Elizabeth Animal Shelter Shows Improvement, But Serious Problems Remain: Part 2

Update: 8/4/17: Subsequent to writing this blog, the Elizabeth Health Department “located” its 2016 inspection report performed by the Linden Health Department. This report noted several problems. I updated the inspection section of this blog to discuss this report.

My last blog discussed several changes the Elizabeth Animal Shelter made in 2016 after animal advocates raised concerns about the facility. Elizabeth Animal Shelter stopped illegally killing owner surrendered animals during the seven day protection period in 2016. As a result, the shelter’s live release rate significantly increased, but the shelter almost entirely relied on rescues and appeared to limit the number of animals it took in. You can read that blog here.

This blog will examine whether Elizabeth Animal Shelter still kills healthy and treatable animals. Additionally, this blog will answer the question as to whether the shelter still violates state law.

Shelter Continues to Illegally Transfer Stray Animals During the Seven Day Hold Period

Elizabeth Animal Shelter transferred and adopted out 73 dogs and cats during the seven day stray hold period in 2016. 64 of the 73 animals were cats which often have very low owner reclaim rates. Of the 64 cats, 52 were kittens which are highly susceptible to catching deadly illnesses in animal shelters. Additionally, the shelter sent a number of animals to rescue groups that provided much needed medical care. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter appeared to release many of these animals during the seven day hold period with good intentions.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter should retain ownership of the animals it releases during the seven day hold period. In other words, Elizabeth Animal Shelter should have the rescues and adopters “foster” these animals during this time. After seven days, the rescuers and adopters should then take ownership of the pet. While the animal is being fostered, the shelter should keep photos and other records as well as the rescue’s/adopter’s contact information to allow someone to redeem their pet. Similarly, the individual or group fostering the animal must return the pet back to the owner during the stray hold period. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter can easily comply with state law, give owners a chance to reclaim their lost pets, and create much needed space to save lives.

Shelter Still Kills Healthy and Treatable Animals

Overall, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s most commonly killed dogs for “aggression” and “severe behavior issues.” If we also add related problems, such as dog aggression, food aggression, leash behavior and bite cases, the shelter killed almost all dogs for some form of alleged aggression. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 19 of 22 dogs or 86% of these animals for aggression related problems.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s classified too many dogs with aggression and related behavioral issues. The shelter killed 6% of all dogs for aggression and similar reasons. On the one hand, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed a much lower percentage of dogs for so-called aggression than the regressive Bergen County Animal Shelter (21% of all dogs in 2015; 29% of dogs from Kearny in 2016). However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed a significantly larger percentage of dogs for aggression/behavior issues than Austin Animal Center (0.5% of all dogs killed for aggression related reasons in the last quarter of of fiscal year 2016). Furthermore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 18% of all pit bulls for aggression related behavioral issues in 2016 compared to just 2% of all pit bulls at Austin Animal Center during fiscal year 2016 (that number may have dropped to as low as 1% by the last quarter of the year). In other words, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed pit bulls for aggression related problems at a rate of 9-18 times higher than Austin Animal Center.

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Dogs Killed ReasonsAs I mentioned in my blog last year, Elizabeth Animal Shelter brought in a former volunteer from Associated Humane Societies-Newark as a response to public outcry about the shelter illegally killing two dogs immediately upon intake in 2014. In her role, this contractor evaluates dogs, makes recommendations about whether a dog is suitable for adoption, and networks with rescues and donors to increase lifesaving and improve animal care. Clearly, this person has done an excellent job coordinating with rescues. Thus, I believe this part time contractor has done good work.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter may be misusing its part time contractor’s behavioral evaluations to justify killing dogs. Despite some concerns from other animal advocates, the part time contractor’s written evaluations did not call for the shelter to kill dogs. In fact, many of the evaluations concluded the dogs were very good. However, the shelter performed evaluations for 16 of the 19 dogs it killed for alleged aggression related issues. Based on my review of these 16 evaluations, all of them had some negative findings. In some cases, the evaluations recommended a special home, but it seems to me as if the shelter leadership used these evaluations as an excuse to kill.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s continued reliance on discredited temperament testing methods is concerning. Recently, a study found behavioral evaluations were scientifically invalid and recommended shelters should 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 try and make the animal adoptable. I found no evidence of the shelter attempting to seriously rehabilitate alleged problem behaviors in dogs. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter used scientifically invalid temperament testing methods and may have failed to use these evaluations to fix supposed behavioral problems.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed several dogs for alleged aggression related issues despite owners reporting no such issues. Shelter temperament testing methods are inherently flawed as the testing conditions (i.e. in a stressful shelter) do not replicate conditions a dog experiences in a home. Carez was a 7-9 year old gray pit bull surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on December 29, 2016. The owner reported no behavior or aggression issues and stated Carez was good with dogs, kids, adults and was house trained. On January 9, 2017, Elizabeth Animal Shelter evaluated Carez, who they renamed as Cupcake, and stated she “refused handling”, attempted to bite when handled, and was fearful and timid. In other words, Carez/Cupcake was afraid after going to a scary shelter environment. Ten days later Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed Carez/Cupcake for human and dog aggression despite the owner reporting she was good with both people and dogs. Furthermore, no records provided to me indicated the shelter tried to rehabilitate this dog’s alleged behavior problems. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter appeared to use its behavioral evaluation as a justification to kill Carez/Cupcake and did not seem to make any effort to fix those claimed behavior problems.

