Associated Humane Societies-Newark’s Horrible Handling of Irvington’s Homeless Animals

Last year, I analyzed a large number of records for animals coming into Associated Humane Societies-Newark during 2014. These records, which primarily consisted of animals coming in from animal control in Newark, revealed massive killing and incompetence at this so-called “shelter.” Overall, 93% of cats, 70% of dogs, and 81% of pit bull like dogs with known outcomes in this data set lost their lives at AHS-Newark.

Did AHS-Newark change for the better in 2015? Does AHS-Newark save a lot more animals coming in from other municipalities? Do animals coming in from animal control fare worse than dogs and cats arriving at the shelter from other sources?

Detailed Analysis Conducted 

To get a better understanding of AHS-Newark’s handling of animals, I submitted an OPRA request to the City of Irvington’s Health Department seeking intake and disposition records of all Irvington animals, such as strays and owner surrenders, AHS-Newark impounded during the first 9 or so months in 2015. After much follow-up over a period of several months, I received AHS-Newark’s underlying intake and disposition records for these animals. Unfortunately, AHS-Newark refused to honor subsequent OPRA requests for records of animals coming in during the last three or so months of 2015.

In total, I obtained around 300 animal records and it took me several weeks 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 89 cats and 93 dogs that AHS-Newark impounded from Irvington in 2015.

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.

Underlying Records Reveal Mass Killing

The sheer number and percentage of Irvington animals losing their lives at AHS-Newark is staggering. Overall, AHS-Newark killed 75% of the cats, 60% of the dogs and 74% of the pit bull like dogs that had outcomes in this data set. These kill rates were only slightly lower than the kill rates from my 2014 data set for Newark animals where AHS-Newark killed 83% of cats, 67% of dogs and 79% of pit bull like dogs. Furthermore, if I add Irvington animals who died at AHS-Newark, 83% of cats, 60% of dogs and 74% of pit bull like dogs lost their lives in this data set at AHS-Newark. As a comparison, 93% of cats, 70% of dogs and 81% of pit bull like dogs lost their lives in the 2014 data set for Newark animals. To put it another way, 62 out of 75 cats, 46 out of 77 dogs, and 32 out of 43 pit bull like dogs who had outcomes lost their lives per these Irvington 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 Irvington during the first 9 months of 2015.

The percentage of dogs and cats losing their lives increases if we only consider the animals AHS-Newark had to shelter for more than a short period of time. Typically, shelters quickly return dogs and cats to their owners since such animals usually are licensed and/or have microchips. Therefore, shelters have to do little work to return these animals to their families. If I calculate the death rate excluding owner-reclaims, 83% of cats, 68% of dogs and 82% of pit bull like dogs lost their lives in this data set. In other words more than 2 out of 3 dogs and 4 out 5 pit bull like dogs and cats not reclaimed by owners lost their lives in this data set. Thus, AHS-Newark operated more like a pet killing factory than an animal shelter for Irvington’s homeless dogs and cats during the first 9 months of 2015.

AHS-Newark’s kill and death rates for dogs may actually be higher. Of the 22 unclaimed dogs safely making it out of AHS-Newark, 16 of these animals were transferred to AHS-Tinton Falls and AHS-Popcorn Park. Similarly, 6 of the 7 unclaimed pit bull like dogs leaving AHS-Newark alive went to AHS-Tinton Falls and AHS-Popcorn Park. AHS-Tinton Falls and AHS-Popcorn Park do not operate their shelters under a no kill philosophy and it is possible some of these dogs lost their lives at these other AHS facilities. Thus, AHS-Newark’s statistics may even be worse than the charts below indicate.

AHS-Newark’s adoption statistics in this data set were abysmal. Specifically, AHS-Newark only adopted out 8% of its cats, 4% of its dogs, and 0% of its pit bull like dogs in this data set. In fact, AHS-Newark only adopted out 9% of its small dogs in this data set. AHS-Newark poor adoption policies, which include normal dog adoption fees of $200 or more, requiring notarized letters from landlords when leases are silent about pets, and requiring existing dogs meet dogs at the facility, hamper the shelter’s ability to adopt out animals. In addition, the large number of animals receiving inadequate physical and behavioral care and the overall poor customer service at the shelter also hurt adoption efforts. Thus, AHS-Newark needs to overhaul their policies to increase adoptions.

