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Bergen County Animal Shelter’s No Kill Con Job (Part 1 of 3)

In 2015, Bergen County Executive, James Tedesco, and the Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders announced the approval of a resolution recognizing Bergen County Animal Shelter as a “no kill shelter by adopting the Asilomar Accords.” Mr. Tedesco went on to state the following:

As an animal lover, I believe formalizing this designation gives the residents of our county a better understanding of the shelter’s mission and helps us highlight what a great organization this is. Bergen County’s Animal Shelter is not only one of the best public animal shelters in the state, but arguably one of the best in the Northeast.

Furthermore, Bergen County Freeholder, Dr. Joan Voss, gave Bergen County Animal Shelter Director, Deborah Yankow, a “Women of Distinction” award in 2016 for Ms. Yankow’s achievements in “The field of Animal Compassion.”

Is Bergen County Animal Shelter a no kill shelter? Is Bergen County Animal Shelter one of the best public animal shelters in New Jersey and arguably in the Northeast? Should Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Director receive an award for animal compassion?

Asilomar Accords Do Not Equal a No Kill Shelter

The Asilomar Accords were a deeply flawed agreement. In 2004, the regressive shelter establishment, Maddie’s Fund and certain limited admission shelters created the Asilomar Accords to allegedly save more animals in shelters. In general, the Asilomar Accords did not require shelters to adopt any lifesaving programs. However, the Asilomar Accords required members to not criticize each other, even if such criticism was warranted. Additionally, the Asilomar Accords encouraged members to not use terms such as “no kill’ as it was “divisive.”

The Asilomar Accords require members to compile specific animal shelter statistics and report this data to the public each year. Animal shelters must report the numbers of impounded animals each year and the specific outcomes in an “Animal Statistics Table.” Euthanized animals are broken down into “healthy”, “treatable” and “unhealthy-untreatable” categories. Animals are considered “treatable” if a “reasonable and caring pet owner/guardian in the community would provide the treatment necessary to make the animal healthy” or “maintain a satisfactory quality of life.” However, animals that “pose a significant risk to human health or safety or to the health or safety of other animals” are not “treatable” per the Asilomar Accords. Shelters calculate an Asilomar Accords Live Release Rate excluding animals euthanized by request of their owners and classified as “untreatable” and dogs and cats who died or went missing. Shelters must share these statistics with the public by posting on their web site, in newsletters, etc.

The Asilomar Accords statistics often have been exploited by regressive shelters. For example, many poorly run facilities classify large numbers of animals as “untreatable” and then claim they are no kill (i.e. “we don’t euthanize healthy and treatable animals”).

Bergen County Animal Shelter fails to comply with the Asilomar Accords despite the county’s elected leaders claims. Bergen County Animal Shelter does not publicly share its “Animal Statistics Table” on its web site as required by the Asilomar Accords. In addition, Bergen County Animal Shelter is not listed as a participating organization on the Shelter Animals Count web site (current version of the Asilomar Accords data reporting standards). Even worse, Bergen County Animal Shelter fails to explain in its Standard Operating Procedures manual how its definition of “unadoptable” (i.e.”unhealthy-untreatable” per the Asilomar Accords) is consistent with Asilomar Accords requirement that the shelter provide care that a “reasonable and caring pet owner/guardian in the community” would give to the animal. The shelter simply uses a general definition of “unadoptable” for “animals with serious unmanageable health problems, or an aggressive bite history toward humans or other animals, or who exhibit unmanageable antisocial behavioral characteristics.” To fully comply with the Asilomar Accords, Bergen County Animal Shelter needs to state what specific health problems are “unmanageable” and why “a reasonable and caring pet owner/guardian” in Bergen County would not provide that care. Given Bergen County is in the top 1% of the wealthiest counties in the country, most residents would provide lots of care to their pets before deciding to euthanize a beloved family member. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter fails to comply with the weak and traditional shelter friendly Asilomar Accords.