Dog 16-L Surrender Form.jpg

Dog 16-L Evaluation.jpg

Dog 16-L Kill Record

Ghost was a two year old pit bull-boxer mix that was surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter along with his house mate, Blackie, on July 7, 2016. Ghost’s owner reported he had no behavioral or health issues. Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s evaluation stated he snapped, growled with teeth, attempted to bite and darted away when handled, had “higher energy”, but was controllable, was “dominant”, “does not like other people”, was not good with other dogs except Blackie, and requires an “adult only home.” Despite Ghost’s owner surrender form contradicting this evaluation and him being at the shelter a mere nine days, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed Ghost for having a “Severe Behavior Issue.” No records I received indicated any effort to fix these alleged behavior problems.

Dog 8-G Surrender Form.jpg

Dog 8-G Evaluation.jpg

Dog 8-G Kill Record

Ghost’s companion, Blackie, was a five year old pit bull-Labrador retriever mix that was surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on the same day. Blackie’s owner also stated on the dog’s surrender form that Blackie had no behavioral or medical issues. Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s evaluation of Blackie was almost identical to Ghost’s temperament test except the shelter concluded Blackie was “hyper” rather than “high energy” and controllable, and grabbed treats roughly. Additionally, the evaluation made no reference to Blackie not liking people. Once again, despite the owner surrender form contradicting the Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s evaluation, the facility killed Blackie just nine days after he arrived at the shelter and on the very same day as his house mate, Ghost. No records I received indicated any effort to fix these alleged behavior problems.

Dog 9-G Surrender Form.jpg

Dog 9-G Evaluation.jpg

Dog 9-G Kill Record

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s reasons for killing cats are listed below. Overall, the shelter still killed a significant number of cats it deemed feral or having a behavior issue. Frankly, a shelter should never kill a cat for any behavioral reason given such cats can be neutered and released or go to a barn/warehouse. Additionally, the shelter killed many cats for no disclosed reason. If Elizabeth Animal Shelter did not kill healthy and treatable feral and other cats (presumably cats killed for no reason were not hopelessly suffering), the shelter’s euthanasia rate would be 8% or the rate I target for animal control facilities. While a good number of the other cats may have been hopelessly suffering, the shelter failed to provide a specific veterinary diagnosis for a substantial portion (i.e. 13 cats with undisclosed severe injuries/illnesses and other undisclosed injuries and illnesses) of these animals. As a result, no one can say for sure how many of these animals were truly hopelessly suffering.

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Cats Killed Reasons.jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed several cats for absurd or no reasons. Cat 31-J’s owner died and she was surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on October 24, 2016. Despite having a home previously, the shelter concluded she had a “Severe Behavior Issue” and killed her just 11 days later. Furthemore, the shelter’s euthanasia record erroneously stated she was killed on October 20 (four days before she arrived at the facility).

Cat 31-J Killed

Cat 31-J Intake Plus Disposition Record

Cat 31-J Kill FormCat 12-L was a 10 year old cat taken to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on December 14, 2016 by the property managers of an apartment complex. Presumably, this cat lived in a home, perhaps in one of the apartments in this building, since the property managers noted the cat was house trained. Despite this fact, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed this older cat for being feral and aggressive a little after a month later.

Cat 12-L Surrender Form.jpg

Cat 12-L Kill Record

Cat 21-F was surrendered with three other cats on June 16, 2016. According to the owner, none of these cats, including 21-F, had any behavioral or health issues. Two weeks later, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 21-F for no reason other than the animal being at the shelter for more than seven days.

Cat 21-F Surrender Form

Cat 21-F Kill Record.jpg

Shelter Provides More Veterinary Care, But Must Make Further Improvements

Elizabeth Animal Shelter provided veterinary care to some animals during the year. In 2015, the shelter essentially provided no veterinary care other than killing based on the records provided to me. Several animal advocates, including myself, raised these concerns last year. In 2016, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s veterinarian treated a number of animals at the shelter. Therefore, the pressure put on the shelter by animal advocates improved the care provided to the animals.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter must provide better veterinary care. While the shelter did treat some animals, I saw no evidence of the facility vaccinating animals upon intake. Shelter medicine experts strongly recommend facilities immediately vaccinate animals upon intake to reduce disease among the animal population. Elizabeth Animal Shelter should start doing this as its clearly better for the animals and will ultimately reduce the cost of treating sick animals. Additionally, the veterinary records I reviewed were often not very detailed and frequently illegible. Furthermore, many of the records I examined failed to fully meet the New Jersey Department of Health’s requirements. Thus, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter should vaccinate all animals immediately upon intake and improve its veterinary record keeping.

