Elizabeth Animal Shelter Shows Improvement, But Serious Problems Remain: Part 2

My last blog discussed several changes the Elizabeth Animal Shelter made in 2016 after animal advocates raised concerns about the facility. Elizabeth Animal Shelter stopped illegally killing owner surrendered animals during the seven day protection period in 2016. As a result, the shelter’s live release rate significantly increased, but the shelter almost entirely relied on rescues and appeared to limit the number of animals it took in. You can read that blog here.

This blog will examine whether Elizabeth Animal Shelter still kills healthy and treatable animals. Additionally, this blog will answer the question as to whether the shelter still violates state law.

Shelter Continues to Illegally Transfer Stray Animals During the Seven Day Hold Period

Elizabeth Animal Shelter transferred and adopted out 73 dogs and cats during the seven day stray hold period in 2016. 64 of the 73 animals were cats which often have very low owner reclaim rates. Of the 64 cats, 52 were kittens which are highly susceptible to catching deadly illnesses in animal shelters. Additionally, the shelter sent a number of animals to rescue groups that provided much needed medical care. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter appeared to release many of these animals during the seven day hold period with good intentions.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter should retain ownership of the animals it releases during the seven day hold period. In other words, Elizabeth Animal Shelter should have the rescues and adopters “foster” these animals during this time. After seven days, the rescuers and adopters should then take ownership of the pet. While the animal is being fostered, the shelter should keep photos and other records as well as the rescue’s/adopter’s contact information to allow someone to redeem their pet. Similarly, the individual or group fostering the animal must return the pet back to the owner during the stray hold period. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter can easily comply with state law, give owners a chance to reclaim their lost pets, and create much needed space to save lives.

Shelter Still Kills Healthy and Treatable Animals

Overall, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s most commonly killed dogs for “aggression” and “severe behavior issues.” If we also add related problems, such as dog aggression, food aggression, leash behavior and bite cases, the shelter killed almost all dogs for some form of alleged aggression. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 19 of 22 dogs or 86% of these animals for aggression related problems.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s classified too many dogs with aggression and related behavioral issues. The shelter killed 6% of all dogs for aggression and similar reasons. On the one hand, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed a much lower percentage of dogs for so-called aggression than the regressive Bergen County Animal Shelter (21% of all dogs in 2015; 29% of dogs from Kearny in 2016). However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed a significantly larger percentage of dogs for aggression/behavior issues than Austin Animal Center (0.5% of all dogs killed for aggression related reasons in the last quarter of of fiscal year 2016). Furthermore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 18% of all pit bulls for aggression related behavioral issues in 2016 compared to just 2% of all pit bulls at Austin Animal Center during fiscal year 2016 (that number may have dropped to as low as 1% by the last quarter of the year). In other words, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed pit bulls for aggression related problems at a rate of 9-18 times higher than Austin Animal Center.

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Dogs Killed ReasonsAs I mentioned in my blog last year, Elizabeth Animal Shelter brought in a former volunteer from Associated Humane Societies-Newark as a response to public outcry about the shelter illegally killing two dogs immediately upon intake in 2014. In her role, this contractor evaluates dogs, makes recommendations about whether a dog is suitable for adoption, and networks with rescues and donors to increase lifesaving and improve animal care. Clearly, this person has done an excellent job coordinating with rescues. Thus, I believe this part time contractor has done good work.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter may be misusing its part time contractor’s behavioral evaluations to justify killing dogs. Despite some concerns from other animal advocates, the part time contractor’s written evaluations did not call for the shelter to kill dogs. In fact, many of the evaluations concluded the dogs were very good. However, the shelter performed evaluations for 16 of the 19 dogs it killed for alleged aggression related issues. Based on my review of these 16 evaluations, all of them had some negative findings. In some cases, the evaluations recommended a special home, but it seems to me as if the shelter leadership used these evaluations as an excuse to kill.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s continued reliance on discredited temperament testing methods is concerning. Recently, a study found behavioral evaluations were scientifically invalid and recommended shelters should instead socialize dogs to truly determine behavior. Even the proponents of temperament testing, such as the ASPCA, state shelters should use evaluations to identify a behavioral rehabilitation plan to try and make the animal adoptable. I found no evidence of the shelter attempting to seriously rehabilitate alleged problem behaviors in dogs. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter used scientifically invalid temperament testing methods and may have failed to use these evaluations to fix supposed behavioral problems.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed several dogs for alleged aggression related issues despite owners reporting no such issues. Shelter temperament testing methods are inherently flawed as the testing conditions (i.e. in a stressful shelter) do not replicate conditions a dog experiences in a home. Carez was a 7-9 year old gray pit bull surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on December 29, 2016. The owner reported no behavior or aggression issues and stated Carez was good with dogs, kids, adults and was house trained. On January 9, 2017, Elizabeth Animal Shelter evaluated Carez, who they renamed as Cupcake, and stated she “refused handling”, attempted to bite when handled, and was fearful and timid. In other words, Carez/Cupcake was afraid after going to a scary shelter environment. Ten days later Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed Carez/Cupcake for human and dog aggression despite the owner reporting she was good with both people and dogs. Furthermore, no records provided to me indicated the shelter tried to rehabilitate this dog’s alleged behavior problems. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter appeared to use its behavioral evaluation as a justification to kill Carez/Cupcake and did not seem to make any effort to fix those claimed behavior problems.

Dog 16-L Surrender Form.jpg

Dog 16-L Evaluation.jpg

Dog 16-L Kill Record

Ghost was a two year old pit bull-boxer mix that was surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter along with his house mate, Blackie, on July 7, 2016. Ghost’s owner reported he had no behavioral or health issues. Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s evaluation stated he snapped, growled with teeth, attempted to bite and darted away when handled, had “higher energy”, but was controllable, was “dominant”, “does not like other people”, was not good with other dogs except Blackie, and requires an “adult only home.” Despite Ghost’s owner surrender form contradicting this evaluation and him being at the shelter a mere nine days, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed Ghost for having a “Severe Behavior Issue.” No records I received indicated any effort to fix these alleged behavior problems.

Dog 8-G Surrender Form.jpg

Dog 8-G Evaluation.jpg

Dog 8-G Kill Record

Ghost’s companion, Blackie, was a five year old pit bull-Labrador retriever mix that was surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on the same day. Blackie’s owner also stated on the dog’s surrender form that Blackie had no behavioral or medical issues. Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s evaluation of Blackie was almost identical to Ghost’s temperament test except the shelter concluded Blackie was “hyper” rather than “high energy” and controllable, and grabbed treats roughly. Additionally, the evaluation made no reference to Blackie not liking people. Once again, despite the owner surrender form contradicting the Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s evaluation, the facility killed Blackie just nine days after he arrived at the shelter and on the very same day as his house mate, Ghost. No records I received indicated any effort to fix these alleged behavior problems.

Dog 9-G Surrender Form.jpg

Dog 9-G Evaluation.jpg

Dog 9-G Kill Record

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s reasons for killing cats are listed below. Overall, the shelter still killed a significant number of cats it deemed feral or having a behavior issue. Frankly, a shelter should never kill a cat for any behavioral reason given such cats can be neutered and released or go to a barn/warehouse. Additionally, the shelter killed many cats for no disclosed reason. If Elizabeth Animal Shelter did not kill healthy and treatable feral and other cats (presumably cats killed for no reason were not hopelessly suffering), the shelter’s euthanasia rate would be 8% or the rate I target for animal control facilities. While a good number of the other cats may have been hopelessly suffering, the shelter failed to provide a specific veterinary diagnosis for a substantial portion (i.e. 13 cats with undisclosed severe injuries/illnesses and other undisclosed injuries and illnesses) of these animals. As a result, no one can say for sure how many of these animals were truly hopelessly suffering.

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Cats Killed Reasons.jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed several cats for absurd or no reasons. Cat 31-J’s owner died and she was surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on October 24, 2016. Despite having a home previously, the shelter concluded she had a “Severe Behavior Issue” and killed her just 11 days later. Furthemore, the shelter’s euthanasia record erroneously stated she was killed on October 20 (four days before she arrived at the facility).

Cat 31-J Killed

Cat 31-J Intake Plus Disposition Record

Cat 31-J Kill FormCat 12-L was a 10 year old cat taken to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on December 14, 2016 by the property managers of an apartment complex. Presumably, this cat lived in a home, perhaps in one of the apartments in this building, since the property managers noted the cat was house trained. Despite this fact, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed this older cat for being feral and aggressive a little after a month later.

Cat 12-L Surrender Form.jpg

Cat 12-L Kill Record

Cat 21-F was surrendered with three other cats on June 16, 2016. According to the owner, none of these cats, including 21-F, had any behavioral or health issues. Two weeks later, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 21-F for no reason other than the animal being at the shelter for more than seven days.

Cat 21-F Surrender Form

Cat 21-F Kill Record.jpg

Shelter Provides More Veterinary Care, But Must Make Further Improvements

Elizabeth Animal Shelter provided veterinary care to some animals during the year. In 2015, the shelter essentially provided no veterinary care other than killing based on the records provided to me. Several animal advocates, including myself, raised these concerns last year. In 2016, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s veterinarian treated a number of animals at the shelter. Therefore, the pressure put on the shelter by animal advocates improved the care provided to the animals.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter must provide better veterinary care. While the shelter did treat some animals, I saw no evidence of the facility vaccinating animals upon intake. Shelter medicine experts strongly recommend facilities immediately vaccinate animals upon intake to reduce disease among the animal population. Elizabeth Animal Shelter should start doing this as its clearly better for the animals and will ultimately reduce the cost of treating sick animals. Additionally, the veterinary records I reviewed were often not very detailed and frequently illegible. Furthermore, many of the records I examined failed to fully meet the New Jersey Department of Health’s requirements. Thus, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter should vaccinate all animals immediately upon intake and improve its veterinary record keeping.

Shelter Has No Disease Control Program and Does Not Keep All Required Records

Elizabeth Animal Shelter currently has no disease control program. While the city’s Health Officer, assured me a draft program is currently under review by the Elizabeth Dog Control Committee, this is unacceptable. Under state law, a shelter must have a disease control program in order to operate. Last year, the New Jersey Department of Health made this explicitly clear:

If a facility does not have a disease control program established and maintained by a licensed veterinarian, the facility cannot be licensed to operate in New Jersey.

Therefore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter must put an appropriate disease control program into place as soon as possible.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also failed to document the breed on many cats it took in as required by state law. The shelter should start doing so especially since it does not require much effort.

No Required Annual Inspections for More Than Three Years

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. In other words, an animal shelter cannot legally operate without an inspection showing the facility is following the law.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter has not been inspected since February 2014. In 2014, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter inspected Linden Animal Control’s dreadful facility after the City of Linden failed to inspect its shelter for seven years. Despite apparently knowing about this law, the City of Elizabeth has not had its shelter inspected for more than three years.

To make matters worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s 2014 inspection was a joke. The Linden Health Department performed this inspection and found no serious issues. However, animal advocates, including myself, documented numerous shelter law violations at that time. Linden Health Department is the same health department that ran Linden Animal Control’s facility. Not only did Linden fail to inspect its own shelter for seven years, but the New Jersey Department of Health forced Linden to close its house of horrors later on in 2014. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter has not been adequately inspected in many years.

