East Orange Dog Photo

2015 New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Reveal Big Problems Still Exist

Earlier this month, I wrote a blog detailing decreased killing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2015. This blog will explore the 2015 statistics in more detail and assess the current status of the state’s animal shelters.

Most New Jersey animal shelters voluntarily report detailed data to state authorities. Last month, I shared the 2015 summary statistics for New Jersey animal shelters on my Facebook page. Each year, the New Jersey Department of Health requests each licensed animal shelter in the state to submit animal shelter data for the previous year. Animal shelters voluntarily submit this data in the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report.” The New Jersey Department of Health takes these Shelter/Pound Annual Reports and compiles the number of dogs, cats and other animals impounded, redeemed, adopted and euthanized to prepare its Animal Intake and Disposition report. However, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include additional information on how animals were impounded (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, rescued from in-state facilities, rescued from out of state shelters, and cruelty/bite cases) and disposed of (i.e. returned to owner, adopted, sent to rescue/another shelter, and died/missing/other outcome). Additionally, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include the number of animals in shelters at the beginning and end of the year as well as the maximum number of animals facilities can hold. Thus, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include very important data not found in the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report.

I compiled the data from these reports and analyze the results in this blog. 2015 statistics for each New Jersey animal shelter are listed at this link.

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

Most New Jersey animal shelters do not properly account for their animals. Simple math dictates the number of animals at a facility at the beginning of the year, plus all animals coming in during the year, less all animals leaving for the period, should equal the number of animals a shelter has at the end of the year. Stunningly, 54 out of 91 shelters reporting these dog statistics and 55 out of 92 facilities submitting this cat data failed to get this right. While this is actually a significant improvement over the results in 2014, this raises serious questions about the accuracy of these shelters’ reported statistics. 25 of the 54 shelters with flawed dog statistics and 29 of the 55 facilities with incorrect cat statistics should have had more animals at the end of the year then reported. While these errors could have been due to incorrect counts of the number of animals at facilities, these shelters may have not recorded outcomes, such as animals who were killed, died, or went missing. To put it another way, 1,193 cats and dogs should have had outcomes reported and did not. Thus, there is the potential that as many as 1,193 additional dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing from New Jersey animal shelters than were reported in 2015.

Even worse, a number of animal shelters reported having a different number of animals at the end of 2014 and at the beginning of 2015. Obviously, shelters should report the same number of animals at the end of the prior year and the start of the current year. However, 40 of 90 shelters reported different numbers of dogs at the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015. Similarly, 38 of 91 shelters reported different numbers of cats at the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015. The worst offenders were Burlington County Animal Shelter (39 missing dogs and 98 missing cats at the beginning 2015), Monmouth SPCA (43 missing dogs and 56 missing cats at the beginning 2015) and Bergen Protect and Rescue Foundation (22 extra dogs and 76 missing cats at the beginning of 2015).

Shelters may have failed to classify animals adopted out and sent to rescue properly. Both Paterson Animal Control and Elizabeth Animal Shelter reported no animals were sent to rescues and all dogs and cats leaving their facilities alive were owner reclaims or adoptions. However, intake and disposition records I reviewed at both of these shelters in 2015 revealed virtually all “adopted” animals are actually rescued. This makes sense as neither shelter advertises animals for adoption on a web site like Petfinder. One has to wonder how many other facilities failed to properly classify adoptions and rescues properly. This data is very important as it provides details on the burden rescues and other shelters are taking on from these facilities.

We need better oversight of New Jersey animal shelters’ data reporting. Currently, these statistics are voluntarily reported and most shelters are not taking this seriously. For example, I noticed a large number of reports were submitted many months after the end of the year. This data should be easy to compile since facilities can utilize animal shelter software programs, some of which are free, to do this task. Furthermore, New Jersey animal shelter laws mandate facilities maintain much of the raw data found in the Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Unfortunately, New Jersey Department of Health inspections routinely find shelters do not properly keep records on animals. We need to make the Shelter/Pound Annual Report mandatory for animal shelters along with serious penalties for significant errors (especially if deliberate). In order for animal shelters to take data reporting seriously, we may also need to require audits of these reports. Thus, these results show we need stronger laws and the New Jersey Department of Health to play a greater role in ensuring reported animal shelter statistics are in fact accurate.

Despite the errors in these reports, the data provided still reveals important information.

More Animals Losing Their Lives in New Jersey Animal Shelters Than Disclosed in Summary Report

The more detailed data in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports allows one to more critically examine the percentage of locally impounded animals dying in New Jersey’s animal shelters. The following table summarizes my analysis of the kill/death rate calculated from the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report and the data reported in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports.

2015 NJ Summary Totals2.jpgThe Animal Intake and Disposition report prepared by the New Jersey Department of Health only allows one to calculate the number of animals killed as a percentage of total animals impounded or intake. I prefer calculating the kill rate as a percentage of outcomes rather than intake as this metric directly compares positive and negative outcomes. Using intake may depress the kill rate since shelters can simply hold animals for a long time to the point of overcrowding. Calculating kill rate based on outcomes rather than intake increases the cat kill rate from 28.0% to 28.2% and the dog kill rate remains the same.

To calculate the statewide kill rate, we must also back out transfers from one New Jersey animal shelter to another state facility to avoid counting animals still in the state’s shelter system or registering two outcomes for the same animal (i.e. one New Jersey animal shelter transfers a dog or cat to another state facility who then adopts out the animal). This adjustment increases the dog kill rate from 10.6% to 11.2% and the cat kill rate from 28.2% to 30.5%.

In addition, we should increase the kill rate for animals who died or went missing in shelters. I label this metric the death rate as these animals are likely dead or in a very bad situation. Unfortunately, the Shelter/Pound Annual Report includes animals who died or went missing in the “Other” outcome category. While it is possible this “Other” category contains positive live releases, such as TNR for cats, I suspect the “Other” category consists almost entirely of animals who died or went missing for most shelters. Therefore, I classify animals in the “Other” category as dead or missing unless the shelter specifies the number of animals included in this category that left the shelter alive. For example, I do not count cats as dead/missing when shelters, such as Montclair Township Animal Shelter and Edison Animal Shelter, write a note on the form listing out the number of TNR cats placed in the “Other” outcome category. After making this adjustment, the dog death rate increases from 11.2% to 11.9% and the cat death rate rises from 30.5% to 35.8%.

Also, many shelters transport easy to adopt animals from out of state which artificially increases live release rates. To properly calculate the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives, we need to adjust for transports. Unfortunately, shelters don’t break out their save rates by local and out of state animals. However, most likely nearly all of the out of state animals (primarily puppies and easy to adopt dogs) make it out of shelters alive. Therefore, I back out the number of out of state transports to estimate the local death rate except for St. Hubert’s. Since St. Hubert’s subsequently transfers many of these animals to other shelters, I only subtract out the number of dogs St. Hubert’s rescues from out of state less the number of dogs it transfers to other shelters. This adjustment increases the New Jersey dog death rate from 11.9% to 14.4% and the state cat death rate from 35.8% to 36.1%.

Also, I estimate a maximum local death rate by including the number of unaccounted for animals described in the section above. Making this adjustment increases the maximum potential New Jersey dog death rate from 14.4% to 15.4% and the maximum potential state cat death rate from 36.1% to 37.5%.

Some animal shelters quickly return large percentages of their animals to owners. At these shelters, the populations served are typically well-off and animals are licensed and have microchips. To account for the animals facilities actually have to shelter, I calculated a death rate for non-reclaimed animals and a maximum potential death rate for non-reclaimed local animals. The non-reclaimed death rate and maximum potential death rate for dogs is 17.0% and 24.7%. Non-reclaimed cats had a 37.7% death rate and a 39.4% maximum potential death rate. Thus, the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives in our state’s animal shelters may be much higher than the state summary report suggests.

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

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

2015 dog death rate

2015 cat death rate
Thus, both dogs and cats have a very good chance of leaving many New Jersey animal shelters dead rather than alive.

In terms of raw numbers, the following shelters had the most animals lose their lives or go missing:

2015 Dogs Killed died

2015 cats killed died

Many shelters fail to account for large numbers of their animals. As discussed above, a shelter’s number of animals at the end of the year should be calculated as follows:

Beginning number of animals + animals impounded – animals leaving the shelter

Unfortunately, a large number of shelters take in far more animals than they can explain where they went. Shelters having the highest numbers of unaccounted for dogs and cats are listed in the following tables:

2015 unaccounted for dogs

2015 unaccounted for cats

Dog and cat death rates at many shelters may be even higher if these unaccounted for animals are counted as dead or missing. If we only consider animal shelters which reported transporting few or no animals in 2015, facilities with the highest dog and cat death rates considering the unaccounted for animals described above are as follows:

2015 max pot dogs

2015 max pot cats.jpg

Thus, the plight of dogs and cats may be far worse in New Jersey animal shelters when we consider the unaccounted for animals.

