Spaying visibly pregnant is a highly controversial practice for good reason. This procedure kills the mother’s kittens and is in many respects as disturbing, or even more so, than typical shelter killing. No kill leader Nathan Winograd wrote about this in his seminal blog called “The Great Abortion Non-Debate”:
If the kittens or puppies are viable, they must be individually killed, usually through an injection of sodium pentobarbital. Even when they are not, however, when a mother is spayed, the kittens or puppies die from anoxia (oxygen deprivation) due to lack of blood supply from the uterus once the vessels are clamped. They suffocate.
While Mr. Winograd acknowledged those performing the procedures hope the the anesthesia would work on the kittens, he also noted kittens are more resistant to the anesthesia and it might not be effective.
Spaying visibly pregnant cats is the functional equivalent of late stage abortions in humans. Cats show the first visible physical signs pregnancy after 21 days to 28 days. At around 21 days, the mother’s nipples become enlarged. Trained veterinarians and technicians can feel the kittens about a week later. Around this time, the first trimester ends and the kittens become viable (i.e. could survive with care out of the womb). In humans, abortions after this time are highly controversial and uncommon. In 2015, just 1.3% of all human abortions occurred after the first trimester and it is highly likely a much smaller percentage of very late stage abortions (i.e. in the third trimester) occur for ethical reasons. However, proponents of spaying pregnant cats make no qualms about spaying cats up to the time just before birth. Thus, spaying visibly pregnant cats almost always involves killing kittens who could survive with care.
Unlike humans, proponents of spaying pregnant cats force the mothers to abort their kittens against their wills. Cats have natural motherly instincts and its hard to argue they want someone to kill their viable kittens. Therefore, proponents of spaying pregnant cats are making the animals undergo forced abortions.
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s Killing is Kindness Defense of Forced Abortions
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter, which formally was Cumberland County SPCA, recently wrote a newspaper article about why the shelter spays pregnant cats. The shelter wrote a similar article in 2018 that I critiqued in a Facebook post. In the new article, the author, who is the shelter’s “Outreach Coordinator”, complained about the increased number of kittens coming into the shelter during the spring and summer months. Without providing any evidence, the author implied the shelter could take 200 more kittens in if they spayed pregnant cats or 800 more kittens if they gave these kittens a chance to live. To South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s credit, the author did acknowledge others oppose the practice.
The shelter used a kitten named Tito as an example of why the shelter spays pregnant community cats and kills the kittens in its Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release (TNVR) program. Specifically, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter stated Tito’s “feral” mother suffered being confined while caring for him and Tito suffered a “slow death” in a foster home:
Tito was born to a feral mom who was brought into the shelter. She gave birth in a cage and was extremely stressed through the entire process. Because she’s feral, she has to remain confined to a cage until her kittens are weaned. She takes no comfort from a loving foster mom and never being able to have space away from her kittens will wear on her.
If she had been spayed, she would have been spared all this stress and would be outside enjoying the spring weather, having the time of her life, while not adding to the massive kitten overpopulation problem.
If she had been spayed, Tito would have been spared a slow death, even though we did everything we could to make him comfortable. His foster mom would have been spared the trauma of him dying in her hands.
Even if Tito’s mother was really feral, the shelter’s poor practices led to her being stressed. Despite the shelter’s assertion that a pregnant feral cat “takes no comfort from a loving foster mom” and will be terribly stressed in such an environment, this is proven wrong again by Tiny Kittens. Tiny Kittens successfully treated 100% of their injured adult feral cats in foster homes and provides examples of how it cares for pregnant feral cats in foster homes, significantly reduces their stress and helps them give birth to healthy kittens. Thus, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter is completely wrong in claiming pregnant feral cats can’t be happy and give birth to healthy kittens in foster homes.
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s claims that performing a forced abortion would “spare all this stress” in the mother cat and eliminate the foster mom’s “trauma of him dying in her hands” is absurd. As mentioned above, proven practices reduce feral cat stress in foster homes. Additionally, injecting a needle into a scared cat and having her wake up with her kittens being killed is severely traumatic. As for the foster mother, most people who foster many young kittens sadly experience kitten deaths. I know this pain firsthand. However, I’ve never met a single kitten foster parent who advocated killing kittens to spare themselves the potential emotional pain of a kitten dying in their care. Simply put, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter is rationalizing its forcing mother cats to have late term abortions and the killing of kittens.
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter Refuses to Let Cat Advocates Foster Pregnant Mothers and Considers These People Foolish
The shelter argues cat overpopulation is a reason for its policy of performing forced late term abortions. Specifically, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter stated:
If we allowed all the pregnant cats we TNVR to give birth, there is no way that the shelter, the TNVR program, or the community would be able to keep up while saving lives.
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s “cat overpopulation” argument on why people can’t foster pregnant community cats is completely wrong. First, data has existed for years showing more than enough homes exist to place every animal shelters take in. In a blog I wrote on South Jersey Regional Animal a few years back, I presented data from Nathan Winograd showing shelters had many more potential homes available than the number of animals those facilities have to place. Additionally, the blog provided evidence that even the traditional sheltering industry agreed with Mr. Winograd’s data and conclusions.
The shelter could adopt out all the kittens it claims it would receive if it didn’t spay pregnant feral cats. As mentioned above, the shelter claimed it could take up to 600 more kittens a year if it didn’t spay pregnant cats (i.e. it would take in 800 more kittens during kitten seasons if it did not spay pregnant cats and 200 more kittens if it did spay pregnant cats) My prior blog provided a tailored estimate for South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter showing it could have adopted out 759 more cats in 2017 based on its share of the Cumberland County cat adoption market and the market shares of high performing no kill animal control shelters. Based on the shelter’s 2019 data, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter could have adopted out 590 more cats (the 10 kitten difference between this and 600 additional kittens taken in each year would be covered by unavoidable kitten deaths in foster homes). Since kittens are one of the most highly sought after animals, the shelter should have no problem reaching this goal. Thus, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter could have adopted out virtually every kitten from a pregnant cat into a Cumberland County home.
In reality, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter could find many more cats homes. During the pandemic, animal intake significantly dropped as fewer people lost animals and brought strays or surrendered animals to shelters. According to PetPoint’s data, cat intake at shelters using the company’s software decreased 17% in February 2021 compared to February 2020. In fact, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter has not accepted owner surrendered animals since July 2020. Therefore, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter is also likely taking fewer cats in and has a greater capacity to adopt out cats into Cumberland County homes. Furthermore, the shelter could easily transfer many more cats to rescues outside the area since demand for pets has skyrocketed due to more people being home and the availability of fewer animals at shelters. As a result, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s cat overpopulation excuse for killing kittens from pregnant mothers makes no sense.
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter provides a false choice when it comes to the pregnant community cats it spays and the kittens it kills:
The cats that we TNVR are not shelter cats, if we chose not to spay pregnant females, we would have two choices.
The female can be left outside to give birth, leaving the survival of the kittens up to fate. If the kittens survive, they can start reproducing at a few months old, continuing the cycle. However, survival is not guaranteed. They will be at risk from exposure, predators and disease. And that’s assuming that the mom is able to successfully nurse the kittens and doesn’t abandon them.
Alternatively, some of our caregivers have suggested that they will care for the kittens and raise them so they can be placed. While this may be the “feel good” solution, it’s also not productive. The caregiver must be prepared to confine the mother for weeks, which is extremely stressful and increases the chance that she will not be able to properly care for her kittens.
First, the shelter’s statement that the cats it places through its TNVR programs “are not shelter cats” is not true. While some may not be, the organization is almost certainly falsely labeling cats “feral” as most shelters do. The data above showed the vast majority of community cats initially displaying fearful/aggressive behavior become adoptable after structured socialization protocols. In other words, most of these cats would become adoptable if provided the proper care. Furthermore, the kittens born from these mothers would be adoptable with human interaction after birth. Thus, the shelter is providing a false choice for most of these community cats.
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter falsely claims the only real alternative to spaying pregnant community cats is leaving the cats on the streets to give birth. Specifically, the shelter dismisses its caregiver partners’ pleas to let them foster pregnant mothers as a “feel good” solution that is “not productive” stating the mother must be confined for weeks and the “stress” could cause her to not properly care for her kittens. First, many groups already successfully foster pregnant cats, such as Tiny Kittens mentioned above and Companion Animal Trust here in New Jersey. Even if the mother was truly stressed and not properly caring for the kittens, the shelter could spay and release the mother after giving birth and have the foster bottle feed the kittens.
The shelter goes on to lecture and castigate cat caregivers about the difficulties of fostering pregnant cats:
At the shelter, we have seen stressed out mothers kill their kittens, it’s one of the most horrible things we experience. If the mother neglects the kittens, the caregiver should be prepared to bottle feed around the clock, every two to three hours. The caregiver should also be prepared to pay for vet visits for vaccines and if they kittens need medication. And if they truly care about the welfare of cats, they should also ensure that each kitten is sterilized before they are placed in a home. Anything else is irresponsible, as it would cause suffering for the kittens and contribute to the overpopulation problem.
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter clearly is fear mongering and trying to scare caregivers. First, if the shelter really let mother cats get so stressed that they killed their kittens, authorities should have charged the facility’s director and/or board of directors with animal cruelty. If these incidents happened when the organization still held animal cruelty law enforcement powers, it should have filed these Title 4 animal cruelty charges. Second, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s condescending tone jumps out here in that it tells caregivers they should be aware that they must pay to vet the kittens and sterilize the animals. Frankly, the shelter should pay for these kittens care and not the volunteers who are giving up their time, sleep and space in their home to help the organization. Furthermore, the volunteer caregivers know how to care for and treat kittens far better than the shelter (which let mothers kill their kittens). Thus, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter should not throw out the authority card when it has no business doing so.
The shelter’s article concludes with the same falsehoods about fostering pregnant community cats and not enough homes existing for the kittens:
Ideally, we would be able to spay and neuter every community cat out there before pregnancy happened. In reality, there’s not a chance of that. Ideally, a pregnant cat would be able to safely deliver her kittens and we could guarantee that her quality of life will be maintained and the kittens will stay healthy.
In reality, that’s basically impossible.
Ideally, there would be a home for every kitten.
In reality, there simply is not.
So until reality catches up with the ideal, we must continue to work hard and make decisions to reduce the population. In the end, the more cats we fix, pregnant or not, the more lives we save.
As the information and data I presented above showed, we can safely and humanely foster pregnant community cats (most of which are not truly feral) using proven practices and more than enough homes exist for the kittens. Rescues already successfully foster pregnant community cats, both friendly and truly feral, and raise their kittens. Furthermore, more than than enough homes exist for the additional kittens South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter claims it would take in from these pregnant cats. Thus, the shelter should stop lecturing cat advocates about a false “reality” and start working with them to save lives.
South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter can easily force Cumberland County and the municipalities it contracts with elsewhere to implement TNVR and end the killing of community cats. Since the organization owns its physical shelter, it has complete leverage over the contracting municipalities. In other words, if South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter stated it would not contract with these towns unless they legalized and fully embraced TNVR, the municipalities would have to do so since they’d have no other place to send their stray animals. In fact, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter sent letters to its contracting municipalities in 2017 stating it was going to close at the end of the year and needed more money citing changing health codes (which had not changed) and costs to comply with the Open Public Records Act (which were exaggerated). Ultimately, the municipalities caved and agreed to pay more. Also, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter began contracting with additional towns after Ron’s Animal Shelter closed at the end of 2017 (i.e. this undercuts the shelter’s argument that it takes too many animals in). Subsequently, the shelter’s revenues from municipal contracts nearly doubled in 2018 as compared to 2017. In 2019, the organization’s municipal contract revenue increased more and were over 230% of the 2017 amounts. Despite the shelter’s strong arm tactics, it did not require the municipalities to implement TNVR. Thus, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter sold out cats to take in more money from the municipalities to practice catch and kill.
Ultimately, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter lacks the necessary respect for life and the ability to work with its community to end the killing at its facility. As the shelter’s article clearly demonstrates, the organization rationalizes killing using arguments, such as “too many animals and not enough homes”, “fates worse than death” and “not enough resources”, that shelters across the nation have proved wrong. Even worse, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter denigrates the very people (i.e. cat advocates willing to foster pregnant community cats) who could help the shelter end the killing. For these reasons, I’m not surprised to see many Cumberland County cat advocates criticize the shelter. At the end of the day, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter must replace its leadership if it ever hopes to end the killing and create a no kill Cumberland County.
This blog is the fourth and final one in a series on finding the nation’s best no kill animal control shelter. In Part 1, I described the five shelters under consideration and compared the difficulty of their challenges. In Part 2, I rated each shelter’s commitment to respecting life and not killing animals. In Part 3, I compared the effectiveness and efficiency of the shelters’ lifesaving programs. You can read those three blogs here, here and here. In this blog, I rank the five shelters and provide my rationale for doing so.
5. Pima Animal Care Center
Pima Animal Care Center’s live release programs yielded some impressive results. In 2019, the shelter had the second highest stray dog reclaim rate and shelter-neuter return percentage of total cat outcomes. Additionally, in both 2019 and 2020, Pima Animal Care Center achieved the second highest per capita dog adoption rate. Also, the shelter had the second highest pit bull per capita adoption rate in 2019. Finally, Pima Animal Care Center had the shortest overall and adoption lengths of stay for dogs and cats, as well as for pit bulls and adult cats, by very wide margins. Thus, Pima Animal Care’s had some excellent live release programs.
While Pima Animal Care Center performed impressively for the most part in its live release programs, its cat adoption program fell short. In both 2019 and 2020, the shelter had the second lowest cat adoption percentage of total cat outcomes and per capita cat adoption rate. Additionally, the top ranking shelters outperformed Pima Animal Care Center by wide margins in these metrics.
Pima Animal Care Center’s shelter-neuter-return program sent a significant number of relatively young kittens back to their outdoor homes. Specifically, 15% of these cats were five months or younger (almost all were between three and five months). While some cat experts believe shelters should return such animals to field if healthy, I’m not comfortable doing so given these animals could be more susceptible to outdoor deaths and are easy to adopt out if they are not truly feral. Personally, I think organizations should hold off on shelter-neuter-returning young cats until large scale studies prove animals of this age are at low risk of death on the streets.
The shelter had the second largest decrease in cat intake in the three months after COVID-19 hit and for all of 2020 compared to the prior year periods. While we don’t know whether this was due to good intake reduction programs relating to the shelter’s implementation of the Humane Animal Support Services model of sheltering or simply refusing to take animals in who needed help, the reduction in dog intake was similar to most of the other shelters. Therefore, this suggests the shelter may have took fewer cats in due to its intake policies rather than surrender prevention and other programs to responsibly reduce animal intake.
