Bergen County Animal Shelter Continues its Killing Spree in 2016

Last year, I wrote a series of blogs on the regressive Bergen County Animal Shelter. Part 1 highlighted the shelter’s high kill rate in 2015 despite the facility claiming it was “no kill.” Part 2 examined the absurd reasons Bergen County Animal Shelter used to justify this killing. Part 3 discussed the shelter’s poor policies and how it could change them to improve.

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog on Bergen County Animal Shelter’s 2016 statistics for dogs and cats coming in from the town of Kearny. Sadly, the shelter’s Kearny statistics revealed the facility killed many dogs. Additionally, despite having a successful TNR program, Bergen County Animal Shelter still killed healthy and treatable cats.

Did Bergen County Animal Shelter perform better in 2016 for the other municipalities it contracts with? Was Bergen County Animal Shelter still high kill for these other cities and towns?

Shelter Kills Huge Numbers of Dogs

Bergen County Animal Shelter continued to kill many dogs in 2016. Overall, 22% of all dogs, 42% of pit bulls, 9% of small dogs and 26% of other medium to large sized breeds lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter during the year. As a comparison, only 2% of all dogs and 4% of pit bulls lost their lives at Austin Animal Center in fiscal year 2016 despite that shelter taking in many more dogs in total and on a per capita basis. If we just count dogs who Bergen County Animal Shelter had to find new homes for (i.e. excluding dogs reclaimed by their owners), 37% of all dogs, 63% of pit bulls, 17% of small dogs and 40% of other medium to large sized breeds were killed or died at the shelter. To put it another way, more than 1 in 3 nonreclaimed dogs, nearly 2 in 3 nonreclaimed pit bulls, nearly 1 in 5 nonreclaimed small dogs and more than 1 in 4 nonreclaimed other medium to large size breeds lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter. Thus, all types of dogs entering the Bergen County Animal Shelter had a significant chance of losing their life.

Bergen County Animal Shelter hardly adopted out any dogs. Despite being a well-known county shelter in a high traffic area, the facility only adopted out 176 dogs during the year or less than 1 dog every 2 days. Furthermore, 101 of those adoptions were small dogs, which shelters have to do little work to adopt out. Bergen County Animal Shelter only adopted out 75 medium to large size dogs, which included just 33 pit bulls and 42 other medium to large size breeds. This works out to less than three pit bull adoptions and less than four other medium to large size breed adoptions a month.

The shelter also sent very few medium to large size dogs to rescues. While my prior dog report card blog on the state’s shelters showed Bergen County Animal Shelter had plenty of space to adopt out all of it nonreclaimed dogs, one would think the facility would at least try to send dogs it was going to kill to rescues instead. In fact, Bergen County Animal Shelter only sent 22 out of 309 medium-large size dogs to rescues in 2016. Even worse, Bergen County Animal Shelter only transferred 5 out of 155 pit bulls to rescues during the year. In fact, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed 13 times more pit bulls than it sent to rescues. Despite the shelter’s policy of contacting rescues prior to killing, I’ve personally never seen Bergen County Animal Shelter ever make a public plea to rescues to save dogs the shelter was going to kill. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter would rather kill medium to large size dogs than actually ask for help to save these animals.

2016 Bergen County Animal Shelter Statistics

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s statistics for dogs labeled as “adult” were even worse. Overall, 23% of all adult dogs, 47% of adult pit bulls, 9% of adult small dogs and 29% of adult other medium to large size breeds lost their lives. If we only count dogs the shelter had to find new homes for, 41% of nonreclaimed adult dogs, 73% of nonreclaimed adult pit bulls, 17% of nonreclaimed adult small dogs and 47% of nonreclaimed adult other medium to large size breeds lost their lives in 2016. To put it another way, around 3 out of 4 nonreclaimed adult pit bulls and nearly 1 out of 2 nonreclaimed other medium to large size breeds lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2016. Simply put, Bergen County Animal Shelter acted more like a pet killing factory than an animal shelter for adult medium to large size dogs requiring a new home.

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Dogs Stay Too Long at Shelter

Bergen County Animal Shelter took too long to adopt out dogs. Overall, the average length of stay was 35 days for all dogs, 42 days for pit bulls, 34 days for small dogs and 31 days for other medium to large size breeds. Despite killing many dogs, sending few dogs to rescues and hardly adopting out dogs (i.e. the dogs the facility adopted out were likely the cream of the crop), the shelter took on average a whopping 63 days to adopt out its dogs. Similarly, Bergen County Animal Shelter took 77 days, 55 days and 73 days to adopt out its pit bulls, small dogs and other medium to large size breeds. As a comparison, other successful shelters adopt out dogs, pit bulls in particular, at a much quicker rate despite having to place animals with more issues due to these facilities’ high live release rates. For example, New York’s Tompkins County SPCA adopted out its small dogs and pit bulls in around one third less time as Bergen County Animal Shelter. Similarly, Oregon’s Greenhill Humane Society adopted out its pit bulls in about half the time as Bergen County Animal Shelter. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter adopted out few dogs and took too long to do so.

The shelter also took too much time to send dogs to rescues. Specifically, Bergen County Animal Shelter took on average 41 days to send each dog to a rescue. The shelter took on average 71 days, 49 days and 20 days to send each pit bull, small dog, and other medium to large size breed to rescues. As a comparison, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter took on average 14 days, 24 days, 8 days and 11 days to adopt out/send to rescues (almost all were sent to rescues rather than adopted out) its dogs, pit bulls, small dogs, and other medium to large size breeds. In other words, Bergen County Animal Shelter took approximately 3 to 6 times longer to send its dogs to rescues than the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Therefore, even though Bergen County Animal Shelter sent few dogs to rescues, it still took way too much time to do so.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s inability to safely place dogs quickly increases the chance animals develop behavioral problems, medical issues, and ultimately raises the cost to operate the facility. In fact, shelter medicine experts consider length of stay a “critical factor” for shelters and decreasing it is essential for reducing disease, behavioral problems, and costs. Ultimately, if a shelter wants to achieve a high live release rate it must quickly place its animals safely.

2016 Bergen County Animal Shelter Dog Length of Stay Data

Many Cats Lose Their Lives

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s cat statistics in 2016 were also ugly. Overall, 25% of cats lost their lives or went missing. 35% of cats labeled as “adult” and 13% of cats labeled as “kitten” were killed, died or went missing. If we just count cats the shelter had to find new homes for (i.e. excluding owner reclaims and cats “released” through TNR and other programs), 31% of all cats, 51% of cats with an “adult” label and 14% of cats with a “kitten” classification lost their lives or went missing. Thus, cats of all ages were not safe at Bergen County Animal Shelter.

2016 Bergen County Animal Shelter Cats Statistics

Bergen County Animal Shelter performed significantly worse than Austin Animal Center in Texas. To compare the two shelters, I tabulated Bergen County Animal Shelter’s statistics according to major cat age groups Austin Animal Center uses:

  1. Cats 1 year and older
  2. Cats 6 weeks to just under 1 year
  3. Cats under 6 weeks

At Bergen County Animal Shelter, 25% of all cats, 25% of cats 1 year and older, 23% of kittens aged 6 weeks to just under 1 year and 94% of kittens under 6 weeks lost their lives or went missing. On the other hand, only 5% of all cats, 7% of cats 1 year and older, 3% of kittens aged 6 weeks to just under 1 year and 5% of kittens under 6 weeks lost their lives or went missing at Austin Animal Center in 2016. In other words, the death rate at Bergen County Animal Shelter was 4 to 19 times greater for cats of various ages. These differences were even larger if we compared the nonreclaimed cat death rate. Therefore, despite Bergen County Animal Shelter impounding far fewer cats than Austin Animal Center in total and on a per capita basis, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed a much higher percentage of these animals.

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Austin Animal Center 2016 Cat Statistics

Shelter Fails to Safely Place Cats Quickly

Cats typically do not take life in traditional shelter environments well. While shelters can modify housing and create enrichment programs to make cats happier, reducing length of stay in a good way is critical. Ultimately, shelters are unnatural and scary environments for cats and facilities must quickly place these animals to achieve high live release rates.

Bergen County Animal Shelter took too long to adopt out its cats. Overall, the shelter’s average length of stay was 58 days for all cats, 59 days for 1 year and older cats, 55 days for older kittens and 18 days for neonatal kittens. However, the shelter took on average 78 days, 86 days and 60 days to adopt out all cats, 1 year and older cats and older kittens. As a comparison, Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society’s average length of stay for cats over 4 months of age and 4 months and younger were 23 days and 27 days (most cats were adopted out). Furthermore, Longmont Humane Society moved its cats quickly out of its shelter through adoption and achieved a 92% cat live release rate (92% for older cats and 91% for 4 months and younger cats). Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter took too long to adopt out its cats.

Bergen County Animal Shelter also took too much time to send cats to rescues. Despite transferring only 3% of its cats to rescues, the shelter took 117 days, 147 days and 65 days to send all cats, 1 year and older cats and older kittens to rescues. As a comparison, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter sent significantly more cats to rescues in 2016 and only took 8 days, 10 days and 5 days to send all cats, cats labeled as adults and kittens to rescues/adopters (almost all went to rescues). Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter took too long to send cats to rescues.

The shelter’s neonatal kitten data suggests the facility cannot properly care for these vulnerable creatures. Out of 18 neonatal kittens entering Bergen County Animal Shelter last year, 17 lost their lives or went missing. In fact, the only one that lived was “released” to the Bergen County Health Department. Since the Bergen County Health Department runs a TNR program, it is possible this animal was returned to where it was found (i.e. not difficult to do). If this was the case, it would raise ethical concerns given the young age of this animal. Most disturbingly, the shelter killed 9 of these kittens after just 6 days on average and another 7 of these animals died after only 10 days on average. Based on this data, this suggests Bergen County Animal Shelter’s neonatal kittens quickly became very sick. Given the tiny number of neonatal kittens taken in, the shelter should have been able to place these animals in foster homes and/or provide intensive bottle feeding in a quiet nursery area. Instead, these most vulnerable animals faced an almost certain death sentence.

2016 Bergen County Animal Shelter Cat Length of Stay

Illegal Killing During Seven Day Protection Period

Max was a 10 year old cat surrendered by his owner for aggression on October 4, 2016. According to Max’s veterinarian, the family could opt to use a behaviorist to try and solve his problems. However, the family decided to not go that route and allegedly requested Bergen County Animal Shelter kill their cat. On that very day, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed Max and made no effort to save him.

Under state law, shelters cannot kill companion animals, including owner surrenders, for seven full days. In practice, the New Jersey Department of Health allows shelters to euthanize animals during the seven day protection 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

Clearly, an aggressive cat is not hopelessly suffering. Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated state law and is subject to a fine of up to $2,000 for “needlessly killing” Max under N.J.S.A 4:22.

Most importantly, Bergen County Animal Shelter never tried to rehabilitate Max, place him in a barn cat program or in a feral cat colony. Simply put, Bergen County took money and quickly killed Max.

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Cat ID# 23243 was surrendered to the Bergen County Animal Shelter on September 13, 2016 after the animal’s owner died. After a mere four days, the shelter conducted a temperament test and determined the cats was aggressive and a “danger to staff.” Why did the shelter conclude this? The cat tried to bite when the evaluator touched the animal’s tummy then feet as well when the the tester tugged on the pet’s tail. In other words, Bergen County Animal Shelter instigated a stressed out cat whose owner died and was just dropped off in a scary shelter.

