Updated on 2/25/15 for additional information
After facing much public pressure for months, the NJ SPCA raided the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter on November 13, 2014. Around two weeks later, the NJ SPCA took over the shelter and put Niki Dawson in charge. At the time, I questioned the move due to past complaints about Ms. Dawson. On December 23, 2014, the NJ SPCA proudly announced all the animals were “safely relocated out of the shelter.” However, the NJ SPCA never provided any details on where these animals went and if they are still alive.
We now know four dogs (three of which were pit bull like dogs) were sent to a kill shelter in Pennsylvania. The Humane Society of Harrisburg Area is an animal control shelter that openly admits it has “so many pit bulls.” Furthermore, this shelter refuses to call itself “no kill” and one would expect it to kill many pit bulls. In fact, the shelter placed a 150 pit bull limit into its animal control contract with Harrisburg a few years ago. Less than a year later, the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area stopped accepting dogs from Harrisburg altogether allegedly due to a $6,300 overdue bill from the financially distressed city. As a result of this policy, police would be the judge, jury and executioner based on this excerpt from a Harrisburg police memo:
“If the animal is vicious and a danger to the public and/or officers, or if the animal is obviously sick, injured or suffering the animal may be destroyed in as safe a manner as possible. The animal will then be taken to the Agriculture Bldg. (near the loading dock area) on Cameron St. for disposal.”
Some local animal rescuers argued this policy allowed police to simply shoot certain stray dogs. Subsequently, the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area started taking dogs from the city again.
Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter activists recently uncovered deeply disturbing news about some of these dogs sent to Harrisburg. After getting the runaround from the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area for awhile, the organization admitted the following two dogs, Max and Romeo, were killed for behavioral reasons.
One dog was adopted. The fourth dog, Athena, is currently up for adoption with some “restrictions.” Of course, given where Athena is, she too could end up being another casualty of the decision to send these dogs to the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area.
Niki Dawson’s response to one of the animal activists was quite unsettling. Ms. Dawson said she sent the dogs to this animal control shelter due to it being a HSUS and American Humane Association (“AHA”) partner shelter. HSUS and AHA are well-known for their defense of kill shelters. While Niki Dawson also stated the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area would try and rehabilitate these dogs, one has to question this shelter’s ability to do so given its past history.
The NJ SPCA and Niki Dawson could and should have saved these dogs. Romeo’s and Max’s evaluations conducted by a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant just before leaving Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter stated both dogs showed “no aggression” outside their kennels:
While no one wants truly aggressive dogs adopted out, many rescues and limited admission shelters surely would have been better equipped than a Pennsylvania animal control shelter with “so many pit bulls” to provide any behavioral rehabilitation these dogs needed. Certainly, with the media attention Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter received, many rescues or limited admission shelters would have likely stepped up and helped. Clearly, the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area assisted in part due to the positive media attention it received. No doubt rescues or limited admission facilities would also get similar media coverage which could help with fundraising. Furthermore, even if these dogs could not be rehabilitated, the public would have easily donated the funds to send these dogs to a reputable sanctuary. Thus, the decision to send these four dogs, three of which were pit bull like dogs, to an animal control shelter with “so many pit bulls” is indefensible.
As I previously stated, the NJ SPCA and Niki Dawson need to provide a full accounting for each animal at the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter when the NJ SPCA and Niki Dawson took over. Specifically, we need to know where each animal went, and where it is today. The longer we don’t receive this information, the less confidence the public will have in the NJ SPCA.
Significant Implications for New Jersey Shelter Reform
Both Niki Dawson and the NJ SPCA were invited to participate in State Senator Greenstein’s shelter reform roundtable. During that roundtable, Ms. Dawson argued no kill shelters were “polarizing.” Killing rescued animals and never publicly mentioning these animals were subsequently killed is “polarizing.” Frankly, this episode further reduces my confidence in these individuals to reform our shelter system. We need true reformers and not people who need reform themselves to really change New Jersey’s animal shelter system for the better.