Shelter Has No Disease Control Program and Does Not Keep All Required Records

Elizabeth Animal Shelter currently has no disease control program. While the city’s Health Officer, assured me a draft program is currently under review by the Elizabeth Dog Control Committee, this is unacceptable. Under state law, a shelter must have a disease control program in order to operate. Last year, the New Jersey Department of Health made this explicitly clear:

If a facility does not have a disease control program established and maintained by a licensed veterinarian, the facility cannot be licensed to operate in New Jersey.

Therefore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter must put an appropriate disease control program into place as soon as possible.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also failed to document the breed on many cats it took in as required by state law. The shelter should start doing so especially since it does not require much effort.

Local Health Department Inspections Reveal Problems

Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.2, local health authorities must inspect licensed animal shelters each year to ensure compliance with state laws. In other words, an animal shelter cannot legally operate without an inspection showing the facility is following the law.

The Linden Health Department conducted a poor quality inspection of Elizabeth Animal Shelter in 2014. This inspection found no serious issues, but animal advocates, including myself, documented numerous shelter law violations at that time. Linden Health Department is the same health department that ran Linden Animal Control’s facility. Not only did Linden fail to inspect its own shelter for seven years, but the New Jersey Department of Health forced Linden to close its house of horrors later on in 2014. Thus, this positive 2014 inspection report lacked credibility.

To make matters worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter provided no 2015 inspection report. In 2014, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter inspected Linden Animal Control’s dreadful facility after the City of Linden failed to inspect its shelter for seven years. Despite knowing about this law, the City of Elizabeth apparently did not have its own shelter inspected in 2015. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter should not have had a license to operate in 2015.

The Linden Health Department’s 2016 inspection of Elizabeth Animal Shelter found several concerning issues. Specifically, the inspection report noted the following

  1. Shelter did not have a required fire inspection
  2. The exhaust fan in the isolation area did not work (i.e. could result in infectious diseases spreading)
  3. Shelter had structural problems with the facility’s flooring
  4. Several damaged enclosures had wires used as a repair, but those wires could injure animals
  5. Cat enclosures were not adequate to house these animals
  6. Outside dog cages needed repairs
  7. Outside dog enclosures barriers not effective and might not prevent dogs from fighting
  8. Large stones used to block outside dog enclosures’ trough did not allow staff to clean properly

Despite these issues, the Linden Health Department gave Elizabeth Animal Shelter a “Conditional A” instead of an “Unsatisfactory” grade on the inspection. If the Linden Health Department found this many problems, one must wonder what the more competent New Jersey Department of Health would find.

Currently, Elizabeth Animal Shelter has not had a 2017 inspection performed despite 15 months passing since the last required annual inspection.

Records Continue to Raise Concerns as to Whether Elizabeth Animal Shelter Humanely Euthanizes Animals 

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s records did not specify the euthanasia drug it used (the records state “Euth.” which could mean Euthasol or just an unnamed euthanasia drug) and the method of euthanasia again in 2016. As a result, we cannot determine whether the shelter euthanized animals humanely as I discussed in last year’s blog.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter use of pure Ketamine as a sedative is not humane. The Humane Society of United State Euthanasia Reference Manual states shelters should not use Ketamine alone to sedate an animal for killing as it makes the animal’s muscles rigid and the injection stings so much that the animal reacts very negatively to it. If that was not bad enough, large doses can cause convulsions and seizures. To make matters worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s records indicate the facility used excessive doses as they did in 2015 of Ketamine making such horrific side effects more likely.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also purchased a massive supply of Ketamine at the end of 2015. Specifically, the shelter purchased 600 milliliters of the branded Ketamine drug, Ketathesia, which would provide recommended sedative doses for 1,500 cats weighing 8 pounds or 240 dogs weighing 50 pounds. Clearly, this purchase greatly exceeds the 41 cats and 22 dogs killed in 2016. In fact, this amount of Ketamine is also much more than would be needed for the number of animals the shelter would kill at this rate over the five year shelf life of the drug. To make matters worse, I did not see the legally required listing of inventory of both Ketamine and Fatal Plus (Sodium pentobarbital) or whatever killing agent the facility used on hand at the beginning and end of the year. One has to wonder what the shelter is doing with this huge supply of Ketamine? Given this is a widely abused drug, it certainly raises questions in my mind.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2016 Ketamine Invoice.jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s euthanasia logs list questionable weights for the animals and raise questions as to whether the shelter actually weighed the animals. Under N.J.A.C. 8:23A-1.11 (f) 3 and 4, shelters must weigh each animal and keep a log of those body weights as well as the drugs used to immobilize and euthanize the animals. Almost all the adult cats weighed exactly 8 pounds. Additionally, most of the weights listed for dogs were convenient numbers, such as 60, 65, and 80 pounds. Frankly, I find it highly unlikely that many dogs just happened to weigh in at these user friendly amounts.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Proves Shelter Reform Bill S3019 Will Save Lives