Once again, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated state shelter law. The shelter killed Cat ID# 23243 after just six days. Therefore, the shelter violated the seven day protection period since this cat was not hopelessly suffering. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter is subject to a fine of up to $2,000 for “needlessly killing” this animal under N.J.S.A 4:22.

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Blue was a 2 year old cat surrendered by his owner to the Bergen County Animal Shelter on April 4, 2016. Blue’s owner rescued him from a warehouse, but had to surrender the cat due to the owner’s new apartment not allowing pets. According to Blue’s owner, Blue didn’t like people much until he got to know them. The owner also mentioned Blue could bite when startled and did not like being petted and held. In other words, Blue had “catitude.” The owner also stated Blue was litter box trained and lived indoors.

Despite Blue’s owner clearly indicating Blue needing time to warm up to people, Bergen County Animal Shelter forced him to endure an intrusive and seemingly threatening evaluation just three days later. Unsurprisingly, Blue reacted scared and aggressive to the evaluator grabbing and roughly touching him. Shockingly, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s veterinarian approved killing Blue illegally during the owner surrender protection period if he “becomes a safety issue.” As expected, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed Blue the next day only four days after he arrived at the facility.

As mentioned above, a shelter cannot kill any animal for aggression or safety of staff during the seven day protection period. As such, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated state shelter law and is subject to a fine of up to $2,000 for “needlessly killing” Blue during the seven day protection period.

To make matters worse, this cat already lived in a home making the staff safety issue null and void. Furthermore, no cat could ever pose such a serious danger to staff that killing the animal would be necessary. Even if safety was an issue, wouldn’t staff be exposed to danger when they handled the cat in order to kill the animal? Once again, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed an animal for convenience.

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Bergen County Residents Must Demand Much More

Clearly, Bergen County continues to operate a regressive animal shelter. As I discussed last year, Bergen County residents should be outraged that their tax dollars support a high kill shelter that conducts illegal activities and their elected leaders tried to deceive their constituents into believing it was “no kill.” If you live in Bergen County, please contact the following elected representatives and tell them you expect Bergen County to hire a top notch shelter director who will adopt the 11 step No Kill Equation and achieve live release rates well over 90% like Austin, Texas and hundreds of other communities have.

  • James Tedesco III, Bergen County Executive: 201-336-730; countyexecutive@co.bergen.nj.us
  •  Tracy Silna Zur, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-628; Tracyzur@co.bergen.nj.us
  • Thomas J. Sullivan, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6277; tsullivan@co.bergen.nj.us 
  • Joan M. Voss, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6279; jvoss@co.bergen.nj.us
  • Mary J. Amoroso, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6275; mamoroso@co.bergen.nj.us 
  • David L. Ganz, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6280; DavidLGanz@co.bergen.nj.us 
  • Germaine M. Ortiz, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6276; gortiz@co.bergen.nj.us 
  • Steven A. Tanelli, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders: 201-336-6278; STanelli@co.bergen.nj.us 
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR Program Saves Lives, But Does Not Protect All Animals

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and Return to Field programs save lives. TNR programs sterilize and return cats to a colony with a human caretaker while Return to Field initiatives also return healthy cats to where the cats were found if no caretaker exists. A recent study of an intensive Return to Field program in Florida found:

  1. Cat intake at shelter decreased by 66% over a two year period
  2. Cat intake and killing at shelter were 3.5 times and 17.5 times higher in places outside of the zip codes where the intensive Return to Field program took place
  3. Dog intake at shelter decreased by a third due to the program increasing community engagement and freeing up shelter resources to help people keep dogs they were considering surrendering to the shelter

Unsurprisingly, many animal advocates believe TNR is “the solution” to ending the killing of healthy and treatable cats in shelters.

In 2014, Kearny animal advocates successfully convinced elected officials to implement TNR. Initially, Mayor Santos opposed TNR and residents worked to change his mind. At the time, I fully supported their courageous effort and was delighted to see them succeed with help from Bergen County Animal Shelter several months later.

Kearny implemented its TNR program around the beginning of 2015 and volunteers have run it for the last two or so years. Under the program, Bergen County Animal Shelter trains caretakers who trap and feed cats and monitor the cat colonies. Bergen County Animal Shelter sterilizes the cats and those costs are included in the municipality’s animal and control sheltering contract fees. Additionally, the program requires caretakers to register colonies with the town’s TNR Committee, keep detailed records, and resolve complaints with residents.

Has Kearny’s TNR program reduced cat intake and killing at the Bergen County Animal Shelter? Did Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program eliminate the killing of Kearny’s healthy and treatable cats and dogs?

Kearny TNR Program Significantly Decreases Cat Intake and Killing

Bergen County Animal Shelter impounded and killed far fewer cats from Kearny after the town enacted TNR. Prior to implementing TNR, Bergen County Animal Shelter impounded 300 stray cats from Kearny during the first 8 months of 2014. Based on Bergen County Animal Shelter’s stray cat data from all of its municipalities in 2015, I estimate the shelter impounded 425 stray cats from Kearny in 2014. Using the shelter’s 40% cat kill rate in 2014, I estimate Bergen County Animal Shelter killed 170 stray cats from Kearny in the year prior to enacting TNR. As a comparison, Bergen County Animal Shelter impounded around 150 stray cats from Kearny and killed 19 of those cats in 2016. Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter reduced the number of stray cats it impounded from Kearny by around 275 cats or 65% in 2016 verses 2014. Similarly, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed/euthanized around 151 or 89% fewer cats in 2016 verses 2014. Thus, the Kearny TNR program sharply reduced cat intake at the shelter and saved large numbers of the town’s cats.

Kearny volunteers and Bergen County Animal Shelter worked together to trap, neuter, vaccinate and release large numbers of cats. Specifically, volunteers trapped 205 cats in 2016 and Bergen County Animal Shelter sterilized, vaccinated and released almost all of these animals. Therefore, both TNR volunteers and Bergen County Animal Shelter actively worked together to make the TNR program succeed.

Kearny’s mayor recently wrote a letter to Lyndhurst elected officials touting the program’s success. Specifically, Mayor Santos cited fewer feral cats, reduced nuisance complains, improved public health and improved animal welfare. Kearny’s mayor sent this letter to encourage Lyndhurst lawmakers to enact a similar program in their borough.

TNR Program Fails to Save all of Kearny’s Healthy and Treatable Cats

While Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program significantly reduced cat killing in Kearny, the shelter still kills too many cats from the town. 16% of cats impounded from Kearny in 2016 lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter. This death rate exceeds the general no kill benchmark of 10% and is twice as high as the 8% goal I use. If I focus just on Kearny cats Bergen County Animal Shelter has to find new homes for (i.e. excluding cats reclaimed by owners and placed into TNR colonies), the shelter killed 20% or 1 in every 5 of these animals. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter has not achieved no kill status for Kearny’s cats despite having a successful TNR program.

The table below summarizes the reasons Bergen County Animal Shelter used to kill and euthanize Kearny’s cats. Bergen County Animal shelter cited testing positive for FELV or FIV as a reason for taking the lives of 41% of the Kearny cats it killed. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter cited behavior/feral for killing another 27% of the cats. The shelter euthanized 18% of the cats due to injuries sustained after being hit by cars. Bergen County Animal Shelter killed/euthanized another 19% of the cats for having upper respiratory and other undefined illnesses.

2016 BCAS Kearny Cats Killed Reasons

Bergen County Animal Shelter used positive FELV and FIV snap tests as an excuse to kill cats. Based on the records I reviewed, none of these cats were hopelessly suffering. As I discussed in a prior blog, many shelters successfully adopt out both FIV and FELV positive cats. Furthermore, both Alley Cat Allies and Neighborhood Cats support neutering and releasing otherwise healthy FIV and FELV positive cats. In addition, these organizations oppose testing and killing for FIV and FELV based on the following reasons:

  1. Tests are unreliable and often positive results relate to a prior vaccination
  2. Spaying/neutering reduces risk of disease transmission
  3. Most cats are asymptomatic
  4. Tests are expensive and divert resources from lifesaving programs
  5. American Association of Feline Practitioners oppose routine killing of FIV and FELV positive cats

Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed several cats from Kearny for “behavior” and/or being “feral” despite the shelter having a TNR program in the town.

Cat ID# 20765 was a stray cat impounded from Kearny. After just a single day, Bergen County Animal Shelter tested the cat for FELV and determined he was FELV positive. Despite no documented FELV symptoms or any other medical condition, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed him on the very same day. In addition, the shelter miraculously concluded he was feral after just a single day at the shelter. As a result, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated the state’s 7 day stray hold period and needlessly killed this cat despite having a TNR program in place.

Cat ID# 22471 was a stray “feral” cat with a “possible ear tip” impounded by the Bergen County Animal Shelter. Despite Bergen County Animal Shelter having a TNR program, the shelter killed him 7 days later on the very same day he tested positive for FIV.

22471 Intake Form.jpg

22471 Intake Form 2

22471 Medical Record and Euthanasia Record

Cat ID# 21796 was a cat impounded from the “Isabelle house colony” in Kearny on June 16, 2016. After about two months, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed her for testing positive for FIV. The shelter documented no other medical issues in her records.

Tom was a 1 year old cat from Kearny and was surrendered to the shelter due to his owner moving to a place that did not allow cats. According to the owner, Tom was litter box trained, did not bite even if startled, and was an indoor cat. While Tom did not like to be held or petted, many people adopt cats with “cattitude.” Despite successfully living in a home, Bergen County Animal Shelter evaluated Tom, who was likely stressed adjusting to a shelter environment, just 4 days after arriving at the facility and deemed him aggressive. On the very same day, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed Tom during the 7 day owner surrender protection period. Bergen County Animal Shelter made no effort to socialize Tom despite strong evidence showing a structured program can make many “feral” or “aggressive” cats adoptable. Even if Tom was “aggressive”, Bergen County Animal Shelter could have placed him in a colony. Instead, Bergen County Animal Shelter illegally killed this perfectly healthy cat.

Bergen County Animal Shelter could have attained a no kill level live release rate for Kearny’s cats. If the shelter saved its FIV and FELV positive cats who appeared healthy and treatable and those it deemed “aggressive”, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s death rate would decrease from 16% to 9%. Furthermore, if the shelter saved several other cats that clearly were treatable, Bergen County Animal Shelter could have reduced the Kearny cat death rate to 8% or lower. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program did not protect all of Kearny’s healthy and treatable cats.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Death Camp for Kearny Dogs

Bergen County Animal Shelter killed Kearny’s homeless dogs at an astronomical rate. 39% of all dogs, 79% of pit bulls and 17% of the other breeds impounded from Kearny during 2016 lost their lives. If we just count the dogs not reclaimed by owners (i.e. dogs the shelter had to find new homes for), 65% of all dogs, 92% of pit bulls and 36% of other breeds lost their lives. Simply put, Bergen County Animal Shelter was more likely to kill dogs from Kearny than find them new homes. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter acted more like an exterminator than an animal shelter when it came to Kearny’s homeless dogs.

2016 BCAS Kearny Dog Statistics

Bergen County killed virtually all of these Kearny dogs for so-called “behavior” reasons. The shelter cited “behavior” as the reason for killing 11 or 79% of the 14 dogs killed. Several medical reasons, some of which did not show the dog was hopelessly suffering, were used to justify killing/euthanizing the other 3 dogs.

