Elizabeth’s Breed Specific Legislation and Other Anti-Animal Laws

Update 5/13/16: On May 11, the Elizabeth City Council passed a repeal of the BSL ordinance and it will take effect 20 days later. I want to commend the City Council and the Health Officer for taking this action.

Update: 4/22/16: Elizabeth’s Health Officer states the city does not enforce Elizabeth’s Breed Specific Legislation due to state law overriding the municipal code. However, I believe Elizabeth must revoke the law due to citizens reading the law and believing that it applies in Elizabeth. Additionally, we have no guarantees the city will not enforce the law in the future. Furthermore, the law sends the wrong message about pit bulls to the public.

In my last blog, I criticized Elizabeth’s elected officials for running a regressive pound. However, the city’s laws also affect animals and their owners. Do these laws help the animal shelter save lives or make shelter killing more likely? Does the city’s animal statutes protect or break the human-animal bond in the city?

Breed Specific Legislation is Ineffective

Breed Specific Legislation (“BSL”) is designed to regulate pit bull like dogs and certain other breeds in order to protect the public from these animals. All the major national animal welfare groups except for PETA oppose BSL. The following groups publicly came out against BSL:

  1. American Bar Association
  2. American Kennel Club (“AKC”)
  3. ASPCA
  4. American Veterinary Medical Association
  5. American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior
  6. Animal Farm Foundation
  7. Association of Pet Dog Trainers
  8. Best Friends Animal Society
  9. British Veterinary Association
  10. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (“CDC”)
  11. Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”)
  12. National Animal Care and Control Association
  13. National Canine Research Council
  14. Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – Australia
  15. Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – United Kingdom
  16. United Kennel Club (“UKC”)
  17. United States Department of Justice
  18. President Obama’s Administation

BSL is ineffective and costly. Multiple case studies show serious dog bites do not decrease after BSL is enacted. Furthermore, funds used to enforce BSL are diverted from saving shelter animals and other productive uses. Additionally, cities could face significant litigation costs when enforcing these laws against owners of restricted breeds. Also, people may not license their dogs due to the fear of being targeted by authorities. Lower dog licensing rates lead to fewer owners reclaiming their animals from shelters and increased shelter killing as well as operating costs. Finally, these laws tarnish the reputation of communities that enact BSL.

Elizabeth’s BSL Makes Pit Bulls and Their Owners Seem Like Criminals

Elizabeth requires owners of pit bulls to obtain a special pit bull license in addition to a regular dog license. While this may not seem like a big deal, the law sends the message that pit bulls are different and more dangerous than other dogs. Requiring owners to obtain a special pit bull license stigmatizes owners and their dogs. After all, if the city believes pit bulls are dangerous, why shouldn’t landlords fear these animals? This government sponsored discrimination encourages rental polices preventing tenants from owning pit bull like dogs. Fewer housing options in turn results in more people surrendering their pit bulls to the shelter and increased killing. Given that around 1 of 3 unclaimed pit bulls lost their lives at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter in 2015, this is a very serious problem. Thus, the special license makes owners and their dogs feel like criminals and feeds the cycle of discrimination against people and their pit bull like dogs.

Elizabeth’s restrictions on walking pit bull like dogs are disgraceful. Elizabeth’s city code states “No person under the age of eighteen (18) years may own, control, attempt to control or walk a pit bull.” In other words, a family’s teenage son or daughter cannot walk their own pit bull like dog legally in the city. If a parent’s teenage son or daughter does walk the family’s pit bull, the parent or other adult owner of the dog could face a sentence of of up to 6 months in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine (applies to any violation of the city’s anti-pit bull law). To make matters worse, the city requires owners to muzzle their pit bulls, use a steel leash and collar, and carry a device that can pry open the dog’s jaws when walking their pit bull. Honestly, Elizabeth’s laws make it nearly impossible for any pit bull owner to legally walk their dog. Additionally, people can’t walk more than one pit bull at a time even if such dogs are fully under the person’s control. Furthermore, Elizabeth requires pit bull owners to put up visible signs at their homes “advising of the presence of a pit bull and its potential viciousness.” Finally, the city confiscates the owner’s pit bull (i.e. takes to the city’s kill shelter) if the owner violates the law on two occasions. Thus, Elizabeth’s laws treat all pit bulls and their owners as convicted criminals.

Dog Licensing and Animal Shelter Fees Go to Elizabeth and Not the Animal Shelter

Elizabeth requires all dog license and animal shelter fees paid by the public go to general government purposes rather than to the animal shelter. Assuming Elizabeth’s residents own a similar number of dogs as people in the United States as a whole and each resident paid $10 on average for their dog license (the fees are $12 and $8 for intact and altered dogs) and 25% of those dog owners licensed their animals, the city could have provided over $76,000 to its animal shelter. As a comparison, the Elizabeth Health Department’s 2015 budget only showed $167,722 specifically allocated to animal control and sheltering. If Elizabeth simply earmarked these estimated dog licensing fees to its shelter, the city would have $106 more to spend on each unclaimed dog and cat arriving at the shelter. The city could use these licensing fees to pay for spay/neuter and vaccinations for all animals the shelter adopts out and sends to rescues. Thus, Elizabeth should change its laws to ensure dog licensing fees go to funding the animal shelter and not the general operations of the city government.

Adopters Threatened with Massive Fines

Elizabeth’s city code threatens adopters with significant fines if the adopter does not spay/neuter and vaccinate their animals within 30 days. As I mentioned in my previous blog, the city has chutzpah to require adopters to spay/neuter their animals when the shelter itself refuses to do so. Upon reviewing the Elizabeth’s statutes, I found it is even worse. Specifically, adopters must alter their animal as well as get a rabies vaccine within 30 days or face a $250 fine for each offense (i.e. $500 if neither is done within 30 days). If the person commits the offense a second time, say they adopt two animals at different times, the fines double and could total up to $1,000. In a city like Elizabeth, where many residents face serious economic challenges, 30 days may not be enough time to find a vet to provide low-cost spay/neuter services and a city or privately run low-cost or free rabies clinic. Thus, a person seeking to do right by animals and adopt could face severe financial penalties for failing to do the very things the city of Elizabeth refused to do.

Pet Limit Law Leads to Increased Shelter Killing

Elizabeth’s pet limit law results in increased shelter intake and fewer available homes for animals at the shelter. The city restricts households from owning more than any combination of five dogs and cats (households owning more than 5 licensed animals before this ordinance was enacted are exempted). While the city allows people to petition the Director of the Health and Human Services to house more than five animals, I highly doubt many people would try. First and foremost, if the city denies the pet owner’s petition, the person will have to get rid of a family member. Most people would simply take their chances with the authorities not finding out. Second, the Director of Health and Human Services can deny the petition if he or she views the animals as a “nuisance”, which has nothing to do with animal welfare. The ASPCA, HSUS, Best Friends and the No Kill Advocacy Center all oppose these laws as these statutes waste scarce resources that cities can use to save animals and lead to increased shelter killing. Cities should pursue policies that keep animals with their loving families and increase the number of good homes for animals in shelters. Thus, Elizabeth’s pet limit law hurts Elizabeth’s dogs and cats and pet owning residents.

Secretive Dog Control Committee Not Conducive to Running a Successful Shelter

The city’s animal laws delegate the design of Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s policies to three council members serving on the Dog Control Committee. First and foremost, politicians should not design detailed animal shelter policies. Certainly, the Dog Control Committee can set overall goals and the general types of programs the shelter should have, but it should not dictate how the shelter is run on a day to day basis unless the shelter’s leader is incompetent. In that type of environment, you will have great difficult attracting and retaining a dynamic and compassionate leader to to run the shelter. Second, the city must disclose the members of the Dog Control Committee and the shelter’s policies to provide transparency as to what exactly happens at this facility as the ASPCA recommends.

Elizabeth’s Police Department and Animal Control Department Can Kill Animals for Dubious Reasons

Elizabeth’s city code allows police officers and ACOs to “kill any dangerous animals of any kind when it is necessary for the protection of any person or property.” While killing an animal that poses a serious danger to a person may be a necessary evil that occurs rarely, killing any animal “for the protection of property” is unacceptable. Under that standard, the city’s police or animal control personnel can kill a scared, abused dog abandoned in an apartment that was biting the door to get out.

Elizabeth  Must Change its Animal Laws to Become a Humane Community

Elizabeth’s elected officials clearly need to overhaul their animal laws. The city treats pit bull owners like common criminals and perpetuates discrimination against these people and their dogs. Elizabeth must change laws leading to increased killing at its shelter. Furthermore, the city must remove the curtain hiding the secretive Dog Control Committee and its policies. While the city’s animal control employees may not enthusiastically enforce these laws, Elizabeth residents are always at risk of that changing. In addition, the presence of these laws sends the wrong message and communicates either the city cares little about animals and/or is not serious about enforcing its own laws. Most Elizabeth residents would be appalled if they knew these laws existed in their city. The time has come for Elizabeth’s elected officials to act. The sooner these laws become past history the better.

Elizabeth’s Enigma of an Animal Shelter (Part 2 of 2)

In my last blog, I discussed the recent history of the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Specifically, I wrote about how the shelter’s illegal killing of Jennifer Arteta’s two dogs, Daphne and Rocko, during the 7 day hold period in June 2014 sparked an effort to reform the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Additionally, I analyzed the shelter’s 2015 statistics to see if the changes the shelter made improved the plight of animals entering the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. To read Part 1 of this blog, please click this link.

Part 2 of this blog analyzes Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s compliance with New Jersey shelter laws. This blog also examines the shelter’s recent actions. Finally, I provide an answer to the question as to whether the Elizabeth Animal Shelter still needs reform.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Illegally Kills Massive Numbers of Animals Prior to the End of the 7 Day Hold Period

Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed animals during the 7 day hold before and after the illegal killing of Daphne and Rocko. Despite Daphne being playful and Rocko loving to cuddle, Elizabeth Animal Shelter wrote “aggressive” on their intake and disposition records and killed them on the day the two dogs arrived at the shelter. Under New Jersey shelter law, shelters cannot kill any animal, whether stray or surrendered by their owners, until after 7 full days. Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 48 dogs and 35 cats in 2014 prior to the end of the 7 day hold period. To put it another way, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 49% of the dogs and 85% of the cats it killed in 2014. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 25 dogs and 14 cats in 2014 after News 12 New Jersey reported Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s illegal killing of Daphne and Rocko. Even worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter resumed the illegal killings less than a month after the News 12 story came out and the related uproar. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter thumbed its nose at animal advocates, state law and all Elizabeth pet owners.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter continued to illegally kill animals during the 7 day hold period in 2015. Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 28 dogs and 96 cats during the 7 day hold period in 2015. To state it another way, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 53% of the dogs and 86% of the cats it killed in 2015. In addition, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 9 of those dogs and 5 of those cats after the New Jersey Department of Health issued a memo on October 20, 2015 reminding all shelters that it is illegal to kill animals during the 7 day hold period. Under New Jersey law, shelters technically can’t kill animals who are hopelessly suffering during the 7 day hold period, but the New Jersey Department of Health generally does not go after shelters if a veterinarian documents the animal was hopelessly suffering in a detailed manner. While Elizabeth Animal Shelter labeled some animals as “sick” or “medical euthanasia”, the city provided no veterinary records proving these animals were in fact hopelessly suffering. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed even more animals in 2015 than 2014.

You can find all the intake and disposition records for 2014 here and for 2015 here.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Illegally Adopts Out and Sends Stray Animals to Rescues During the 7 Day Hold Period

Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally adopted out and sent large numbers of dogs and cats to rescues during the 7 day stray/hold period in 2014. Under New Jersey shelter law, shelters must hold stray animals for 7 days prior to adopting those pets out or sending them to rescues. The law is designed to provide pet owners a reasonable opportunity to find their animals. In 2014, Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out/transferred to rescues 21 stray dogs and 120 stray cats during their stray/hold periods. 13% and 36% of all dogs and cats Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out/sent to rescues were done so illegally in 2014. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter violated the 7 day stray hold period on a massive scale in 2014.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter continued to illegally adopt out and send large numbers of animals to rescues during the 7 day hold period in 2015. In 2015, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally adopted out/transferred to rescues 30 dogs and 75 cats. 14% and 25% of all dogs and cats Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out/sent to rescues were done so illegally in 2015. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed or adopted out/sent to rescues 106 of 171 stray cats or 62% of these animals during the 7 day stray/hold period in 2015. Similarly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed or adopted out/sent to rescues 35 out of 209 stray dogs or 17% of these animals during the 7 day stray/hold period in 2015. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter willfully violated state shelter law and potentially prevented scores of animals from finding their families.

While I can understand Elizabeth Animal Shelter feels pressure to place animals quickly with its small facility, the shelter’s actions are not justified. Certainly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s limited space causes the shelter to fill up quickly. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter did not appear to consistently use its full capacity. The following table compares the “required length of stay” or the maximum time the shelter could keep each animal on average before it runs out of room each month with the average length of of stay for these periods. In other words, this metric estimates how much shelter capacity was used. As you can see, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only used around 61% and 27% of its dog and cat capacity on average during the year. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter did not come close to reaching its maximum capacity in any one month.

Elizabeth Dog Capacity Used

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (25)

Clearly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s space constraints did not force it to adopt out and send animals to rescues during the 7 day stray/hold period. The city and the shelter simply wanted to save money and do less work by handing animals to rescues as quickly as possible.

To further support the shelter having enough space to obey the state’s 7 day hold period, I recalculated Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s average length of stay if it kept animals for the required 7 day hold period. If the shelter held animals it either illegally killed or adopted out or sent to rescues during the 7 day hold period for 7 days, the shelter’s average length of stay would only rise to 6.3 days for cats and 8.2 days for dogs. As a comparison, the shelter’s required length of stay each month was significantly below these figures (8.8 days to 62 days for cats and 9.2 days to 25.7 days for dogs). Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter did not have to violate the state’s 7 day hold law to avoid overcrowding.

Animals Killed Off the Books

Elizabeth Animal Shelter took a number of injured and sick animals directly to an outside veterinarian and did not report doing so in its intake and disposition records. The veterinarian killed/euthanized almost all of these animals (3 dogs, 12 cats plus a number of wild animals). While many were hopelessly suffering, the veterinarian’s invoices inadequately documented the reason for killing/euthanasia in some cases. The example below provides one such example where the veterinarian killed a cat and listed the animal as “injured” without any specific details:

Elizabeth Vet Invoice

Furthermore, the shelter provided me no additional veterinary records in response to my OPRA requests. Given this veterinarian killed most of these dogs and cats on behalf of Elizabeth Animal Shelter prior to the 7 day hold period, the inadequate documentation represents additional shelter law violations. Also, I could not find any of these animals included in the Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records. Therefore, the shelter violated N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13 which requires intake and disposition data on every single impounded animal. Finally, the shelter’s inability to count these animals in its records raises questions as to whether the shelter is also killing other animals off the books.

If I add these dogs and cats to the intake and disposition records, the shelter’s death rates increase by 1-2 percentage points:

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (23).jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (24)

Highly Questionable Categorization of Animals as Owner Surrenders

Elizabeth Animal Shelter classified an unusually large number of dogs and cats as owner surrenders. Specifically, the shelter classified 42% of dogs and 60% of cats as being surrendered by their owners. As a comparison, New Jersey animal shelters as a whole only classified 32% and 27% of stray and surrendered dogs and cats as owner surrenders in 2014. Furthermore, shelters serving poor areas, such as Liberty Humane Society (20% of both stray and owner surrendered dogs and cats classified as surrendered by owners), Camden County Animal Shelter (28% and 19% of stray and owner surrendered dogs and cats classified as surrendered by owners), and Atlantic County Animal Shelter (19% and 11% of stray and owner surrendered dogs and cats classified as surrendered by owners), categorized much lower percentages of animals as owner surrenders. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter placed unusually large numbers of animals into the owner surrender category.

In fact, per the records I reviewed, the shelter classified nearly every single animal turned in by a person as an owner surrender. However, in reality, shelters receive significant numbers of strays from people finding animals and turning them over to the shelter. Below is an example of one of the shelter’s animal surrender forms (I removed certain information to protect the person’s personal information). As you can see, the form does not state the person surrendering the animal is the owner nor does the form seek any documentation that the animal is in fact owned by the person.

Elizabeth Surrender form.jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s convenient classification of most animals as owner surrenders rather than strays reduces costs and saves shelter staff from doing more work. Under current state law, shelters must hold all strays for 7 days to provide the animal’s owner the opportunity to get their family member back. If Elizabeth Animal Shelter classifies the animal as an owner surrender rather than a stray under current law, the shelter can immediately hand the animal over to a rescue instead of caring for the animal for 7 days. Prior to 2011, the shelter could also immediately kill an owner surrendered animal upon intake. As discussed above, Elizabeth Animal Shelter still operates as if the old law relating to owner surrendered animals was still in place and often kills owner surrenders during the 7 day hold period. To make matters worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only accepts owner surrenders on Thursdays, the day its part-time veterinarian comes to the shelter, and kills large numbers of so-called owner surrenders on that day. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 77 or 72% of the 107 “owner surrender” dogs and cats it killed in 2015 on the day the shelter accepted those animals. In other words, just like Daphne and Rocko, Elizabeth Animal Shelter conveniently classifies animals as owner surrenders to kill them as soon as possible, even if doing so is illegal.

Records Raise Serious Questions as to Whether Elizabeth Animal Shelter Humanely Euthanizes Animals 

Elizabeth 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, 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. Additionally, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s records do not state what specific euthanasia drug the facility used for each animal. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s euthanasia records do not indicate whether animals are in fact humanely euthanized.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter chooses to sedate rather than comfort animals prior to euthanasia. Specifically, the shelter injected Ketamine into nearly every animal to restrain them prior to administering a poison to kill the animals. The Humane Society of the United States Euthanasia Reference Manual states shelters should avoid using a preeuthanasia anesthetic and hold and comfort animals when appropriate:

When appropriate, it is often best practice to hold and comfort an animal for direct IV or IP injection of sodium pentobarbital rather than injecting a preeuthanasia anesthetic, but neglecting or refusing to use pre-euthanasia drugs when direct injection would cause the animal undue stress is equally ill-advised.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s decision to sedate virtually every animal instead of comforting these creatures speaks volumes about how the shelter feels about animals. While some animals are aggressive and require sedatives, surely not 163 of 164 cats and dogs were vicious or incapable of being comforted. After all, when you order the “owner surrenders” to come in on Thursdays for killing you don’t have time to hold and comfort animals. You just stick them with Ketamine and then poison them to death.

To make matters worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s use of pure Ketamine as a preeuthanasia drug is cruel. The Humane Society of United State Euthanasia Reference Manual states shelters should not use Ketamine alone to sedate an animal for killing as it makes the animal’s muscles rigid and the injection stings so much that the animal reacts very negatively to it. If that was not bad enough, large doses can cause convulsions and seizures.