S3019 requires shelters to notify rescues at least two business days before killing an animal. While this bill should mandate shelters give animals to rescues the shelters would otherwise kill, existing animal cruelty laws (i.e. “needlessly killing an animal”) likely would also bar shelters from killing such pets. When this provision of S3019 is combined with the state’s existing ban on killing animals, whether stray or surrendered, for seven days, shelters will have a strong incentive to send animals, particularly owner surrenders, to rescues. Furthermore, rescues will have more time to save animals from shelters.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s compliance with the seven day protection period in 2016 and its significantly higher live release rate show how successful S3019 would be. As mentioned above, Elizabeth Animal Shelter does not really follow 10 of the 11 No Kill Equation programs. Despite this, the shelter nearly achieved a 90% live release rate once it stopped illegally killing animals during the seven day protection period. Why? The Elizabeth Animal Shelter is extremely rescue friendly and these rescues had the time to save many pets. Thus, S3019 would significantly increase live release rates at many of New Jersey’s high kill shelters.

S3019’s other requirements would further increase live release rates. Under the bill, shelters must stay open five hours every weekday, including one day until at least 7 pm, and one weekend day. Additionally, the bill requires shelters to take numerous steps to reunite lost pets with their families that most facilities do not currently do. Furthermore, it requires shelters to use web sites and social media to promote animals for adoption. Finally, the bill mandates shelters provide improved veterinary and behavioral care that will make pets more adoptable. Thus, S3019’s requirements would clearly increase Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s live release rate and allow the shelter to save more homeless animals.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s Unsustainable Path

Clearly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter must fix many basic sheltering issues. Specifically, the shelter must pass rigorous inspections every year, create and implement a robust disease control program, keep proper records, comply with the stray/hold law, and only euthanize animals humanely. Simply put, Elizabeth Animal Shelter must follow the law.

While the shelter’s apparent decision to impound fewer cats is preferable to killing these animals, the shelter is allowing problems to grow. Elizabeth Animal Shelter does not practice TNR to any significant degree. Therefore, the stray cats the shelter does not neuter and release remain intact and will continue to breed on the streets. Ultimately, residents will complain and either force the shelter to catch and kill these animals or potentially take matters into their own hands. Clearly, Elizabeth needs to practice TNR or better yet, Return to Field, preferably with the help of cat advocates, to limit the community cat population and resolve conflicts with people.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s complete reliance on a part time contractor to network with the rescue community is not sustainable. While this person has done an admirable job networking with rescues, it is unrealistic to expect this person to remain long-term at the shelter with the city paying her no more than $16,000 a year. Furthermore, the person will have difficulty performing all her duties with her just working 20 hours a week. In other words, Elizabeth should hire this contractor on a full time basis and adequately compensate her.

At a minimum, the city should reallocate the time this contractor spends conducting scientifically invalid behavioral evaluations to activities that would improve live release rates and care provided to animals. For example, this person could help design an enrichment program in conjunction with the shelter veterinarian, and help carry it out. Similarly, the part-time contractor could use this time to take engaging photos and videos of animals and write excellent adoption profiles.

Last year, this house of cards nearly collapsed. At the time, postings on social media suggested the city might part ways with this contractor. Thankfully, the rescue community protested and the part-time contractor remained with the shelter. However, this incident reveals how easily the shelter could regress.

Ultimately, a shelter must comprehensively adopt the 11 step No Kill Equation if it truly wants to succeed. Clearly, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter significantly improved after following the state’s seven day owner surrender protection period and using one No Kill Equation program, rescue partnerships. However, if the Elizabeth Animal Shelter wants to consistently provide a refuge for all the city’s homeless animals, it must enact most, if not all, of these programs.

Advertisements

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s No Kill Con Job (Part 2 of 3)

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.

Data Reviewed

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.

Bergen Dogs Killed ReasonsThe 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 2015 Dogs Killed for Behavior Issues Reasons

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.

Bergen no reason for killing for behavior1

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.

17068 17069 bergen

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.

