Disrespecting Your Shelter’s Hometown Leads You Down the Wrong Road

Associated Humane Societies – Newark’s Assistant Executive Director, who is the organization’s number 2 ranking person and representative in many media interviews, posted an insulting joke about Newark’s residents on his personal Facebook page recently. The photo is identical to the following image except “New Jersey” replaces “Ohio “and” “Newark” takes the place of “Michigan.”

Ohio Shadowy place

Additionally, several of Associated Humane Societies – Newark’s employees also commented about how much they liked the photo. Associated Humane Societies – Newark operates a large animal shelter in Newark and receives up to $632,000 in animal control contract fees from the city of Newark.

This behavior demonstrates a clear disrespect for Associated Humane Societies’ community. Telling your shelter’s hometown they live in a “shadowy place” and “you should never go there” is deeply insulting. If you lived in Newark, would you want to support this shelter? Perhaps, this attitude towards the city’s residents along with a past scathing investigation and poor performances in Office of Animal Welfare inspections in 2009 and 2011 led to the popular Cory Booker administration’s displeasure with Associated Humane Societies.

The remark sends the message to people outside of Newark to not visit the shelter since the facility is in a “shadowy place” that “you must never go” to. The “you must never go to Newark” message makes even less sense when you consider  Associated Humane Societies, to the best of my knowledge, does not adopt out dogs at its off-site events (i.e. you have to go back to the shelter in Newark to adopt the animal you meet outside of the shelter). As a result, the Assistant Executive Director of Associated Humane Societies’ Facebook post hurts the cause of his shelter’s animals.

Unfortunately, Associated Humane Societies’ attitude toward its hometown has an even more detrimental effect on shelter policy. In an article last year, the same Assistant Executive Director stated he wanted more stringent spay/neuter laws and backyard breeder bans to reduce Associated Humane Societies unacceptably high kill rates. KC Dog Blog, which is written by Kansas City’s no kill open admission shelter’s Board President, clearly demonstrates how Kansas City’s pit bull mandatory spay/neuter policy increased impounds and kill rates. Additionally, KC Dog Blog also documents most large animal welfare organizations, such as the ASPCA, Best Friends, Humane Society of the United States (via the California Sheltering White Paper), No Kill Advocacy Center and the American Veterinary Medical Association oppose mandatory spay/neuter laws. Such laws increase impounds and shelter killing and also waste limited resources which could be used more productively. The main barrier to spay/neuter is cost for poor folks and mandatory spay/neuter laws with their punitive fines simply exacerbate the problem. Similarly, breeding bans, which sound great, are also ineffective and drain limited resources as evidenced by Long Beach, California’s 30 year breeding ban’s failed efforts at achieving a no kill community.

The “irresponsible public” argument and resulting attitude communicated by Associated Humane Societies represents a huge obstacle to creating a no kill community. While the shelter’s personnel may have negative experiences with the public, those interactions are not representative of the entire population. Newark most likely is more responsible than the average American community. Associated Humane Societies – Newark took in approximately 8 dogs and cats per 1000 residents in its service area during 2012. Unfortunately, we do not know what the city of Newark’s per capita intake rate is since Associated Humane Societies impounds dogs and cats from numerous other communities. However, the nearby urban communities of Elizabeth, Paterson plus surrounding towns and Jersey City – Hoboken took in approximately 7 dogs and cats per 1000 people. Nationally, Maddie’s Fund states the average community impounds 14.5 dogs and cats per 1000 people. Thus, Newark likely impounds around half the number of animals as the average American community on a per capita basis. Therefore, “shadowy” Newark is likely more responsible than many less “shadowy” places.

Associated Humane Societies – Newark’s animals would benefit greatly from a significant change in attitude. While Associated Humane Societies prefers to blame the not so irresponsible public for killing shelter animals, the blame lands squarely with the shelter. Associated Humane Societies – Newark needs to stop fighting successful no kill policies and enthusiastically implement these programs to quickly move animals from the shelter into loving homes. Personally, I’d suggest following KC Pet Project’s model which made Kansas City a no kill community 18 months after taking over the shelter. As recently as 2008, this shelter killed more than 60% of its impounded animals. However, KC Pet Project now saves roughly 90% of its animals despite taking in around twice as many dogs and cats in total and per capita as Associated Humane Societies – Newark.  KC Pet Project accomplished this without Associated Humane Societies’ vast financial resources and with an undersized and outdated primary shelter having only one third of the recommended capacity.

Associated Humane Societies should also implement targeted spay/neuter and pet owner support programs to help struggling pet owners in areas with higher impound rates. For example, the ASPCA’s Operation Pit in New York City and Monmouth County SPCA’s Pittie Project programs offer free spay/neuter, vaccinations and microchips to pit bulls. Spay & Neuter Kansas City provides another great example of not only substantive programs, but a helpful and nonjudgmental attitude towards the people requiring help. This organization literally goes door to door in some of the poorest neighborhoods to help struggling pet owners. As a result of these programs and relationship with the community, Spay & Neuter Kansas City assisted over 15,000 people with spay/neuter surgeries, veterinary services, and pet outreach programs in 2013.

Let’s drop the “shadowy” jokes about people and get onto helping folks and their animals. That is how you save lives!

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