Records Continue to Raise Concerns as to Whether Elizabeth Animal Shelter Humanely Euthanizes Animals 

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s records did not specify the euthanasia drug it used (the records state “Euth.” which could mean Euthasol or just an unnamed euthanasia drug) and the method of euthanasia again in 2016. As a result, we cannot determine whether the shelter euthanized animals humanely as I discussed in last year’s blog.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter use of pure Ketamine as a sedative is not humane. 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. To make matters worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s records indicate the facility used excessive doses as they did in 2015 of Ketamine making such horrific side effects more likely.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also purchased a massive supply of Ketamine at the end of 2015. Specifically, the shelter purchased 600 milliliters of the branded Ketamine drug, Ketathesia, which would provide recommended sedative doses for 1,500 cats weighing 8 pounds or 240 dogs weighing 50 pounds. Clearly, this purchase greatly exceeds the 41 cats and 22 dogs killed in 2016. In fact, this amount of Ketamine is also much more than would be needed for the number of animals the shelter would kill at this rate over the five year shelf life of the drug. To make matters worse, I did not see the legally required listing of inventory of both Ketamine and Fatal Plus (Sodium pentobarbital) or whatever killing agent the facility used on hand at the beginning and end of the year. One has to wonder what the shelter is doing with this huge supply of Ketamine? Given this is a widely abused drug, it certainly raises questions in my mind.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2016 Ketamine Invoice.jpg

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.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Proves Shelter Reform Bill S3019 Will Save Lives

S3019 requires shelters to notify rescues at least two business days before killing an animal. While this bill should mandate shelters give animals to rescues the shelters would otherwise kill, existing animal cruelty laws (i.e. “needlessly killing an animal”) likely would also bar shelters from killing such pets. When this provision of S3019 is combined with the state’s existing ban on killing animals, whether stray or surrendered, for seven days, shelters will have a strong incentive to send animals, particularly owner surrenders, to rescues. Furthermore, rescues will have more time to save animals from shelters.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s compliance with the seven day protection period in 2016 and its significantly higher live release rate show how successful S3019 would be. As mentioned above, Elizabeth Animal Shelter does not really follow 10 of the 11 No Kill Equation programs. Despite this, the shelter nearly achieved a 90% live release rate once it stopped illegally killing animals during the seven day protection period. Why? The Elizabeth Animal Shelter is extremely rescue friendly and these rescues had the time to save many pets. Thus, S3019 would significantly increase live release rates at many of New Jersey’s high kill shelters.

S3019’s other requirements would further increase live release rates. Under the bill, shelters must stay open five hours every weekday, including one day until at least 7 pm, and one weekend day. Additionally, the bill requires shelters to take numerous steps to reunite lost pets with their families that most facilities do not currently do. Furthermore, it requires shelters to use web sites and social media to promote animals for adoption. Finally, the bill mandates shelters provide improved veterinary and behavioral care that will make pets more adoptable. Thus, S3019’s requirements would clearly increase Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s live release rate and allow the shelter to save more homeless animals.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s Unsustainable Path

Clearly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter must fix many basic sheltering issues. Specifically, the shelter must pass rigorous inspections every year, create and implement a robust disease control program, keep proper records, comply with the stray/hold law, and only euthanize animals humanely. Simply put, Elizabeth Animal Shelter must follow the law.

While the shelter’s apparent decision to impound fewer cats is preferable to killing these animals, the shelter is allowing problems to grow. Elizabeth Animal Shelter does not practice TNR to any significant degree. Therefore, the stray cats the shelter does not neuter and release remain intact and will continue to breed on the streets. Ultimately, residents will complain and either force the shelter to catch and kill these animals or potentially take matters into their own hands. Clearly, Elizabeth needs to practice TNR or better yet, Return to Field, preferably with the help of cat advocates, to limit the community cat population and resolve conflicts with people.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s complete reliance on a part time contractor to network with the rescue community is not sustainable. While this person has done an admirable job networking with rescues, it is unrealistic to expect this person to remain long-term at the shelter with the city paying her no more than $16,000 a year. Furthermore, the person will have difficulty performing all her duties with her just working 20 hours a week. In other words, Elizabeth should hire this contractor on a full time basis and adequately compensate her.

At a minimum, the city should reallocate the time this contractor spends conducting scientifically invalid behavioral evaluations to activities that would improve live release rates and care provided to animals. For example, this person could help design an enrichment program in conjunction with the shelter veterinarian, and help carry it out. Similarly, the part-time contractor could use this time to take engaging photos and videos of animals and write excellent adoption profiles.

Last year, this house of cards nearly collapsed. At the time, postings on social media suggested the city might part ways with this contractor. Thankfully, the rescue community protested and the part-time contractor remained with the shelter. However, this incident reveals how easily the shelter could regress.

Ultimately, a shelter must comprehensively adopt the 11 step No Kill Equation if it truly wants to succeed. Clearly, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter significantly improved after following the state’s seven day owner surrender protection period and using one No Kill Equation program, rescue partnerships. However, if the Elizabeth Animal Shelter wants to consistently provide a refuge for all the city’s homeless animals, it must enact most, if not all, of these programs.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Shows Improvement, But Serious Problems Remain: Part 1

Last year, I wrote a series of blogs highlighting significant problems at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. You can read the two blogs here and here. Specifically, I discussed the following findings:

  1. Shelter had an unacceptably high kill rate
  2. Routine illegal killing of owner surrendered animals during the seven day protection period
  3. Frequent illegal transfers of stray animals to rescues during the seven day hold period
  4. Poor promotion of animals
  5. Shelter adopted out hardly any animals
  6. Shelter did not spay/neuter animals adopted out
  7. Rescues were often only the reason unclaimed animals made it out of the shelter alive
  8. No volunteers allowed at the shelter
  9. Little to no veterinary care provided
  10. Records indicated inhumane euthanasia/killing practices

In addition to my advocacy, other groups, such as the Reformers – Advocates for Animal Shelter Change in NJ, aggressively pushed for change at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Did Elizabeth Animal Shelter improve? Does the shelter still have serious problems?

Live Release Rate Increases Significantly

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s statistics for all dogs and cats it impounded in 2016 are listed below. You can view the actual records here and here. Overall, 8% of dogs and 16% of cats were killed, died or had unknown outcomes. This equates to a 92% dog live release rate and an 84% cat live release rate. In fact, the shelter reached the 90% live release rate threshold for dogs, and came pretty close to it for cats, that some people consider no kill (I use a much higher standard).

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Dog and Cat Statistics

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s death rate significantly decreased in 2016 compared to 2015. Overall, the shelter’s death rates for both cats and dogs dropped by about half in 2016.

2016 Verses 2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Death Rate

Elizabeth Animal Shelter still killed too many pit bulls in 2016. Specifically, about 1 in 5 pit bulls and 1 out of 4 unclaimed pit bulls lost their lives. On the other hand, Elizabeth Animal Shelter achieved very high live release rates for both small dogs and all other breeds.

2016 Elizabeth Dog Breeds Statistics

Similarly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed too many adult cats in 2016. Overall, around 1 in 5 adult cats lost their lives. On the other hand, Elizabeth Animal Shelter reported an impressive 92% live release rate for kittens.

2016 Elizabeth Cat Age Statistics

Despite Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s death rates for adult cats and pit bulls being too high, the facility still made progress in 2016. Overall, the death rates for adult cats and pit bulls decreased by half (from 42% to 21%) and by around one quarter (from 25% to 18%).

Improved Live Release Rate Associated with End of Routine Illegal Killings

Elizabeth Animal Shelter stopped routinely killing owner surrendered animals during the seven day protection period in 2016. In 2015, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 124 dogs and cats during the state mandated stray hold and owner surrender protection periods (many were killed immediately). On the other hand, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only euthanized 22 dogs and cats during these periods in 2016. While I do have some questions as to whether some of these animals were in fact hopelessly suffering, which they must be for a shelter to take the animal’s life during this time, the facility did appear to relegate these to medical cases.

Overall, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed/euthanized 15% and 4% of all the dogs and cats it impounded in 2015 and 2016 during the seven day protection period. This 11% decrease in killing over the two years accounts for nearly all of the 12% drop in the combined dog and cat live release rate from 2015 to 2016. Thus, the strong advocacy efforts to stop this illegal killing along with efforts to directly save these animals accounts for much of the improvement at the shelter.

Rescues Continue to Save the Day

Elizabeth Animal Shelter relied almost exclusively on rescues to save unclaimed animals. Based on my review of the supporting documents for approximately 40% of the dogs listed as adopted or “medical release” in Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records, 94% of these cats and 84% of these dogs went to rescues. This is very similar to my findings from the prior year. If I were to extrapolate this data for the entire year, I’d estimate Elizabeth Animal Shelter only adopted out 5% of the cats and 10% of the dogs they impounded. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter almost entirely relied on the rescue community to save its animals.

Based on my observations, Elizabeth Animal Shelter made little effort to adopt out animals. First, the animal shelter is almost never open. The facility is only open from 4 pm to 6 pm on weekdays and from 3 pm to 4 pm on Saturdays. In other words, the shelter is essentially never open when working people can adopt (i.e. weeknights and weekends). In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter violates state law by not being open for at least two hours on the weekend. Second, the shelter’s adoption web site has terrible photos of dogs that look like prison mugshots. Even worse, not a single cat adoption listing is currently on the web site. Third, the shelter does not vaccinate or spay/neuter the animals it adopts out. Instead, the shelter threatens adopters from Elizabeth with fines if they do not spay/neuter the animal within 30 days. Fourth, Elizabeth continues to bar volunteers from the facility who could help market these animals. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s poor policies continue to result in the facility adopting out few animals.

While Elizabeth Animal Shelter has very limited space, it can adopt out substantially many more animals. For example, models I developed based on the performance of good, but not the best, animal shelters suggest Elizabeth Animal Shelter could adopt out around 150 dogs and 160 cats each year. If Elizabeth Animal Shelter did this, it would likely allow the shelter to significantly reduce both the pit bull and adult cat kill rates. In reality, most high performing shelters must adopt out a substantial percentage of pit bulls and adult cats to achieve no kill level live release rates for these animals. Furthermore, if Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out more animals, rescues could save animals from other high kill shelters and reduce more killing in the state.

Animal Intake Decreases Significantly

Elizabeth Animal Shelter impounded far fewer dogs and and cats in 2016 as compared to 2015. You can view the actual records here and here. Specifically, the facility took in 16% fewer dogs and 32% fewer cats. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter impounded 26% and 46% fewer owner surrendered dogs and cats in 2016 verses 2015.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2016 Verses 2015 Dog Intake

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2016 Verses 2015 Cat Intake

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s dog and cat intake decreased significantly more than both the Animal Care Centers of NYC and ACCT Philly. As you can see below, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s dog intake decreased around 2 to 3 times more than both of the two larger urban shelters in the region. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s cat intake decreased 3-11 times more than these other two shelters.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2016 Verses 2015 Intake Compared to Other Shelters

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s length of stay data supports this theory. The shelter’s average length of stay for dogs and cats in 2016 were 10.7 days (7.5 days in 2015) and 8.1 days (4.1 days in 2015). As a comparison, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only had about 11-13 days and 8-17 days to get each dog and cat out of the shelter in 2015 (i.e. when the shelter took in more animals) before it ran out of space. Therefore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter appeared to take fewer animals in, particularly cats, to avoid overcrowding, at least during higher intake months.