Despite Pima Animal Care Center having several impressive live release programs, the shelter failed to achieve no kill for both dogs and cats based on my standards. The organization’s 6% dog death rate in both 2019 and 2020, which was the second worst of all the shelters, fell below my and many other no kill advocates 5% benchmark for no kill. In the three months after the COVID-19 pandemic began in the Spring of 2020, the dog death rate rose to 8%. When it came to cats, Pima Animal Care Center failed to even achieve the more lenient generally accepted standard of no kill (i.e. 10% death rate or less). The shelter had cat death rates of 12% in 2019, 17% in the three months after COVID-19 hit in Spring 2020 and 11% in 2020. As a result, Pima Animal Care Center is still a kill shelter.
Pima Animal Care Center was a mixed bag when it came to animals with behavioral issues. The shelter did not kill any cats for behavior/aggression problems since such animals are not a serious threat to people and lifesaving alternatives exist. On the other hand, Pima Animal Care Center killed the second highest percentage of dogs for behavior/aggression in 2019. Even worse, the shelter killed around two and half times the percentage of pit bulls for behavior as the top ranked shelter in 2019. While the overall dog behavior euthanasia percentage was not that much higher than the other shelters in 2019 and the 2020 percentage was similar to the other shelters’ 2019 percentages, Pima Animal Care Center still killed three small dogs for behavior/aggression in 2019 and killed a number of dogs for animal aggression in both years. Furthermore, the shelter killed dogs for behavior reasons quicker than the other facilities (21 days on average) in 2019 that suggests it did not commit as much of an effort as it could to these animals. Thus, Pima Animal Care Center still killed some dogs with manageable behavior problems.
Pima Animal Care Center killed too many dogs and cats for medical issues and allowed too many animals to die. Overall, Pima Animal Care Center had the highest percentages of both dogs and cats euthanized for medical reasons in 2019. Furthermore, the shelter had the highest percentage of cats who died or went missing. In a stunning video from the 2020 American Pets Alive Conference, Pima Animal Care Center’s Director of Veterinary Services admitted the shelter has no written protocols for dealing with animals who come in with serious medical problems and allows the veterinarians to make killing/euthanasia decisions in these cases without any oversight from the shelter director or a euthanasia committee. Even more surprising, the shelter director, Kristen Hassen-Auerbach, collaborated on the behavior parts of a No Kill Advocacy Center guide that also included medical euthanasia protocols requiring shelter directors to sign off on medical euthanasia decisions. Additionally, the shelter killed cats for medical reasons far quicker than the other shelters (3 days on average compared to 10 days to 39 days) that suggests it did not always do everything it could to save these animals. Simply put, Pima Animal Care Center’s leadership team needs to scrutinize its medical euthanasia decisions much more carefully.
The shelter’s results in this blog are consistent with assertions made by a local no kill group several years ago. In April 2018, No Kill Pima County wrote a blog towards the end of Kristen Hassen-Auerbach’s first year at the facility. In that blog titled “Are We There Yet?”, the advocacy organization stated the shelter still killed animals for “treatable medical conditions”, such as “diabetes”, “poor body scores, renal disease, suspected/undiagnosed early cancer, suspected liver issues or calcivirus with mouth ulcers.” While the records I received did not contain this level of detail, the cat death rates in 2019 were not that much lower than they were at the time No Kill Pima County wrote that blog. Additionally, the blog mentioned the killing of “sweetheart dogs who love people but just cannot get along with other dogs and need to be a ‘one and only.’ ” Given Pima Animal Care Center did kill a decent number of dogs solely for animal aggression in both 2019 and 2020, this issue still exists today. As a result, Pima Animal Care Center has not reached the pinnacle that no kill requires.
Pima Animal Care Center’s performance is disappointing given the vast resources it had. Overall, the shelter had the second highest revenue per dog and cat and it was more than twice as much as Lake County Animal Shelter which had significantly lower dog and cat death rates. Furthermore, Pima Animal Care Center had a new state of the art facility during all the periods I examined (no other shelter had one for both years). Additionally, the facility had the second highest level of rescue support. While the shelter did have the second highest per capita dog intake, its facility also had the second greatest amount of time to get animals out alive due to its large size. Furthermore, Pima Animal Care Center had many intangible resources from the shelter’s relationships with both American Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund. Clearly, Pima Animal Care Center had the resources to achieve no kill.
Ultimately, Pima Animal Care Center’s performance is a story of a missed opportunity. When Kristen Hassen-Auerbach came to lead the shelter, I had huge expectations given her great success at Virginia’s Fairfax County Animal Shelter and at Austin Animal Center. While Pima Animal Care Center did reduce its dog death rate by a good margin (though still not to a no kill level in my book) after she took over the shelter, the cat death rate remained unchanged. Given the organization moved into a brand new state of the art facility at the end of 2017, these results are underwhelming.
Despite Pima Animal Care Center’s disappointing results, it can easily move up this list and achieve the success it should. If the organization improves its veterinary treatment and related protocols and handles its behavior case dogs better, the shelter can rank higher. Given Pima Animal Care Center’s excellent adoption program, short average lengths of stay and innovative programs (e.g. world class foster program), the shelter should be able to accomplish these things. Unfortunately, the shelter will have to do this without Ms. Hassen-Auerbach as she left to join American Pets Alive in October 2020.
4. KC Pet Project
KC Pet Project’s adoption performance stood out from all the other organizations. During 2019 and 2020, KC Pet Project had the highest adoptions percentage of total outcomes and per capita adoption rates for both dogs and cats. Additionally, the shelter’s 2019 pit bull per capita adoption rate was the highest I’ve ever seen.
While KC Pet Project’s adoption program was excellent, it had the worst owner redemption metrics. Specifically, the shelter had the lowest owner reclaim percentage of total dog outcomes in both 2019 and 2020 and the worst stray dog reclaim rate in 2019. Furthermore, KC Pet Project’s owner reclaim percentage of total dog outcomes has barely increased since 2012 (the first year it took over the shelter). This was the smallest improvement of any shelter. While KC Pet Project did not return any cats to field, this is due to legal constraints.
KC Pet Project’s average length of stay was short and in line with the other shelters. While the organization had the second longest average length of stay for both dogs and cats in 2019, it was pretty close to the next two shelters and still short. When we consider KC Pet Project’s heavy reliance on adoptions, which usually take longer than owner reclaims, shelter-neuter-return and transfers to rescues, this makes sense. In fact, KC Pet Project had the second shortest dog adoption average length of stay and third shortest cat adoption average length of stay. Given KC Pet Project’s high per capita adoption rate, these adoption average lengths of stay are impressive since the organization had to find many adopters.
The shelter did not severely limit intake after the COVID-19 pandemic began. In April-June 2020, the decrease in KC Pet Project’s dog and cat intake from the corresponding 2019 period was similar to most of the other organizations. For all of 2020, KC Pet Project had the smallest decrease in dog intake and took in more cats than the prior year (all the other shelters impounded fewer cats). Thus, KC Pet Project did not leave animals at risk on the streets or elsewhere.
KC Pet Project achieved no kill for cats in both 2019 and 2020. In both years, the organization had death rates that achieved the general no kill standard (i.e. 10%) and my stricter standard (i.e. 8%). However, the shelter did not meet either standard during the three months after COVID-19 started in April-June 2020. The shelter had the second lowest cat death rate in 2019 (just behind the top ranked organization), third lowest cat death rate during April-June 2020 and second highest cat death rate in 2020. Most impressively, KC Pet Project had the lowest nonreclaimed cat adoption rate, which excludes cats returned to owners and shelter-neutered-returned, in 2019 when we include Austin Animal Center with Austin Pets Alive rather than Austin Animal Center alone. Additionally, KC Pet Project had the lowest percentage of cats who died or went missing (when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive) and a medical euthanasia percentage in line with the other shelters during 2019. Finally, the shelter did not kill any cats for behavior/aggression in 2019. Considering KC Pet Project could not do shelter-neuter-return due to legal constraints, these results are impressive.
KC Pet Project failed to achieve no kill for dogs. Overall, the shelter had the highest dog death rate in 2019, April-June 2020 and 2020. While the shelter did meet the general no kill threshold of 10% in these periods, the organization did not come close to meeting my higher standard of 5% in any of them. In fact, the shelter barely met the 10% standard for pit bulls in 2019 (10.4% death rate).
The organization euthanized the second highest percentage of dogs for medical reasons in 2019. When looking at medical euthanasia, KC Pet Project euthanized around 3% more dogs and four times the percentage of dogs than the next higher ranking shelter. While I don’t have the shelter’s detailed reasons for these euthanasia decisions, the difference is too large for me to write these all off as truly hopelessly suffering animals.
KC Pet Project’s behavior killing was shocking and shows why it failed to achieve no kill for dogs. During 2019, the shelter killed the greatest percentage of dogs for behavior. In fact, the shelter killed four times the percentage of the next higher ranking organization and ten times the percentage of the top ranking shelter. When we examine the 2019 numbers more closely, KC Pet Project killed 19 dogs for animal aggression (17 were pit bulls), four dogs for extreme anxiety (three were pit bulls), five dogs for extreme arousal (four were pit bulls) and one dog for extreme resource guarding. In 2020, the shelter killed 19 dogs for animal aggression (14 were pit bulls), two dogs for extreme anxiety (one was a pit bull), seven dogs for extreme arousal (six were pit bulls) and two dogs for extreme resource guarding (one was a pit bull). Additionally, the shelter killed six times the percentage of small dogs for aggression as the next closest shelter in 2019 (the other three shelters did not kill a single small dog for behavior). Clearly, KC Pet Project did not fully commit to respecting the lives of dogs. Thus, KC Project failed to achieve no kill for dogs.
The organization faced a tough challenge in 2019. KC Pet Project had the highest per capita intake for dogs, cats and pit bulls in 2019 and the second highest adult cat per capita intake during that year. Also, the shelter’s smaller size gave it the second shortest amount of time to get animals out alive in 2019. Additionally, KC Pet Project had the second least amount of funding per dog and cat and second worst facility during 2019. Thus, KC Pet Project faced significant obstacles.
Despite KC Pet Project killing dogs, it can still easily achieve no kill if it revamps its dog medical and behavior protocols. On a positive note, the shelter generally took a long time before killing/euthanizing animals (i.e. longest and second longest time on average for cats and dogs among the shelters) which suggests the shelter is giving animals a chance. However, the shelter needs to go further when it comes to dogs. If it does, the organization can easily achieve no kill given the many other things it does well.
3. Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive
Austin Animal Center had no kill level death rates in both 2019 and 2020. In 2019, Austin Animal Center had the third lowest dog death rate (second if not counting Austin Pets Alive) and the best cat death rate. The shelter met my stricter no kill thresholds for cats and was well under the 5% dog death rate standard. However, the shelter dropped to third place (including Austin Pets Alive) when we look at the cat nonreclaimed death rate due to the many cats shelter-neutered-returned. During 2020, Austin Animal Center had the second lowest dog death rate and the third best cat death (second lowest if not counting Austin Pets Alive). For both dogs and cats in 2020, the shelter was well below my no kill death rate thresholds. During April-June 2020, Austin Animal Center had the second lowest dog death rate and the second worst cat death rate. While the shelter was well under my more stringent dog death rate threshold for no kill in this three month period, the facility’s cat death rate was significantly above the more lenient 10% no kill threshold.
The shelter euthanized the lowest percentage of animals for behavior/aggression in 2019. Austin Animal Center euthanized no cats and no small dogs for behavior or aggression. Additionally, the shelter euthanized the fewest percentage of dogs for aggression/behavior and finished a close second (including Austin Pets Alive) and first (not including Austin Pets Alive) when looking at pit bull behavior euthanasia. However, it is possible the two shelters euthanized a greater percentage of dogs for behavior based on much more conservative assumptions (Austin Animal Center-Austin Pets Alive would rank third among the five communities’ shelters). Thus, Austin Animal Center had good behavior euthanasia numbers.
Austin Animal Center’s medical euthanasia and cat death metrics were in line with the other shelters in 2019. Overall, Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive euthanized the third and fourth lowest percentages of dogs and cats for medical reasons. However, these percentages were close to the facilities ranking higher. The two shelters also had the second lowest percentage of cats who died or went missing.
The shelter took a decent amount of time before euthanizing animals. Austin Animal Center had the third longest average length of stay for euthanized dogs and cats.
Austin Animal Center’s owner reclaim performance was average among the shelters. In both 2019 and 2020, Austin Animal Center’s owner reclaims percentage of total dog outcomes ranked third. However, the shelter only ranked fourth for the stray dog reclaim rate. Additionally, the shelter’s owner reclaims percentage of total dog outcomes only increased slightly over the last seven years. Nonetheless, Austin Animal Center’s two owner redemption metrics were very close to the shelters just above it.
Austin Animal Center shelter-neutered-returned the most cats by far of all the shelters. The shelter returned nearly three times the percentage of cats to field as the next closest shelter. As with Pima Animal Care Center, Austin Animal Center shelter-neutered-returned a significant number of under six month old kittens (two to five months old) that I have safety concerns about.
Austin Animal Center’s adoption performance was a mixed bag. When we include Austin Pets Alive, the two organizations had the second highest adoption percentage of dog outcomes in both 2019 and 2020. Both organizations had the third highest per capita dog adoption rate in 2019 and either the second lowest (including puppies born from dogs Austin Animal Center transferred to Austin Pets Alive) or the lowest dog per capita adoption rate (not counting these puppies) in 2020. When it came to cats, the two shelters had the second lowest cat adoptions percentage of outcomes in 2019 and 2020. The two combined shelters had the second lowest cat per capita adoption rate in 2019 and either the second lowest (counting kittens born after Austin Animal Center transferred their mothers to Austin Pets Alive) or the lowest cat per capita adoption rate (not counting these kittens) in 2020. However, Austin Animal Center itself (i.e.without Austin Pets Alive) finished dead last in every adoption metric except for the 2020 adoption percentage of dog outcomes (the shelter placed second to last). Thus, Austin Animal Center did a poor job adopting out animals and relied heavily on Austin Pets Alive to find animals new homes.
While Austin Animal Center had pretty good average length of stay metrics, the figures are skewed due to the shelter transferring many animals to Austin Pets Alive. Overall, Austin Animal Center had the second shortest average lengths of stay for dogs and cats. The shelter also had the third shortest dog adoption average length of stay and second longest cat adoption average length of stay. However, this data is misleading since Austin Animal Center transfers so many more animals than the other shelters. Given many animals stay a long time at Austin Pets Alive, an apples to apples comparison with the other organizations would likely show Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive have a much longer combined average length of stay. Thus, Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive’s combined average length of stay metrics likely would rank lower (especially when it comes to adoptions).
