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

  1. They are killing animals at a high rate just to make room for more … how sad !!! heartless people … how do they sleep at night … 😥

    Like

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