Shelters Turn Their Backs on New Jersey’s Animals

New Jersey animal shelters rescue far more dogs from out of state than from other New Jersey animal shelters. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters transferred in 5,350 dogs from out of state animal shelters and only rescued 1,631 dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. In fact, transports of out of state dogs increased by 260 dogs while rescues of dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters decreased by 61 dogs in 2015 compared to 2014. While the state’s local death rate decreased in 2015, it is likely the local death rate would have decreased by more if not for the massive number of out of state transports.

While perhaps some shelters, such as Animal Alliance in Lambertville, take animals from nearby New York or Pennsylvania animal control shelters, the overwhelming majority of these dogs most certainly came from down south. In fact, New Jersey animal shelters transported more dogs from out of state than dogs who were killed in, died in and went missing from New Jersey animal shelters. This number does not include additional out of state dogs transported into New Jersey by rescues operating without a physical facility. Shelters transporting the most dogs from out of state were as follows:

2015 Dogs transported

Return to Owner Rates Better Than Average at Most Shelters

Return to owners (“RTO”) rates are one of the positive results from this analysis. Overall, the dog and cat RTO rates of 57% and 7% are approximately 2-3 times the national average. As I noted in my blog on reuniting lost pets with owners, return to owner rates are highly correlated with socioeconomic status. Wealthier people likely have more resources/knowledge to license and microchip their dogs. Similarly, people with greater incomes are more likely to afford reclaim fees or ransom payments to animal shelters. New Jersey’s RTO rates for dogs clearly fit this pattern with shelters serving wealthy towns returning most stray dogs to owners while certain urban shelters are returning a much lower percentage of lost dogs to owners. Clearly, we need to help people in urban areas get microchips and ID tags on their dogs. Additionally, we need to create pet help desks at shelters in these cities to help people pay the reclaim fees, which are often mandated by the cities themselves, when necessary. The statewide cat reclaim rate, like figures from across the nation, is still very low and suggests shelters need to figure out better ways to get lost cats back to their families. New Jersey should allow shelters to transfer stray cats to rescues during the mandatory 7 day hold period since few are returned to owners at shelters. This would open up space to save more cats and reduce the chance of disease (i.e. cats spending less time in shelters are not as likely to get sick).

To get a better idea of how organizations are doing with animals they actually have to shelter, I also examined what percentage of non-reclaimed dogs lose their lives at each facility. Shelters with the highest non-reclaimed dogs death rates are as follows:

2015 nonreclaimed dog death rate

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

2015 max pot non rec death rate

Shelters Leave Animal Enclosures Empty While Dogs and Cats Die

New Jersey animal shelters fail to use their space to save animals. Based on the average number of animals at all of New Jersey’s animal shelters at the beginning and the end of 2014, only 49% of dog and 63% of cat capacity was used. Given December is a low intake month, I also increased these populations to an average intake month. This adjustment only raised the dog and cat capacity utilization to 51% and 95%. These estimates likely overestimate the average capacity utilized as many facilities kill animals once they reach a certain population level. Many animal shelters with low kill rates failed to rescue animals with their excess space. Additionally, other shelters used little of their available space and still killed a large percentage of their animals. Some examples after increasing the population (and therefore capacity utilization) based on the adjustment discussed above are as follows:

2015 space usage dogs.jpg

2015 space cusage cats.jpg

Thus, many New Jersey animal shelters are killing dogs and cats despite having ample space to house these animals.

New Jersey’s animal shelters continue to fail the state’s animals. The state’s animal shelters only impound 8.2 dogs and cats per 1,000 New Jersey residents. If we just count animals originating from New Jersey, the state’s animal shelters only impound 7.6 dogs and cats per 1,000 people. As a comparison, the average community in the country impounds anywhere from 14-30 animals per 1,000 residents based on estimates from Animal People Newspaper and the Humane Society of the United States. Despite New Jersey shelters impounding a fraction of the animals other no kill communities take in on a per capita basis, the state’s animal control facilities continue to kill and allow animals to die under their care. Even worse, many of these shelters can’t even properly keep track of how many animals leave their facilities dead or alive. Our state’s animals deserve far better treatment than this. Contact your local city council members and mayor and demand better from the animal shelter serving your community. We can do so much better and it is time our shelters operate this way.

AHS 2011 Insepction Sick Rottie

Why I Think the New Jersey Department of Health Should Inspect Associated Humane Societies-Newark

Associated Humane Societies-Newark has a history of doing the wrong things for its animals. In 2003, the State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation (“SCI”) issued a scathing report on AHS and concluded:

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.”

In 2009 and 2011, the New Jersey Department of Health detailed extensive violations of New Jersey animal shelter laws. Animals lived in filthy kennels and were covered in feces. Dogs were housed in kennels with a collapsed roof and workers were throwing damaged roof material directly over these dogs. Additionally 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.

In recent years, I’ve heard several people state AHS-Newark no longer is a house of horrors. While I certainly believe the shelter is better than it was under Lee Bernstein, the organization’s current Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, has been in charge when many of these problems occurred. Is AHS-Newark just hunky dory or does it still have tremendous problems?

As described in a prior blog, I obtained a large number of intake and disposition records for animals AHS-Newark primarily impounded from animal control in the City of Newark during 2014. These records included 1,615 dogs and cats. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to other types of AHS-Newark records. Ultimately, we would need a proper inspection, which would involve reviewing additional types of records, to determine whether AHS Newark violated state shelter laws. Therefore, people should not conclude AHS-Newark violated any laws unless a New Jersey Department of Health inspection makes this determination. However, I think there are reasonable grounds to suspect AHS-Newark might not have complied with state shelter laws at times based on my review of a large sample of AHS-Newark’s 2014 intake and disposition records.

Animals Killed During 7 Day Hold Period

New Jersey animal shelter law clearly states shelters must not kill animals, whether they are strays or owner surrenders, for at least 7 days. Furthermore, the New Jersey Department of Health recently issued guidance summarizing the law’s requirements:

Pursuant to State law (N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.16 a. through l.) all municipalities must have a licensed animal impoundment facility (pound) designated where stray and potentially vicious animals can be safely impounded. Impounded stray animals shall be held at the pound for at least seven days (i.e., 168 hours) from the time impounded before the animal is offered for adoption or euthanized, relocated or sterilized, regardless of the animal’s temperament or medical condition.

Animals that are voluntarily surrendered by their owners to licensed pounds or shelters shall be offered for adoption for at least seven days prior to euthanasia or shelter/pound management may transfer the animal to an animal rescue organization facility or a foster home prior to offering it for adoption if such a transfer is determined to be in the best interest of the animal.

In practice, the New Jersey Department of Health allows shelters to euthanize animals during the 7 day hold period if both of the following conditions are met:

  1. If a veterinarian deems euthanasia necessary for humane reasons to prevent excessive suffering when illness and injury is severe and the prognosis for recovery is extremely poor
  2. Only a licensed veterinarian should perform euthanasia in the above situation and they must clearly document the humane rationale in the animal’s medical record

The New Jersey Department of Health’s July 30, 2009 inspection report detailed AHS-Newark’s killing of animals during the 7 day stray/hold period:

Killed Prior to 7 Day Hold 2009

AHS-Newark killed a number of animals in 2014 during the 7 day hold period according to the records I reviewed. Many of the intake and disposition records did not clearly document a justifiable reason for the killing in my view and/or appeared to indicate a vet tech rather than a veterinarian killed the animals. While I do not have the related medical files on these animals, the shelter does have “health records” listed and AHS-Newark did document appropriate reasons for euthanizing animals during the 7 day hold period in other records I examined. That being said, I would have to review the related medical records on these animals to say for sure that AHS-Newark didn’t have a legitimate humane reason to kill these animals during the 7 day hold period.

AHS-Newark killed dozens of dogs and cats with ringworm during the 7 day hold period. AHS-Newark stated they needed to “protect the shelter” in some of the records. However, AHS-Newark cannot kill animals during the 7 day hold period unless “a veterinarian deems euthanasia necessary for humane reasons to prevent excessive suffering when illness and injury is severe and the prognosis for recovery is extremely poor.” Frankly, ringworm is a highly treatable fungus and killing these animals for ringworm does not meet this standard in my opinion. If AHS-Newark does not have large enough isolation areas, they should contract with fewer municipalities or enact progressive programs to place animals more quickly to create room and reduce disease rates.

Cat ID# 126803 was just 13 months old and AHS-Newark killed this kitten after just 3 days of arriving at the shelter for having ringworm. The intake and dispostion record did not disclose any other health issues. Futhermore, AHS-Newark vet tech, Danya, appeared to kill this cat and not a licensed veterinarian according to the record below.