Bergen Captain Evaluation Part 1.jpg

Bergen Captain Evaluation Part 2.jpgSpike was a 3 year old Labrador retriever surrendered by his owner to the Bergen County Animal Shelter on November 13, 2015. After spending around 4 weeks at the facility, the shelter evaluated Spike. The evaluation recommended killing Spike since he “is not manageable in a shelter environment” and two rescues couldn’t take him. During the evaluation, Spike didn’t “continue to engage” the handler and therefore had “an asocial nature that is inappropriate for the breed.” What were these “asocial” behaviors? These included rolling on his back and “jumping roughly on people” “to get people to STOP interacting with him.” The evaluation then made the leap of faith to state “if something annoys him, may follow through with a bite if not left alone.” The evaluation also cited Spike for being “very hard to manage on leash” and having an “unknown history” and a “very poor kennel presence” as “red flags” to support killing him. Bergen County Animal Shelter killed Spike one week after this evaluation. Personally, I’ve evaluated and interacted with tons of shelter dogs meeting this exact description and never would consider killing a dog for these reasons. Frankly, the evaluation sounded like it came from a heartless breed snob that would kill any individual animal not meeting the breed standard. Apparently, the evaluator could read Spike’s mind and determine common dog behaviors, such as rolling on his back, jumping, rubbing against a person and “intensely sniffing shoes” were intended to repel people away. Furthermore, the evaluator cited this as a reason why he is a bite risk. Condemning a dog to death for these things is simply unacceptable and even more so for a self-proclaimed “no kill” shelter.The shelter made little effort to save Spike. The shelter did not document any enrichment activities (Spike would have benefited greatly from playgroups), or any rehabilitation efforts to solve his alleged issues. Even worse, the shelter acted as if they did their duty by contacting a couple of rescues privately. If Spike truly required time out of the shelter and specialized training, Bergen County Animal Shelter could have placed him in a foster home. For example, Virginia’s Fairfax Animal Services was able to save 90% of dogs with aggression issues by sending those animals to foster homes. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter could have made public pleas to rescues to save Spike. Given he was a highly sought after Labrador retriever, many fosters would have stepped up. Simply put, Bergen County Animal Shelter failed Spike at every level.Bergen Spike Evaluation.jpgDog ID# 17117 was a 10-12 month old stray pit bull impounded by Bergen County Animal Shelter on July 18, 2015. Ten days after her arrival, the shelter evaluated her while she was in heat and sneezing. The evaluation, which included intrusive teeth checking and hugging tests, found she was friendly with people. However, the evaluator still decided to kill this young “wiggly”, “tail wagging”and “excited” young dog. The shelter claimed this dog was “not kenneling well” and she was dog aggressive.

How did this “no kill” shelter determine this young dog in heat was dog aggressive? They walked her down the kennels at the shelter and she “lunged at small dogs in kennels” and “showed a lot of focus” towards medium to large dogs and barked and growled when other dogs got agitated. So basically this dog was being a dog. Anyone who has volunteered at a shelter could say this about almost any dog walked out of the shelter past other dogs in cages. However, the canine behavior experts at Bergen County Animal Shelter made the thunderous conclusion that “she was not a quality adoption candidate” due to “dog aggresion” that “poses a liability and will limit home options.” Clearly, Bergen County Animal Shelter looked for a reason to kill this highly adoptable young grey pit bull.

Bergen Dog ID 17117 Evaluation Part 1Bergen Dog ID 17117 Evaluation Part 2

Dog ID# 17052 was a stray pit bull Bergen County Animal Shelter impounded on July 13, 2015. After over a month at the facility, the shelter decided to evaluate Dog ID# 17052. Based on the shelter’s evaluation below, this was a high energy and jumpy dog. Basically, a big puppy. In fact, the ASPCA’s Dr. Emily Weiss often cites research showing most people actually prefer dogs that jump and interact with people over more laid back animals. However, according to the behavior puritans at the Bergen County Animal Shelter, this dog had “difficult behaviors”, such as “quick arousal” and an “intense and persistent personality.” The evaluation goes on to say the dog “could be dangerous if not in the hands of an experienced handler.” Despite “jumping on the handler”, the evaluator claims the dog “lacks interest in people.” For these crimes, the evaluator sentenced this dog to death and the shelter killed her 6 days later. No rehabilitation efforts, no outreach, just a lethal injection.

Bergen Dog ID 17052 Evaluation

Inadequate Medical Reasons for Killing Dogs

The “medical issues” Bergen County Animal Shelter used for killing dogs are listed in the table below. Clearly, Bergen County Animal Shelter cited owner-requested euthanasia as the medical issue in most cases.

Bergen Medical Issues Dogs Reasons

Bergen County Animal Shelter provided no reason in most cases for killing animals allegedly surrendered by their owners for euthanasia due to “medical issues.”

Bergen Owner Requested Euth Dogs Medical.jpg

Given Bergen County Animal Shelter killed every single one of these dogs on the day the animal arrived at the facility or the day after, you would expect the shelter to clearly document the medical reasons for doing so. Under state law, shelters cannot kill companion animals, including owner surrenders, for 7 full days. In practice, the New Jersey Department of Health allows shelters to euthanize animals during the 7 day hold period if both of the following conditions are met:

  1. If a veterinarian deems euthanasia necessary for humane reasons to prevent excessive suffering when illness and injury is severe and the prognosis for recovery is extremely poor
  2. Only a licensed veterinarian should perform euthanasia in the above situation and they must clearly document the rationale in the animal’s medical record

Most disturbing was the case of two bulldogs, Willy and Viki, surrendered by their owner on November 14, 2015. Willy was 8 years old and Vicki was 9 years old. Bergen County Animal Shelter only cited “Elective euthanasia requested by owner” and killed the two dogs on the day they arrived at the shelter. Both dogs surrendered by their owner could not possibly be hopelessly suffering. Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated the 7 day hold period for owner surrenders.