Kearny Dogs Killed

Dog ID# 19450 was a stray dog brought to the Bergen County Animal Shelter by the Kearny Police Department. The dog’s intake record stated “Nice Dog”, “Friendly” and listed 3 heart signs indicating this was a wonderful animal.

Despite this glowing review of the dog outside of his kennel, Bergen County Animal Shelter decided to kill him 16 days later for “agitated barking” and failing to “display soft friendly behavior” in his kennel. The shelter justified this absurd decision since the dog continued his “agitated barking” after a staff person knelt down and offered a treat. Speaking as someone who dealt with the very same type of dogs at other shelters, barrier reactivity does not mean a dog is aggressive (especially one that is “Nice” and “Friendly”). In fact, the Executive Director of the open admission Humane Society of Fremont County proved even highly aggressive dogs can come around. Furthermore, the dog was sent to an isolation area and given an antibiotic three days after his evaluation suggesting he may have been sick during the evaluation (i.e. which could have caused him to “display agitated barking). Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter needlessly killed a “nice” and “friendly” dog from Kearny.

19450 Surrender Form.jpg

19450 Surrender Form 2

19450 Evaluation.jpg

19450 Medical Treatment.jpg

19450 Killing Record.jpg

Yaya was a 9 month old dog from Kearny surrendered by her owner due to landlord issues to the Bergen County Animal Shelter. According to Yaya’s owner, Yaya lived with two adults and a child and had no behavioral issues. In fact, Yaya slept in a room next to the owner’s son.

Despite the owner’s positive experience living with Yaya in a real world setting, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed her for behavior reasons. According to Yaya’s initial evaluation on May 10, 2016, Yaya was so scared in the shelter that she “hunched up in a ball.” Furthermore, this evaluation noted Yaya was lactating and possibly being away from her puppies “may be adding to her anxiety.” The evaluation went on to recommend putting a vari kennel (i.e. a dog crate/carrier) in her enclosure to “give her a quieter place to relax.” Yaya’s second evaluation noted the “vari kennel had been removed from her kennel despite recommendations to keep in the kennel.” This second evaluation then condemned Yaya to death and justified it by stating she “growled at a female staff member”, “silently charged the gate” and “stood in front of kennel holding a hard stare.”

Bergen County Animal Shelter provided little to no help to ease Yaya’s obvious stress. First, Bergen County Animal Shelter failed to comply with their own recommendation to keep a dog crate/kennel in Yaya’s enclosure to reduce her anxiety. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated state law, N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.9(d) requiring shelters provide relief to “animals displaying signs of stress.” N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.9(d) goes on to state “environmental stress can be mediated through reducing the negative impact of excess noise, smells, visual stimuli, and perceived threats; socialization; exercise; increased privacy; and providing comfort, such as soft bedding.” Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated state law by failing to help ease the “environmental stress” Yaya endured.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s killing dogs for kennel stress (i.e. barrier reactivity, cage aggression, etc.) is absurd. 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. In the case of Yaya, we can clearly see she was stressed out in a shelter environment, perhaps exacerbated by being separated from puppies she may have had and her human family. Furthermore, Yaya’s family indicated the dog had no issues living in their home. Instead, Bergen County Animal Shelter should have let Yaya engage in real world situations, such as through socialization outside her kennel and structured play groups as a recent scientific study recommended. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s killing of Yaya goes against smart sheltering practices and basic common sense.

Yaya Owner Surrender Questionairre 1

Yaya Owner Surrender Questionairre 2

Yaya Evaluation

Yaya Killing Record

After reviewing Bergen County Animal Shelter’s records for the Kearny dogs it took in during 2016, it was quite clear the shelter could have saved at least 95% of these dogs. Instead, Bergen County Animal Shelter took the easy way out and frequently killed Kearny dogs for convenience and cost savings.

TNR Alone Does Not Create No Kill Communities 

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR program in Kearny proves organizations must implement the key No Kill Equation programs to create no kill communities. Certainly, TNR significantly decreased cat killing in Kearny, but many healthy and treatable cats and dogs from Kearny still lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter. Why? The shelter’s leader lacks a passionate commitment to lifesaving. When the shelter director looks for excuses to kill, such as a “positive” FIV or FELV test on an otherwise healthy cat or a dog stressed out in its kennel, healthy and treatable animals die no matter how good the organization’s TNR program is. Thus, Kearny or any community will never achieve no kill status until its shelter’s leaders become passionate about saving lives and enthusiastically implement the No Kill Equation.

So what should Kearny animal advocates do? First, they should thank Bergen County Animal Shelter and Kearny’s elected officials for embracing TNR. Second, they should encourage the town to consider altering the ordinance to eliminate the mandate to register colonies, as recommended by Alley Cat Allies, since this law punishes TNR practitioners who are doing lifesaving work, but are not able to comply with the ordinance’s burdensome record keeping requirements. Finally, residents should tell their elected officials to pressure Bergen County Animal Shelter to replace the facility’s incompetent shelter director and enthusiastically adopt the No Kill Equation. That is the only way we’ll make Kearny a no kill community.

2015 Cat Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

Cats are losing their lives at an alarming rate in New Jersey animal shelters. Nearly 16,000 cats or 36% of the cats coming into New Jersey animal shelters in 2015 were killed, died or went missing. This blog explores the reasons why this tragedy is occurring and whether we can end the massacre. Additionally, I’ll try and answer the question whether shelters need to resort to neutering and releasing healthy friendly cats or not impounding these cats at all to avoid killing cats in shelters.

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

In order to assess how good of a job New Jersey animal shelters are doing, I’ve developed an analysis I call the “Life Saving Model.” While shelter performance is dependent on many variables, such as finances, facility design, local laws, etc., the most critical factor impacting potential life saving is physical space. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey cats.

The Life Saving Model measures the number of local animals a shelter should adopt out, rescue from other facilities, send to rescues or other shelters and euthanize to achieve no kill level live release rates. The targeted outcomes take into account each facility’s physical capacity and the number of cats the organization receives from its community (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, cruelty cases). I assume a target euthanasia rate, take the number of cats actually returned to owners and then estimate how many community cats a shelter should adopt out. To the extent space runs out, I then calculate how many cats must be sent to rescue. If the shelter has excess space after properly serving its local community, the facility uses that room to rescue and adopt out cats from nearby areas. The targeted results calculated from this model are compared to the actual results from each shelter below.

The Life Saving Model requires a more complex analysis for cats than dogs in New Jersey. Generally speaking, New Jersey animal shelters receive few litters of young puppies who are vulnerable to disease. On the other hand, local shelters receive lots of young kittens, particularly during the April to October kitten season. These young kittens are highly vulnerable to disease and those without mothers require bottle feeding every 1-2 hours. Therefore, animal welfare organizations should not hold these kittens in a traditional shelter setting and instead should send these animals to foster homes or a kitten nursery at or outside of the facility. During the months outside of kitten season (i.e. November-March), my model assumes shelters with enough physical space will be able to place young kittens into their volunteers’ foster homes and/or in a kitten nursery run by the animal shelter. In kitten season with many young animals coming in, I assume a certain percentage of the cat intake will need to go to rescues or other shelters. For shelters who rescue cats, I assume a small percentage of the cats are young kittens who are hopelessly suffering and will require humane euthanasia. Thus, my Life Saving Model is a bit more complicated than the analysis I did for dogs.

To read specific details and assumptions used in the model, please see the Appendix at the end of this blog.

My analysis puts a cap on the targeted numbers of cats rescued from other shelters and adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I wanted to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animals shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita cat adoption rate less than half the level found at some of the best animal control shelters.

My modified analysis capped cat adoptions at 8 cats per 1,000 people within each New Jersey county. In other words, the targeted numbers of cats rescued from other shelters and adopted below are the lesser of

  1. Number predicted by model
  2. Number determined by capping adoptions at 8 cats per 1,000 people in the county

In simple terms, a shelter is expected to achieve this per capita adoption rate unless the facility lacks enough space. If a shelter does not have sufficient room, it won’t have the time to reach all the potential adopters and requires assistance from rescues and/or other facilities.

Another complexity in this analysis are feral cats. In an ideal world, shelters would practice trap-neuter-return (TNR) or shelter-neuter-return (SNR) for feral cats only. In TNR, the public or a third party typically does the work and the shelter doesn’t take in feral cats. In the variant of SNR I support, the shelter would take in feral cats, neuter them and release them back to where they were found. Unfortunately, many municipalities prohibit these programs and shelters in these places generally catch and kill feral cats.

Ideally, I would perform two analyses as follows:

  1. Modeling a large scale and targeted TNR program by reducing cat intake at shelters needing to implement TNR or improve their existing TNR programs
  2. Estimating the number of truly feral cats taken in and counting these cats as killed

The first analysis assumes TNR could be implemented and would result in fewer New Jersey cats for shelters to place. In a blog I wrote last year, I estimated the impact of a high volume targeted spay/neuter program. Generally speaking, this analysis required many animal control shelters to adopt out more cats, send fewer cats to rescue, and rescue more cats from other shelters due to the extra shelter space resulting from lower local cat intake. In other words, this analysis would require shelters to achieve higher performance targets.

The second analysis assumes local laws cannot be changed and shelters are stuck receiving unadoptable feral cats. Unfortunately, I do not have the data to calculate the percentage of truly feral cats received at each New Jersey animal shelter. Based on an analysis of Michigan animal shelter data, Nathan Winograd estimated at least 6% of cat intake at Michigan animal shelters are truly feral cats. Similarly, Wisconsin’s Clark County Humane Society 2014 cat statistics show feral cats who were trapped, vaccinated and returned to the community made up 7% of cat outcomes. Based on these numbers and the success of barn cat programs in Pflugerville, Texas and the Maryville, Tennessee area, barn cat programs should be able to save most feral cats in similar communities. On the other hand, California’s Orange County Animal Care reported approximately 24% of the cats it took in during 2012, which was before it practiced TNR, were feral and euthanized. However, I suspect at least some of these cats were fearful rather than truly feral and could have been socialized and eventually adopted out. In fact, a recent study documented 18% of impounded cats were feral/aggressive, but all these cats became safe enough to adopt out after people gently touched the cats and spoke to them softly for 6 days. Thus, the number of truly feral cats may be much lower than the amount of cats most shelters label as aggressive.

