In Part 1 of this series of blogs, I reported details on Bergen County Animal Shelter’s high kill rate despite the county’s elected officials claiming the facility is no kill. This blog examines the reasons Bergen County Animal Shelter uses to kill massive numbers of animals.
Under the Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”), I requested all documents supporting animals killed/euthanized, such as owner surrender forms, adoption and rescue paperwork, veterinary records and invoices, euthanasia records, and any other documents pertaining to each animal for a couple of months in 2015. Additionally, I obtained the shelter’s Standard Operating Procedures manual. My objective was to obtain a complete understanding of the job Bergen County Animal Shelter is doing.
Absurd Justifications for Killing Dogs
Bergen County Animal Shelter cited “behavior issues” and “medical issues” for killing approximately 2/3 and 1/3 of the dogs in the sample of records I reviewed. Assuming these percentages apply to all dogs Bergen County Animal Shelter killed in 2015, the shelter killed approximately 21% of all dog who had outcomes for “behavior issues.” However, the No Kill Advocacy Center’s review of shelter data found only 1%-2% of all dogs arriving at shelters are a serious danger to people and cannot be rehabilitated. In other words, Bergen County Animal Shelter kills dogs for aggression at around 10-20 times the rate of high performing no kill animal control shelters. If the percentages in my sample are consistent with all of the dogs Bergen County Animal Shelter killed in 2015, the shelter killed 11% of all impounded dogs for “medical issues.” Assuming a well-run no kill animal control shelter saves 95% of all dogs and euthanizes 1%-2% for aggression, these facilities likely only euthanize 3%-4% of all dogs due to the animals hopelessly suffering. Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed dogs at around 3-4 times the rate for medical issues as well-run no kill animal control shelters. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s reasons for killing dogs raise red flags.
The behavior issues Bergen County Animal Shelter cited are listed in the table below. Most disturbing, the shelter reported no specific reason for killing more than half the dogs for behavior issues in the sample I examined. As discussed in my prior blog, Bergen County Animal Shelter concluded every single animal it killed was “unhealthy and untreatable.”
Bergen County Animal Shelter’s killing dogs for kennel stress (i.e. barrier reactivity, cage aggression, etc.) is not consistent with no kill. Kennel stress was the second most common reason for killing due to behavior issues. As Dogs Playing for Life states, barrier reactivity is “not an accurate indicator of a dog’s social skills.” Volunteers at most animal shelters will tell you how different dog behavior is inside a cage at a stressful shelter and outside in real world situations. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s assertion that kennel stress is “untreatable” makes no sense.
The shelter’s killing of dogs who were food aggressive fails to meet no kill standards. The ASPCA, which is far from a no kill organization, removed food aggression tests from its SAFER behavioral evaluation tool and instead advises shelters to provide all adopters information on how to manage food aggression. Around half the time, dogs who display food aggression in a stressful shelter do not do so in a home. On the other hand, many dogs who pass food aggression tests in a shelter exhibit the trait in a home setting. Simply put, testing a dog who is stressed out at a shelter and may have recently not had regular access to food, is an unreliable way to determine if a dog will display this behavior in a home. Also, food guarding is a behavior that shelters can easily modify by hand feeding. Even if a dog remains food aggressive in a home, most people are willing to live with it based on a recent scientific study. As a result, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s classifying dogs displaying food guarding behavior as “untreatable” is incorrect and not consistent with no kill.
Bergen County Animal Shelter also killed a number of dogs for jumpy/mouthy behavior. As the Center for Shelter Dogs states, jumpy/mouthy behavior often occurs in adolescent dogs in shelters due to “decreased interaction with people, decreased exercise, and lack of control of their environment.” Jumpy/mouthy behavior is highly treatable in a shelter and people can effectively reduce it on walks by using a Gentle Leader collar. Furthermore, I noticed many dogs stop displaying this behavior when the animals go to a home. To argue these dogs pose a serious danger to people or other animals or that a “a reasonable and caring pet owner/guardian” would kill their pet for this reason is absurd. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s classifying jumpy/mouthy dogs as “unreatable” is incorrect and not consistent with no kill.
Bergen County Animal Shelter’s killing of dogs due to dog aggression is not consistent with no kill in my view. While I recognize some no kill shelters kill dogs with severe dog aggression, I believe that experienced owners can manage this behavior. In fact, I am one such owner. Additionally, I’ve found very few people, particularly in a wealthy area like Bergen County, would kill their dog for displaying dog aggression. However, as you will see later in this blog, the shelter’s classifying of dogs as dog aggressive is highly suspect.
Bergen County Animal Shelter killed numerous dogs for “behavior issues”, but never actually documented what those problems were. Dog ID# 16973 in the table below (right click table and click “Open image in new tab” to see a more legible image) was a pit bull like dog that arrived as a stray at Bergen County Animal Shelter on July 8, 2015. After 17 days, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed her for “behavior issues”, but never specified what those alleged behavior problems were.
Dog ID# 17068 was a stray pit bull mix who arrived at Bergen County Animal Shelter on July 15, 2015. After just 11 days, the shelter killed her for “behavior issues” despite not specifying what those alleged problems were.
On July 15, 2015, Dutchess was surrendered by his owner to Bergen County Animal Shelter. After 26 days, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed him for “behavior issues”, but never documented what those alleged problems were.
Temperament Testing Dogs to Death
Bergen County Animal Shelter used discredited harsh behavioral evaluation methods. Recently, a new scientific study found behavioral evaluations were scientifically invalid and recommended shelters instead socialize dogs to truly determine behavior. Even the proponents of temperament testing, such as the ASPCA, state shelters should use evaluations to identify a behavioral rehabilitation plan to make the animal adoptable. Based on my review of numerous evaluations of dogs that the shelter killed, the shelter simply used these tests to justify killing “untreatable” animals.
Captain was a 5 year old poodle surrendered by his owner to the Bergen County Animal Shelter on November 3, 2015. Based on his evaluation below, Captain, like many toy breeds, was traumatized after arriving at a scary shelter. In his kennel, he barked, which is not unusual in toy breeds and other dogs at shelters. Once out of the kennel, Captain allowed the temperament tester to check his teeth, which is quite intrusive for many dogs. Additionally, Captain let the tester pick him up despite being “a little unsure and nervous” at first. In fact, Captain “went belly up for petting” and sat by the tester while the person typed up the evaluation that would ultimately kill him.
Bergen County Animal Shelter condemned Captain to death for displaying protective behavior in his kennel and nipping a stranger’s leg during his evaluation. During Captain’s evaluation a stranger entered the room and Captain “tentatively bit stranger’s leg”, but caused no puncture wound. Captain then retreated to “his handler for safety.” Captain, like so many toy breeds, nipped the legs of a stranger and caused no injury. In a re-test conducted the very next day, Captain would not approach the stranger and “lunged when the stranger moved away.” The evaluation also dinged Captain for being aggressive in his kennel, which has no relationship to real life conditions.
Clearly, Captain was a small dog who was fearful. As the evaluation showed, Captain exhibited many positive behaviors, but displayed some fearful ones. After all, Captain was on death row in a shelter that is quick to kill. Wouldn’t you be a bit scared in that environment especially if a stranger just barges into your evaluation room or towards your kennel? Let’s be real, a small poodle is never a serious danger to people, especially if put in the right home (i.e. no small children). Despite calling itself a no kill shelter, Bergen County Animal Shelter never tried to rehabilitate Captain, never documented any attempt to send him to a rescue or a foster home, and recommended killing him “due to unpredictable aggressive nature, dog will likely bite when protecting his territory or home environment.” Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter did nothing more than temperament test Captain to death.