Ketamine (available commercially as Ketaset, Ketaject, and others) is an anesthetic agent that renders an animal completely immobile. However, when used alone it can cause the muscles to become rigid, causing the body to  stiffen. It also stings so much upon injection that it creates a fairly pronounced reaction in most animals. Moreover, in large doses it can produce convulsions and seizures. For these reasons, ketamine is recommended for use only when combined with another drug (like xylazine to create PreMix, above), that tempers these negative effects.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also used excessive doses of Ketamine. Elizabeth Animal Shelter administered 1.5 cubic centimeters of Ketamine to virtually every adult cat. The product label states 1 milliliter, which equals 1 cubic centimeter, of the Ketamine drug contains 100 milligrams of the active Ketamine ingredient. In addition, the product label states cats requiring restraint should receive a dose of 5 milligrams/pound of cat. The product label also states veterinary personnel should use a dose of 10-15 milligrams/pound of cat to produce anesthesia. Based on most cats weighing 8 pounds, that means the cats should have only received 40-120 milligrams or 0.4-1.2 cubic centimeters of the Ketamine drug. In other words, Elizabeth Animal Shelter provided doses up to 4 times greater than the label indicates. In addition, cats weighing as little as 5 pounds, which would require 0.25-0.75 cubic centimeter doses per the product label, also received the 1.5 cubic centimeter dose. Given large doses can “produce convulsions and seizures”, this indicates many animals could have experienced agony prior to their killing.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also used incorrect doses of its euthanasia drug assuming it used sodium pentobarbital or Fatal Plus. Per the Humane Society of United States Euthanasia Reference Manual, shelters should use 1 cubic centimeter of Fatal Plus per 10 pounds of animal body weight for intravenous and heart sticking injections and 3 cubic centimeters of Fatal Plus per 10 pounds of animal body weight for intraperitoneal injections. For an 8 pound cat, that would equal 0.8 cubic centimeters of Fatal Plus. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter used 2 cubic centimeters of its euthanasia drug for just about every adult cat weighing 8 pounds and for most adult cats of different weights. If the shelter used intraperitoneal injections on the 8 pound cats, that would require 2.4 cubic centimeters of the drug compared to the 2 cubic centimeters used by the shelter. Animals receiving too small of a dose may have been still alive before being dumped in the trash or an incinerator if the shelter used intraperitoneal injections. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s use of these drugs raises serious questions about whether the facility humanely euthanizes animals.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s euthanasia logs list questionable weights for the animals and raise questions as to whether the shelter actually weighed the animals. Under N.J.A.C. 8:23A-1.11 (f) 3 and 4, shelters must weigh each animal and keep a log of those body weights as well as the drugs used to immobilize and euthanize the animals. Almost all the adult cats weighed exactly 8 pounds. Additionally, most of the weights listed for dogs were convenient numbers, such as 60, 65, and 80 pounds. Frankly, I find it highly unlikely that many dogs just happened to weigh in at these user friendly amounts.

Perhaps the most egregious example was Elizabeth Animal Shelter listing a groundhog weighing 40 pounds in its euthanasia log below. Groundhogs typically weigh from 4-9 pounds with 31 pounds being the maximum weight. Now either Elizabeth Animal Shelter impounded the largest groundhog in world history or it didn’t actually weigh the animal. Conveniently, the animal preceding this mammoth sized groundhog was a raccoon weighing the same 40 pounds.

Elizabeth Groundhoug weight.jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s questionable record keeping raise concerns about whether controlled substances at the shelter are secure. If the shelter reports using more of these controlled substances than they actually do (i.e. a possibility if they are in fact running a humane operation), that provides staff the opportunity to steal some of these drugs. In the case of Ketamine, this is a highly sought after black market recreational drug. As a result, the shelter’s euthanasia records raise concerns that go beyond animal welfare.

Shelter Budget Reflects Misguided Priorities

Elizabeth spends almost its entire shelter budget on employee salaries. Unlike most municipalities that separately disclose the animal shelter’s budget, Elizabeth buries the shelter’s projected expenditures within its Health Department budget. The Health Department’s 2016 budget reveals the Elizabeth Animal Shelter pays salaries totaling $144,481 for its ACOs and $23,241 for a part-time veterinarian. In addition, the Health Officer, Mark Colicchio, who spends part of his time overseeing the shelter, receives a salary of $92,787 a year. Unfortunately, the budget provides no other details on animal shelter expenditures. Unless other animal shelters costs are covered in the $145,000 “Other Charges” line in the Health Department budget, the shelter devotes nearly 100% of its costs to paying people’s salaries and not on animal care.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s part-time veterinarian seems to do nothing more than come in and kill animals. Based on discussions I’ve had with several people familiar with the shelter, the part-time veterinarian works at the shelter every Thursday. As discussed above, the shelter only accepts “owner surrenders”, which seems to include both animals actually surrendered by their owners and stray animals found by people, on the day the veterinarian comes in. Sadly, the shelter kills many of these animals on that very day. In fact, that is exactly what happened to Daphne and Rocko. Despite requesting veterinary records under OPRA, the shelter provided me no such records other than those for emergency care performed by an outside veterinarian (most of these animals were euthanized). In other words, Elizabeth’s part-time veterinarian appears to receive around $450 to come in on each Thursday to kill animals.

Videos Reveal Poor Animal Sheltering Practices

In a recent video, Darcy Del Castillo and another ACO were not conducting behavioral evaluations according to the ASPCA’s guidance. Specifically, the ASPCA guidance states:

  1. The room should be quiet: no phones, intercoms, pagers, barking dogs, people talking, and animals housed here
  2. No distractions during the test such as phones, multi-tasking assessors, side conversations and smells that can capture the dog’s interest.
  3. Tester should hold leash with slack

During the video, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s evaluator uses a room filled with distractions, talks with another person, and tethers the dog on a tight leash to a kennel. Additionally, another staff member yells at the dog.

Furthermore, the shelter still conducts food guarding tests despite the ASPCA recommending that shelters stop using these inaccurate tests and instead provide all adopters information on how to manage food aggression. Many shelters classify and kill dogs for being food aggressive that don’t display food guarding in a home. Additionally, many dogs who pass food aggression tests in a shelter display the trait in a home setting. Thus, the shelter’s continued use of food aggression tests puts both animals and people at risk.

Another video shows an ACO using a chokepole on a friendly dog abandoned in a home. Given chokepoles can strangle a struggling dog, ACOs should only use these devices as a last resort. Frankly, this video speaks volumes about how some of Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s ACOs feel about animals.

Elizabeth Tries to Dupe the Public Into Believing the Shelter Saved Lots of Animals During the Holidays

In late December, a local news story raved about the job Elizabeth Animal Shelter is doing. The article, which appeared like it was hastily written by the Elizabeth Health Department, stated the shelter saved all of its animals prior to Christmas. Additionally, the news story mentioned positive changes began in the Fall of 2013 (actually it was in 2014) after the facility started evaluating animals and allowing people to post the shelter’s animals on social media. Furthermore, the article touted the city’s pet limit law and policy requiring adopters to alter their animals or face fines. Finally, the article praised Darcy Del Castillo’s sharing of animals on her Shelter Helpers Facebook page and also made a quick reference to the Friends of Elizabeth Animal Shelter Facebook page.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed many animals during the month of December. As the tables below show, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 44% and 20% of all non-reclaimed cats and dogs. In fact, the shelter’s kill rate in December was higher than the average for the year despite very low animal intake relative to most months. While the shelter labeled some of these animals as “sick” and “medical euthanasia”, the city provided me no actual veterinary documentation that these animals were in fact hopelessly suffering. Furthermore, the high kill rate makes it highly unlikely that most of these animals were in a permanent state of severe physical distress. Thus, Elizabeth failed to tell the public about its entire performance during the holiday season.Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (20)

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (28)

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter also violated the 7 day hold period during December 2015. The shelter illegally killed 7 dogs and cats prior the end of the 7 day hold period during December 2015. In fact, the facility illegally killed two owner surrendered cats on December 31 just before the New Years Day holiday. Furthermore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out/sent to rescue 3 stray dogs during their 7 day hold period in December 2015. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter patted itself on the back while it operated in an illegal manner.

Elizabeth’s touting of its more stringent animal control laws reveals a city putting into place policies that will take rather than save lives. First and foremost, the shelter’s hypocritical requirement that Elizabeth residents alter adopted dogs when the city shelter refuses to do so discourages adoptions. How many companies sell you a product with the threat of heavy fines if you don’t do what they say? Its like Toyota selling you an automobile without seat belts and fining you if you don’t put them in yourself. Frankly, that type of policy scares adopters away. Second, pet limit laws reduce the number of homes for animals and lead to increased shelter intake and killing. The ASPCA, HSUS, Best Friends and the No Kill Advocacy Center all oppose these laws as these statutes waste scarce resources that cities can use to save animals and lead to increased shelter killing. Furthermore, cities can enforce animal cruelty statutes without having pet limit laws. Thus, Elizabeth brags about animal control policies that exacerbate rather than reduce shelter killing.

The glowing Elizabeth Animal Shelter story failed to recognize many of the other people responsible for emptying the shelter out before last Christmas. Specifically, the press release failed to recognize Jennifer Arteta, who runs the Friends of Elizabeth Animal Shelter Facebook page mentioned in the story. Ms. Arteta was the owner of the two dogs, Daphne and Rocko, who Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed in June 2014 and who led the effort to reform the shelter. In addition, the story failed to mention the Union County Lost Pets Facebook group which actively promotes and finds placement for Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s animals. The person running the Union County Lost Pets group also worked to reform Elizabeth Animal Shelter after the Daphne and Rocko incident. As a result, the article failed to mention that the very people fighting against the city to reform the shelter played a key role in emptying out the Elizabeth Animal Shelter.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Still Needs Reform

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter has improved in some respects since it illegally killed Daphne and Rocko in June of 2014. Certainly, the shelter decreased its dog kill rate and Darcy Del Castillo deserves some credit. However, the shelter’s cat kill rate increased since Ms. Del Castillo’s arrival at the shelter. That being said, Elizabeth Animal Shelter is a far safer place for animals than the atrocious Associated Humane Societies-Newark shelter located a few miles away.

However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s improvement with dogs is primarily due to the rescue community and not the city or its shelter. After following Facebook pages, such as Union County Lost Pets and Friends of the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, and reviewing the shelter’s records, I can clearly see how hard local rescues, animal advocates and Elizabeth residents work to save animals from the shelter. The shelter basically throws out a terrible photo and tells the rescue community to save the animal or the dog or cat will die. Even the few animals the shelter adopts out are due to local animal advocates promoting the pets rather than the shelter itself. Other than Ms. Del Castillo, no one at the shelter appears to do anything proactive to save the animals. Even worse, the near 100% reliance on rescues likely results in little to no net increase in lifesaving in the region due to rescues pulling from Elizabeth Animal Shelter rather than other local kill shelters.

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter fails to even do basic animal sheltering. The shelter typically provides no veterinary care other than killing. The city does not spay/neuter or even vaccinate its animals. Furthermore, the shelter willfully violates New Jersey’s shelter laws relating to public operating hours and the 7 day hold period. In other words, the shelter still regularly does the very thing that sparked reform efforts at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Additionally, the shelter may be violating state shelter laws in the areas of humane euthanasia as well as record keeping.

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter also violates many of the standards of care advocated by the ASPCA. The ASPCA is a traditional shelter advocacy group and it typically recommends far lower standards than what no kill groups do. However, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter violates even these lower standards. Specifically, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter fails to do the following things:

  1. Have minimum standards for facilities, sanitation, medical protocols, and enrichment/socialization
  2. Shelters should never use the expiration of applicable holding periods or owner relinquishment as license to immediately euthanize animals simply because, at least legally, their “time is up”
  3. Shelters must provide clear notice to the public concerning shelter locations, hours, fees and the return-to-owner process
  4. Shelters should be accessible during reasonable hours to owners seeking to reclaim their pet. These hours should include some reasonable additional period of time beyond the typical workday (e.g. 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday) so that pet owners who may not have flexible work schedules have the best opportunity to reclaim their pets.
  5. Shelters should make written descriptions of key processes and information easily and readily available for public inspection.

Despite the increase in the facility’s dog live release rate, too many animals still lose their lives at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. 1 out of 3 pit bull like dogs and cats requiring new homes lose their lives at the shelter. In this day and age where animal control shelters in large cities, such as Jacksonville, Florida, Baltimore, Maryland, Salt Lake City, Utah, Portland, Oregon Austin, Texas, Atlanta, Georgia, Kansas City, Missouri, and Washington DC achieved or are close to reaching no kill status (90% or higher live release rate), we should expect far more from the Elizabeth Animal Shelter.

Elizabeth needs to operate its shelter using the no kill equation in an enthusiastic manner. The key programs are as follows:

NKE

For far too long, the city’s leaders have chosen to operate the Elizabeth Animal Shelter as cheaply as possible. The city’s shelter is literally located in a public works area hidden from public view.Elizabeth Dog Warden - Google Maps

City officials never expanded the facility, despite plenty of land being available, and allowed it to remain undersized. Furthermore, city officials compensated by violating its own residents’ rights by killing and transferring animals illegally during the 7 day hold period. Simply put, Elizabeth’s political leaders view homeless animals as trash and only allow rescuers to pick that trash up before its taken to the garbage dump.

Elizabeth residents should demand far more than an old school pound that expects rescues to save the day and completely pay the bills. Clearly, the city of Elizabeth’s residents have spoken up and taken actions that prove they desperately want a no kill city shelter. Just imagine what animal advocates could achieve if they had a city and a shelter determined to do its part in saving lives. Instead of desperately trying to take animals off of death row, these volunteers could urgently work with the shelter to treat, rehabilitate and quickly get homeless animals into permanent homes. In return, hundreds of people would come to the city to adopt, volunteer, donate funds to the shelter and spend money at local businesses.

If the city chooses to not operate the shelter according to state law as well as its residents’ desires, Elizabeth should issue an RFP to allow one or more of the rescues to take the facility over. Clearly, the city of Elizabeth is failing its animals and its pet owning residents. If elected officials won’t act, then its time for Elizabeth voters to replace these politicians with folks who will do the right thing for Elizabeth’s animals and citizens.

2014 Cat Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

Cats are losing their lives at an alarming rate in New Jersey animal shelters. Over 20,000 cats or 45% of the cats coming into New Jersey animal shelters in 2014 were killed, died, went missing or were unaccounted for. This blog explores the reasons why this tragedy is occurring and whether we can end the massacre. Additionally, I’ll try and answer the question whether shelters need to resort to neutering and releasing healthy friendly cats or not impounding these cats at all to avoid killing cats in shelters.

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 physical space. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey 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 save rates. The targeted outcomes take into account each facility’s physical capacity and the number of cats the organization receives from its community (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, cruelty cases). 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.

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, these kittens should not be held in a traditional shelter setting and instead need to go to foster homes or a kitten nursery at or outside of the shelter. During the months outside of kitten season (i.e. November – March), my model assumes shelters with enough physical space 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.

I modified the methodology for space-constrained shelters for this year’s analysis. Space constrained shelters do not have enough room to adopt out all of the animals they need to. Therefore, these shelters require rescue help. In the past, I assumed these shelters adopted out each cat based on the average time it takes to adopt out all cats. However, many cats require much less time to get adopted. Therefore, I assumed space-constrained shelters adopted out these animals first and then sent the cats taking longer to adopt out to rescues. While this significantly changed the results for space-constrained shelters, this assumption only had a minor impact on the overall results for all New Jersey animal shelters.

I also revised my analysis this year to put a cap on the targeted numbers of cats rescued from other shelters and cat adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I wanted to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animals shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita cat adoption rate less than half the level 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. 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 last year, 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 Pflugerville, Texas and the Maryville, Tennessee area, barn cat programs should be able to save most feral cats in similar communities. On the other hand, California’s Orange County Animal Care reported approximately 24% of the cats it took in during 2012, which was before it practiced TNR, were feral and euthanized. However, I suspect at least some of these cats were fearful rather than truly feral and could have been socialized and eventually adopted out. 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. Thus, the number of truly feral cats may be much lower than 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 last year’s blog.

The following analysis assumes shelters receive a reasonable number of truly feral cats. As a result, shelters can adopt out these cats through a barn cat program. 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 most of 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 45,162 New Jersey cats coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2014, 32,501 and 7,583 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 24,931 cats or more than three 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 go to 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 to save many cats from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out at least 17,348 cats from out of state shelters or New Jersey’s streets after achieving a greater than 90% live release rate for cats coming into the state’s animal shelters. In reality, the New Jersey shelter system could rescue more than 17,348 cats from out of state shelters or from New Jersey’s streets given the 17,348 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 into 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 2014 data):

  • New York City – 3,127 additional cats need saving
  • Philadelphia – 3,786 additional cats need saving

Certainly, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. Even if I assumed all of the out of state cats rescued by New Jersey animal shelters came from New York City and Philadelphia, that number is only 6% of the number that New Jersey shelters could rescue from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. While some of these cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters are young kittens which should not go into 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 6.4 cats per 1,000 people in the state (4.6 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:

  • Tompkins County SPCA (Ithaca, New York area) – 16.5 cats per 1,000 people
  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 11.1 cats per 1,000 people
  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 10.8 cats per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas area): 10.0 cats per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada area) – 9.3 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.

Additionally, the adoption target, 6.4 cats per 1,000 people, I set out for New Jersey animal shelters is lower than the state of Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate of 7.3 cats per 1,000 people. Given Colorado still has some regressive animal shelters and only an 82% live release rate for cats, Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate can increase. Thus, the cat adoption targets I laid out for New Jersey animal shelters are quite achievable.

2014 Cats 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 the death rates for cats at each New Jersey animal shelter. All cats missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Shelters having cat death rates equal to or less than 8% and greater than 8% 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. Based on the assumptions above, 15,791 savable cats lost their lives or went missing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2014. Obviously, some of these cats are truly feral and require TNR or placement as barn cats, but surely many others could be adopted out. Thus, New Jersey’s shelter system is failing its cats.

Several animal shelters in South Jersey and elsewhere account for a large percentage of the savable cats unnecessarily losing their lives. Specifically, Atlantic County Animal Shelter, Burlington County Animal Shelter, Camden County Animal Shelter, Cumberland County Animal Shelter and Gloucester County Animal Shelter account for 7,441 of the or 47% of the 15,791 cats needlessly losing their lives. Associated Humane Societies three shelters had 1,818 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2014. Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility had 1,344 cats lose their lives needlessly in 2014. Bergen County Animal Shelter, which happens to serve many towns in one of the country’s wealthiest counties, had 805 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2014. Collectively, these 11 shelters are 11% of the state’s shelters and account for 11,408 or 72% of the cats needlessly losing their lives.

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 93% in 2014. 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.

Several animal control shelters euthanized the targeted number of cats or fewer. Denville Animal Shelter, Ewing Animal Shelter, Byram Township Animal Shelter, Humane Society of Ocean County, Secaucus Animal Shelter, Trenton Animal Shelter and West Milford Animal Shelter prove municipal animal shelters can avoid killing healthy and treatable cats. While Bergen Protect and Rescue Foundation, North Jersey Humane Rescue Center and Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter reported low euthanasia rates and have animal control contracts, I cannot rely on their numbers due to the turmoil at these shelters during this time.