My model assumes shelters are doing the proper thing and practicing TNR and placing the reasonable number of feral cats received as barn cats. Obviously, many shelters do take in a good number of feral cats due to poor laws or misguided policies. As a result, the number of New Jersey cats killed may be higher than my model predicts for some shelters. However, my model’s results using total cat intake rather than assuming a larger percentage of feral cats will not be too much different for the targeted adoption and euthanasia rate metrics as explained in my blog from two years ago. The following analysis assumes shelters receive a reasonable number of truly feral cats. As a result, shelters can adopt out these cats through a barn cat program. While I realize some shelters do receive greater numbers of truly feral cats, the purpose of this analysis is to examine whether New Jersey animal shelters can handle the number of cats received.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Contain Enough Space to Save Most of New Jersey’s Healthy and Treatable Cats and Many More from Other States

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save most of the state’s healthy and treatable cats. The table below details the targeted numbers of cat outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 44,418 New Jersey cats coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2015, 30,099 and 8,582 cats should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the cats in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had enough capacity to rescue 26,383 cats or more than three times the number of cats needing rescue from space constrained facilities. Unfortunately, some of the cats needing rescue, such as very young kittens, should not go to a shelter and still must go to either kitten nurseries or foster homes. That being said, many adult cats are in fact killed in New Jersey animal shelters and many facilities with excess space could save these cats.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many cats from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out at least 17,801 cats from out of state shelters or New Jersey’s streets after achieving a greater than 90% live release rate for cats coming into the state’s animal shelters. In reality, the New Jersey shelter system could rescue more than 17,801 cats from out of state shelters or from New Jersey’s streets given the 17,801 figure assumes all cats needing rescue from space constrained New Jersey shelters are sent to other New Jersey shelters as opposed to rescue groups. As explained above, some of the cats needing rescue from New Jersey shelters with a shortage of space are young kittens which should not go to most animal shelters. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters contain enough space to make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for cats and increase those cities’ cat live release rates to 92% as follows (per 2015 data):

  • New York City – 2,267 additional cats need saving
  • Philadelphia – 2,786 additional cats need saving

Certainly, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. Even if I assumed all of the out of state cats rescued by New Jersey animal shelters came from New York City and Philadelphia, that number is only 6% of the number that New Jersey shelters could rescue from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. While some of these cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters are young kittens which should not go to a normal animal shelter, many other cats could go to New Jersey animal shelters and be adopted out. As a result, the additional number of cats New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City and Philadelphia is not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for cats and help other states reach that goal as well.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 6.3 cats per 1,000 people in the state (4.4 cats per 1,000 people if no cats were rescued from out of state and all cats sent to rescue were rescued by other New Jersey animal shelters and adopted out). As a comparison, recent per capita cat adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 17.2 cats per 1,000 people
  • Tompkins County SPCA (Ithaca, New York area) – 14.8 cats per 1,000 people
  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 11.9 cats per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada and Carson City, Nevada areas) – 9.7 cats per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out significantly more cats than the number I target for New Jersey animal shelters.

Additionally, the adoption target, 6.3 cats per 1,000 people, I set for New Jersey animal shelters is lower than the state of Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate of 7.7 cats per 1,000 people. Given Colorado still has some regressive animal shelters and only an 84% live release rate for cats, Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate can increase. Thus, the cat adoption targets I laid out for New Jersey animal shelters are quite achievable.

2015-cat-model-summary

Cat Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

The goal of any properly managed animal shelter is to save all of its healthy and treatable animals. In some cases, such as selective admission rescue oriented shelters, it is pretty easy to not kill animals. In addition, other animal shelters with easy to service animal control contracts (i.e. few animals impounded) can avoid unnecessary killing due to having lots of extra space. As a result, some shelters may have an easier time than others in preventing killing at their shelters.

The tables below detail the cat kill rates at each New Jersey animal shelter. These figures do not include cats who died or went missing. Shelters having cat kill rates equal to or less than 8% and greater than 8% are highlighted in green and red in the tables below.

The overall results show too many cats are unnecessarily losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. 12,370 savable cats lost their lives or went missing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2015 under the assumption cats classified as “Other” in each shelter’s statistics died or went missing. While some of the cats in the “Other” Category may have went through TNR programs, it has been my experience based on reviews of underlying records from several local shelters that most of the cats in the “Other” category died or went missing. Obviously, some of the cats shelters killed were truly feral and required TNR or placement as barn/warehouse cats, but surely many others could have been adopted out. Thus, New Jersey’s shelter system is failing its cats.

Several animal shelters in South Jersey and elsewhere account for a large percentage of the savable cats unnecessarily losing their lives. Specifically, Gloucester County Animal Shelter, Cumberland County SPCA, Burlington County Animal Shelter, Atlantic County Animal Shelter and Camden County Animal Shelter account for 5,695 or 46% of the 12,370 cats needlessly losing their lives. Associated Humane Societies three shelters had 2,285 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2015. Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility had 978 cats lose their lives needlessly in 2015. Bergen County Animal Shelter, which happens to serve many towns in one of the country’s wealthiest counties, had 495 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2015. Collectively, these 11 shelters are 11% of the state’s shelters and account for 9,453 or 76% of the cats needlessly losing their lives.

Rescue oriented shelters generally had fewer cats lose their lives than targeted. While saving large numbers of cats is what we all want, some of these shelters may have achieved this result by taking in easier cats. Austin Pets Alive, which is a rescue oriented shelter in Texas, has developed some of the most innovative cat programs and only had a cat live release rate of 94% in 2015. This was due to Austin Pets Alive taking in many cats requiring significant treatment, such as neonatal kittens, from the city animal control shelter. As a result, some of the rescue oriented shelters with significantly fewer cats euthanized than targeted may have avoided taking in many of the more difficult cases.

Several animal control shelters euthanized the targeted number of cats or fewer. Borough of Hopatcong Pound, Byram Township Animal Shelter, Cape May County Animal Shelter, Denville Animal Shelter, Edison Animal Shelter, Ewing Animal Shelter, Father John’s Animal House, Humane Society of Ocean County, Liberty Humane Society, Monmouth SPCA, Montclair Animal Shelter, Montgomery Township Animal Shelter, Pequannock Township Animal Shelter, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter, Randolph Township Pound, Rockaway Animal Hospital LLC, Secaucus Animal Shelter, Somerset Regional Animal Shelter, St. Hubert’s-Madison, Trenton Animal Shelter, Wayne Animal Shelter and West Milford Animal Shelter prove animal control shelters can avoid killing healthy and treatable cats.

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Space Constrained Facilities Not Receiving Enough Support from Rescues and Other Animal Shelters

Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake and very limited space, it will need more help than other shelters. While sending animals to rescues is a good thing, we do want shelters most needing rescue support to receive that help given rescues have limited resources. The tables below compare the number of cats a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of cats actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.

Overall, New Jersey shelters are not receiving enough help from other animal welfare organizations. While the overall number of cats rescued was 93% of the amount needed for the state as a whole, the actual number was 48% since many cats were rescued from facilities which did not require so much rescue assistance. Only 25 out of the 74 facilities needing rescue assistance received the required support. In other words, only 34% of the animal shelters needing rescue help received the amount these facilities require.

We truly need to understand the reasons for this rescue shortfall. While poor data collection (i.e. shelters classifying rescues as adoptions) may explain part of this rescue deficit, the large size of this number points to other causes as well. For example, New Jersey shelters significantly exceeded their dog rescue needs, but just 34% of shelters needing cat rescue assistance received the needed support. Certainly, some of these cats are feral and not candidates for most rescues. However, many other cats surely are home-able. Many high kill facilities may not reach out to rescues for cats, such as during kitten season, as much as they do for dogs. This data supports the need for the Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”), which requires shelters to contact rescues and other facilities at least two business days before killing animals. On the other hand, shelters with excess capacity may not be doing their part to save cats from space constrained facilities.

Several shelters received too much rescue help. Rescues may want to help these organizations due to rescue friendly policies. Alternatively, these shelters may be relying too heavily on rescues to save their animals. Shelters (excluding St. Hubert’s which transfers cats as part of national rescue campaigns) receiving the most extra rescue support were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 648 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Paterson Animal Control – 264 more cats transferred than necessary (estimated due to the shelter’s incorrect reporting of rescues as adoptions)
  • Liberty Humane Society – 176 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 167 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Atlantic County Animal Shelter – 165 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Toms River Animal Facility – 163 more cats transferred than necessary

While Liberty Humane Society is known as a progressive shelter, most of the other facilities are not good in my opinion. Local activists have campaigned to remove Toms River Animal Facility’s Shelter Director, Jim Bowen. Associated Humane Societies-Newark has a history of problems and kills animals for ridiculous reasons. Paterson Animal Control has no volunteer program, no social media page or even a website with animals for adoption. Thus, many shelters receiving greater than expected rescue support seem to do little more than allow rescues to save the day.

On the other hand, many space constrained shelters received far less rescue help than needed. Facilities receiving the lowest amount of rescue support in relation to their needs were as follows:

  • Cumberland County SPCA – 668 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Northern Ocean County Animal Facility – 420 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Vorhees Animal Orphanage – 266 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Southern Ocean County Animal Facility – 243 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 194 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 168 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Parsippany Animal Shelter – 155 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Camden County Animal Shelter – 104 fewer cats transferred than necessary

The million dollar question is why do these shelters receive very little rescue help? Some, such as Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility, reported no cats sent to rescues and may incorrectly count these animals as adopted. As you will see below, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts out many cats and is doing a good job. On the other hand, Gloucester County Animal Shelter routinely illegally killed animals during the 7 day hold period, allowed disease to spread like wildfire and does not adopt out animals at the shelter on weekends. Similarly, Bergen County Animal Shelter is a high kill facility and refuses to even give information to rescues over the phone. Parsippany Animal Shelter has long had a tumultuous relationship with the animal welfare community. As a result, shelters receiving too little rescue help may or may not be doing their part to get that assistance.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull cats from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the tables below. If shelters not needing rescue support get that extra help, these shelters will not take the steps necessary to properly run their facilities. As a result of enabling poorly performing shelters and not pulling cats from truly space constrained facilities, rescuing cats from shelters with enough space leads to less lifesaving.

Shelters receiving less than needed rescue support should also examine their own policies and performance. Are the shelter’s operating processes allowing too many animals to get sick and therefore discouraging organizations to rescue their animals due to subsequent medical costs? Does the shelter actively reach out to rescues/other shelters and treat them with respect? Does the shelter make it convenient for other organizations to pull their animals?

Given killing animals for space is intolerable, the space-constrained shelters need to expand their effective cat capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house cats on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians and local pet stores to house and adopt out some cats. Furthermore, shelters can create or expand foster programs to increase the number of cats cared for. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program and an appointment system for owners willing to delay surrendering their cats could free up space in these shelters. Finally, space-constrained shelters with multiple animal control contracts should terminate some of these arrangements to bring their capacity for care in line with the number of cats they take in. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

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Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Come Close to Reaching Their Cat Adoption Potential

We can assess each shelter’s contribution to making New Jersey and nearby areas no kill. While a shelter may be able to avoid killing healthy and treatable animals, it still may not live up to its potential for adopting out cats. On the other hand, a space constrained shelter may kill healthy and treatable cats, but still do a good job adopting animals out.

The tables below compare the number of cats from New Jersey and nearby states each animal shelter should adopt out with the estimated number of cats actually adopted out.

Rescue oriented organizations may look better than they actually are. Many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt cats than the bulk of cats needing to get rescued from local facilities.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 7 out of 97 shelters met the cat adoption goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets. Animal Welfare Association exceeded its cat adoption target by the most of any shelter in terms of total adoptions. Animal Welfare Association has reasonable normal adoption fees of $95 for kittens and $65 for adult cats, but runs reduced and no adoption fee promotions as well. Animal Welfare Association also waives fees for certain cats who may take longer to adopt out, such as cats who are older or have behavioral or health issues. Furthermore, the shelter’s “Best Friends” program allows people who adopt a cat to pay just $25 for a second cat who is 1 year or older. Animal Welfare Association also waives cat adoption fees for active military personnel and veterans in its Pets for Vets program. The shelter also waives adoption fees for senior citizens adopting certain senior pets. Additionally, Animal Welfare Association uses an open adoption process focused on properly matching animals and people rather than an overly judgmental procedure based on black and white rules. To aid its open adoptions process, Animal Welfare Association uses the ASPCA’s Feline-ality program. Animal Welfare Association’s adoption rate increased by 20% and its cat length of stay decreased by 23 days after the shelter implemented the Feline-ality program. Finally, Animal Welfare Association installed perches in their cat enclosures to provide cats more vertical space which keeps the cats happier and more adoptable. Beacon Animal Rescue also exceeded its adoption target and charges a reasonable $75 fee for all cats. Other rescue oriented shelters exceeding their adoption targets were Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge. Thus, several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their cat adoption targets and Animal Welfare Association used a variety of innovative strategies to adopt out many cats.