Irvington’s overall 2015 statistics and the animal control only data were nearly identical. This suggests the horrific Newark statistics, which were primarily animals coming in from animal control, I reviewed last year may be similar to the overall Newark statistics.

AHS Irvington 2015 Dog and Cat StatsAHS Irvington 2015 Pit Bulls and Small Dogs Stats

AHS-Newark’s length of stay data reveals the shelter’s poor performance. First and foremost, AHS-Newark killed cats in this data set after just 12 days on average. Overall, AHS-Newark’s dog length of stay figures indicated animals resided way too long at the shelter. For example, despite the shelter only adopting out 4 out of 93 dogs, AHS-Newark still took nearly 7 weeks on average to adopt those few animals out. Additionally, AHS-Newark’s dog average length of stay figure may actually be higher since the shelter had significant numbers of animals that were in the ending population and transferred to other AHS shelters. Therefore, these animals likely spent additional time in an AHS shelter. Finally, even this data set’s small dogs, which typically fly out of shelters, spent 49 days on average at AHS-Newark. The 49 day average length of stay figure understates the time spent at AHS shelters since more than half of these dogs went to another AHS shelter after leaving the Newark facility or were in the ending population at AHS-Newark. Thus, AHS-Newark quickly killed cats and took way too long to safely place dogs in this data set.

AHS Irvington 2015 LOS Data

AHS Irvington 2015 LOS Data Pits and Small Dogs

Poor Reasons for Killing

AHS-Newark killed many healthy and treatable animals. AHS-Newark’s top three reasons for killing cats were as follows:

  1. Feral/Aggressive
  2. Sick
  3. Ringworm

On March 8, 2015 an Irvington resident surrendered two cats named Benny and Jet to AHS-Newark due to the person being unable to care for the animals. Despite the cats having a previous home, AHS-Newark labeled the cats as “feral” and killed the two animals 9 days later.

cat ID 132712Cat ID 132713

On May 4, 2015 Cat ID# 134247 arrived at AHS-Newark “covered in motor oil and gasoline.” Despite this cat’s obvious trauma, AHS-Newark stated this cat “WILL BITE” and killed her 17 days after coming into the shelter. The shelter did note it was able to give the cat a bath. No rehabilitation efforts were documented on the record below. A recent study found gradual touching and petting and talking in a soft voice is highly effective at socializing so-called aggressive cats. Thus, AHS-Newark appeared to do little to save this traumatized cat.

Cat id 134247.jpg

On May 8, 2015, AHS-Newark impounded a female cat and two kittens from an address in Irvington. The 7 year and 5 month old black cat (Cat ID# 134396), which may have been the mother of the two 7 month old black kittens, was killed by AHS-Newark 11 days later. AHS-Newark killed the female kitten, Cat ID# 134395, two minutes later. Three minutes after AHS-Newark killed the female kitten, the shelter killed the male kitten (Cat ID# 134394). Frankly, I wonder how close these kittens were to each other and the mother prior to their killing given the short time between killing each animal. If the animals were in fact near each other and were a family, I can only imagine the horror these kittens were in prior to AHS-Newark poisoning them to death.

Cat ID134396

Cat ID 134394.jpg

134495

AHS-Newark took in Cat ID# 131808 from an Irvington resident who found her on January 16, 2015. After just 8 days, AHS-Newark killed the cat for having an upper respiratory infection that was “not improving.” Nothing in the “Health Records” on the document below indicate any specific treatment for the URI beyond the vaccinations on the day this 12 month old cat arrived at AHS-Newark. Furthermore, the record provides no documentation that AHS-Newark tried to place this cat in a foster home or with a rescue prior to killing her.

Cat ID 131808.jpg

Kathleen was surrendered to AHS-Newark on March 26, 2015 due to her owner moving out of state. According to the record below, Kathleen’s owner stated the 9 year and 7 month old cat never went outside. While its unclear from the record where Kathleen caught a URI, I would think an indoor cat would not have had the virus prior to arriving at the shelter. While at AHS-Newark, Kathleen’s URI did not respond to treatment and the cat developed pneumonia. According to the “Health Records” on the document below, AHS-Newark provided no other treatment beyond normal veterinary care on the day this cat arrived at the shelter. Amazingly, Kathleen developed pneumonia during the cat’s less than two week stay at AHS-Newark. After just 12 days, AHS-Newark killed Kathleen.

