New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Are Far Worse Than Previously Thought

Photo of discarded dead animals from a 2009 Office of Animal Welfare inspection report of Associated Humane Societies – Newark. The Executive Director at the time is still in charge of this shelter today.












Most New Jersey animal shelters voluntarily report detailed data to state authorities. Last August, I shared New Jersey’s animal shelters summary statistics on my Facebook page. Each year, the New Jersey Department of Health’s Office of Animal Welfare 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 Office of Animal Welfare 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 Office of Animal Welfare’s summary report.

I compiled the data from these reports and analyze the results in this blog. 2013 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 2013. Specifically, Summit Animal Clinic in Union City, Associated Humane Societies – Tinton Falls, Mercerville Animal Hospital and Angel Pets Animal Welfare in Woodbridge disclosed this data in 2012, but did not do so in 2013. Additionally, East Orange Animal Shelter has never submitted Shelter/Pound Annual Reports to the state, but did share limited data with The Record newspaper. These shelters failure to disclose data raises serious questions. For example, are they trying to hide embarrassing statistics from the public? I’ve included these shelters’ 2012 data, and in the case of East Orange, its limited 2013 data in my analysis. Also, I performed my analysis without these shelters as well. Unless indicated below, I’ve included these shelters’ data in the analysis under the assumption the statistics would be similar if submitted to the Office of Animal Welfare in 2013.

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, 69 out of 100 shelters reporting these dog statistics and 71 out of 98 facilities submitting this cat data failed to get this right. This raises serious questions about the accuracy of these shelters’ reported statistics. Even worse, 54 of the 69 shelters with flawed dog statistics and 46 of the 71 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 71% 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, 3,231 cats and dogs should have had outcomes reported and did not. Thus, there is the potential that as many as 3,231 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) in 2013. 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, Office of Animal Welfare 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 Office of Animal Welfare 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 Previously Believed

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 Office of Animal Welfare’s summary report and the data reported in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports.


The Animal Intake and Disposition report prepared by the Office of Animal Welfare 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 dog kill rate from 13.4% to 13.9% and the cat kill rate from 38.5% to 39.2%.

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 13.9% to 14.5% and the cat kill rate from 39.2% to 40.8%.

In addition, we should increase the kill rate for animals dying or gone 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 14.5% to 15.5% and the cat death rate rises from 40.8% to 46.8%.

Also, many shelters transport easy to adopt animals from out of state which artificially increases save 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. This adjustment increases the New Jersey dog death rate from 15.5% to 18.9% and the state cat death rate from 46.8% to 47.4%.

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 18.9% to 22.1% and the maximum potential state cat death rate from 47.4% to 49.5%.

Finally, the maximum potential New Jersey cat death rate decreases slightly from 49.5% to 49.4% if I include the 2012 data from shelters who failed to report statistics in 2013 to the Office of Animal Welfare. Thus, the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives in our state’s animal shelters may be much higher than previously thought.

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 are listed in the following tables:

NJ Shelter Rates Tables (6)

NJ Shelter Rates Tables (7)

Thus, both dogs and cats have a very good chance of leaving many New Jersey animal shelters dead rather than alive.

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:

NJ Shelter Rates Tables (8)

Unacct cats

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 don’t or rarely transport, facilities with the highest dog and cat death rates considering the unaccounted for animals described above are as follows:

NJ Shelter Rates Tables (2)

Max pot cats po

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, 5,676 dogs were transferred from out of state animal shelters compared to only 1,410 dogs taken in from other New Jersey animal shelters. 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 or 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:

NJ Shelter Rates Tables (5)

New Jersey animal shelters transported 642 cats from out of state while nearly 50% of cats in the state’s animal shelters were killed, died or went missing. Animal Welfare Association (280 cats received from out of state) and Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter (211 cats received from out of state) rescued more cats from out of state facilities than New Jersey animal shelters. In the case of Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter, the organization’s Executive Director told me these cats were rescued from New York Animal Care and Control. One can only hope the out of state cats rescued by other New Jersey animal shelters came from nearby New York and Pennsylvania facilities rather than from shelters far away down south.