Several animal control shelters also exceeded their adoption targets. Despite not being open many hours, West Milford Animal Shelter exceeded its adoption goal. This shelter charges a very reasonable $35 fee for all cats and runs a creative Facebook page called “The Real Cats at West Milford Animal Shelter.” Byram Township Animal Shelter also exceeded its adoption goal. While the shelter has very limited adoption hours, the shelter’s volunteer organization partner also holds frequent adoption days at high traffic retail stores. The shelter’s volunteer organization charges reasonable adoption fees of $65 and $85 for cats and kittens, but also sometimes offers discounts when two or more cats are adopted together. Also, adoption fees for senior and special needs cats are only $35. Vorhees Animal Orphanage also exceeded its adoption goal. This shelter’s normal adoption fees are quite reasonable. For example, senior cats and special needs cats are $25 and adult cats are $75. The shelter also is open 7 days a week, including weekday evenings and weekends (except one Wednesday a month and certain holidays), which makes it convenient for working people to adopt animals. Additionally, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts cats out at one PetSmart store and three PetValu locations. Thus, several animal control shelters exceeded or came close to achieving their cat adoption goals and therefore prove these adoption targets are achievable.

Rescues should focus on pulling animals from Vorhees Animal Orphanage. This shelter’s cat kill rate is too high and its need for rescues greatly exceeds the amount of animals actually pulled from this organization. While some of these cats may be feral and therefore not adoptable, many other cats surely could be rescued from this shelter. Given this shelter is adopting cats out at a good rate, rescues and other other shelters should help this facility out by pulling more cats from Vorhees Animal Orphanage.

Some municipal animal control shelters may be doing a better job with cats than the numbers below indicate. In some cases, municipalities may frown on government run shelters using taxpayer funds to rescue cats from elsewhere. My suggestion to these shelters is to find ways to use more of your facility’s capacity to expand your lifesaving work to other areas. For example, these shelters should consider taking in animals from other shelters for a fee or even contracting with other municipalities.

Associated Humane Societies performance is particularly disappointing. Specifically, Associated Humane Societies has the physical capacity to significantly reduce the killing of healthy and treatable cats. Associated Humane Societies adoption shortfall of 6,971 cats is 56% of the 12,370 cats unnecessarily losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters. Associated Humane Societies has the funding to reach these adoption targets as the organization took in nearly $9 million of revenue last year. This works out to $462 of revenue per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in per my Life Saving Model. As a comparison, KC Pet Project, which is a no kill open admission shelter in Kansas City, Missouri, took in only $318 of revenue per dog and cat. Activists wanting to increase life saving in New Jersey should focus on changing Associated Humane Societies’ policies given the lifesaving potential of this organization.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adoption shortfall of 1,768 cats is quite disappointing. Bergen County is among the top 1% of the nation’s wealthiest counties and the shelter received $470 of funding per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in based on direct support from Bergen County and the revenue from the local charity that helps support the shelter.

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Cats

To further examine New Jersey animal shelters’ performance in saving homeless cats, I compared the targeted number of cats each shelter should pull from nearby shelters to the number actually rescued from local facilities. I assume all cats rescued from out of state came from nearby areas, such as Philadelphia and New York City. While some of the out of state rescued cats may have comes from far away areas, I believe this is a small number and does not significantly impact the results.

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of cats they should. 82 of the 97 shelters should rescue some cats from other local shelters. In fact, 48 of the 82 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single cat from other animal shelters. Only 5 shelters with significant amounts of space to rescue cats from nearby shelters met or exceeded their cat rescue target. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of healthy and treatable cats.2015-rr

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TNR Is Essential, But Should Not Be An Excuse to Do Nothing

TNR must be instituted to end the killing of healthy and treatable cats. While many shelters may potentially come close to or reach a 90% live release rate, feral cats may still be killed. Simply put, New Jersey cannot become a no kill state without TNR becoming the law of the land. The Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”) prevents shelters and municipalities from taking actions to hinder TNR, such as banning feral cat colony caretakers from feeding cats and lending traps out to the public for catching and killing feral cats. Even without an explicit law allowing TNR, the New Jersey Department of Health should encourage municipalities to implement TNR by changing its neutral stance on TNR to an endorsement of the practice. Furthermore, shelters, especially private facilities with animal control contracts, should refuse to take feral cats from places where TNR is prohibited and the shelter cannot place these feral cats as barn cats or send these animals to reputable sanctuaries per recommendations of many national animal welfare groups.

Shelters should not use anti-feral cat laws as an excuse for failing to institute innovative programs. Too many times shelters blame anti-feral cat ordinances for their outrageously high cat kill rates. However, my analysis proves cats are not dying in New Jersey’s shelter system due to too many cats coming into the state’s shelter system. While TNR certainly would reduce cat intake and make saving lives easier, our state’s shelter system has more than enough space to handle the number of cats that come in. Shelters need to implement key programs, such as foster care, high volume adoptions, and vaccination upon intake. Additionally, shelters need to stay open weeknights and weekends when working people can adopt. Similarly, shelters should use innovative marketing, customer friendly open adoption processes, multiple off-site adoption locations, and frequent discounted adoption promotions to quickly move cats into good homes. Furthermore, implementing a program where fearful and aggressive cats are touched gently and spoken to softly likely will significantly reduce the number of cats labeled as “feral” and increase adoptions. Thus, anti-TNR ordinances do not prevent shelters from implementing other life saving policies.

Shelters Do Not Need to Leave Friendly Cats on the Street

Shelters do not need to neuter and release friendly cats or refuse to take these cats in given enough capacity exists within the New Jersey shelter system. In 2013, a group of animal welfare leaders, which included the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) and the ASPCA, prepared a white paper stating a shelter should not impound cats if those cats or other cats in the shelter would subsequently be killed. The evidence supporting this policy, such as cats being more likely to find homes on the street than in traditional shelters, is quite strong. However, my analysis shows the entire New Jersey shelter system does have enough space to handle friendly cats. While certain shelters are space constrained and could benefit from refusing to admit healthy and friendly cats, other shelters in the state have more than enough capacity to step in and find these cats homes. Thus, New Jersey shelters do not need to resort to refusing to take in friendly cats or neutering and releasing friendly cats to avoid killing cats provided these shelters work together and follow best practices.

Kitten Nurseries and Ringworm Wards Key to Saving Vulnerable Cats

Orphaned kittens are typically automatically killed in traditional animal shelters due to the time commitment required to care for these animals. Unweaned kittens require bottle feeding as frequently as every 1-2 hours. As a result, kittens not placed into foster care are typically killed in most animal shelters.

Kitten nurseries or bottle baby wards radically increase the save rate for orphaned kittens still requiring milk. While foster care and rescue programs can save unweaned kittens, kitten nurseries are more efficient and make the job easier. Austin Animal Services, which is the animal control shelter in Austin, Texas, killed 1,200 plus kittens a year before Austin Pets Alive created a bottle baby program. Volunteers work in two hour shifts to feed and care for the kittens. Additionally, nursing mothers are pulled from the city shelter and used to help nurse highly vulnerable young kittens who are orphaned. Kittens are put on antibiotics and treated for fleas and worms immediately to help prevent complications from transitioning from breast milk to formula. Austin Pets Alive has pulled as many as 1,600 kittens a year from the city shelter and saved nearly 90% of these kittens in recent years through this bottle baby program. Best Friends created a kitten nursery in South Salt Lake City, Utah and saved 1,400 kittens from Salt Lake City area shelters. Thus, kitten nursery programs can save young and vulnerable kittens.

Ringworm ward programs easily save cats with this skin fungus. In traditional animal shelters, cats with ringworm are killed due to the risk that other animals and humans will catch this skin fungus. Austin Pets Alive created a specific “Ringworm Ward” program to treat and adopt out these cats. These cats are treated both topically and orally in an isolated area. After the cats are no longer contagious, the cats are sent to foster homes to complete their treatment and regrow their hair. Austin Pets Alive uses steeply discounted adoption fees of only $15 along with catchy slogans like “Adopt a Fun Guy (Fungi)”, “Lord of the Ringworm”, and “Hairy(less) Potter” to quickly place these cats and open up space for additional cats with ringworm. 100% of cats entering this program are saved. Thus, shelters can save cats with ringworm.

Regional kitten nurseries and ringworm wards are the practical solution to saving these vulnerable cats. Given the New Jersey shelter system has significant excess capacity to care for cats, certain shelters should convert some of that excess space for use as kitten nurseries and ringworm wards. Creating regional centers to care for unweaned kittens and cats with ringworm would allow the programs to run at a large enough scale to work efficiently. Shelters, such as Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park, Monmouth SPCA, and St. Hubert’s-Madison appear to have the space and financial resources to implement these programs. Furthermore, the Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey (“AWFNJ”) should take the steps needed to create kitten nurseries and ringworm wards in regional centers throughout the state. Surely, the AWFNJ has the connections to convince key decision makers to implement these programs and obtain any necessary funding. Thus, New Jersey shelter leaders must immediately take the steps needed to save the large numbers of treatable kittens and cats with ringworm in our state’s shelters.

Results Require New Jersey Animal Shelters to Take Action

The findings from this analysis mandate New Jersey animal shelters change their ways. While TNR remains a significant issue, most shelters are clearly not taking steps to save large numbers of healthy and treatable cats. Many shelters are not vaccinating upon intake, charging excessive adoption fees, making it too difficult to adopt, not being open when working people can go to shelters, leaving cat enclosures empty, not trying to rehabilitate fearful and aggressive cats and not using barn cat, foster care, kitten nursery and ringworm ward programs. Simply put, too many shelters are not doing what it takes to save lives. With more than one in three cats entering New Jersey’s shelters dying, going missing or being unaccounted for, our state’s shelters are failing their cats.

New Jersey shelters have a cat crisis and it is time for the killing to stop. We have the information and even the blueprints from numerous communities which stopped killing and started saving their cats. It is time the excuses end and action begins. The public is fed up with the killing and demands shelters save their animals. Our state’s animal welfare organizations need to get on board the lifesaving wagon or risk getting run over by it. Which will they choose?

Appendix Life Saving Model Assumptions

The Life Saving Model utilizes the following basic animal shelter population equations to calculate the targeted cat outcomes for each facility:

Daily capacity or population = Daily animal intake x average length of stay

Average length of stay = Daily capacity or population/daily intake

Each shelter’s community cat intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty cases), number of cats returned to owners, and maximum cat capacity were taken from its 2015 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health. You can see the full data set I compiled from these reports here.