Cat ID 133217.jpg

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 three reasons AHS used to kill dogs were:

  1. Aggression related issues
  2. Dog aggression
  3. Overcrowded

AHS-Newark labeled many dogs as aggressive that did not seem that way. On August 3, 2015, AHS-Newark received Emmet back from an adopter. The adopter returned this 1 year and 8 month old Labrador mix due to Emmet having a sore and being too active. While Emmet was at the shelter previously, he received an excellent evaluation. Besides being “full of puppy energy” and dog selective, he “had a great food test” and was “gentle taking treats” and “friendly with people.” Furthermore, Emmet was one of the select few dogs chosen for a photoshoot and the shelter wrote “DO NOT PTS” (i.e. do not put to sleep) prior to his adoption. Despite this great evaluation and favorable treatment at the shelter, “sc”, who I presume is former AHS Assistant Executive Director, Scott Crawford, decided to kill him for being “Cagey” (i.e. cage aggression), “very dog aggressive” and for the crime of being returned by an adopter. As the Dogs Playing for Life program has found, cage or barrier aggression often does not mean a dog is aggressive in normal conditions outside of an unnatural kennel environment. Thus, it seems AHS-Newark simply looked for a reason to kill this young Labrador mix after he was returned by his adopter.

Dog ID 137543 pt 1.jpg

Dog ID 137543 pt 2

Zoey was a 3 year and 6 month old stray dog taken to AHS-Newark on May 15, 2015. On August 18, 2015 the shelter wrote “DO NOT PTS-PHOTOSHOOT/FACEBOOK” on Zoey’s record below. Additionally, the photo on Zoey’s record below showed a person sitting with her. Despite AHS-Newark’s clear instructions not to kill Zoey, Scott Crawford decided to kill her two weeks later for being “cage craze”, “been developing barrier issues”, and acting “aggressive during length of stay.” Nothing in the record below indicated AHS provided any kind of behavioral treatment to Zoey.

Dog ID 134633 pt 1.jpg

Dog ID 134633 pt 2.jpg

Spike was a 4 year and 4 month old stray dog taken to AHS-Newark on June 3, 2015. AHS-Newark killed Spike 20 days later for having dog aggression, “developing barrier issues” and lack of space. Nothing on the record indicated AHS-Newark tried to socialize Spike with other dogs to help treat his alleged dog aggression.

Dog ID 135253.jpg

Star was a 3 year and 5 month old stray dog taken to AHS-Newark on June 3, 2015. On July 21, 2015, AHS-Newark wrote “DO NOT PTS PER SW PHOTOSHOOT FACEBOOK.” Around a month later on August 22, 2015, AHS-Newark again wrote “DO NOT PTS” after Star apparently was evaluated. Star’s evaluation was spectacular. Specifically, the evaluation stated “She radiates joy with her disposition” and she was “a Kennel staff favorite with her wonderful loving disposition”, “warm and affectionate”, “very friendly”, and a “GREAT DOG.” With an evaluation like this and instructions to not kill her written on two separate occasions, one would think Star was safe. Sadly, AHS-Newark killed Star just 18 days later for being dog aggressive, “no interest for adoption” and lack of space. If a dog like Star can’t make it out of AHS-Newark alive, what chance do the many dogs outside the public spotlight have?

Dog ID 135258 Pt 1.jpg

Dog ID 135258 Pt 2.jpg

Crush, who was a 1 year and 5 month old dog, was surrendered by his owner to AHS-Newark on January 15, 2015. Apparently, AHS-Newark posted Crush on Petfinder and Facebook as the shelter wrote “PETFINDER FACEBOOK DO NOT PTS PER SW.” Crush had an excellent evaluation that described him as “one happy dude” and went on to say “had no issues sharing his food bowl”, he shared his toys with people, and “did well with the female dog he met outside.” Despite his stellar evaluation, AHS-Newark killed Crush 70 days after he arrived at the shelter. AHS-Newark justified killing Crush for not being able to be share a kennel with another dog, “extreme barrier aggression”, being “unpredictable at times” and “declining further.” No where on the record does AHS-Newark mention any efforts to preserve Crush’s psychological well-being. Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1:9, shelters must have a disease control program that addresses the psychological well-being of their animals. Thus, it seems AHS-Newark did nothing to prevent Crush from deteriorating at the stressful AHS-Newark shelter or simply mislabeled him as having various forms of aggression.