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Dog Length of Stay Data

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Cat Length of Stay Data

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s strategy of relying virtually entirely on rescues to create space is doomed to fail. While the shelter’s use of many rescues reduces the facility’s risk of any single rescue closing or not pulling animals for other reasons, large coalitions of rescues rarely are efficient at adopting out animals. Why? No single rescue faces any negative consequences if it fails to adopt out enough animals to prevent the shelter from killing. For example, if a single shelter or rescue agreed to pull all animals from Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s kill list, and Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed animals the rescue organization did not pull, the rescue organization could face criticism and lose donations. Similarly, if a single rescue saved all of the shelter’s animals it would receive praise and likely receive more financial support from the public. However, when dozens of organizations rescue animals voluntarily, no single group faces any repercussions and such groups have little to gain. Therefore, these organizations will often stick with overly restrictive adoption policies, less aggressive marketing, and overall less effective processes that result in fewer adoptions. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter has limited the number of positive outcomes it can achieve and will likely have to restrict intake to avoid overcrowding and/or killing.

While I would clearly prefer Elizabeth Animal Shelter impound and safely place more animals, the facility is better off not taking in dogs and cats if it is just going to kill them. Clearly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter can do much more and take in all animals needing help, but at the end of the day, I’d rather the animals have a chance of life on the streets or with their existing owners than face a certain death at a kill shelter (especially since most of these animals are healthy cats who are far better off on the streets than in a shelter).

In Part 2 of this series of blogs, I will examine whether Elizabeth Animal Shelter still kills healthy and treatable animals. Additionally, I’ll answer the question as to whether the shelter still violates state law.

Associated Humane Societies Fights to Kill or Dump Five Dogs

In early 2016, the Monmouth County SPCA investigated an Aberdeen Township resident’s dogs. During the Monmouth County SPCA’s inspection, the investigator noted the owner’s dogs were housed in a garage and outside. Additionally, the inspector stated the animals were in good health, had appropriate housing, but lacked access to readily available water. According to the owner, she only kept the dogs outside for a few hours and understood the inspector’s warning that the dogs must have water available when outside. On the same day, the inspector determined that the owner’s dogs were not licensed.

Subsequently, the Monmouth County SPCA notified Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls, which serves as Aberdeen Township’s animal control and sheltering organization, that the owner had unlicensed dogs. Shortly after, one of the resident’s dogs contracted rabies and bit several people. AHS-Tinton Falls then impounded the five other dogs living at the residence due to their potential exposure to rabies.

Aberdeen Township and the Monmouth County Health Department conflicted over the fate of these five dogs. Initially, the Monmouth County Health Department allowed the owners of the five dogs, Kim Rogers, to confine the dogs on her property for a six months rabies quarantine period based on the New Jersey Department of Health’s December 2014 guidelines for dogs exposed to a rabid animal without visible bites. In a sharply worded letter sent on February 8, 2016, Aberdeen Township objected and demanded the Monmouth County Health Department order the killing of these five healthy dogs.

Associated Humane Societies Seeks to Kill or Dump the Five Dogs

On the day after Aberdeen Township sought to kill the five dogs, AHS-Tinton Falls General Manager, Veronica Ehrenspeck, sent an email to AHS Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, and former AHS Assistant Executive Director, Scott Crawford. Ms. Ehrenspeck stated the Monmouth County Health Department preferred to have AHS-Tinton Falls confine the dogs for the six month rabies quarantine period and then return the dogs to the owner rather than immediately kill the dogs due to potential backlash from “animal activists.” She went on to state Monmouth County would pay all boarding costs. Despite this generous offer, Ms Eherenspeck claimed AHS would incur costs related to rabies vaccines, medical care, and housing. She also expressed concerns about AHS staff, other animals, and the public being exposed to dogs that may potentially develop rabies. Finally, Ms. Ehrenspect seemed to insinuate killing was the only option when she said “I don’t know any boarding facilities or towns that would want this exposure in their backyard.” Veronica Ehrenspeck Email Part 1

Veronica Ehrenspeck Email Part 2

Within an hour after receiving the AHS-Tinton Falls General Manager’s email, Roseann Trezza fired off an email to New Jersey Department of Health Senior Public Health Veterinarian, Dr. Colin Campbell, to apparently seek assistance. While Ms. Trezza’s email is hard to understand, I interpret it to mean she’d rather kill the dogs than have the dogs go back to the owner, who she alleges is a “breeder”, after the dogs serve the six month quarantine period at her Tinton Falls shelter. Frankly, I find this deeply disturbing as a shelter director should not try to pit a state and county regulator of animal shelters against each other.

Roseann Trezza Email to Colin Campbell Pt 1

Roseann Trezza Email to Colin Campbell Pt 2

Dr. Colin Campbell responded the next day and told Ms. Trezza that they might prevent the owner from receiving the dogs back if the owner gets convicted for animal cruelty or operating an unlicensed kennel. However, Dr. Campbell correctly included Monmouth County Health Officer, Christopher Merkel, to keep him aware of this discussion.

Dr. Colin Campbell Response to Roseann Trezza Pt 1

Dr. Colin Campbell Response to Roseann Trezza Pt 2.jpg

On the very next day, Roseann Trezza forwarded a “rough draft” of a letter prepared by Scott Crawford to Dr. Colin Campbell, but not the Monmouth County Health Officer, arguing AHS-Tinton Falls should kill the dogs. In the rambling letter, Mr. Crawford stated returning the dogs to Kim Rogers was “taken off the table” after a meeting with AHS and the Monmouth County Health Department. Despite AHS achieving their goal of preventing the owner from getting her dog back, Mr. Crawford claimed the five dogs were too great a risk to AHS staff, other animals at their shelter and the general public. In fact, Scott Crawford argued no shelter should adopt out these dogs even after a six month quarantine period citing rabies risk based on unnamed studies. Thus, Mr. Crawford said he’d prefer to kill the five dogs.

Scott Crawford went on in the letter to demand the Monmouth County Health Department let him kick the dogs out of his facility. In the letter, Mr. Crawford acted as if he was doing the Monmouth County Health Department a favor by giving them a few extra days over a holiday weekend to find another facility to house the five dogs. To show just how good a guy he was, Mr. Crawford offered to kill the dogs since in his “professional opinion at one point or another in the near future, a portion of if not all of these dogs originated from Kim Rogers’ residence will be sheading the rabies virus due to the circumstances surrounding this case.”

On the very next day, AHS seemed to succeed in its fight to kill the Aberdeen Five dogs. The Monmouth County Board of Health sent a letter to Kim Rogers stating they would kill her dogs in 7 days unless she provided proof of ownership, such as dog licensing and/or registration, and either a rabies inoculation certificate or documentation from her veterinarian that the animals received care. Ms. Rogers ultimately could not comply with these demands.

Wayne Township Animal Shelter Saves the Aberdeen Five

Miraculously, the Monmouth County Board of Health found alternative placement for the five dogs two weeks later. On February 26, the Monmouth Board of Health ordered AHS-Tinton Falls to transfer the Aberdeen Five to Wayne Township Animal Shelter. Around a month later, the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders and Wayne Township reached an agreement where Monmouth County would pay $11,000 to Wayne Township to house the five dogs during the remainder of the six month quarantine period.

Wayne Township adopted out four of the five pit bull like dogs shortly after their quarantine period ended in August 2016. The shelter adopted out the following dogs:

  1. Tride Daddy, a three and half year old male, in September 2016
  2. Mamo Moo, a four year old female, in September 2016
  3. Baby Rosie, a nine month old female, in October 2016
  4. Jada, a four year old female, in January 2017

The fifth dog, Trigger, is currently up for adoption at the Wayne Township Animal Shelter. I’d encourage those looking for a dog to consider adopting Trigger.

Associated Humane Societies’ Reprehensible Actions

Scott Crawford’s argument that the five dogs posed a significant rabies risk to the public after the six month quarantine period is not supported by scientific evidence. As discussed above, the New Jersey Department of Health’s rabies policy at the time allowed confining animals potentially exposed to rabies for six months in lieu of killing. Ironically, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association shared its new rabies guidelines reducing the quarantine period from six months to four months the day before Scott Crawford wrote his dissertation on why authorities should kill the Aberdeen Five. Specifically, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association made this recommendation based on cases of animals developing rabies more than six months after exposure being “extaordinarily rare”:

The committee based the guidance on unpublished data from states that provided information on the incubation period for rabies in unvaccinated cats and dogs. There are cases in the literature of animals developing rabies more than six months after exposure, Dr. Brown noted, but these also are extraordinarily rare. She said the mean incubation period is about six weeks.

Subsequently, the New Jersey Department of Health altered their guidelines for handling animals potentially exposed to rabies. In March 2016, the state agency reduced the quarantine period from six months to four months. Furthermore, the New Jersey Department of Health issued another directive in May 2016 stating health departments and shelters should confine rather than kill dogs not exhibiting clinical signs of the disease.

The fact that the Aberdeen Five dogs never came down with rabies after the six month quarantine period proves AHS was dead wrong. If AHS had their way, these five young dogs would never have received the opportunity to begin a new life.

AHS failed to provide one of the key services animal control shelters perform. Holding animals to protect public health is a key function animal control shelters provide. In fact, municipalities contract with third party shelters in part to house animals for rabies observation periods. Frankly, AHS-Tinton Falls effectively argued it was unable to properly quarantine these five dogs and protect its staff, which were not all vaccinated against rabies, other animals and the general public. If this is the case, should AHS-Tinton Falls have a license to operate an animal control shelter? If it was up to me, I would not award AHS a license to operate an animal control shelter unless it does one of the following:

  1. Reduces the number of municipalities it contracts with so it could effectively quarantine dogs with rabies
  2. Removes rabies quarantines from the services it offers
  3. Improves its policies and procedures to the point AHS certifies it can quarantine multiple animals for four month rabies quarantine periods

Personally, I find it difficult to believe AHS could not quarantine these five dogs. If its Tinton Falls facility was unable to do this, AHS could have used its Popcorn Park shelter where it houses a number of domestic and wild animals on a long term basis. Ironically, AHS touts its “open door policy” in its fundraising stories, but it shut the door on the Aberdeen Five. According to the organization’s 2014 Form 990, AHS took in nearly $9 million in revenue and had around $10 million in net assets. In fact, AHS-Tinton Falls received $43,000 in 2016 from Aberdeen Township alone plus an $18 per day fee for each animal housed per a court order (which may not have applied to the Aberdeen Five) and $95-$125 per animal fees charged to owners reclaiming their pets. Clearly, AHS could have used some of that war chest to properly quarantine these dogs at another facility.

AHS refused to quarantine the Aberdeen Five for the mandated period despite Monmouth County’s offer to pay for boarding costs. According to the AHS-Tinton Falls’ General Manager, Veronica Eherenspeck, this offer was insufficient since AHS would incur costs for rabies vaccinations, presumably for staff, and titer checks. Honestly, I am appalled an animal control shelter would require anything above and beyond a boarding fee to house and care for these animals. Vaccinating staff for rabies and monitoring the health of shelter animals should be pre-requisites for obtaining any animal control and sheltering contact. To argue Monmouth County taxpayers should pay these costs in addition to the $43,000 annual fee Aberdeen taxpayers shelled out to AHS-Tinton Falls is absurd. The fact that Wayne Township Animal Shelter took the Aberdeen Five for a $15 per day fee, which was 17% lower than the additional fee AHS charges Aberdeen Township for holding animals per government orders, proves AHS cared more about money than the lives of these five dogs.

AHS-Tinton Falls may have cost Monmouth County taxpayers up to $11,000. If AHS-Tinton Falls performed its duty as an animal control shelter, Monmouth County would not have had to pay Wayne Township Animal Shelter $11,000 to house these five dogs. While the cost to Monmouth County taxpayers may have been less due to Monmouth County SPCA raising funds for caring for the Aberdeen Five and any possible resititution paid by Kim Rogers, Monmouth County taxpayers should not have paid a dime. Simply put, AHS-Tinton Falls’ selfish behavior pushed the bill onto Monmouth County taxpayers.