2014 Cat Death Rate

2014 Cat Death Rate (2)

2014 Cat Death Rate (3)

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 the overall number of cats rescued was about 82% of the amount needed for the state as a whole, the actual number was 41% since many cats were rescued from facilities which did not require so much rescue assistance. Only 23 out of the 76 facilities needing rescue assistance received the required support. In other words, only 30% 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 significantly exceeded their dog rescue needs, but only received 82% of their cat rescue requirements. 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 the Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”), 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 receiving the most extra rescue support were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 714 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Cape May County Animal Shelter – 224 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Paterson Animal Control – 221 more cats transferred than necessary (estimated due to the shelter’s incorrect reporting of rescues as adoptions)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 195 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Toms River Animal Facility – 181 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Elizabeth Animal Shelter – 140 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter 124 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter – 78 more cats transferred than necessary
  • East Orange Animal Shelter – 71 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Linden Animal Control – 65 more cats transferred than necessary

While Cape May County Animal Shelter is known as a progressive shelter, most of the other facilities are not good in my opinion. Local activists have campaigned to remove Toms River Animal Facility’s Shelter Director, Jim Bowen. Associated Humane Societies-Newark has a history of problems and kills animals for ridiculous reasons. Paterson Animal Control has no volunteer program, no social media page or even a website with animals for adoption. Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed two dogs last year on the day the animals arrived at the facility. Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter, East Orange Animal Shelter and Linden Animal Control were all investigated in the last year or two due to serious state shelter law violations. 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:

  • Cumberland County SPCA – 865 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Atlantic County Animal Shelter – 306 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Hamilton Township Animal Shelter – 293 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 292 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Vorhees Animal Orphanage – 219 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Camden County Animal Shelter – 177 fewer cats transferred than necessary

The million dollar question is why do these shelters receive very little rescue help? As you will see below, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts out many cats and is doing a good job. On the other hand, Gloucester County Animal Shelter pursues an aggressive catch and kill policy for feral cats, routinely illegally kills animals during the 7 day hold period, does not adopt out animals at the shelter on weekends, allows disease to spread like wildfire and violates New Jersey shelter laws to an outrageous degree. 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. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

2014 Cats Rescued

2014 Cats Rescued (2)

cr (3)

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 estimated 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 8 out of 97 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 cat adoption target by the most of any shelter in terms of total adoptions. Based on the the types of cats currently available for adoption and the cat death rate of 7%, Animal Welfare Association does not seem to just take in highly sought after cats. Animal Welfare Association has reasonable normal adoption fees of $95 for kittens and $65 for adult cats, but runs reduced and no adoption fee promotions as well. Animal Welfare Association also waives fees for certain cats who may take longer to adopt out, such as cats who are older or have behavioral 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. 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 all cats. Other rescue oriented shelters exceeding their adoption targets were Animal Adoption Center, Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge. Thus, several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their cat adoption targets and Animal Welfare Associated used a variety of innovative strategies to adopt out many cats.

Several animal control shelters also exceeded their adoption targets. Despite not being open many hours, West Milford Animal Shelter exceeded its adoption goal by the most of any animal control shelter in terms of total cat adoptions. 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.” Byram Township Animal Shelter also exceeded its adoption goal. While the shelter has very limited adoption hours, the shelter’s volunteer organization partner also holds frequent adoption days at high traffic retail stores. The shelter’s volunteer organization charges reasonable adoption fees of $75 and $85 for cats and kittens, but also offers discounts when two or more cats are adopted together. Also, adoption fees for senior and special needs cats are only $35, but those fees are currently reduced to $25 for the holiday season. The Humane Society of Ocean County also exceeded its cat adoption target. While the shelter’s hours are fairly limited, the regular adoption fees for cats and kittens are only $50. In addition, the shelter adopts out barn cats who otherwise could not go to most homes. Additionally, the shelter proudly markets itself as a no kill animal control shelter and has a modern in-house veterinary facility that helps keep cats healthy and adoptable. Vorhees Animal Orphanage came close to meeting its adoption goal. This shelter’s normal adoption fees are quite reasonable. For example, cats at the shelter for 6 months or longer are $30, senior cats are $50, adult cats are $65, and kittens are $100. The shelter also is open 7 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. 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 has a high cat death rate 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. My suggestion to these shelters is to find ways to use more of your facility’s capacity to expand your 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 5,542 cats is 35% of the 15,791 cats unnecessarily losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters. Associated Humane Societies has the funding to reach these adoption targets as the organization took in over $8 million of revenue last year. This works out to nearly $600 of revenue per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in per my Life Saving Model. As a comparison, Nevada Humane Society, KC Pet Project, and Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Society, which are no kill open admission shelters, took in only $219-$505 of revenue per dog and cat. Activists wanting to increase life saving in New Jersey should focus on changing Associated Humane Societies’ policies given the lifesaving potential of this organization.

Several other shelters had significant adoption shortfalls. Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adoption shortfall of 1,913 cats is quite disappointing. Bergen County is among the top 1% of the nation’s wealthiest counties and the shelter received nearly $500 of funding per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in based on direct support from Bergen County and the revenue from the local charity that helps support the shelter. Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s, Gloucester County Animal Shelter’s, Montclair Animal Shelter’s and East Orange Animal Shelter’s adoption shortfalls of 2,361 cats, 1,454 cats, 712 cats, and 253 cats are not surprising given the widely documented problems at these facilities during this time. Thus, many shelters with the ability to adopt out many cats are failing to do so.

2014 Cat adopt

2014 Cat adopt (2)

2014 Cat adopt (3)

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. 91 of the 97 shelters should rescue some cats from other local shelters. In fact, 50 of the 91 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single cat from other animal shelters. Only 3 shelters with significant amounts of space to rescue cats from nearby shelters met or exceeded their cat rescue target. 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.

2014 rescued cats

2014 rescued cats (2)

2014 rescued cats (3)

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 shelter 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 into the state’s shelter system. 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. 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 has pulled as many as 2,000 kittens a year from the city shelter and saved nearly 90% of these kittens in recent years through this bottle baby program. Best Friends created a kitten nursery in South Salt Lake City, Utah and saved 1,372 kittens from Salt Lake City area shelters. Similarly, several Jacksonville, Florida animal welfare groups created a nursery program called “Kitten University” which was “on track” to saving 1,400 kittens last year. 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 systems 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 nearly half of all cats entering New Jersey’s shelters dying, going missing or being unaccounted for, our state’s shelters are failing their cats.

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 ended 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 2014 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health.” Unfortunately, 2015 data will not be available until August 2016.

This data was then used as follows:

  • 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 2014 cat intake data on the New York Animal Care & Control web site.
  • 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 14.2 days at Texas’s Williamson County Animal Shelter, less than 18 days at Nevada Humane Society, 21 days at Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society, 32 days at Lynchburg Humane Society,  33 days (32 for cats and 34 for kittens) at New Hampshire SPCA, 35 days at Montana’s Flathead County Animal Shelter, 41 days at Colorado’s Ark Valley Humane Society, 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 21 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 rescue 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 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 kittens 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 ran 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 rescues 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.

2014 Dog Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

In my last blog, 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 physical space. Without having enough physical space, 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 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 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 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 dogs from nearby areas. The targeted results calculated from this model are compared to the actual or estimated actual results from each shelter below.

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

I modified the methodology for space-constrained shelters for this year’s analysis. Space constrained shelters do not have enough room to adopt out all of the animals they need to. Therefore, these shelters require rescue help. In the past, I assumed these shelters adopted out each dog based on the average time it takes to adopt out all dogs. However, many dogs require much less time to get adopted. Therefore, I assumed space-constrained shelters adopted out these animals first and then sent the dogs taking longer to adopt out to rescues. While this significantly changed the results for space-constrained shelters, this assumption only had a minor impact on the overall results for all New Jersey animal shelters.

I also revised my analysis this year to put a cap on the targeted numbers of rescued dogs 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 animals shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita dog adoption rate less than half the level found at some of the best animal control shelters. Similarly, the unmodified model yielded a statewide pit bull per capita adoption rate (2.1 pit bulls per 1,000 people) equal to one of the best animal control shelters in the country. In my opinion, New Jersey shelters could more easily achieve that pit bull adoption rate given my model has 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 most 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. See Appendix I at the end of this blog for a comparison of how the unmodified model’s results compare to the revised model with caps on rescued and adopted animals.

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 25,408 New Jersey dogs coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2014, 14,033 and 1,145 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 1,145 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.

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 8,603 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 2014 as follows:

  • New York City – 1,877 additional dogs need saving
  • Philadelphia – 2,113 additional dogs need saving

Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters could save another 4,613 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 (1.7 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:

  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 9.4 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 9.1 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada area) – 8.2 dogs per 1,000 people
  • KC Pet Project (Kansas City, Missouri) – 7.3 dogs per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out around three 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 0.7 pit bulls per 1,000 people to save 95% of New Jersey’s dogs. Our shelters would only need to adopt out around 1.4 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 2.1 pit bulls per 1,000 people based on its per capita pit bull intake and the percentage dog adoptions are of total outcomes at the shelter. Furthermore, the pit bull adoption targets are even more reasonable given the model assumes there are roughly 1/5 of the number of dogs from other breeds to compete with in the New Jersey adoption market compared to the Longmont, Colorado area.

TD Cap

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 table below details the local death rates for dogs from my last blog. Consistent with the Life Saving Model’s assumptions, the actual dogs euthanized/killed/died/missing assumes these dogs came from the local community. All dogs missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Shelters having local dog death rates less than and greater than 5% are highlighted in green and red in the table below.

Surprisingly, several rescue oriented shelters had very high local dog death rates. While this number may be higher if some rescued dogs are euthanized/killed (i.e. targeted number assumes no rescued dogs are killed/euthanized) or many terminally ill dogs are surrendered for owner-requested euthanasia, this may possibly point to overly strict temperament testing at these facilities. In the case of St. Hubert’s-Madison, which has a total dog death rate of 11% (i.e. percentage of all dogs taken in and not just community dogs), the total death rate may be artificially depressed by easy to adopt transported dogs. For the Humane Society of Atlantic County, which has no animal control contracts, the total dog death rate of 22% is shockingly high for a rescue oriented shelter and raises serious questions about how life and death decisions are made by this organization. The local death rates at other rescue oriented shelters, such as Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge and Common Sense for Animals (local death rates of 2% and 3%) are much lower than St. Hubert’s-Madison and the Humane Society of Atlantic County (local death rates of 23% and 69%).

Thus, I find it difficult to believe St. Hubert’s-Madison’s and Humane Society of Atlantic County’s larger than expected local death rate is due to them rescuing a large percentage of their dogs from other shelters.

The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Specifically, 12 out of 96 or 13% of the shelters accounted for 80% of the 3,364 unnecessary dogs unnecessarily losing their lives. Shelters with the greatest number of unnecessary dog deaths are as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark (693)
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter (306)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter (247)
  • Cumberland County SPCA (211)

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

Local Dog Death rate 2014

Local Dog Death rate 2014 (2)

Local Dog Death rate 2014 (3)

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. The table below compares 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.

Some New Jersey shelters are not receiving enough help from other animal welfare organizations. While the overall number of dogs rescued from all of the state’s shelters was more than needed, the actual number of dogs needing rescue was higher since many dogs were rescued from facilities who did not need any rescue assistance. Only 14 out of the 96 facilities require any rescue support. In other words, 82 of the 96 animal shelters in the state should not need rescues or other shelters to pull any dogs. As a result, 203 dogs were not rescued from shelters who truly need that support and instead were pulled from shelters not requiring this help.

Associated Humane Societies-Newark hogged up the most rescue support. Specifically, rescues and other shelters pulled 965 more dogs than needed from AHS-Newark. Even worse, AHS-Tinton Falls and AHS-Popcorn Park rescued far fewer dogs than they should. As a result of this poor performance, AHS diverted much needed rescue assistance from more needy shelters.

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

  • Hamilton Township Animal Shelter – 114 fewer dogs transferred than necessary
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 64 fewer dogs transferred than necessary

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. Furthermore, shelters can create or expand foster programs to increase the number of dogs cared for. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program 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.

DR Cap

DR Cap (2)

DR Cap (3)

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 5 out of 96 shelters met the adoptions goals computed by the Life Saving Model. 1 of the 5 facilities reaching the adoption targets (Denville Township Animal Shelter) had space to only place a small number of animals. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Several shelters exceeded or came close to achieving their adoption targets. Beacon Animal Rescue and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge adopted out more animals than I targeted. While these organizations are both rescue-oriented shelters that appear to pull fewer pit bulls than I target, these two shelters do at least have a reasonable number of pit bull like dogs up for adoption. Additionally, these shelters rescue animals primarily from other New Jersey animal shelters rather than transport large numbers of dogs from the south. While Animal Alliance and Country Lakes Animal Clinic exceeded their adoption targets, this result is due to these shelters pulling easier to adopt dogs (i.e. few pit bull like dogs) from other shelters. Large animal control shelters coming closest to reaching their adoption targets include St. Hubert’s-North Branch (88% of target) and Burlington County Animal Shelter (75% of target). Unfortunately, I have doubts about the accuracy of the adoption totals of some of the other large animal control shelters that came close to reaching their adoption targets.

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

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 1,827 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park – 830 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls – 706 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 621 fewer dogs adopted than targeted

Unsurprisingly, Associated Humane Societies has archaic adoption policies that make it more difficult to adopt than the procedures recommended from national animal welfare organizations.

Shelters transporting dogs from out of state also significantly failed to achieve their adoption targets for New Jersey dogs. In fact, shelters rescuing dogs from out of state facilities have a New Jersey dog adoption shortfall exceeding half the number of New Jersey dogs unnecessarily dying in our state’s shelters. Not surprisingly many of these facilities’ total adoptions including transported dogs exceeded the local dog adoption targets as most transported dogs are easier to adopt. These transporting shelters’ local adoption performance is even worse considering most of these organizations likely take in much more adoptable local dogs than my model targets. In addition, the revenues these transporting shelters bring in from adoption fees and dramatic fundraising stories likely divert funding from New Jersey animal control shelters. Thus, it is quite clear most transporting shelters are not doing their part in helping New Jersey’s homeless dogs.

DAd Cap

DAd Cap (2)

DAd Cap (3)

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 or other far away states (except for Animal Alliance due to the shelter stating it primarily pulls out of state dogs from Pennsylvania). 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. 87 of the 96 shelters should rescue some dogs from other local shelters. In fact, 54 of the 87 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single dog from a New Jersey animal shelter. Of the 87 shelters with the space to rescue dogs from nearby shelters, only Beacon Animal Rescue, Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge, Animal Welfare Association, Animal Alliance, County Lakes Animal Clinic, Pennsville Township Pound and Salem County Humane Society met or exceeded their local dog rescue targets. As mentioned above, scores for Animal Alliance, Country Lakes Animal Clinic and Animal Alliance are inflated due to these shelters 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.

r cap

res cap (2)

DRe Cap (3)

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, such as Woodbridge Animal Shelter, 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, ASPCA Pro’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 I – Animal Shelter Report Cards Without Adoption and Rescue Caps

Below are the shelter report cards’ targets using the model without caps for adopted and rescued animals. New Jersey shelters could adopt out nearly 7,000 or around 30% more dogs if I did not place a cap on dog adoption in certain counties. Overall, the unmodified model yields pit bull and dog per capita adoption rates of 3.5 dogs per 1,000 people and 2.1 pit bulls per 1,000 people in New Jersey. As a comparison, several animal control shelters per capita dog adoption rates are 2-3 times higher than this target and Longmont Humane Society’s per capita pit bull adoption rate is equal to this benchmark.

The dog adoption tables below compare the results using the modified and unmodified models for each shelter. Overall, the targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted were capped in Camden County, Cape May County, Essex County, Hunterdon County, Morris County, Ocean County, Salem County, Sussex County and Warren County. In other words, the targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted were capped in 9 of the 21 New Jersey counties.

App Tot

App Da

app a (2)

ress

Res App (2)

Appendix II – 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 2014 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the Office of Animal Welfare. Unfortunately, all the 2015 data will not be available until the end of August in 2016.

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 2014 dog intake data on the New York Animal Care & Control web site.
  • 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 and owner surrender hold 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 length of stay was taken directly from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare study. The average 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 2014. 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. 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.
  • 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 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 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 rescued and adopted were equal to this cap using the pit bull percentage assumptions above. For shelters in these counties, I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of dogs rescued and adopted for the county to equal the cap. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted rescues in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of rescues in the county to yield the targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted in the modified model.

2014 New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Show Little Improvement

East Orange Animal Shelter Dog

Most New Jersey animal shelters voluntarily report detailed data to state authorities. Last September, I shared the 2014 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) and disposed of (i.e. returned to owner, adopted, sent to rescue/another shelter, and died/missing). 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. 2014 statistics for each New Jersey animal shelter are listed at this link.

Garbage Data Raises Serious Questions About New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Statistics

Several animal shelters, which reported statistics in prior years, failed to submit data in 2014. Specifically, Livingston Animal Shelter, Hunterdon Hills Animal Hospital, All Pets Veterinary Hospital and Warren Animal Hospital disclosed this data in 2013, but did not do so in 2014. These shelters failure to disclose data raises serious questions. For example, are they trying to hide embarrassing statistics from the public?

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, 67 out of 96 shelters reporting these dog statistics and 68 out of 95 facilities submitting this cat data failed to get this right. This raises serious questions about the accuracy of these shelters’ reported statistics. Even worse, 42 of the 67 shelters with flawed dog statistics and 43 of the 68 facilities with incorrect cat statistics should have had more animals at the end of the year then reported. While these errors could have been due to incorrect counts of the number of animals at facilities, the more likely answer is many outcomes, such as animals killed, dying, or gone missing, were not recorded. Given 63% of the errors were due to shelters having less rather than more animals on hand at the end of the year than they should have had lends credence to the theory that errors were mostly due to shelters failing to account for various outcomes. To put it another way, 2,699 cats and dogs should have had outcomes reported and did not. Thus, there is the potential that as many as 2,699 additional dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing from New Jersey animal shelters than were reported in the last year.

Shelters may have failed to classify animals adopted out and sent to rescue 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, rescues I know who work closely with these two facilities told me both shelters rarely adopt animals directly to the public. This makes sense as neither shelter advertized animals for adoption (i.e. no adoption web site or social medial pages run by the two shelters) in 2014. 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 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 Shelter/Pound Annual Report mandatory for animal shelters 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/death rate calculated from the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report and the data reported in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports.

2014 Summary Stats (1) (1) (2)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 depresses the kill rate since shelters can simply hold animals for a long time to the point of overcrowding. Calculating kill rate based on outcomes rather than intake increases the cat kill rate from 34.6% to 35.2% and the dog kill rate remains the same.

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 who then adopts out the animal). This adjustment increases the dog kill rate from 13.5% to 14.2% and the cat kill rate from 35.2% to 37.4%.

In addition, we should increase the kill rate for animals who died or went missing in shelters. I label this metric the death rate as these animals are likely dead or in a very bad situation. After making this adjustment, the dog death rate increases from 14.2% to 14.8% and the cat death rate rises from 37.4% to 43.4%.

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) make it out of shelters alive. Therefore, I back out the number of out of state transports to estimate the local death rate except for St. Hubert’s. Since St. Hubert’s subsequently transfers many of these animals to other shelters, I only subtract out the number of dogs St. Hubert’s rescues from out of state less the dogs it transfers to other shelters. This adjustment increases the New Jersey dog death rate from 14.8% to 17.7% and the state cat death rate from 43.4% to 43.8%.

Also, I estimate a maximum local death rate by including the number of unaccounted for animals described in the section above. Making this adjustment increases the maximum potential New Jersey dog death rate from 17.7% to 20.6% and the maximum potential state cat death rate from 43.8% to 47.3%.

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 death rate for non-reclaimed animals and a maximum potential death rate for non-reclaimed local animals. The non-reclaimed death rate and maximum potential death rate for dogs is 20.9% and 31.7%. Non-reclaimed cats had a 44.8% death rate and a 48.9% maximum potential death rate. Thus, the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives in our state’s animal shelters may be much higher than previously thought.