Statistics Reveal Bergen County Animal Shelter is a High Kill Shelter

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s 2015 “Shelter Pound Annual Report” proves the shelter is far from a “no kill” facility. In 2015, 24% of dogs and 28% of cats were killed, died or went missing. Specifically, Bergen County Animal Shelter reported killing 166 dogs and 561 cats. On average, Bergen County Animal Shelter kills 2 dogs and cats each day of the year. The animal welfare community generally requires a shelter to achieve a 90% or greater live release rate to call itself no kill. However, no kill leader, Nathan Winograd, who created the 90% test, recently raised the standard to achieve higher live release rates. Clearly, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s 2015 reported statistics prove Bergen County Animal Shelter is a high kill shelter and not a no kill facility.

Bergen County Animal Shelter 2016 Shelter Pound Annual Report

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s 2015 statistics in its Asolomar Accords format were different from its 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report. While Bergen County Animal Shelter does not publicly report its Asilomar Accords Animal Statistics Table, I obtained each month’s table from 2015 under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”) and tabulated the totals below. Bergen County Animal Shelter reported taking in significantly fewer cats in the Asiolmar Accords format. Similarly, Bergen County Animal Shelter reported fewer cats reclaimed by owners and more cats adopted, killed and died in the Asilomar Accords Animal Statistics Table. The shelter also reported taking in significantly more dogs in the Asilomar Accords Statistics Table. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter disclosed significantly more dogs who were killed in the Asilomar Accords Statistics Table. Additionally, a number of various other outcomes were different. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter reported different statistics in the two reporting formats indicating the numbers in one of the reports were incorrect.

2015 Bergen Asilomar Stats.jpg

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Underlying Records Reveal Much Higher Kill Rates

In order to better understand the Bergen County Animal Shelter’s performance, I obtained the facility’s 2015 intake and disposition records under OPRA. Bergen County Animal Shelter sent me shelter software reports listing each dog and cat the shelter impounded in 2015, its outcome and its intake and outcome dates.

I tabulated all of this data and recalculated Bergen County Animal Shelter’s statistics. While the intake numbers are calculated the same way as the Shelter/Pound Annual Report above (i.e. all animals impounded in 2015), the outcome numbers are calculated slightly differently. In the Shelter/Pound Annual Report, only 2015 outcomes are counted. This could include animals impounded in 2014 who were subsequently adopted or killed in 2015. On the other hand, my data counts the animals who were impounded in 2015 and had outcomes in 2015 and 2016. However, the outcomes should be close as both methods calculate outcomes over a 12 month period and the overwhelming number of ultimate outcomes occur in the year the animals were impounded in.

The table below summarizes Bergen County Animal Shelter’s 2015 statistics using the shelter’s underlying records. The total number of impounded cats is significantly different than the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report.” The “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” had 578 more cats than the underlying records. Apparently, much of the difference is due to Bergen County Animal Shelter reporting more cats that the shelter neutered and released in its “Shelter/Pound Annual Report.” In a recent article, Bergen County Animal Shelter Director, Deborah Yankow, stated the shelter neutered and released 788 cats in 2015, which accounts for much of the difference between the 852 cats reclaimed per the Shelter/Pound Annual Report and the 71 cats reclaimed per the underlying records. However, the underlying records have a “Release” outcome as well and the shelter only recorded only 122 cats in this category. It is unclear to me whether that represents cats who were trapped, neutered and released or cats released to their owners. Thus, it seems Bergen County Animal Shelter overstated the number of cats that were trapped, neutered and released in its 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report or failed to record hundreds of these cats in its records as required by N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13.

The total numbers of impounded dogs and dogs killed are significantly different than the corresponding figures in the Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Specifically, the “Shelter Pound Annual Report” reported 104 fewer impounded dogs during 2015. Apparently, this is primarily due to Bergen County Animal Shelter excluding 103 dogs classified as owner-requested euthanasia from the Shelter Pound Annual Report’s total dogs taken in and killed figures. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Shelter Pound/Annual Report clearly is incorrect.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records revealed it killed many more cats and dogs than it reported in its 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Specifically, Bergen County Animal Shelter reported killing 58 more cats and 97 more dogs in its underlying records than its Shelter/Pound Annual Report.