AHS-Newark killed Cat ID# 129321 on the day he or she arrived at the shelter for having ringworm on the tail and right hind paw. Once again, one of AHS-Newark’s vet techs and not a licensed veterinarian appeared to kill this cat according to the following record.


Furthermore, this record did not include all of the information required by N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13(a). Specifically, AHS-Newark did not include the cat’s age, sex or breed on this record.

There shall be kept at each kennel, pet shop, shelter or pound a record of all animals received and/or disposed of. Such record shall state the date each animal was received, description of animal, license number, breed, age and sex; name and address of person from whom acquired; date euthanized and method, or name and address of person to whom sold or otherwise transferred.

AHS-Newark also killed Cat ID# 130709 for ringworm on the day he or she arrived at the shelter. Once again, an AHS-Newark vet tech rather than a licensed veterinarian appeared to kill the cat according to this record. Also, AHS-Newark did not document the cat’s age and sex on this record as required by N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13(a).


AHS-Newark killed a dog named Leydi during the 7 day hold period for having ringworm. Leydi was almost 4 years old and surrendered by her owner (I removed names of owners and finders of animals from records in this blog unless the case was publicized). The record states she came in on June 30, 2014 and was killed on that date. However, the record also states Leydi was at the shelter for 3 days. According to the record, “sc”, who I presume is former AHS Assistant Executive Director, Scott Crawford, approved the killing of this dog “to protect the shelter.” Once again, I fail to see how this constitutes a hopelessly suffering animal with a poor prognosis for recovery. Once again, an AHS-Newark vet tech and not a licensed veterinarian appeared to kill Leydi according to this record.


AHS-Newark killed Dog ID# 130241 on the day he or she arrived at the shelter for having ringworm (“Rounded spot without hair”). Once again, one of AHS-Newark’s vet techs and not a licensed veterinarian appeared to kill this dog according to this record. Additionally, this record did not include required information, such as age and sex. Even worse, this record stated AHS-Newark killed the dog at 5:27, but then gave various vaccinations, a deworming, and Frontline flea and tick medicine 7-8 minutes later? Either AHS-Newark applies treatment to dead dogs or can’t keep proper records.



ID 130241 Pt 2

AHS-Newark killed Dog ID# 129618 one day after she arrived at the shelter. The 4 and half year old dog was a stray that was found in a yard of a vacant home. Once again, Scott Crawford approved the killing “due to dog having ringworm on the left side of hip and under neck.” Also, one of the shelter’s vet techs and not a licensed veterinarian appeared to kill this dog during the 7 day stray/hold period according to this record.


AHS-Newark also killed a number of animals during the 7 day hold period for no reasons according to the records I reviewed. Cat ID# 127278 was a nearly 11 year old cat that AHS-Newark killed within 2 days of arriving at the shelter. The record below revealed he was was given an FVCRP vaccine, a deworming, and frontline flea and tick medicine the day after he arrived at AHS-Newark. AHS-Newark killed him the next day and the record I reviewed stated no reason for his killing. Additionally, one of AHS-Newark’s vet techs and not a licensed veterinarian appeared to kill this cat according to this record.

127278 pt 1

127278 pt 2

Cat ID# 130535 was a 2 year and 5 month old stray cat. AHS-Newark killed her 6 days after she arrived at the shelter for being “aggressive” and “unable to socialize.” Once again, I fail to see how this was a hopelessly suffering animal that AHS-Newark could possibly justify killing during the 7 day hold period. Additionally, AHS-Newark appeared to use one of its vet techs and not a licensed veterinarian to kill this animal according to this record.


Cat ID# 123355 was a 22 month old cat surrendered by her owner. In this case, AHS-Newark’s vet approved the killing 5 days after the cat arrived at the facility. However, the record stated this animal was “getting sick and too aggressive to be handled for treatment.” The record does not disclose what the illness was, but if it was an upper respiratory infection (URI) I don’t see how this illness would be “severe and the prognosis for recovery is poor.” If this was a URI, AHS-Newark should make sure it has enough space in its isolation area to treat animals or at least let the animals rest in a calm environment if they can’t be handled for treatment during their 7 day hold period. Even if AHS-Newark could kill/euthanize this cat during the 7 day hold period, AHS-Newark should have had a licensed veterinarian and not a vet tech euthanize the animal. According to this record, a vet tech appeared to kill/euthanize Cat ID# 123355.


Separate Records Not Kept for All Animals

The New Jersey Department of Health’s August, 26, 2009 inspection report found AHS-Newark did not keep certain records in accordance with N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13(a). The inspectors noted AHS-Newark improperly included multiple animals on the same ID number. As a result, AHS-Newark did not keep all the required information on these animals.

Multiple Animals on Same ID#

On May 16, 2014 AHS-Newark impounded 26 cats from one person. AHS-Newark killed 25 of these cats for having ringworm on the day these cats arrived at the shelter according to the record below. While I think killing these cats only for ringworm may violate the 7 day hold period provision, I also think this record may not comply with the record keeping requirements of N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13(a). Specifically, the provision states:

There shall be kept at each kennel, pet shop, shelter or pound a record of all animals received and/or disposed of. Such record shall state the date each animal was received, description of animal, license number, breed, age and sex; name and address of person from whom acquired; date euthanized and method, or name and address of person to whom sold or otherwise transferred.

Given AHS-Newark included all of the animals under the same ID# on this record, we don’t know the age, sex or breed of each of these cats (except for 1 of the 26 cats).


On July 30, 2014 AHS-Newark impounded 223 animals from a Newark pet shop. Unfortunately, the records I reviewed indicated AHS-Newark may have failed to comply with N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13(a) by including many animals on the same ID number. One example is the following record where the shelter included 45 cockatiels on the same ID number.


Stray Animals Transferred and Sent to Rescues During the 7 Day Hold Period

The New Jersey Department of Health’s recent summary of the state’s shelter laws says a municipality’s designated shelter or pound must hold stray animals for seven days prior to “relocating” these animals.

Pursuant to State law (N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.16 a. through l.) all municipalities must have a licensed animal impoundment facility (pound) designated where stray and potentially vicious animals can be safely impounded. Impounded stray animals shall be held at the pound for at least seven days (i.e., 168 hours) from the time impounded before the animal is offered for adoption or euthanized, relocated or sterilized, regardless of the animal’s temperament or medical condition.

N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.10 (b)(7) states a pound can accept a stray from a municipality it does not contract with, but it must notify the ACO in the contracting town and return the animal if the contracting municipality’s facility demands it. If that provision applied here, AHS could transfer animals between AHS-Newark and its other shelters during the 7 day hold period. However, I interpret this provision to only apply to animals initially impounded by the shelter not contracting with the municipality. Thus, I think the law requires the contracting shelter to hold stray animals for 7 days prior to transferring animals to any shelter in order to facilitate owner reclaims.

AHS-Newark appeared to transfer a number of stray animals, which included many highly adoptable dogs, to its Tinton Falls and Popcorn Park facilities during the 7 day hold period. None of the records I reviewed indicated an owner signed the dogs over to AHS-Newark. The Newark Police Department picked up a nearly 5 year old shih tzu on May 26, 2014. After 3 days, AHS-Newark transferred this dog 44 miles away to AHS-Tinton Falls according to the following record.


The Newark Police Department took a 15 month old Labrador retriever mix to AHS-Newark on April 25, 2014. Less than a week later, AHS-Newark sent this dog 72 miles away to AHS-Popcorn Park according to the record. Furthermore, AHS put “Humane News – June 2014” on the record and apparently intended to promote this dog for adoption and/or fundraising.


Newark Animal Control took a stray 3 year and 9 month old German Shepherd to AHS-Newark on July 10, 2014. One day later, AHS-Newark sent the dog 72 miles away to AHS-Popcorn Park according to the following record.


While the New Jersey Department of Health’s interpretation of N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.16 seems clear to me, AHS-Newark’s actions are unethical to me even if they were legal. Many Newark residents do not own cars or even know where the Tinton Falls and Popcorn Park facilities are. Making these owners travel over 40 and 70 miles away decreases the chance these dogs can return to their families. Frankly, the fact that these dogs were highly adoptable breeds makes me think AHS was more concerned with earning adoption fees and/or fundraising off these animals.

AHS-Newark also appeared to send some stray animals to rescues during the 7 day hold period. While the frequency of this practice was nowhere near as common as I found at the nearby Elizabeth Animal Shelter, this would violate the 7 day stray hold period if true. On November 28, 2014, AHS-Newark impounded Cat ID# 130941 as a stray. According to AHS-Newark’s intake and disposition record, this cat, which had ear mites, spent 4 days at AHS-Newark and was sent to Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter (record states “rescue”, but I think they meant animal shelter).