Austin Animal Center faced the easiest challenge of all the shelters. While the shelter did have the shortest time to get animals out alive due to the smaller size of its facility (which was due to Austin Animal Center management at the time), the organization also received the second fewest dogs and cats on a per capita basis. In fact, Austin Animal Center took in around only half as many pit bulls and adult cats on a per capita basis as the highest per capita intake shelter. Additionally, Austin Animal Center sent two to three times the percentage of dogs and four to fifteen times the percentage of cats to rescues and other shelters as the other organizations. Austin Animal Center also received significantly more funding per dog and cat than the other shelters. In fact, the shelter received around three times as much as the shelter with the lowest revenue per dog and cat. Finally, Austin Animal Center had a very good physical facility. As a result, Austin Animal Center had far more resources than the other shelters.
The shelter’s results also raise concerns about how it tried to achieve no kill. First, 20% of the cats released through the shelter-neuter-return programs were between two to five months old and may be at higher risk of prematurely dying outdoors. Second, Austin Animal Center took in 72% and 50% fewer dogs during April-June 2020 and in all of 2020 compared to the prior year periods. Similarly, the shelter shelter impounded 74% and 55% fewer cats over these time frames. In fact, no other shelter came close to these decreases except for Pima County Animal Care (cats during April-June 2020). Given this data corroborates local advocates claims about the shelter leaving animals on the streets and the shelter’s management efforts to codify that practice, this is a major issue for me.
Ultimately, Austin Animal Center did not rank higher due to it not performing well enough with its vast resources. While the shelter did have good respect for life data (i.e. death rates, percentages of animals euthanized for behavior and medical reasons), the results did not stand out from the higher ranking shelters with far less rescue help and funding. Furthermore, the shelter seemed to try and take shortcuts to achieve no kill that put animals at risk. Thus, Austin Animal Center’s performance fell short of the the two higher ranking shelters.
2. Williamson County Animal Shelter
Williamson County Animal Shelter had low death rates. In 2019, the shelter had the second best dog death rate (1.8%), which was well below my no kill threshold of 5%, when we combine Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive and the second highest cat death rate (10.8%). The 2019 cat death rate seems like a fluke as the cat death rates in 2017 (9.6%), 2018 (7.0%) and 2020 (April-June: 7.6%; full year: 5.4%) were much lower and met the general or even my more stringent no kill thresholds. In fact, Williamson County Animal Shelter mentioned it struggled with many cruelty cat cases (where the cats must stay in the shelter until the case is adjudicated) in its fiscal year ending 9/30/19 report. During April-June 2020, Williamson County Animal Shelter had the second lowest dog death rate (2.5%) when we combine Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive and the lowest cat death rate. For all of 2020, Williamson County Animal Shelter’s dog death rate tied for second place when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive (including puppies born at Austin Pets Alive) and the shelter’s cat death ranked best. Thus, Williamson County Animal Shelter had impressively low death rates.
The shelter did an excellent job with behavior cases animals. Williamson County Animal Shelter did not kill a single cat or small dog for behavior/aggression in 2019. Additionally, the organization euthanized the third fewest dogs for behavior (0.47%) and was very close to the two higher ranking shelters. While the shelter did euthanize two dogs for animal aggression, the shelter’s questionable dog euthanasia decisions were far fewer than KC Pet Project and Pima Animal Care Center.
Williamson County Animal Shelter’s medical euthanasia statistics were generally good. Overall, the shelter had the second lowest dog medical euthanasia rate and best cat medical euthanasia percentage when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive during 2019.
While Williamson County Animal Shelter’s percentage of cats who died or went missing (7.04%) was second highest in 2019, this was likely an anomaly due to the many cruelty cases that year. In 2017, 2018 and 2020 the percentages were only 5.3%, 3.4% and 2.5%. These percentages would either fall in line with the other shelters in 2019 or rank among the best.
The shelter also did a good job returning dogs to owners. Williamson County Animal Shelter had the second highest owner reclaims percentage of dog outcomes in both 2019 and 2020. Additionally, the facility had the third best improvement in this metric. Finally, the shelter had the third highest stray dog reclaim rate in 2019.
While Williamson County Animal Shelter did not shelter-neuter-return cats, it still had a good size community cat sterilization program. If we counted the shelter’s TNR cats in its statistics, these would have been 11% of cat outcomes.
Williamson County Animal Shelter’s dog adoption performance was pretty good. The shelter had the third and fourth highest adoptions percentage of dog outcomes in 2019 and 2020. The organization had the fourth highest per capita dog adoption rate in both 2019 and 2020. However, the shelter’s high percentage of owner reclaims and lower dog intake (for the per capita dog adoption rate) impacted these metrics. Given we want shelters to return dogs to owners, this is a good thing.
Williamson County Animal Shelter did an excellent job adopting out cats. In 2019 and 2020, the shelter had the second highest adoptions percentage of cat outcomes. Additionally, the shelter had the third best (just behind the facility above it) and second highest per capita cat adoption rate in 2019 and 2020.
While Williamson County Animal Shelter had much longer average lengths of stay than the other shelters, I could not make conclusions due to discrepancies between this data and what the shelter reported. Therefore, I did not incorporate average length of stay into my assessment.
Williamson County Animal Shelter did not leave animals on the streets after COVID-19 began. During April-June 2020, the shelter’s dog intake decreased around the same as most of the other shelters and its cat intake dropped the least. Similarly, Williamson County Animal Shelter’s dog intake decreased around the same as the other organizations and its cat intake dropped by the second smallest percentage for all of 2020.
The shelter’s challenges were about average among the facilities. While Williamson County Animal Shelter had the lowest per capita dog intake in 2019, it had the third highest per capita cat intake that year. The organization had the third shortest time to get animals out alive in 2019. During 2019 and 2020, Williamson County Animal Shelter had the third and second worst physical facility. The shelter had the third smallest amount of funding per animal in 2019. Additionally, the shelter had the second lowest amount of rescue support for both dogs and cats. While the shelter did not break out most dog breeds in 2019, the shelter took in a much smaller number of pit bulls on a per capita basis than the other facilities when it last included this information.
Overall, Williamson County Animal Shelter performed extremely well. The shelter’s balanced approach helped it achieve no kill in a variety of ways (i.e. owner reclaims, community cat sterilization and adoptions). Additionally, the shelter mostly demonstrated good respect for life. So why didn’t Williamson County Animal Shelter rank first? The shelter’s dog breed data and average length of stay data was not sufficient in 2019. More importantly, the top ranking shelter just performed better. Regardless, Williamson County Animal Shelter should be proud of its accomplishments.
1. Lake County Animal Shelter
Lake County Animal Shelter had the lowest dog death rates and achieved no kill for dogs in every period. In 2019, the shelter’s dog death rate was just 1.1%, which was way below my more strict 5% no kill threshold, and was significantly better than every other organization. When we look at just pit bulls in 2019, the 2.1% death rate was around 1.3% to 1.6% lower than the next highest ranking shelter (when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive). The pit bull death rate difference was even larger than for all dogs. During April-June 2020 and all of 2020, Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog death rates were 0.7% and 1.9% and again were significantly lower than the next closest shelter (i.e. 1.8% less and 0.7% less in April 2020-June 2020 and all of 2020). Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter had the best dog death rates and easily achieved no kill for dogs.
The shelter also had low cat death rates. In 2019, the shelter’s 9.0% cat death was less than the general no kill threshold of 10%. While the cat death rate was slightly higher than my more stringent no kill threshold of 8.0%, its possible the shelter’s cat death was lower if some cats I excluded from the calculations as TNR were really shelter-neuter-return (i.e. finder brings cat to shelter as a stray, but then agrees to do TNR and become a caretaker). In fact, the facility’s stray cat intake from finders decreased significantly in 2019 while the number of cats it took in under its Operation Caturday sterilization program increased that year. Even using the 9.0% cat death rate, Lake County Animal Shelter finished in third place and its cat death rate was less than 1% higher than the best performing shelter (when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive). During April-June 2020 and all of 2020, Lake County Animal Shelter’s 7.9% and 6.2% cat death rates were both lower than my more strict no kill threshold. In both periods, Lake County Animal Shelter had the second lowest cat death rate (when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive). Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter did an excellent job with cats.
Lake County Animal Shelter also handled behavior euthanasia decisions extremely well. The shelter did not kill a single cat or small dog for behavior/aggression in 2019. Additionally, the shelter euthanized the second lowest percentage of dogs for behavior (just behind Austin Animal Center) and the lowest percentage of pit bulls for behavior (when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive).
The shelter also limited medical euthanasia to a great degree. In 2019, Lake County Animal Shelter euthanized the smallest percentage of dogs and second lowest percentage of cats (when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive) for medical reasons. Additionally, the shelter’s percentage of cats who died or went missing was in the middle of the range for all shelters and within 1% of the best performing shelter (when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive). Finally, the shelter took a similar amount of time before euthanizing animals as other high performing shelters. As a result, Lake County Animal Shelter did an excellent job treating and saving sick and injured animals.
Lake County Animal Shelter outperformed all the other shelters when it came to returning dogs to owners. In 2019, Lake County Animal Shelter’s owner reclaims percentage of dog outcomes and stray dog reclaim rate were significantly higher than the other shelters. During 2020, Lake County Animal Shelter’s owner reclaims percentage of dog outcomes further increased and was around 12% higher than the next best organization. Furthermore, Lake County Animal Shelter increased its owner reclaims percentage of dog outcomes more in the four years after it went no kill than all the other shelters did over periods ranging from seven to thirteen years. Simply put, Lake County Animal Shelter’s proactive owner redemption program is a role model for all shelters.
The shelter also had excellent community cat sterilization programs. Lake County Animal Shelter had the third highest shelter-neuter-return percentage and ranked close behind the second place shelter. As mentioned above, the organization’s shelter-neuter-return percentage could be higher if some the cat sterilizations I excluded as TNR were really shelter-neuter-return. If we counted all cat sterilizations in total cat outcomes, these would represent 22% of such outcomes and be twice Williamson County Animal Shelter’s percentage. Unlike the two higher ranking shelter-neuter-return facilities, Austin Animal Center and Pima Animal Care Center, Lake County Animal Shelter did not shelter-neuter-return a single cat that was under six months of age. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s excellent community cat sterilization programs helped large numbers of cats and did so in a manner consistent with no kill values.
Lake County Animal Shelter dog adoption metrics were in the middle and lower end of the rankings. In 2019, the shelter’s adoption percentage of dog outcomes ranked last and its per capita dog adoption rate was tied for fourth best when combining Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive. However, when we look at harder to adopt pit bulls, Lake County Animal Shelter placed third in both metrics. In 2020, the shelter’s adoption percentage of dog outcomes ranked last, but the shelter’s per capita dog adoption rate was third best.
While these dog adoption results may not seem that impressive, they are when you consider the shelter had fewer dogs to adopt out due to it returning so many dogs to owners. In fact, Lake County Animal Shelter had the highest percentage of dogs returned to owners or adopted out and third highest on a per capita basis. Additionally, the two shelters that had more dogs returned to owners or adopted out on a per capita basis took in more dogs and had much higher kill rates. Therefore, these two higher ranking shelters had more dogs and more easy to adopt ones to place. As a result, Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog adoption results were very good when considering the big picture.
Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat adoption results were very good. During 2019, the shelter had the third best adoption percentage of cat outcomes and second highest per capita cat adoption rate. Since the organization shelter-neutered-returned a significant number of cats, its adoption numbers were lower than they would have otherwise been. In 2020, Lake County Animal Shelter had the third best adoption percentage of cat outcomes and per capita cat adoption rate (which was more than double the fourth place shelter’s rate). Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter did an excellent job at adopting out cats.
The shelter also placed animals quickly. Overall, Lake County Animal Shelter had the third shortest average length of stay for both dogs and cats. However, the shelter would have had a shorter average length of stay and placed second for dogs, and possibly for cats, if we had Austin Pets Alive’s length of stay data for dogs and cats Austin Animal Center transferred to Austin Pets Alive. Additionally, the 19.2 days and and 29.2 days average lengths of stay for dogs and cats were very short. When we look at average adoption lengths of stay, Lake County Animal Shelter placed fourth for dogs and second for cats. However, the shelter would undoubtedly place third for dogs if we had Austin Pets Alive’s length of stay data. Additionally, KC Pet Project, which ranked just above Lake County Animal Shelter for dog adoptions average length of stay, killed a much larger percentage of dogs and had an easier mix of dogs to adopt out (i.e. have shorter lengths of stay). Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter got animals out alive of its shelter quickly.
Lake County Animal Shelter had a difficult challenge with animal intake and rescue assistance during 2019. While the shelter had the longest time to get animals out of its facility alive, it wasn’t much more than most of the other shelters and was still short. On the other hand, Lake County Animal Shelter had the third highest per capita dog and cat intake (fourth for dogs and second for cats) and the highest per capita dog and cat intake among the low death rate shelters. Additionally, Lake County Animal Shelter had the third highest pit bull per capita intake, which was highest among the low death rate shelters, and highest per capita adult cat intake. Furthermore, Lake County Animal Shelter had the third lowest amount of rescue assistance for both dogs and cats and it was close to the organization transferring the smallest percentage of animals. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter faced a very difficult circumstance with the volume of animals it received.
The shelter had the least financial resources and worst physical facility. In 2019, Lake County Animal Shelter had around 30% less revenue per dog and cat than the shelter with second least funding per animal. Furthermore, Pima Animal Care Center and Austin Animal Center had two to three times the funding per dog and cat as Lake County Animal Shelter. In both 2019 and 2020, Lake County Animal Shelter had the worst physical facility. Additionally, the building was nowhere even close in terms of physical quality as the others in 2020 after KC Pet Project moved out of its old shelter. As a result, Lake County Animal Shelter faced the greatest challenge by far in terms of financial and physical resources.
Overall, Lake County Animal Shelter was the clear winner in this comparison. First and foremost, the shelter demonstrated the greatest respect for life, both inside and outside the shelter. Additionally, the shelter’s balanced approach, such as its proactive owner redemptions, community cat sterilization and high-powered adoption programs, allowed it to achieve no kill in an effective, efficient and sustainable manner. As I mentioned in a prior blog, Lake County Animal Shelter comprehensively implemented all eleven No Kill Equation programs. Furthermore, the shelter achieved this success while facing greater challenges than the other facilities. Simply put, Lake County Animal Shelter stood out from the other organizations and is the nation’s top no kill shelter.
No Kill Shelters Must Show the Utmost Respect for Life
This analysis proves no kill works and disproves anti-no kill arguments. Despite critics claiming no kill is impossible, all the shelters saved 90% or more of their pit bulls and did not kill a single cat for behavior or aggression. Additionally, most of the shelters did not kill a single small dog for behavior or aggression. Finally, the shelters placed animals quickly and did not “hoard” animals.
The blog also exposes a clear divide among shelters claiming no kill status. As the death rate and euthanasia reasons data showed, some shelters showed a great respect for life and some did not. While none of the shelters killed animals left and right, Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project clearly killed some animals and failed to achieve no kill. Even though Austin Animal Center had good death rate and euthanasia reasons statistics, the shelter’s intake and community cat placement data indicate the shelter’s respect for life outside of the facility is not strong enough. Thus, no kill mandates shelters fully respect life.