18809 ORE.jpg

18810 ORE

Bergen County Animal Shelter even killed some dogs allegedly surrendered by their owners for euthanasia due to behavior reasons. As the New Jersey Department of Health guidance above states, shelters may only euthanize hopelessly suffering animals, and not animals the shelter considers aggressive, for 7 days. Sky was a 2 year old pit bull surrendered by her owner allegedly for euthanasia on July 20, 2015. The shelter killed this dog for “behavior issues” on the very same day.

17141 ORE Behavior Pt 1.jpg

17141 ORE Behavior Pt 2.jpg

Chico was an 11 year Lhasa Apso mix surrendered by his owner allegedly for euthanasia on July 10, 2015. The shelter cited “behavior issues” and killed Chico on the very same day. Once again, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated the 7 day hold period for owner surrendered animals.

17020 ORE behaviorBergen County Animal Shelter also failed to properly justify killing dogs during the 7 day hold period when it listed an actual medical reason. Zena was a 5 year old pit bull surrendered by her owner on July 3, 2015 allegedly for euthanasia. According to the record below (right click and click “Open image in new tab” to see a more legible version), the dog “had severe skin issues”, the dog was “taken to several vets over the years” and Zena was “starting to become aggressive with children because she is always in pain.” Bergen County Animal Shelter used this explanation as a basis for killing her on the day after she arrived at the facility. The shelter never specified what those skin issues were. Additionally, no shelter should kill a dog, let alone a 5 year old animal in the middle of her life, for skin issues. While some skin issues are tough to treat, there are many alternative treatments to try that can cure the condition or at least mitigate the symptoms. Frankly, Bergen County Animal Shelter did little to save this dog and used Zena’s skin issues as an excuse to kill her. No kill shelters go the extra mile to treat animals and don’t just write them off.

Zena Reason

Zena ORE

Bergen County Animal Shelter kills too many dogs almost immediately due to owners allegedly surrendering their animals for euthanasia. As a comparison, KC Pet Project, which is Kansas City’s animal control shelter, euthanized 68 dogs or 0.15 dogs per 1,000 people who were surrendered by their owners for euthanasia in 2015. On the other hand, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed 103 dogs or 0.23 dogs per 1,000 people who were surrendered by their owners for euthanasia in 2015. In other words, Bergen County Animal Shelter had 53% more dogs requested by their owners for euthanasia. Even worse, Bergen County Animal Shelter should have significantly fewer dogs requested by their owners for euthanasia due to Bergen County Animal Shelter serving a much wealthier population that can afford to use a private veterinarian for end of life care. Thus, the unusually high number of dogs requested by their owners for euthanasia and the absurd reasons Bergen County Animal Shelter documented suggests many of these animals were not hopelessly suffering.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s owner requested euthanasia statistics and records raise disturbing questions. At best, Bergen County Animal Shelter simply accepts an owner’s reason for requesting euthanasia, asks no questions, and kills the dog for a fee. On the other hand, Bergen County Animal Shelter could coerce people into signing off on killing their dogs. Given Bergen County Animal Shelter excluded dogs requested by their owners for euthanasia from their statistics reported to the New Jersey Department of Health and their live release rate calculations under the Asilomar Accords, the shelter benefits from putting dogs into this category. In fact, former Maddie’s Fund President, Richard Avanzino, stated a decade ago that shelters should stop deceiving people by excluding these animals from their statistics. As a result, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s negligence or outright deception has killed many dogs who had bright futures ahead of them.

Poor Reasons for Killing Cats

Bergen County Animal Shelter cited “medical issues” and “behavior issues” for killing 53% and 47% of the cats in the sample of records I reviewed. Assuming these percentages apply to all cats Bergen County Animal Shelter killed in 2015, the shelter killed approximately 19% and 16% of all cats who had outcomes for “medical issues” and “behavior issues.” Data from large no kill animal control shelters across the nation show 10% or fewer of the cats these facilities take in must be humanely euthanized for medical reasons. Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s kill rate for medical issues is around twice that level indicating the shelter kills many treatable cats. If we add the 788 cats Bergen County Animal Shelter claims it trapped, neutered and released in 2015 to 47% of the 619 cats I estimate Bergen County Animal Shelter killed for “behavior issues”, the shelter classified approximately 42% of the cats it took in as feral or aggressive. Based on data I’ve reviewed from many shelters, around 20% or less of cats animal control shelters take in are initially aggressive (and many of these respond to socialization). That means Bergen County Animal Shelter labels cats as feral or aggressive at twice the rate of the typical animal control shelter. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter kills too many cats it classifies as “untreatable.”

bergen-cats-killed-reasons

Shelter Kills Cats with Treatable Medical Issues

The table below lists the top reasons Bergen County Animal Shelter used to kill/euthanize cats for “medical issues” in the sample I reviewed.

Bergen Cats Killed for Medical Issues.jpg

Bergen County Animal Shelter killed many cats for no documented medical reason other than owner-requested euthanasia. The shelter alleged owners requested the facility to euthanize 6 of these 10 cats. In fact, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed every single one of these cats on the day the cat arrived at the shelter. As mentioned above, shelters cannot kill animals during the 7 day hold period unless their veterinarian clearly documents why the animal is hopelessly suffering and the veterinarian euthanizes the animal. Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated the 7 day hold period for each of these animals. None of these cats were very young kittens that could easily succumb to illness. 4 of the 6 cats were 15 years and older, but the shelter documented no health issues. As a result, Bergen County Animal Shelter appeared to just kill cats allegedly brought in by their owners for euthanasia or possibly coerced people to allow the shelter to kill their pets.

