New Jersey Animal Shelters Kill Fewer Animals in 2018, but Some Red Flags Exist

In 2017, New Jersey animal shelter statistics significantly improved. This decrease in killing was driven by decreased animal intake and increased numbers of animals adopted out, sent to rescues and released through TNR programs.

How did New Jersey animal shelters perform in 2018 compared to 2017? What caused these changes? What shelters had positive and negative impacts on the state’s kill rates in 2017?

Killing Decreased Significantly in 2018

The tables below summarize the statewide dog and cat statistics in 2018 and 2017. To see how I calculate the various metrics, please review the footnotes in this link and my blog analyzing the 2015 statistics. You can view the full 2018 statistics here and the 2017 statistics here.

This year I revised the cat statistics to remove an estimate of the cats St. Hubert’s transfers in and quickly transfers out through its Sister Shelter WayStation program. Previously, I made this adjustment only for dogs. Since St. Hubert’s is effectively acting as a middle man and not holding these animals very long, it makes sense to exclude these dogs and cats from the various kill rate statistics below. If I did not exclude these animals, I would understate the dog and cat kill rates due to inflated intakes and outcomes numbers. Therefore, I removed all of St. Hubert’s dogs transferred out from the intake and outcomes figures in the data below. Since St. Hubert’s primarily uses the Sister Shelter Waystation program to quickly transfer in cats and send them to out of state facilities, I only backed out the cats St. Hubert’s transferred to out of state organizations in the data below.

All dog and cat statistics improved in 2018 verses 2017, but at a much slower rate when compared to 2017 verses 2016. The dog kill rates decreased, but at about one half to two thirds the rate those kill rates decreased in 2017 verses 2016. Similarly, the cat kill rates decreased in 2018 verses 2017, but this decrease was only at about 30%-40% of the rate those kill rates decreased in 2017 verses 2016. While we’d like the kill rate decreases in 2018 verses 2017 to equal or exceed the decreases in 2017 verses 2016, the kill rate decreases in 2017 verses 2016 were extraordinarily large. Additionally, as shelters kill fewer animals, the remaining animals become more challenging to save. That being said, this data may suggest shelters need to invest more efforts in programs to get animals out of their facilities alive.

Decreased Intake Results in Fewer Killed Dogs

The statewide dog kill rate decreased due to New Jersey animal shelters taking fewer dogs in. New Jersey animal shelters reported killing 413 fewer dogs (432 dogs if we assume the animals in “Other” outcomes died). However, New Jersey shelters’ live outcomes decreased significantly. Given New Jersey animal shelters fell far short of my dog adoption targets I set for 2017, these results are deeply disappointing. Therefore, New Jersey animal shelters killed fewer dogs due to these facilities taking fewer dogs in rather than saving more dogs.

The following shelters contributed most to the decrease in the statewide dog kill rate.

The table below provides insight as to why these shelters decreased the statewide dog kill rate the most. As you can see, most of the shelters, which are relatively large, had kill rates over 10% in 2017. All the shelters had fewer outcomes primarily due to decreased dog intake. In particular, Associated Humane Societies-Newark’s much lower intake, which may partially be due to its loss of the Newark animal control contract in November 2018, was significant. Since these facilities have above average kill rates, these shelters had a smaller impact on the state’s dog kill rate in 2017. Finally, all these shelters, except for Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center (formerly Camden County Animal Shelter), had lower kill rates in 2018 compared to 2017.

The following table explains why most of these shelters’ kill rates decreased. In the case of Hamilton Township Animal Shelter, it adopted out more dogs. Shelter reform advocates in Hamilton pressured the shelter to improve. However, this facility was hardly doing any adoptions before and still does not adopt out nearly enough dogs. On the other hand, Associated Humane Societies-Newark sent more animals to rescues and other shelters. Like Hamilton Township Animal Shelter, Associated Humane Societies-Newark faced mounting public pressure to do better as a result of numerous negative news stories. The other facilities with decreased kill rates had fewer positive outcomes due to fewer animal outcomes, but the decrease in killing was greater. Thus, these shelters’ kill rates decreased primarily due to having fewer animals come in.

Other Shelters Increased the Statewide Dog Kill Rate

While the statewide dog kill rate dropped in 2018, several shelters partially offset this decrease. Specifically, the following shelters increased the dog kill rate, but this was more than offset by the facilities above.

The following table provides more details on these shelters. Animal Welfare Association, Humane Society of Atlantic County and Monmouth SPCA all reported higher kill rates in 2018 verses 2017. In the cases of Animal Welfare Association and Monmouth SPCA, these shelters kill rates increased from very low levels. On the other hand, Humane Society of Atlantic County’s dog kill rate increased from a shockingly high level for a rescue oriented shelter. While Trenton Animal Shelter and Atlantic County Animal Shelter reported lower dog kill rates in 2018, these shelters’ kill rates are still above the statewide average. Therefore, these shelters increased the statewide dog kill rate since both shelters took in more dogs and represented a greater share of the state’s dog intake in 2018.

