Office of Animal Welfare Inspection Report Reveals Terrible Problems at Jersey Animal Coalition

On March 12, the New Jersey Department of Health’s Office of Animal Welfare and South Orange’s Board of Health inspected Jersey Animal Coalition, a self proclaimed “100% no kill shelter”, for compliance with New Jersey Animal Shelter Regulations. The South Orange Board of Health gave the shelter an “Unsatisfactory” rating resulting in the shelter’s closure “until further notice.” The 10 page inspection report, which is public information, reported numerous and frankly shocking violations of these regulations. Some of the most noteworthy violations are listed at the bottom of this blog post.

Most disturbingly, some problems existed nearly a decade ago when Jersey Animal Coalition first opened its shelter. Inspection reports from 2005-2007 noted poor cleaning, no appropriate isolation areas for sick animals, lack of proper records on animals, and no documentation of routine medical exams. In subsequent years, South Orange’s Animal Control Officer appeared to take over inspections and gave the shelter a satisfactory rating. However, 2013 inspection reports again found violations of New Jersey shelter regulations, which included improper isolation of sick animals.

While the shelter may have cleaned up its act during this time, I find it hard to believe the same types of problems would get fixed and then suddenly reappear. First, Office of Animal Welfare Office inspectors may provide higher quality inspections than local officials. In fact, the Office of Animal Welfare Office’s mission statement includes educating animal control officers on New Jersey shelter regulations. Second, the shelter’s president and manager were in charge during these early years and during this latest inspection. Additionally, Jersey Animal Coalition’s “Shelter/Pound Annual Reports” submitted to the Office of Animal Welfare showed the shelter had 4 different veterinarians in charge of their disease control program each year from 2005 through 2009. Additionally, the March 12, 2014 shelter report noted the shelter veterinarian’s annual certification of Jersey Animal Coalition’s disease control program posted at the facility was from December 3, 2009. After the March 12 state inspection, the shelter apparently hired a new veterinarian. Why have veterinarians quit working with Jersey Animal Coalition or did the shelter change veterinarians so frequently? In my opinion, that is a huge red flag. Thus, the lack of Office Animal Welfare inspections, the same people running the shelter, and frequent changing of shelter veterinarians makes me question the quality of the town’s inspections from 2008-2013.

Volunteers are currently not allowed to help run the shelter. In an email to volunteers, the shelter claimed it was not their decision. However, in a subsequent email to volunteers the shelter stated volunteers would be allowed back only after completing a mandatory training with the new shelter veterinarian. The shelter then cancelled the orientation the very next day. While I do not know what the true facts are, I am somewhat skeptical of the shelter’s statements. In the March 12 inspection report, a shelter employee told the inspector bedding in the Animal Control Officer drop off room was brought in by owners bringing dogs in for surgery that day and was not from the laundry area exposed to ringworm. However, the owners of the dogs denied bringing in the bedding when questioned by the inspector. Additionally, the shelter’s web page states it is closed for 3 cases of ringworm, but does not mention any of the other violations laid out in the 10 page inspection report. As a result, I’m skeptical of the shelter’s statements at this point.

Whatever the reason behind volunteers not helping at the shelter, I am very concerned about the animals well being. The shelter’s web site states the shelter “has a small paid staff, and a large corps of dedicated volunteers.” If the shelter provided such poor care as documented in the March 12 inspection report with the help of a “large dedicated corps of volunteers”, how will it provide proper care now without all that help? Based on the National Animal Control Officer Associations recommendations, Jersey Animal Coalition’s estimated 80 animals would require around 7 staff each day to properly clean facilities and feed animals. Keep in mind a facility, such as Jersey Animal Coalition, would likely require even more staff to fix all these major issues and provide appropriate enrichment for its animals. Many animals have spent years living in this shelter and developed medical or behavioral issues requiring significant care. I have yet to see any evidence the shelter is staffed at appropriate levels or such staff is properly trained.

The real question is what happens now. Does the town of South Orange permanently revoke Jersey Animal Coalition’s shelter license? If so, what will happen to the animals? Frankly, the people running this shelter should not be allowed to stay in charge based on the egregiously poor care provided to the animals documented in this inspection report. Honestly, the NJ SPCA should be involved and one has to question where they were over the last decade? Hopefully, long overdue actions finally take place.

No kill shelters must master the very basics of sheltering before aspiring to reach a much higher standard. Frankly, the shelter violations in this inspection report show an inability to conduct basic animal sheltering operations. When a shelter cannot properly clean, keep records, hire a veterinarian, have a disease control program in place, provide basic veterinary care and enrichment, and prevent intact animals of both sexes from being kept together, the idea of becoming “a 100% no kill shelter” is preposterous.  Clearly, Jersey Animal Coalition did not comprehensively adopt the no kill equation based on the violations in this report. The no kill movement needs to call out shelters who are not living up to our standards, both kill and no kill. As a result, we all need to condemn the “leadership” of this shelter and demand change.

