Bergen County Animal Shelter blogs.

These blogs revealed Bergen County Animal Shelter killed huge numbers of animals for absurd reasons. Additionally, the shelter illegally killed animals during the state’s seven day protection period.

Was Bergen County Animal Shelter still a high kill facility in 2018? Does the shelter comply with state law?

Shelter Kills Dogs at a High Rate

Bergen County Animal Shelter continued to kill many dogs in 2018. You can view all the shelter’s dog and cat intake and disposition records here. Overall, 10% of all dogs, 24% of pit bulls, 4% of small dogs and 10% of other medium to large sized breeds lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter during the year. As a comparison, only 1% of all dogs, 1% of pit bulls, 2% of small dogs and 1% of other breeds lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018 despite that shelter taking in many more dogs in total and on a per capita basis. If we just count dogs who Bergen County Animal Shelter had to find new homes for (i.e. excluding dogs reclaimed by their owners), 18% of all dogs, 36% of pit bulls, 8% of small dogs and 18% of other medium to large sized breeds were killed or died at the shelter. To put it another way, around 1 in 5 nonreclaimed dogs, more than 1 in 3 nonreclaimed pit bulls and around 1 in 5 nonreclaimed other medium to large size breeds lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter. Thus, all types of medium to larger size dogs entering the Bergen County Animal Shelter had a significant chance of losing their life.

Bergen County Animal Shelter hardly adopted out any dogs. Despite being a well-known county shelter in a high traffic area, the facility only adopted out 279 dogs during the year or less than one dog per day. Furthermore, 74 of those adoptions were small dogs, which shelters have to do little work to adopt out. Bergen County Animal Shelter only adopted out 131 medium to large size dogs, which included just 57 pit bulls and 74 other medium to large size breeds. This works out to less than five pit bull adoptions and around six other medium to large size breed adoptions a month.

The shelter also sent very few medium to large size dogs to rescues. While my recent dog report card blog on the state’s shelters showed Bergen County Animal Shelter had plenty of space to adopt out all of its nonreclaimed dogs, one would think the facility would at least try to send dogs it was going to kill to rescues instead. In fact, Bergen County Animal Shelter only sent 26 out of 360 medium-large size dogs to rescues and other shelters in 2018. Even worse, Bergen County Animal Shelter only transferred 3 out of 141 pit bulls to rescues and other shelters during the year. In fact, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed 11 times more pit bulls than it sent to rescues and other shelters. As a comparison, Elizabeth Animal Shelter sent 29 pit bulls to rescues in 2017 or 10 times as many as Bergen County Animal Shelter. Despite the shelter’s policy of contacting rescues prior to killing, I’ve personally never seen Bergen County Animal Shelter ever make a public plea to rescues to save dogs the shelter was going to kill. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter would rather kill medium to large size dogs than actually ask for help to save these animals.

Too Many Cats Lose Their Lives

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cat statistics in 2018 were also not good. Overall, 29% of cats lost their lives or went missing. If we just count cats the shelter had to find new homes for (i.e. excluding owner reclaims and cats “released” through TNR and other programs), 34% of these cats lost their lives. These death rates were 28% and 32% for cats one year and older and 11% and 11% for kittens that were 6 weeks to just under one year old. Thus, cats were not safe at Bergen County Animal Shelter.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s neonatal kitten statistics were far worse than the overall cat kill rate. Specifically, 62% of kittens under 6 weeks old lost their lives. If we only count animals that were not reclaimed or released, 94% of kittens under six weeks old lost their lives. Furthermore, if the 158 under 6 week old kittens listed under “released” went through the shelter’s TNR program, that raises serious ethical questions as young kittens have high mortality rates on the streets.

While I tabulated the cat statistics by age, I note the shelter’s cat age statistics were grossly inaccurate last year. Therefore, the shelter may have provided incorrect age information this year.