Cat ID# 16955 was a 10 year old male domestic tabby allegedly surrendered by his owner for euthanasia on July 7 2015. Despite having an owner, Bergen County Animal Shelter listed no name for this cat. Bergen County Animal Shelter killed this cat on the very day he arrived at the shelter for no reason other than “Medical Issues” and “Euthanasia Request” in violation of state law.

Cat 16955 killed
Bergen County Animal Shelter euthanized four other cats in the sample for no documented medical reason. Only 1 of the 4 cats was a very young kitten that might have been susceptible to severe illness. The shelter simply killed these cats and did not disclose the specific medical issue. For example, Cat ID# 17032 was a 14 year and 3 month old cat allegedly surrendered by her owner on July 11, 2015. Despite the shelter stating she had an owner, no one documented her name in her records. Bergen County Animal Shelter killed her 25 days later and simply stated “Medical Issues” and “o.surrender.”

Cat ID 17032 killed

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV is a disease similar to HIV that weakens a cat’s immune system. Generally speaking, FIV is difficult to spread as it is only passed to other cats through deep bite wounds. While the disease can compromise a cat’s immune system, some cats can live many years pretty much like a normal cat. Practically speaking, FIV cats should be altered and live either alone or with other cats that are compatible with them. While these cats may need extra care, progressive shelters save these animals and adopt them out.

Bergen County Animal Shelter killed FIV positive cats that did not look like they were hopelessly suffering. Cat ID# 16903 was a stray 18 month old cat impounded from Closter on July 2, 2015. After testing positive for FIV, the shelter killed him. The cat’s records did not report any symptoms or other health problems. Simply put, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed this young cat due to a positive FIV test result.

Cat 16903 Killed for FIV

Cat 16903 Killed for FIV Part 2

Feline Leukemia Virus or FeLV is a retrovirus that only affects cats. Healthy cats with normal immune systems quickly fight off the disease. However, the disease can infect cats with impaired immune systems. The disease suppresses a cat’s immune system and most cats live 2-3 years with the disease, but some animals live for a much longer period of time. In a shelter environment, FeLV positive cats won’t spread the disease as long as the animals are housed in separate areas and shelters adhere to proper cleaning and disease control protocols. Progressive no kill shelters, such as Austin Pets Alive, adopt out FeLV positive cats successfully. Furthermore, shelters can use foster programs to effectively house these animals outside a shelter environment.

Bergen County Animal Shelter killed an FeLV positive cat in the one FeLV record I examined. Simba (Cat ID# 18939) was a 6 year and 2 month old neutered cat surrendered by his owner on November 27, 2015. He passed his behavioral evaluation. Besides being overweight and having some dental issues, Simba did not appear as if he was hopelessly suffering at the time. However, Simba tested positive in an FeLV test and Bergen County Animal Shelter killed him. No records provided to me indicated the shelter made any effort to save Simba’s life.

Cat 18939 Killed FeLV

Cat 18939 Killed FeLV PT2.jpg

Temperament Tests Used to Kill Cats

Bergen County Animal Shelter used its feline behavioral evaluations to justify killing virtually every cat for “behavior issues” in the records I examined. Despite feline behavior experts stating shelters should not use these evaluations as a “pass/fail test on adopatabilty”, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed cats who failed these assessments almost immediately afterwards. Additionally, a recent study published in the scientific journal, Preventive Veterinary Medicine, found all cats initially classified as feral/aggressive became adoptable after 6 days when the shelter used a gradual process of gentle touching (using a stick for very aggressive cats) and talking with a soft voice. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s use of temperament testing to kill healthy and treatable cats proves the shelter is not no kill.

Cat ID# 16904 was a stray 3 year old cat impounded from Elmwood Park on July 2, 2015. On July 10, 2015, Bergen County Animal Shelter evaluated the young male cat. The behavioral assessment stated the cat comes to the front of his cage with encouragement, was indifferent to human touch, was more interested in exploring his environment than interacting with people, and was social for 1-2 minutes with people. Based on the shelter’s scoring system, most of these tests contributed negatively to the cat’s behavioral assessment. Even worse, the shelter further condemned this young cat to death by failing him on intrusive tests, such as “kid petting”, “kid’s hold”, “baby hold”, “tummy and feet” touching and “head and tail” touching. Bergen County Animal Shelter killed this young cat the very next day using this “failed” behavioral evaluation as the justification. The shelter’s records documented no effort to socialize this cat. Simply put, Bergen County Animal Shelter looked for reasons to kill this young cat.