Dog ID 131795

Dog ID 131795 (2)

Questionable Statistics

The data I reviewed suggests AHS-Newark may also kill large numbers of animals from other communities the shelter contracts with. AHS-Newark’s death rate for the Irvington animals in this blog was nearly as high as the 2014 Newark animal data set I reviewed in a prior blog. While Newark and Irvington may be more difficult communities to serve (i.e. higher intake, fewer reclaimed animals, more pit bull like dogs, etc.), I find it hard to imagine the death rates, particularly for unclaimed animals, are that much lower in other contracting municipalities.

The statistics in this blog and my prior blog on Newark animals arriving at AHS-Newark make me question AHS-Newark’s 2015 reported statistics. AHS-Newark killed 43% of cats and 25% of dogs based on its 2015 summary statistics. However, AHS-Newark killed 75% of cats and 60% of dogs in the 2015 Irvington data set I reviewed. If I exclude unclaimed animals, AHS-Newark killed 44% of unclaimed cats and 31% of unclaimed dogs based on its 2015 summary statistics. In the data set above, AHS-Newark killed 75% of unclaimed cats and 68% of unclaimed dogs. Thus, I question whether AHS-Newark’s reported summary statistics are in fact accurate.

AHS-Newark Requires New Leadership

AHS shocked the animal welfare community this summer when it hired Niki Dawson to replace Scott Crawford as its Assistant Executive Director. While I certainly had serious issues with Niki Dawson’s views and past performance, I stated she could make some improvements. However, I expressed skepticism that Ms. Dawson would have the authority to make those changes with Roseann Trezza being in charge. Around a month or so after joining AHS, AHS and Niki Dawson apparently parted ways as AHS posted Niki Dawson’s position on a job listing web site in late August. Furthermore, around the same time several people independently told me Niki Dawson no longer was working at AHS.

Niki Dawson’s quick departure from AHS is deeply disturbing. While Ms. Dawson has had a history of working at shelters for very short periods of time, her time at AHS is one of the shortest tenures that I know of. Even more unsettling is the fact that Niki Dawson has long held traditional sheltering and anti-no kill views. In fact, Ms. Dawson faced significant criticism from animal advocates over the years for killing animals at various shelters. Frankly, if a prominent traditional shelter and anti-no kill leader only lasts a month or so at AHS, that should raise major red flags to the New Jersey Department of Health, the NJ SPCA and the AHS Board of Directors. The longer these authorities fail to act the more their personal and professional reputations will deteriorate.

Clearly, AHS has failed its animals as well as the people in the communities it serves. From possible violations of state shelter laws to killing massive numbers of animals to killing dog and cats who are friends and families to wasting obscene amounts of money on lawyers to banning volunteers and fighting with many others in the animal welfare community, Roseann Trezza and AHS continue to do wrong by their animals and the public at large.

AHS needs a new Executive Director who will make the massive changes in culture, staffing, and programs needed to make the Newark facility an excellent shelter. Nothing will change at AHS as long as Roseann Trezza calls the shots. Given the scale of the killing at AHS, animal welfare advocates should make replacing Roseann Trezza with a compassionate and competent leader their primary goal. If animal advocates succeed, thousands of animals and hundreds of thousands of people will benefit. Personally, I can’t think of any anything better for New Jersey’s pets and animal loving people.

Rescued Helmetta Dogs Killed

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.

Max Helmetta Killed in Pa

Romeo Helmetta Killed in Pa

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.

Athena Helmetta Killed in Pa
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:

Helmetta Dog Romeo Killed Evaluation

Helmetta Dog Max Killed Evaluation

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.

Shelter Reform Roundtable Set Up to Fail

North_Fremantle_Railway_Bridge_collapse,_1926

As a response to the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter debacle, State Senator Linda Greenstein took up the issue of shelter reform. State Senator Greenstein’s district contains several municipalities which contracted with Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter. Ms. Greenstein found out firsthand what the true nature of many New Jersey’s shelters are like when she was denied access to the facility.