Cat 130941.jpg

On December 11, 2014 AHS-Newark took in Cat ID# 131175 as a stray. According to the AHS-Newark record below, the shelter transferred the cat to Perfect Pals rescue five days later on December 16, 2014. Thus, according to this record, AHS-Newark did not hold this stray cat the required 7 days.

Cat ID 131175 rescued during 7 day hold

On December 29, 2014 someone left a stray 6 month old pit bull named Goldie at AHS-Newark. The record below does not indicate that the owner surrendered the animal to AHS-Newark. According to this record, AHS-Newark transferred the dog to Coming Home Rescue 6 days later. Thus, if this record is accurate, AHS-Newark would have transferred this dog prior to the end of the 7 day stray hold period.

ID 131452 Rescued During 7 Day Hold

Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness Fails to Conduct Proper Inspections

Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.2, local health authorities must inspect licensed animal shelters each year to ensure compliance with state laws. The City of Newark’s Department of Health and Community Wellness is the agency responsible for inspecting AHS-Newark.

Newark’s Department of Health and Community Wellness performed inadequate inspections for many years. On December 5, 2008, the City of Newark inspected AHS-Newark and issued a “Satisfactory” rating. While the inspection report noted some violations, the virtually illegible comments in the report were very limited. In July 2009, the New Jersey Department of Health inspected AHS-Newark and found shocking violations. While I could write a series of blogs on this inspection, the following photos show the horrific conditions at the shelter:

6 Puppy with wounded ears

13 Dogs in feces

15 Dogs in dirty kennel

24 Closeup of Mange Dog

The City of Newark also failed to properly inspect AHS-Newark in 2011. On January 18, 2011, the City of Newark stated AHS-Newark fixed all the violations from a November 2010 inspection and issued a satisfactory rating. However, a New Jersey Department of Health inspection less than two months later found terrible problems. The state inspection report noted dogs housed in kennels with a collapsed roof and workers throwing damaged roof material directly over these dogs. Additionally the report stated outdoor drains were in severe disrepair, no isolation areas for sick large dogs existed, automatic dog feeders were filthy, dogs were exposed to contaminated water and chemicals during the cleaning process, and some animals were not receiving prompt medical care.

The following photos were taken during the 2011 inspection:

AHS 2011 Insepction Sick Rottie

AHS 2011 Inspection Cakes on Food 2

AHS 2011 Inspection Dog Near Feces in Drain

AHS 2011 Inspection Dog Under Roof Construction

The New Jersey Department of Health has not issued any additional AHS-Newark inspection reports since 2011 to the best of my knowledge.

The City of Newark’s inspection reports since 2011 do not inspire confidence. On January 7, 2012, the City of Newark inspected AHS-Newark and did not use a proper shelter inspection form. In fact, the City of Newark appeared to use a restaurant inspection form and barely wrote anything in the report. The City of Newark inspected AHS-Newark on March 6, 2013 and again barely wrote anything in its report with a “Satisfactory” rating. Similarly, the City of Newark inspected AHS-Newark on April 9, 2014 and hardly wrote anything in its report. Specifically, the comments stated the shelter used an exterminator, “checked all facilities” and “conditions are satisfactory.” In 2015, the City of Newark issued a single page report with “Satisfactory” checked off. After I began posting AHS-Newark records in 2015 and someone else obtained a number of these inspection reports during that year, the City of Newark issued a marginally better report in 2016. The City of Newark wrote several very short bullet points about the inspection and then checked off a number of items on a checklist. Given AHS-Newark is New Jersey’s largest animal shelter and the history of issues at this facility, I’d expect the City of Newark’s inspector to provide detailed comments on the shelter’s compliance with each provision of applicable state law.

Frankly, these inspections are a joke and the City of Newark has dropped the ball. The City of Newark clearly missed huge problems found in subsequent state inspections in 2009 and 2011. Furthermore, the City of Newark’s Health and Wellness Department’s subsequent inspection reports lacked any real detail to demonstrate they properly inspected AHS-Newark. Thus, I place no value on AHS-Newark’s favorable inspection reports since the 2011 New Jersey Department of Health inspection.

New Jersey Department of Health Must Perform Routine and Robust Inspections

Ultimately, only a competent inspector can determine if AHS-Newark complied with New Jersey shelter laws in the past and current does so. While I did see fewer problems in the records I reviewed for Irvington animals arriving at AHS-Newark in 2015, this was a much smaller data set. As such, I’m asking the New Jersey Department of Health to inspect AHS-Newark.

Clearly, the New Jersey Department of Health must inspect AHS-Newark on a regular basis. Unfortunately, local health departments lack the expertise and the will to properly inspect animal shelters. In fact, I’ve long called for the New Jersey Department of Health to perform legally required inspections. Sadly, the New Jersey Department of Health has only one person, Linda Frese, to inspect all of the state’s shelters, pet shops and boarding facilities. Furthermore, Ms. Frese also is responsible for rabies control in the state as well. Obviously, the Christie administration needs to add inspectors. However, in the meantime, the New Jersey Department of Health should prioritize its time and regularly inspect large shelters with a history of problems like AHS-Newark. Simply put, the stakes are much higher at the state’s largest animal shelters. Thus, the New Jersey Department of Health should inspect AHS-Newark on a quarterly basis until it can demonstrate that the shelter complies with all of the state’s shelter laws.

City of Newark Needs to Carry Out Cory Booker’s Plan for a New No Kill Shelter in Newark

Mayor Ras Baraka must complete former Mayor Booker’s project to build a new no kill shelter. In 2011, the former Mayor announced his intention to build a new no kill shelter in Newark. Unfortunately, I’ve heard nothing about this project since Mr. Booker became a senator. Even if AHS-Newark is in fact complying with state shelter laws, the shelter kills astronomical numbers of animals. Many large cities, such as Kansas City, Missouri, Austin, Texas, Jacksonville, Florida, and Salt Lake City, Utah reached no kill status (i.e. 90% or higher live release rate). In fact, urban shelters with old and outdated facilities can quickly achieve no kill status. For example, Lifeline Animal Project took over Atlanta’s animal control shelters and reached 90% live release rates at its two facilities in just three years. All these shelters take in far more animals than AHS-Newark in total and around the same or more on a per capita basis. AHS Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, has held leadership position in the organization for more than four decades and has led AHS for 13 years. Clearly, Ms. Trezza and her dysfunctional organization cannot end the killing at AHS-Newark. Thus, the City of Newark must take on sheltering its own animals as the city’s contractor has failed Newark’s and other municipalities’ animals time and time again.

Will Mr. Baraka step up for the voiceless or continue to fund the killing of many of his city’s homeless animals?


2015 New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Show Significant Improvement and Prove Advocacy Works

Recently, a number of people and organizations in the no kill movement slammed animal advocates for demanding shelters save more animals. Susan Houser, who is the author of the Out the Front Door blog and Facebook page, repeatedly denounced animal advocates for criticizing regressive high kill shelters that allegedly were improving. Ms. Houser has also claimed strong advocacy was driving good leaders out of the shelter industry resulting in potentially less lifesaving. Best Friends Co-Founder, Francis Battista, wrote an article comparing President Obama’s recent statement on getting things done in a democracy to no kill movement tactics. While the article denounced people who say nasty things about high kill shelters, it also criticized people who act with “moral purity” and call out those regressive facilities. In a nutshell, Mr. Battista stated people should shut up and not try to win over hearts and minds with principled stands and instead try to work with bad actors.

Does strong advocacy that is highly critical of shelters reduce or increase lifesaving?

Data Reviewed

Each year, licensed animal shelters in the state submit animal shelter data to the New Jersey Department of Health for the previous year. For the last several years, I’ve tabulated this data and calculated various metrics. You can view the 2015 data at this link. After compiling the 2015 data, I compared the results to the 2014 statistics I tabulated last year.

2015 Statistics Show Significant Increase in Lifesaving

The table below summarizes the dog statistics in 2015 and 2014. To see how I calculate the various metrics, please review the footnotes in this link and my blog analyzing the 2014 statistics.

All dog statistics significantly improved in 2015 verses 2014. While an approximate 3% decrease in the dog kill and death rates may not seem huge, this is a large decrease considering the prior kill and death rates were relatively low. For example, a 2.9% decrease in the 2014 kill rate of 13.5% represents a 21% reduction. As a comparison, in 2014 the kill rate based on intake was 0.1% higher than the 2013 figure and the death rate based on outcomes was only 0.7% lower than this measure in 2013. Given saving the last 15% of animals is more difficult due to animals having more medical and behavioral problems that require treatment, this result is very good. Additionally, the larger decrease in the death rate for non-reclaimed animals indicates the kill rate decreased even more for dogs shelters actually had to find new homes for. Finally, the larger decrease in the maximum local death rate indicates shelters had less unaccounted for animals and this may indicate even fewer animals lost their lives in the state’s shelters in 2015 verses 2014.