Most troubling, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cat death rates were significantly higher in 2018 than in 2017. The cat death rate increased from 16% to 29% while the nonreclaimed cat death rate rose from 20% to 34%. While Bergen County Animal Shelter’s dog statistics improved marginally, the shelter’s sharp increase in cat killing is alarming. Specifically, the number of cats killed increased from 277 cats to 420 cats while the number of cats who died or went missing increased from 17 cats to 149 cats.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cat statistics were also much worse than Austin Animal Center. While 28% of cats and 34% of nonreclaimed cats lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2017, only 4% of cats and 5% of nonreclaimed cats lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in 2018. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cats were seven times more likely to lose their lives than cats at Austin Animal Center.

Remarkably, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s underlying records revealed many differences from what it reported in the statistics it submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health. While the shelter likely complied with the state health department’s rules in counting cats who were brought in for TNR, these numbers significantly skew the shelter’s numbers. Based on the Shelter Animals Count methodology and common sense, shelters should not count cats they bring in only for purposes of neutering and releasing. The 2,525 cat difference between total outcomes on the New Jersey Department of Health report and the underlying records likely relate to the TNR program. Similarly, the 2,446 more cat adoptions on the state health department report also likely represent cats who were neutered and released. As a result, the state health department report significantly increased the denominator in kill and death rate calculations and therefore understated the shelter’s real kill and death rates.

Interestingly, the shelter’s state health department report had 71 killed cats in the “Other” outcomes category. However, the total cats killed and died/escaped were the same in the report sent to the state health department and the shelter’s underlying records. As a result, the kill rate statistics based on the state health department report understated the real kill rate.

Inability to Produce Critical Data

Unfortunately, I could not conduct a length of stay analysis as I did in the past due to the shelter’s new software system. Instead of using a well-known shelter software system, Bergen County Animal Shelter uses a program few people have heard of. When I requested intake and disposition records with intake dates and outcome dates, the shelter only provided me a small portion of the animals it took in. When I questioned this data, the shelter stated the software could only provide disposition dates for animals impounded within the last month. While I strongly believe the shelter must legally provide a custom report prepared by the software provider under the Open Public Records Act of New Jersey, I did not wish to delay this blog due to a protracted legal case.

Frankly, I’m shocked Bergen County Animal Shelter uses software that can’t produce key length of stay data. Length of stay, broken out by key animal populations, intake categories and outcomes, is essential for shelters to monitor performance and plan for the future. For example, increased average lengths of stay can lead to overcrowding and increased disease rates as well as higher costs. The fact Bergen County Animal Shelter switched from a shelter software that easily produced this data to a new program that can’t speaks volumes about the incompetence of the shelter’s leadership.

Illegal Killing of Animals Before Seven Days

While Bergen County Animal Shelter could not provide length of stay data for all animals, it could produce length of stay data for animals who had an outcome within a month after they arrived at the facility. Therefore, I was able to identify animals the shelter killed before state’s seven day protection period ended. You can see a list of the animals here.

New Jersey animal shelter law clearly states shelters must not kill animals, whether they are strays or owner surrenders, for at least seven days. Furthermore, the New Jersey Department of Health issued guidance summarizing the law’s requirements:

Pursuant to State law (N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.16 a. through l.) all municipalities must have a licensed animal impoundment facility (pound) designated where stray and potentially vicious animals can be safely impounded. Impounded stray animals shall be held at the pound for at least seven days (i.e., 168 hours) from the time impounded before the animal is offered for adoption or euthanized, relocated or sterilized, regardless of the animal’s temperament or medical condition.

Animals that are voluntarily surrendered by their owners to licensed pounds or shelters shall be offered for adoption for at least seven days prior to euthanasia or shelter/pound management may transfer the animal to an animal rescue organization facility or a foster home prior to offering it for adoption if such a transfer is determined to be in the best interest of the animal.

