The State of the State of New Jersey’s Animal Shelters

New Jersey’s animal shelters are largely failing the animals under their care. While New Jersey’s kill/euthanasia rates decreased modestly in recent years, many animals are still losing their lives in the state’s animal shelters.

High Kill Rates Despite Few Animals Brought into New Jersey’s Animal Shelters

New Jersey animal shelters take in far fewer animals than many shelters across the country. Based on the New Jersey Department of Heath’s 2012 Animal Intake and Disposition report, New Jersey shelters impounded approximately 10 animals per 1000 people. The Humane Society of the United States says the average community in the country takes in 30 animals per 1000 people. Additionally, New Jersey’s intake numbers are certainly lower since the Animal Intake and Disposition Report double counts animals impounded from one New Jersey animal shelter and transferred to another New Jersey animal shelter. For instance, the per capita intake rate of several large northern New Jersey animal control shelters is only 5-8 dogs and cats per 1000 people.

Thanks to New Jersey’s long time low-cost spay-neuter program and relatively cold climate (i.e reduces length of breeding season) New Jersey’s shelters take in few animals. While many spay/neuter advocates point to New Hampshire’s subsidized spay/neuter program as the solution to shelter killing, New Jersey started its program 10 years before New Hampshire. Despite this program’s existence for 30 years, 15% of all dogs and nearly half of all cats are killed in New Jersey’s animal shelters. In reality, the death rate of New Jersey shelter dogs and cats is higher due to:

1) Double counting of some transferred animals from one New Jersey animal shelter to another

2) Large numbers of highly adoptable transported dogs from out-of-state masking the local animal kill rate

3) Number of animals dying in shelters are not counted in above figures

In fact, kill rates at some New Jersey animal shelters are eye-opening. For example, the state’s largest animal shelter, Associated Humane Societies, reported 2,628 cats killed, died, or went missing in their 2012 Shelter/Pound Annual Reports submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health.  To put it another way, 69% of all the cats who had an outcome at Associated Humane Societies 3 animal shelters lost their lives or cannot be accounted for in 2012. At Ron’s Animal Shelter in Salem County, 73% of all dogs and 87% of all cats who had an outcome were killed in 2012. At the Paterson and Trenton Animal Shelters, 38% and 54% of dogs who had outcomes in 2012 were killed, respectively. Thus, many animals simply have little chance after entering many of the state’s animal shelters.

By comparison, over 200 communities across the country are saving 90% or more of the animals impounded into their shelters. For example, cities, such as Reno, Nevada with a per capita intake rate of 38 dogs and cats per 1000 people saved 94% of their animals in 2012.  The Austin, Texas region’s coalition of shelters and rescues, with a human population of 1,024,000 saves approximately 92% of its animals despite taking in roughly three and half times as many animals per capita as New Jersey’s animal shelters. These shelters are implementing widely known and proven policies to achieve this success. Why are so many New Jersey shelters failing to do so?

Shelters With Lots of Funding Not Leading the Way to Success

New Jersey has several well-funded animal welfare groups who are not doing what it takes to end the unnecessary loss of lives in the state. When a shelter receives millions of dollars in donations and animal control contract fees, this group needs to lead. Unfortunately, we see many organizations sticking with backwards policies or simply choosing to stay silent about the poorly performing shelters across the state. In some cases, these well-funded shelters actively fight life saving policies. These animal shelters need to ensure their animals make it out alive and strongly advocate for positive change.

Old School Pounds Still Thrive in New Jersey

In this day and age, folks would be shocked that old-school pounds still exist in New Jersey. In reality, many facilities only keep animals for the mandatory 7 day holding period for strays (and less for owner-surrenders). At the end of the hold period, these animals are usually either killed or if lucky pulled by a rescue. Adoptions are uncommon in these facilities since:

1) They do not post dogs online

2) Facilities often not open due to animal control officer out picking up animals or simply having limited hours

These truly are catch and kill old school pounds.

Shelters Never Giving Dogs a Chance

We noticed a disturbing trend where shelters never give dogs a chance to get adopted. Many times shelters deliberately misuse temperament tests to kill dogs. Other times shelters conveniently do not have enough behavioral evaluators/profile writers to get the dogs marketed online before the pets are killed. These shelters then highlight the chosen few who are helped. If nobody knows a dog exists, how can the someone complain if it is killed?  In reality, 10%, and more likely 5% or fewer dogs should have severe untreatable behavioral problems.