The lower ranking shelters must refocus on fully respecting life. Ironically, the shelters that publicized themselves and their programs the most, such as through conference presentations, blogs, webinars and sheltering industry Zoom meetings, performed the worst. While these organizations successfully put many excellent programs into place, these shelters still failed to achieve no kill in my view. Why? One could argue these shelters failed to properly implement the No Kill Equation’s Medical and Behavior Prevention and Rehabilitation program and therefore killed treatable animals. However, I believe we must look deeper than this. After all, one might say KC Pet Project did do behavioral rehabilitation for its dogs given the long time it took to euthanize dogs for behavior and aggression. Similarly, Austin Animal Center’s Medical and Behavior Prevention and Rehabilitation program had nothing to do with the shelter’s failure to take in animals off the streets in 2020 or the facility shelter-neuter-returning younger kittens. Instead, these shelters did not fully respect life and made decisions to kill animals or put them at too much risk outside their facilities. Ultimately, progressive shelter programs, such as those found in the No Kill Equation, are a means to ending the killing of treatable animals. In other words, the principal of respecting life reigns supreme. As a result, the lower ranking shelters must refocus on fully respecting life rather than solely concentrating on technical programs to achieve no kill.
This blog is the third in a series on finding the nation’s best no kill animal control shelter. In Part 1, I described the five shelters under consideration and compared the difficulty of their challenges. In Part 2, I rated each shelter’s commitment to respecting life and not killing animals. You can read those two blogs here and here. In this blog, I’ll examine the efficiency and effectiveness of each shelter’s programs to save lives and ensure the organizations don’t kill animals.
Lake County Animal Shelter Excels at Returning Dogs to Owners
The primary purpose of shelters is to return lost pets home. If an animal has an owner, that animal should go to its family rather than to a new place. Due to a variety of reasons, shelters generally only have success returning lost dogs to owners. In other words, almost all shelters have difficulty reuniting stray cats with their families.
Lake County Animal Shelter returned the greatest percentage of its dogs to owners in 2019 followed by Williamson County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center, Pima Animal Care Center and KC Pet Project. With the exception of the likely inaccurate 2019 pit bull results from Williamson County Animal Shelter, Lake County Animal Shelter led all the shelters for each dog grouping.
The 2020 total dog results followed the same pattern. In fact, Lake County Animal Shelter outperformed the other shelters by an even greater margin in 2020 than in 2019.
Since the owner reclaims percentage of all dog outcomes might not accurately represent the true percentage of lost dogs shelters return to owners, I also calculated the percentage of stray dogs returned to owners during 2019. Once again, Lake County Animal Shelter returned the greatest percentage of dogs to owners. When looking at this metric, Pima County Animal Care Center jumped from fourth to second place while the other shelters followed the same order as the owner reclaim percentage of total dog outcomes.
While socioeconomic factors drive differences in return to owner rates between shelters, this typically applies to regressive shelters that take a passive approach to returning lost pets to their families (i.e. primarily rely on licenses and microchips rather than doing proactive work). In fact, Lake County Animal Shelter increased the percentage of dogs it returned to owners by a greater amount from 2016 to 2020 than any of the other shelters did over much longer periods of time (periods selected based on first year before no kill effort started, or if not available, the oldest year accessible after the no kill effort started). As I mentioned in a prior blog on Lake County Animal Shelter, the facility achieved this success by doing good old fashioned hard work and using technological solutions.
Shelter-Neuter Return Programs Differ
Austin Animal Center returned the greatest percentage of its community cats to their outdoor homes followed by Pima Animal Care Center, Lake County Animal Shelter and Williamson County Animal Shelter and KC Pet Project. KC Pet Project could not conduct shelter-neuter return due to ordinance restrictions, but the organization is trying to change the statute.
The three shelters conducting shelter-neuter-return had different policies for including young kittens. Under Austin Animal Center’s shelter-neuter-return program, the shelter transfers community cats “who are in good health, older than three months and weigh no less than three pounds” to Austin Humane Society to do the veterinary procedures. However, critics argue Austin Animal Center shelter-neuter-returns too many young kittens (i.e. under six months), which may have higher mortality rates on the streets. In fact, 204 or 20% of the 1,022 community cats Austin Animal Center returned to field in 2019 were two to five months old. Similarly, 15% of Pima Animal Care Center’s shelter-neuter-return cats in 2019 were between one to five months old (almost all were three to five months old). In contrast, Lake County Animal Shelter only shelter-neuter-returned cats that were six months of age and older.
Several shelters conducted significant numbers of cat sterilizations through TNR programs that are not included in the above statistics. If we count these cats, Lake County Animal Shelter and Williamson County Animal Shelter would have returned 22% and 11% of their cats sterilized to their communities. Unfortunately, Pima Animal Care Center did not break out the TNR and owned cat portions of its cat sterilizations at its vet clinics. If we counted all these cat sterilizations, Pima Animal Care Center would have returned 41% of their cats sterilized to their communities. However, this would clearly overstate Pima Animal Care Center community cat sterilizations.
KC Pet Project’s Adoption Results Stand Out
The following table lists each shelter’s dog adoption rates. KC Pet Project had the highest dog adoption rate followed by Austin Animal Center (adjusted for the estimated number of Austin Pets Alive’s adoptions of transferred dogs), Williamson County Animal Shelter, Pima Animal Care Center and Lake County Animal Shelter. Austin Animal Center was dead last due to its heavy reliance on Austin Pets Alive to adopt out its dogs.
Pima Animal Care Center had the highest pit bull adoption rate followed by KC Pet Project, Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive and puppies born from transferred dogs), Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive) and unadjusted Austin Animal Center. As the table discusses, Williamson County Animal Shelter’s pit bull adoption rate is unreliable, but it was quite high in the most recent year the shelter broke out most breeds.
The 2020 dog adoption rates showed slightly different results. Overall, KC Pet Project had the highest dog adoption rate followed by Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive and puppies born from transferred dogs), Austin Animal Center (adjusted for Austin Pets Alive), Pima Animal Care Center, Williamson County Animal Shelter, unadjusted Austin Animal Center and Lake County Animal Shelter.
KC Pet Project had the highest cat adoption rate in 2019 followed by Williamson County Animal Shelter, Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive adoptions of Austin Animal Center cats), Pima Animal Care Center and Austin Animal Center (unadjusted). Both Pima Animal Care Center and Austin Animal Center had significantly lower cat adoption rates. In the case of Pima Animal Care Center, this was largely due to its higher transfer percentage and death rate. For Austin Animal Center, this was due to its very high transfer percentage and large percentage of cats shelter-neutered-returned.
The 2020 cat adoption rates followed the same pattern. Specifically, the cat adoption rates rankings were exactly the same as in 2019.
To better assess the scale of the shelters’ adoption programs, we need to look at how many animals the facilities adopt out relative to the human populations in their service areas. For example, a shelter may have adoptions make up a large percentage of total outcomes, but adopt few animals out.
KC Pet Project had the highest per capita dog adoption rate in 2019 followed by Pima Animal Care Center, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive adoptions of Austin Animal Center dogs), Williamson County Animal Shelter, Lake County Animal Shelter and Austin Animal Center (unadjusted). When we just look at pit bulls, Lake County Animal Shelter jumped to third place and Williamson County Animal Shelter fell to last place. Most notably, KC Pet Project achieved the highest pit bull per capita adoption rate I’ve ever seen.
In 2020, the results were similar with a few changes. First, all of the shelters adopted out fewer dogs due to COVID-19 reducing intake. Second, Lake County Animal Shelter jumped up to third place. Third, Williamson County Animal Shelter moved ahead of Austin Animal Center (adjusted for transferred dogs to Austin Pets Alive).
KC Pet Project had the highest per capita cat adoption rate in 2019 followed by Lake County Animal Shelter, Williamson County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive adoptions of Austin Animal Center cats), Pima Animal Care Center, and Austin Animal Center (unadjusted). Once again, Austin Animal Center itself had a much lower per capita adoption rate than the other organizations. When we look at just adult cats, both KC Pet Project and Lake County Animal Shelter adopted out far more of these animals than the other shelters.
In 2020, KC Pet Project had the highest per capita cat adoption rate followed by Williamson County Animal Shelter Lake County Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive adoptions of Austin Animal Center cats and kittens born from those cats), Pima Animal Care Center, Austin Animal Center (adjusted for estimated Austin Pets Alive adoptions of Austin Animal Center cats) and Austin Animal Center (unadjusted). KC Pet Project increased its per capita cat adoptions in 2020 while all the other shelters had lower cat adoptions per 1,000 people figures. Notably, Pima Animal Care Center and Austin Animal Center had much lower per capita cat adoptions than the other shelters in 2020.
When looking at per capita adoption rates, one must also consider several factors. First, shelters with higher animal intake will be able to adopt out more pets, and especially easier to adopt ones. Second, shelters that return fewer animals to owners and shelter-neuter return less cats will have more animals to adopt out. Thus, these factors partially helped increase KC Pet Project’s per capita adoption rates for dogs and cats and Pima Animal Care Center’s per capita dog adoption rate.
As mentioned in my discussion about respect for life, Austin Animal Center’s results may appear better than they really are. Since I used Austin Pets Alive’s overall adoption rates in the tables above, it could overstate the Austin Animal Center-Austin Pets Alive adoption rates if Austin Pets Alive adopted out a greater percentage of animals obtained from places other than Austin Animal Center. Based on Austin Pets Alive’s overall dog death rates only changing a few tenths of a percent using overly conservative assumptions, this would not have large impact on the dog adoption rates. Additionally, I have no data to suggest Austin Pets Alive’s cat adoption rates are radically different for Austin Animal Center cats and cats taken in from elsewhere.
Pima Animal Care Center Moves Animals Out of the Shelter Quickly
Reducing the time animals spend in shelters is crucial to achieving no kill. When animals stay at shelters longer, the animals are more likely to get sick or develop behavior problems. Furthermore, shelters where animals stay too long cost more to run, have frequent serious disease outbreaks and become overcrowded. Simply put, an animal control shelter must have a short average length of stay to achieve and sustain no kill.
Pima Animal Care Center had the shortest average length of stay for dogs followed by Austin Animal Center, Lake County Animal Shelter, KC Pet Project and Williamson County Animal Shelter (see explanation in table for data issues). Impressively, Pima Animal Care Center’s average length of stay was less than half that of the second place shelter. Overall, all the shelters had short average lengths of stay for dogs with the possible exception of Williamson County Animal Shelter.
When we just look at pit bulls, the results change a bit. While Pima Animal Care Center still had the shortest average length of stay, the margin between it and the other facilities was smaller. Also, KC Pet Project had the second shortest average length of stay for pit bulls.
Pima Animal Care Center also had the shortest average length of stay for cats followed by Austin Animal Center, Lake County Animal Shelter, KC Pet Project and Williamson County Animal Shelter (see explanation in table for data issues). Pima Animal Care Center’s average length of stay was around one third that of the second place shelter. All the shelters had short average lengths of stay for cats with the possible exception of Williamson County Animal Shelter.
Since the overall average length of stay can be lower due to killing animals quickly, transferring many animals, returning many animals to owners and shelter-neuter-returning large numbers of cats, its helpful to look at the adoption average length of stay. In other words, this measures the average time it took to adopt animals out.
Pima Animal Care Center had the shortest adoption average length of stay for dogs followed by KC Pet Project, Austin Animal Center, Lake County Animal Shelter and Williamson County Animal Shelter (see explanation in table for data issues). Pima Animal Care Center’s adoption average length of stay was less than half that of the second place shelter. With the possible exception of Williamson County Animal Shelter, all the other shelters had short adoption average lengths of stay.
When we just look at pit bulls, the results change a bit. While Pima Animal Care Center still had the shortest adoption average length of stay, the difference between it and KC Pet Project was smaller. Interestingly, Austin Animal Center’s pit bull adoption average length of stay was much higher than the other shelters. When coupled with its low per capita pit bull adoption rate, this suggests Austin Animal Center needs to do a better job adopting out its pit bulls. As previously mentioned, Williamson County Animal Shelter’s pit bull adoption average length of stay is likely not accurate due to the shelter labeling very few dogs as pit bulls (i.e. data is only for 16 adoptions).
Pima Animal Care Center also had the shortest adoption average length of stay for cats followed by Lake County Animal Shelter, KC Pet Project, Austin Animal Center and Williamson County Animal Shelter (see explanation in table for data issues). Pima Animal Care Center’s cat adoption average length of stay was less than one third of the second place shelter’s figure. All the shelters had short adoption average lengths of stay for cats with the possible exception of Williamson County Animal Shelter. Austin Animal Center’s difference between its cat adoption average length of stay and its overall cat average length of stay was much larger than the other shelters. This is due to Austin Animal Center’s heavy reliance on both Austin Humane Society, for shelter-neuter return, and Austin Pets Alive, for cat rescues.
Finally, when examining the average length of stay figures, readers should consider differences in death rates. Specifically, shelters with lower death rates will have a more challenging mix of animals to save. Thus, all else being equal, these shelters would have longer overall and adoption average lengths of stay.
In Part 4, I’ll share my overall rankings of the five shelters and my rationale for doing so.
Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and Return to Field programs save lives. TNR programs sterilize and return cats to a colony with a human caretaker while Return to Field initiatives also return healthy cats to where the cats were found if no caretaker exists. A recent study of an intensive Return to Field program in Florida found:
Cat intake at shelter decreased by 66% over a two year period
Cat intake and killing at shelter were 3.5 times and 17.5 times higher in places outside of the zip codes where the intensive Return to Field program took place
Dog intake at shelter decreased by a third due to the program increasing community engagement and freeing up shelter resources to help people keep dogs they were considering surrendering to the shelter
Unsurprisingly, many animal advocates believe TNR is “the solution” to ending the killing of healthy and treatable cats in shelters.
In 2014, Kearny animal advocates successfully convinced elected officials to implement TNR. Initially, Mayor Santos opposed TNR and residents worked to change his mind. At the time, I fully supported their courageous effort and was delighted to see them succeed with help from Bergen County Animal Shelter several months later.
Kearny implemented its TNR program around the beginning of 2015 and volunteers have run it for the last two or so years. Under the program, Bergen County Animal Shelter trains caretakers who trap and feed cats and monitor the cat colonies. Bergen County Animal Shelter sterilizes the cats and those costs are included in the municipality’s animal and control sheltering contract fees. Additionally, the program requires caretakers to register colonies with the town’s TNR Committee, keep detailed records, and resolve complaints with residents.
Has Kearny’s TNR program reduced cat intake and killing at the Bergen County Animal Shelter? Did Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program eliminate the killing of Kearny’s healthy and treatable cats and dogs?
