Jersey Animal Coalition Debacle Reveals Deep Rifts With The Community

The Office of Animal Welfare’s and South Orange Board of Health’s Jersey Animal Coaltion inspection report and related NJ SPCA investigation into possible animal cruelty unleashed a tremendous reaction from the local community. Maplewood Online has a message board which discusses local news and events. While the posters are anonymous and content cannot be verified, the sheer volume and passion of responses is quite telling in my opinion.  The negative reactions are also consistent with Jersey Animal Coalition’s Google Reviews. Clearly, many people had some very poor experiences with the shelter’s management.

Jersey Animal Coalition’s relationship with the town of Maplewood also has been rocky. Under Jersey Animal Coalition’s lease with South Orange, Jersey Animal Coalition only pays $1 to rent the facility in exchange for taking in all stray “house pets” brought in by South Orange’s and Maplewood’s animal control officers. “House pets” are defined as “cats, dogs and similar domesticated animals normally kept in the home.” Jersey Animal Coalition contends feral cats are not their obligation while Maplewood believes Jersey Animal Coalition must take in feral cats. Maplewood compromised and agreed to not bring in feral cats which couldn’t be safely handled. Under the arrangement, Jersey Animal Coalition agreed to take feral kittens since such kittens could be socialized and eventually adopted. However, in August, 2012, Jersey Animal Coalition changed course and refused to take these kittens in. In that same month, Maplewood instituted a stray cat feeding ban and a very regressive feral cat policy.

Jersey Animal Coalition’s feral cat policy is inconsistent with the no kill equation. Community involvement and trap, neuter release are two key no kill equation programs. While not accepting feral cats is preferable to impounding and killing them, the shelter should passionately fight to implement trap, neuter release (“TNR”) programs. Personally, I am concerned about the fate of feral cats under Jersey Animal Coalition’s policy. For example, do the towns animal control officers take feral cats who are injured, sick or subject to residents complaints to get killed elsewhere?  If TNR programs are illegal, the shelter should use barn cat programs to send feral cats to live outdoors as a substitute to trap, neuter, release. Based on Jersey Animal’s Coalition’s service area’s approximate population of 40,000 people and nearby Montclair and Union animal shelter’s per capita cat intake rates, I estimate Jersey Animal Coalition should take in approximately 140 cats per year. However, Jersey Animal Coalition’s 2012 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health only reported 40 cats impounded (given the shelter’s lack of impound records I’m not sure how they even came up with this number). If we assume the 100 cat difference between expected and actual impounds are feral cats, then Jersey Animal Coalition should be able to place this small number through a barn cat program. In reality, the number of feral cats needing placement would be smaller since some of those 100 cats would be kittens who could be socialized and adopted. Thus, Jersey Animal Coalition could have solved the feral cat problem if it simply implemented a barn cat program like other successful no kill communities.

Luckily, Maplewood may have had a change of heart. In February, 2014 Maplewood’s Township Committee voted unanimously for its Health Officer to work with a TNR group to develop a course of action. Unfortunately, Jersey Animal Coalition’s management does not appear to have a significant role in this effort. Additionally, South Orange apparently still has a regressive feral cat policy.

Jersey Animal Coalition’s handling of the feral cat issue also demonstrates poor management of the relationship with the municipalities. If Jersey Animal Coalition did not want to impound feral cats, then the organization should have clearly spelled that out in the lease. The towns health departments have a keen interest in managing feral cats. For example, the towns deal with residents complaining about large colonies of intact animals. Jersey Animal Coalition basically said “you are on your own” after signing the lease and accepting approximately $285,000 of funding to help build the shelter along with paying virtually no rent for a 5,400 square foot facility on a sizable property. To add further insult to injury, the shelter transported hundreds of dogs, most of which were out of state puppies, each year into the shelter per their “Shelter/Pound Annual Reports” while refusing to accept many of their own community’s cats.  As a result, the two towns would have every right to hold some ill will towards shelter management.

Most disturbingly Jersey Animal Coalition’s poor performance apparently decreased the community’s and the Maplewood Health Department’s support for no kill shelters. On Maplewood Online, several people pointed to Jersey Animal Coalition’s inspection report as proof no kill open admission shelters do not work.  Similarly,  Maplewood’s Health Department blamed Jersey Animal Coalition’s no kill policy for overcrowding at the shelter. Unfortunately, Jersey Animal Coalition caused confusion on what no kill is by asserting it is a “100% no kill shelter.” No kill simply means no killing and returns euthanasia to its true definition. No kill shelters do euthanize about 1%-10% of impounded animals for severe medical or behavioral reasons.  Apparently, Jersey Animal Coalition is confusing no euthanasia with no killing and a no kill shelter with a sanctuary. Proper sanctuaries provide refuge for unadoptable animals and offer large outdoor areas for the animals to enjoy. On the other hand, Jersey Animal Coalition’s long term residents spend years living in inadequate sized kennels with no documentation showing legally mandated exercise is provided. Thus, the community has every right to think no kill shelters are a bad thing if Jersey Animal Coalition is the only no kill shelter they know.

Jersey Animal Coalition’s debacle provides an important lesson to no kill advocates. We no longer can stand by quietly when shelters describing themselves as no kill fail to deliver. In my opinion, Jersey Animal Coalition did not properly implement all 11 no kill equation programs. No kill advocates need to develop some sort of certification program, such as peer review in the accounting and legal professions. Currently, the Out the Front Door Blog is the closest thing we have to this. Luckily, Jersey Animal Coalition never made it to the listing of no kill communities. Also, no kill advocates must push for frequent high quality inspections, such as those done by New Jersey’s Office of Animal Welfare. Unfortunately, shelters need more regulation and even self-described no kill shelters cannot always be trusted to do the right thing.

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