Additionally, Bergen County Animal Shelter reported sending 52 fewer cats and 54 fewer dogs to rescues in its intake and disposition records compared to its Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Most of the other outcome categories in the underlying records and the Shelter/Pound Annual Report were reasonably close.

Overall, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records revealed a far higher death rate than that reported in its 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report. 42% of cats were killed, died or went missing per the facility’s underlying records compared to just 28% of cats per data from Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Similarly, 33% of dogs were killed, died or went missing per the facility’s underlying records compared to just 24% of dogs per data from Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s underlying records reveal far more animals are losing their lives at this self-described “no kill shelter.”

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s death rate for animals actually requiring sheltering is even higher. Since Bergen County Animal Shelter serves a very wealthy county, most stray dogs have licenses and/or microchips allowing the shelter to quickly return these dogs to their owners. While the cat owner reclaim rate is low, it is still significantly higher than the nationwide cat owner reclaim rate. If we calculate the death rate based off animals not reclaimed by owners, which are the ones the shelter has to work to save, 44% of cats and 49% of dogs lost their lives. Thus, nearly half of all dogs and cats requiring any amount of real work lose their lives at this so-called “no kill shelter.”

Bergen County Animal Shelter also reported large owner-requested euthanasia figures. Specifically, the shelter’s records indicated owner-requested euthanasia represented 3% and 12% of all impounded cats and dogs. If we just count animals surrendered by their owners, Bergen County Animal Shelter classified 15% of cat and 32% of dog owner surrenders as owner requested euthanasia. While the cat numbers seem a bit high, the dog numbers are off the charts. The shelter asserts that nearly 40% of the dogs killed and around 1 of 3 dogs surrendered by their owners are owner requested euthanasia. Given Bergen County Animal Shelter largely serves a wealthy area, I find the number of dogs requested by their owners to be euthanized suspicious. I’m also concerned since some shelters coerce people to sign owner-requested euthanasia forms. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s large owner-requested euthanasia figures raise major red flags.

Even if we exclude owner-requested euthanasia, 40% and 23% of all cats and dogs lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. If we exclude owner-requested euthanasia from the non-reclaimed animal death rate, 41% and 37% of all non-reclaimed cats and dogs lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter is still a high kill shelter even if we exclude owner-requested euthanasia.

Bergen 2015 Intake and Disposition Records Summary (3)

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s length of stay data reveals much about the shelter’s operation. On average, the shelter kills cats and dogs after 20 days and 16 days. However, these figures, particularly for dogs, are heavily influenced by the large number of owner surrendered animals that the shelter kills immediately. As expected, owner reclaimed animals go home quickly (10 days for cats and 3 days for dogs). On the other hand, the shelter takes way too long to adopt out cats (66 days) and dogs (47 days) particularly given the types of animals it adopts out (i.e. few challenging animals make it to the adoption floor due to the high kill rate).Bergen County Animal Shelter LOS All Dogs and Cats

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s length of stay data indicates the shelter kills with empty kennels. Based on standard animal shelter population equations, we can estimate the average number of animals at the shelter during the year as follows:

Daily capacity or population = Daily animal intake x average length of stay

Therefore, based on the shelter’s reported animal intake and average length of stay, we can estimate the facility housed 219 cats and 56 dogs on average during 2015. Based on these estimates and the shelter’s capacity disclosed in its 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report, Bergen County Animal Shelter only used roughly 2/3 of its available animal holding space on average during 2015. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter clearly kills dogs and cats when the shelter has room to house those animals.

Bergen County Animal Shelter 2015 Capacity Used

Adult Dogs and Cats Killed at an Alarming Rate

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s statistics are far worse when we focus on animals the shelter labels as “adult.” Generally speaking, the shelter classified cats and dogs over 1 year old as “adult”, but there were a few classification errors (i.e. older dogs classified as “adult”). However, the number of these animals were not large enough to significantly impact the outcomes below. 54% of adult cats and 36% of adult dogs were killed or died. Similarly, 59% of non-reclaimed adult cats and 54% of non-reclaimed adult dogs were killed or died per the facility’s underlying records. In other words, more than half of adult cats and dogs requiring actual sheltering lost their lives at this so-called “no kill shelter.”