Kearny TNR Program Significantly Decreases Cat Intake and Killing
Bergen County Animal Shelter impounded and killed far fewer cats from Kearny after the town enacted TNR. Prior to implementing TNR, Bergen County Animal Shelter impounded 300 stray cats from Kearny during the first 8 months of 2014. Based on Bergen County Animal Shelter’s stray cat data from all of its municipalities in 2015, I estimate the shelter impounded 425 stray cats from Kearny in 2014. Using the shelter’s 40% cat kill rate in 2014, I estimate Bergen County Animal Shelter killed 170 stray cats from Kearny in the year prior to enacting TNR. As a comparison, Bergen County Animal Shelter impounded around 150 stray cats from Kearny and killed 19 of those cats in 2016. Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter reduced the number of stray cats it impounded from Kearny by around 275 cats or 65% in 2016 verses 2014. Similarly, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed/euthanized around 151 or 89% fewer cats in 2016 verses 2014. Thus, the Kearny TNR program sharply reduced cat intake at the shelter and saved large numbers of the town’s cats.
Kearny volunteers and Bergen County Animal Shelter worked together to trap, neuter, vaccinate and release large numbers of cats. Specifically, volunteers trapped 205 cats in 2016 and Bergen County Animal Shelter sterilized, vaccinated and released almost all of these animals. Therefore, both TNR volunteers and Bergen County Animal Shelter actively worked together to make the TNR program succeed.
Kearny’s mayor recently wrote a letter to Lyndhurst elected officials touting the program’s success. Specifically, Mayor Santos cited fewer feral cats, reduced nuisance complains, improved public health and improved animal welfare. Kearny’s mayor sent this letter to encourage Lyndhurst lawmakers to enact a similar program in their borough.
TNR Program Fails to Save all of Kearny’s Healthy and Treatable Cats
While Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program significantly reduced cat killing in Kearny, the shelter still kills too many cats from the town. 16% of cats impounded from Kearny in 2016 lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter. This death rate exceeds the general no kill benchmark of 10% and is twice as high as the 8% goal I use. If I focus just on Kearny cats Bergen County Animal Shelter has to find new homes for (i.e. excluding cats reclaimed by owners and placed into TNR colonies), the shelter killed 20% or 1 in every 5 of these animals. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter has not achieved no kill status for Kearny’s cats despite having a successful TNR program.
The table below summarizes the reasons Bergen County Animal Shelter used to kill and euthanize Kearny’s cats. Bergen County Animal shelter cited testing positive for FELV or FIV as a reason for taking the lives of 41% of the Kearny cats it killed. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter cited behavior/feral for killing another 27% of the cats. The shelter euthanized 18% of the cats due to injuries sustained after being hit by cars. Bergen County Animal Shelter killed/euthanized another 19% of the cats for having upper respiratory and other undefined illnesses.
Bergen County Animal Shelter used positive FELV and FIV snap tests as an excuse to kill cats. Based on the records I reviewed, none of these cats were hopelessly suffering. As I discussed in a prior blog, many shelters successfully adopt out both FIV and FELV positive cats. Furthermore, both Alley Cat Allies and Neighborhood Cats support neutering and releasing otherwise healthy FIV and FELV positive cats. In addition, these organizations oppose testing and killing for FIV and FELV based on the following reasons:
Tests are unreliable and often positive results relate to a prior vaccination
Spaying/neutering reduces risk of disease transmission
Most cats are asymptomatic
Tests are expensive and divert resources from lifesaving programs
American Association of Feline Practitioners oppose routine killing of FIV and FELV positive cats
Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed several cats from Kearny for “behavior” and/or being “feral” despite the shelter having a TNR program in the town.
Cat ID# 20765 was a stray cat impounded from Kearny. After just a single day, Bergen County Animal Shelter tested the cat for FELV and determined he was FELV positive. Despite no documented FELV symptoms or any other medical condition, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed him on the very same day. In addition, the shelter miraculously concluded he was feral after just a single day at the shelter. As a result, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated the state’s 7 day stray hold period and needlessly killed this cat despite having a TNR program in place.
Cat ID# 22471 was a stray “feral” cat with a “possible ear tip” impounded by the Bergen County Animal Shelter. Despite Bergen County Animal Shelter having a TNR program, the shelter killed him 7 days later on the very same day he tested positive for FIV.
Cat ID# 21796 was a cat impounded from the “Isabelle house colony” in Kearny on June 16, 2016. After about two months, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed her for testing positive for FIV. The shelter documented no other medical issues in her records.
Tom was a 1 year old cat from Kearny and was surrendered to the shelter due to his owner moving to a place that did not allow cats. According to the owner, Tom was litter box trained, did not bite even if startled, and was an indoor cat. While Tom did not like to be held or petted, many people adopt cats with “cattitude.” Despite successfully living in a home, Bergen County Animal Shelter evaluated Tom, who was likely stressed adjusting to a shelter environment, just 4 days after arriving at the facility and deemed him aggressive. On the very same day, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed Tom during the 7 day owner surrender protection period. Bergen County Animal Shelter made no effort to socialize Tom despite strong evidence showing a structured program can make many “feral” or “aggressive” cats adoptable. Even if Tom was “aggressive”, Bergen County Animal Shelter could have placed him in a colony. Instead, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed this perfectly healthy cat.
Bergen County Animal Shelter could have attained a no kill level live release rate for Kearny’s cats. If the shelter saved its FIV and FELV positive cats who appeared healthy and treatable and those it deemed “aggressive”, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s death rate would decrease from 16% to 9%. Furthermore, if the shelter saved several other cats that clearly were treatable, Bergen County Animal Shelter could have reduced the Kearny cat death rate to 8% or lower. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program did not protect all of Kearny’s healthy and treatable cats.
Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Death Camp for Kearny Dogs
Bergen County Animal Shelter killed Kearny’s homeless dogs at an astronomical rate. 39% of all dogs, 79% of pit bulls and 17% of the other breeds impounded from Kearny during 2016 lost their lives. If we just count the dogs not reclaimed by owners (i.e. dogs the shelter had to find new homes for), 65% of all dogs, 92% of pit bulls and 36% of other breeds lost their lives. Simply put, Bergen County Animal Shelter was more likely to kill dogs from Kearny than find them new homes. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter acted more like an exterminator than an animal shelter when it came to Kearny’s homeless dogs.
Bergen County killed virtually all of these Kearny dogs for so-called “behavior” reasons. The shelter cited “behavior” as the reason for killing 11 or 79% of the 14 dogs killed. Several medical reasons, some of which did not show the dog was hopelessly suffering, were used to justify killing/euthanizing the other 3 dogs.
Dog ID# 19450 was a stray dog brought to the Bergen County Animal Shelter by the Kearny Police Department. The dog’s intake record stated “Nice Dog”, “Friendly” and listed 3 heart signs indicating this was a wonderful animal.
Despite this glowing review of the dog outside of his kennel, Bergen County Animal Shelter decided to kill him 16 days later for “agitated barking” and failing to “display soft friendly behavior” in his kennel. The shelter justified this absurd decision since the dog continued his “agitated barking” after a staff person knelt down and offered a treat. Speaking as someone who dealt with the very same type of dogs at other shelters, barrier reactivity does not mean a dog is aggressive (especially one that is “Nice” and “Friendly”). In fact, the Executive Director of the open admission Humane Society of Fremont County proved even highly aggressive dogs can come around. Furthermore, the dog was sent to an isolation area and given an antibiotic three days after his evaluation suggesting he may have been sick during the evaluation (i.e. which could have caused him to “display agitated barking). Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter needlessly killed a “nice” and “friendly” dog from Kearny.
Yaya was a 9 month old dog from Kearny surrendered by her owner due to landlord issues to the Bergen County Animal Shelter. According to Yaya’s owner, Yaya lived with two adults and a child and had no behavioral issues. In fact, Yaya slept in a room next to the owner’s son.
Despite the owner’s positive experience living with Yaya in a real world setting, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed her for behavior reasons. According to Yaya’s initial evaluation on May 10, 2016, Yaya was so scared in the shelter that she “hunched up in a ball.” Furthermore, this evaluation noted Yaya was lactating and possibly being away from her puppies “may be adding to her anxiety.” The evaluation went on to recommend putting a vari kennel (i.e. a dog crate/carrier) in her enclosure to “give her a quieter place to relax.” Yaya’s second evaluation noted the “vari kennel had been removed from her kennel despite recommendations to keep in the kennel.” This second evaluation then condemned Yaya to death and justified it by stating she “growled at a female staff member”, “silently charged the gate” and “stood in front of kennel holding a hard stare.”
Bergen County Animal Shelter provided little to no help to ease Yaya’s obvious stress. First, Bergen County Animal Shelter failed to comply with their own recommendation to keep a dog crate/kennel in Yaya’s enclosure to reduce her anxiety. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated state law, N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.9(d) requiring shelters provide relief to “animals displaying signs of stress.” N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.9(d) goes on to state “environmental stress can be mediated through reducing the negative impact of excess noise, smells, visual stimuli, and perceived threats; socialization; exercise; increased privacy; and providing comfort, such as soft bedding.” Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated state law by failing to help ease the “environmental stress” Yaya endured.
Bergen County Animal Shelter’s killing dogs for kennel stress (i.e. barrier reactivity, cage aggression, etc.) is absurd. As Dogs Playing for Life states, barrier reactivity is “not an accurate indicator of a dog’s social skills.” Volunteers at most animal shelters will tell you how different dog behavior is inside a cage at a stressful shelter and outside in real world situations. In the case of Yaya, we can clearly see she was stressed out in a shelter environment, perhaps exacerbated by being separated from puppies she may have had and her human family. Furthermore, Yaya’s family indicated the dog had no issues living in their home. Instead, Bergen County Animal Shelter should have let Yaya engage in real world situations, such as through socialization outside her kennel and structured play groups as a recent scientific study recommended. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s killing of Yaya goes against smart sheltering practices and basic common sense.
After reviewing Bergen County Animal Shelter’s records for the Kearny dogs it took in during 2016, it was quite clear the shelter could have saved at least 95% of these dogs. Instead, Bergen County Animal Shelter took the easy way out and frequently killed Kearny dogs for convenience and cost savings.
TNR Alone Does Not Create No Kill Communities
Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program in Kearny proves organizations must implement the key No Kill Equation programs to create no kill communities. Certainly, TNR significantly decreased cat killing in Kearny, but many healthy and treatable cats and dogs from Kearny still lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter. Why? The shelter’s leader lacks a passionate commitment to lifesaving. When the shelter director looks for excuses to kill, such as a “positive” FIV or FELV test on an otherwise healthy cat or a dog stressed out in its kennel, healthy and treatable animals die no matter how good the organization’s TNR program is. Thus, Kearny or any community will never achieve no kill status until its shelter’s leaders become passionate about saving lives and enthusiastically implement the No Kill Equation.
So what should Kearny animal advocates do? First, they should thank Bergen County Animal Shelter and Kearny’s elected officials for embracing TNR. Second, they should encourage the town to consider altering the ordinance to eliminate the mandate to register colonies, as recommended by Alley Cat Allies, since this law punishes TNR practitioners who are doing lifesaving work, but are not able to comply with the ordinance’s burdensome record keeping requirements. Finally, residents should tell their elected officials to pressure Bergen County Animal Shelter to replace the facility’s incompetent shelter director and enthusiastically adopt the No Kill Equation. That is the only way we’ll make Kearny a no kill community.
Over the last three years I’ve documented New Jersey animal shelters routinely violating state law, abusing animals and killing pets for ridiculous reasons. During this time, I learned our state’s animal shelter system is broken and desperately needs reform. Recently, Senator Linda Greenstein introduced a bill, S3019, to “establish additional requirements for operation and oversight of animal shelters, pounds, kennels operating as shelters or pounds, and veterinary holding facilities.” Will S3019 improve New Jersey’s animal shelter system? Will more animals make it out of our shelters alive? Will shelters treat animals more humanely?
Bill Requires Shelters to Make Efforts to Save Lives
S3019 requires shelters and municipalities to conduct “community outreach” efforts to increase adoptions. Such efforts include using web sites and social media pages to promote adoptable animals. Furthermore, shelters must notify people who surrender animals, such as a good Samaritan who finds a stray animal and brings the pet to the shelter, prior to killing the animal if the person wants the shelter to contact them. In addition, the municipality where each shelter is located must post information about adoptable animals that is easily accessible to the public.
The bill makes shelters notify rescues, other shelters and interested individuals before killing an animal. Specifically, shelters must contact these organizations in writing or through electronic communication at least two business days before killing an animal. Unfortunately, the law allows shelter directors to still kill animals rescues and other shelters are willing to take if the shelter director determines an organization is “incapable of proper care for the animal.” While shelter directors should have that power when it comes to individuals, this provision provides regressive shelters a big loophole to kill animals other reputable groups want to save. Instead, the law should allow any 501(c)(3) rescue/other animal shelter to save an animal the shelter intends to kill unless the rescuing organization has pending animal cruelty charges, animal cruelty convictions, had its 501(c)(3) status revoked or seriously violated any rescue/shelter regulation.
S3019 also requires shelter directors to attest they made efforts to save an animal before killing the creature. Shelter directors must certify the following conditions apply:
Animal was offered to rescues, other shelters and interested individuals and no suitable one wanted to save the animal.
No cage space, whether permanent or temporary, exists (i.e. prevents killing with empty kennels)
Animal cannot be housed with another animal
No suitable foster homes exist
No TNR programs in the state are willing to take a cat the shelter intends to kill
The bill also requires shelters to consider, study, and if possible, implement a TNR program. In addition, S3019 requires ACOs, NJ SPCA agents and officers and other law enforcement personnel to try and bring cats with no apparent owner to a shelter with a TNR program rather than a catch and kill facility.
Finally, the bill mandates animal shelters be open at least five hours on each weekday and one weekend day and stay open until at least 7 pm on one weekday. Given many New Jersey animal shelters are hardly open to the public, particularly when people are not working, this will greatly increase owner reclaims, adoptions, and transfers to rescues.
S3019 Requires Shelters to Try and Reunite Lost Pets with Families
The bill requires shelters to do three significant things to reunite more families with their lost pets. First, shelters must maintain continuously updated lost pet lists maintained by local law enforcement or other community groups (e.g. various lost pet Facebook pages covering each part of the state) and match the shelter’s animals with these lost pet listings. Once the shelter identifies an owner, the shelter must contact the owner. Second, shelters must post photographs and descriptions of stray animals with no identified owners on the internet (or in the local municipal clerk’s office if a shelter has no web site) along with the facility’s location, hours and contact information. Third, shelters must use universal microchip scanners, which can read all microchips, to identify and contact owners of lost pets. Thus, these required actions will increase the chances owners find their lost pets.