2015 Dog vs 2014 stats

The cat statistics improved even more than the dog statistics in 2015 verses 2014. As you can see in the table below, the kill rates and death rates decreased by approximately 7% and 8% in 2015 compared to 2014. As a comparison, the cat kill rate based on intake and the cat death rate based on outcomes only decreased by 3.9% and 3.8% in 2014 verses 2013. Even more impressive, the maximum local death rate decreased by around 10% in 2015 compared to 2014. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters became much safer places for cats in 2015 than in 2014.

2015 cat vs 2014 stats

Dog Kill Rate Decreases Due to Lower Intake and Shelters Saving a Greater Percentage of Impounded Animals

The table below summarizes the changes in the dog statistics in 2015 verses 2014. Based on the changes in the metrics used moving in a similar direction, I anlyzed the kill rate based on intake below. As you can see, both dog intake and dogs killed decreased significantly while positive outcomes decreased much less. In particular, dog adoptions barely decreased despite shelters receiving 1,870 fewer dogs in 2015 compared to 2014.

Data from prior years indicates positive outcomes along with lower intake drove the improvement in the dog kill rate in 2015. While lower intake can theoretically increase live release rates due to shelters having more time and space to save animals as well as having more resources per animal, this does not always work out in the real world. For example, shelters may kill with empty cages and hoard money instead of spending it on animals. In 2014, dog intake decreased by more from the prior year (2,821 fewer dogs impounded), but the number of dogs reclaimed by owners, adopted out and sent to rescues decreased by almost as much (2,292 fewer positive dog outcomes). Therefore, the kill rate for dogs based on intake actually increased despite lower intake due to fewer positive outcomes. This indicates the decrease in the dog kill rate in 2015 was not only due to shelters taking fewer animals in, but shelters also finding more positive outcomes for the dogs coming into their facilities. In fact, this latter conclusion is consistent with my finding that New Jersey shelters have plenty of space to save their dogs and many others from elsewhere.

Dog 2015 vs 2014 reasons

The table below details which shelters contributed most to the decrease in the dog kill rate in the state during 2015. As you can see, this list mostly represents large shelters that have high kill rates (i.e. shelters with high kill rates have more room for improvement).

Dog Shelter Kill Rate Impact

The following table showing the change in data at each shelter in 2015 verses 2014 highlights the pattern of shelters saving a greater percentage of animals they took in during 2015. As you can see, the reduction in dogs killed made up a large percentage of the drop in intake while positive outcomes decreased by much less or actually increased in some cases.

Atlantic County Animal Shelter and Liberty Humane Society deserve specific recognition for achieving greater than 90% live release rates for dogs in 2015 (i.e. often considered no kill status). The kill rate at Atlantic County Animal Shelter decreased from 19% in 2014 to 8% in 2015. Liberty Humane Society’s kill rate decreased from 21% in 2014 to 5% in 2015. These results are impressive as both shelters serve some very poor areas of the state. Atlantic County Animal Shelter’s kill rate decreased due to a combination of lower intake and adopting out more dogs and sending more dogs to rescues and other shelters. On the other hand, Liberty Humane Society’s kill rate decreased due to lower intake resulting from implementing a pet surrender prevention program and an appointment system for owner surrenders. While I’m not thrilled that the shelter has a “significant wait period” for owner surrenders, I much prefer this system over killing healthy and treatable dogs.

2015 Summary Stats (1) (7)

Cat Kill Rate Decreased Due to Shelters Increasing Positive Outcomes

The table below summarizes the changes in the cat statistics in 2015 verses 2014. In contrast to dogs, New Jersey shelters impounded more cats during 2015 as compared to 2014. However, the state’s shelters significantly increased positive outcomes.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine how much of the increase is due to TNR. Generally speaking, many more communities embraced TNR in 2015. However, the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” shelters fill out does not provide TNR as an outcome. In practice, some shelters may place TNR cats in the return to owner (RTO), adopted, sent to rescues or other categories. Montclair Township Animal Shelter wrote in the number of their TNR cats in 2015 and 2014 and Edison Animal Shelter did so in 2015. I included these cats in the TNR category. Additionally, approximately 500-600 of the increase in cats returned to owners likely represents TNR based on this article and Bergen County Animal Shelter’s increase in cats returned to owners listed below.


The table below details which shelters contributed most to the decrease in the cat kill rate in the state during 2015.

Cats 2015 kill rate change

The following table showing the change in data at each shelter in 2015 verses 2014 documents the increase in positive live releases. All shelters except for Jersey Shore Animal Center, which stopped serving as an animal control shelter in 2015, significantly increased the number of cats adopted out and/or sent to rescue. As indicated above, approximately 500-600 more cats were neutered and released at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015, and were likely included in the RTO category. Therefore, the increase in the cat live release rate was largely due to shelters increasing the number of positive outcomes.

Cats shelter 2015 vs 2014

Advocacy Efforts Coincide with Increase in Lifesaving

Obviously, people working with animals, such as shelter staff, volunteers and rescuers are directly responsible for the increase in lifesaving. However, advocacy efforts can create the climate where those people are allowed to save lives in a more effective manner. For example, public pressure can force a shelter to start a kitten foster program, do off-site adoption events, and act more rescue friendly.

Statewide shelter advocacy efforts began to grow in 2015. While this blog and my related Facebook page started in early 2014, readership increased significantly in 2015. Additionally, I started analyzing and grading each of the state’s animal shelters at the end of 2014 which I think put pressure on many facilities to improve. In the past, no one really knew what went on behind closed doors. Also, a number of local advocates have told me the ideas expressed on this blog and my Facebook page inspired them to take action. Several advocates also told me that exposing poorly performing shelters they were fighting helped their cause. Thus, I do think this blog and my related Facebook page helped create a climate where local advocacy efforts could be more successful.

The Reformers-Advocates for Shelter Change in NJ group also likely positively contributed to the increase in the state live release rate in 2015. This no holds barred animal advocacy group grew out of the movement to reform the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter and started having a significant impact in 2015. The Reformers use the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), powerful messaging and relentless public pressure to bring bad actors to justice. While this group employs much different tactics than I use and sometimes has different views on things than me, they have been wildly successful at exposing the NJ SPCA, pet stores, disreputable rescues, poorly performing animal shelters and even facilities with high live release rates. Love them or hate them, no one can deny the positive impact this group has had on New Jersey animal welfare. In fact, many regressive shelters truly fear this group and that alone may change bad behavior.

Local advocacy efforts seem to have increased in recent years. While I can’t quantify this phenomenon, I do see these campaigns increasing and getting more media exposure. Ultimately, local advocates on the ground are the key actors in forcing change.

Finally, the professional advocacy efforts by groups like People for Animals and the Animal Protection League of New Jersey have played a key role in convincing municipalities to implement TNR. These groups bring well-thought out plans that provide compelling cases, for fiscal, public health and humane reasons, to convince towns to adopt TNR.

Clearly, confrontational shelter advocacy efforts have played a positive role in New Jersey animal welfare. If shelter killing can decrease to this extent during the same time a no holds barred group like the Reformers have actively inserted themselves into the state’s shelter issues, then that pretty much proves the argument that confrontational shelter advocacy efforts work. While I favor a less in your face approach more akin to Ryan Clinton’s campaign in Austin, I do believe we must honestly call out shelters that needlessly kill and not brush that killing under the rug for the sake of collaboration. Personally, I have great respect for the work Best Friends has done to create no kill communities, and do not oppose collaboration when appropriate. In fact, I have often advocated that shelters should work together to save lives in New Jersey. However, Best Friends and Susan Houser should not make bold assertions about confrontational animal advocacy efforts without having solid data to back those claims up. As the data in this blog shows, Best Friends and Ms. Houser are dead wrong about confrontational shelter advocacy efforts, at least in New Jersey.

Speaking as someone who for years did just the things Mr. Battista is arguing for, I found his remarks perplexing. As many of us who have worked and volunteered within our broken sheltering system know, most regressive shelter leaders and animal unfriendly politicians have little interest in saving lives. At the same time, we know the public at large wants to save animals in shelters and is unaware of just how bad most of our shelters are. Naturally, making the public aware of what is really going on in shelters and calling for action puts pressure on those elected officials and shelter leaders. This pressure in turn improves the negotiating position of those animal advocates engaging elected officials and shelter directors.