Even if we exclude owner-requested euthanasia, 51% and 25% of all adult cats and dogs lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. If we exclude owner-requested euthanasia from the non-reclaimed animal death rate, 55% and 41% of all non-reclaimed adult cats and adult dogs lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s underlying records reveal this self-proclaimed “no kill shelter” kills tremendous numbers of adult cats and dogs.

Bergen Adult Animals 2015

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adult animal length of stay data revealed the shelter killed adult dogs and cats quickly and took too long to adopt out these animals. Specifically, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed adult cats and dogs after just 18 days and 15 days, respectively. In other words, the shelter generally seemed to make little effort to rehabilitate animals. Furthermore, the shelter took 74 days and 50 days on average to adopt out each adult cat and dog. These figures are even worse considering these are likely very adoptable animals since the shelter kills virtually all animals with any significant issues.

Bergen Adult Animals LOS

Pit Bulls Killed in Droves

Bergen County Animal Shelter kills pit bull like dogs at an astounding rate. 50% of all pit bull like dogs lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. Even worse, 67% of non-reclaimed pit bull like dogs were killed or died at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. If we exclude owner-requested euthanasia, Bergen County Animal Shelter still killed 47% of its pit bulls and 64% of its pit bulls not reclaimed by owners. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter kills around half of all its pit bull like dogs and around two thirds of those pit bull like dogs requiring actual sheltering.

Bergen County Animal Shelter kills most of its adult pit bull like dogs. 61% of adult pit bull like dogs lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. In fact, 83% of non-reclaimed adult pit bull like dogs were killed or died at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. Even if we exclude owner-requested euthanasia, the shelter killed 58% of its adult pit bulls and 81% of its adult pit bulls not reclaimed by owners. As a result, adult pit bull like dogs virtually have no chance of making it out alive of the so-called “no kill” Bergen County Animal Shelter.

Bergen Pit Bull Data

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s poor performance is exemplified by its pit bull length of stay data. While Bergen County Animal Shelter’s average length of stay of 36 days for all pit bulls is reasonable, the actual details uncover the true story. The shelter’s average length of stay is relatively low due to owners reclaiming and Bergen County Animal Shelter killing many pit bulls. Of course, we want owners to reclaim their lost pets. However, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s respectable number of reclaimed pit bulls is due mostly to the relatively wealthy people in its service area obtaining licenses and microchips (i.e. making it easy for the shelter to find the owner). On the other hand, Bergen County Animal Shelter kills its pit bulls relatively quickly (26 days on average). These two factors mask the horrendously long time it takes to adopt out pit bulls (73 days for all pit bulls, 115 days for adult pit bulls). As a comparison, data from recent years showed no kill animal control shelters adopting out pit bull like dogs within around 20-40 days. Given the pit bulls Bergen County Animal Shelter adopts out are likely easier to place (i.e. Bergen County Animal Shelter quickly kills many of the types of pit bulls these other shelters spend time to rehabilitate), this performance is even more disappointing. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter quickly kills its pit bulls and takes way too long to adopt out the few pit bulls it allows to live.

Bergen Pit Bulls LOS

Small Dogs Are Not Safe at Bergen County Animal Shelter

At most New Jersey animal shelters, small dogs fly out the door to rescues and adopters. For example, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter, which has little space and serves a poor area, saved 97% of 116 small dogs it took in during 2014 and the first half of 2015 per records I reviewed last year. Even the regressive Elizabeth Animal Shelter saved 95% of the 144 small dogs it impounded in 2015. Thus, “no kill” shelters should save 95% or more of the small dogs they take in.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s killing even extends to large numbers of small dogs. 26% of all small dogs lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. Even worse, 39% of non-reclaimed small dogs were killed or died at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. Additionally, the shelter labeled an extraordinary large number of these dogs as “owner-requested euthanasia”, which raises questions about whether these animals were truly hopelessly suffering. If we exclude owner-requested euthanasia, Bergen County Animal Shelter still killed 14% of its small dogs and 24% of its small dogs not reclaimed by owners. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter fails to achieve “no kill” status even for small dogs.