Limited Admission No-Kill Shelters and Rescues Turning Their Back on Local Animals

Many limited admission shelters bring in large numbers of dogs into New Jersey from other states.  In addition, many rescues who do not have a physical shelter and are not included in the statistics above are also bringing large numbers of animals from out-of-state. Anecdotally, many of these dogs seem to be medium to large-sized breeds who directly compete with the dogs being killed in New Jersey’s shelters. Apparently, the once plentiful supply of small breeds from southern shelters are no longer available and easy to adopt puppies from large breeds are being brought into the state.

How many dogs are being transported? Based on the Shelter/Pound Annual reports of 5 rescue oriented shelters out of 105 shelters statewide, 1,045 dogs were brought into New Jersey. In Connecticut, state officials determined 14,138 dogs were transported from primarily southern states which is nearly 4 animals per 1000 people. If these numbers are similar in New Jersey, 40% of our animals and probably close to half of the adoptable dogs would be transports. Thus, these transports are significantly competing with New Jersey’s local dogs and undoubtedly displacing many of our local dogs resulting in less New Jersey dogs making it out of shelters alive.

The logic many of these groups use does not hold up to scrutiny. Many rescuers will say “a life saved is a life saved no matter where it came from.” Unfortunately, the fallacy with this argument is that we are not killing because rescuers are not saving enough animals. Animals are dying because of the policies and choices made by people running shelters. If shelters facing far more difficult circumstances than New Jersey shelters are ending the killing,  then New Jersey shelters are not doing a good enough job. If rescuers help local shelters achieve no-kill status (saving 90% + of all animals), it puts enormous pressure on other local shelters to perform better. Donors and concerned citizens want their shelters to succeed and the money will flow to those shelters who make the grade. Eventually the poorly performing shelter directors will shape up or ship out. Imagine what the pressure on other state’s high kill shelters would be if New Jersey became a no-kill state? It can be done and we just need to come together to make that happen.

Trend Towards Reduced Funding for New Jersey Animal Control Shelters

In recent years many communities entered into arrangements to reduce animal control and sheltering costs. The 2010 property tax cap law, which limits municipality property tax increases to 2% each year, likely facilitated this phenomenon. Unfortunately, homeless animals are often at the bottom of municipal budget priorities and this trend is not positive for New Jersey’s homeless animals.

Animal Welfare Activists Need to Take on Poorly Performing Shelters

Unfortunately, many in the animal welfare world blame the public for shelter killing instead of the shelter leaders who are responsible for it. You will see things like “if only everyone spayed/neutered their pets” or “we just need a breeding ban” then we wouldn’t have any shelters killing savable animals. While these specific arguments can be addressed individually, the simple answer is communities with a far more irresponsible public have ended the killing. We can do it by simply following proven policies to get there. To get those policies in place, we need to inspire, persuade, and pressure those in charge to do so.

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3 thoughts on “The State of the State of New Jersey’s Animal Shelters

  1. An interesting read. As a volunteer at a small municipal animal shelter I saw first hand a number of dogs that were imports from the South by local rescue groups. While the 1,045 dogs recorded for shelters in NJ is significant they are only the tip of the iceberg. When I decided to get involved in rescue work I had to investigate dozens of rescues before finding any that got most of their dogs locally. Go to almost any Petsmart, Petco, Petgoods, etc on the weekend and you will find rescue groups where most if not all of the dogs have been brought in from outside of NJ. The number cited for Ct seems very reasonable in light of the 15,000 dogs I have seen for Ma. This is in spite of the the Ma legislation that requires that any imported animal must be checked by a state certified veterinarian before it can be made available for adoption. Why don’t these rescues also import cats? $$$$$

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  2. Thanks for your insight. You are absolutely correct that 1,045 dogs is just the tip of the iceberg. That figure only comes from 5 of the many New Jersey shelters who transport dogs in from out of state. Additionally, the rescues are bringing large numbers of dogs in as you mention.

    Jersey Animal Coalition, which is a South Orange, NJ shelter, did not have importation certificates as required by NJ law per a recent NJ Office of Animal Welfare inspection report. I can only imagine what is going on for the less regulated rescue groups.

    Believe it or not, I’ve actually seen cats transported into New Jersey despite our ~50% statewide cat kill rate.

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  3. I noticed this trend with Southern imports as well. I have also noticed that whereas the medium and larger competitors used to be hound, pointer and setter types, now they are pittie mixes as well. I think it is disgusting, In addition to indirectly resulting in unnecessary canine deaths here; it enables the South to continue poor pet guardianship and shelter practices. And don’t get me started on cats. All across the board, they are second class citizens.

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