In the political world, we have opinion columnists, think tanks, and special interest groups that change public opinion to make negotiations more favorable for their causes. Whether you like the National Rifle Association or not, no one can deny how effective their “moral purity” stances have been in blocking laws they oppose and passing ones they support. Thus, advocates arguing on principle help other advocates doing the negotiating for change.

Unfortunately, New Jersey animal shelters still kill too many animals and do not save nearly as many pets as they should. In future blogs, I’ll address the current state of New Jersey animal shelters. Clearly, New Jersey shelter reform advocates have much work to do, but at least for a moment, they can feel good about the recent progress made.

cute pitbull

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

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

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

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

Breed Specific Legislation is Ineffective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adopters Threatened with Massive Fines

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

Pet Limit Law Leads to Increased Shelter Killing

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

Secretive Dog Control Committee Not Conducive to Running a Successful Shelter

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

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

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

Elizabeth  Must Change its Animal Laws to Become a Humane Community

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Dog Capacity Used

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (25)

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

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

Animals Killed Off the Books

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

Elizabeth Vet Invoice

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

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (23).jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (24)

Highly Questionable Categorization of Animals as Owner Surrenders

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

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

Elizabeth Surrender form.jpg

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

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s euthanasia records do not specify how the shelter killed or euthanized animals. Specifically, the records do not state whether the shelter euthanized/killed each animal by an intravenous (preferred method), intraperitoneal or intracardiac (i.e. heart sticking) injection. Per New Jersey law, shelters can only use intraperitoneal injections on comatose animals and neonatal kittens. Under this method, animals are injected in the abdominal cavity and can take up to 30 minutes to die. Heart sticking, as the name implies, involves stabbing an animal in the heart with Fatal Plus poison and New Jersey shelters can only use this method on heavily sedated, anesthetized or comatose animals. Additionally, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s records do not state what specific euthanasia drug the facility used for each animal. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s euthanasia records do not indicate whether animals are in fact humanely euthanized.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Groundhoug weight.jpg

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

Shelter Budget Reflects Misguided Priorities

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

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

Videos Reveal Poor Animal Sheltering Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (28)

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

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

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Still Needs Reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Dog

Elizabeth’s Enigma of an Animal Shelter (Part 1 of 2)

Several years ago I visited the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Upon arriving at the facility, which was open for a mere hour that day, I waited for 45 minutes for an animal control officer to show up and allow me in the building. Instead of keeping the shelter open for extra time, the ACO only gave me a few minutes to look at the animals before closing the shelter. The facility only housed a few animals despite serving the fourth largest city in New Jersey. When I inquired about a friendly pit bull like dog, the ACO said he didn’t like that dog and the animal must have something wrong with his head. When I offered to take photos of dogs to help increase adoptions, the ACO told me Elizabeth will not allow me to do so. As a result, I did not have a good experience with the Elizabeth Animal Shelter.

On June 5, 2014 the Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed two young adult dogs on the day the animals arrived at the facility. At the time, the owner, Jennifer Arteta, left her two dogs, Daphne and Rocko, with her father while she visited her sick grandfather in another country. For whatever reason, the owner’s father brought the dogs to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Within 30 minutes of the two dogs arrival at the facility, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed the two dogs for being “sick and unadoptable”, but never provided any specifics on how they came to that conclusion. Even worse, shelter personnel denied ever seeing the two dogs when Ms. Arteta went to the facility two days later. Apparently, the shelter placed more value on the the leashes and collars of the two dogs since Ms. Arteta spotted them in the building. Only at that point did the shelter admit to killing the two dogs. By law, the shelter could not kill Daphne and Rocko for 7 days. Thus, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed two dogs and tried to hide that fact.

Daphne’s and Rocko’s owner and other animal activists subsequently tried to reform the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Ms. Arteta created a Facebook page called “Justice for Daphne and Rocko” and along with other animal activists demanded reform at several City Council meetings in June and July of 2014. At those meetings, you clearly could see most of the City Council members feeling public pressure to act.

Elizabeth and the shelter reform activists appeared to cut a deal. From what I could tell, the shelter reform activists ended their campaign in exchange for the shelter giving them unflattering photos of animals coming into the shelter. To facilitate this apparent agreement, the shelter brought in Darcy Del Castillo, who previously volunteered at Associated Humane Societies-Newark, on a part-time basis. Based on my understanding, Ms. Del Castillo works/volunteers on Thursdays, which is the day Elizabeth Animal Shelter accepts owner surrenders. While Ms. Del Castillo certainly did help animals as a volunteer at AHS-Newark, I found her often defending shelters, even bad ones, as shown by the following statement on her “Shelter Helpers” Facebook page:

“No one is to use this page to bash or harass a shelter
it is here for the animals only”

Furthermore, Associated Humane Societies Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, wrote a glowing recommendation for Ms. Del Castillo and even pointed out how well Darcy got along with upper management and didn’t intrude into the shelter’s operations. Roseann Trezza has run Associated Humane Societies since 2003 and held high level positions for several prior decades during the awful Lee Bernstein era. Additionally, Roseann Trezza’s shelter had numerous poor inspection reports in 2009 and 2011 and her shelter kills massive numbers of animals. Frankly, getting a letter of recommendation from someone like Roseann Trezza for an animal sheltering position is a huge red flag. Apparently, Elizabeth felt comfortable bringing in someone who would not rock the boat.

Trezza Darcy letterAround a year after the illegal killing of Daphne and Rocko and the related uproar, the Elizabeth Law Department put out a statement saying people, including city residents, could not volunteer at the animal shelter.

So the question is did Elizabeth Animal Shelter change for the better? How does it compare to other shelters?

Data Reviewed

Several months ago I obtained Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records for each animal coming into the Elizabeth Animal Shelter in 2014 and through October 2015. Subsequently, I requested the rest of Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s 2015 intake and disposition records. Additionally, I requested all other supporting documents, such as owner surrender forms, adoption and rescue paperwork, veterinary records, veterinary invoices, euthanasia records, and any other documents pertaining to each animal for a few months of the year. My objective was to obtain a complete understanding of the job Elizabeth Animal Shelter is doing.

Statistics Show Mixed Results

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s 2015 statistics are summarized below. As you can see, the shelter has a moderately high death rate. Specifically, the overall death rate (animals killed plus dogs and cats that escaped plus animals that died at the shelter/known outcomes) was 22% for dogs and cats combined, 28% for cats and 16% for dogs. If we only consider animals requiring new homes (i.e. excluding animals returned to their owners), the overall death rate was 25% for dogs and cats combined, 29% for cats and 20% for dogs. Based on my review of a sample of underlying records, animals labeled as “Medical Release” left the shelter alive. Clearly, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter performs far better than the nearby Associated Humane Societies-Newark does for dogs and cats coming in primarily from animal control in the city of Newark. However, the shelter’s statistics reveal that Elizabeth is far from a no kill community.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (29)

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s statistics for dogs are less impressive upon examining the data more closely. Specifically, 40% of the dogs coming into the shelter in 2015 were small dogs. Given small dogs are quite easy to place, the large number of these dogs inflates the dog live release rate. While pit bull like dogs make up a significant portion of the shelter’s dog intake, the actual percentage (38%) was lower than I expected for an urban shelter. Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s death rate for pit bull like dogs with known outcomes was 25% in 2015. As a comparison, the nearby Perth Amboy Animal Shelter reported 14% and 0% death rates for pit bull like dogs in 2014 and 2015. Similarly, large animal shelters, such as KC Pet Project, Salt Lake Animal Services, Austin Animal Center and Longmont Humane Society, have pit bull like dog live release rates of around 90% or higher. If we only consider pit bull like dogs Elizabeth Animal Shelter had to place (i.e. excluding animals returned to owners), Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s overall pit bull death rate was 30%. As a result, Elizabeth Animal Shelter still needs to significantly improve its performance with pit bull like dogs.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (27)

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter has had mixed results since the turmoil in 2014. In 2013, the shelter’s kill rates were 12% for cats and 39% for dogs. While the dog kill rate decreased 24 percentage points over the last two years, the cat kill rate increased 14 percentage points over this time. As a result, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter has made some progress with dogs, but went in the wrong direction with cats.

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter shelter has a very short average length of stay (“LOS”) for animals having positive outcomes. Reducing length of stay in a good way is critical for shelters, particularly space constrained facilities like Elizabeth, to save lives. Additionally, shelters with short lengths of stay have lower disease rates and fewer animals developing behavioral problems. Typically, returning lost pets to owners is the fastest way an animal safely leaves a shelter. Overall, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s owner reclaim rate (number of stray animals returned to owners/number stray animals impounded) for dogs was 36%. While that number isn’t very high, owner reclaim rates generally are lower in poor areas. As a comparison, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s owner reclaim rate for dogs was higher than AHS-Newark’s reclaim rate for dogs primarily coming from animal control in Newark (10% in 2014) and about the same as Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s rate for 2014 and the first half of 2015 (37%). Additionally, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s average length of stay for animals rescued/adopted was 4.8 days for cats, 9.3 days for dogs, 12.3 days for pit bull like dogs and 5.3 days for small dogs. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter quickly sent out the animals it got out of the shelter safely.