The table below explains why several of these shelters’ dog kill rates increased. Monmouth SPCA reported significantly fewer dogs transferred to rescues and other shelters in 2018. On the other hand, Animal Welfare Association reported decreased adoptions. While Humane Society of Atlantic County reported more live outcomes in 2018, the shelter also killed more dogs in 2018. Therefore, Humane Society of Atlantic County’s increased positive incomes were not enough to stop the facility’s kill rate from increasing.

More Cats Leave Shelters Alive

Since Bergen County Animal Shelter included cats it brought in explicitly to TNR (not included in statistics per the Shelter Animals Count methodology) as intake and adopted out in 2018 and 2017, I replaced Bergen County Animal Shelter’s summary data with numbers I obtained via an OPRA request that excluded Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR cats. As a result of doing this, the 2018 statewide cat kill rate (outcomes) increased from 16.7% to 17.7% while the 2017 cat kill rate (outcomes) increased from 19.0% to 19.9%.

New Jersey animal shelters killed many fewer cats in 2018 than in 2017. Overall, New Jersey animal shelters killed 719 less cats. If we count cats that died or went missing, even fewer cats would have lost their lives in 2018. While the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports shelters fill out do not include a separate category for animals who died or went missing, shelters include these animals in the “Other” outcomes line. If we take out the cats from “Other” outcomes that certain shelters separately disclosed as TNR, “Other” outcomes (which should mostly represent cats who died or went missing) decreased by 507 cats. Thus, significantly fewer cats lost their lives in New Jersey shelters in 2018.

The decrease in killing was driven by more cats transferred to rescues and other shelters, increased adoptions, more owner reclaims and more cats sent out via TNR programs. Since cat owner reclaims generally are low at most shelters and shelters often classify cats that are impounded and then neutered and released as reclaimed, TNR efforts likely played a role in the higher number of cats returned to owners in 2018. Additionally, shelters that separately disclosed TNR cats (in “Other” outcomes) showed 298 additional cats sent out via these programs in 2018. New Jersey animal shelters adopted out 382 more cats in 2018, but its possible some of these were actually TNR since some shelters include TNR in their adoption figures. The increase in cat transfers was almost entirely due to cats transferred to out of state shelters and rescues. Specifically, 1,688 of the 1,755 increase in cats transferred relate to rescues by out of state organizations. Thus, despite shelters impounding significantly more cats in 2018, the cat kill rate decreased significantly due to increased live outcomes.

The following shelters decreased the statewide cat kill rate the most.

The following table provides insight as to why these shelters decreased the statewide cat kill rate the most. As you can see, the shelters, except for Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center, had kill rates over 25% in 2017 and all reported decreases in those kill rates. All the shelters except for South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter and Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center had fewer outcomes primarily due to decreased cat intake. Therefore, these higher kill shelters made up a smaller portion of cat outcomes in the state and that partially decreased the statewide cat kill rate in 2018.

The table below explains why these shelters’ kill rates decreased. All the shelters, except for Franklin Township Animal Shelter and Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls, reported increased transfers to shelters and rescues. Interestingly, both South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter and Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center reported significantly greater numbers of cats transferred to out of state organizations (South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter: 559 cats; Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center: 1,106 cats) and large decreases in transfers to New Jersey organizations (South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter: 546 cats; Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center: 984 cats). Both Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center and South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter also reported large increases in cat adoptions which is an excellent sign. On the other hand, most of the other shelters, which already did not adopt out enough cats in 2017, adopted out fewer cats in 2018. Unfortunately, this is a big red flag as high kill shelters almost never become and stay no kill unless they adopt out the bulk of their animals themselves.

Other Shelters Increased the Statewide Cat Kill Rate

While the statewide cat kill rate decreased in 2018, several shelters partially offset this decrease. Specifically, the following facilities increased the cat kill rate, but this was more than offset by the shelters above.

The following table provides more details on these shelters. All the shelters, with the exception of Associated Humane Societies-Newark, had higher cat kill rates in 2018 compared to 2017. In addition, most of the shelters had kill rates of 16% or higher in 2018. Most notably, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cat kill rate per its underlying records, which I obtained under an OPRA request and used in this analysis, was significantly higher than the kill rate based on the numbers it reported to the state health department. Phillipsburg Animal Facility did not report numbers in the past and therefore it increased the statewide cat kill rate in 2018. All the other shelters, except for Atlantic County Animal Shelter, also had more outcomes in 2018 than in 2017. Since most of these shelters had kill rates that exceeded the statewide average, increased outcomes at these facilities raised the statewide cat kill rate.