Bill Requires Humane Care
S3019 mandates shelters provide the following to their animals:
Environmental enrichment, such as socialization with staff or volunteers, toys and healthy treats
Exercise outside of kennels at least once a day and more if required to maintain good condition and health and support recovery from diseases and injuries
Prompt cage cleaning at least twice a day to prevent disease
Not expose animals to spray from hoses and toxic cleaning agents
Prompt and necessary veterinary care, including antibiotics, vaccines, fluid therapy, pain management and cage rest
Specialized care for vulnerable animals, such as nursing females, infant animals, sick and injured animals, scared and reactive animals, older animals, and animals requiring therapeutic exercise
Isolation of sick and diseased animals away from healthy ones
Age appropriate vaccines that cover specific diseases upon intake to shelter
Sick or diseased and injured animals must see a licensed veterinarian immediately and licensed veterinarian must document the animals’ condition, health and any health concerns
Thus, these provisions will make shelter animals healthier and more adoptable.
S3019 Requires Humane Euthanasia Techniques
The bill requires shelters do the following among other things when euthanizing animals:
Only use licensed veterinarians or veterinarian technicians who are certified by the New Jersey Department of Health in humane euthanasia
Use a properly ventilated and disinfected room
No animal can see other animals, whether dead or alive, when sedated and euthanized
Must lower animal after he or she is given the euthanasia drug onto a flat surface where the animal can lie or be held
Shelter personnel must be with animal at all times during euthanasia
Shelters must verify an animal’s death by confirming no heartbeat, no respiration, pale bluish gums and tongue and no eye response to stimuli
Furthermore, S3019 allows shelters to immediately euthanize hopelessly suffering animals when a licensed veterinarian documents this diagnosis. Specifically, the veterinarian must document “the physical condition of the animal indicates that the animal cannot continue to live without severe, unremitting pain even with prompt, necessary, and comprehensive veterinary care, or the animal has an illness that cannot be remediated with prompt, necessary, and comprehensive veterinary care and will cause the animal continuing, unremitting pain.”
Animal Shelters Must Share Animal Intake and Outcome Statistics
Currently, New Jersey Animal Shelters voluntarily submit animal intake and outcome statistics annually to the New Jersey Department of Health. These statistics detail how animals arrived at the shelter (i.e. stray, owner surrender, confiscated by authorities, etc.) and how they left the shelter (returned to owner, adopted, euthanized, rescued, etc.). In addition, shelters report the population of dogs and cats and the facility’s capacity at the beginning and end of the year as well as the municipalities the shelter provides animal control and shelter services to. Based on my review of underlying records of several New Jersey animal shelters, these summary statistics are sometimes inaccurate.
S3019 requires shelters to report most of these statistics each year to the New Jersey Department of Health. This mandate would make these reports subject to inspection and could result in more accurate statistics. In addition, the bill requires the New Jersey Department of Health to publish these statistics, in total and broken out by shelter, on its web site. Furthermore, the New Jersey Department of Health must post other information it gathers under this bill on its web site.
The bill should provide some additional data to improve transparency. Specifically, it should require the additional data shelters currently voluntarily report, such as the population of dogs and cats and the facility’s capacity at the beginning and end of the year as well as the municipalities the facility provides animal control and shelter services to. Additionally, in order to provide more transparency on how shelters handle local animals, the bill should require shelters to report the following:
Number of animals broken out by species impounded from New York and Pennsylvania during the year
Number of animals broken out by species impounded from other states during the year
Number of New Jersey animals broken out by species euthanized during the year
S3019 also should add the required data in the Shelter Animal Count project. The Shelter Animal Count project is led by several major national animal welfare organizations, such as Maddie’s Fund, HSUS, ASPCA and Best Friends, as well as a number of other animal welfare organizations. Shelters voluntarily provide this data and the goal is to use these statistics to analyze national and regional animal sheltering trends. S3019 should add the following data reporting requirements from the Shelter Animal Count project:
Break out data to show dogs and cats 5 months and younger and over 5 months of age
Number of cats placed into barn cat and warehouse cats homes during the year
Number of cats released through TNR programs if such cats were impounded for reasons other than TNR (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, etc.) during the year
Number of animals broken out by species that died during the year
Number of animals broken out by species that were lost during the year
Mandating the sharing of animal shelter statistics with the public will increase transparency and allow people to pressure animal shelters to save more lives.
New Jersey Department of Health Must Increase Oversight of Animal Shelters
Under the bill, the New Jersey Department of Health must educate shelter directors and certify these individuals are properly trained. The New Jersey Department of Health is required to use Rutgers University to provide this training. The training would cover state shelter and animal cruelty laws as well as shelter operations.
While this sounds good in practice, Senator Greenstein should amend the bill to make clear that this curriculum must emphasize life saving. If the training requires traditional animal sheltering practices, such as killing dogs and cats for silly “behavioral issues” or to reduce disease outbreaks (e.g. killing cats with ringworm), then this feature in the bill will increase rather than reduce shelter killing.
New Jersey animal shelters regularly violate state law due to the lack of regular high quality inspections. Currently, local health departments must inspect an animal shelter each year. Unfortunately, local health departments routinely perform poor quality inspections, and in some cases do not even perform the required inspections. While the New Jersey Department of Health has the right to inspect animal shelters and does an excellent job, it rarely inspects animal shelters. Over the last decade, the number of New Jersey Department of Health inspectors decreased from five to one and the state essentially stopped inspecting animal shelters. Thus, New Jersey desperately needs high quality inspections at its animal shelters.
S3019 requires at least three unannounced inspections each year. Unfortunately, the bill allows the New Jersey Department of Health to delegate these inspections to local health departments if the local health department inspectors complete a New Jersey Department of Health/Rutgers University training. While this training may educate these inspectors, local inspectors will not deal with enough shelters to gain the practical experience they need to conduct high quality inspections. Furthermore, local health departments typically either run a shelter or report to local governments that run or contract with animal shelters. In other words, these inspectors have an inherent conflict of interest that often results in poor quality inspections and shelters routinely violating state law. Thus, Senator Greenstein should amend the bill to require at least a majority, if not all three annual required inspections, be performed by the New Jersey Department of Health.
The bill also increases penalties for noncompliance with state shelter laws. Individuals and organizations that violate the law are subject to a fine of $100-$200 for the first violation, $200-$400 for the second violation, and $300-$800 for any subsequent violations. In addition, shelters having a third violation may have their license to operate suspended or revoked. Also, individuals and organizations conducting inhumane euthanasia face increased fines of $125 ($25 previously) for the first offense and $250 ($50 previously) for the second offense. Thus, shelters and employees would have a much greater incentive to comply with state law.
S3019 also provides funding mechanisms to help shelters comply with its provisions. All collected fines except those for illegal euthanasia would go towards the bill’s training programs and grants to animal control shelters for spay/neuter and other veterinary care. In addition, New Jersey taxpayers will have an option to voluntarily contribute money for these programs on their tax returns.
Animal Lovers Must Call and Write their State Senator and Assemblyman to Support S3019
While I think Senator Greenstein should make some changes to this bill, S3019 still is a game changer in its current form. Clearly, this bill will cause shelters to improve, save more lives and treat animals more humanely. In other words, animal lovers should support this bill wholeheartedly.
Unfortunately, regressive shelters will try and kill this bill behind closed doors. Based on the history of similar legislation in other states, poorly performing shelters will contact elected officials to stop this bill. Many will not do so publicly since their positions are clearly unpopular. For example, many people believe Gloucester County Animal Shelter was behind Senator Sweeney’s recent quick kill bill. Given S3019 would force shelters to do more work and no major New Jersey shelters have publicly supported this bill to the best of my knowledge, many more regressive organizations will oppose this bill.
To make matters worse, some national animal welfare organizations will also likely oppose S3019. While Alley Cat Allies urged New Jersey residents to support S3019, other powerful animal welfare organizations will not do the same. For example, HSUS fought to stop similar bills in other states. In addition, HSUS has not made any public statements on S3019 despite urging New Jersey residents to support other animal bills in the state legislature. Simply put, HSUS should step up and support this bill or at least have the courage to make its position public.
So how can you make sure S3019 becomes state law? Call and/or write your local State Senator and Assemblyman and demand they support S3019, preferably with the changes outlined in this blog. Each municipality’s State Senator and Assemblyman are listed in the link below along with additional links containing their phone numbers.
If there was ever a time for you to step up for the animals, this is it. Thousands of animals lives will be saved in the future if you make a quick call and/or write a short note to your elected representatives. Be on the right side of history and tell others to do the same.
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
Number predicted by model
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:
Modeling a large scale and targeted TNR program by reducing cat intake at shelters needing to implement TNR or improve their existing TNR programs
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Gloucester County Animal Shelter reports some of the highest kill rates and body counts every year. In 2014, 31% of dogs and and 76% of cats were killed, died, went missing or were unaccounted for. Furthermore, 52% of dogs not reclaimed by their owners lost their lives at Gloucester County Animal Shelter in 2014. In total, 366 dogs and 2,017 cats were killed, died, went missing or were unaccounted for at Gloucester County Animal Shelter last year. To put it another way, 7 dogs and cats lose their lives at Gloucester County Animal Shelter on average each day of the year at this so-called shelter. Thus, Gloucester County Animal Shelter operates more like a death camp than an animal shelter.
Regressive kill shelter defenders often claim these facilities only kill out of necessity and provide humane and loving care to the animals. For example, PETA wrote an article on how no kill shelters are cruel and kill shelters are humane. One key excerpt was as follows:
Not all animal shelters are the same. Fortunate homeless and unwanted animals end up in the hundreds of open-admission animal shelters that are staffed by professional, caring people.
At these facilities, frightened animals are reassured, sick and injured animals receive treatment or a peaceful end to their suffering, and the animals’ living quarters are kept clean and dry. Workers at these facilities never turn away needy animals and give careful consideration to each animal’s special emotional and physical needs.
Gloucester County Animal Shelter made headlines in October after illegally killing an owned cat. On September 30, 2015, Gloucester County Animal Shelter impounded a stray cat named Moe. According to news stories, the owner’s ex-fiance’s contact information was with the microchip company and he went went to the shelter the next day. Despite this person not owning the cat, the shelter ordered him to take the cat back, surrender the animal to the facility or face neglect charges. Ultimately, he surrendered Moe to the shelter thinking it would be easier for his ex-fiance to get her cat back. After Moe’s owner found out that Moe was at the shelter later that day, she was told she had to pay $85 to adopt her own cat back. However, the owner found out that Gloucester County Animal Shelter killed Moe earlier that day for aggression. Under New Jersey law, shelters cannot kill any stray or owner surrendered animal prior to a 7 day hold period. As a result of this travesty, a Justice for Moe movement started.
At the time, a Gloucester County spokeswoman stated Moe’s death was a “sensitive subject”, but did not admit the shelter broke the law. However, this spokeswoman stated the shelter would review its procedures.
The New Jersey Department of Health (“NJ DOH”) conducted a five hour inspection three weeks after Moe arrived at Gloucester County Animal Shelter. You can read the full inspection report at this link.
Was Gloucester County Animal Shelter’s illegal killing of Moe an aberration? Is Gloucester County Animal Shelter complying with all New Jersey animal shelter laws?
Does Gloucester County Animal Shelter provide humane care to animals and a “peaceful end” to their life as PETA argues kill shelters do?
Gloucester County Animal Shelter Allows Disease to Spread Like Wildfire
The NJ DOH inspector found the shelter placed cats “one after another” inside the same enclosure without disinfecting the cage while the permanent cat housing areas were cleaned. As a result, the shelter exposed each cat to serious diseases.
1.6 (d) Repeat Deficiency- Animals shall not be placed in empty primary enclosures previously inhabited by other animals unless the enclosure has first been cleaned and disinfected.
Cats at the facility were housed in various rooms. All the cats in these rooms, other than the cats housed in the “feral” cat room, were each placed inside the same enclosure, one after the other, during the daily cleaning process. This enclosure was not cleaned and disinfected between inhabitants as required and, therefore, each cat was potentially exposed to infectious agents of every other cat housed within that room. During the cleaning process in the cat isolation room, the inspector witnessed one of the cats being removed from a holding enclosure and carried back to its primary enclosure; another cat was removed from its primary enclosure, carried over to the same holding enclosure and placed inside. When questioned, the cleaning attended confirmed that the holding enclosure is not cleaned or disinfected at any time between animals during the cleaning process.
During this cleaning process, the shelter failed to apply disinfectant solutions long enough and in the proper concentration to prevent the spread of deadly diseases, such as rabies and the canine parvovirus.
1.8 (c) Cages, floors, and hard surfaced pens or runs shall be disinfected at least once per day by washing all soiled surfaces with a detergent solution followed by a safe and effective disinfectant.
Animal enclosures were not being sufficiently disinfected at least once daily as required. The disinfectant used at the facility was not being used as instructed on the manufacture’s product label and manufacturer’s website for animal contact surfaces and the disinfecting solution was not being applied to surfaces for the required contact time. Surfaces are required to be cleaned with a detergent and rinsed to remove excess contaminants, and then the disinfectant is required to be applied to surfaces and allowed to remain wet for a 10 minute contact time. When questioned, the cleaning attendant stated that the product is not applied to surfaces for the required 10 minute contact time because they are short staffed and they do not have time to allow for the full contact time.
All animal contact surfaces are required to be mechanically scrubbed to remove greasy residue and organic matter and wiped or rinsed, taking care to avoid redepositing of soil. The product is required to be used at 4 ounces per gallon of water and applied to pre-cleaned surfaces with a 10 minute contact time on hard, nonporous surfaces to be effective against canine parvovirus and rabies virus in accordance with the manufacturer’s website. The product was being used at one ounce per gallon at the time of this inspection, which would be effective against some bacteria and viruses after a 10 minute contact time, but is not effective against canine parvovirus and rabies virus.
The inspection report also noted feeding dishpans were not correctly disinfected and air from the isolation area with sick animals potentially mixed with air in locations with healthy animals.
When animals inevitably became ill, shelter staff failed to provide treatment and isolate the sick animals from healthy ones. Apparently, a “lethargic” animal suffering with “thick purulent nasal discharge” that is “lying with its face on the bottom of the enclosure” and is “reluctant to fully open its eyes” doesn’t warrant treatment at Gloucester County Animal Shelter.
1.6 (e) Animals showing signs of contagious illness shall be removed from rooms and enclosures containing healthy animals and housed in a separate isolation room, in accordance with N.J.A.C. 8:23A-1.9 (b) through (f).
A kitten housed in the “feral” cat room and located in the same cage with another kitten, was showing signs of contagious illness, which included a thick purulent nasal discharge, lethargy, lying with its face on the bottom of the enclosure, and reluctance to fully open its eyes. This cat was not removed from its enclosure as required and housed in the isolation room at the time of this inspection.
To make matters worse, the NJ DOH inspector noted shelter staff had just cleaned this sick and suffering kitten’s enclosure and left the animal alongside a healthy kitten without contacting a veterinarian or vet tech.