AHS Actions Prove New Jersey Must Pass Shelter Reform Bill

AHS revealed its kill first mentality. From the very beginning of this ordeal, AHS personnel from the Tinton Falls General Manager all the way up to AHS executives sought to kill these animals. Based on the tone in the emails, you can clearly see killing is a key part of the AHS culture.

When a private animal shelter fights a health department to kill dogs, the organization has a critical problem with its leadership and culture. Health departments, which focus on protecting people from animals, often are quick to kill animals posing little risk to people. Often private shelters fight health departments to keep animals alive. However, AHS did just the opposite and fought with the health department in order to kill these five dogs. Simply put, AHS is a broken organization and its killing culture needs to change.

So how can shelter reform bill S3019 affect the AHS killing culture? First, AHS Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, would need the New Jersey Department of Health to certify that she was properly trained in progressive animal sheltering practices. Second, AHS would have to notify other organizations whenever it wanted to kill an animal. Third, AHS could not kill an animal until it certified it had no empty cages, foster homes and rescues available. Fourth, AHS would have to take active steps to reunite lost pets with their families. Fifth, AHS would have to provide high levels of care to animals, including robust medical treatment, socialization, and enrichment, that would make the pets more adoptable. Sixth, each AHS shelter would receive at least three unannounced inspections per year from qualified inspectors. Thus, shelter reform bill S3019 would put significant pressure on AHS to change its ways.

Clearly, New Jersey animal lovers must pressure AHS to save lives. We can do this by passing shelter reform bill S3019. By making a simple call or writing a quick email, you can do your part. To see how, please read the instructions in this link. The sooner we act, the sooner we’ll save more lives.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR Program Saves Lives, But Does Not Protect All Animals

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and Return to Field programs save lives. TNR programs sterilize and return cats to a colony with a human caretaker while Return to Field initiatives also return healthy cats to where the cats were found if no caretaker exists. A recent study of an intensive Return to Field program in Florida found:

  1. Cat intake at shelter decreased by 66% over a two year period
  2. Cat intake and killing at shelter were 3.5 times and 17.5 times higher in places outside of the zip codes where the intensive Return to Field program took place
  3. Dog intake at shelter decreased by a third due to the program increasing community engagement and freeing up shelter resources to help people keep dogs they were considering surrendering to the shelter

Unsurprisingly, many animal advocates believe TNR is “the solution” to ending the killing of healthy and treatable cats in shelters.

In 2014, Kearny animal advocates successfully convinced elected officials to implement TNR. Initially, Mayor Santos opposed TNR and residents worked to change his mind. At the time, I fully supported their courageous effort and was delighted to see them succeed with help from Bergen County Animal Shelter several months later.

Kearny implemented its TNR program around the beginning of 2015 and volunteers have run it for the last two or so years. Under the program, Bergen County Animal Shelter trains caretakers who trap and feed cats and monitor the cat colonies. Bergen County Animal Shelter sterilizes the cats and those costs are included in the municipality’s animal and control sheltering contract fees. Additionally, the program requires caretakers to register colonies with the town’s TNR Committee, keep detailed records, and resolve complaints with residents.

Has Kearny’s TNR program reduced cat intake and killing at the Bergen County Animal Shelter? Did Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program eliminate the killing of Kearny’s healthy and treatable cats and dogs?

Kearny TNR Program Significantly Decreases Cat Intake and Killing

Bergen County Animal Shelter impounded and killed far fewer cats from Kearny after the town enacted TNR. Prior to implementing TNR, Bergen County Animal Shelter impounded 300 stray cats from Kearny during the first 8 months of 2014. Based on Bergen County Animal Shelter’s stray cat data from all of its municipalities in 2015, I estimate the shelter impounded 425 stray cats from Kearny in 2014. Using the shelter’s 40% cat kill rate in 2014, I estimate Bergen County Animal Shelter killed 170 stray cats from Kearny in the year prior to enacting TNR. As a comparison, Bergen County Animal Shelter impounded around 150 stray cats from Kearny and killed 19 of those cats in 2016. Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter reduced the number of stray cats it impounded from Kearny by around 275 cats or 65% in 2016 verses 2014. Similarly, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed/euthanized around 151 or 89% fewer cats in 2016 verses 2014. Thus, the Kearny TNR program sharply reduced cat intake at the shelter and saved large numbers of the town’s cats.

Kearny volunteers and Bergen County Animal Shelter worked together to trap, neuter, vaccinate and release large numbers of cats. Specifically, volunteers trapped 205 cats in 2016 and Bergen County Animal Shelter sterilized, vaccinated and released almost all of these animals. Therefore, both TNR volunteers and Bergen County Animal Shelter actively worked together to make the TNR program succeed.

Kearny’s mayor recently wrote a letter to Lyndhurst elected officials touting the program’s success. Specifically, Mayor Santos cited fewer feral cats, reduced nuisance complains, improved public health and improved animal welfare. Kearny’s mayor sent this letter to encourage Lyndhurst lawmakers to enact a similar program in their borough.

TNR Program Fails to Save all of Kearny’s Healthy and Treatable Cats

While Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program significantly reduced cat killing in Kearny, the shelter still kills too many cats from the town. 16% of cats impounded from Kearny in 2016 lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter. This death rate exceeds the general no kill benchmark of 10% and is twice as high as the 8% goal I use. If I focus just on Kearny cats Bergen County Animal Shelter has to find new homes for (i.e. excluding cats reclaimed by owners and placed into TNR colonies), the shelter killed 20% or 1 in every 5 of these animals. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter has not achieved no kill status for Kearny’s cats despite having a successful TNR program.

The table below summarizes the reasons Bergen County Animal Shelter used to kill and euthanize Kearny’s cats. Bergen County Animal shelter cited testing positive for FELV or FIV as a reason for taking the lives of 41% of the Kearny cats it killed. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter cited behavior/feral for killing another 27% of the cats. The shelter euthanized 18% of the cats due to injuries sustained after being hit by cars. Bergen County Animal Shelter killed/euthanized another 19% of the cats for having upper respiratory and other undefined illnesses.

2016 BCAS Kearny Cats Killed Reasons

Bergen County Animal Shelter used positive FELV and FIV snap tests as an excuse to kill cats. Based on the records I reviewed, none of these cats were hopelessly suffering. As I discussed in a prior blog, many shelters successfully adopt out both FIV and FELV positive cats. Furthermore, both Alley Cat Allies and Neighborhood Cats support neutering and releasing otherwise healthy FIV and FELV positive cats. In addition, these organizations oppose testing and killing for FIV and FELV based on the following reasons:

  1. Tests are unreliable and often positive results relate to a prior vaccination
  2. Spaying/neutering reduces risk of disease transmission
  3. Most cats are asymptomatic
  4. Tests are expensive and divert resources from lifesaving programs
  5. American Association of Feline Practitioners oppose routine killing of FIV and FELV positive cats

Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed several cats from Kearny for “behavior” and/or being “feral” despite the shelter having a TNR program in the town.

Cat ID# 20765 was a stray cat impounded from Kearny. After just a single day, Bergen County Animal Shelter tested the cat for FELV and determined he was FELV positive. Despite no documented FELV symptoms or any other medical condition, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed him on the very same day. In addition, the shelter miraculously concluded he was feral after just a single day at the shelter. As a result, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated the state’s 7 day stray hold period and needlessly killed this cat despite having a TNR program in place.

Cat ID# 22471 was a stray “feral” cat with a “possible ear tip” impounded by the Bergen County Animal Shelter. Despite Bergen County Animal Shelter having a TNR program, the shelter killed him 7 days later on the very same day he tested positive for FIV.

22471 Intake Form.jpg

22471 Intake Form 2

22471 Medical Record and Euthanasia Record

Cat ID# 21796 was a cat impounded from the “Isabelle house colony” in Kearny on June 16, 2016. After about two months, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed her for testing positive for FIV. The shelter documented no other medical issues in her records.

Tom was a 1 year old cat from Kearny and was surrendered to the shelter due to his owner moving to a place that did not allow cats. According to the owner, Tom was litter box trained, did not bite even if startled, and was an indoor cat. While Tom did not like to be held or petted, many people adopt cats with “cattitude.” Despite successfully living in a home, Bergen County Animal Shelter evaluated Tom, who was likely stressed adjusting to a shelter environment, just 4 days after arriving at the facility and deemed him aggressive. On the very same day, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed Tom during the 7 day owner surrender protection period. Bergen County Animal Shelter made no effort to socialize Tom despite strong evidence showing a structured program can make many “feral” or “aggressive” cats adoptable. Even if Tom was “aggressive”, Bergen County Animal Shelter could have placed him in a colony. Instead, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed this perfectly healthy cat.

Bergen County Animal Shelter could have attained a no kill level live release rate for Kearny’s cats. If the shelter saved its FIV and FELV positive cats who appeared healthy and treatable and those it deemed “aggressive”, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s death rate would decrease from 16% to 9%. Furthermore, if the shelter saved several other cats that clearly were treatable, Bergen County Animal Shelter could have reduced the Kearny cat death rate to 8% or lower. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program did not protect all of Kearny’s healthy and treatable cats.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Death Camp for Kearny Dogs

Bergen County Animal Shelter killed Kearny’s homeless dogs at an astronomical rate. 39% of all dogs, 79% of pit bulls and 17% of the other breeds impounded from Kearny during 2016 lost their lives. If we just count the dogs not reclaimed by owners (i.e. dogs the shelter had to find new homes for), 65% of all dogs, 92% of pit bulls and 36% of other breeds lost their lives. Simply put, Bergen County Animal Shelter was more likely to kill dogs from Kearny than find them new homes. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter acted more like an exterminator than an animal shelter when it came to Kearny’s homeless dogs.

2016 BCAS Kearny Dog Statistics

Bergen County killed virtually all of these Kearny dogs for so-called “behavior” reasons. The shelter cited “behavior” as the reason for killing 11 or 79% of the 14 dogs killed. Several medical reasons, some of which did not show the dog was hopelessly suffering, were used to justify killing/euthanizing the other 3 dogs.

Kearny Dogs Killed

Dog ID# 19450 was a stray dog brought to the Bergen County Animal Shelter by the Kearny Police Department. The dog’s intake record stated “Nice Dog”, “Friendly” and listed 3 heart signs indicating this was a wonderful animal.

Despite this glowing review of the dog outside of his kennel, Bergen County Animal Shelter decided to kill him 16 days later for “agitated barking” and failing to “display soft friendly behavior” in his kennel. The shelter justified this absurd decision since the dog continued his “agitated barking” after a staff person knelt down and offered a treat. Speaking as someone who dealt with the very same type of dogs at other shelters, barrier reactivity does not mean a dog is aggressive (especially one that is “Nice” and “Friendly”). In fact, the Executive Director of the open admission Humane Society of Fremont County proved even highly aggressive dogs can come around. Furthermore, the dog was sent to an isolation area and given an antibiotic three days after his evaluation suggesting he may have been sick during the evaluation (i.e. which could have caused him to “display agitated barking). Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter needlessly killed a “nice” and “friendly” dog from Kearny.