State Senator Greenstein convened a roundtable recently on reforming New Jersey’s animal shelter system. Understandably, Ms. Greenstein attempted to bring together a variety of people who could provide valuable input into the eventual drafting of shelter reform legislation. Unfortunately, many of these individuals represent obstacles to meaningful shelter reform legislation.

Humane Society of the United States and Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey Dominate Roundtable

Despite its name, the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) has been one of the biggest opponents to real shelter reform in the nation. In the 1990’s, HSUS told shelters to kill rather than send animals to rescues due to moving the animals being potentially “stressful.” In 2003, HSUS argued a shelter should not give a euthanasia list to a rescue group dedicated to saving animals from a local kill shelter. HSUS advised the shelter not to work with this rescue group arguing the rescue group was holding the shelter “hostage.” Ironically, regressive shelters often hold animals hostage in exchange for rescues not speaking the truth about these organizations. In 1998, HSUS opposed Hayden’s Act in California which prevented shelters from killing animals that rescues were willing to save. Luckily, California enacted this legislation which resulted in rescues saving large numbers of animals. During the 1990s, feral cat activists in North Carolina requested HSUS help them persuade their local shelter to allow TNR in their area. Not only did HSUS refuse to help the TNR advocates, HSUS wrote a letter to the local prosecutor stating feral cat colony caretakers should be charged with abandonment. Around 2007, HSUS raised funds from the public to “care for the dogs” seized during the Michael Vick dog fighting case, but did not care for the dogs and actually lobbied authorities to kill these dogs. Last year, HSUS stopped a Minnesota bill which would prevent shelters from killing animals rescues were willing to take, ban the gas chamber and heart sticking, and killing owner surrenders immediately. Thus, HSUS has long opposed progressive shelter reform efforts.

HSUS actions are consistent with an industry lobbying group focused on protecting the organizations it represents and not the animals. Most industries have a lobbying group to advocate for its companies’ interests. For example, the American Bankers Association works to undermine financial regulations. The American Petroleum Institute spends large sums of money to open up lands to exploit natural resources at the cost of the the environment. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which is the major lobbyist for the food industry, has fought to kill legislation requiring food companies to label products with genetically modified (“GMO”) ingredients. Similarly, HSUS tries to block efforts designed to make shelters do more work and face more scrutiny. Thus, HSUS is nothing more than an industry lobbyist group with a kind name when it comes to shelter reform legislation.

The Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey (“AWFNJ”) also has a poor track record. This group’s mission statement includes “uniting all New Jersey animal protection organizations”, but makes no mention of reducing the death toll at New Jersey animal shelters. Based on the most recently reported data to the Office of Animal Welfare, 27,936 dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing at New Jersey Animal shelters in a single year. This number rises to 30,048 if dogs and cats shelters failed to account for are included in the totals. Despite the severe problems at numerous New Jersey shelters in the last year, the AWFNJ was shockingly silent. In fact, the AWFNJ’s web site currently lists the former manager of one of these problem shelters as a member of its Board of Directors. The Montclair Township Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, whose Vice Chair is a local respected veterinarian, long advocated the Shelter Manager, Melissa Neiss, be replaced due to the shelter’s alleged neglect of its animals. Why should we trust an organization which allows this sort of person to serve on their Board of Directors? Even worse, the AWFNJ wrote a letter to Governor Christie in 2011 opposing new legislation preventing shelters from killing owner surrenders during a 7 day hold period. Luckily, the 7 day hold period for owner surrendered animals became law and killing owner surrendered animals within minutes of arriving at shelters is now illegal. Thus, the AWFNJ has done little to nothing to stop recent shelter abuses and tried to block essential shelter reform.

HSUS and AWFNJ have too much influence over the shelter reform roundtable. New Jersey State Director of HSUS and AWFNJ board member, Kathleen Schatzmann, serves on the roundtable. Niki Dawson, who worked at HSUS in 2012, and recently served as AWFNJ President is also a member of the roundtable. Similarly, St. Huberts Executive Director, Heather Cammissa, held several positions at HSUS, including Kathleen Schatzmann’s current job, and and is on the Advisory Board of AWFNJ. Additionally, the current AWFNJ President and Director of Animal Alliance, Anne Trinkle, also serves on the shelter reform roundtable. Thus, the shelter establishment industry has too much of a voice in actually reforming and regulating New Jersey’s animal shelters.

Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s Failed Regulator Serves on Shelter Reform Roundtable

The Director of Middlesex County Department of Health, Lester Jones, is also a roundtable member. Mr. Jones’ agency allowed the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter to go on its merry way for years despite large numbers of complaints and poor inspection reports. Even worse, Lester Jones actually defended the shelter last August saying the problems were no big deal and again in September. Additionally, the Middlesex County Department of Health opposes TNR and Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter fulfilled Lester’s department’s wish with the facility’s catch and kill policy for feral cats. While Lester Jones did make some meaningful suggestions at the roundtable, the past history of his organization is worrisome.

Shelter Establishment Shows its True Colors at Shelter Reform Roundtable

State Senator Greenstein made some key points about New Jersey’s shelters. Specifically, State Senator Greenstein said existing shelter law and its enforcement allows many shelters to do bad things. Ms. Greenstein cited Helmetta as an example of a shelter which took too many animals in to properly care for them.

State Senator Greenstein correctly pointed out the distinction between kill and no kill shelters as follows:

“My take on this whole thing standing back on it and looking at it is that it comes down to these competing philosophies,” she said. “There’s the old-fashion philosophy which we call a kill shelter. I realize that you are pretty much taking the animals in like you would any other trash and you have to keep them for a week then you probably much expect to get rid of them and that leads to the idea of that it’s ok for them to get sick and it’s ok for the conditions not to be too clean and the state standards don’t require too much.”

She said then there the whole new philosophy that you shelters that are doing a good job are into this “no kill philosophy.”

“Try to get them adopted and do whatever you can to keep them healthy,” she said.

Despite this correct and common sense summary of the situation, the shelter industry hacks jumped in and said don’t use the words “kill” and “no kill” as it apparently hurts the feelings of people killing their animals:

New Jersey State Director of the Humane Society of the United States Kathleen Schatzmann warned that the term “no kill shelter” could be “very polarizing to certain groups.” “If perhaps we cannot use that terminology I think all of the good groups have the same end goal in mind to lessen the euthanasia rates and have as much adoption and volunteer participation as possible,” said Ms. Schatzmann.

No kill is mainstream now as major national groups, such as Maddies Fund and Best Friends use the term. In fact, Best Friends argues we should start being honest and drop the word “euthanasia” altogether and use “kill” when shelters take the lives of healthy and treatable animals. Both these groups directly are working on making large communities no kill while HSUS contributes hardly any of its funds to saving companion animals. Additionally, the more we avoid being honest about what is at stake (i.e. whether we kill animals or not), the less likely we will take action to stop it. Thus, HSUS employee and AWFNJ board member, Kathleen Schatzmann, once again shows these groups are more focused on protecting the shelter industry than the animals who are being slaughtered by the people running these so called shelters.

Former HSUS employee and ex-AWNJ President, Niki Dawson, showed where her allegiances lie with this doozy of a remark:

Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter Interim Director Niki Dawson agreed that the phrase should be “avoided.” “It is polarizing for those animal facilities that are doing the best that they can but may not have the resources to have an on-site behavioral trainer to work with some of the more difficult dogs,” said Ms. Dawson.

So shelters are killing animals because they can’t afford a behaviorist? This is a joke as shelters across the nation with few financial resources manage to save their dogs. Perth Amboy Animal Shelter, which serves a community with a higher poverty rate than Jersey City, saved 97% of its dogs in 2013 and only euthanized 5 dogs in 2014. Additionally, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter only spent $281 per cat and dog in 2013. As a comparison, East Orange Animal Shelter, which had horrific problems last year, spent $345 per dog and cat in 2013. Associated Humane Societies, which has its largest kill shelter in Newark, took in revenue of around $1,000 per dog and cat based on its most recently reported data. Similarly, Old Bridge Animal Shelter, which serves a middle class area, saved 99% of its dogs despite only having a budget of $152 per dog and cat in 2013. If Perth Amboy Animal Shelter and Old Bridge Animal Shelter can achieve this success with their meager funding, then other shelters can do so as well.

Shelters do not require an on-site behavioral trainer to save their dogs. Approximately 80-90% of dogs coming into shelters do not have severe behavior issues. Therefore, shelters can achieve no kill or come close to doing so without needing serious behavior rehabilitation. Shelters can hire a trainer on a part time basis or even get a trainer to volunteer their services to help the few dogs with serious behavior issues. Finally, shelters can run large scale dog play groups, such as Amy Sadler’s Playing for Life program, which significantly reduces behavior problems in shelter dogs. Most importantly, these types of playgroups do not require a trainer or behaviorist.