Overall, the statewide statistics showed little improvement from 2013. The dog death rate in 2014 only was three tenths of one percent lower than 2013. While the maximum potential dog death rate was 3.4 percentage points lower in 2014, we don’t know whether that is due to better record keeping or actually improved life saving. The cat death rate and maximum potential death rate decreased by 3.4% and 4.2%. The growing acceptance of TNR likely slightly decreased the percentage of cats losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters this year. That being said, the improvements were very small and the percentage of dogs and cats losing their lives in the state’s animal shelters is still way too high.

Death Rates Extremely High at a Number of New Jersey Animal Shelters

Dogs and cats are likely to lose their lives or go missing at a number of New Jersey animal shelters. Shelters with the highest death rates for dogs and cats (excluding very low intake facilities) are listed in the following tables:

Dog Death rate 2014

Cat Death Rate 2014

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 had the most animals lose their lives or go missing:

Total Killed Died 2014 Dogs

Total Killed Died 2014 Cats

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:

Unacct dogs

Unacct cats 2014

Dog and cat death rates at many shelters may be even higher if these unaccounted for animals are counted as dead or missing. If we only consider animal shelters which reported transporting few or no animals in 2014, facilities with the highest dog and cat death rates considering the unaccounted for animals described above are as follows:

Max Pot Dr 2014 Dogs

Max Pot cats 2014

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 animals from out of state than other New Jersey animal shelters. Specifically, 5,090 dogs were transferred from out of state animal shelters compared to only 1,692 dogs taken in from other New Jersey animal shelters. The number of out of state dogs transported into New Jersey decreased in 2014, but that is due to problems at Jersey Animal Coalition and Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter during the year. These problems likely resulted in fewer transported dogs. However, Jersey Animal Coalition, which is now closed, did not report any statistics for 2014. Furthermore, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter erroneously reported it transported no dogs during 2014 as the facility imported many dogs from the south before the shelter’s problems received media attention in the summer of 2014. Thus, the decrease in transports is likely due to a combination of  incorrect reporting and increased regulatory pressure on these two shelters that transported many dogs into New Jersey.

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, died in and went missing from New Jersey animal shelters. This number does not include additional dogs transported in from out of state by rescues operating without a physical facility. Shelters transporting the most dogs from out of state were as follows:

Dogs Transported 2014

Return to Owner Rates Better Than Average at Most Shelters

Return to owners (“RTO”) rates are one of the positive results from this analysis. Overall, the dog and cat RTO rates of 55% and 5% are approximately twice the national average. As I noted in my blog on reuniting lost pets with owners, return to owner rates are highly correlated with socioeconomic status. Wealthier people likely have more resources/knowledge to license and microchip their dogs. Similarly, people with greater incomes are more likely to afford reclaim fees or ransom payments to animal shelters. New Jersey’s RTO rates for dogs clearly fit this pattern with shelters serving wealthy towns returning most stray dogs to owners while many urban shelters are only returning about around a quarter of lost dogs to owners. Clearly, we need to help people in urban areas get microchips and ID tags on their dogs. Additionally, we need to create pet help desks at shelters in these cities to help people pay the reclaim fees, which are often mandated by the cities themselves, when necessary. The statewide cat reclaim rate, like figures from across the nation, is still very low and suggests shelters need to figure out better ways to get lost cats back to their families. New Jersey should allow shelters to transfer stray cats to rescues during the mandatory 7 day hold period since few are returned to owners at shelters. This would open up space to save more cats and reduce the chance of disease (i.e. cats spending less time in shelters are not as likely to get sick).

To get a better idea 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 death rates are as follows:

non-reclaimed dog death rate

Shelters with the highest maximum non-reclaimed local dogs death rates are as follows (excluding facilities that reported transporting many dogs and taking very few animals in):

Max non-reclaimed dog death rate

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 2014, only 53% of dog and 65% 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 and cat capacity utilization to 62% and 85%. These estimates likely overestimate the average capacity utilized as many facilities kill animals once they reach a certain population level. 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:

Space usage dogs 2014

Space usage Cats 2014

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 9.0 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 7.9 dogs and cats per 1,000 people. As a comparison, the average community in the country impounds anywhere from 14-30 animals per 1,000 residents based on estimates from Animal People Newspaper and the Humane Society of the United States. 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.

Associated Humane Societies Kills Massive Numbers of Newark’s Homeless Animals

Associated Humane Societies often publishes emotional stories about the organization heroically rescuing animals from terrible situations in Newark. Typically, these stories are found on the AHS web site and/or their Humane News publication. These fundraising efforts are lucrative as AHS brought in an impressive $3.6 million in donations and grants for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2014. The 2003 New Jersey Commission of Investigation report on AHS stated the organization’s fundraising campaigns did not fairly represent the care typically provided to animals:

The substandard conditions and treatment of the animals, which existed on a large scale until recently, betrayed AHS’s massive fundraising campaign through the years and contradicted AHS’s persona as a “humane” organization. Bernstein capitalized on the plight of animals to garner millions of dollars in contributions, but failed to apply any portion of those millions to establish a satisfactory level of care and treatment.

Are these fundraising stories representative of the care most Newark animals receive at AHS-Newark now? Has AHS-Newark improved enough since the 2003 New Jersey Commission of Investigation report was issued?

Additional Animal Control Contracts and Summary Statistics Raise Serious Concerns

In 2014, AHS-Newark added a number of municipalities, such as South Orange and Maplewood (both towns no longer contract with AHS-Newark) and the cities and towns formerly contracting with Linden Animal Control. Despite already killing large numbers of animals, AHS-Newark decided to contract with all these additional municipalities and receive substantial fees in return. In February 2015, AHS-Newark Assistant Executive Director, Scott Crawford, stated his organization could handle the additional animals.

The shelter’s annual summary statistics showed it impounded and killed more animals in 2014 verses 2013. Animal intake increased from 5,019 dogs and cats in 2013 to 6,194 dogs and cats in 2014. AHS-Newark reported the number of dogs and cats that were killed, died or went missing increased from 1,962 in 2013 to 2,356 in 2014. As a result, AHS-Newark literally earned more revenue by impounding and killing significantly more animals in 2014 verses 2013.

Detailed Analysis Conducted 

To get a better understanding of AHS-Newark’s handling of animals, I submitted an OPRA request to the City of Newark’s Animal Control Department seeking intake and disposition records of animals the city’s Animal Control Department impounded in 2014. The City of Newark picks up animals during normal working hours and delivers most animals to the AHS-Newark shelter. At other times, AHS-Newark ACOs perform these duties. The records do not include direct owner surrenders to the shelter from Newark residents (except for a few that were included), but do include people surrendering their animals to animal control who then take the animals to AHS-Newark. After much follow-up over a period of several months, I received AHS-Newark’s underlying intake and disposition records for the animals originating from animal control in Newark.

In total, I obtained around 3,000 pages of records and it took me several months to review and summarize this information. Many of these records were for wildlife, animals leaving before animal control officers arrived, and animals that were dead by the time the animal control officer got to the location. Overall, I reviewed the intake and disposition records of 966 cats and 649 dogs that AHS-Newark impounded in 2014. These records constituted 23% of the dogs and 28% of the cats AHS-Newark reported taking in during 2014.

I reviewed each record and summarized my findings. My summary included the animal’s ID number, species, breed, origin (stray, owner surrender, confiscated by authorities), intake date, outcome date, length of stay, outcome, reasons for killing, miscellaneous information, and any comments I had. I only counted the two primary reasons for killing, but generally mentioned other reasons listed in my notes.

AHS Newark’s Underlying Records Reveal Horrors

Honestly, when I received the information I thought the City of Newark forgot to provide me the records for animals making it out of the facility alive. However, the records included some animals who were adopted out and rescued. The records I obtained listed 229 additional animals I did not receive information for. Even if all these other animals made it out of AHS-Newark alive, the dog and cat kill rate based on intake would only drop nine percentage points. My records indicated AHS-Newark impounded 5.8 dogs and cats per 1,000 residents (6.6 dogs and cats per 1,000 people if I include the 229 missing animal records) that came from animal control in Newark. As a comparison, AHS-Newark impounded 4.3 dogs and cats per 1,000 residents from animal control in Irvington per a summary spreadsheet that AHS prepared. If I assume 43% of AHS-Newark’s animals from the City of Newark came from other sources (i.e. owner surrenders, people finding animals on street, etc), which is the percentage from nearby Irvington, then AHS-Newark would take in 10.2 dogs and cats per 1,000 residents (11.6 dogs and cats per 1,000 people if I include the 229 missing animals) from all sources in Newark. This figure is around the same as, if not a bit higher than, other demographically similar cities in the area. Additionally, I submitted another OPRA request for any missing animals to the City of Newark and was told no other records existed. While I can’t say for sure if my data set contains the overwhelming number of animals AHS-Newark obtained from animal control in Newark, I think it represents a very large percentage.

The sheer number and percentage of animals losing their lives at AHS-Newark is staggering. Overall, AHS-Newark killed 79% of the cats, 63% of the dogs, and 74% of the pit bull like dogs in this data set. Furthermore, if I add animals who died at AHS-Newark and only count known outcomes, 93% of cats, 70% of dogs, and 81% of pit bull like dogs in this data set lost their lives at AHS-Newark. To put it another way, 855 out of 919 cats, 424 out of 608 dogs, and 329 out of 408 pit bull like dogs lost their lives per these records. As a result, these records indicate AHS-Newark operated more like a death camp than an animal shelter for the dogs and cats coming to the facility from animal control in the City of Newark.

2014 City of Newark Outcomes

Even if the death rate for animals from Newark Animal Control was actually lower due to the City of Newark not providing me additional records, my analysis still shows AHS-Newark killed vast numbers of healthy and treatable animals.

Results Raise Question About AHS-Newark’s Reported 2014 Statistics

These results show AHS-Newark disclosed erroneous statistics to the New Jersey Department of Health. In AHS-Newark’s 2014 Shelter/Pound Annual Report, the organization stated 12 dogs and 92 cats died or went missing. However, my data set, which only includes 23% of the dogs and 28% of the cats AHS-Newark impounded during the year, had both more dogs (13) and cats (96) dying in the shelter in 2014 than AHS-Newark reported for all of its dogs and cats. If I add the animals where a “Not Available” outcome is listed, the number of animals dying or going missing rises to 15 dogs and 101 cats. Furthermore, my data set accounted for 50% and 53% of the number of dogs and cats AHS-Newark reported to kill despite only making up 23% and 28% of the number of dogs and cats AHS-Newark reported it impounded in 2014. While AHS-Newark may kill dogs and cats from the City of Newark at a higher rate than animals coming in from other jurisdictions, I find it hard to believe the kill rate is that much higher for Newark animals, particularly cats. In addition, AHS-Newark reported it impounded the exact same number of dogs (2,794) and cats (3,400) that had outcomes for the year. Frankly, I find that pretty hard to believe given AHS-Newark stated it held over 200 dogs and 200 cats at the shelter during the beginning and end of the year. Thus, this data raises concerns that more animals are losing their lives at AHS-Newark than the shelter is reporting.

AHS-Newark Quickly Kills Animals

In February 2015, AHS-Newark Assistant Executive Director, Scott Crawford, bragged about his shelter’s capacity and the extra time the facility had to place animals compared to some other local alternatives. Based on my review of the above records, AHS killed cats and dogs arriving from Newark Animal Control in January 2014 within 30 days and 27 days on average:

AHS-NEwark Jan 2014 LOS for Newark

After AHS-Newark took over the cities and towns formerly contracting with Linden Animal Control in November 2014, AHS-Newark killed cats and dogs impounded from Newark Animal Control in this data set much more quickly. Despite Mr. Crawford’s assertion in early February 2015, AHS-Newark rapidly killed cats and dogs impounded from Newark Animal Control in this data set two months before he made this outlandish claim. Based on my review of these records, AHS-Newark killed cats and dogs impounded from Newark Animal Control in December 2014 within 13 days and 11 days on average:

AHS-NEwark Dec 2014 LOS for Newark

As a result, AHS-Newark’s assertion that it keeps many animals alive a long time is not consistent with the data I examined for dogs and cats arriving from Newark Animal Control.

Absurd Justifications for Killing

AHS-Newark used many poor excuses to kill animals. The top four reasons AHS-Newark used to kill cats were as follows:

  1. Sick
  2. Aggressive, unfriendly and feral
  3. No reason listed
  4. Ringworm

AHS-Newark’s cats were often sick due to an Upper Respiratory Infection (“URI”) or the common cold. Countless records stated AHS-Newark killed the cat due to the animal “not responding to treatment.” With so many animals getting sick and not getting better, one has to wonder what kind of disease control program AHS-Newark has?

Several examples illustrate AHS-Newark’s inability to medically treat cats with colds. Toots was surrendered to AHS-Newark due to her owner no longer being able to care for her. Despite being a young cat less than 3 years old, AHS-Newark stated they had to kill her within 10 days of arriving at the shelter. While the intake and disposition record states Toots was not responding to treatment for her URI, the veterinary log on this record only mentions the standard vaccinations, deworming and Frontline flea and tick medication received on the day she arrived at AHS-Newark. The veterinary log then mentions she was poisoned to death with Fatal Plus 10 days later. Call me crazy, but I don’t see any documentation of any additional veterinary treatment for her URI on this record.

ID 128745 Killed for URI

Brooklyn was an 11 month old cat described as “very sweet” by AHS-Newark. Yet, within 11 days of arriving at the shelter, AHS-Newark killed her due to a “very bad URI” that did not get better. However, once again the veterinary log on this record did not describe any specific treatment for her cold after her vaccinations on the day she arrived.

ID 129234 Killed for URI

Moonlight was a 15 month old stray cat and described by AHS-Newark as “very beautiful, sweet and trusting” and “wants love and attention.” Yet, AHS-Newark killed her 16 days after her arrival at the shelter due to her having a “URI” and being “weak and lethargic.” Other than two rounds of the standard shelter vaccinations and deworming, AHS-Newark once again provided no other treatment specifically for the URI per the veterinary log in this record.

ID129667 URI Cat

The records did not indicate AHS-Newark sent any of these cats to an isolation area for treatment, reached out to any rescues or tried to place the animals in foster homes to recover from their illness. Thus, AHS-Newark failed all three cats, as well as many others, who were highly adoptable.

AHS-Newark labeled many cats feral and/or unadoptable for dubious reasons. Notably, the shelter provided inadequate amounts of time to socialize fearful cats who were justifiably scared in this high kill shelter. Furthermore, I saw no efforts to socialize virtually all of these cats on their records. In fact, AHS-Newark often classified owner-surrendered cats, who presumably lived in or around homes, as feral or otherwise unsuitable for people to adopt. For example, Baby Girl was a 3 and half year old cat surrendered due to her owner moving. AHS-Newark labeled this cat a “wild” and killed her within just 8 days of arriving at the shelter. In addition, AHS-Newark did not vaccinate her upon intake and therefore increased the risk of disease among the shelter’s cat population.

ID 129063 OS Cat Killed for Feral

Me Me was surrendered by her owner due to the owner not having room for the cat. Once again AHS-Newark labeled the cat as “wild”, did not vaccinate her, and killed her within 9 days:

ID 1208046 OS Cat Killed Feral

Lucky, who was nearly 9 years old, was surrendered due to her owner not being able to care for her any longer. Despite this cat most likely having lived in or around a home for many years, AHS-Newark labeled her as “wild”, did not vaccinate her, and killed her after just 7 days.

ID 128791 Feral Cat Killed

Thus, AHS-Newark’s labeling of cats as feral, aggressive and otherwise unadoptable is highly suspect.

AHS-Newark used a “throw everything but the kitchen sink” approach to justify the mass killing of dogs. Often times the shelter listed multiple boilerplate reasons, like aggression (including “cage crazy”/”not kenneling well”), dog aggression, sick, etc. The top five reasons AHS used to kill dogs were:

  1. Aggression related issues
  2. Sick
  3. Dog aggression
  4. No reason listed
  5. Overcrowded

While certainly some dogs likely were truly aggressive, many dogs labeled as such did not seem that way. Sadie was a nearly 4 year old pit bull mix with a very good behavioral evaluation. The evaluation stated Sadie was “playful, loving and affectionate once she gets to warm up.” The evaluation also stated Sadie “allows you to handle her from head to tail without complaint” and “she is easy taking treats and likes to share her toys.” Yet, just over one month later, “SC”, who I presume is AHS Assistant Executive Director, Scott Crawford, approved her killing for “becoming temperamental.” The record provided no elaboration on what her exact problems were nor did the record document any efforts to rehabilitate her.

ID 125906 Dog Killed Aggression

Sadie2

Billy was a 2 year old Plott Hound-Boxer Mix. The dog’s evaluation stated he did not behave well inside his kennel, but “all you have to do is take him outside and he is a totally different dog.” Billy’s evaluation went on to say “he is fine with being handled all over” was “gentle with treats”, had “a great food test” and “seemed fine with the other dogs outside.” Despite this very good evaluation, AHS-Newark decided to kill him exactly 3 weeks later for being “extreme cage crazy”, “becoming hard to handle”, “doesn’t show well” and “no dogs.” AHS-Newark couldn’t even take the time to write a proper sentence to justify killing this young dog. The record provided no documentation that AHS-Newark tried to alleviate his kennel stress or perform any other efforts to rehabilitate him. Simply put, the record indicates AHS-Newark killed Billy for convenience as he didn’t “show well” and was “hard to handle.”

ID 122530 Dog Killed

Billy 2

Danny was a nearly 3 year old American Bulldog. He had a good evaluation stating he was “playful”, “good with other dogs”, “knows sit”, and “needs manners.” In other words, Danny was a big playful puppy. In addition, his record states he was a “photo shoot dog.” Just over two months after Danny’s evaluation, AHS-Newark killed Danny and justified it by stating “no dogs” and “insane in kennels.” Once again the record mentions no actions to provide any enrichment to Danny. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine that a high energy dog needs stimulation and exercise. Also, the record provides no details on Danny’s alleged dog aggression which is contradicted by his behavioral evaluation. Even more disturbing, AHS-Newark killed one of the few dogs in this data set with an evaluation (less than 10% of dogs and virtually no cats had an evaluation) and included in a photo shoot. If AHS-Newark kills dogs in the spotlight, what chance do the vast majority of animals that are never seen or heard have?

ID 125726 Part 1

ID 125726 Part 2

AHS-Newark’s practice of killing massive numbers of dogs for aggression related issues clearly needs to stop. While some dogs coming into a shelter are a serious threat to people and their problems will not satisfactorily respond to rehabilitation efforts, well-run animal control shelters typically find 5% or fewer of dogs fall into this category. In this data set, AHS-Newark killed 26% of their dogs for aggression related issues plus a number of others for dog aggression. As a result, AHS-Newark is unfairly labeling dogs as aggressive.

AHS-Newark also killed dogs due to lack of space. Qunn’s intake and disposition record described him as “very excitable, but nice” and “kind of wild, but very, very friendly.” Despite this, AHS-Newark killed Quinn for not being able to place him with another dog in a kennel and him being “hyper” and “hard to handle.” The record provides no evidence that AHS gave Quinn any exercise let alone enrichment. Furthermore, AHS-Newark killed Quinn during December which is typically one of the lowest intake months for shelters. Even worse, AHS-Newark killed Quinn for lack of space less than two months before Scott Crawford bragged about his shelter’s large capacity.