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 52% and 4% 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 urban shelters are only returning about one fifth 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).

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 2013, only 61% of dog and 66% 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 87%. 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:

NJ Shelter Rates Tables (11)

NJ Shelter Rates Tables (13)

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 control facilities only impound 8.7 animals per 1,000 New Jersey residents. 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 this so let’s get to work!

Misguided War on Craigslist is Costing Lives

Most of the animal welfare community believes listing animals on Craigslist is a terrible thing. Craigslist allows people to rehome pets for a small fee to encourage pet adoption, but not promote pet profiteering by breeders. Every day, people post pictures on Facebook saying Craigslist animals automatically go to dog fighters, laboratories and dog flippers. In fact, numerous petitions to remove Craigslist’s pet section entirely have popped up in the interest of animals.

No Solid Evidence to Suggest Craigslist is More Dangerous Than Other Pet Placement Venues

The evidence showing Craigslist is far more dangerous to place pets is nonexistent. The well-publicized Puppy Doe incident where a man abused a pit bull puppy obtained from Craigslist is one example of abuse. Craigslist is the nation’s 10th most popular web site and attracts 50 million different visitors each month in the United States alone. In other words, 1 out of 6 Americans use Craigslist each month. Therefore, it is entirely logical with so many visitors and pet placements that a few would go wrong.

People abuse animals obtained from other sources as well. Do people think no one abused an animal adopted from an animal shelter or rescue? Yes, it does happen at animal shelters who “do criminal background checks” as well like this example here. Unfortunately, animals placed for adoption always have a small risk of falling into unsavory hands. Few people would take PETA’s view that killing homeless animals is preferable to adoption due to the tiny risk things may go wrong. Unfortunately, the Craigslist haters fall right into this misguided view that the public at large cannot be trusted. Should we no longer do off-site adoption events since unscrupulous people may visit? Maybe, we shouldn’t put shelters in high traffic locations or keep them open at convenient hours to prevent bad people from adopting animals?

Craigslist also literally saved one bait dog’s life. Mama Jade was a victim of untold abuse, including apparent dog fighting, having her teeth removed, over-breeding, and various other injuries. However, the breast cancer she had was too expensive for her rescuer to afford. As a result, euthanasia seemed like the likely outcome. After posting a plea for help on Craigslist, all the necessary funds came in and then some (which went to a local rescue). Mama Jade finally got the life she long deserved. Unfortunately, these types of Craigslist stories rarely make the rounds on various animal welfare groups Facebook pages.

Banning Craigslist Pet Placements Will Lead to More Shelter Killing

Removing Craigslist’s pet section will undoubtedly lead to more shelter killing. Many people who will not be able to place their pets will be forced to surrender animals to kill shelters. These impounded animals will either be killed or cause another dog or cat to die by taking its space.

Eliminating Craigslist’s pet section will reduce adoptions by shelters and rescues resulting in more animals killed in shelters. Many shelters and rescues rely on Craigslist to place their animals quickly into loving homes. If rescues cannot place their animals quickly, fewer animals will get pulled and saved from kill shelters. Similarly, kill shelters who cannot place their dogs as swiftly will kill more animals due to lack of space.

Craigslist also is an important avenue for long-term lifesaving. Craigslist is immensely popular with young adults. If we can convince young adults to adopt now, we may very likely gain adopters for decades to come. Rough 60% of people online aged 25-44 years old use online classified ads, which Craigslist is the most popular. Facts like these lead those focused on saving lives, such as Bert Troughton of the ASPCA, no kill advocate Kathe Pobloski, and Austin Pets Alive to support using Craigslist to place animals. Thus, it is imperative we use every tool we can to save lives today and well into the future.

In fact, my wife and I placed several dogs we fostered in great homes using Craigslist.  All these dogs were pit bulls, which languished in the shelter for months, and were adopted within a few weeks using Craigslist. One adopter was a young man who went on to volunteer with us at the shelter. His girlfriend ended up becoming a dedicated worker at a no kill shelter. Another adopter was a young golf instructor who regularly shares pictures of the dog and even lets us pet sit our former foster. Thus, our personal experience corroborates the effectiveness of Craigslist to save lives and find wonderful homes.