Niki Dawson’s comments are very disappointing, but not surprising. While I held out hope Ms. Dawson changed her ways, her past experience working at HSUS and at high kill shelters likely still impacts her mindset. While serving as Executive Director at Camden County Animal Shelter, the dog kill rate increased from approximately 20% in 2007 and 19% in 2008, the two years before Ms. Dawson’s tenure as Executive Director began near the end of 2008, to 28% in her last calender year at the shelter in 2010. In 2013, Camden County Animal Shelter’s kill rate was back down to 19%. In 2010 while Niki Dawson was assisting Liberty Humane Society, many people in the community criticized her shelter for killing dogs. In a roughly one month span, Liberty Humane Society killed 25 dogs along with 47 cats and some people questioned how the shelter used temperament testing to make life and death decisions for dogs. No kill leader, Nathan Winograd, told Ms. Dawson she was not doing enough positive outreach and she had alternatives to killing dogs. Thus, Ms. Dawson’s defense of high kill shelters is not surprising based on her fairly recent experience running these types of facilities.

St. Huberts Executive Director, Heather Cammisa, who used to work at HSUS and is on the AWFNJ Advisory Board, said New Jersey’s animal shelters are just dandy:

Executive Director of St. Hubert’s Heather Cammisa said that they have made tremendous progress in New Jersey in not euthanizing animals.”We’ve come a really far way so now that we can share how we got there with our states they look up to us as a leader,” said Ms. Cammisa. She attributes it to responsive, effective animal control in every municipality, low-cost spay and neutering accessibility and the law in 1983.

Call me crazy, but I don’t consider the loss of as many as 30,000 or more dog and cat lives in New Jersey shelters during 2013 a success. Furthermore, would you consider Ron’s Animal Shelter an example of “tremendous progress?” Ron’s Animal Shelter killed 65% and 86% of its dogs and cats in 2013 and reported virtually identical kill rates in 2006. Any state that allows a shelter to keep on operating a slaughterhouse like that is no “leader.” Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters had a combined dog and cat kill rate of 28% in 2013 while only 11% of dogs and cats were euthanized in Colorado’s animal shelters during that same year. New Jersey’s kill rate was nearly 3 times higher than Colorado’s euthanasia rate despite Colorado shelters taking in nearly 3.5 times as many dogs and cats per capita. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters are not “leaders”, they are an embarrassment.

Like Niki Dawson, Heather Cammissa’s past history working for a kill shelter likely influences her views. Ms. Cammissa served as Executive Director of the Jersey Shore Animal Center for 5 years. During her last year as Executive Director in 2006, the shelter killed 45% of its cats. Furthermore, she worked for HSUS during a tumultuous time when HSUS vehemently opposed the no kill movement. Not surprisingly, her current shelter refuses to use the term “no kill” and says its “divisive among animal welfare professionals.”

That being said, Ms. Cammissa did say New Jersey shelters need to “clean up” their data reporting. Unfortunately, many more things need fixing as well.

Animal Alliance Director and AWFNJ President Anne Trinkle claimed our laws are fine and we just need better enforcement:

“The law, as it is written, is pretty comprehensive it is just a matter of enforcement,” said Annie Trinkle, director of Animal Alliance and Welfare Federation of New Jersey.

I do agree that New Jersey animal shelter laws are reasonably good relating to humane care. Certainly, effective enforcement would help. However, the penalties for noncompliance are too weak and municipalities hold too much power when things go wrong. Additionally, more specificity on how humane care is provided, such as requiring animal enclosures be cleaned twice a day, is needed. As a result, a horrific shelter like Helmetta can continue on its merry way for far too long.

Enforcing shelter laws mandating humane care may lead to increased killing if lifesaving requirements are not put into law. Simply put, shelters can comply with existing laws cheaply and easily by killing animals right after their 7 day hold period. That is why I recommend that New Jersey enact the Companion Animal Protection Act.