ID127690 Killed Pt 1

ID127690 Killed (2)

Red was a 16 month old dog surrendered to Newark Animal Control by his owner. After just 8 days, AHS-Newark killed him for having a cold and the isolation area being full and for allegedly not being able to house him with other dogs. The intake and disposition record provides no evidence AHS-Newark gave any specific treatment for his URI other than a canine flu vaccine upon intake. AHS-Newark killed Red due to a lack of space just two and half months before Scott Crawford boasted about his shelter’s ability to house lots of animals.

ID130711

Rambo was a “friendly stray dog” who was killed due to overcrowding. AHS-Newark identified the owner and apparently talked with her. For whatever reason, the owner did not reclaim the animal. AHS-Newark killed Rambo in December, one of the lowest intake months for most shelters, due to “no dogs”, “no response” to the letter to his owner and the main kennel being full. Once again Scott Crawford decided to kill a “friendly” dog due to lack of space just two months prior to him bragging about the large amount of animals his shelter could hold.

ID129821

AHS-Newark also killed many dogs for no documented reason. Pamtera was apparently abandoned in an apartment. AHS-Newark often publicizes these types of cases in fundraising appeals. After 11 days, AHS-Newark killed Pamtera for no reason other than it being “ok to pts per kp.”

ID130032

Dog ID# 130078, like most of the animals I reviewed records for, had no name. She was a 6 year old and 5 month old small terrier mix. After just 8 days, AHS-Newark killed her once again for no reason other than being “ok to pts per kp.” Even worse, this record did not state how AHS-Newark killed Dog ID# 130078.

ID 130078

Durango’s evaluation described him as “sweet and affectionate”, “very focused and loving towards all people, but he doesn’t like other dogs”, “genuinely loved to give and get attention” and “a handsome boy with knockout gorgeous eyes.” Furthermore, his intake and disposition record states in bold and in caps “Humane News – February”, “Petfinder”, “Facebook”, “Do Not PTS.” In other words Durango was a fantastic dog and was one of the few dogs AHS-Newark intended to promote. Despite all of these great things going for him, AHS-Newark killed Durango for no reason according to this record.

ID130867

ID 130867

AHS Hands Animals Over to a Rescue Subsequently Convicted for Animal Cruelty

AHS-Newark has a difficult adoption process in my experience. Typically, AHS-Newark makes people visit the shelter multiple times to adopt an animal. Often, this process can take a number of days. As a result of these policies, animals stay too long at the facility and this increases the chance the shelter will kill animals due to lack of space.

Gabriel Ganter (formerly Gabriel Palacios) was recently convicted of animal cruelty. Ms. Ganter ran Pit Bull Kisses rescue out of Newark until she moved to Dumont. On May 13, 2015, the Bergen County SPCA raided her Dumont home and found dead dogs in garbage bags, a live dog and starved cat on chains without proper shelter (warning: the photos in this link are deeply disturbing). Furthermore, one official stated the conditions insider her house were “horrid.” Ultimately, Gabriel Ganter pleaded guilty to not providing necessary care to animals this month.

Gabriel Ganter’s Pit Bull Kisses Rescue rescued the most animals of any organization in this data set. Pit Bull Kisses rescued 16 of the 35 dogs and cats rescued in the records I reviewed. In all fairness, many people in the animal welfare community were duped by Gabriel Ganter. However, Ms. Ganter began acting erratically in the summer of 2014 and AHS-Newark should have known this. Sadly, AHS-Newark still allowed Pit Bull Kisses to rescue the following dog and cat after this point:

PBKR D1

PBKR D2

PBKR C

We can only hope this unnamed dog and cat went to other foster homes rather than Gabriel Ganter’s house of horrors.

AHS Fails Newark’s Stray Animals

The sheer amount of killing is mind boggling. Nearly 1,300 dogs and cats just from the City of Newark lost their lives after arriving at AHS-Newark in 2014. Furthermore, that number most likely would be higher if I obtained the records of the over 200 missing animals not provided to me. To put it another way, around 4 dogs and cats just from the City of Newark lose their lives at AHS-Newark on average each day of the entire year. 84% of the dogs and cats in this data set who came into AHS-Newark in 2014 and had outcomes lost their lives. For these animals, AHS-Newark is a slaughterhouse rather than a shelter.

The underlying records I examined reveal no substantial effort to end this pet extermination project. Massive numbers of animals get sick with treatable illnesses and AHS-Newark still kills them. The records I reviewed did not indicate the shelter often seeks foster homes or even places many sick animals in isolation areas. Even worse, not only do animals typically not receive behavioral rehabilitation, but AHS-Newark seems to actively classify animals as aggressive to justify killing those creatures. Worst of all, AHS-Newark placed such a low value on the lives of these animals that shelter staff couldn’t even write complete sentences or even spell correctly on many of these records. When you can’t take the time to properly document the animal’s information on its record, what hope do we have that you will invest the time and energy into saving that dog or cat? Now, perhaps these records are inaccurate, but that raises even more questions? If your records are inaccurate, why should we believe anything you claim?

Clearly, AHS-Newark should never have contracted with additional municipalities when it already killed far too many animals. Frankly, AHS-Newark should have sought ways to reduce intake rather than deliberately bring in more animals in exchange for more animal control and sheltering contract fees. While all three AHS facilities have more than enough space to save its dogs and cats, AHS fails to enthusiastically implement proven programs and policies to perform at these levels. As such, AHS-Newark should have terminated rather than have added animal control and sheltering contracts.

Donors Must Hold AHS Accountable

Donors should demand AHS-Newark comprehensively adopt the no kill equation as countless other animal control shelters successfully have. Animal control shelters in Kansas City, Missouri, Austin, Texas, and Salt Lake City, Utah achieved no kill status and even save around 90% of their pit bull like dogs. Other animal control shelters in poor urban areas, such as in Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland, are close to achieving no kill. All of these animal control shelters take in more animals in total and on a per capita basis than AHS-Newark. Additionally, most of these shelters receive less revenue per animal than AHS. Thus, AHS-Newark should do great things.

At the end of the day, donors must wake up and demand AHS change its ways. Apparently, AHS thinks it can dupe its donors into thinking most of the animals it impounds from Newark are heroically rescued and sent to loving homes. Based on the records I reviewed, this absolutely is not the case. AHS must remove its entire senior leadership team, including Roseann Trezza, and replace them with people dedicated to comprehensively implementing the no kill equation. The good people donating to AHS clearly expect the organization to save its animals. It is time donors require AHS to use their hard earned money to save animals and not kill them for convenience and cost savings.

North Jersey Humane Society’s Horrible Inspection Report Exposes a Fake No Kill Organization

Last year, many people applauded Bloomfield’s decision to accept Bergen County Humane Enforcement’s and Bergen Protect and Rescue’s bid to run the Bloomfield Animal Shelter. After years of problems with the Bloomfield Department of Health and Human Services’ running of the animal shelter, which included banning virtually all volunteers and prohibiting a well-known trainer from keeping a dog with very minor behavioral problems, people were understandably eager to welcome an organization stating it would run a no kill shelter. Given Vincent Ascolese’s charismatic personality and him saying all the right things during a presentation to the town, one could hardly blame people for cheering Bloomfield’s decision to hire this organization.

Personally, I was very skeptical of Bergen County Humane Enforcement and North Jersey Humane Society, which was formed to run the Bloomfield Animal Shelter. First and foremost, I knew Vincent Ascolese, who is the Director of both Bergen Protect and Rescue and North Jersey Humane Society and the Supervising Animal Control Officer, previously brought animals from Hudson County to the horrific Jersey Animal Coalition. Second, Vincent Ascolese’s shelters contract with a for profit animal control company with a checkered history in Hudson County.

I was extremely disappointed when my spouse, my young child and I visited Bergen Protect and Rescue’s Cliffside Park shelter. The facility was extremely small and cramped and two people could barely pass each other through the tiny hallway inside the facility. After being ignored for 10 minutes by the the person in charge that day, we asked if we could see the dogs. This person told us no dogs were up for adoption at the facility and we had to make an appointment to see the animals even if they had any dogs up for adoption. The staff person’s claim seemed odd as many dogs were in a small area just around the corner from us. Even worse, the very next day I saw the shelter post one of the dogs I saw outside on their Facebook page as available for adoption. In addition, the staff person told us the adoption fee for an adult pit bull was over $300. While the staff person said we could drive to an adoption event the shelter was having that day, it was impractical as we did not know the area. Thus, my personal experience with this organization was not good.

Subsequently, I read about policies not consistent with well-run no kill animal control shelters. First, I saw high adoption fees on their web site (now the shelter does not even state what the fees are) which were consistent with the over $300 adoption fee communicated to us at the Cliffside Park shelter. The shelter’s web site states it may take up to a week to adopt an animal resulting in reduced lifesaving and potential overcrowding. Additionally, the Cliffside Park shelter transports many dogs in from out of state despite having what seemed like a very undersized facility. Not surprisingly, my analyses of the Cliffside Park facility’s 2013 performance showed the shelter only adopted out 35% of the number of dogs and 33% of the number of cats the shelter should adopt out. Finally, I was concerned seeing North Jersey Humane Society adopts out at least some intact animals where the shelter refers the adopter to a low cost vet clinic participating in the state subsidized spay/neuter program (funding often runs out during the year resulting in significant delays for the discounted spay/neuter services). Typically, I only see poorly run pounds use this program rather than doing the surgeries themselves with the shelter’s veterinarian. Thus, North Jersey Humane Society’s polices were not consistent with those of well-run no kill animal control shelters.

Last week’s news about the NJ SPCA charging Vincent Ascolese with animal cruelty floored me. The NJ SPCA rightfully charged Mr. Ascolese with 14 counts of animal cruelty for killing an injured deer fawn by slashing its neck with a knife and other issues with animal care at his facility. As bad as this news sounded, it paled in comparison to what I read in the recent New Jersey Department of Health inspection report of North Jersey Humane Society’s Bloomfield shelter.

Bloomfield and North Jersey Humane Society Allow Animals to Reside in a Dump

North Jersey Humane Society’s bid to perform animal sheltering services at the Bloomfield Animal Shelter required the town to bring the facility up to the standards of N.J.A.C. 8.23A. As a result, Bloomfield had a contractual obligation to ensure the building complied with the state law’s standards. Additionally, North Jersey Humane Society had a legal and moral obligation as the shelter operator to ensure the animals were housed in a safe facility.

The inspection report stated the facility was under construction and did not have the required permits. Additionally, the Bloomfield Department of Health and Human Services did not perform the required annual inspection and therefore the shelter did not have a license to operate.

The facility was occupied while under construction without evidence of local occupancy approvals and electrical, mechanical (HVAC), and building or construction permits.

The facility was not inspected by the local health authority for the current year and was not in compliance with these rules, and therefore, was not licensed at the time of this inspection.

Despite the shelter having many unsafe areas, North Jersey Humane Society housed animals in these conditions. The shelter kept dogs in a room without a ceiling with uncovered electrical wires and various dangerous items were hanging down from above.

The ceiling of the guillotine room was removed and was completely open to the rafters in the attic space. Dogs were being housed in this room at the time of this inspection. Electrical wires and junction boxes were exposed and hanging and were not properly secured as required; insulated ventilation ducts and other items were exposed and hanging down from the rafters (Pictures 2834 through 2836).

2834 2835 2836 (14)

North Jersey Humane Society left exposed screws adjacent to dog enclosures and the shelter’s entrance putting both people and animals at risk of injury.

There were boards with long protruding screws located on the ground near the entrance gate of the facility adjacent to an outdoor animal enclosure. These screws could cause injury to both animals and people (Picture 2829).

2829 (14)

The shelter had inadequate ventilation and smelled like urine. Furthermore, insufficient lighting prevented shelter staff from properly cleaning the animal enclosures resulting in a build up of feces and urine. North Jersey Humane Society apparently placed an outdoor animal enclosure on a surface that shelter staff cannot effectively disinfect. Furthermore, the town and North Jersey Humane Society did not repaint the surfaces of the outdoor animal enclosures and the staff could therefore not properly clean these kennels.

There was a strong, stale urine odor in the first animal enclosure room located next to the main office of the facility at the time of this inspection; the ventilation was not sufficient to remove odors as required.

The lighting in the facility was not sufficient to allow the viewing of all the interior surfaces of the animal enclosures to ensure that the enclosures had been cleaned and disinfected. The enclosures in the first animal enclosure room contained small pools of urine and small fragments of feces in the corners and bottom edges that had not been removed during the cleaning process. These corners and edges were unable to be viewed clearly due to the insufficient distribution of lighting in this room.

There was a chain link enclosure placed on the pavement in the driveway in front of the facility. This asphalt pavement was not impervious to moisture and not able to be readily cleaned and disinfected. This enclosure did not have any drains to contain and properly dispose of run off as required (Picture 2831).

The surfaces of the outdoor animal enclosures attached to the side of the building and accessible to the animals in these enclosures by a guillotine door were not impervious to moisture. These surfaces were originally painted, but the paint was peeling, and the surfaces were no longer impervious to moisture (Picture 2844).

2831 (14)

2844

North Jersey Humane Society housed dogs in dangerous enclosures posing a risk of injury and possible death. The shelter left one dog in an outdoor enclosure without sufficient shade for two hours on a hot day in August and the inspector observed the dog drooling. Furthermore the dog bed in this enclosure was broken and had sharp exposed points. Another dog named Benny had a sharp metal wire that was in his cage.

The outdoor dog enclosure on the concrete slab in the driveway next to the entrance gate of the facility had a tarp type of material strapped to the top of the enclosure, but this tarp was not suitable to provide sufficient shade to avoid overheating or discomfort of the animals housed in this enclosure. ACO Stewart stated that the dog housed in this enclosure at the time of this inspection had been in the enclosure approximately two hours and the dog’s drooling was normal and not caused by overheating (Picture 2828).

A dog bed located in an outdoor enclosure near the entrance gate of the facility was broken and in need of repair. The bed contained metal triangle screw plates that had become separated from the frame. The points of the plate were exposed in an upward position and the legs of the bed were bent over (Picture 2828).

A small, thin, red coated dog named Benny was housed in an upper level enclosure in the annex room. The door of the enclosure had a wire that was bent over and protruding into the enclosure at the level of the dog that could cause injury (Picture 2856).

2828

2856

To make matters worse, the shelter housed two large Rottweilers in kennels that were approximately 30% smaller than required by N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.6 (b):

Two large Rottweilers at the facility at the time of this inspection were each housed in primary enclosures that provided approximately 10.34 square feet of floor space when measured from the inside of the enclosure. These dogs were estimated to be approximately 39 to 42 inches long and required approximately 14 to 16 square feet of floor space.

North Jersey Humane Society Fails to Properly Clean its Shelter

North Jersey Humane Society failed to use proper procedures to clean the shelter. Specifically, the shelter did not remove cat litter, hair and other debris from an enclosure holding multiple cats. The shelter did not use EPA registered cleaning products. Even worse, the facility did not have suitable measuring devices to ensure staff applied the proper concentration of disinfectants.

Cats were being placed in a three tier cat cage during the daily cleaning process. This enclosure was being sprayed down with a spray bottle and immediately wiped out with a towel between each cat, but this cage was not being disinfected as required. There was an accumulation of cat litter, hair, and other debris trapped in the wire along the edges of the resting benches and at the bottom of this wire enclosure that had not been removed, cleaned and disinfected between each cat during the cleaning process. Toys were also being sprayed with the contents of the spray bottle and immediately wiped off, without allowing the required contact time for disinfection.

The bleach that was being used on the day of this inspection was Clorox Scented, Spashless bleach, which is not an EPA registered disinfectant. Two small bottles of Clorox regular bleach were later found in the upstairs storage area.

The disinfectants used at the facility, sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) and Accel (accelerated hydrogen peroxide), were not being used at the correct dilution for disinfecting animal contact surfaces. The Accel requires a dilution ratio of 8 ounces (one cup) per gallon of water and the chlorine bleach that was found in the upstairs storage area requires 4 ounces (one half cup) per gallon of water according to the instructions on the product labels for disinfection of smooth and impervious animal contact surfaces.

There were no suitable measuring devices being used at the time of this inspection. One capful of these products (said to be approximately one ounce of concentrated solution) was being mixed into a one and a half gallon sprayer that was labeled as “Bleach” (Picture 2857). The cages were said to be sprayed down with this solution, allowed to sit for approximately 10 minutes while other cages are being sprayed down, and then the cages are rinsed with a hose and the remaining water was removed with a squeegee. The cages were not manually scrubbed clean at any time during the cleaning process.

2857

Furthermore, shelter staff stated they cleaned animal enclosures, but the inspector’s tape measure became covered with urine and feces when she was examining the cages.

The animal enclosures located in the first room of the facility near the office and main entrance to the facility were said to have been cleaned, but when a metal tape of a tape measure was placed in one of the upper cages while measuring the cage size, the length of tape became contaminated with urine and small bits of feces that remained inside of the cage after the cleaning process. The facility staff was not following proper cleaning and disinfection procedures to reduce disease hazards and odors caused by bacteria and other contaminants that remained on animal enclosure surfaces.

Finally, North Jersey Humane Society failed to use a proper cleaning solution to disinfect the animals’ food and water receptacles.

Food and water receptacles were being washed with a dishwashing liquid, rinsed and placed on a towel to dry, but they were not being disinfected daily as required. ACO Ascolese stated over the phone on the day of this inspection that the receptacles were being washed with an antibacterial type hand dishwashing liquid, but this type of dishwashing liquid was not an EPA registered disinfectant for use in animal facilities.

Cruel Treatment of Wildlife

North Jersey Humane Society treated wildlife in a way that constituted animal cruelty in my view. Two days prior to the inspection, the shelter impounded a 3 week old baby squirrel that was too young to eat, drink, urinate and defecate on its own. Instead of bottle-feeding this animal or sending the animal to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center, the shelter tried to feed the animal with a honey seed stick. The inspector told both the ACO at the shelter and Vincent Ascolese that the shelter must transport the squirrel to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center immediately. Furthermore, a New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife agent also stated the squirrel needed to go to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center right away. Despite this emergency, Vincent Ascolese refused to do so and said he’d take the animal to the animal hospital the shelter uses.

Frankly, I am appalled that the shelter does not take injured wildlife to licensed wildlife rehabilitation centers. Even some very regressive kill shelters transport wild animals to these facilities. Furthermore, North Jersey Humane Society and Bergen Protect and Rescue could have made a simple plea on their social media pages and many people would have gladly transported the animal and offered monetary assistance.

To make matters worse, the baby squirrel and an iguana were housed in the feral cat room where the door is left open overnight. The inspection report noted some type of animal entered the room as evidenced by feces found in one of the cages. Additionally, the bars in the baby squirrel’s cage were wide enough for the animal to fall through. Given the young squirrel had not yet opened its eyes, this was a very real possibility. In fact, this did happen and the inspector actually caught the baby squirrel falling from its cage. Furthermore, the shelter staff left water in a bowl for the baby squirrel that was deep enough for the animal to drown in. As a result, the baby squirrel was housed in a room with potential predators, feral cats and wildlife that could enter the room, and left in an environment where it could drown or even fall to its death.