Bergen Small Dog Data.jpg

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s length of stay data shows how poorly the facility handles small dogs. Overall, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed small dogs after just 10 days on average. On the other hand, Bergen County Animal Shelter took an astonishingly long 42 days on average to adopt out its small dogs. As a comparison, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter took 14 days on average to adopt out its small dogs based on data from 2014 and the first half of 2015. Similarly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter took 5 days on average to safely get non-reclaimed small dogs out of the shelter in 2015. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter quickly killed small dogs and took way too long to adopt out these highly desirable animals.

Bergen Small Dogs LOS

Wildlife Slaughtered

Bergen County Animal Shelter killed wildlife at an alarming rate. Based on over 450 records of wild animals I reviewed, 46% of all wild animals impounded during 2015 lost their lives. In fact, this figure would be even higher if I counted the many animals who died on their way to Bergen County Animal Shelter after being picked up by the shelter’s animal control officers.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s wildlife kill rate was much higher for some species. Specifically, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed 65%, 62% and 69% of all the opossums, raccoons and skunks it impounded during 2015. While raccoons and skunks are considered “rabies vector species”, it is virtually impossible that most of these animals were exhibiting signs of the disease or bit someone. Furthermore, the shelter killed a similar percentage of opossums, which are not rabies vector species. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter appeared quite content to kill common wildlife species without even sending the animals to a wildlife rehabilitation facility.

Bergen Wildlife 2015

Clearly, Bergen County Animal Shelter is a high kill shelter rather than a “no kill” facility. Despite Bergen County’s highest elected officials boasting, the shelter kills large numbers of all types of animals and the Director does not deserve any award for “animal compassion.”

In Part 2 of this series of blogs, I will examine the reasons why Bergen County Animal Shelter kills large numbers of animals.

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

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

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

Detailed Analysis Conducted 

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

In total, I obtained around 300 animal records and it took me several weeks to review and summarize this information. Many of these records were for wildlife, animals leaving before animal control officers arrived, and animals that were dead by the time the animal control officer got to the location. Overall, I reviewed the intake and disposition records of 89 cats and 93 dogs that AHS-Newark impounded from Irvington in 2015.

I reviewed each record and summarized my findings. My summary included the animal’s ID number, species, breed, origin (stray, owner surrender, confiscated by authorities), intake date, outcome date, length of stay, outcome, reasons for killing, miscellaneous information, and any comments I had.

Underlying Records Reveal Mass Killing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AHS Irvington 2015 LOS Data

AHS Irvington 2015 LOS Data Pits and Small Dogs

Poor Reasons for Killing

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

  1. Feral/Aggressive
  2. Sick
  3. Ringworm

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

cat ID 132712Cat ID 132713

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

Cat id 134247.jpg

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

Cat ID134396

Cat ID 134394.jpg

134495

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

Cat ID 131808.jpg

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

Cat ID 133217.jpg

AHS-Newark used a “throw everything but the kitchen sink” approach to justify the mass killing of dogs. Often times the shelter listed multiple boilerplate reasons, like aggression (including “cage crazy”/”not kenneling well”), dog aggression, sick, etc. The top three reasons AHS used to kill dogs were:

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

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

Dog ID 137543 pt 1.jpg

Dog ID 137543 pt 2

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

Dog ID 134633 pt 1.jpg

Dog ID 134633 pt 2.jpg

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

Dog ID 135253.jpg

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

Dog ID 135258 Pt 1.jpg

Dog ID 135258 Pt 2.jpg

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

Dog ID 131795

Dog ID 131795 (2)

Questionable Statistics

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

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

AHS-Newark Requires New Leadership

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

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

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

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

East Orange Dog Photo

2015 New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Reveal Big Problems Still Exist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 dog death rate