  • Community cat intake and cats returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 cats were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 cats (240/12). In July, the cat intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 cats by 1.2 to equal 24 cats. If 120 cats were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of cats returned to owners in July would equal 12 cats (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off the average of the 2015 cat intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • The estimated number of community cats returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country.
  • The number of community cats euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 8% of intake. 8% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate to use given other open admission animal shelters, such as Austin Animal Services, equal or exceed this target and New Jersey’s much lower per capita cat intake makes it easier to save lives. The average length of stay for euthanized cats is assumed to equal 8 days. I assume these cats have severe and untreatable health issues and are euthanized immediately after their required 7 day hold period.
  • The average length of stay used for adopted community cats was 42 days. This estimate was roughly halfway between the average cat length of stay figures for a number of no kill animal control shelters. For example, the average length of stay for cats in recent years was 14.2 days at Texas’s Williamson County Animal Shelter, less than 18 days at Nevada Humane Society, 19 days (25 days for cats and 8 days for kittens) at Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society, 33 days (32 days for cats and 34 days for kittens) at New Hampshire SPCA, 35 days at Montana’s Flathead County Animal Shelter, 40 days at Lynchburg Humane Society, and 61 days for adopted cats only at New York’s Tompkins County SPCA. While the average length of stay of adopted cats at these shelters other than Tompkins County SPCA may have been slightly higher since this data is for all cats and not just those adopted, the difference is not likely significant given adoptions represent most of the outcomes at these shelters. Unfortunately, I was not able to break down the adoption length of stay figures by age or breed for New Jersey’s shelters like I did in my analysis on dogs due to a lack of detailed cat intake data at New Jersey animal shelters. Upon reviewing cats up for adoption at several New Jersey animal control shelters and a few of the high performing facilities above, I did not see any significant differences in types of cats taken in. In the future, I hope to refine this analysis further.
  • The average length of stay used for community cats adopted out from rescue oriented shelters was 30 days. Rescue oriented animal shelters typically carefully select animals taken into their shelters. Based on the San Francisco’s SPCA’s 21 day and Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation’s 23 day average length of stay figures reported a number of years ago, I used a shorter length of stay for community cats adopted from New Jersey animal shelters without animal control contracts. I chose 30 days as a conservative estimate.
  • Cats transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community cats not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month outside of kitten season (i.e. November-March). However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, cats are moved from adoption (i.e. with a longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • During kitten season (April-October), animal control shelters are assumed to send a certain percentage of cats to rescues even if they have excess space. Due to the large numbers of kittens coming into shelters during these months, I assume shelters will not be able to place all of them into foster homes or a kitten nursery at this time. As a result, I assume animal control shelters will send 10% of their annual community cat intake to rescues based on the shelters’ estimated relative cat intake each month. For example, if a shelter took 100 cats in during the year and August made up 50% of the total cat intake from April to November, 5 cats would go to rescue in August (i.e. 100*10% = 10 cats; 10*50% = 5 cats). I used 10% based off the rescue percentage of cat intake in 2014 at Kansas City’s KC Pet Project. KC Pet Project is a no kill open admission shelter with an inadequate facility and is a good comparison for some of our state’s run down shelters. Shelters requiring rescue support due to space constraints are assumed to send these additional cats to rescues during kitten season.
  • Shelters are not expected to use the excess space created by fosters taking kittens to rescue and adopt out additional cats. This is based on the assumption that the kittens will return to shelters once old enough to safely stay at the facilities.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out cats from other New Jersey animal shelters. Given some of these cats will be young and highly vulnerable kittens, I assume 5% of these rescues will be euthanized for humane reasons. I used 5% based off Austin Pets Alive’s and Austin Humane Society’s weighted average cat euthanasia rate in 2014. These two shelters pull many cats from Austin Animal Services, which is the city’s animal control shelter, and their cat euthanasia rate is a reasonable proxy for the percentage of hopelessly suffering cats rescued from animal control shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter cats are saved, I assume additional cats are pulled from nearby states. The average length of stay for rescued and adopted cats is the same as the cats taken in by animal control shelters (i.e. 42 days). Similarly, I used 8 days as the average length of stay for rescued and euthanized cats from other shelters.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many cats New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue and rescue from other nearby animal shelters.
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they run out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used cat adoption length of stay data from Perth Amboy Animal Shelter from 2014 and the first half of 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted cats in the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average cat adoption length of stay determined in the model above and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • The targeted number of cats adopted were capped at 8 cats per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of cats adopted were equal to this cap. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted adoptions in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of cats adopted in the county to yield the targeted numbers of cats adopted in the modified model. Rescued and euthanized cats for these shelters were reduced based on the modified model’s assumption that shelters adopted out and euthanized 95% and 5% of rescued cats.

2015 Dog Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

In a blog from earlier this year, I disclosed New Jersey’s depressing animal shelter statistics. This blog explains why so many dogs are losing their lives in the state’s animal shelters and whether these facilities can end the killing.

Successful organizations set measurable goals and regularly monitor their performance. Examples include financial budgets, customer and employee satisfaction surveys, and product reliability metrics. Unfortunately, many animal shelters for far too long have failed to set lifesaving goals and standards. Municipalities, donors and volunteers need to know where their resources will be best utilized. Time and money are scarce resources and people should allocate these assets to organizations who will best utilize them. As a result, animal shelters need to set goals and hold their leadership and staff accountable for achieving these objectives.

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

In order to assess how good of a job New Jersey animal shelters are doing, I’ve developed an analysis I call the “Life Saving Model.” While shelter performance is dependent on many variables, such as finances, facility design, local laws, etc., the most critical factor impacting potential life saving is physical space. Without having enough physical space, a shelter might not have enough time to find loving homes for its animals. Shelters can overcome financial limitations through creative fundraising or recruiting more volunteers. Similarly, organizations can save their dogs despite having run down facilities if these groups enthusiastically implement policies to get animals into loving homes quickly. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey dogs.

The Life Saving Model measures the number of local animals a shelter should adopt out, rescue from other facilities, send to rescues or other shelters, and euthanize. The targeted outcomes take into account each facility’s physical capacity and the number and types of dogs the organization receives from its community (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, cruelty/bite cases). I assume a target euthanasia rate, take the number of dogs actually returned to owners and then estimate how many community dogs a shelter should adopt out. To the extent space runs out, I then calculate how many dogs the shelter must send to rescues. If the shelter has excess space after properly serving its local community, the facility uses that room to rescue and adopt out dogs from nearby areas. The targeted results calculated from this model are compared to the actual or estimated actual results from each shelter below.

To read specific details and assumptions used in the model, please see the Appendix at the end of this blog.

My analysis puts a cap on the targeted numbers of rescued dogs from other shelters and adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I want to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animals shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita dog adoption rate less than one half to one quarter the level found at some of the best animal control shelters. Similarly, the unmodified model yielded a statewide pit bull per capita adoption rate (2.2 pit bulls per 1,000 people) that is less than one of the best animal control shelters in the country. In my opinion, New Jersey shelters could more easily achieve that pit bull adoption rate given my model includes far fewer dogs from competing breeds than those in this role model animal control shelter.

My modified analysis capped pit bull adoptions at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people within each New Jersey county. In other words, the targeted numbers of dogs rescued from other shelters and adopted below are the lesser of

  1. Number predicted by model
  2. Number determined by capping pit bull adoptions at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in the county

In simple terms, a shelter is expected to achieve this per capita adoption rate unless the facility lacks enough space. If a shelter does not have sufficient room, it won’t have the time to reach all the potential adopters and requires assistance from rescues and/or other facilities. Given my model assumes 80% of rescued dogs are pit bull like dogs, my targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted are quite low as detailed in the section below. For example, shelters in counties where dog adoptions are capped have extra space that they do not use to adopt out other dog breeds.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Contain Enough Space to Save All of New Jersey’s Dogs and Many More from Other States

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save all of the state’s healthy and treatable dogs. The table below details the targeted numbers of dog outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 23,344 New Jersey dogs coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2015, 12,363 and 1,177 dogs should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the dogs in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had more than enough capacity to rescue the 1,177 dogs from space constrained facilities. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters should be able to able to adopt out every single healthy and treatable dog taken in from the state and not require any support from rescue organizations without physical facilities.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many dogs from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out 9,066 dogs from out of state after achieving a 95% live release rate for New Jersey dogs. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters could make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for dogs and increase those cities’ dog live release rates to 95% in 2015 as follows:

  • New York City – 1,282 additional dogs need saving
  • Philadelphia – 1,728 additional dogs need saving

Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters could save another 6,056 dogs from other locations outside of the state. Of course, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some dogs from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. However, most of these dogs are likely easy to adopt and therefore have short lengths of stay. As a result, the additional number of dogs New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere is probably not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for dogs as well as many other places.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 2.5 dogs per 1,000 people in the state (1.5 dogs if no dogs rescued from out of state). As a comparison, recent per capita dog adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 14.2 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 10.8 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada and Carson City, Nevada areas) – 8.4 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 8.2 dogs per 1,000 people
  • KC Pet Project (Kansas City, Missouri) – 6.9 dogs per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out around three to six times as many dogs as the goal set for New Jersey animal shelters.

Some naysayers may claim New Jersey would have a more difficult time due to the state’s shelters taking in many pit bulls. However, this is a myth. My model estimates New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out roughly 0.6 pit bulls per 1,000 people to save 95% of New Jersey’s dogs. Our shelters would only need to adopt out around 1.4 pit bulls per 1,000 people if New Jersey shelters also rescued and adopted out the targeted number of pit bulls from other states. As a comparison, I estimate Longmont Humane Society adopts out 2.4 pit bulls per 1,000 people based on its 2014 per capita pit bull intake, the percentage dog adoptions were of total outcomes at the shelter in 2014 and Longmont Humane Society’s 15% increase in dog adoptions in 2015 compared to 2014. Furthermore, the pit bull adoption targets are even more reasonable given the model assumes there are roughly 1/8 of the number of dogs from other breeds to compete with in the New Jersey adoption market compared to the Longmont, Colorado area.

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Animal Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

The goal of any properly managed animal shelter is to save all of its healthy and treatable animals. In some cases, such as selective admission rescue oriented shelters, it is pretty easy to not kill animals. In addition, other animal shelters with easy to service animal control contracts (i.e. few animals impounded, most strays quickly returned to owners) can avoid unnecessary killing due to having lots of extra space. As a result, some shelters may have an easier time than others in preventing killing at their shelters.

The table below details the local log death rates. Consistent with the Life Saving Model’s assumptions, the actual dogs euthanized/killed/died/missing assumes these dogs came from the local community. All dogs missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Furthermore, I assume all dogs listed in the “Other” category on each shelter’s reporting form are dead or missing. Shelters having local dog death rates less than and greater than 5% are highlighted in green and red in the table below.

Several rescue oriented shelters had unusually high local dog death rates. While this number may be higher if some rescued dogs are euthanized/killed (i.e. targeted number assumes no rescued dogs are killed/euthanized) or many terminally ill dogs are surrendered for owner-requested euthanasia, this may possibly point to overly strict temperament testing at these facilities. In the case of St. Hubert’s-Madison, which had a total dog death rate of 6% (i.e. percentage of all dogs taken in and not just community dogs) and a local dog death rate of 10%, the total death rate may be artificially depressed by easy to adopt transported dogs. For the Humane Society of Atlantic County, which has no animal control contracts, the total dog death rate of 28% is shockingly high for a rescue oriented shelter and raises serious questions about how life and death decisions are made by this organization. The local death rates at other rescue oriented shelters, such as Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge and Common Sense for Animals (local death rates of 1% and 2%) are much lower than St. Hubert’s-Madison and the Humane Society of Atlantic County. Thus, I find it difficult to believe St. Hubert’s-Madison’s and Humane Society of Atlantic County’s larger than expected local death rates are due to them rescuing a large percentage of their dogs from other shelters.

The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Specifically, 12 out of 96 or 13% of the shelters accounted for 81% of the 2,355 dogs unnecessarily losing their lives. Shelters with the greatest number of unnecessary dog deaths are as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark (463)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter (236)
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter (217)
  • Burlington County Animal Shelter (174)

Thus, the bulk of the dogs unnecessarily dying at New Jersey animals shelters occurs at a small number of facilities.