19450 Surrender Form.jpg

19450 Surrender Form 2

19450 Evaluation.jpg

19450 Medical Treatment.jpg

19450 Killing Record.jpg

Yaya was a 9 month old dog from Kearny surrendered by her owner due to landlord issues to the Bergen County Animal Shelter. According to Yaya’s owner, Yaya lived with two adults and a child and had no behavioral issues. In fact, Yaya slept in a room next to the owner’s son.

Despite the owner’s positive experience living with Yaya in a real world setting, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed her for behavior reasons. According to Yaya’s initial evaluation on May 10, 2016, Yaya was so scared in the shelter that she “hunched up in a ball.” Furthermore, this evaluation noted Yaya was lactating and possibly being away from her puppies “may be adding to her anxiety.” The evaluation went on to recommend putting a vari kennel (i.e. a dog crate/carrier) in her enclosure to “give her a quieter place to relax.” Yaya’s second evaluation noted the “vari kennel had been removed from her kennel despite recommendations to keep in the kennel.” This second evaluation then condemned Yaya to death and justified it by stating she “growled at a female staff member”, “silently charged the gate” and “stood in front of kennel holding a hard stare.”

Bergen County Animal Shelter provided little to no help to ease Yaya’s obvious stress. First, Bergen County Animal Shelter failed to comply with their own recommendation to keep a dog crate/kennel in Yaya’s enclosure to reduce her anxiety. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated state law, N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.9(d) requiring shelters provide relief to “animals displaying signs of stress.” N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.9(d) goes on to state “environmental stress can be mediated through reducing the negative impact of excess noise, smells, visual stimuli, and perceived threats; socialization; exercise; increased privacy; and providing comfort, such as soft bedding.” Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated state law by failing to help ease the “environmental stress” Yaya endured.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s killing dogs for kennel stress (i.e. barrier reactivity, cage aggression, etc.) is absurd. As Dogs Playing for Life states, barrier reactivity is “not an accurate indicator of a dog’s social skills.” Volunteers at most animal shelters will tell you how different dog behavior is inside a cage at a stressful shelter and outside in real world situations. In the case of Yaya, we can clearly see she was stressed out in a shelter environment, perhaps exacerbated by being separated from puppies she may have had and her human family. Furthermore, Yaya’s family indicated the dog had no issues living in their home. Instead, Bergen County Animal Shelter should have let Yaya engage in real world situations, such as through socialization outside her kennel and structured play groups as a recent scientific study recommended. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s killing of Yaya goes against smart sheltering practices and basic common sense.

Yaya Owner Surrender Questionairre 1

Yaya Owner Surrender Questionairre 2

Yaya Evaluation

Yaya Killing Record

After reviewing Bergen County Animal Shelter’s records for the Kearny dogs it took in during 2016, it was quite clear the shelter could have saved at least 95% of these dogs. Instead, Bergen County Animal Shelter took the easy way out and frequently killed Kearny dogs for convenience and cost savings.

TNR Alone Does Not Create No Kill Communities 

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program in Kearny proves organizations must implement the key No Kill Equation programs to create no kill communities. Certainly, TNR significantly decreased cat killing in Kearny, but many healthy and treatable cats and dogs from Kearny still lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter. Why? The shelter’s leader lacks a passionate commitment to lifesaving. When the shelter director looks for excuses to kill, such as a “positive” FIV or FELV test on an otherwise healthy cat or a dog stressed out in its kennel, healthy and treatable animals die no matter how good the organization’s TNR program is. Thus, Kearny or any community will never achieve no kill status until its shelter’s leaders become passionate about saving lives and enthusiastically implement the No Kill Equation.

So what should Kearny animal advocates do? First, they should thank Bergen County Animal Shelter and Kearny’s elected officials for embracing TNR. Second, they should encourage the town to consider altering the ordinance to eliminate the mandate to register colonies, as recommended by Alley Cat Allies, since this law punishes TNR practitioners who are doing lifesaving work, but are not able to comply with the ordinance’s burdensome record keeping requirements. Finally, residents should tell their elected officials to pressure Bergen County Animal Shelter to replace the facility’s incompetent shelter director and enthusiastically adopt the No Kill Equation. That is the only way we’ll make Kearny a no kill community.

Why New Jersey Residents Must Support Animal Shelter Reform Bill S3019

Over the last three years I’ve documented New Jersey animal shelters routinely violating state law, abusing animals and killing pets for ridiculous reasons. During this time, I learned our state’s animal shelter system is broken and desperately needs reform. Recently, Senator Linda Greenstein introduced a bill, S3019, to “establish additional requirements for operation and oversight of animal shelters, pounds, kennels operating as shelters or pounds, and veterinary holding facilities.” Will S3019 improve New Jersey’s animal shelter system? Will more animals make it out of our shelters alive? Will shelters treat animals more humanely?

Bill Requires Shelters to Make Efforts to Save Lives

S3019 requires shelters and municipalities to conduct “community outreach” efforts to increase adoptions. Such efforts include using web sites and social media pages to promote adoptable animals. Furthermore, shelters must notify people who surrender animals, such as a good Samaritan who finds a stray animal and brings the pet to the shelter, prior to killing the animal if the person wants the shelter to contact them. In addition, the municipality where each shelter is located must post information about adoptable animals that is easily accessible to the public.

The bill makes shelters notify rescues, other shelters and interested individuals before killing an animal. Specifically, shelters must contact these organizations in writing or through electronic communication at least two business days before killing an animal. Unfortunately, the law allows shelter directors to still kill animals rescues and other shelters are willing to take if the shelter director determines an organization is “incapable of proper care for the animal.” While shelter directors should have that power when it comes to individuals, this provision provides regressive shelters a big loophole to kill animals other reputable groups want to save. Instead, the law should allow any 501(c)(3) rescue/other animal shelter to save an animal the shelter intends to kill unless the rescuing organization has pending animal cruelty charges, animal cruelty convictions, had its 501(c)(3) status revoked or seriously violated any rescue/shelter regulation.

S3019 also requires shelter directors to attest they made efforts to save an animal before killing the creature. Shelter directors must certify the following conditions apply:

  1. Animal was offered to rescues, other shelters and interested individuals and no suitable one wanted to save the animal.
  2. No cage space, whether permanent or temporary, exists (i.e. prevents killing with empty kennels)
  3. Animal cannot be housed with another animal
  4. No suitable foster homes exist
  5. No TNR programs in the state are willing to take a cat the shelter intends to kill

The bill also requires shelters to consider, study, and if possible, implement a TNR program. In addition, S3019 requires ACOs, NJ SPCA agents and officers and other law enforcement personnel to try and bring cats with no apparent owner to a shelter with a TNR program rather than a catch and kill facility.

Finally, the bill mandates animal shelters be open at least five hours on each weekday and one weekend day and stay open until at least 7 pm on one weekday. Given many New Jersey animal shelters are hardly open to the public, particularly when people are not working, this will greatly increase owner reclaims, adoptions, and transfers to rescues.

S3019 Requires Shelters to Try and Reunite Lost Pets with Families

The bill requires shelters to do three significant things to reunite more families with their lost pets. First, shelters must maintain continuously updated lost pet lists maintained by local law enforcement or other community groups (e.g. various lost pet Facebook pages covering each part of the state) and match the shelter’s animals with these lost pet listings. Once the shelter identifies an owner, the shelter must contact the owner. Second, shelters must post photographs and descriptions of stray animals with no identified owners on the internet (or in the local municipal clerk’s office if a shelter has no web site) along with the facility’s location, hours and contact information. Third, shelters must use universal microchip scanners, which can read all microchips, to identify and contact owners of lost pets. Thus, these required actions will increase the chances owners find their lost pets.

Bill Requires Humane Care

S3019 mandates shelters provide the following to their animals:

  1. Fresh water
  2. Appropriate food
  3. Environmental enrichment, such as socialization with staff or volunteers, toys and healthy treats
  4. Exercise outside of kennels at least once a day and more if required to maintain good condition and health and support recovery from diseases and injuries
  5. Prompt cage cleaning at least twice a day to prevent disease
  6. Not expose animals to spray from hoses and toxic cleaning agents
  7. Prompt and necessary veterinary care, including antibiotics, vaccines, fluid therapy, pain management and cage rest
  8. Specialized care for vulnerable animals, such as nursing females, infant animals, sick and injured animals, scared and reactive animals, older animals, and animals requiring therapeutic exercise
  9. Isolation of sick and diseased animals away from healthy ones
  10. Age appropriate vaccines that cover specific diseases upon intake to shelter
  11. Sick or diseased and injured animals must see a licensed veterinarian immediately and licensed veterinarian must document the animals’ condition, health and any health concerns

Thus, these provisions will make shelter animals healthier and more adoptable.

S3019 Requires Humane Euthanasia Techniques

The bill requires shelters do the following among other things when euthanizing animals:

  1. Only use licensed veterinarians or veterinarian technicians who are certified by the New Jersey Department of Health in humane euthanasia
  2. Use a properly ventilated and disinfected room
  3. No animal can see other animals, whether dead or alive, when sedated and euthanized
  4. Must lower animal after he or she is given the euthanasia drug onto a flat surface where the animal can lie or be held
  5. Shelter personnel must be with animal at all times during euthanasia

Shelters must verify an animal’s death by confirming no heartbeat, no respiration, pale bluish gums and tongue and no eye response to stimuli

Furthermore, S3019 allows shelters to immediately euthanize hopelessly suffering animals when a licensed veterinarian documents this diagnosis. Specifically, the veterinarian must document “the physical condition of the animal indicates that the animal cannot continue to live without severe, unremitting pain even with prompt, necessary, and comprehensive veterinary care, or the animal has an illness that cannot be remediated with prompt, necessary, and comprehensive veterinary care and will cause the animal continuing, unremitting pain.”

Animal Shelters Must Share Animal Intake and Outcome Statistics

Currently, New Jersey Animal Shelters voluntarily submit animal intake and outcome statistics annually to the New Jersey Department of Health. These statistics detail how animals arrived at the shelter (i.e. stray, owner surrender, confiscated by authorities, etc.) and how they left the shelter (returned to owner, adopted, euthanized, rescued, etc.). In addition, shelters report the population of dogs and cats and the facility’s capacity at the beginning and end of the year as well as the municipalities the shelter provides animal control and shelter services to. Based on my review of underlying records of several New Jersey animal shelters, these summary statistics are sometimes inaccurate.

S3019 requires shelters to report most of these statistics each year to the New Jersey Department of Health. This mandate would make these reports subject to inspection and could result in more accurate statistics. In addition, the bill requires the New Jersey Department of Health to publish these statistics, in total and broken out by shelter, on its web site. Furthermore, the New Jersey Department of Health must post other information it gathers under this bill on its web site.

The bill should provide some additional data to improve transparency. Specifically, it should require the additional data shelters currently voluntarily report, such as the population of dogs and cats and the facility’s capacity at the beginning and end of the year as well as the municipalities the facility provides animal control and shelter services to. Additionally, in order to provide more transparency on how shelters handle local animals, the bill should require shelters to report the following:

  1. Number of animals broken out by species impounded from New York and Pennsylvania during the year
  2. Number of animals broken out by species impounded from other states during the year
  3. Number of New Jersey animals broken out by species euthanized during the year

S3019 also should add the required data in the Shelter Animal Count project. The Shelter Animal Count project is led by several major national animal welfare organizations, such as Maddie’s Fund, HSUS, ASPCA and Best Friends, as well as a number of other animal welfare organizations. Shelters voluntarily provide this data and the goal is to use these statistics to analyze national and regional animal sheltering trends. S3019 should add the following data reporting requirements from the Shelter Animal Count project:

  1. Break out data to show dogs and cats 5 months and younger and over 5 months of age
  2. Number of cats placed into barn cat and warehouse cats homes during the year
  3. Number of cats released through TNR programs if such cats were impounded for reasons other than TNR (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, etc.) during the year
  4. Number of animals broken out by species that died during the year
  5. Number of animals broken out by species that were lost during the year

Mandating the sharing of animal shelter statistics with the public will increase transparency and allow people to pressure animal shelters to save more lives.