Key findings in inspection reports:

  • “There was no evidence available at the time of this inspection which indicated that sick, diseased, injured or lame animals were provided with at least prompt basic veterinary care to alleviate pain and suffering. There was a dog in the main dog kennel that appeared to be emaciated with a body condition score between 1 and 2. The ribs were clearly distinguishable from a distance of approximately 8 feet away in low light. and the ridges of the spinal column were significantly prominent. There were no veterinary treatment records available to indicate that this dog had been evaluated by a veterinarian and was receiving any type of treatment and there was no documentation available to indicate that this dog was eating a sufficient amount or an appropriate quality offend despite its emaciated appearance. Another dog that was housed in this same bank of cages had difficulty rising to a standing position. This dog appeared to be the overweight. There was no documentation available to indicate that this dog, was currently receiving any medication or other veterinary care to alleviate pain.”
  • “There was no evidence that a program to address the physical as well as psychological well-being of animals was in place at the facility at the time of this inspection.”
  • Animals displaying signs of stress were not provided with relief pursuant to a disease control program that was required to be established and maintained by a supervising veterinarian. The emaciated dog described above was displaying behavior consistent with severe psychological stress. This dog was cowering in the corner, had a crouched body position and hunched back with very slow and deliberate movements, and was averting his gaze with a tense facial expression. Other dogs were displaying signs of aggression, which included lunging at the door of the enclosure, tight lipped growling and low toned fierce barking, raised lips and presentation of teeth in combination with an intense stare.
  • The outdoor exercise enclosure contained an exorbitant accumulation of feces which had not been scooped. cleaned or disinfected for an indeterminate number of days or weeks. Snow had not been removed from this outdoor enclosure and the dogs had been permitted to defecate and urinate in this snow covered area. The snow had started to melt and the feces had begun to deteriorate resulting in a cesspool that collected in the middle of the enclosure and up to the concrete steps in the back of the building.
  • “Animals showing signs of contagious illness were not removed from rooms containing  healthy animals and housed in a separate isolation room. Cats with signs of ringworm were housed in the laundry room and a black cat in the cat room exhibited signs of a severe skin condition consistent with ringworm infection, including hair loss throughout the entire body and scabbing, which was more severe on the cat’s back above the base of the tail. There was also a grey cat in this room that displayed signs of a mild respiratory condition with sneezing  and clear nasal discharge. A biack and white cat and a tabby cat in this room also had signs of slight nasal discharge. There were no records available to indicate that these cats were seen by a vetarínarian and that treatment had been prescribed and administered.”
  • The dogs in these enclosures were moved to the opposite enclosure one at a time, rather than all the dogs in that bank of cages
    at the same time, therefore the dogs in the adjacent and lower enclosures were not protected from the splash back and run off from the individual enclosure that was being hosed down. Feces were not removed from the enclosures being sprayed with a hose which resulted in the particles of fecal matter and waste water to be spread through the air into adjacent enclosures into the
    main walkway, and onto the inspector who was standing approximately 7 to 8 feet away.
  • “There was no evidence that a disease control and adequate health care program was established or maintained under the supervision of a doctor of veterinary medicine.”
  • “There was an accumulation of dog feces in various stages of decomposition located in the parking area, in from of the garage bay doors, in the driveway, along the sidewalks, on the concrete apron at the front entrance to the building and throughout the outside grounds of the facility. Most of the feces in these public access areas had been stepped in by both dogs and pedestrians.”
  • There was an unlocked cabinet in the main center court of the hallway that contained various medical supplies, including needles, syringes, and IV sets. that remained unmonitored throughout this inspection and was easily  accessible to any employee, volunteer or visitor that entered the facility.:
  • “There were 4 crates in the education room that each housed one of 4 large dogs and a sign in this room indicated that these were aggressive dogs. These crates were constructed of insufficient gauge wire to provide safe containment of the animals; the crates wobbled and started to tip when the dogs jumped on the sides of the enclosures; there were no safety clips or other devices to prevent injury to the animals if they push their head or limbs through the space where the panels join”
  • “The upper level of the dog enclosures located in the main dog kennel room were in need of repair. The flooring panels in these kennels flex upon the movement of the dogs and therefore some of the sealant or other material that is used to prevent water, urine and other contaminants  from leaking into the enclosure below had become loose or otherwise dislodged.”
  • “An electric air blower dryer was placed on the floor in front of a cage during the cleaning process, but it did not
    sufficiently dry the enclosure at the time of this inspection. Several dogs showed signs of  irritation, including redness of the skin and discoloration of the fur on their paws, between their toes and the appearance of red irritated skin on their abdomen and muzzle.”
  • “The dry erase board in the left cat room that listed the name of each cat with its description indicated that female cats that had not been spayed were housed in the same free roaming cat room with sexually intact male cats.”
  • “A bowl of uneaten dry food was removed from a dog enclosure and placed on a grey cart. Inspectors were unable to determine which enclosure this bowl of food came from and therefore, were unable to ascertain which dog had not eaten that day. Food was not replaced in any of the dog enclosures throughout thc remainder of the day during this inspection.”
  • “Bags of food in the outdoor shed were stored on the floor which was wet at the time of this inspection and the food was not protected from contamination”
  • “Inspectors were unable to determine the amount of food each animal was given on a daily basis: there were no feeding instructions or other documentation available at the time of this inspection. At least 2 dogs appeared to be overweight and one dog appeared to be severely emaciated. There were no records available to determine if these conditions were caused by excess or lack food or a medical condition.”
  • “Dogs were not given a sufficient amount of water in their bowls to maintain the availability of water at all times. Inspectors were told that the water was being restricted so the dogs would not spill it and make a mess”
  • “These prescription medications were prescribed to owned animals that were not present at the facility. There were also medications in various rooms throughout the facility that  did not have any labels on the containers indicating what medications were contained in the bottles or daily pill dispensers.”
  • “There were no intake and disposition records available to inspectors at the time of this inspection. For animals that were received or impounded and/or adopted. euthanized or otherwise transferred.”
  • “The form which was required to be signed annually by the supervising veterinarian indicating that a disease control and health care program was in effect at the facility had expired. A form posted at the facility was signed by Dr. Santiago on 12/3/09.”
  • “Importation certificates were not available at the time of this inspection for the mother pit bull type dog and her 10 puppies that were being housed in a crate located in the office at the facility at the time of this inspection. There were Ialso no importation certificates available for other dogs that had been imported into New Jersey from other states and which were, or had been housed at the facility.”
  • “Rabies vaccination certificates were not being filled out properly”
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