Unfortunately, the war on Craigslist already is resulting in shelter animals losing their lives. Several rescues are “saving” animals being rehomed on Craigslist. At the same time, New Jersey shelters are killing 73 animals each day. Therefore, these rescues are choosing to “save” animals who will likely be fine and ignoring the animals who have a 100% chance of death. Additionally, many other animals who would have been safely rehomed on Craigslist may end up surrendered to high kill shelters after their owners were told not to use Craigslist. As a result of their war on Craigslist, self-proclaimed animal welfare advocates are reducing the amount of lives saved.

Wrong Assault on People Rehoming Their Pets

While certain rescue groups and individuals sharply criticize owners rehoming their pets, leaders in the animal welfare and no kill movement think otherwise. One argument made by these folks is owners are basically too stupid to rehome a pet on their own. The California Sheltering Report, which was written by the Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA and other groups, disagrees and says owners are in fact better at placing their dogs:

“Owners may also be in a better position than a crowded shelter to rehome their pet, as they know their pet’s positive qualities and can exhibit the pet in a comfortable habitat.”

Similarly, Austin Pets Alive, which led Austin, Texas to becoming the largest no kill community in the country, strongly advocates people rehome their pets using Craigslist. Logically, keeping pets out of shelters saves lives and improves quality of care for animals in shelters.

The criticisms from these individuals show a clear lack of empathy. On the adoption site I run for a local shelter, people frequently contact me looking to rehome their dogs (typically pit bulls). Most times people must relinquish their dogs for very good reasons, such as landlord issues, personal health problems, or even the owner’s death or going to prison. Virtually all rescue groups do not even respond to their pleas for help or simply say “no we will not help you.” If these people turn the dogs over to a kill shelter, which are typically the only ones willing to take the dogs, animal welfare people sharply criticize the “heartless” owners. Yet, when distressed owners try to rehome the animals on Craigslist these same owners are castigated as well. For example, these judgmental people often send nasty messages to distressed owners on Craigslist telling them not to rehome their animal that way. Unfortunately, this not only fails to solve the problem, but turns people off from supporting animal welfare organizations.

The Better Way

So, am I advocating people place animals for free on Craigslist with no questions asked? No, I am not. However, I also believe most people will have the common sense and knowledge of their pet to make informed decisions. That being said, I believe the following things would result in more safe placements and lives saved:

1) Local rescue groups and shelters should collaborate to provide a hotline to distressed pet owners. People answering the hotline should have ample resources, such as solutions to common behavioral issues, lists of dog (particularly pit bull) friendly rental properties, and dog trainers who agree to provide discounted or free training. Many times problems causing a person to relinquish a pet can be solved. Therefore, the animal welfare community can prevent the need to rehome pets altogether in many instances.

2) People insisting on contacting individual placing animals for adoption on Craigslist need to follow proper etiquette. First, they should come across as nonjudgmental, offer to help, and provide the following or similar rehoming guidance:

3) For those wanting to crackdown on Craigslist posts, flag all posts where someone appears to sell animals for a profit. Craigslist only allows classified ads for animals needing homes for “a small rehoming fee” in order to help homeless animals. Cracking down on ads from breeders will decrease their ability to sell animals.

Let’s focus on saving lives and leave moralizing to others.

Shelters Need to Do More Than Send Animals to Rescues

Recently I’ve seen several shelters and their supporters reach out to rescues to pull animals. While working with rescues is a key part of the no-kill equation, I do not think asking for rescue help alone is very effective in making New Jersey a no-kill state.

Clearly, these shelters are competing with each other for limited foster homes through local rescues resulting in little to no net saved lives. Rescue help can make a huge difference in other places where one local shelter exists. In these cases, the rescues would have to travel great distances to go to another shelter so this likely results in net saved lives. However, New Jersey is a densely populated state with many local animal shelters rescues can choose from. Also, many local rescues pull easier to adopt animals from out-of-state leaving relatively few rescues to save pets from New Jersey’s large number of animal shelters. As a result, rescues pulling an animal from one local shelter likely causes another animal to not get pulled from another nearby shelter.