New Jersey Department of Health Must Increase Oversight of Animal Shelters

Under the bill, the New Jersey Department of Health must educate shelter directors and certify these individuals are properly trained. The New Jersey Department of Health is required to use Rutgers University to provide this training. The training would cover state shelter and animal cruelty laws as well as shelter operations.

While this sounds good in practice, Senator Greenstein should amend the bill to make clear that this curriculum must emphasize life saving. If the training requires traditional animal sheltering practices, such as killing dogs and cats for silly “behavioral issues” or to reduce disease outbreaks (e.g. killing cats with ringworm), then this feature in the bill will increase rather than reduce shelter killing.

New Jersey animal shelters regularly violate state law due to the lack of regular high quality inspections. Currently, local health departments must inspect an animal shelter each year. Unfortunately, local health departments routinely perform poor quality inspections, and in some cases do not even perform the required inspections. While the New Jersey Department of Health has the right to inspect animal shelters and does an excellent job, it rarely inspects animal shelters. Over the last decade, the number of New Jersey Department of Health inspectors decreased from five to one and the state essentially stopped inspecting animal shelters. Thus, New Jersey desperately needs high quality inspections at its animal shelters.

S3019 requires at least three unannounced inspections each year. Unfortunately, the bill allows the New Jersey Department of Health to delegate these inspections to local health departments if the local health department inspectors complete a New Jersey Department of Health/Rutgers University training. While this training may educate these inspectors, local inspectors will not deal with enough shelters to gain the practical experience they need to conduct high quality inspections. Furthermore, local health departments typically either run a shelter or report to local governments that run or contract with animal shelters. In other words, these inspectors have an inherent conflict of interest that often results in poor quality inspections and shelters routinely violating state law. Thus, Senator Greenstein should amend the bill to require at least a majority, if not all three annual required inspections, be performed by the New Jersey Department of Health.

The bill also increases penalties for noncompliance with state shelter laws. Individuals and organizations that violate the law are subject to a fine of $100-$200 for the first violation, $200-$400 for the second violation, and $300-$800 for any subsequent violations. In addition, shelters having a third violation may have their license to operate suspended or revoked. Also, individuals and organizations conducting inhumane euthanasia face increased fines of $125 ($25 previously) for the first offense and $250 ($50 previously) for the second offense. Thus, shelters and employees would have a much greater incentive to comply with state law.

S3019 also provides funding mechanisms to help shelters comply with its provisions. All collected fines except those for illegal euthanasia would go towards the bill’s training programs and grants to animal control shelters for spay/neuter and other veterinary care. In addition, New Jersey taxpayers will have an option to voluntarily contribute money for these programs on their tax returns.

Animal Lovers Must Call and Write their State Senator and Assemblyman to Support S3019

While I think Senator Greenstein should make some changes to this bill, S3019 still is a game changer in its current form. Clearly, this bill will cause shelters to improve, save more lives and treat animals more humanely. In other words, animal lovers should support this bill wholeheartedly.

Unfortunately, regressive shelters will try and kill this bill behind closed doors. Based on the history of similar legislation in other states, poorly performing shelters will contact elected officials to stop this bill. Many will not do so publicly since their positions are clearly unpopular. For example, many people believe Gloucester County Animal Shelter was behind Senator Sweeney’s recent quick kill bill. Given S3019 would force shelters to do more work and no major New Jersey shelters have publicly supported this bill to the best of my knowledge, many more regressive organizations will oppose this bill.

To make matters worse, some national animal welfare organizations will also likely oppose S3019. While Alley Cat Allies urged New Jersey residents to support S3019, other powerful animal welfare organizations will not do the same. For example, HSUS fought to stop similar bills in other states. In addition, HSUS has not made any public statements on S3019 despite urging New Jersey residents to support other animal bills in the state legislature. Simply put, HSUS should step up and support this bill or at least have the courage to make its position public.

Despite these influential adversaries, we have a secret weapon. The public overwhelmingly supports this bill. For example, 7 out of 10 Americans think shelters should not kill animals and only take the lives of hopelessly suffering animals or those that are too aggressive to place. In an animal friendly state like New Jersey, more people probably oppose shelter killing. Last month, the animal loving public stood up and forced Senator Sweeney to remove language from a bill allowing shelters to kill owner surrenders during the 7 day protection period. In fact, the public outrage was so strong that the change was made just two days after I posted about that bill.

So how can you make sure S3019 becomes state law? Call and/or write your local State Senator and Assemblyman and demand they support S3019, preferably with the changes outlined in this blog. Each municipality’s State Senator and Assemblyman are listed in the link below along with additional links containing their phone numbers.

http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/districts/districtnumbers.asp

Also, you can write your local State Senator and Assemblyman using the link below:

http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/abcroster.asp

If there was ever a time for you to step up for the animals, this is it. Thousands of animals lives will be saved in the future if you make a quick call and/or write a short note to your elected representatives. Be on the right side of history and tell others to do the same.

What Great Animal Shelters Do After the End of the Year

Great organizations do big things and make people aware of it. In the business world, companies sell products and services customers love and advertise these facts. Businesses subsequently invest much of their profits to continuously improve these products and services. On the other hand, governments or not for profits run animals shelters and must rely on taxpayer and donor funding as well as volunteer support to help improve the way they do things.

What are some ways successful animal shelters secure the financial and volunteer support they need? How does this differ from the typical high kill shelter?

Do a Great Job

Animal shelters must save lives and inspire the public. Simply put, a shelter must lead by example to obtain public support. Organizations must enthusiastically implement most, if not all, of the no kill equation programs. You can see clear examples of organizations implementing these programs at animal control shelters in Austin, Texas, Kansas City, Missouri, and Lynchburg, Virginia. Thus, great animal shelters must perform at a high level to garner the public support they need.

Share Successes and Challenges from Prior Year

Elite animal shelters provide transparent statistics and summarize performance over the past year. Intake and disposition statistics, which provide specific details on how major types of animals came into and left the shelter, give the public a clear picture of how the organization is doing. In the business world, companies issue financial statements and supplemental disclosures to entice investors to provide funding. Similarly, detailed statistics and supporting commentary give donors and volunteers a reason to support a shelter.

In the upcoming months, many great shelters will voluntarily disclose their full 2016 intake and disposition statistics and also analyze their performance during the year. In general, you will notice several things:

  1. High and/or sharply increasing live release rates
  2. Continuous desire to improve with supporting data
  3. Inspirational tone

However, several elite shelters already provided some of this information for 2016.

Lynchburg Humane Society posted its key 2016 statistics on its Facebook page just nine days into the new year. The shelter’s post was short and contained the following key facts:

  1. Save rate increased to 96% in 2016 from 94% in 2015
  2. Shelter took in over 600 more pets than it impounded in the prior year
  3. Shelter adopted out nearly 800 more dogs in 2016
  4. Nearly 700 more kids participated in the organization’s programs in 2016
  5. Shelter saved around 600 animals from other counties and 300 more than in 2015
  6. Over 1,700 outdoor cats spayed/neutered
  7. Nearly 6,700 spay/neuter surgeries performed
  8. A link to donate to the organization

Clearly, the shelter communicates it is doing great things and improving. Simply put, the shelter inspires confidence and makes choosing to donate an easy decision.

KC Pet Project wrote an engaging summary of the organization’s 2016 performance on its web site shortly after the start of 2017. Some of the key takeaways are as follows:

  1. KC Pet Project quickly transformed a terrible shelter into the nation’s third largest no kill facility several years ago
  2. The shelter’s live release rate of 95% hit a record high in 2016
  3. The organization adopted out a record number of animals in 2016 (over 6,200 pets)
  4. The shelter impounded 4% more animals in 2016
  5. Dog length of stay decreased by 5 days to 18 days in 2016
  6. Cat length of stay decreased by 7 days to 41 days during the year
  7. Over 3,000 animals adopted out at the organization’s off-site adoption centers
  8. Thousands of pets went to foster homes during the year with over 800 of these animals directly adopted out by the fosters through the shelter’s Adoption Ambassadors program
  9. Nearly 100 feral cats adopted out as barn/warehouse cats
  10. Over 1,500 pets received extraordinary levels of care through a special program
  11. A link to donate to the organization

KC Pet Project clearly made the case it is highly successful and continuously improving. Thus, the shelter inspires animal loving people to donate and volunteer.

Austin Animal Center also shared an excellent summary of its 2016 performance on its web site in early January. The shelter’s communicated the following key messages:

  1. Shelter achieved a record high 96% live release rate (98% for dogs, 95% for cats)
  2. Shelter adopted out nearly 8,000 animals and around 500 more pets than it adopted out in the prior year
  3. Shelter returned nearly 2,800 lost animals to their families and ACOs returned an additional 700 more animals to their homes in the field (i.e. never went to the shelter)
  4. Around 800 volunteers contributed nearly 54,000 hours during the year (equivalent to 26 full time employees)
  5. 900 foster families housed 2,500 animals with fosters adopting out 2/3 of the pets themselves
  6. Fosters contributed nearly 82,000 hours in 2016 which is equivalent to 39 full time employees
  7. Shelter takes in 17,000 animal a year and typically cares for 900 animals at a time
  8. Shelter performs more than 5,000 spay/neuter surgeries a year
  9. Shelter achieved this great success despite severe weather events in the area that increased animal intake
  10. Shelter will participate in a pilot program to humanely mitigate human-wildlife conflicts
  11. Shelter started a program to help prison inmates provide care to dogs
  12. Austin Animal Center will help other shelters develop adult dog foster programs

In addition, Austin Animal Center issued detailed monthly statistical reports throughout the year. These reports provided intake and disposition statistics as well as live release rates by major animal class (i.e. neonatal puppy, neonatal kitten, puppy, kitten, adult dog and adult cat).

Austin Animal Center clearly communicates it performs excellent work, keeps improving, and looks to do even better things. In other words, Austin Animal Center’s message is inspiring and encourages people to support the shelter.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Follow Successful Formula

Hardly any New Jersey animal control shelters voluntarily disclose full statistics on their web sites and social medial pages and summarize their annual performance. In fact, I only recall a couple of shelters occasionally sharing this information. Instead, the state’s largest animal welfare organization, Associated Humane Societies, routinely posts alleged animal cruelty stories and fundraises off them while killing massive numbers of animals in its Newark shelter. As I’ve stated in a previous blog, these money-grubbing tactics make shelter pets seem like “damaged goods” to the average pet owner and reduce life saving. Additionally, these tactics shift the public’s attention from the shelter’s terrible performance to the alleged cruelty of individual people who are not representative of the public at large. Thus, most New Jersey animal shelters must start disclosing more information about themselves and stop shifting the public’s attention from their performance.

Clearly, the New Jersey animal shelter industry has an open niche for progressive organizations to sweep in and replace the many horrible organizations in the state. Now is the time for animal lovers to form a not for profit to do the great work our animals need. A few people formed KC Pet Project to take over the Kansas City animal control shelter. Within a few months, this new organization turned the facility from a high kill to a no kill shelter. If they can do it, so can you. Follow your dreams and use these successful shelters’ operating models as a guide to fix our failing shelters.