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Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Require Little Rescue Assistance

Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake, very limited space, and few stray dogs returned to owners, it will need more help than other shelters. The table below compares the number of dogs a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of dogs actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.

Overall, most New Jersey animal shelters require little rescue support if space-constrained facilities fast-track their most highly adoptable dogs. Shelter medicine experts advocate prioritizing the processing of highly adoptable animals to make the best use of space and reduce disease. For example, making sure these animals are the first to get spayed/neutered and vaccinated and receive microchips to ensure they can leave as soon as the shelter finds a good home.

Three shelters did not receive enough help from other animal welfare organizations. Only 12 out of the 96 facilities require any rescue support. In other words, 84 of the 96 animal shelters in the state should not need rescues or other shelters to pull any dogs due to limited space. Northern Ocean Animal Facility, Southern Ocean Animal Facility and Harmony Animal Hospital received less rescue support than needed. However, none of the shelters reported rescues taking any animals, which raises questions as to whether these shelters correctly reported their data. Thus, virtually all New Jersey shelters are receiving enough rescue assistance.

Associated Humane Societies-Newark hogged up the most rescue support. Specifically, rescues and other shelters pulled 701 more dogs than needed from AHS-Newark. Even worse, AHS-Tinton Falls and AHS-Popcorn Park rescued far fewer dogs than they should. As a result of this poor performance, AHS diverted much needed rescue assistance from more needy shelters in the region.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull dogs from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the tables below. If shelters not needing rescue support get that extra help, these shelters will not take the steps necessary to properly run their facilities. As a result of enabling poorly performing shelters and not pulling dogs from truly space constrained facilities, rescuing dogs from shelters with enough space leads to less lifesaving.

Shelters receiving less than needed rescue support should also examine their own policies and performance. Are the shelter’s operating processes allowing too many animals to get sick and therefore discouraging organizations to rescue their animals due to subsequent medical costs? Does the shelter actively reach out to rescues/other shelters and treat them with respect? Does the shelter make it convenient for other organizations to pull their animals?

Given killing animals for space is intolerable, the space-constrained shelters need to expand their effective dog capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house dogs on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians to house and adopt out some dogs. Furthermore, shelters can create or expand foster programs to increase the number of dogs cared for. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program and making serious efforts to return lost dogs to owners could free up space in these shelters. Finally, space-constrained shelters with multiple animal control contracts should terminate some of these arrangements to bring their capacity for care in line with the number of dogs they take in. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

In certain circumstances, it may make sense for shelters with excess space to send dogs to rescues. For example, a unique breed or a dog needing very specialized behavioral or medical rehabilitation. However, these cases are relatively uncommon and do not significantly impact this analysis.

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Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Come Close to Reaching Their Local Dog Adoption Potential

We can assess each shelter’s contribution to making New Jersey and nearby areas no kill. While a shelter may be able to avoid killing healthy and treatable animals, it still may not live up to its potential for adopting out local dogs. On the other hand, a space constrained shelter may kill healthy and treatable dogs, but still do a good job adopting animals out.

The tables below compare the number of dogs from New Jersey and nearby states each animal shelter should adopt out with the estimated number of local dogs actually adopted out.

Many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt dogs than the bulk of dogs needing to get rescued from local facilities. Thus, the results from rescue oriented shelters may look better than they actually are.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 8 out of 96 shelters met the adoptions goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Several rescue oriented shelters exceeded or came close to achieving their adoption targets. Beacon Animal Rescue and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge adopted out more animals than I targeted. While these organizations are both rescue-oriented shelters that appear to pull fewer pit bulls than I target, these two shelters do at least have a reasonable number of pit bull like dogs up for adoption. Additionally, these shelters rescue animals primarily from other New Jersey animal shelters rather than transport large numbers of dogs from the south. St. Hubert’s-Madison and St. Hubert’s-North Branch also exceeded their adoption targets. Despite these shelters having some animal control contracts, this organization rescues most of its animal from other shelters. St. Hubert’s uses progressive adoption policies, such as open or conversational based adoptions, adopts animals out as gifts, and adopts out animals almost every day of the year. On the other hand, St. Hubert’s appears to rescue far more adoptable animals that my model assumes (i.e. 80% of rescued dogs are pit bulls) and that likely also may explain their strong performance. Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter and Salem County Humane Society also exceeded their adoption targets, but this is likely due to these organizations rescuing easier to adopt dogs from New Jersey.

Three animal control shelters exceeded their adoption targets, but this was likely due to factors unrelated to performance. As discussed above, both Northern Ocean Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility reported no animals sent to rescue. Personally, I doubt this is the case and it is likely rescues saved a significant number of dogs reported as adopted. Additionally, these two shelters may have benefited from the method I used to cap adoptions in the county and reduce the adoption targets for these two shelters. For example, Northern Ocean Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility only reached 84% and 87% of their adoption targets using my unadjusted model only taking the shelter’s physical space into account. Similarly, Montville Animal Shelter also likely benefited from the method I used to cap adoptions as the shelter only reached 34% of its unadjusted adoption target. Thus, none of the animal control shelters in the state may have really done a great job adopting out dogs.

Shelters adopting out the fewest animals in total relative to their targets were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 1,727 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park – 1,138 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls – 633 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Monmouth SPCA – 587 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen Protect and Rescue Foundation – 530 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 477 fewer dogs adopted than targeted

Unsurprisingly, Associated Humane Societies has archaic adoption policies that make it more difficult to adopt than the procedures recommended from national animal welfare organizations. Furthermore, Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls, Monmouth SPCA, Bergen Protect and Rescue Foundation and Bergen County Animal Shelter had troublesome stories involving the shelters and/or prominent people affiliated with these organizations over the last couple of years.

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Local Dogs

To further examine New Jersey animal shelters’ performance in saving the state’s homeless dogs, I compared the targeted number of dogs each shelter should pull from nearby shelters and compared it to the number actually rescued from local facilities. I assume all reported out of state rescued dogs came from southern or other far away states (except for Animal Alliance due to the shelter stating it primarily pulls out of state dogs from Pennsylvania). While some of the out of state rescued dogs may have comes from nearby areas, I believe this is a small number and does not significantly impact the results.

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of local dogs they should. 87 of the 96 shelters should rescue some dogs from other local shelters. In fact, 50 of the 87 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single dog from a New Jersey animal shelter. Of the 87 shelters with the space to rescue dogs from nearby shelters, only Somerset Regional Animal Shelter, Montville Animal Shelter, Salem County Humane Society, Animal Welfare Association, Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter, St. Hubert’s-North Branch, St. Hubert’s-Madison, Beacon Animal Rescue and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge met or exceeded their local dog rescue targets. As mentioned above, many of these shelters local rescue numbers are inflated due to these organizations cherry picking highly adoptable animals to rescue. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of local healthy and treatable dogs.

Shelters can overcome challenges in rescuing dogs from outside their service area. In some cases, municipalities may frown on government run shelters using taxpayer funds to rescue dogs from elsewhere. However, shelter directors at these facilities can encourage individuals to form a non-profit or raise money on their own to pay for these rescued dogs. Additionally, shelters with limited capacity or even some of the well-off private shelters could contribute funding for each dog rescued. For example, Maddie’s Fund paid an approximate $160 subsidy to rescues pulling dogs from New York Animal Care & Control. Similarly, private shelters with excess space, but limited financial resources, could expand their fundraising efforts to save more local dogs. Thus, perceived obstacles to rescuing local dogs can and should be overcome.

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New Jersey Animal Shelters Need to Form Life-Saving Coalitions

The improper allocation of space within the state’s animal shelter system requires organizations to form coalitions. While putting a competent and compassionate director in every shelter would likely be even more effective, that will likely take time to do. No kill coalitions between animal control facilities and selective admission shelters have been used in places, such as Portland, Oregon, Reno, Nevada, Jacksonville, Florida and Austin, Texas to radically increase life saving. Maddie’s Fund, which has supported using coalitions for over a decade, has many resources for organizations seeking to collaborate with each other. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters need to formally work together, develop quantifiable and measurable goals (such as the targeted outcomes in this blog), and hold each organization accountable for meeting these benchmarks.

Sobering Results Require Shelter Leaders to Critically Examine Themselves

Shelters should examine the reasons why their adoption numbers fall far short of these benchmarks. In some cases, shelters need to expand the hours they are open for adoptions. Many shelters should switch from an overly judgmental adoption process based on black and white rules to a conversational one focused on educating the adopter. Organizations will need to radically increase their off-site events and do same day adoptions. Similarly, many shelters must reduce adoption fees and run frequent promotions. Executive Directors should monitor the latest life-saving programs on Maddie’s Fund’s, ASPCA Pro’s, the 2015 American Pets Alive Conference’s and the Best Friends National Conference’s web sites and put some of these policies into place. Shelter management teams will need to ensure their facilities are clean and customers are treated with respect (this can be measured by encouraging the public to complete surveys). Thus, poorly performing shelters need to stop making excuses and do what it takes to reach their adoption potential.

We can turn New Jersey, New York City and Philadelphia into no kill communities. It is time we give our money and volunteer efforts to organizations who raise their performance to help us reach that goal. To do otherwise, would betray all the animals whose lives are on the line.

Appendix – Life Saving Model Assumptions

The Life Saving Model utilizes the following basic animal shelter population equations to calculate the targeted dog outcomes for each facility:

Daily capacity or population = Daily animal intake x average length of stay

Average length of stay = Daily capacity or population/daily intake

Each shelter’s community dog intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty bite cases), number of dogs returned to owners, and maximum dog capacity were taken from its 2015 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the Office of Animal Welfare.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community dog intake and dogs returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 dogs were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 dogs (240/12). In July, the dog intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 dogs by 1.2 to equal 24 dogs. If 120 dogs were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of dogs returned to owners in July would equal 12 dogs (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off the average of the 2015 dog intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • The estimated number of community dogs returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country. If anything, this estimate is conservative (i.e. average length of stay for dogs returned to owners may be less than 5 days and therefore frees up more shelter space for adoptions) based on some shelters returning the bulk of their dogs to owners within 3 days.
  • The number of community dogs euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 5% of intake. 5% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate for shelters in New Jersey to meet given few vulnerable stray puppies (i.e. who could die or require euthanasia) arrive in the state’s animal shelters. The average length of stay for euthanized dogs is assumed to equal 14.5 days. Half of dogs are assumed euthanized for untreatable aggression towards people and 21 days is the time estimated to make that determination. The other half of dogs are assumed euthanized for severe and untreatable health issues and I estimate these dogs are euthanized after 8 days (subsequent to the end of the stray and owner surrender hold periods).
  • Adopted dogs are assumed to stay at shelters for varying lengths of time. Adoption length of stay was based on data from a study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare and the figures used (except for space-constrained shelters) are located in a prior blog on pit bull adoption. The data primarily comes from Tompkins County SPCA during a time it saved over 90% of its dogs. This was a fairly conservative data set to use as other no kill open admission shelters’ average length of stay are substantially shorter. Specifically, the following assumptions were made:
    1. 80% and 20% of each communities dogs (including pit bulls) were adults 1 year and older and under 1 year.
    2. Pit bulls were assumed to comprise 50%, 35% and 25% of community dog intake at poor, middle/upper middle class, and wealthy area animal control shelters. While some shelters may have pit bulls comprising more than 50% of their shelter dog population at a given time, this is due to pit bulls longer average length of stay. For example, a shelter with pit bulls making up 50% of their dog intake and pit bulls having an average length of stay three times longer than other dogs will have pit bulls constituting 75% of the dog population. Shelters without animal control contracts were assumed to only have pit bulls make up 10% of their community dogs (i.e. strays and owner surrenders) based on most of these shelters’ highly selective admission practices.
    3. Pit bull adoption length of stay was taken directly from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare study. The average adoption lengths of stay for other breeds from this study were averaged and used for dogs other than pit bulls in the analysis
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they ran out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used pit bull adoption length of stay data from Greenhill Humane Society from March 2013 through May 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted pit bulls in the Greenhill Humane Society data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average dog adoption length of stay determined in the previous bullet and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • Dogs transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community dogs not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month. However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, dogs are moved from adoption (i.e. longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter dogs are saved, I assume additional dogs are pulled from nearby states with similar types of dogs. I assume all rescued dogs will not be killed since the transferring and receiving shelters should evaluate these dogs’ behavior. Based on pit bull type dogs having longer lengths of stay at shelters, I assume 80% of dogs rescued from local animal shelters are pit bulls and 20% are non-pit bulls. 80% and 20% of pit bull and non-pit bull type dogs are considered 1 year and older and under 1 year. The average length of stay for rescued pit bulls and other dogs are the same as the adoption length of stay figures above.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many local dogs New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue, rescue from other nearby animal shelters and euthanize.
  • The targeted number of dogs rescued and adopted were capped at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of dogs adopted were set to equal to this cap using the pit bull percentage assumptions above. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted adoptions in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of adoptions in the county to yield the targeted numbers of dogs adopted in the modified model. If the shelter also rescued animals from other shelters, the rescued numbers were also reduced since I assume rescued animals are adopted.