A baby squirrel that was impounded at the facility on 8/17/15 was crying in distress in search of its mother at the time of this inspection. This squirrel was approximately 3 weeks old and was too young to eat, drink and eliminate on its own and at this young age, may have been unable to regulate its body temperature. This squirrel was not receiving proper care and nourishment as required and was not placed in a suitable housing environment to maintain the safety and wellbeing of this animal for the two days that it was housed at the facility (Pictures 2849 and 2850).

2849

2850

A baby squirrel, approximately 3 weeks of age with its eyes not yet open, that was impounded at the facility on 8/17/15 was not being fed as required to meet the nutritional needs of this young squirrel. There was no infant replacement formula of any kind or any electrolytes or other preparation for rehydration at the facility for this squirrel at the time of this inspection.

The baby squirrel detailed in 1.7 (b) was not fed or provided with a rehydration solution during the entire inspection period. A squirrel of this age requires feeding approximately every three hours.

ACO Stewart stated that George, who was not at the facility at the time of this inspection, had been feeding the squirrel seeds and honey on a stick. Although the squirrel was too young to forage, the staff had placed the honey seed stick in the red cedar chip bedding with the assumption that the squirrel would search for its food.

The inspector, Frese, explained to ACO Stewart that this squirrel was a nursing squirrel and was too young to eat, drink, and eliminate on its own. Frese stated that this squirrel needed to be transported to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately. ACO Stewart stated that the squirrel could not be transported at that time, but would be transported the next day. Frese stated that the squirrel may not live that long and then called the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA) for assistance. Neither agency was available to transport the squirrel; the agent from the Division of Fish and Wildlife said the squirrel needed to be transported immediately to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

The Supervising ACO, Vincent Ascolese, called and spoke to Frese on the phone and explained that the squirrel was being cared for adequately with the seed stick placed in the bedding to teach the squirrel to find its food. Frese explained again that the squirrel was too young to forage and needs to be transported immediately to a rehabilitator. ACO Ascolese stated that they do not take any wildlife to a wildlife rehabilitator. He stated that he would instruct the staff to take the squirrel to Franklin Lakes Animal Hospital; that is where they take all injured and orphaned wildlife. ACO Ascolese stated that it is their policy for all injured and orphaned wildlife to be transported directly to the Franklin Lakes Animal Hospital, Wildlife Division.

There was a hole in the ceiling of the room named the “feral cat” room (Picture 2851) and the animal control officer (ACO) Nicole Stewart, confirmed that the door to this room had been left open to the outside of the building overnight. There were feces in one of the cages in this room from some type of animal that had entered the room and perched on the top of the cage (Picture 2848). An iguana and a baby squirrel were housed in this room at the time of this inspection and had been in the room while the door was open overnight. ACO Stewart stated that this room is used for the feral cats that free roam the grounds of the facility.

2851

2848

A baby squirrel was housed in an enclosure that had bars on the enclosure door that were wide enough for the squirrel to fit through. The squirrel was too young to walk normally, but was able to crawl. The squirrel crawled to the front of the enclosure and fit itself through the bars of the door. The squirrel had come halfway out of the enclosure, but was caught by the inspector, Frese, before it fell and was placed into the back into the enclosure. The squirrel was vocalizing a distress call as it crawled out of the cage (Picture 2866).

2866 (2)

The baby squirrel that was too young to eat and drink on its own was provided with a straight sided bowl filled with water in the enclosure that was deep enough that the squirrel could have become trapped and drowned in the water, due to the age and inadequate mobility of the squirrel.

The inspection report documented Vincent Ascolese killing an injured deer fawn. North Jersey Humane Society picked up a deer fawn with two broken legs in Woodland Park 12 minutes after the animal hospital the shelter uses closed (the animal hospital’s web site currently states it is open on the day of the week and time this happened). Instead of immediately taking the injured deer to another animal hospital or better yet, a licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility, as required by law, North Jersey Humane Society brought the animal back to the Bloomfield shelter. Vincent Ascolese subsequently slashed the deer’s throat in what one could consider an audition for joining the terrorist group, ISIS. Irregardless of whether the animal was hopelessly suffering, the shelter was required to send this animal for veterinary treatment. Even if euthanasia was required, slashing a deer’s throat is not humane and is illegal in New Jersey. Thus, Vincent Ascolese acted in an illegal and unethical manner and is now rightfully charged with animal cruelty.

A deer that was picked up by ACO McGowan in Woodland Park, Passaic County, on 6/29/15 was described on the “Animal Control Incident Transport Record” form as being severely injured and bleeding, with both hind legs broken and bone protruding through skin. The form stated “Well Pet Animal Hospital closed.” According to the website for this animal hospital, the normal business hours on Mondays, the day of the incident, are 9 AM to 6 PM. According to the animal control incident form, the ACO had arrived at the scene of the severely injured deer (fawn) at 6:12 PM, which was outside of this hospital’s posted hours of operation. The deer was transported to the Shelter facility at 6:47 PM. The “Animal Control Incident Transport Record” form indicated that the ACO did not immediately obtain emergency veterinary care from a licensed veterinarian as required by this regulation.

ACO Ascolese, stated during a phone call at the time of this inspection, that it is their policy for all injured and orphaned wildlife to be transported directly to the Franklin Lakes Animal Hospital, Wildlife Division. The severely injured deer that was picked up on 6/29/15 was not transported to the Franklin Lakes Animal Hospital in accordance with the policy stated by ACO Ascolese. The website for the Franklin Lakes Animal Hospital shows that the hospital’s regular operating hours are from 9 AM to 8 PM on Mondays.

A deer (fawn) that was impounded at the facility on 6/29/15 was killed by ACO Ascolese who cut the throat of the deer with a knife resulting in exsanguination (death from loss of blood). Exsanguination is an unacceptable method of euthanasia in accordance with these regulations.

Furthermore, even if throat slashing was a legal euthanasia method, Vincent Ascolese was not allowed to euthanize animals under state law at that time since he lacked the certification to do so.

Dr. Diaz confirmed that he had certified ACO Ascolese in August, 2015. On 6/29/2015, ACO Ascolese killed a deer (fawn), prior to the animal euthanasia training that had been conducted on or about 8/12/2015.

North Jersey Humane Society Fails to Provide Adequate Care to its Animals

The shelter did not provide prompt veterinary care to an injured dog. Benny had open sores on his legs and was not placing any weight on his left front leg during the inspection. Despite these issues, North Jersey Humane Society provided no veterinary care for the 3 days he was at the shelter before the inspection.

A dog named Benny was not placing any weight on his left front leg at the time of this inspection. This dog also had several ulcer type sores in various locations on all four of his legs, most of which were covered with smooth, hairless, blackened skin tissue with a raised outer edge, but some of these sores were shallow open wounds with a red and pink wound bed. This dog had not received any veterinary care since it arrived at the facility on Sunday, August 16, 2015 (Picture 2856).

2856

North Jersey Humane Society also did not provide some animals adequate amounts of water. Specifically, an iguana had no water during the 7 hour inspection and the inspector had to tell shelter staff to provide water to a thirsty Rottweiler.

An iguana located in the feral cat room had spilled its water and the water had not been replaced during the inspection.

A Rottweiler that was housed in an outdoor enclosure did not have water in his water bucket at the time of this inspection. This dog was subsequently provided with water after this was brought to the attention of ACO Stewart (Picture 2868 through 2870).

2869

2870

Shelter staff also left an iguana to sit in a wet bed during the entire 7 hour inspection.

An iguana that was impounded at the facility on 8/17/15 was housed in an enclosure with wet bedding after the water from the water bowl had been spilled in the enclosure. This wet bedding had not been changed during the entire inspection period (Picture 2867).

2867 (2)

North Jersey Humane Society did not isolate sick animals from healthy animals. The facility’s HVAC system emitted air from the isolation area, which is supposed to house sick animals, to locations holding healthy animals. In fact, the shelter used the ineffective isolation area it did have to house four healthy dogs due to overcrowding. And just how did the shelter become overcrowded? The facility transported 15 dogs, which made up 60% of the facility’s dog population at the time of the inspection, from Georgia 3 days before.

The facility did not have any isolation procedures in place and did not have a proper isolation area at the time of this inspection.

The ventilation in the dog and cat isolation rooms was not separated from the air used for the general population. The ventilation for the isolation rooms was supplied through the HVAC system for the facility and mixed with the air for the general population and did not exhaust directly to the outdoors as required.

Due to lack of space, the dog isolation room was being used to house 4 healthy dogs at the time of this inspection and the cat isolation room housed 13 cats that were not exhibiting signs of or being treated for a communicable disease. The dog isolation room did not have floor to ceiling walls and was open at the top of the walls to the holding area of the general dog population. The cat isolation room had windows that were open to the room where the general cat population was housed (Pictures 2861 and 2865).

2861

2865 (2)

The 15 dogs that had been imported from Georgia and arrived at the facility on Sunday, 8/16/15, did not have completed cage cards as of the date of this inspection.

The shelter also did not answer its supervising veterinarian’s requests going back as far as five months to acquire medicines and diagnostic equipment to treat sick and/or injured animals.

A notebook was located on the premises that showed the supervising veterinarian’s findings along with the veterinarian’s signature and date of each visit. The notes in this log book indicated that the veterinarian had recommended the pharmacy stock at the facility be increased (this would require prescriptions from the supervising veterinarian with the required prescribing information) and suggested medical and diagnostic equipment be purchased for use at the facility. These notations had been recorded in the log book since March of 2015, with the last request for equipment dated 8/2/15. The facility did not have the diagnostic equipment on the premises as requested by the supervising veterinarian.

North Jersey Humane Society also had drugs without required information, such as the animal it was prescribed for, directions for use, date dispensed, and name of the facility distributing the medication. This raises serious questions as to whether the shelter illegally obtained these medicines and whether expired drugs were given to animals.

There were medications at the facility that did not contain prescription labels with the required information, including the animal’s name or identification, directions for use, the date dispensed, and the name and license number of the licensee and facility dispensing the medication. A 200 ml bottle of Toltrazuril, used for the treatment of coccidia in horses, was located on the top of a cart in the medical treatment room. The manufacturer’s label on the bottle stated to refrigerate after opening and expires one year after opening, but the bottle was not refrigerated and there was no date on the bottle indicating when the bottle had been opened. There were no records or directions from the supervising veterinarian indicating what the medication was to be used for and to which animal it had been prescribed. There was also a box of MilbeMite brand ear mite medication for cats on this cart with no prescription label, animal identification, and instructions for use (Pictures 2871 through 2873).

2871

2872

2873

North Jersey Humane Society’s Euthanasia Statistics May Not Be Accurate

North Jersey Humane Society reported it only euthanized one cat and three dogs died or went missing in its 2014 Shelter/Pound Annual Report. However, the inspection report noted 4 dead animals were in the facility’s freezer. To make matters worse, the shelter could not produce accurate and legally required intake and disposition records at the time of the inspection. Furthermore, Vincent Ascolese, who illegally killed the fawn, conveniently removed all the wildlife intake and disposition records and stored them in another county. As a result, I have no confidence in North Jersey Humane Society’s reported euthanasia and other statistics since the shelter could not produce the supporting documents.

There were also approximately four animals in the freezer that were bagged, but the bags were not labeled with a name or ID number.

Paper records were maintained on dogs and cats that were received at the facility, but the intake and disposition log which correlates when each animal arrived at the facility and the final disposition was maintained as a computer record. There was no one at the facility at the time of this inspection that had access to the computer records to ascertain when animals were received and the final dispositions. A notebook that was labeled “stray animal log” was not up to date and did not include all animals that were received at the facility. The log only listed dogs that had been impounded and the last entry was dated 7/1/15.

The “Animal Control Incident Transport Record” forms, which were the only records created for the intake and disposition of certain wildlife or other species of animals received at the facility, including the deer that was received at the facility on 6/29/15, were not kept at the premises. Kristi, the Executive Director of Shelter Services stated during a telephone conversation at the time of this inspection that all animal control records were removed from the establishment by ACO Ascolese and stored in an office located in different county.

No People Admit to Euthanizing Animals

The inspection report documented the supervising veterinarian contradicting the shelter’s statement about who performs euthanasia. Specifically, the ACO on staff during the inspection stated Dr. Nelson Diaz performs all euthanasia procedures for the shelter’s animals. However, the veterinarian stated he never euthanized any animals from the shelter despite the shelter reporting 1 euthanized cat in 2014 and four dead animals in shelter’s freezer at the time of the inspection.

Furthermore, the shelter had no required euthanasia equipment at the facility or documentation that any shelter staff were certified to euthanize animals. As a result, one has to wonder if Vincent Ascolese or some other people at the shelter illegally killed animals like Vincent Ascolese did with the deer fawn.

At the time of the inspection, no certification documents were found on the premises or made available to the inspectors to indicate which staff members were certified by a licensed veterinarian to perform humane euthanasia at the facility. ACO Stewart stated at the time of this inspection that all animal euthanasia was performed by the supervising veterinarian, Dr. Diaz. Dr. Diaz was contacted by phone and confirmed that he had not performed any animal euthanasia for this facility and he was not contacted regarding the deer (fawn) that was killed by ACO Ascolese. ACO Stewart also stated that ACO Ascolese was trained by Dr. Diaz to euthanize animals at the facility one week prior to the inspection (8/12/2015). Dr. Diaz confirmed that he had certified ACO Ascolese in August, 2015. On 6/29/2015, ACO Ascolese killed a deer (fawn), prior to the animal euthanasia training that had been conducted on or about 8/12/2015.

None of the required euthanasia equipment was on the premises at the time of this inspection; there were no posted instructions, and no euthanasia, tranquilizing or immobilizing agents on the premises. This facility was not equipped with the supplies to perform humane euthanasia on any animals at the time of this inspection and there were no records or other evidence provided at the facility during this inspection to indicate that the facility was equipped as required to perform euthanasia on 6/29/2015 when the deer (fawn) was killed by ACO Ascolese.

North Jersey Humane Society Violates Basic No Kill Principles

No kill shelters essentially need to do three broad things. First and foremost, no kill sheltering mandates not killing or allowing healthy and treatable animals to die. Second, no kill facilities must perform at a high level resulting in animals quickly leaving the shelter and going to good homes. Third, no kill sheltering requires animals be provided with an elite level of care.

North Jersey Humane Society violated all three of these principles. Vincent Ascolese never even tried to get the injured fawn to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center. In fact, Mr. Ascolese’s organization does not use licensed wildlife rehabilitation centers for any wild animals per the inspection report. His shelter’s careless disregard for an extremely vulnerable baby squirrel also violated no kill’s unwavering standard of not killing. Whether the shelter killed the baby squirrel directly or simply allowed it to die makes no difference. The shelter must have a passion for saving animals. Clearly, Vincent Ascolese’s organization has an attitude that some animals are simply not worth saving. After all, when the Director of North Jersey Humane Society slices open the throat of a fawn, is it any wonder other staff members will not do anything to save a baby squirrel?

North Jersey Humane Society’s and Bergen Protect and Rescue’s polices resulting in prolonged lengths of stay also violate no kill principles. To make a no kill animal control shelter work, the organization must quickly place animals into good homes. With excessive adoption fees, long waiting periods to adopt animals and poor customer service, Vincent Ascolese’s shelters simply do not perform in the manner they should.

Finally, North Jersey Humane Society fails to follow basic animal sheltering practices let alone the elite level standards of a no kill facility. Housing sick animals together, leaving animals without water, not providing prompt veterinary care, keeping animals in filthy enclosures, exposing animals to dangerous kennels, and potentially providing animals with expired medicines is unacceptable for any shelter, kill or no kill. Clearly, North Jersey Humane Society failed its animals and does not deserve the no kill or even a shelter label.

Bloomfield Needs to Take Immediate Action

Bloomfield and the shelter’s other contracting municipalities should expect far better service. Assuming North Jersey Humane Society’s annual fees are the same as its $120,000 bid for animal control and $145,000 bid for sheltering services, North Jersey Humane Society receives $265,000 a year in revenue from these towns. Based on the Bloomfield Animal Shelter’s total reported intake in 2014, this works out to nearly $1,500 of revenue per animal the shelter impounds. Also, the shelter receives donations in addition to these contract fees. Surely, North Jersey Humane Society can afford to provide proper care to its animals.

Bloomfield no longer can trust Vincent Ascolese to do the right thing. First, Bloomfield must make all necessary structural improvements to the shelter to ensure the facility can comply with state law. Second, the town must form an Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, which should have qualified members dedicated to ensuring the town has an elite no kill shelter and to oversee and regulate whoever runs the Bloomfield Animal Shelter. Third, Bloomfield must enact the Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”) that residents have demanded for years. Fourth, the town should pass a no kill resolution mandating at least a 95% live release rate for dogs and a 90% live release rate for cats impounded from the towns the shelter contracts with. Fifth, the town should demand North Jersey Humane Society stop transporting animals from southern states into the Bloomfield Animal Shelter. Simply put, the town can no longer take the word of a charismatic person with a dark side.

New Jersey Department of Health, the NJ SPCA and the Towns Contracting with Bergen Protect and Rescue Must Investigate That Shelter

Based on the egregious performance of North Jersey Humane Society, the New Jersey Department of Health and NJ SPCA must investigate Bergen Protect and Rescue to see if Vincent Ascolese’s other facility is also violating New Jersey shelter and animal cruelty laws. Furthermore, Cliffside Park should also do the same things as I recommend for Bloomfield to ensure the shelter is effectively supervised and regulated. Sadly, Vincent Ascolese’s organizations have lost all credibility and it is time these shelters prove to everyone they are ready to step up their game. If not, then the municipalities must move on and bring an organization in that will do the right things for the animals.

Racism in Rescue

Racism is one of the dirty little secrets in the sheltering and rescue community. From my experience, some people in the animal welfare community hide behind the claim of protecting animals to justify racist attitudes. Even worse, such attitudes result in more shelter killing.

Several incidents opened my eyes to the issue of racism in animal welfare. While I volunteered at an urban animal control shelter with a high kill rate, a fellow volunteer took several dogs to a Boys and Girls Club in the city the facility was located in. After the event, the volunteer felt great as a number of dogs received some very good applications from families who were minorities. Subsequently, the shelter denied every single application for no good reason. Another time I helped organize an adoption event for a different shelter, which had many dogs spending years at the facility, in a middle to upper middle class community where around 45% of the population is black or Hispanic. During the event we met many potential adopters and the pet store chain was going to allow us to hold adoption days every weekend. Subsequently, a high ranking person at the shelter told us that we would not return to the location because they “didn’t like the element.” After several failed attempts to get that person to explain what they meant by “element”, we were told to drop it and the decision was final. We’ve also helped organize an adoption event that is part of a street fair for several years in a nice section of a large city. Despite having lots of people going to this street fair year after year, we’ve had great difficulty getting many local rescues and shelters to attend. While these animal welfare groups never said it was due to the location, I no doubt believe this is the reason they did not attend. Thus, I’ve directly experienced overt racism in my volunteer experience at animal shelters.

Additionally, I’ve seen shelters and rescues belittle people in urban areas. For example, Associated Humane Societies Assistant Executive Director, Scott Crawford, shared a joke that people shouldn’t go to Newark, which is where his organization’s largest shelter is located, since its a “shadowy place.” Similarly, I’ve seen rescues call urban areas around shelters they pull animals from as “ghettos.” In fact, I’ve even seen some rescues express deep sorrow that animals at high kill shelters were returned to their owners in urban areas.