In practice, the New Jersey Department of Health allows shelters to euthanize animals during the seven day hold period if both of the following conditions are met as discussed in this section of the New Jersey Department of Health’s July 30, 2009 inspection report on Associated Humane Societies-Newark.

  1. If a veterinarian deems euthanasia necessary for humane reasons to prevent excessive suffering when illness and injury is severe and the prognosis for recovery is extremely poor
  2. Only a licensed veterinarian should perform euthanasia in the above situation and they must clearly document the humane rationale in the animal’s medical record

Bergen County Animal Shelter killed large numbers of animals before seven days. Overall, the shelter killed 134 dogs and cats prior to seven days. 129 of the 134 animals killed during the seven day protection period were cats. While some cats may have been hopelessly suffering, its highly unlikely most of these animals were. For example, my blog for 2017, my blog for 2016 and my blog for 2015 uncovered numerous animals the shelter illegally killed before seven days and the animals were not hopelessly suffering. Furthermore, several animals in the 2018 list of killed animals before seven days had reasons for surrender, such as as allergy, aggression and losing home, that indicated the animals were not hopelessly suffering.

Bergen County Health Department’s Bogus Inspections of Itself

The Bergen County Health Department runs the Bergen County Animal Shelter and inspects itself. As expected, the Bergen County Health Department gave itself a “Satisfactory” grade in 2017. The inspection report, which contained illegible handwriting, looked like someone spent two minutes preparing it. Similarly, the Bergen County Health Department did the same thing in its December 27, 2018 inspection report. Most noteworthy, the inspector completely missed the animals Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed before seven days in both 2017 and 2018. As of August 28, 2019, the Bergen County Health Department has not inspected Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2019.

Bergen County Animal Shelter should not have had a license to operate for nearly six months in 2018 and around two months and counting in 2019. Under N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.8(b), a shelter’s license expires on June 30th each year. N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.2 requires a shelter to comply with state law and receive a Certificate of Inspection for the current licensing year. In other words, a shelter must be inspected and found to comply with state law by June 30th of each year to have a license to operate. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter should not have had a license to operate for nearly six months in 2018 and should not have a license to operate the shelter as of August 28, 2019.

Bergen County Residents Must Demand Much More

Sadly, Bergen County Animal Shelter continues to fail the animals entrusted in its care. Despite its $2.6 million budget or $970 per dog and cat impounded, Bergen County Animal Shelter continues to kill large numbers of its animals. As you see in the table below, Bergen County Animal Shelter receives more government funding per impounded animal than Austin Animal Center and kills dogs at rates ranging from 4-18 times more than Austin Animal Center. Similarly, Bergen County Animal Shelter kills cats at rates ranging from 3-13 times more than Austin Animal Center. Thus, Bergen County taxpayers are getting ripped off by this failing animal shelter.

Clearly, Bergen County continues to operate a regressive animal shelter. As I discussed previously, Bergen County residents should be outraged that their tax dollars support a high kill shelter that conducts illegal activities and their elected leaders tried to deceive their constituents into believing it was “no kill.” If you live in Bergen County, please contact the following elected representatives and tell them you expect Bergen County to hire a top notch shelter director who will adopt the 11 step No Kill Equation and achieve live release rates well over 95% like Austin, Texas and many other communities have.

  • James Tedesco III, Bergen County Executive: 201-336-730; countyexecutive@co.bergen.nj.us
  • Tracy Silna Zur, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-628; Tracyzur@co.bergen.nj.us
  • Thomas J. Sullivan, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6277; tsullivan@co.bergen.nj.us 
  • Joan M. Voss, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6279; jvoss@co.bergen.nj.us
  • Mary J. Amoroso, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6275; mamoroso@co.bergen.nj.us 
  • David L. Ganz, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6280; DavidLGanz@co.bergen.nj.us 
  • Germaine M. Ortiz, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6276; gortiz@co.bergen.nj.us 
  • Steven A. Tanelli, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6278; STanelli@co.bergen.nj.us 

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.