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

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

2015 Dogs Killed died

2015 cats killed died

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

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

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

2015 unaccounted for dogs

2015 unaccounted for cats

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

2015 max pot dogs

2015 max pot cats.jpg

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

Shelters Turn Their Backs on New Jersey’s Animals

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

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

2015 Dogs transported

Return to Owner Rates Better Than Average at Most Shelters

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

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

2015 nonreclaimed dog death rate

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

2015 max pot non rec death rate

Shelters Leave Animal Enclosures Empty While Dogs and Cats Die

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

2015 space usage dogs.jpg

2015 space cusage cats.jpg

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

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

AHS 2011 Insepction Sick Rottie

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

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

The history of AHS’s shelter operation has been dominated by deplorable kennel conditions, inhumane treatment of animals by workers, mismanagement and nonexistent or inadequate medical care. The problems were neither singular nor occasional. The accounts and descriptions provided by members of the public and former and current staff members, including veterinarians, paint a bleak picture of shelter life. The reality for the animals belied AHS’s propaganda that its “sole purpose” has been “the care and welfare of animals” and that it has “a high adoption rate.”

In 2009 and 2011, the New Jersey Department of Health detailed extensive violations of New Jersey animal shelter laws. Animals lived in filthy kennels and were covered in feces. Dogs were housed in kennels with a collapsed roof and workers were throwing damaged roof material directly over these dogs. Additionally outdoor drains were in severe disrepair, no isolation areas for sick large dogs existed, automatic dog feeders were filthy, dogs were exposed to contaminated water and chemicals during the cleaning process, and some animals were not receiving prompt medical care.

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

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

Animals Killed During 7 Day Hold Period

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

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

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

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

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

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

Killed Prior to 7 Day Hold 2009

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

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

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

126803

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

129321

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

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

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

130709

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

126404

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

130241

 

ID 130241 Pt 2

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

129618

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

127278 pt 1

127278 pt 2

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

130535

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

123355

Separate Records Not Kept for All Animals

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

Multiple Animals on Same ID#

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

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

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

124999

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

127408

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

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

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

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

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

125293

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

124421

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

126764

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

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

Cat 130941.jpg

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

Cat ID 131175 rescued during 7 day hold

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

ID 131452 Rescued During 7 Day Hold

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

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

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

6 Puppy with wounded ears

13 Dogs in feces

15 Dogs in dirty kennel

24 Closeup of Mange Dog

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

The following photos were taken during the 2011 inspection:

AHS 2011 Insepction Sick Rottie

AHS 2011 Inspection Cakes on Food 2

AHS 2011 Inspection Dog Near Feces in Drain

AHS 2011 Inspection Dog Under Roof Construction

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

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

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

New Jersey Department of Health Must Perform Routine and Robust Inspections

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

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

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

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

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

Advocacy

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

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

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

Data Reviewed

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

2015 Statistics Show Significant Increase in Lifesaving

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

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

2015 Dog vs 2014 stats

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

2015 cat vs 2014 stats

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

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

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

Dog 2015 vs 2014 reasons

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

Dog Shelter Kill Rate Impact

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

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

2015 Summary Stats (1) (7)

Cat Kill Rate Decreased Due to Shelters Increasing Positive Outcomes

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

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

c

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

Cats 2015 kill rate change

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

Cats shelter 2015 vs 2014

Advocacy Efforts Coincide with Increase in Lifesaving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cute pitbull

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

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

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

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

Breed Specific Legislation is Ineffective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adopters Threatened with Massive Fines

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

Pet Limit Law Leads to Increased Shelter Killing

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

Secretive Dog Control Committee Not Conducive to Running a Successful Shelter

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

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

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

Elizabeth  Must Change its Animal Laws to Become a Humane Community

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Dog Capacity Used

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (25)

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

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

Animals Killed Off the Books

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

Elizabeth Vet Invoice

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

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (23).jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (24)

Highly Questionable Categorization of Animals as Owner Surrenders

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

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

Elizabeth Surrender form.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Groundhoug weight.jpg

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

Shelter Budget Reflects Misguided Priorities

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

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

Videos Reveal Poor Animal Sheltering Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (28)

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

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

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Still Needs Reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NKE

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

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

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

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