The sad incident of Quattro the cat also brought out some nasty racial tensions. Last year, a 12 year old, a 10 year old and a 6 year old boy stoned a cat to death in a horrific incident in Paterson. Local animal advocates were rightfully appalled. However, online comments became so racist and vulgar that the local newspaper had to delete many of them. The animal advocates demanded all 3 boys, including the 6 year old, be charged with animal cruelty. While I certainly agree with prosecuting the older boys, I find it hard to believe that a 6 year old, who was in the presence of 2 much older boys, should have had been charged with this crime.

Subsequently, local animal advocates held a rally for Quattro in Paterson and local residents clashed with the animal activists. While I certainly understand the motivations to hold the rally, I think it was counterproductive to animal welfare in Paterson. Paterson Animal Control kills hundreds of dogs each year at its shelter and acts in secrecy. Those very residents that clashed with animal welfare activists need to become advocates for the many animals being killed at the so called city shelter. Rightly or wrongly local residents equated the racist online comments with the animal welfare activists’ desire to charge all 3 children with animal cruelty. Additionally, the Paterson residents felt the animal activists were outsiders and were ignoring the very real issue of children being killed in the city. Clearly, this effort did not help many Paterson residents become sympathetic to the cause of animal welfare despite the organizers’ good intentions.

Humane organizations until fairly recently used to profile black pit bull owners and seize their dogs. In 2003, Sociologist Arnold Arluke published an article titled “Ethnozoology and the Future of Sociology,” in The International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy. The following extract from that article provides a frightening summary of this practice:

Seizing Black Pit Bull Owners dogs

Kim Wolf, who formerly worked at Animal Farm Foundation and currently runs an organization supporting inner city pet owners, rightfully explained that this practice led people in the inner city to distrust animal welfare organizations. After all, if humane organizations are seen as groups that will steal your family member and likely kill them in the process, then how can you expect people in inner cities to support animal shelters and rescues?

Racism may also happen unconsciously in ways we are not aware of. Research over the last two decades on implicit or unconscious bias has shown almost all people naturally discriminate in many ways. In fact, 20% of large companies in the United States even have training classes on this topic. Basically, our brains evolved to make split second decisions to help us avoid dangers. During prehistoric times, our brains needed biases to make these quick decisions, such as hiding from or attacking anything unfamiliar to us. In the modern world, these biases can have nasty effects, such as wrongly denying a qualified minority a job, a promotion or a shelter animal. The key thing is nearly every person has these biases and it does not mean everyone is a racist. However, people need to always step back and review their actions and try to uncover their natural biases that may have negative unintended consequences. For example, if a shelter or rescue refuses to adopt out an animal to a young black or Hispanic man from an urban area, is it for legitimate reasons or is it simply unconscious bias? Thus, shelters and rescues should become aware of their own natural biases and work to eliminate those that serve no legitimate purpose for animal welfare.

Racism’s Deadly Consequences for Homeless Animals

Rescues and shelters must increase their market share to end the killing of healthy and treatable animals. Approximately 17 million people in the country will acquire a dog or cat each year and would consider obtaining that animal from a shelter or rescue. Around 3 million dogs and cats are adopted while about 3 million of these animals are killed in shelters each year. If shelters can increase their market share from 3 million to 6 million of those 17 million potential homes, shelters will no longer kill healthy and treatable animals. Thus, shelters and rescues must persuade 35% of these 17 million people to choose to adopt.

Animal welfare organizations must make in-roads in under-served communities to increase market share to end the killing of healthy and treatable shelter animals. According to HSUS, 30% of dogs and cats in American homes came from a shelter or a rescue. On the other hand, in poor or under-served urban communities, which have very large minority populations, only 3% of owned dogs and cats came from shelters or rescues. 71% of people in these areas acquire their dogs from family, friends, neighbors or breeders. Furthermore, HSUS stated that they are seeing pet stores, which obtain puppies from cruelly bred puppy-mill dogs, market more aggressively to people in poor urban areas through things such as layaway plans. These facts suggest that a significant portion of the increased market share needed to end shelter killing must come from minority groups living in poor urban areas.

Increasing market share in poor under-served communities will raise spay/neuter rates and improve the welfare of pets. HSUS found 87% of dogs and cats in these areas were not altered and most pets had not seen a veterinarian. However, HSUS noted poor urban areas had no veterinarians, and even when present, these veterinarian offices were often far away and hard to reach for pet owners. If shelters adopt out dogs and cats to pet owners in under-served areas, these folks will have spayed/neutered rather than intact animals and the homeless pet population should decrease over time. Furthermore, shelters can build relationships with pet owners in poor urban areas through adoptions and can then help these folks access low-cost veterinary care. Thus, shelters and rescues can help end shelter killing and increase animal welfare by gaining market share in under-served communities.

Sadly, many shelters and rescues refuse to adopt out animals to people in under-served communities. A recent study obtained demographic data from people who adopted animals from shelters and pit bull rescues. Blacks adopted less than 1% of the dogs from the shelters and the pit bull rescues. Additionally, Hispanics only adopted 3% and less than 1% of the dogs from the shelters and the pit bull rescues. On the other hand, whites adopted 90% and 93% of the shelters’ and the pit bull rescues’ dogs. As a comparison, blacks, Hispanics and whites make up 13%, 17% and 63% of the country’s population. Less than 5% of the adopters did not attend college. Also, only 12% and 7% of the animal shelters’ and pit bull rescues’ adopters earned less than $30,000 a year. Thus, the study found few minorities, people with less education, and lower income people obtained pets from shelters and pit bull rescues.

Shelters and rescues need to abandon their fears and reach out to minorities and under-served communities to save lives. While I understand the concerns of shelters and rescues about placing animals in poor communities, I think these fears are grossly exaggerated. HSUS’s Pets for Life program has found people in under-served communities generally are viable adoption candidates. In fact, many people already do informal rescue by taking animals in from the streets. Additionally, HSUS has been able to persuade 74% of people they meet with intact animals in under-served communities to alter their pets and nearly 90% of these folks actually spay/neuter their dog or cat. Downtown Dog Rescue and Beyond Breed documented people lined up for hours to access free/true low-cost spay/neuter services. Certainly, adopters with less economic resources and education need more support, but that outreach already is needed. Like it or not, these folks will obtain a dog or cat from some source. If it is your shelter or rescue, you can then supply them with an altered and vaccinated animal. Perhaps more importantly, you will establish a relationship that can help provide education on pet ownership. Thus, shelters and rescues need to reach out to under-served communities and minorities to save lives and improve animal welfare.

Shelters and rescues need to take proactive steps to reduce racism and save lives. Animal welfare organizations should compare their percentage of minority adoptions and the percentage minorities comprise of the overall population in their areas and set goals to reduce the divergence in these numbers. In other words, if blacks and Hispanics make up 30% of the population in a shelter’s/rescue’s area, the shelter/rescue should strive to adopt out a roughly similar percentage of their animals to these racial groups. Of course, shelters and rescues should do this by reaching out to new adopters who can help the organization save lives. Even if shelters and rescues can’t achieve this perfect balance, there is no reason they can’t improve adoption numbers to minorities and/or those folks who live in under-served areas.

At the end of the day, shelters and rescues have to make a decision whether they want to end the killing of healthy and treatable animals. While a state with a relatively low per capita intake of homeless animals like New Jersey may not need to reach as many new adopters as other areas, we do need to do so if we want a no kill country. Based on the numbers above, our country needs to adopt out roughly 19 dogs and cats per 1,000 people to end the killing of healthy and treatable pets. This per capita adoption rate is towards the upper portion of the range of existing no kill animal control shelters. States with low intake like New Jersey not only need to take care of their own animals, but must help other states as well. We can save these animals, but will rescues and shelters abandon their racial and other biases to do so? Hopefully, the sheltering and rescue community chooses to save more lives and help ease racial tensions.

Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s Amazing Turnaround Story

Several years ago the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter was in a crisis. Under the control of future Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter Director and Assistant Director, Michal Cielesz and Richard Cielesz, the shelter lacked community support. In 2010, which was the Cieselzs’ last full year at the shelter, the facility killed 25% of its dogs and 58% of its cats. Furthermore, the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter only adopted out 2 dogs and 10 cats for the entire year in 2010. During 2011, the Cieselzs’ left Perth Amboy Animal Shelter, but the facility still killed 14% of its dogs, 42% of its cats and 49% of its other animals. (i.e. rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, etc). As a result, the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter was a high kill shelter with a poor reputation.

City Hires New Animal Control Officers To Transform the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter

The city government oversees and has ultimate authority over the animal shelter. As is typical with municipal animal shelters, a department of city government, the Police Department in the case of Perth Amboy, controls the animal shelter. The city hires animal control officers to run the animal shelter and make day to day decisions. However, the Police Department has to approve new policies. Additionally, the Perth Amboy City Council may also have to approve significant new initiatives at the animal shelter. As a result, a successful animal shelter in Perth Amboy requires a supportive Police Department and City Council.

During the middle of 2012, Perth Amboy hired current Head Animal Control Officer, Christie Minigiello, to work at the animal shelter. The city hired Christie based on a recommendation from her Kean University Animal Control Officer Training program professor. Other than a very short stint at another animal control agency, Christie was new to animal sheltering. Prior to this, Christie worked in the dental field, operated a crafts business and was a passionate animal advocate. For example, several years ago Christie sent a dog, who we considered adopting before choosing another long-stay dog, to a reputable sanctuary after the shelter decided to euthanize the dog for alleged aggression. Thus, Perth Amboy decided to hire a competent person with a passion for saving animals.

Perth Amboy subsequently hired two additional compassionate animal control officers. In 2013, the city hired Joe Lipari to work at the animal shelter. Previously, Joe volunteered at the Woodbridge Animal Shelter. Joe is known as the “Pit Bull Whisperer” among Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s staff based on his ability to train and understand large dogs. Perth Amboy hired Jackie Rivera in 2014. Jackie volunteered at the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter prior to becoming an ACO at the facility. Thus, the city hired compassionate ACOs to run the animal shelter.

Perth Amboy Animal Shelter is not an easy place to save lives. 24% of Perth Amboy’s population lives below poverty level compared to New Jersey’s average of just 10%. Perth Amboy’s poverty rate exceeds the levels found in Jersey City, Elizabeth and East Orange. In 2013, the city only spent $281 per dog and cat on animal control and sheltering compared to the high kill and dreadful East Orange Animal Shelter’s budget of $345 per dog and cat. While Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s budget thankfully increased in 2014 and 2015, the budgeted amount per animal is still significantly lower than the amounts of many high kill shelters. Furthermore, few dogs coming into the shelter have microchips or licenses, which is likely due to the relatively low socioeconomic status of many of the city’s residents. Based on the facility’s small capacity and the number of dogs impounded and returned to owners in 2013 and 2014, I estimate the shelter only had 24-32 days in 2013 and 35-45 days in 2014 to get dogs out of the facility before no room was left to house these animals. Thus, Perth Amboy is not an easy city to achieve no kill.

Christie, Joe and Jackie dramatically improved the shelter. In 2012, when Christie was only at the shelter for half the year, the euthanasia rate decreased from 14% to 7% for dogs and from 42% to 25% for cats. Undoubtedly, the euthanasia rate was much lower in the latter half of the year after Christie started working at the shelter. In 2013, the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saved 97% of its dogs and 93% of its cats. In other words, only 3% of dogs and 7% of cats were euthanized or died at the shelter. Based on the facility exceeding a 90% live release rate, the shelter achieved no kill status in 2013 and was recognized by Saving90.org as being a role model shelter.

Detailed Data Shows Perth Amboy Runs a Highly Successful Shelter

In order to better analyze the shelter, I obtained detailed animal intake and disposition records for 2014 (except for one month for dogs and two months for cats) and the first six months of 2015. These records included the date the animal arrived at the shelter, species, breed, outcome (i.e. adoption, returned to owner, rescued, euthanasia, etc.) and outcome date. I tabulated this data to calculate the live release rate, average length of stay and other metrics to analyze the shelter’s performance. One slight methodological difference in my calculations verses the figures above is I counted outcomes occurring in a subsequent year as happening in the year the animal came to the shelter. For example, an animal arriving at the shelter in December 2014 and adopted out or euthanized in January 2015 will count towards the 2014 live release rate and average length of stay figures.

In 2014, the shelter continued to do an incredible job saving its dogs. The outcome statistics and average length of stay figures for dogs arriving at the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter in 2014 are detailed in the table below. 95% of the 135 dogs coming into the shelter were saved. In addition, rescues only pulled 4% of the dogs indicating Perth Amboy Animal Shelter was able to save almost all of these dogs on their own. Furthermore, dogs only stayed 26 days on average at the shelter and only took 31 days to get adopted. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saved almost all of its dogs on its own and those dogs did not spend a long time at the shelter.

All Dogs Perth Amboy 2014

Perth Amboy Animal Shelter also did an excellent job with its pit bull like dogs. While Perth Amboy Animal Shelter does take in a large number of small dogs, which are easier to adopt out, 27% of the shelter’s dog intake were pit bulls and pit bull mixes. The outcome statistics and average length of stay figures for pit bull like dogs arriving at the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter in 2014 are detailed in the table below. The shelter saved 86% of pit bulls in 2014. Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s 2014 pit bull live release rate was the same as two of the nation’s best no kill animal control shelters, Kansas City’s KC Pet Project (2013) and Austin Animal Center (2014). Additionally, the shelter’s pit bull like dogs only stayed at the facility for 66 days and were adopted out on average in 82 days. Furthermore, rescues only pulled a small percentage of these dogs. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saved a very high percentage of its pit bulls in 2014 and got these dogs out of the shelter in a reasonably short time period.

Perth Amboy 2014 Pit Bull Data

The shelter performed even better with dogs in 2015. Through the first 6 months of 2015, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saved 98% of dogs who had outcomes. In fact, the shelter only euthanized one dog who had a broken back and leg and was hopelessly suffering. Additionally, dogs stayed at the facility one day less in 2015 verses 2014 despite the uptick in the live release rate. Even more impressive, the shelter saved 100% of its pit bulls through the first half of 2015. Additionally, pit bulls stayed at the facility on average 18 days less in 2015 verses 2014 and adopted pit bulls’ average length of stay decreased by 30 days in 2015. In fact, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter adopted out its pit bulls in roughly the same amount of time as the benchmark animal shelter, Tompkins County SPCA, I use to grade New Jersey animal shelters. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter has done a fantastic job with all of its dogs.

Perth Amboy 2015 Dogs

Pit Bulls 2015 Revised

Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s dog performance for the combined period (2014 and the first half of 2015) was excellent. 96% of all dogs and 90% of pit bull like dogs made it out of the shelter alive. In other words, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter achieved no kill for all dogs, including pit bulls. Additionally, the average length of stay for all dogs was just 26 days and a respectable 60 days for pit bulls. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter achieved no kill for its dogs and was able to place those dogs relatively quickly.

All Dogs PA Revised

All Pit Bull PA Revised

While Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s cat live release rate slipped a little in 2014 and 2015, the shelter still does a pretty good job with cats. Based on the facility’s 2014 Shelter/Pound Annual Report submitted to the New Jersey Department of Heath, the shelter only euthanized 9% of the cats who had outcomes during the year. However, the live release rate drops to 82% if we count cats who died at the shelter during the year. Sadly, cats do die even at very good animal control shelters. For example, KC Pet Project had a cat live release rate of 83.5% in 2013. Similarly, the Lynchburg Humane Society only had cat live release rates of 74% and 83% in 2013 and 2014. Both KC Pet Project and Lynchburg Humane Society were considered among the nation’s best shelters during this time period, but these organizations’ older facilities made it more difficult to eliminate disease despite diligent cleaning. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s cat live release rate in 2014 was still pretty good taking into account these other factors.

Perth Amboy Animal Shelter also did a reasonably good job getting cats out of the shelter quickly. In order to do a proper analysis with enough data, I combined 2014 and 2015 cat intake and disposition statistics in the table below. Over this period, the shelter had an 81% cat live release rate. As with dogs, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter did much of the work based on cat adoptions exceeding the number of cats sent to rescues by an 8 to 1 margin. While I target a lower average length of stay for cats in my recent analysis of the state’s shelters, an average length of stay of 61 days for cats (75 days for cats who are adopted out) proves the shelter does not have to hoard cats to save a large percentage of them.

All Cats

Finally, the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saved 100% of all the other animals coming into the facility during 2013, 2014 and 2015. These animals include rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, etc.

Perth Amboy Creates a Welcoming Looking Shelter

Recently, I visited the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter and toured the facility. Immediately, you can see the ACOs created a very welcoming atmosphere with flowers and friendly decorations on the shelter’s front door:

IMG_456521834 Flowers

IMG_456522023

Additionally, during Easter the shelter added holiday festivities to the area near the entrance to create a positive and welcoming atmosphere:

Easter Decorations 3

Inside the shelter, the ACOs and volunteers took the depressing looking shelter and made it look happy. They repainted the dog and cat areas with inviting colors and added cute pictures of animals enjoying themselves:

Before runs

Volunteers Giving Shelter Make Over

Runs

Doggie ISOCat ISo 1

At the beginning of the kennel area, visitors are greeted by a pretty hanging basket of treats. This encourages adopters to interact with the dogs and increases the chance of dogs and adopters connecting with each other. Also, I really liked the positive vibe they created in the meet and greet room for adopters:

Meet & Greet Room

Even the bathroom, which is a very scary place in most shelters, got a complete makeover and looked beautiful:

Restroom

Thus, the ACOs created an inviting shelter where adopters can have a positive experience adding a new member to their families.

In addition, the shelter was extremely clean despite being full due to a large number of dogs coming in just before my visit. The ACOs regularly checked the shelter and cleaned up throughout the day. As a result, the shelter did not have that typical animal shelter smell which helps make it a welcoming place for adopters.

Strong Leadership Creates a Successful Animal Shelter

In order to run a highly effective shelter with a relatively small budget, the ACOs use a number of local high school students to clean the shelter and socialize animals during the week when many adult volunteers work. The students help out at the shelter as part of their required volunteer service to graduate from high school. Not only does this program help run the shelter at a lower cost, but it also helps the community connect with the shelter. For example, families of the students or friends of those families may choose to adopt animals or donate to the shelter. In fact, on the day of my visit a group of grade school students helped plant flowers outside the building:

Student FlowersStudent Flowers 2Student Flowers 3

The ACOs also implemented key programs that help dogs, particularly pit bulls, safely get out of the shelter more quickly. While the facility is small, the shelter has a fenced in yard where dogs can go out and run. Additionally, social dogs can play with other dogs. Playgroups are essential to keeping high energy dogs happy and healthy at shelters and are a common denominator among the nation’s best shelters for pit bull like dogs. Additionally, the ACOs started a foster program for all types of animals that allows animals to leave the shelter sooner. If I calculate the average length of stay based on when dogs left the shelter to go to foster homes rather than their final adoption date (i.e. after going to a foster home), the average length of stay for all dogs and pit bulls would decrease by 3 days and 7 days since the foster program began. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter created some very positive programs for pit bull like dogs.

Christie clearly demonstrated a passion for what she does and an initiative to improve. During my visit, Christie shared innovative ideas on how she could add space to a pretty small facility. In addition, she told me that the shelter wants to help neuter and release feral cats to assist local TNR advocates in the future. Finally, Christie talked to me about a planned program to allow children to read to shelter animals. Reading programs reduce stress in animals and may help kids gain confidence to speak in front of groups of people.