The rescue market is much different from the adoption market. As discussed on a previous blog, shelter killing is largely a market share problem where shelters need to modestly increase their share of the market where people obtain pets. In my view, the rescue market is much less expandable. For example, fewer people are willing to take care of an animal and then adopt it out. Even fewer people are likely willing to do so with rescues which often have stringent requirements for adopters.

The most powerful tool for expanding foster homes are urgent pleas saying the animal will die if not pulled within a short period of time (i.e. 24-72 hours). These pleas typically attract those involved with animal welfare and likely cause someone to take on an additional pet temporarily. Unfortunately, many shelters are unwilling to make these pleas as they perceive it is bad for public relations to put a face and number on their killings. As result, these urgent pleas are generally not made public and when they do occur it’s mostly through rescues/volunteers who sometimes do not name the shelter.

Organizations with vast resources over-relying on rescues is not very efficient. In an ideal world, rescues would only pull animals needing extraordinary treatment or who cannot live in a shelter environment. However, even in these cases a well-run foster program administered by the shelter can successfully place these animals. In fact, one New Jersey shelter, which takes in millions of dollars of revenue a year, refuses to put a volunteer foster program into place and instead relies on rescues to pull neonatal kittens when volunteer foster programs may be more effective. Additionally, rescues often have very limited financial and human resources making it difficult to oversee large numbers of foster homes. Thus, the notion of expanding the rescue market significantly is not likely.

The reason why shelters rely on rescues is simple – it requires little work and saves money by passing the cost of care to the rescue. The shelter simply makes a few phone calls or sends an email and the turns over the animals forever to the rescue. In fact, we know of one shelter which takes in millions of dollars in a year who charges pull and spay/neuter fees to the rescues on a per animal basis. This is particularly troubling when you consider most rescues are financially strapped and the rescue is saving the shelter on the cost of care and/or euthanasia.

In reality, rescues should focus on shelters with limited space and financial resources who cannot hold animals for long. Many local shelters are pretty much old school pounds who lack the space to hold animals for any significant amount of time. While the lack of investment in shelter facilities is a huge problem, it is time-consuming to remedy due to the high cost of building/expanding animal shelters. Additionally, the governmental bureaucracies running these pounds make foster programs difficult to implement. Also, some pounds adopt animals out without being sterilized which poses the risk of additional animals entering the shelter system. Therefore, rescue efforts should be focused on facilities where few practical alternatives exist.

In the end, we need our well-funded animal shelters to shape up and stop wasting precious rescue resources. Our rescues are overburdened and overworked. Given the massive under funding of New York Animal Care and Control (i.e. New York City’s animal control shelter), many New Jersey rescues must help out in New York. Add the many pound like shelters in the state and you have high demand for rescue resources. Our well-funded animal shelters need to stop diverting scarce rescue resources and start doing the following:

  1. Improve customer service
  2. Conduct off-site adoption events several times a week with same day adoptions
  3. Implement volunteer foster programs administered through the shelters
  4. Stay open a few evenings a week so working people can adopt
  5. Proactively seek owners of lost pets instead of casually dismissing such animals as “dumped”
  6. Work with struggling pet owners to help them find solutions to problems so they can keep their pets
  7. Rehabilitate dogs with medical and behavioral problems
  8. Offer real low-cost or better yet free spay/neuter services to economically disadvantaged pet owners
  9. Practice trap-neuter release for impounded feral cats and work with shy cats to make them adoptable

Open admission animal shelters, such as Nevada Humane Society and Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, place approximately 96% of the animals sent to private homes through direct adoptions. These shelters accomplish this despite taking in several times more animals per capita than New Jersey shelters and saving over 90% of impounded animals.

Remember you are paying for these well-funded shelters through your taxes and/or donations. You should demand they spend your money wisely and put it to good use. Don’t let them get away with taking the easy way out.