1.9 (d) Repeat Deficiency- Each animal shall be observed daily by the animal caretaker in charge, or by someone under his or her direct supervision for clinical signs of communicable disease or stress. 1. Sick, diseased, injured or lame animals shall be provided with at least prompt, basic veterinary care.
The kitten described under section 1.6 was not provided with at least prompt, basic veterinary care at the time of this inspection. This kitten’s enclosure had been cleaned prior to the inspector entering this room. The person that cleaned the enclosure placed the kitten back into the same enclosure with the healthy kitten and there was no indication at the time of this inspection that the clinical signs this kitten was displaying were reported to or observed by the animal caretaker in charge, or by someone under his or her direct supervision.
The NJ DOH inspector also reported the supervising veterinarian did not establish a disease control and health care program as required by state law. In fact, the supervising veterinarian “had not visited the facility for quite some time.” Furthermore, the shelter appeared to provide prescription medicine to animals without a veterinarian observing animals and prescribing these drugs.
1.9 (a) Repeat Deficiency- Facilities shall establish and maintain a program of disease control and adequate health care (program) under the supervision and assistance of a doctor of veterinary medicine.
The facility had a VPH-20, Certification of Veterinary Supervision form posted at the facility, but there was no evidence provided at the time of this inspection that indicated that the supervising veterinarian had visited the facility and established a disease control and adequate health care program as required. The facility had a large stock of assorted medications and other pharmaceutical agents that were not licensed for over-the-counter use and that did not contain prescription labels or other written prescribed instructions established by and under the supervision of the supervising veterinarian.
The inspector was told at the time of this inspection that the veterinarian had not visited the facility for quite some time and the veterinarian had not established a written disease control and health care program. The inspector was told that animals in need of veterinary care were routinely transported to the supervising veterinarian’s office or to other veterinary establishments when the supervising veterinarian’s office was closed. The veterinarian was said to provide consultation over the phone at times, but some animals were administered prescription medications without an examination by a licensed veterinarian or a consultation and written instructions from the supervising veterinarian as required.
There were no written directives available from the supervising veterinarian including, but not limited to, proper cleaning and disinfection protocols; animal isolation procedures; procedures for the appropriate care of animals displaying signs of illness, injury, disease or stress; and protocols to prevent the transmission of disease throughout the facility, including disease transmission through fomite contamination by animal handlers and caretakers as observed at the time of this inspection. There were also no written and established feeding protocols for the animals at the facility established by the supervising veterinarian.
Gloucester County Animal Shelter Illegally Slaughters Animals Like a Serial Killer
The NJ DOH inspector confirmed that Gloucester County Animal Shelter illegally killed Moe via an intraperitoneal injection. Furthermore, the inspector found Gloucester County Animal Shelter illegally killed 384 animals prior to the 7 day hold period during the first 9 or so months of 2015. Thus, Moe’s illegal killing was not an aberration, it was normal operating procedure.
1.10 (a)1. Impounded animals must be kept alive for seven days to give opportunity for rabies disease surveillance and opportunity for owners to reclaim. (N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.16 d, e, and f.)
A stray cat that had been impounded at the facility on September 30, 2015 at 5:20 PM was euthanized the following morning on October 1, 2015 at 11:00 AM by intraperitoneal injection. Documents indicated that this cat was euthanized due to “behavioral issues.” This cat had a microchip that was registered to a previous owner, but documents show that the name and contact phone number for the current owner was provided to the facility. The current owner was not given the opportunity to reclaim the cat.
Disposition records received at the New Jersey Department of Health indicated that 312 cats and 71 dogs and one domestic rabbit were euthanized before the required seven day holding period between January 2, 2015 and October 9, 2015.
Furthermore, the inspector noted Gloucester County Animal Shelter had to keep Moe alive for at least 7 days after the shelter found out who Moe’s actual owner was on October 1.
N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.32-c. If either scan required reveals information concerning the owner of the cat or dog, the shelter or pound shall immediately seek to contact and notify the owner of the whereabouts of the cat or dog. Furthermore, if microchip identification is found, the shelter, pound shall hold the animal for at least seven days after notification to the owner.
A stray cat that was impounded at the facility on September 30, 2015 was scanned for a microchip and the person listed in the microchip database was contacted. The person listed in the database notified the facility that he was not the current owner of the cat and he was able to provide the contact information for the current owner. The cat was euthanized the following day and the current owner, whose name and phone number were written on the animal’s record, was not afforded the opportunity to reclaim her cat. The cat was not held for at least seven days after the facility was supplied with the current owner’s contact information.
The inspection report also stated Gloucester County Animal Shelter routinely broke New Jersey laws for failing to scan animals for microchips upon intake and prior to killing, adopting or transferring animals.
N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.32-a. When a cat or dog is put in the custody of and impounded with a shelter or pound, the shelter or pound shall scan the animal for microchip identification.
Records available at the time of this inspection showed that many animals were not being scanned for a microchip on intake to the facility. There were a total of 38 cats that were held in the feral cat room at the time of this inspection, but only 6 of these cats had been scanned for a microchip upon intake into the facility. There were 18 cats housed in the isolation room at the time of this inspection, but records indicated that 7 of these cats had not been scanned for a microchip upon intake to the facility. There were additional animals throughout the facility, including two dogs and a main coon type cat that had not been scanned upon intake.
N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.32-b. Prior to release of any cat or dog for adoption, transfer to another facility or foster home, or euthanasia of the cat or dog, the shelter or pound shall scan the cat or dog for microchip identification.
The inspector was told that animals were not being scanned for a microchip before being euthanized at the facility. There were no documents available at the facility that showed that animals had been scanned again prior to release, transfer, or euthanasia as required.
Gloucester County Animal Shelter Illegally and Cruelly Kills Animals
Gloucester County Animal Shelter illegally used intraperitoneal injections of Fatal Plus to kill cats. 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. Sadly, Moe needlessly lost his life from this barbaric killing method.
1.11 (c) The acceptable methods of euthanasia include the following: 1. The primary recommended method is an intravenous injection of a barbiturate; however, an intraperitoneal or intracardiac injection may be made where intravenous injection is impractical, as in the very small animal, or in the comatose animal with depressed vascular function.
Cats and kittens were not euthanized by intravenous injection as required. Documents indicated and the inspector was told at the time of this inspection that the primary method of euthanasia for cats at the facility was an intraperitoneal injection of sodium pentobarbital. All cats and kittens were euthanized by this method, including healthy adult cats and larger kittens over 4 weeks of age rather than cats that were comatose and had depressed vascular function or very small neonate kittens where intravenous injection may be impractical. Intraperitoneal and intracardiac injections are not to be used as the primary method of euthanasia for animals at the facility and these methods of euthanasia are only acceptable with documented justification.
To make matters worse, Gloucester County Animal Shelter did not weigh animals prior to administering pre-killing sedatives and Fatal Plus poison. 87 cats and kittens were given low dosages of Fatal Plus and no dosage records existed for 1,204 other cats and kittens killed during the year. As a result, animals may have experienced great pain due to receiving incorrect dosages of these drugs.
1.11 (f) 3. Weigh all animals prior to administration of euthanasia, immobilizing, or tranquilizing agents.
The inspector was told that animals were not weighed prior to administration of euthanasia, immobilizing, or tranquilizing agents and that all cats received one milliliter (ml) of euthanasia solution and all kittens received .5 ml of solution. One of the euthanasia technicians stated that if a cat looks big, they would give a little more.
The label instructions on the bottle of Fatal Plus euthanasia solution stated that the required volume of solution is 1 ml per 10 lbs. of body weight and intravenous injection is preferred. The calculated dosage should be given in a single injection. Intraperitoneal or intracardiac injection may be made when intravenous injection is impractical, as in very small or comatose animals with impaired vascular functions. Since animals were not weighed before administration of euthanasia and tranquilizing agents, the dosages for these agents were not calculated as required for each individual animal.
A review of euthanasia log records received at the New Jersey Department of Health confirmed that most adult cats were given 1 ml of Fatal Plus euthanasia solution regardless of their actual weight, and kittens were given .5 ml without determining their weight before the administration of euthanasia solution. The euthanasia logs show that 1291 cats and kittens were euthanized between January 3, 2015 and October 20, 2015. Eighty of these cats were given more than 1 ml of euthanasia solution and 7 kittens were given .3 ml rather than .5 ml. There were no documents available to indicate that rabbits, ferrets, a pig, and various other domestic and wildlife species were weighed prior to the administration of euthanasia, immobilizing, or tranquilizing agents. There were no documents available to determine if the 1204 cats and kittens that were administered 1 ml or .5 ml sodium pentobarbital, as well as the additional animals that were not weighed prior to administration of euthanasia solution, were give a sufficient dosage as indicated on the product label to produce humane euthanasia as quickly and painlessly as possible in these animals.
Even more frightening, the shelter had no records indicating anyone confirmed animals were actually dead after the killing. In a worst case scenario, animals receiving dosages that were too low may have been still alive when disposed of.
Note: There were no documents available at the facility to indicate that each animal was being assessed after the administration of euthanasia agents as required to ensure that the animal was deceased prior to disposal. There were no instructions posted in the euthanasia area indicating the procedures for animal assessment after the animals were euthanized. During the inspection, there was a concern that section 1.11 (g) may not have been followed; therefore it is recommended that records be amended to include this information. The requirements for the section are as follows:
1.11 (g) After the administration of euthanasia agents to an animal, the person administering euthanasia shall assess each animal for the absence of a heartbeat by auscultation of the heart utilizing a stethoscope, establishment of the absence of a pulse and respiration, the absence of movement of the eyelid when the cornea is touched (corneal reflex) and checking for presence of maximum dilation of the pupils of the eyes. 1. The person administering euthanasia shall perform these assessments in combination at least 5 minutes apart until the person can definitively determine that the heart is no longer beating, to ensure that the animal is deceased prior to disposal.
High Kill Shelters View Animals as Trash
Animal extermination operations like Gloucester County Animal Shelter place little value on the lives of animals. After all, when you kill most of your animals, and nearly all of your cats, that seems like the logical view to take. If you are going to kill an animal in a week anyway, not treating a medical illness or taking the creature to a veterinarian doesn’t seem like a big deal. Sadly, organizations like PETA ignore countless examples of cruel operations like Gloucester County Animal Shelter and instead vilify even well-run no kill shelters. Unfortunately, PETA believes pets should not exist and their silence in these situations indicates killing pets by any means necessary is worth the cost to achieve their nefarious goal.
New Jersey Department of Health and the NJ SPCA Must Severely Punish Gloucester County Animal Shelter and Local Health Inspectors
Gloucester County Animal Shelter’s problems go far beyond minor code infractions. Frankly, the wholesale and institutionalized cruelty mandates the NJ SPCA focus on this case. Simply put, the consequences of inaction mean thousands of other animals each year will experience the same level of cruelty unless the NJ SPCA takes serious and drastic action, particularly against Shelter Director, Bill Lombardi. Sadly, the NJ SPCA’s record in pressing charges and winning cases against abusive shelters is poor.
The New Jersey Department of Health should fine Gloucester County Animal Shelter the maximum $50 fine for each infraction, including separate fines for each animal. Additionally, the New Jersey Department of Health should reinspect the shelter every month and assess new fines for each shelter law violation not corrected. Gloucester County officials must face a steep monetary penalty for allowing these blatant law-breaking activities to go on. Furthermore, the New Jersey Department of Health should recommend that the New Jersey Public Health Licensing and Examination Board revoke the local Health Officer’s license and take any other necessary disciplinary action. Simply put, the local health department allowed the shelter to operate in this illegal manner for years and needs to face serious consequences for its inaction.
Gloucester County Freeholders Must Respond to Local Shelter Reform Activists
The shelter only takes in 13 dogs and cats per 1,000 people in Gloucester County, which is below the national average. In fact, animal control shelters take in far more animals in total and per capita and achieve no kill level live release rates. For example, the Reno, Nevada area’s open admission shelter takes in around 15,000 animals a year or around 36 dogs and cats per 1,000 people, and still saves 90% or more of these animals year after year. Clearly, we can shelter animals far better than what Gloucester County Animal Shelter is doing. People should contact Gloucester County Freeholders Robert Damminger and Daniel Christy and demand Gloucester County run a no kill shelter. It is time Gloucester County elected officials take this horrific situation and turn it into something positive.
Earlier this summer, the South Orange Board of Health made their case for opposing TNR in the Village. During the presentation, the Board of Health harped on diseases that are virtually never transmitted from feral cats to people, such as toxoplasmosis, rabies, cat scratch fever and ringworm. Ironically, the South Orange Board of Health claims they are cat lovers and favor “trap and adopt” when they know very well many community cats are essentially wild and cannot live in a home (i.e. trapped feral cats are killed). The South Orange Board of Health stated they would entertain other ideas, but took the extreme position that the risk of one person catching a disease is worth killing massive numbers of cats. Furthermore, the South Orange Board of Health asserted cats are decimating wildlife. Are the Board of Health claims about the risks feral cats pose to people and the environment correct?
The Board of Health also mislead the public by stating 90% of domestic animal rabies cases involve cats. Cats making up 90% of domestic animal rabies cases sounds bad right? However, 90% of a small number is nothing to get alarmed about. Obviously, dogs will have fewer rabies cases since most are vaccinated and don’t roam. Thus, the only domestic animals that have any real chance of getting rabies are unvaccinated cats (which are vaccinated under a TNR program) making the Board of Health’s assertion misleading.
Virtually all rabid animals are wild animals. In 2014, the New Jersey Department of Health found only 6% of all rabid animals in New Jersey were cats (which were certainly not vaccinated). In fact, 10 times more raccoons contracted rabies than cats last year in our state. Additionally, outdoor cats have lived in close proximity to humans for centuries and it seems odd that cats all off a sudden became a major public health threat. Thus, the South Orange Board of Health’s obsession with cats makes little sense from a public health perspective.
Toxoplasmosis Hype Has No Basis in the Real World
The South Orange Board of Health asserted people contracting toxoplasmosis from feral cats is a major public health concern, but real world evidence contradicts this claim. During the presentation, the South Orange Board of Health stated cats going to the bathroom outside could cause people with compromised immune systems to catch the disease. However, a person would have to not only touch these feces, but also ingest it as well to catch toxoplasmosis from an outdoor cat. In addition, cats who have this disease are only contagious for a few weeks. No wonder studies showed most toxoplasmosis cases in people come from eating undercooked meat and pregnant women, which are among the most likely people this parasite would infect, are unlikely to catch toxoplasmosis from a cat. Thus, the South Orange Board of Health exaggerated a health risk from feral cats.
Ironically, the South Orange Board of Health hypes the risk of zoonotic diseases much like anti-wolf groups in the Rocky Mountain states. These groups advocate, and even celebrate, the killing of wolves. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rightly responded that these diseases rarely are contracted by people and are not a significant risk. Sadly, the South Orange Board of Health sounds more like anti-conservation nuts than a respected government agency.