Cat 16904 Killed Behavior Part 1

Cat 16904 Killed Behavior Part 2.jpg

Cat 16904 Killed Behavior Part 3.jpg

Cat ID# 17085 was an adult stray cat impounded by Bergen County Animal Shelter on July 15, 2015. The shelter listed the cat’s sex as “unknown” and did not document the animal’s age despite state law requiring the shelter to record the animal’s sex and age. According to the shelter’s behavioral evaluation, the cat would not come to the front of his/her cage and seemed indifferent to human touch. The shelter then noted the cat backed away when touched and was hard to pick up with a hidey box. The evaluator then stated “I feel might try and bolt if given a chance.” The evaluator wrote “done” and did not complete the rest of the cat’s behavioral evaluation. On that very day, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed this cat ostensibly due to the evaluator feeling like the cat might bolt. Apparently, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cat evaluator feels a cat is better off dead than possibly getting out of a house one day.

Cat 17085 Killed for behavior pt 1

Cat 17085 Killed for behavior pt 2

Cat 17085 Killed for behavior pt 3.jpg

Cat ID# 17035 was a stray adult female cat impounded by Bergen County Animal Shelter on July 11, 2015. The cat stayed in front of her cage and reached out to people for attention. Additionally, the cat initiated petting by rubbing against people and moved close to people for affection. Also, the cat was more interested in people than the environment. In fact, the cat appeared to pass the shelter’s overbearing temperament test. However, Bergen County Animal Shelter still decided to kill this friendly cat since she “freaks out”, twists to get out and then bites when someone tries to pick her up. Two days later Bergen County Animal Shelter killed this cat. To kill this friendly cat for not liking shelter staff picking her up is simply unacceptable let alone for a no kill shelter.

cat 17035 killed behavior pt 1

cat 17035 killed behavior pt 2.jpg

cat 17035 killed behavior pt 3

Controversial Coyote Killing

On May 2, 2015 various news outlets reported Bergen County Animal Shelter taking in a sick coyote from Elmwood Park. The Elmwood Park Chief of Police stated the animal was a young female who weighed around 30-40 pounds. Additionally, the Chief of Police clearly said the coyote “was injured and did not appear to be aggressive.”

Over the next day, Bergen County Animal Shelter Director, Deborah Yankow, and Bergen County Health Officer, Nancy Mangieri, exchanged emails on the topic. In one email, Ms. Yankow stated the coyote was sick and was being sent for rabies testing despite no known exposures. Instead of confining the animal for observation, the shelter simply killed the coyote immediately. Clearly, Ms. Yankow was worried about the shelter’s action as she told her boss “We may get media attention if this get out there.” In response, Nancy Mangieri requested all the details about the incident and Ms. Yankow stated she would get a report from the animal control officer.

BACA Coyote Killed Emails

The ACO’s report indicated the animal was sick, but no clear signs of rabies were present. The coyote, which was clearly ill, still exhibited normal instead of aggressive behavior when it tried to elude capture. After taking the animal to the shelter, Bergen County Animal Shelter officials noticed “some hair loss around the back leg area” and killed the coyote to test her for rabies. Presumably, the shelter also decapitated the coyote to submit her brain for rabies testing. The New Jersey Department of Health’s recent guidance states shelters should not kill domestic dogs, which are so closely related to coyotes that the species can interbreed, to test for rabies unless the animal displays clinical symptoms of the disease due to the low risk of rabies in this species. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter casually killed a coyote who did not display symptoms of rabies.

BCAS Coyote Incident Report

Unsurprisingly, the lab results proved the coyote did not have rabies. Instead of confining the animal and treating her illness, the Bergen County Animal Shelter casually killed this young coyote who had her whole life ahead of her.

BCAS Coyote Rabies Test.jpg

BCAS Coyote Photo 1

BCAS Coyote Photo 2

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Questionable Euthanasia Practices

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s euthanasia logs list suspicious weights and raise questions as to whether the shelter actually weighed the animals. You can view the logs I obtained here and here. Under N.J.A.C. 8:23A-1.11 (f) 3 and 4, shelters must weigh each animal and keep a log of those body weights as well as the drugs used to immobilize and euthanize the animals. As you can see below, Bergen County Animal Shelter used the approximation sign (i.e. ~) before all the weights raising questions as to whether staff actually weighed the animals. Furthermore, the shelter listed weights in the log that were often convenient numbers, such as 15, 70, 55, 80, 20, 30, etc. Frankly, I find it highly unlikely that many animals just happened to weigh in at these user friendly amounts.

While the doses of Fatal Plus the shelter used seemed appropriate for the weights listed, animals could have received too low of a dose if the animals really weighed much more. If animals received too small of a dose of Fatal Plus, they could have actually been alive after they were disposed of unless the shelter verified the animals were in fact dead.

BCAS Euth Weights

Clearly, Bergen County Animal Shelter uses absurd justifications to kill animals. From using temperament tests to kill adoptable animals to taking the lives of animals with treatable conditions to illegally killing animals during the 7 day hold period, Bergen County Animal Shelter fails on every level to live up to its claim of being a no kill shelter. Part 3 will examine the shelter’s policies that create this culture of killing and how we can change things for the better.