Paterson’s Pathetic Pound – Part 2: Illegal Activities

In Part 1, I reported details on Paterson Animal Shelter’s high kill rate. In this blog, I will examine whether the shelter complies with state shelter laws. In addition, I will discuss ways the shelter can turn things around.

Illegal Killing During Seven Day Protection Period

Under state law, shelters cannot kill either owner surrendered or stray animals until seven days pass. The purpose of this law is to provide owners a chance to reclaim their lost pets and prevent shelters from immediately killing animals. In practice, the New Jersey Department of Health allows shelters to euthanize animals during this seven day period if facilities meet both of the following conditions:

  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 rationale in the animal’s medical record

Paterson Animal Shelter illegally killed animals during the seven day protection period on a massive scale. In 2015, the shelter killed 125 cats and dogs, 47 cats and 78 dogs during this seven day protection period. Remarkably, Paterson Animal Shelter killed 71% of the cats and dogs, 98% of the cats and 61% of the dogs it killed in 2015 during this seven day period. Even worse, Paterson Animal Shelter killed 96 out of the 125 (77%) cats and dogs, 41 out of the 47 (87%) cats and 55 out of the 78 dogs (71%) it killed during the seven day protection period on the very first day. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter killed large numbers of animals during the seven day protection period and on the very day many of these animals entered the shelter.

Paterson Animal Shelter killed large percentages of owner surrendered animals during the seven day protection period. Specifically, Paterson Animal Shelter killed 23% of owner surrendered cats and dogs, 12% of owner surrendered cats and 33% of owner surrendered dogs during the seven day protection period.

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Paterson Animal Shelter had none of the legally required documentation that would allow it to euthanize these animals during the seven day protection period. While the shelter wrote things like “sick”, “grave condition”, and “tumor” in the records of some of these animals, the shelter provided no veterinary records documenting these animals were truly hopelessly suffering and that the veterinarian euthanized the animal as required by state law. In a small number of cases, the shelter mentioned some of the animals were taken to its outside veterinarian and euthanized, but this is not sufficient to comply with state law. Therefore, the shelter violated state shelter law even if some of these animals were hopelessly suffering.

The shelter killed many animals during the seven day protection period for convenience. In fact, Paterson Animal Shelter killed 27 of the 78 dogs (35%) during the seven day protection period for behavioral reasons. The shelter also killed 7 of the 47 cats (15%) for behavioral reasons that clearly indicated the animals were not hopelessly suffering.

Dog ID# 47962 was a 4 year old female Cane Corso surrendered by her owner to the Paterson Animal Shelter on December 6, 2015. Based on the shelter’s record keeping methodology described in the second image below, the date in the upper right corner indicates when the dog was killed. Paterson Animal Shelter killed this Cane Corso in the prime of her life after just 2 days and stated she was “very vicious” as the reason. Even if this dog was truly dangerous to people and would not respond to behavioral rehabilitation efforts (impossible to determine after just 2 days), a shelter can never kill a dog for behavioral reasons until seven days go by. Even worse, Paterson Animal Shelter illegally killed this dog after the New Jersey Department of Health sent out a directive on October 20, 2015 clarifying state law requiring shelters to not kill owner surrendered and stray animals during the seven day protection period. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter illegally killed this dog.

47962

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Ghost was a 5 year old pit bull surrendered by his owner to the Paterson Animal Shelter on November 30, 2015. After just one day, Paterson Animal Shelter illegally killed Ghost for being “not friendly.”

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Dog ID# 48012 was a female mixed breed dog surrendered by her owner to the Paterson Animal Shelter on December 29, 2015. Despite state law prohibiting the killing of owner surrendered animals for seven days, Paterson Animal Shelter killed this dog on the day she arrived at the facility for being “not adoptable.”

Dog ID 48012.jpg

Cat ID# 47557 contained 2 white and gray cats that were surrendered by their owner to the Paterson Animal Shelter on July 24, 2015. Despite having an owner, Paterson Animal Shelter deemed both cats “wild” and “not friendly” and killed the two animals on the day they arrived at the facility per the euthanasia log below. Clearly, no one can determine if cats are feral, particularly ones that had an owner, as soon as they arrive at a shelter. However, even if these cats were truly feral, Paterson Animal Shelter cannot kill them until seven days pass. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter illegally killed these two cats.

cat-id-47557

47557-euth-records

Dog ID# 47955 was a 1 year old pit bull surrendered to the Paterson Animal Shelter on December 2, 2015. Paterson Animal Shelter killed this young dog six days later for being “sick”, but did not provide any additional details. The shelter provided no veterinary records to prove this animal was hopelessly suffering for this or any other animal despite my OPRA requests for such information. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter appeared to illegally kill this young dog during the seven day protection period.

Dog ID 47955.jpg

Dog ID # 47630 was a 4 year old pit bull surrendered to the Paterson Animal Shelter on November 17, 2015. On that same day, Paterson Animal Shelter killed this dog for being “sick”, but provided no documentation that the dog was hopelessly suffering. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter appeared to illegally kill this dog during the seven day protection period.

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Cat ID # 48010 contained 5 cats that were surrendered by their owner to the Paterson Animal Shelter on December 29, 2015. The record also stated it had 6 cats, but I assume that was a mistake. The shelter’s euthanasia log shows the shelter killed all 5 cats on the day the animals arrived at the facility. Paterson Animal Shelter simply wrote “old” and “sick”, but provided no veterinary documents to prove the animals were hopelessly suffering and euthanized by a veterinarian. Most importantly, it is next to impossible that all 5 cats were hopelessly suffering. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter clearly violated the seven day protection period.

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

Paterson 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. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter’s euthanasia records do not indicate whether animals are in fact humanely euthanized in accordance with state law.

Paterson Animal Shelter chooses to sedate rather than comfort animals prior to euthanasia. Specifically, the shelter injected ketamine or xylazine 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.

Paterson 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 a good number of these animals were not vicious or incapable of being comforted.

To make matters worse, Paterson Animal Shelter’s use of pure ketamine as a pre-euthanasia 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

Paterson Animal Shelter’s use of another pre-euthanasia sedative, pure xylazine, is not humane and also puts shelter staff at risk. The Humane Society of the United States Euthanasia Reference Manual recommends shelters not use xylazine alone as it may cause vomiting, the animal to act violently to sudden noises and movements, the animal to bite, and makes it more difficult to inject the euthanasia drug.

Despite these advantages, xylazine is not recommended for use as a pre-euthanasia drug by itself because: a) it commonly causes vomiting, particularly in cats and in any animal that has recently eaten; b) though sedated, the animal remains conscious, and may react violently to sudden noises and movements; c) it may dangerously reduce the animal’s natural bite inhibition, making it potentially even more dangerous to handle; and d) it lowers the animal’s blood pressure to the point that it can be difficult to inject the sodium pentobarbital for euthanasia. For these reasons, xylazine is recommended for use only when combined with another drug (like ketamine to create PreMix, above), that tempers these negative effects.

Euthanasia and Intake and Disposition Records Do Not Comply With State Law

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.

Establish and maintain, in accordance with N.J.A.C. 8:23A-1.13, euthanasia records that contain the body weight and dosage of all euthanasia, immobilizing, and tranquilizing agents administered to each animal.

Many of Paterson Animal Shelter’s euthanasia logs failed to document the weight of the animals killed/euthanized. Additionally, many of the weights listed had suspiciously round numbers like 20 pounds, 25 pounds, 70 pounds, etc. that possibly point to shelter staff estimating weights. If animals received too small of a dose of euthanasia drugs due to not being weighed, it is possible some animals were dumped or put into an incinerator still alive.

paterson-animal-shelter-march-2015-euthanasia-log

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N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13(a) requires shelters keep intake and disposition records containing the following information for each animal the facility impounds:

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.

Most of Paterson Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records did not include the animal’s age. Additionally, most of the shelter’s cat intake and disposition records also did not list the animal’s breed. Finally, many of the shelter’s records contained multiple animals on the same record under the same ID number. Therefore, Paterson Animal Shelter did not retain all the required information for each impounded animal as the New Jersey Department of Health explained in its August 26, 2009 inspection report on Associated Humane Societies-Newark.

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Shelter Lacks Any Records Proving it Provides Veterinary Care and Has a Disease Control Program

Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.9(d), animal shelters must provide “at least prompt basic veterinary care” to “sick, diseased, injured or lame animals.” In practice, New Jersey Department of Health inspectors require shelters to retain veterinary records to prove the shelter complies with this law.

Paterson Animal Shelter did not maintain veterinary records during 2015. Despite my repeated OPRA requests, the shelter stated it had no veterinary records at the shelter or with its outside veterinarian.

Furthermore, Paterson Animal Shelter’s veterinarian invoices listed no explanation for the services performed. Specifically, Blue Cross Dog and Cat Hospital charged the City of Paterson $2,000 a month for unknown services. Based on both the shelter and veterinarian providing me no medical records, I have to assume the City of Paterson pays this veterinarian to act as the supervising veterinarian, to kill animals, and do little else.

As a result of Paterson Animal Shelter’s lack of any veterinary records, the shelter appears to provide little to no veterinary care to its animals other than killing.

Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.9(a), shelters “shall establish and maintain a program of disease control and adequate health care (program) under the supervision and assistance of a doctor of veterinary medicine.” Furthermore, “the program shall address the physical and psychological well-being of animals at the facility, including stress-induced behaviors, such as repetitious behavior or vocalizations, from auditory, visual, and olfactory stimuli.” Finally, the supervising veterinarian must sign a form certifying such a program is in place. Thus, animal shelters must develop a program to address physical and mental disease at their facilities.

Paterson Animal Shelter has no written policies and procedures. Specifically, the City of Paterson’s response to my request for such policies and procedures stated the shelter follows the state’s shelter laws. In other words, the shelter has no written disease control program let alone other policies, such as intake, adoption, and rescue. Frankly, it is stunning that the animal shelter in the state’s third largest city has no documented policies.

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Shelter May Violate Operating Hours Law

Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.10(b), an animal control shelter must have public access hours to allow people to reclaim their lost pets. The law states “the hours for public access shall be at least two hours each business day Monday through through Friday and two hours Saturday or Sunday, excluding legal holidays.”

Paterson Animal Shelter’s compliance with the law is questionable. On weekends, the shelter is only open by appointment only from 9 am to 3 pm. Based on my interpretation of the law, being open by appointment only on weekends does not meet the public access requirement. Regardless, any shelter requiring people make an appointment to visit the facility on weekends is not serious about saving lives. Similarly, the shelter’s very limited weekday hours, which are limited to two hours in the morning and one hour in the afternoon, make it extremely difficult for working people to reclaim, rescue or adopt an animal.

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Paterson Division of Health Fails to Perform Proper Annual Shelter Inspections

Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.2(b), the local health authority must inspect an animal shelter each year and issue a certificate indicating the shelter complies with state shelter laws. After requesting the Paterson Division of Health’s 2014, 2015 and 2016 Paterson Animal Shelter inspection reports, the City of Paterson could only provide a June 15, 2015 inspection report. Subsequent to my request, the Paterson Division of Health conducted its 2016 inspection on November 29, but this inspection occurred five and half months after the required deadline for the annual inspection (i.e. 2016 inspection occurred seventeen and half months after the 2015 inspection). Presumably, the Paterson Division of Health did not inspect the Paterson Animal Shelter in 2014 and the shelter therefore should not have had a license to operate during 2014 and for five and half months in both 2015 and 2016.