Shelter Reform Roundtable Members from Outside the Animal Shelter Lobby Must Stand Up and Fight for What is Right

The shelters invited to the roundtable are not role model shelters in my opinion. While these shelters do have relatively low euthanasia rates and I’m sure provide humane care, these organizations’ contribution to making New Jersey a no kill state falls far below their potential. Specifically, these shelters are blessed with excess space relative to the number of local animals they need to adopt out and some serve very affluent areas. Unfortunately, based on my recent analysis of these shelters’ performance on dogs and an upcoming one on cats, these organizations do not save nearly as many animals from New Jersey as they should. Thus, these groups are not rock star shelters and their low euthanasia rates are due more to favorable circumstances than highly successful operations.

State Senator Greenstein said certain members of the roundtable were not interested in fundamental change. Unfortunately, this is not surprising given the number of the establishment shelter industry insiders on the roundtable.

As I’ve previously stated, our state’s shelter system needs monumental changes if we are going to become a no kill state. Specifically, we need to do the following things to end the killing of healthy and treatable animals in New Jersey:

  1. Require the Office of Animal Welfare to do quarterly inspections for every shelter in the state
  2. Institute the Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”)
  3. Enact a no kill resolution instructing all shelters to develop a plan to reach at least a 90% save rate as the Austin, Texas City Council did
  4. Mandatory data reporting in the Companion Animal Protection Act should require an audit or at least a thorough independent review for accuracy

CAPA and a no kill resolution are essential as regressive shelters will simply kill more animals after the 7 day hold period if we raise humane care standards. Furthermore, too many shelters, such as Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter, will bully volunteers and rescues from speaking up about poor treatment of animals without explicit laws making this illegal. CAPA requires shelters to follow many parts of the no kill equation, which is a series of programs proven to reduce or actually end the killing of savable animals. Specifically, CAPA requires animal shelters/municipalities do the following common sense things:

  1. Implement TNR and prohibit anti-feral cat policies
  2. Develop detailed animal care protocols for all animals, which includes nursing mothers, unweaned kittens and puppies, and animals which are old, sick, injured or needing therapeutic exercise
  3. Clean animal enclosures at least two times per day to maintain proper hygiene and be welcoming to prospective adopters
  4. Not kill any animal a rescue is willing to take
  5. Prohibit banning of rescues unless the rescue is currently charged with or convicted of animal cruelty/neglect
  6. Contact all rescues at least two business days before an animal is killed
  7. Match lost pet reports with animals in shelter and post stray animals on the internet immediately to help find lost pets owners
  8. Promote animals for adoption using local media and the internet
  9. Adopt animals out seven days a week for at least six hours each day, which includes evenings and weekends when potential adopters are likely to visit
  10. Not have discriminatory adoption policies based on breed/age/species/appearance (i.e. can’t prohibit pit bull, elderly pet, etc. adoptions)
  11. Offer low cost spay/neuter services, substantive volunteer opportunities to the public, and pet owner surrender prevention services
  12. Not kill any animals when empty cages exist, enclosures can be shared with other animals, or foster homes are available
  13. Shelter Executive Director must certify they have no other alternative when killing/euthanizing an animal
  14. Publicly display animal shelter intake and disposition statistics (i.e. numbers of animals taken in, adopted, returned to owner, killed, etc) for the prior year
  15. Provide the local government and the public access to the intake and disposition statistics each month
  16. Pet licensing revenues must be used to fund low cost spay/neuter and medical care for shelter animals rather than go to other government uses

My advice to the other roundtable members, such as the two former Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter volunteers and State Senator Greenstein, is to stand up for what is right. Do not let people with imposing sounding job titles intimidate you. The public is behind you and wants you to enact the above things. As in Austin, Texas, activists fought the Austin Animal Services shelter director and the ASPCA and made their city the largest no kill community in the country. Like the HSUS and former HSUS members on the roundtable, the ASPCA told activists not to criticize the high kill city shelter. After 1 year of implementing the ASPCA plan, killing actually increased by 11%. No kill activists subsequently convinced the City Council to implement the no kill resolution despite the ASPCA’s opposition and Austin has been a no kill city for the last four years.

To those not on the shelter reform roundtable, please contact State Senator Greenstein at this link and tell her you want fundamental change like the recommendations above.

Our shelter system is in crisis and we need to call out the defenders and enablers of the status quo. If we truly want to save our state’s homeless animals, we need to say enough is enough. Only then will we put the policies into place to make New Jersey the no kill state it should be.