Rescues Save the Day

Virtually all non-reclaimed animals leaving Elizabeth Animal Shelter alive are saved by rescues. The Elizabeth Animal Shelter erroneously reports all of these animals as “adopted” in its “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health and the supporting intake and disposition records. Based on my review of the underlying paperwork for 35% of these “adoptions”, rescues “adopted” at least 85% of these animals. In reality, I believe rescues make up a higher percentage of these “adoptions” since the shelter did not always list the rescue on the adoption forms. Thus, rescues are saving virtually all animals not reclaimed by owners who leave the Elizabeth Animal Shelter alive.

While many rescues saved animals from Elizabeth Animal Shelter, the following groups pulled the most dogs and cats per the paperwork I reviewed:

Elizabeth Dog Rescues 2015

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Cat Rescues 2015

Elizabeth Animal Shelter has the ability to adopt out far more animals. Certainly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s small facility makes it difficult for the shelter to have enough time to adopt out large numbers of animals. For example, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only has around 9-13 days and 10-16 days to get each dog and cat out of the shelter on average before the facility runs out of room during most months. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter could have adopted out 140 dogs (39% of dog intake) and would only have needed to send 120 dogs (33% of dog intake) to rescues using the model from my recent blog for dogs and the 2015 dog intake and disposition records. Similarly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter could have adopted out 206 cats (47% of cat intake) and only would have needed to send 188 cats to rescues (43% of cat intake) using the model from my recent blog for cats and the 2015 cat intake and disposition records. Furthermore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter could have rescued and adopted out an additional 21 cats during the lower intake months resulting in potentially 229 cat adoptions in 2015. As a comparison, Elizabeth Animal Shelter should have adopted out 369 dogs and cats, but only adopted out at most 75 dogs and cats or just 20% of the number they should have. Additionally, Elizabeth Animal Shelter could adopt out even more animals if it expanded capacity by creating a foster program as well as building additional animal enclosures on the vacant land around the shelter. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter could adopt out far more animals than it does.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s almost exclusive reliance on rescues is not impressive. As I wrote in a previous blog, sending animals to rescues generally leads to no net increase in lifesaving in New Jersey. Specifically, rescues that pull from Elizabeth Animal Shelter cannot take animals from other shelters as foster homes are typically in short supply. While Elizabeth Animal Shelter certainly needs rescue assistance, the facility is requiring rescues to do all the hard work in finding good homes. Additionally, Elizabeth Animal Shelter does not spay/neuter its animals or provide vaccinations. Furthermore, the records I reviewed indicated Elizabeth Animal Shelter provides virtually no veterinary care whatsoever to animals other than a handful needing emergency medical care. As a result, Elizabeth Animal Shelter requires rescues to save its animals and bear almost all the financial costs.

Poor Policies Lead to Low Adoption Rates

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s policies explain the facility’s low adoption rate. First and foremost, the shelter only adopts out animals for 2 hours a day on weekdays and for just a single hour on Saturdays. In fact, the shelter’s weekend hours violate state shelter law requiring the facility be open for two hours on the weekend for people to reclaim their lost pets. Second, the shelter currently has no animals listed on its adoption web site, Adopt a Pet. Third, the city allows no volunteers to help. Fourth, the shelter does not alter or vaccinate any animals prior to adoption. Even worse, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter threatens adopters that they must alter their pet within 30 days or face fines on the descriptions of the dogs they post on Facebook:


While New Jersey’s low cost spay/neuter program allows people to alter pets adopted from shelters for $20, many prospective adopters don’t know about this program and wouldn’t be willing to risk breaking the law. Furthermore, people often have to wait long periods of time to alter their pets through the program due to delays in funding. Frankly, Elizabeth’s refusing to take responsibility for the animals it adopts out while demanding adopters do the right thing is a clear example of chutzpah and hypocrisy.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s posting of depressing photos discourages adoptions. As Best Friends’ adoption guidance states, good photos are critical in getting animals adopted. Specifically, Best Friends recommends shelters take clear photos of happy animals where the pets are relaxed and not scared or anxious. As you can see in the following photos from the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, the pictures are of poor quality and the animals look stressed and unhappy. In fact, the photos look more like prison mugshots than something that would appeal to adopters.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 2

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 1

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 3Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 4Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 6Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 5Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 7

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s adoption profiles posted on Facebook also turn off adopters. Specifically, Elizabeth Animal Shelter usually fails to write appealing bios and often the profiles turn off adopters. Kristen Aurbach, the Deputy Chief of the no kill Austin Animal Services municipal shelter, recently wrote an excellent blog on the Animal Farm Foundation website explaining why shelters should use adoption bios to exclusively market animals and save all their perceived flaws for adoption counseling sessions. The profile serves to get someone in the door and build an emotional connection with the animal. Once that happens, the shelter discloses the full details of the animal during an adoption counseling session. An adoption profile is like a resume and no job seeker would ever expect to land an interview let alone a job if the person listed all their flaws on the resume. As you can see in the bio below, Elizabeth Animal Shelter is mixing marketing with adoption counseling and discouraging many potential adopters.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Adoption Profile

Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter poor adoption policies result in few adoptions.

Part 2 of this blog analyzes Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s compliance with New Jersey shelter laws, the shelter’s recent actions, and provides an answer to the question as to whether Elizabeth Animal Shelter still needs reform. You can read Part 2 at this link.


Big or Small Animal Shelters: Which are Better?

One key issue in animal welfare is whether animal shelters should serve small or large numbers of people and animals? Unfortunately, I’ve never seen much discussion about this topic. This blog attempts to answer this question and provide practical solutions.

Live Release Rates Are Lower at Large No Kill Animal Control Shelters

Smaller no kill animal control shelters tend to have higher live release rates than similar facilities taking in more animals. While some small to medium sized no kill animal control shelters achieve live release rates in the 97%-99% range, most large no kill animal control shelters are in the 90%-95% range. As a result, smaller facilities tend to have the potential to achieve higher live release rates.

Smaller shelters may take advantage of their limited service areas. Shelters taking in animals from a very limited area can adopt out many animals to people outside the communities they take animals from. From my review of shelters, the only facilities achieving per capita adoption rates exceeding around 23 dogs and cats per 1,000 people were small-medium sized shelters. Of course, if every facility was tiny smaller shelters as a whole would not sustain such sky high per capita adoption rates.

On the other hand, per capita animal intake rates are lower at larger shelters. Smaller shelters may have higher per capita intake rates due to animals coming in from outside their limited service areas. If a shelter serves a relatively small area, stray animals from other communities may come in more often. Also, larger communities may have fewer animal control officers relative to their populations and therefore impound fewer dogs and cats. Thus, larger shelters may have lower per capita adoption rates at least in part due to the facilities impounding fewer animals relative to the human population in the area.

Smaller Shelters Are More Conducive to Getting Animals Adopted

Animal shelter environments are unnatural for dogs and cats. Despite cats being able to live in colonies and with people, these animals are still solitary by nature. In a typical animal shelter, cats must share living quarters with large numbers of other cats as well as potential predators (i.e. dogs). Therefore, animal shelters are usually highly stressful environments for most cats. While dogs are social animals, they evolved to be social with their family or pack (an extended family generally). In fact the dog’s ancestor, the wolf, is fiercely territorial to the point where being killed by other wolves in turf wars is the number one cause of natural mortality. As a result, putting large numbers of strange animals in one building is highly stressful to most dogs and cats.

Larger shelters increase the risk of sickness and behavioral deterioration. Simply put, more animals means more dogs and cats can potentially transmit contagious diseases to each other. Similarly, all else being equal, more animals equals more noise, sights, and scents that can stress animals out. Shelters with a greater percentage of animals becoming sick and developing behavioral problems will have prolonged lengths of stay, increased costs and decreased lifesaving. Thus, shelters that can prevent physical and mental illness in the first place have greater lifesaving potential.

Animal shelters housing more animals tend to have longer lengths of stay all else being equal. If two shelters adopt out the same number of animals and one of the facilities has twice as many animals, each animal will stay twice as long at that shelter. Longer lengths of stay tend to radically increase the chance of cats catching upper respiratory infections in shelters. For example, a recent study found that 40% and 60% of highly socialized cats and other cats at a medium sized animal control shelter developed upper respiratory infections after just 30 days. Similarly, disease rates for dogs are likely higher as well during longer lengths of stay. Additionally, animals are more likely to develop behavioral issues the longer they reside at shelters making adopting those pets out harder. Thus, larger shelters tend to have longer lengths of stay and animals face greater challenges staying happy and healthy in such places.