While I do have some different opinions on tactical strategies to saving lives, the ACOs have an unwavering passion to do the same. In addition to being the Head ACO, Christie runs the shelter’s Facebook page. On her day off recently, she helped catch a dog that was lost for 9 months. Also, Christie, Jackie and Joe often come to volunteer at the shelter on their days off. Most striking was how appalled Christie and Jackie were when I told them how other shelters used frequent killing as a method of population control. Thus, the ACOs clearly have a passion for saving animals and will do what it takes to make sure that happens.

Additionally, the City of Perth Amboy deserves a lot of credit. The Police Department, which oversees the shelter, has been very supportive of the ACOs and their efforts. Similarly, the local government also has stood behind the ACOs as well. The city keeps the facility open more hours than other similarly sized shelters, 10 am – 4 pm weekdays (shifting these hours a little later, say from 1 pm – 7 pm, would make the facility more convenient for adopters who work) and 10 am to 3 pm on weekends. Also, the location is near a commercial area with lots of foot traffic. Thus, the combination of supportive government officials, and competent and passionate ACOs helped turn the shelter around and make the city a role model for others.

Many other people noticed the positive change at the shelter as well:

Perth Amboy Turn Around 2

Perth Amboy Turn Around

Perth Amboy Turn Around 3

People Should Volunteer to Make the Shelter Even Better

While the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter is doing wonderful things, more volunteers can take the shelter to the next level. For example, additional fosters can help get cats out of the shelter more quickly to reduce the number of cats dying and raise the cat live release rate back over 90%. Similarly, volunteers can create a nonprofit to help fund some higher cost care, such as expensive veterinary procedures requiring specialists or a behaviorist for certain dogs needing extensive rehabilitation. Thus, more volunteers can help the shelter raise its live release rate even further.

Volunteers can also help Perth Amboy Animal Shelter save the lives of animals in other communities. To the extent Perth Amboy Animal Shelter can reduce its average length of stay, the facility can contract with additional communities currently served by high kill shelters. For example, if Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s average length of stay decreased by 50%, the shelter would have the space to handle twice as many animals. Volunteers can help get animals adopted more quickly by taking excellent photos, with a professional photographer being ideal, or creative videos. Similarly, volunteers can help with off-site adoption events or better yet, a satellite adoption center in a Petsmart, Petco or PetValu store. Additionally, volunteers can foster more animals to create more space for the shelter to take in more animals. Also, volunteers can train dogs that stay longer at the shelter to reduce their length of stay. Thus, more volunteers can help the shelter save more animals in many ways.

Volunteers should donate their valuable time to organizations where their contributions will be valued. Clearly, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter is run by passionate and highly skilled animal advocates. In my opinion, this is the type of shelter where volunteers can do more good. Sadly, volunteers at other shelters often have to fight management to save lives. Luckily, central New Jersey has an excellent shelter and people should volunteer at this facility to make a real difference.

Associated Humane Societies’ History of Conflicts

Recently, Associated Humane Societies made headlines after it banned volunteers from its Tinton Falls shelter. On Saturday, April 11 I saw a number of social media posts about AHS banning all of its volunteers. On the next day, which ironically fell on the eve of National Volunteer Appreciation Week, the Associated Humane Popcorn Park Facebook page announced AHS suspended the Tinton Falls programs due to alleged misdeeds by the Tinton Falls volunteers. The banned volunteers responded and disputed the shelter’s allegations. While I am not close enough to the situation to comment on the validity of both sides claims, I think looking at AHS’s history of disputes is quite revealing.

Corrupt Start to the Modern AHS Era

Lee Bernstein, who served as AHS’s Executive Director from 1969 to 2003, used highly unethical tactics to raise money for AHS and himself. Bernstein, who was a Newark City Councilman and AHS Board of Trustees member, voted to significantly increase the animal control contract fee Newark paid to AHS in 1968. After this fact became known, Mr. Bernstein faced a recall election to remove him from the Newark City Council. On the day before another Newark City Council resolution in 1969 to increase the fees paid to AHS again, Bernstein told the AHS Board that the new Newark contract was contingent on AHS hiring him as Executive Director for 5 years and paying him a specific salary if Bernstein lost his recall election. Newark residents subsequently booted the corrupt Bernstein from office in the recall election and Bernstein became AHS’s Executive Director.

The City of Newark later won a lawsuit against AHS to render the contract null and void. The judge’s ruling included the following statement:

In the light of the foregoing, the Court is satisfied that the contract of March 25, 1969 had its genesis in a corrupt understanding by which Lee Bernstein would receive employment and be supplied with a regular source of income, in the event that his political tenure (and income) were terminated by the recall election of June 1969. A corrupt understanding that undoubtedly was conceived in the mind of Mr. Bernstein, but to which the other members of the Board of Trustees of the defendant Humane Societies, nevertheless, gave their prior approval and assent.

Ultimately, Lee Bernstein was sentenced to jail for four months relating to this matter. Thus, AHS’s modern history had a corrupt beginning.

Horrific Treatment of Animals During Lee Bernstein Era

In 2003, the State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation (“SCI”) issued a scathing report on AHS. Some of the report’s key findings were as follows:

  • AHS raised massive amounts of money and failed to use enough of it to properly care for its animals
  • Shelters were mismanaged and ruled by then Executive Director, Lee Bernstein, with an iron fist
  • Ineffective oversight by AHS’s Board of Trustees

The SCI report summarized the history under Lee Bernstein as follows:

The history of AHS’s shelter operation has been dominated by deplorable kennel conditions, inhumane treatment of animals by workers, mismanagement and nonexistent or inadequate medical care. The problems were neither singular nor occasional.The accounts and descriptions provided by members of the public and former and current staff members, including veterinarians, paint a bleak picture of shelter life. The reality for the animals belied AHS’s propaganda that its “sole purpose” has been “the care and welfare of animals” and that it has “a high adoption rate.”

One example of Lee Bernstein’s cruelty was when he ordered a veterinarian to use only one needle per animal. Apparently, Bernstein thought the 5 cents savings per animal was more important than the pain an animal endured from being stabbed multiple times with a dull needle:

Bernstein reacted by issuing a memorandum to the veterinarian that “effective immediately, use only ONE needle per animal. . . .

In a responding memorandum, the veterinarian countered that the needles “are not especially high quality to begin with, become much more dull [with one or two passages through a vial’s rubber stopper] and, therefore, more painful to the animal upon injection.” She asserted, “According to you, the cost is $0.03-$0.04 per animal for an additional needle (plus probably at most $0.01 for medical waste disposal) – a bargain for an organization concerned about animal welfare.” She noted that “some shelter personnel are not especially adept at administering injections and a dull needle make[s] the job harder on everyone” and cited a recent complaint by a woman “who was appalled by her cat being stabbed four times before the vaccine was successfully administered at the shelter.” During this timeframe, AHS realized profits in excess of $1 million and had cash and investment balances valued at more than $8 million.

The SCI report stated Bernstein was a firm believer of survival of the fittest when it came to spending money on veterinary care:

His philosophy was that the strong ones would survive and the others would not. Assistant Director Terry Clark also expressed disapproval of her treating shelter animals. In an apparent attempt to dissuade her, Clark stated in one conversation that Bernstein’s remedy would be to euthanize any shelter animals that he finds in the clinic.

While some may say this report is old news, AHS’s current Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, worked at AHS and served on the AHS Board of Trustees for three decades prior to the release of the SCI report. In fact, she was the Assistant Executive Director when the report was released. Popcorn Park Director, John Bergmann, also worked at AHS and was a Board of Trustees member during some of the time period covered by this report. Similarly, AHS Board of Trustees member and Treasurer, Barbara Lathrop, also had been with AHS for 27 years prior to the release of the SCI report. Thus, many people in AHS’s current leadership worked at AHS for many years during the horrible Lee Bernstein era.

Additionally, the SCI report alleged Roseann Trezza helped Bernstein implement his don’t treat the shelter animals plan:

In addition, Dr. Binkowski’s practice of returning animals under treatment to the shelter with instructions to the worker to administer certain medications was thwarted when Trezza issued a memorandum, dated March 9, 1994, to the front office and kennel staff that she was assigning one individual in the front office to “be responsible for dispensing the medication [and that n]o medications are to be held or given out by the kennel staff.” According to Dr. Binkowski, this rule effectively deprived many, if not most of the animals of their medications because the front office employee had numerous other responsibilities and administering to the shelter animals was not her primary assignment.

Finally, Roseann Trezza showed her true colors when AHS published a glowing memorial article on Lee Bernstein in a 2008 issue of the Humane News. Remarkably, AHS made no mention of Lee Bernstein’s egregious acts towards the shelter animals detailed in the SCI report.

Two years after the SCI report was published, AHS paid $138,057 to settle alleged violations of the State’s Consumer Fraud Act and Charitable Registration and Investigation Act. Unfortunately, the settlement agreement only mandated a two year monitoring program to ensure AHS’s compliance.

History of Conflicts with Shelter Veterinarians in SCI Report

The SCI report detailed recurring conflicts between AHS and its veterinarians over the care provided to animals at the organization’s Newark, Tinton Falls and Popcorn Park shelters. The striking thing about these conflicts was the consistency in the accounts from various veterinarians. The following statements by one AHS-Newark veterinarian summarized the theme of all these accounts well:

After you received my letter of resignation, you asked me what it would take to get me to sign a contract. One of the main reasons I am resigning is because insufficient resources are allocated for basic needs – housing, food, and medical well-being of the shelter animals and the operation of the Medical Department. As a result, it is my professional judgment that minimal standards of care are not being met and that delivery of medical care to animals is sorely lacking to the point that animals are suffering. Indeed, I am becoming increasingly alarmed at the level of care provided by AHS which I think is often below the minimal standard of humane care provided by state anti-cruelty laws. Also, I am concerned that AHS is acting negligently toward animal owners and the public that it is supposed to serve. I should state that I have many examples in addition to ones described below which I will discuss with you or any interested party.

Frankly, any animal welfare organization that repeatedly fights with its own veterinarians to provide less care to its animals should get out of the animal sheltering business.

AHS also responded in a defiant tone to the SCI report. The organization did state it would try to improve, accepted Lee Bernstein’s resignation and appointed Roseann Trezza as the new Executive Director. However, AHS also wrote the report was “replete with outdated information, pervasive exaggeration, factual embellishments, and intellectually impossible conclusions.” Thus, I did not leave with a warm fuzzy feeling that AHS was going to become a hunky dory organization.

AHS Throws a Concerned Employee Under the Bus

AHS fired an employee shortly after he raised concerns about a dog that eventually killed an adopter according to court documents. The employee expressed reservations about AHS’s and Roseann Trezza’s decision to adopt out a dog with a serious bite history. The dog’s previous owner paid AHS a $205 fee to keep the dog under observation for ten days, then euthanize, and cremate it. The dog killed the adopter nine days after the adoption in an attack that was eerily similar to the one on the previous owner. After hearing this news, the employee told other workers that he knew this would happen. Two weeks later AHS fired the employee under Roseann Trezza’s orders per the court documents.

AHS allowed another employee to continue working at the organization after he was charged with altering records related to the case. Several months after the dog killed the adopter, Burlington County authorities brought charges against AHS-Newark’s shelter manager at the time, Denton Infield, for allegedly deleting portions of the dog’s records indicating prior vicious behavior. Despite this act, AHS not only continued to employ Mr. Infield for years after this incident, but allowed him to represent the shelter in a number of media interviews.

While I don’t think AHS thought this dog could have killed this woman, the organization’s treatment of the two employees speaks volumes about AHS. The employee who correctly pointed out the issue was fired while the staff member who was charged with tampering with evidence stayed on in a prominent role with AHS. Evidently, loyalty is more important than doing the right thing at AHS.

AHS Fights Against Proposed Improvements from the Animal Welfare Task Force

After the SCI report on AHS and an earlier one on the the state’s SPCAs, Governor McGreevey formed the Animal Welfare Task Force to improve animal welfare in New Jersey. The Animal Welfare Task Force Report made the following recommendations:

  • Update animal cruelty laws
  • Replace the NJ SPCA with specially trained police officers to enforce animal cruelty laws
  • Use low cost financing to build more animal shelters
  • Implement progressive animal shelter policies
  • Make TNR legal and encourage its practice
  • Increase quality and quantity of animal shelter inspections
  • Improve training and oversight of animal control officers

While anyone seriously concerned about animals would enthusiastically support this report, Roseann Trezza came out strongly against a preliminary version. Specifically, Roseann Trezza seemed to parrot PETA, which kills almost all of its shelter animals, with this frightening quote:

“What they want is obviously unrealistic,” said Roseann Trezza, executive director of the Associated Humane Societies, the largest private animal shelter operation in the state with three shelters and a zoo. “In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to euthanize any animal. But in reality, people do not want to adopt many animals we find and the job of animal protectors is not to merely prolong life, but to relieve suffering,” said Trezza.

To make matters worse, Roseann Trezza appeared to fight against the recommendation to make TNR legal and the preferred practice for dealing with feral cats:

Trezza recited a litany of New Jersey cases––familiar to ANIMAL PEOPLE––involving cat colony caretakers who worked without backups, then died, fell ill, or moved, leaving unfed cats behind.

While I don’t know if AHS opposed TNR for financial or philosophical reasons, the end result was the Animal Welfare Task Force recommendation for TNR never was adopted statewide.

AHS Fights With New Jersey Department of Health Inspectors

New Jersey Department of Health inspectors found horrific problems at AHS in 2009. While I could write an entire series of blogs on these inspection reports, the photos below summarize the conditions very well:

6 Puppy with wounded ears 13 Dogs in feces 14 Dog covered in feces 15 Dogs in dirty kennel 21 Dead animals in shopping cart 24 Closeup of Mange Dog 40 Dead Cat That Was Found in Colony Room 43 Dead Dogs in Shopping Carts. Blood. Maggots 44 Severe Fly And Maggot Infestation

AHS complained the inspectors were just too hard on them. In an interview with NBC New York, Denton Infield, who was charged with tampering with evidence in the dog killing an adopter case six years earlier, basically said dogs are going to poop at night and you can’t prevent them from wallowing in it. Mr. Infield went on to say poor AHS contracts with dozens of municipalities and might close due to potential fines. Ironically, New Jersey animal shelter regulations only allow fines of up to $50 per offense. During that year AHS had a $1.5 million profit and over $10 million in net assets. Clearly, Mr. Infield and AHS were full of it.

Sadly, the New Jersey Department of Health continued to find significant issues during another inspection in 2011. The inspection report noted dogs housed in kennels with a collapsed roof and workers throwing damaged roof material directly over these dogs. Additionally the report stated outdoor drains were in severe disrepair, no isolation areas for sick large dogs existed, automatic dog feeders were filthy, dogs were exposed to contaminated water and chemicals during the cleaning process, and some animals were not receiving prompt medical care.

The following photos were taken during the 2011 inspection:

AHS 2011 Insepction Sick Rottie AHS 2011 Inspection Cakes on Food 2 AHS 2011 Inspection Dog Near Feces in Drain AHS 2011 Inspection Dog Under Roof Construction AHS 2011 Inspection Smeared Feces

Outrageous Fight with Veterinarians and Animal Welfare Activists for Patrick

In 2011, AHS helped rescue an incredibly emaciated pit bull named Patrick. The dog was found in a garbage chute by workers in an apartment building and was rushed to AHS. To AHS’s credit, the shelter’s veterinarian stabilized Patrick and then sent him to a New Jersey veterinary hospital for intensive treatment. After bonding with Patrick, the veterinarians that ran the animal hospital wanted to adopt Patrick.

Instead of celebrating the fact that the severely abused dog finally had a loving home, AHS filed a lawsuit to take Patrick back. The lawsuit stated Patrick was “trademark registration number 23699” and was a “very valuable brand for commercial exploitation and fundraising.” Unsurprisingly, the animal welfare community was outraged by this action. Luckily, AHS ultimately lost the case after a judge awarded custody to the veterinarians who cared for Patrick.

Vicious Fights with Cory Booker

AHS fought with Cory Booker during the Senator’s tenure as Newark’s mayor. In 2011, the former Mayor announced his intention to build a new no kill shelter in Newark. Instead of rejoicing that AHS may have to kill fewer animals with another shelter in the city, AHS trotted out Denton Infield and spewed out all sorts of nonsense about no kill shelters. This nonsense seemed eerily similar to what PETA, which kills almost all of the shelter animals it takes in, says about no kill shelters. Ironically, AHS stated that Cory Booker should give the money he raised to AHS. Newark’s Deputy Mayor at the time, Adam Zipkin, rightfully called AHS on this BS, and cited no kill animal control shelters in Reno, Nevada, Tompkins County, New York, Charlottesville, Virginia, Marquette, Michigan, Berkeley, California, and Austin, Texas to prove Newark can be a no kill community.

AHS again fought with Cory Booker in 2013. This time AHS sent out Scott Crawford who complained former Mayor Booker was “belittling us and causing us problems.” After all, how dare the Mayor question the record of the high kill shelter with such a sordid history in his own city? Deputy Mayor Zipkin stated the city intended to build a new no kill shelter “due to our extreme dissatisfaction with the level of care at the existing AHS facility – and because far too many of the animals are unnecessarily killed there each year by AHS.” Thus, AHS could not get along with the popular mayor of the city where the organization’s largest shelter is.

Repeated Fights with Volunteers

AHS-Tinton Falls banned its volunteers in 1998 after the volunteers complained about poor shelter conditions. When complaints to AHS and the New Jersey Department of Health resulted in no meaningful actions, one volunteer reached out to her Assemblywoman on the matter. Subsequently, the NJ SPCA was contacted and around a week or so later AHS ended its volunteer program at the shelter for “insurance reasons.” At the time, Lee Bernstein said the volunteers complained about shelter conditions because they were just bitter about being banned. The volunteers were ultimately proven right after the SCI report came out citing the deplorable conditions at AHS’s shelters.

AHS-Newark’s relationship with volunteers running two separate “Friends” pages ended in recent years. In 2013, AHS banned the volunteers running the “Friends of Newark NJ Animal Shelter” Facebook page which currently has over 6,700 fans. At the time, the page primarily focused on saving the shelter’s dogs. In 2012, the last full year this page supported the shelter, AHS-Newark reported 15% of its dogs were killed, died, went missing or were unaccounted for. In 2013, after these volunteers were banned, 38% of AHS-Newark’s dogs were killed, died, went missing or were unaccounted for. Subsequent to the banning of these volunteers, another volunteer formed a Facebook page called the “Friends of Associated Humane Society – Newark.” However, the volunteer parted ways with AHS on less than friendly terms in 2014. Thus, AHS has a history of fighting with and banning the very volunteers giving their all to help the organization’s animals.

History Repeats Itself

To be fair, AHS has improved since the Lee Bernstein era. The SCI report did detail Roseann Trezza fighting with Lee Bernstein at times. For example, Roseann Trezza advocated for sending more animals to rescues.

However, AHS has a very long way to go. The organization’s kill rate is still way too high based on recent data. Furthermore, the three AHS shelters only adopted out 14-39 percent and 6-44 percent of cats and dogs that AHS should adopt out based on my recent analyses of the organization’s performance.

At the end of the day, I firmly believe the banned volunteers side of the story verses AHS’s version. This organization’s history of conflict and highly questionable activities is consistent with them banning volunteers for nefarious reasons. George Santayana stated:

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”

Unfortunately with AHS’s history, fighting with volunteers and other animal advocates is par for the course. Until AHS’s senior leadership is replaced with competent and compassionate people, AHS’s history of not doing right by the animals will continue.