Cats Do Not Negatively Impact Prey Populations in Natural Areas
The South Orange Board of Health claimed community cats are an ecological disaster and are decimating songbird populations. In particular, one of the South Orange Board of Health members stated this personally hurt him because he likes seeing birds in the park. Additionally, the South Orange Board of Health took PETA’s position that it is better to kill feral cats than let them live outside since such cats are suffering. So what does the evidence state about cat impacts on bird populations and the health of feral cats?
Indoor/outdoor owned cats primarily live and hunt in disturbed ecosystems within human developments. In a study on the island of Corvo, where no competing predators or large scale TNR programs exist to limit cat movements, found owned cats virtually never roamed more than 800 meters from their home. A study taking place in Albany, New York where coyotes existed, and which also live in South Orange, showed cats on average only roamed through the yards of four homes and almost never entered a forest preserve adjacent to the area (only 2 of 31 hunts occurred more than 10 meters into the forest). Thus, owned cats that roam outside primarily hunt within human developed habitats where the ecology and the mix of wildlife species are already disturbed.
Feral cats also primarily live in human developed areas rather than native animal habitats when coyotes are present. A study conducted in the Chicago Metropolitan area found coyotes primarily inhabited natural areas while feral cats were almost entirely confined to residential locations. Furthermore, the study found feral cats were generally healthy and had survival rates at the upper end of the range of wild carnivores. Therefore, this study contradicted the South Orange Board of Health’s claims that feral cats are decimating native wildlife and are suffering living outside.
Another extensive study confirmed the fact that feral cats do not spend much time in native animal habitats when coyotes are present. The study, which was conducted in 2,117 locations in 6 states, found cats virtually never spent time in native animal habitats where coyotes existed. Below is the author’s summary of these findings:
“Given the fact that we know domestic cats kill a lot of native wildlife, if cats are getting in our natural areas, it’s a big conservation concern,” says Kays. “That’s not what we found. There were basically no cats in 30 of the 32 protected areas we surveyed, and the one consistent variable was the presence of coyotes. The pattern was obvious and striking.”
“Basically no cats” means that over the course of the study, 16 parks had zero cats, and in 14 of the protected areas, a single cat was detected. Cameras were set up in state and national parks in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, and in 177 sites in small forested patches and suburban areas around Raleigh, N.C.
Thus, feral cats in our area, which has coyotes, cannot significantly impact native animal populations since these cats virtually never go to the places where native wildlife populations primarily live in.
Flawed Cat Predation Impacts
The studies purporting to support cats decimating native wildlife lack the basic requirements of reputable predator-prey research. To negatively impact prey populations, predators must remove a significant percentage of those prey populations. However, most of these studies purportedly showing cats decimating native wildlife populations, particularly those in continental locations like South Orange, do not quantify how significant these predation numbers are relative to the sizes of the prey populations. The author of the cat study from Albany, New York cited above clearly describes this as follows:
While a number of researchers have extrapolated kill rates from a few cats into huge estimates of prey killed by cats over large areas (e.g. free-ranging cats kill as many as 217 million birds/year in Wisconsin (Coleman, Temple & Craven, 1997) and 220 million prey/year in the UK (Woods et al., 2003)), these are rarely contrasted with similar estimates of potential prey populations over the same scales. Unfortunately, biologists have rarely sampled both cat and prey populations in such a way that direct effects on prey populations can be shown (e.g. house cats reduce scrub breeding birds: Crooks & Soule, 1999; cat colonies reduce grassland birds: Hawkins, 1998).
The study’s author also explains how cat predation studies conducted on islands and other parts of the world, which are commonly cited as a reason to exterminate outdoor cats, are not applicable in the northeast:
First, harsh New York winters probably function to not only restrict IOHC movement for much of the year (George, 1974; Churcher & Lawton, 1987), but also they may limit the suitability of the area for true feral cats compared with warmer climates. Second, the native potential prey species in mixed coniferous/deciduous forests of northeastern North America may be less vulnerable than other areas because it includes few lizards or low-nesting birds. For example, the scrub nesting birds hunted by IOHC in suburban southern California (Crooks & Soule, 1999) might be expected to be more vulnerable than small mammal or canopy nesting bird populations simply because their low nesting habits are more easily exploited by scansorial cats (i.e. an evolutionary trap: Schlaepfer, Runge & Sherman, 2002). Finally, the nature preserve around these neighbourhoods includes enough forest to support populations of cat predators including coyotes (Canis latrans) and fishers (Martes pennanti: Kays, Bogan & Holevinski, 2001). The presence of these predators probably functions to limit feral cat numbers, as well as the movement of any IOHC into the forest preserve (Crooks & Soule, 1999).
Additionally, not all predation events have the same impacts on prey populations. Ecologists classify predation as either additive or compensatory. Additive predation, as the name suggests, means that killing a prey animal adds mortality and reduces the prey species’ population. On the other hand, if a predator kills a prey animal that is unlikely to survive long and/or breed, then the predation event is labeled compensatory and will not decrease the prey population. For example, if a cat kills a very young bird that fell from a tree or a very sick bird, then the cat is simply killing an animal that was going to die anyway. Given cats in TNR programs are fed, cats will have little incentive to work hard to kill healthy prey. Thus, the South Orange Board of Health’s review of the “evidence” failed to consider this critically important factor.
The South Orange Board of Health also ignored potential factors positively increasing songbird populations in developed areas. For example, bobcats are native to New Jersey and prey on birds, but this predatory species no longer lives in South Orange. Therefore, community cat predation on songbirds may partially compensate for native bobact predation no longer taking place. Additionally, people feed birds which may artificially increase populations of birds cats prey on.
The South Orange Board of Health also did not consider how people feeding birds negatively impacts native bird populations. A recent study in New Zealand found humans feeding birds increased non-native species numbers at the expense of native birds. In addition, another study found bird feeding resulted in many more birds catching serious diseases. A study conducted in Canada, reported bird collisions with house windows nearly doubled after bird feeding was started. Another study from Northern Ireland found winter feeding caused one bird species to lay its eggs too early in the spring when ample food was not yet available, and supplemental winter feeding could favor nonmigratory species over migratory species not receiving the extra food. Additionally the study stated bird feeding was disturbing the natural ecology of these species:
It seems highly likely that natural selection is being artificially perturbed, as feeding influences almost every aspect of bird ecology, including reproduction, behavior, demography, and distribution.
Thus, the South Orange Board of Health ignores the very real dangers of residents feeding birds, but instead focuses on community cats which have little to no impact on native birds in the area.
Eradicating feral cats also has other negative unintended consequences. On Macquarie Island, which is a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (“UNESCO”) World Heritage Site, feral cat eradication efforts led to an increase in rabbit and other rodent populations. The increased rabbit populations devastated the island’s vegetation and likely negatively impacted many native birds dependent on these natural habitats. In New Zealand, another study documented a feral cat eradication program causing the rat population to increase. The rat population subsequently reduced the breeding success of the Cook’s petrel, which is a native sea bird species. Thus, the South Orange Board of Health’s cat eradication goal may negatively impact native wildlife.
South Orange Board of Health’s Desire to Eliminate Cats May Increase Lyme Disease and Other Infections
Lyme disease is a potential crippling disease. The disease, which is most commonly spread by the deer tick, can cause chronic fatigue, pain and other nervous system disorders if not effectively treated early on. Unfortunately, signs of the disease are not always easily seen soon after a tick bite and the disease can virtually destroy the quality of a person’s life.
Lyme disease has reached epidemic levels in New Jersey. The Center of Disease Control reported New Jersey had around 4,600 new cases in 2009 alone. While the number of people in the state contracting Lyme disease dropped since then, people are now starting to becoming infected in urban areas. Thus, public health officials must consider the potential impact of all policies on this epidemic.
People are far more likely to contract Lyme disease in areas with large populations of small mammals. While most people believe deer are responsible for Lyme disease, a recent study suggests the white footed mouse, eastern chipmunk and two species of shrews are the culprits. Specifically, the deer tick catches Lyme disease from these small mammals rather than deer. Thus, large numbers of these small mammals result in more infected ticks that can transmit Lyme disease to people.
New research suggests Lyme disease is far more common in areas where few natural predators exist. Scientists at the Cary Institute of New York found wooded patches of 3 acres or less, which are common in suburban areas like South Orange, contain 3 times as many deer ticks as larger more pristine wooded areas. Furthermore, 80% of the deer ticks carry Lyme disease in these small wooded lots and these ticks are 7 times more likely to harbor the disease than ticks in larger wooded tracts. In addition, other emerging tick-borne diseases, such as Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis and Powassan encephalitis, may also be more common in these wooded areas.
The high incidence of Lyme disease infected ticks coincides with larger populations of small mammals commonly found near residential areas. In smaller wooded tracts, ecological diversity decreases as competing species find it difficult to find enough resources to survive. Furthermore, predators of these species are less common due to altered habitats and threats from people.
The South Orange Board of Health’s desire to eradicate outdoor cats may have the unintended consequence of increasing Lyme disease rates. Cats are essentially the only predator of small mammals in the very small wooded lots harboring Lyme disease close to where humans live. Despite the hype about cats decimating songbird populations, cats mostly prey on small mammals. For example, the study conducted in Albany, New York cited above found 86% of cat prey were small mammals, most of which were mice. While scientists would need to conduct extensive scientific studies to determine if differing cat population numbers impact Lyme disease rates in people, logic would suggest eliminating cats could only cause more humans to contract Lyme disease or have no effect. In addition, fewer cats could result in more instances of other diseases carried by rodents, such as Hantavirus, Bubonic plague and Salmonellosis. Thus, the South Orange Board of Health may exchange eliminating non-existent health risks (i.e. rabies, toxoplasmosis, etc.) for increasing the chance of residents contracting other serious chronic diseases.
Furthermore, the South Orange Board of Health ignores the emotional distress killing massive numbers of cats has on animal loving residents. Given excessive stress has a tremendous negative impact on all aspects of one’s physical health, one has to wonder if the South Orange Board of Health considered this factor.
TNR Will Alleviate the Very Issues Raised by the South Orange Board of Health
In reality, TNR will achieve the very goals the Board of Health seeks to achieve. While I do believe we very much need cats to maintain a healthy balance in our human altered ecosystems, a large scale and well-run TNR program will more effectively reduce cat populations and limit cat ecological impacts than trap and kill policies. In a recent computer modeling study taking into account cats both migrating in and out of colonies, the authors found, in contrast to the South Orange Board of Health’s claim that all feral cats must be spayed/neutered to reduce the feral cat population, TNR programs only need to sterilize 30% of the reproductively active feral cat population to decrease colony size over the long term. While catching and killing would only require removing 20% of the reproductively active feral cat population, such efforts are much more difficult as few in the community would help trap or donate money to catch and kill cats. Additionally, the study found focusing sterilization efforts on females, if say financial resources are limited, could decrease the population with a lower sterilization rate. Unsurprisingly, despite the South Orange Board of Health’s assertion that TNR does not reduce community cat populations, multiple studies found TNR programs reduced feral cat populations. As a result, large scale and well-run TNR programs certainly can decrease the size of feral cat populations.
TNR also limits cat predation, roaming and nuisance behaviors. Specifically, altering the animals, particularly males, reduces roaming and the loud noises associated with fights males have over females. In addition, regular feeding reduces the distance feral cats range in search of food and decreases their desire to hunt. As a comparison, catch and kill policies do not remove enough cats to reduce the feral cat population and those cats are more likely to roam further, hunt more, and make loud noises fighting over mates. In addition, well-run large scale TNR programs have active conflict resolution procedures, often times performed by volunteers, to reduce nuisance complaints. Thus, TNR is a no-brainer based on the very claims the South Orange Board of Health makes.
South Orange Board of Health Proposes More Polices to Kill Even More Cats at Taxpayer Expense
The South Orange Board of Health proposed the following polices that will result in impounding and killing more cats:
1) Mandatory licensing and microchipping for all cats
2) Increase enforcement of public pet limit and cat feeding ban laws
3) “Educate” people on the dangers of outdoor cats
In a bizarre statement, one Board of Health member stated the town’s Animal Control Officer would go door to door to force residents to get their cat licensed and presumably give people a choice – kill or license your cat. That sure sounds like a wonderful way to educate people about an issue – threaten to kill their cat and then tell them that their beloved family member is a filthy disease carrying animal that should never leave their home unless the cat is on a leash or in a maximum security prison like enclousure. In addition, to reach a significant number of homes, South Orange taxpayers will have to pay for more ACOs or accept slower response times from their existing ACO. Additionally, the South Orange Board of Health’s trap and kill policy will lead to increased animal control costs due to the impounding of more unadoptable cats. Thus, the South Orange Board of Health’s proposed policy will be ineffective and costly to South Orange’s taxpayers.
South Orange Residents and Animal Loving People from Elsewhere Must Make Their Voices Heard
The South Orange Board of Health will hold a meeting on their anti-community cat policies on September 17 at 7:30 PM in the South Orange Performing Arts Center (1 SOPAC Way, South Orange, NJ 07079). All animal loving people should attend this meeting and make the case for TNR in an intelligent and fact based manner.
As a back-up strategy, people should lobby the South Orange Village Council to not reappoint Board of Health members opposing TNR and also provide pro-TNR replacement Board of Health members. Four of the seven members terms expire within the next year. Simply put, if the South Orange Board of Health insists on killing massive numbers of cats at taxpayer expense, these people must go.
Hervías, S., Oppel, S., Medina, F. M., Pipa, T., Díez, A., Ramos, J. A., Ruiz de Ybáñez, R. and Nogales, M. (2014), Assessing the impact of introduced cats on island biodiversity by combining dietary and movement analysis. Journal of Zoology, 292: 39–47. doi: 10.1111/jzo.12082
Macquarie Island Feral Cat Eradication Study Detailing Negative Effects on Native Flora and Fauna:
Bergstrom, D. M., Lucieer, A., Kiefer, K., Wasley, J., Belbin, L., Pedersen, T. K. and Chown, S. L. (2009), Indirect effects of invasive species removal devastate World Heritage Island. Journal of Applied Ecology, 46: 73–81. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2008.01601.x
New Zealand Study Documenting Feral Cat Elimination Negatively Impacting a Native Bird Species:
Spatial heterogeneity of mesopredator release within an oceanic island system PNAS 2007 104 (52)20862–20865; doi:10.1073/pnas.0707414105
Study Showing Small Mammal Prey of Cats is Primary Cause for Increase in Lyme Disease:
Deer, predators, and the emergence of Lyme disease PNAS 2012 109 (27) 10942-10947; doi:10.1073/pnas.1204536109
Research Reporting Increased Lyme Disease in Small Wooded Areas with Few Natural Predators:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
Additionally, during Easter the shelter added holiday festivities to the area near the entrance to create a positive and welcoming atmosphere:
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:
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:
Even the bathroom, which is a very scary place in most shelters, got a complete makeover and looked beautiful:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
“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.
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:
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:
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.