Smaller shelters with fewer animals up for adoption make it easier for people to select a pet. While extremely small shelters may not have enough animals for people to choose from, most facilities seem to have enough animals for people to find a suitable pet (excluding people looking for animals rarely coming into shelters). Virtually all people prefer to have a reasonable number of potential animals to choose from. Unfortunately, adopters often become overwhelmed when they must select among vast numbers of animals. Often dubbed “The Paradox of Choice”, people tend to buy less of things when presented too many options. In an animal shelter environment, which tends to involve far more emotion than buying typical consumer goods, this effect is likely amplified. In fact, the ASPCA found one shelter increased adoptions and doubled the rate of people who left with a pet after limiting the number of animals on the adoption floor. While a larger shelter can of course reduce the number of animals up for adoption, most do not and consumers have a more reasonable number of animals to choose from in smaller shelters.

Financial Issues Place Greater Challenges on Smaller Shelters

Shelters and any other enterprise have both fixed and variable costs. Variable costs vary with the level of operations. In other words, if an animal shelter takes in more animals, it incurs more costs to care for the animals (i.e. additional kennel staff to care for animals, veterinary expenses, etc.). Fixed costs do not vary with the level of operations in the short-term. Examples include rent, administrative salaries, such as those of an Executive Director, and insurance. If a shelter has a high amount of fixed expenses, it basically starts in a hole and needs significant revenue, such as taxpayer funding, donations and adoption fees to cover these costs.

Fixed costs are more significant at smaller shelters. Typically animal control shelters are funded indirectly based on the number of animals they take in. In other words, shelters expecting to take in more animals receive more money from the contracting municipality than if those shelters anticipated impounding fewer animals. At a smaller shelter taking in fewer animals, that means less revenue comes in. On the other hand, that shelter will typically incur many of the same fixed costs as a larger shelter. As a result, smaller shelters have high costs, but lack the revenue to cover those expenses.

The following example illustrates the financial challenges smaller shelters face. Let’s assume a municipality has 20,000 people. Based on the average New Jersey community taking in around 8 dogs and cats per 1,000 people, the shelter would impound 160 dogs and cats each year. In order to ensure a prompt response to animals in distress at any time of day, the municipality would require at least two ACOs. Additionally, the shelter would require a director to manage the facility. Assuming a $50,000 salary for each ACO and an $80,000 salary for the shelter director, the municipality would spend $180,000 on these employee salaries alone. This works out to a cost of $9 per resident for animal control and sheltering just considering these fixed costs. However, most New Jersey communities only pay around $2 or less per resident for animal control and sheltering. Furthermore, the municipality would spend $1,125 per animal and that would exclude any direct animal care costs and other fixed and variable costs. As a comparison, some no kill animal control shelters spend less than $300 per animal counting all costs. Thus, operating a small animal control shelter is very expensive.

Municipalities often operate under a pound model to compensate for these unfavorable economics. Under a pound model, the shelter has no director and ACOs work in the shelter when not on animal control calls. Unfortunately, most ACOs are not qualified to perform all the specialized tasks at an animal shelter, such as providing veterinary care, customer service, marketing, fundraising, community relations, etc. Often these facilities operate for very limited hours and many times are not open during those times when an ACO is out on a call. Also, many times these pounds only hold animals for a short period of time and then either kill the dogs and cats or send the pets to rescues. Furthermore, many of these pounds often rely on various fines and fees to raise money that result in the facility impounding more animals, more animals staying longer at the shelter and more killing. Examples include aggressive enforcement of animal control laws and high owner reclaim fees. Thus, many of the compensating measures to reduce operating costs of small animal control shelters do not benefit the animals.

Preferred Animal Shelter Operating Models

Municipalities can use shared service arrangements for animal control services while operating a local shelter. While towns operating their animal control operation undoubtedly improve response times, such functions are expensive. Recently, Fair Lawn sought proposals to outsource its animal control operation, but maintain its municipal shelter. Fair Lawn budgeted $141,000 for animal control officers salaries in 2014 when the municipality performed animal control and ran the shelter . In 2015, the Bergen County Animal Shelter put out a bid for just $42,000 to provide animal control services and operate the town’s local animal shelter (Fair Lawn ultimately selected Tyco Animal Control). As a result, a municipality can save significant amounts of money by outsourcing animal control, but keeping the local animal shelter.

Multiple small municipal shelters can collaborate and share expenses. In a small animal shelter, an Executive Director, behaviorist, marketing manager, ACO and a veterinarian would not have enough work to keep busy. However, several small municipal shelters can collectively hire these specialized people to provide such services. For example, the veterinarian can spend a couple of days a week at one shelter, a day or two at other facilities, and go to individual shelters additional times when needed (i.e. an emergency). Typically, many small and medium sized shelters contract with a private veterinarian who prioritizes his or her individual clients over shelter animals. Thus, smaller shelters can work together to obtain the benefits of operating both a small and large shelter while keeping costs down to a manageable level.

Several small shelters can also collaborate to operate adoption centers at pet stores. Typically, a small shelter could not provide enough animals and staff and volunteers to operate a dog and cat adoption center in a Petco or PetSmart. However, several small shelters would have enough animals to place in these venues. Additionally, these shelters collectively could hire the staff and/or recruit the volunteers needed to run the operation. In exchange, the shelters could enter into an arrangement with each other to split the costs and revenues from operating the adoption center in an equitable manner. Thus, small shelters can work together to conduct activities only bigger shelters do.

Small municipal animal shelters can use volunteers to significantly reduce costs. Volunteers provide free labor to perform basic tasks like cleaning the shelter and administrative work. Additionally, volunteers conduct activities requiring highly specialized skills, such as behavioral rehabilitation, marketing and fundraising. For example, Michigan’s Chippewa County Animal Shelter saved 98% of its dogs and cats in 2014 despite receiving only $182 of government funding per dog and cat. As a comparison, Associated Humane Societies takes in around $900 of total revenue in per dog and cat. Chippewa County Animal Shelter, which takes in nearly 1,000 dogs and cats in a year and serves a human population of around 39,000 people, only has a shelter manager and three kennel attendants. In fact, the Chippewa County Animal Shelter credits its volunteer and foster programs for saving lives.  Thus, small shelters relying heavily on volunteers can run efficient and effective operations.

Private volunteer organizations dedicated to helping shelters can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of small shelters. Often these organizations have more time to dedicate to developing and enhancing volunteer programs. For example, an ACO at a small shelter may not have the time or the skills to recruit volunteers as well as a separate volunteer group dedicated to that effort. An example in New Jersey is EASEL and the Ewing Township Animal Shelter. Prior to EASEL taking over the Ewing Animal Shelter several months ago, EASEL helped the shelter attain no kill status through its coordinated volunteer efforts. Thus, independent volunteer organizations can make shelter programs more effective.

Privatizing small municipal shelters can significantly improve efficiency. Municipal shelters of any size face more bureaucratic challenges. For example, the municipal council may have to approve any policy changes, such as lowering adoption fees for a promotion, making it difficult to save lives. Additionally, municipal shelter employees typically are in a union and the union can make it next to impossible to terminate poorly performing staff. In perhaps the most egregious case of unions interfering in shelter operations, the Teamsters Local 210 President defended the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter Director and Assistant Director, who were subsequently charged with animal cruelty, despite ample evidence showing these people committed unspeakable atrocities. Even after the local prosecutor charged the former Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter Director and Assistant Director with animal cruelty, the union continued to fight against Helmetta’s firing of these two people. Thus, private organizations can operate more efficiently than municipal shelters.

Large organizations also can obtain some of the benefits of smaller shelters. Big shelters should operate adoption centers at Petco and PetSmart stores to reduce the number of animals at their main shelters and to increase adoptions. KC Pet Project, which operates Kansas City’s no kill animal control shelter, runs two permanent off-site adoption locations and adopts out 35% of its animals at these locations. Additionally, large shelters can operate smaller facilities and use its leadership to oversee those operations in a manner similar to the collaboration model I describe for smaller shelters above. Thus, large shelters can also obtain some of the benefits smaller shelters enjoy.

At the end of the day, just about any shelter, large or small, can succeed if it enthusiastically implements highly effective programs, such as those making up the no kill equation, to reduce intake and quickly send animals to good homes. However, shelters can operate even more effectively if they utilize some of the business models discussed in this blog. Clearly, homeless animals should expect organizations to operate at the highest possible level given these creatures lives are literally on the line. Thus, municipalities and shelters should act to make their operations more efficient and effective at saving lives.