The Paterson Division of Health’s 2015 and 2016 inspection reports provide no confidence that the shelter complies with state shelter laws. The 2015 inspection, which took just an hour and half, missed all the shelter’s illegal killing of animals during the seven day protection period, the lack of a documented disease control program and veterinary records, missing required information in the intake and disposition and euthanasia records, and possible violations of the public operating hours requirement on weekends. In fact, the inspection report’s only comment stated “No Chapter 23A violations observed at the time of this inspection.” Similarly, the 2016 inspection report also only wrote essentially the same comment. Thus, the Paterson Division of Health failed to do even the most basic inspection.

Local health departments typically fail to properly inspect animal shelters. Under New Jersey animal shelter law, local health departments must inspect animal shelters each year. In reality these entities are ill-equipped to inspect animal shelters. Local health departments are used to inspecting places, such as restaurants, which are far different than animal shelters. Furthermore, the same health department that inspects Paterson Animal Shelter is under the same municipal government as the animal shelter. Clearly, this is a conflict of interest and recent experience in the state shows it plays out in poor quality inspections.

Passaic County SPCA Fails to Crack Down on Illegal Killing

The Passaic County SPCA has jurisdiction over the shelter and can enforce animal cruelty laws. For example, the Passaic County SPCA could potentially file animal cruelty charges related to the shelter illegally killing certain animals during the seven day protection period. Stuart Goldman, who is the former President and Chief Humane Law Enforcement Officer for the Monmouth County SPCA, recently brought such a case alleging this against the Gloucester County Animal Shelter.

The Passaic County SPCA has an inherent conflict of interest in enforcing animal cruelty laws against the Paterson Animal Shelter. The Paterson Animal Shelter Chief Animal Control Officer, John Decando, also is a law enforcement officer with the Passaic County SPCA. Thus, the Passaic County SPCA’s lack of action is not surprising.

Shelter Budget Reflects Misguided Priorities

Paterson spends almost its entire shelter budget on employee salaries. The shelter’s 2015 budget reveals the Paterson Animal Shelter allocated $270,234 for its ACO salaries and $25,000 for a part-time veterinarian. Shockingly, 93% of the shelter’s budget went to pay the shelter’s ACOs and its shelter veterinarian (who provided no details on the services he performed in 2015). Even worse, virtually none of the remaining $23,900 in the shelter’s budget seems to go to saving lives. For example, $5,200 goes to janitor services and another $7,000 is allocated to a “clothing allowance.” One has to wonder why ACOs need $7,000 to buy clothes? Thus, the Paterson Animal Shelter appears to allocate virtually no money to saving the animals the public expects it to save.

Paterson Animal Shelter has enough funds to save lives. While the Paterson Animal Shelter’s budget is not huge, it still received $327 per dog and cat impounded during 2015 ($252 per dog and cat using the facility’s 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report animal intake figures). As a comparison, Michigan’s Chippewa County Animal Shelter, which also serves an impoverished area, received $242 per dog and cat and saved 98% of the 402 dogs and 488 cats it took in during 2015. In contrast to Paterson Animal Shelter, Chippewa County Animal Shelter relies heavily on volunteer and foster programs to save lives.

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Shelter Must Comply with State Law

The Paterson Animal Shelter has some positive things going for it. Many times the shelter waived fees for people surrendering as well as reclaiming animals due to hardships. Additionally, the shelter has low owner reclaims fees that help increase the chance animals are returned to owners. Finally, the shelter worked very closely with Second Chance Pet Adoption League and Start II rescue to save many animals.

That being said, Paterson Animal Shelter has significant problems that it must immediately address to comply with state law. Paterson Animal Shelter must cease killing animals, whether stray or owner surrenders, during the seven day protection period unless a veterinarian documents why the animals are hopelessly suffering and that veterinarian euthanizes the animal. The shelter and its veterinarian must create a written disease control program addressing both the physical and mental needs of its animals. Furthermore, the shelter must provide veterinary care to animals at the shelter and retain all records to document it is doing so. Also, the shelter must develop specific euthanasia protocols, which must include weighing animals and using recommended euthanasia procedures in the Humane Society of United State Euthanasia Reference Manual. Finally, Paterson Animal Shelter must include all required animal information, such as age and breed, in its intake and disposition records and remain open for at least two hours on weekends. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter must do many things to comply with the bare minimum standards in state shelter laws.

Chief Animal Control Officer Must Turn Shelter Around or Resign

Chief ACO, John DeCando, has been the face of the Paterson Animal Shelter for more than four decades. Mr. DeCando has led the animal shelter since 1975 and often is covered in the media. Unfortunately, Mr. DeCando only appears to contact the media to bring the spotlight on himself. For example, he frequently gives interviews about animal cruelty cases portraying himself as a hero, but to my knowledge never uses the media to save animals at his shelter.

John DeCando came under fire in recent years for collecting huge sums of money. From 2006 to 2010, Mr. DeCando claimed he was on call after hours and entitled to double time pay totaling $144,000 despite not doing any actual work approximately 80% of the time. Even worse, John DeCando’s own union president stated Mr. DeCando was not entitled to this pay. In fact, John DeCando’s subordinates only logged less than a month of this overtime during this five year period suggesting Mr. DeCando kept this sweet money for almost nothing deal entirely for himself. One has to wonder how many dogs, cats and wild animals could have received veterinary care with John DeCando’s $144,000 windfall?

While John DeCando’s failures at the Paterson Animal Shelter are serious, I do think Paterson should give him the opportunity to turn the shelter around. Mr. DeCando is charismatic and has the ability to run the shelter at a high level if he chooses to do so. He also has done some good things, such as waiving fees in hardship cases. Also, city officials do not seem to help him much with the shelter. As such, Paterson’s elected officials should give John DeCando a reasonable period of time to bring the shelter into compliance with state law and enact progressive lifesaving policies to increase the shelter’s dog live release rate to at least 95% and its cat live release rate to 92% or higher.

Paterson Animal Shelter Must Implement Lifesaving Policies

Paterson Animal Shelter should create a pet surrender prevention program to reduce intake at this space constrained facility. Nearly 40% of the dogs and more than 50% of the cats arriving at Paterson Animal Shelter were surrendered by their owners. If the shelter is coercing owners, who love their animals, to surrender their pets, then the shelter needs to cease doing so. Ideally, Paterson Animal Shelter would reach out to a group like Downtown Dog Rescue, which runs a highly successful pet surrender prevention program on behalf of the South Los Angeles City Shelter and three other municipal shelters, to learn how it can recruit a private organization to volunteer at the Paterson Animal Shelter to help families keep their pets. In 2015, Downtown Dog Rescue kept 1,172 pets, including 1,063 dogs and 108 cats, out of the South Los Angeles Shelter at an average cost per animal ranging from $50 to $150. Downtown Dog Rescue helps struggling pet owners pay fees, fines, and pet care costs and fix broken fences and dog houses. Paterson Animal Shelter can also reach out to national organizations, such as the ASPCA, Best Friends and HSUS, to seek guidance on recruiting such an organization as well as obtaining any additional funding that may entice a private group to run a shelter intervention program.

Paterson Animal Shelter can also move towards managed intake for owner surrenders. Under a managed intake program, a shelter uses various techniques to slow down and reduce intake. For example, a shelter will typically require owners to wait for a short period of time, such as a week, or make an appointment to surrender an animal. At the same time, the shelter will offer advice and provide materials to solve various pet problems. Often times, pet owners reevaluate their decision and keep the animal during the short wait period. However, the shelter must always immediately take in an animal the pet owner refuses to keep during this short period or if the pet is in a dangerous situation. As a result of this program, Lynchburg Humane Society found 60% of people wanting to surrender their pets ended up keeping their animal or rehomed the animal themselves with no increase in pet abandonment. Similarly, Liberty Humane Society in Jersey City achieved a live release rate of around 90% after instituting an appointment program.

The City of Paterson must ensure all animals are vaccinated upon arriving at the shelter to reduce the risk of disease. In the case of owner surrenders, the shelter should vaccinate the animals prior to the waiting period discussed above to ensure the animal has time to build immunity. In the end, this small investment will save the shelter money, particularly since it will need to hold animals longer to comply with state law.

The City of Paterson must shift money from animal control to lifesaving and heavily rely on volunteers. Given virtually all of the shelter’s budget is paid to ACOs, the shelter should reallocate a substantial portion of these funds to actually care for animals. Additionally, the shelter should recruit a “Friends” group to help raise funds for the shelter. To assist the effort, the City of Paterson should create a clear plan to reach a 90% plus live release rate and attain no kill status. Furthermore, the shelter should actively recruit volunteers to help in all aspects of caring for animals and getting those pets quickly into good homes. Simply having a single rescue make pleas to pull dogs from an unnamed shelter is not enough.

The shelter must stay open for many more hours to allow people to save animals. Specifically, the shelter must stay open seven days a week for at least six hours each day and include weekday evening hours. Simply put, people cannot reclaim, rescue or adopt dogs and cats if the shelter is often closed.

Paterson Animal Shelter must create a high volume adoption program. Currently, people can adopt unaltered and unvaccinated animals for $28, but the shelter makes no effort to market animals. Unsurprisingly, Paterson Animal Shelter only adopted out 3 cats and 15 dogs in 2015. Obviously, the shelter must vaccinate and alter all animals it adopts out. Furthermore, it should do so immediately for owner surrenders and right after the hold period for strays. The shelter can use volunteers to take attractive photos and videos, write engaging profiles, and market the animals on social media and adoption web sites. Additionally, John DeCando, who is very savvy with the media, should use his connections to frequently promote adoption, particularly when the facility is at near capacity.

Paterson Animal Shelter and nearby facilities should create a coalition to rescue dogs and cats. Based on my recent analyses on New Jersey animal shelter performance for dogs and cats, Paterson Animal Shelter would still need to send a substantial number of animals to rescues or other shelters even if it adopts out animals at a good rate. Specifically, Paterson Animal Shelter should have sent 232 dogs and 156 cats to rescues and/or other facilities in 2015. While Paterson Animal Shelter exceeded those goals, placing so many animals with rescues puts an unfair burden on these cash-strapped groups and also prevents rescues from saving animals from other shelters. As a result, other nearby shelters should step up and take animals from Paterson Animal Shelter after the facility runs out of space.

Paterson Animal Shelter can team up with a number of nearby shelters to save all of the facility’s healthy and treatable animals. If other nearby shelters perform as they should and quickly move animals out of their facilities, they can easily save Paterson Animal Shelter’s animals. For example, the nearby Wayne Animal Shelter, Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge and Pequannock Animal Shelter could save all healthy and treatable dogs that the Paterson Animal Shelter lacks the space to adopt out. Similarly, both Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge or Wayne Animal Shelter could single-handedly rescue all of the cats that Paterson Animal Shelter lacks the space to adopt out. Furthermore, many other nearby shelters could also help as well. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter and nearby animal shelters can easily end the killing in the area.

Recently, Paterson Mayor, Joey Torres, expressed interest in moving the shelter to a more accessible location, expanding it, and adopting out animals. While I have doubts as to whether Paterson has the funding to build a proper animal shelter, these remarks do indicate the city’s elected officials could be receptive to turning this shelter around.

The City of Paterson must change course at its shelter. In an impoverished city with widespread corruption at the highest levels of government, Paterson desperately needs something to inspire residents. Turning around the Paterson Animal Shelter with local residents playing a key role fits the bill. Allowing youth, working families and senior citizens the opportunity to build something wonderful helps people as much as the animals they are caring for. If Paterson’s elected officials do turn this shelter around, they will not only help their animals and voters, but also their own political careers. Will they do the right thing?