The table below explains why most of these shelters’ kill rates increased. Bergen County Animal Shelter, Atlantic County Animal Shelter and Liberty Humane Society reported fewer cat adoptions and cats transferred. In addition, both Atlantic County Animal Shelter and Liberty Humane Society had fewer owner reclaims. While St. Hubert’s-Madison transferred more cats to rescues and other shelters, its cat adoptions significantly decreased. Therefore, St. Hubert’s increased positive outcomes did not make up for its increased cat intake. Like St. Hubert’s, Vorhees Animal Orphanage’s increased positive outcomes were not great enough to make up for its increased cat intake.

Shelters Impound Less Dogs and More Cats 

The tables below detail the change in dog and cat intake at New Jersey shelters in 2018 verses 2017. Since Bergen County Animal Shelter did not break out the sources of their intake in their underlying records provided to me, I excluded this shelter from the cat intake analysis. As mentioned above, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cat intake and outcome numbers on its state report are overstated and I used its underlying records in the outcome analysis. However, this shelter did not have a large change in its cat intake. Additionally, I removed all St. Hubert’s transfers out from the out of state dog rescue figures and St. Hubert’s out of state transfers out from its in state cat rescue figures based on the reasoning discussed above.

Overall, New Jersey animal shelters took in 1,427 less dogs during 2018 than in 2017. New Jersey animal shelters took in over 900 fewer stray dogs during 2018 than in 2017. The state’s shelters took 5% fewer dogs in as owner surrenders and 6% fewer stray dogs. While managed intake programs can decrease owner surrenders, they do not affect stray numbers. Therefore, the decrease in stray dog intake may be related to decreased animal control efforts, animal control officers returning dogs to owners in the field (not counted as shelter intake) or simply fewer stray dogs. If ACOs really are not impounding dogs that need help or ones that are a public safety threat, that does not help people or animals. As a result, we should monitor this number in the future and explore why stray dog intake is decreasing.

New Jersey animal shelters rescued far fewer dogs after making the St. Hubert’s adjustment described above. Most concerning, New Jersey animal shelters rescued 19% fewer dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters in 2018. While rescues and out of state shelters picked up some of the slack, it was not enough as overall transfers out decreased in 2018.

On the other hand, New Jersey animal shelters took in nearly 50% more dogs due to cruelty cases, bite cases and other reasons. Trenton Animal Shelter and Burlington County Animal Shelter reported a 231 dog and a 230 dog increase to these other sources of intake. In November 2018, Burlington County Animal Shelter coordinated the handling of a 161 dog hoarding case in Shamong. On August 1, 2018, county prosecutors along with local police took control over animal cruelty law enforcement. While we can’t definitively state this caused the increase in this other category of dog intake, it seems like this may be the case. Typically, other sources of intake in this category, such as bite cases and puppies born in shelters, are not large and do not vary much. Additionally, the 2018 cruelty/bite cases/other figure of 1,504 dogs was significantly higher than any of the amounts recorded over the past five years (937 to 1,293 dogs). Thus, animal advocates should monitor this figure to see how the new animal cruelty law enforcement system is working.

New Jersey animal shelters impounded more cats in 2018 than in 2017. With the exception of a slight decrease in owner surrenders, all other types of cat intake significantly increased. Interestingly, cruelty/bite cases/other also increased, but not as much as for dogs. However, as with dogs, the other types of cat intake in 2018 (1,111 cats) was significantly higher than any of the amounts from 2013 through 2017 (728 to 895 cats) after removing Bergen County Animal Shelter’s other intake figure (this shelter appeared to classify many cats brought in for TNR in this category in several years). As a result, the new animal cruelty law enforcement system may also be driving the significant increase in other types of cat intake.

Advocacy Works

Overall, New Jersey’s 2018 animal shelter statistics are good news. While decreased dog intake was a major driver of the reduced dog kill rates in the state, shelters did achieve higher cat live release rates due to generating more live outcomes.

Clearly, growing animal advocacy efforts are pressuring shelters to improve. Individuals contacting their elected representatives puts pressure on shelters to do better. Similarly, donors communicating their concerns to privately run facilities also makes it difficult for these organizations to not make positive changes. Most importantly, this pressure provides strong incentives to these shelters to work with boots on the ground animal advocates, such as TNR groups, rescues and shelter volunteers. Thus, the synergistic efforts of no kill advocates and people working directly with animals helped drive the state’s improved animal sheltering statistics.

That being said, the reduced positive outcomes for dogs is a troubling sign. If shelters continue to rely too heavily on rescues, they will not save all healthy and treatable dogs. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters must invest in behavioral programs to treat dogs who need help and do a much better job adopting out dogs. Otherwise, shelters will reach a plateau and not increase their dog live release rates anymore.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s