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

12/2/16 Update: Subsequent to my publishing of this blog, the borough of Teterboro sent me a second inspection report. This report, like the other, indicated the Bergen County Health Department failed to properly inspect the shelter it runs.

12/27/16 Update: The borough of Teterboro provided me the 2016 inspection report after I posted this blog. As with the 2014 and 2015 inspection reports, this inspection failed to identify the problems discussed in this blog.

In Part 1 of this series of blogs, I showed how Bergen County Animal Shelter’s statistics prove the county’s claims of running a no kill facility are false. My second blog highlighted the absurd justifications Bergen County Animal Shelter uses to kill many animals. This final blog will explain why Bergen County Animal Shelter kills so many healthy and treatable animals.

Regressive Health Department Controls Shelter

Bergen County delegates control of the shelter to an agency focused on protecting people from animals rather than a department focused on saving lives. Per Bergen County Animal Shelter’s policies and procedures manual, the County’s Health Officer, who is under the authority of the Bergen County Board of Health, is “responsible for the overall operations of the animal shelter” and “sets the policies and procedures of the animal shelter.” The Health Officer, Nancy Mangieri, who has worked as a nurse and in the field of public health diseases, has no apparent expertise in animal sheltering policies on her Linkedin profile.

Health departments typically are terrible at running animal shelters. Given the mission of these agencies are to protect public health, they are often hostile to shelter animals. Theoretically, shelter animals pose a public health risk in that they could have certain diseases or bite someone. Of course, these risks are tiny and the general public would gladly take on these very small risks in exchange for saving lives. That is why shelters have adoption programs after legal hold periods end. However, health departments in my experience are often solely focused on miniscule health risks and seek to eliminate them at the expense of killing healthy and treatable animals. Thus, Bergen County’s elected officials chose to deceive the public about how its overly aggressive Board of Health is killing massive numbers of healthy and treatable animals.

Local health departments typically fail to properly inspect animal shelters. Under New Jersey animal shelter law, local health departments must inspect animal shelters each year. In reality these entities are ill-equipped to inspect animal shelters. Local health departments are used to inspecting places, such as restaurants, which are far different than animal shelters. Furthermore, the same health department that inspects Bergen County Animal Shelter is also responsible for running the shelter. Clearly, this is a conflict of interest and recent experience in the state shows it plays out in poor quality inspections.

Bergen County Department of Health Services’ inspection quality was poor. Upon requesting several inspection reports, the Bergen County Department of Health Services claimed it possessed none of its own reports. Instead, I was instructed to contact the borough of Teterboro, which is where the shelter is located. The 2014 inspection report Teterboro sent me contained literally 10 sentences. The inspection report did not address any of the issues, such as the shelter killing animals during the 7 day hold period and not weighing animals prior to euthanasia, I identified in my last blog. Similarly, the 2015 inspection report had only 3 general sentences. While the 2016 inspection report did point out some issues, the commentary was light and the report still gave the shelter a satisfactory grade. Clearly, the Bergen County Department of Health Services did a poor job of inspecting the shelter it runs.

The Shelter Director, Deborah Yankow, is responsible for carrying out the facility’s policies according the shelter’s policies and procedures manual. Based on Ms. Yankow’s Linkedin profile, she did not seem to have any significant animal shelter or rescue experience prior to becoming the Shelter Director. Furthermore, her Linkedin profile does not seem to show any super successful experience in another challenging field, such as business, law, finance, or medicine, that would translate into her becoming a successful shelter director.

Owner Surrender Policy Proves Shelter Violates 7 Day Hold Period

In Part 2 of this blog, I revealed that Bergen County Animal Shelter killed a large number of dogs and cats surrendered by their owners during the 7 day hold period. Bergen County Animal Shelter killed 185 dogs and 210 cats surrendered by their owners. 56% of these dogs and 29% of these cats were classified as owner-requested euthanasia. As discussed in Part 2 of this series of blogs, shelters cannot kill owner surrendered animals under state law during the 7 day hold period unless a veterinarian clearly documents the animal is hopelessly suffering and the veterinarian euthanizes the animal. Based on many records I reviewed, the shelter often did not fulfill these requirements.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s policy and procedures manual clearly states the facility can kill owner surrendered animals immediately:

Animals in the shelter fall under one of the following categories, which should be clearly defined on their cage cards:

  • Owner release: Immediately becoming property of BCAS (available for adoption, rescue, or euthanasia).
  • Stray: Found by Good Sam or Animal Control:  These animals must await a 7 day hold prior to becoming property of BCAS.
  • SPCA case: These animals are housed at the shelter; they are not up for adoption.  If sick, the veterinarian on duty and an SPCA official must be contacted immediately.
  • Owner hold: These are usually cases where an owner had gone into the hospital and we are holding the animals until further arrangements can be made.  We do not do boarding.
  • Court Cases

Furthermore, the Owner Release Agreement the shelter puts in its policies and procedures manual clearly states the facility can immediately kill animals who are “sick, injured or unadoptable.” The shelter can only euthanize sick or injured animals if those creatures are hopelessly suffering as documented by a veterinarian. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter can never immediately kill an animal just because the shelter claims he or she is “unadoptable.”

To make matters worse, this Owner Release Agreement states family members who contest the surrender cannot get the animal back. In other words, an abusive family member can take another family member’s pet to the shelter and the owner could not prevent the shelter from killing their beloved dog, cat or other animal. One of the key reasons New Jersey passed the owner surrender hold period law several years ago was to prevent abusive family members from doing this very thing. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter violates both the letter and the spirit of the owner surrender hold period law.

OWNER RELEASE AGREEMENT

New Jersey law (N.J.A.C. 8:23A) defines owner as, “every person having a right of property in that (dog) and every person who has that (dog) in his or her keeping, and when applied to the proprietorship of any other animal including, but not limited to, a cat, means every person having a right of property in that animal and every person who has that animal in his or her keeping”.

By accepting surrender of this animal, the Bergen County Animal Shelter assumes ownership of said animal, including all rights and privileges attendant with such ownership.  Those rights include placing for adoption, spay/neutering, immunizing, treating and/or humanely euthanizing sick, injured or unadoptable animals.  Once an animal has been surrendered, it may not be released to family members or others who contest this surrender.

I hereby attest that I am the owner of this animal and have the right to surrender that ownership to the Bergen County Animal Shelter I also attest that there are no other parties that can dispute any right to surrender said ownership.

Surrendering Owner’s Name: _____________________________________________________

Address: ___________________________________________State: ________ Zip: _________

Surrendering Owner’s Phone #: ____________________________________________________

Owner’s Signature: _______________________________________Date:__________________

Signature of Shelter Employee witnessing Owner Signature: _____________________________

Temperament Testing Animals to Death Enshrined as a Policy

In Part 2 of this series of blogs, I documented the shelter’s outrageous use of behavioral evaluations to kill dogs. Sadly, the shelter’s policies and procedures manual codifies condemning animals to death based on tests proven by science as unreliable.

While the shelter states it may take staff and volunteer comments into account, “3 experienced staff members” make the life or decision after they conduct their formal evaluation. If the shelter classifies an animal as “unadoptable”, the shelter’s policy is to kill the animal without providing any rehabilitation. While the policy also states it will make “efforts” to send these animals to rescues, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s own records showed the facility only sent 6 cats and 1 dog to rescues during 2015. The shelter states animals are unadoptable if they exhibit “unmanageable health problems” and “unmanageable anti-social behavior characteristics.” As we saw in my last blog and Part 1 of this series, Bergen County Animal Shelter classifies far too many animals in the unmanageable category by the standards of real no kill shelters and even the deeply flawed Asilomar Accords. Even worse, the shelter classifies animals with “an aggressive bite history toward other animals” as unadoptable. For example, a dog that did not like cats or a cat that did not like dogs would be slated for death at this so-called “no kill shelter” based on this policy. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s culture of killing is codified in its policies.

The policy and objective of the Shelter is to adopt out as many animals as possible. Incoming animals released by their owner and stray animals that have completed their 7 day hold will be evaluated by a committee of 3 experienced staff members, including the animal behaviorist, as to their appropriateness for adoption.  Characteristics to be taken into account are:  history (if known), temperament and health.  Evaluations will be done in a quiet, screened area of the education room using the BCAS evaluation form.  Comments by staff and volunteers who have observed the animal during the holding period may be taken into consideration.  Notations are to be made on the individual animal record.

Evaluated animals fall into three categories:

  • Adoptable – Adoptable animals are those in reasonably good health with no aggressive bite history, who are positive toward humans, get along with other animals and do not display habits or behaviors that will make it difficult for them to adapt to a home environment.
  • Potentially adoptable – Potentially adoptable animals are those with no aggressive bite history, whose health problems are relatively minor, non-communicable and manageable with treatment, and whose behavioral problems may be improved with training, exercise and/or socialization.
  • Unadoptable – Unadoptable animals are those with serious unmanageable health problems, or an aggressive bite history toward humans or other animals, or who exhibit unmamageable antisocial behavioral characteristics.

Unadoptable – Animals designated as Unadoptable will be humanely euthanized.  Efforts will be made prior to that decision for an approved rescue to pull the animal.

Flawed TNR Policy

Bergen County Animal Shelter received much praise from those in the animal welfare community for actively participating in TNR programs. For example, the shelter helped Kearny TNR activists pass a TNR friendly ordinance and alters cats in the TNR program.

Unfortunately, Bergen County Animal Shelter puts too many restrictions on TNR programs. For example, in a recent news article about an effort to enact TNR in Lyndhurst, the shelter suggested only trained volunteers, who must go through a 2 day training course, should feed cats and those volunteers could only feed cats in designated areas. Policies like these often limit the effectiveness of TNR efforts as trap and kill will be used in other areas where TNR is prohibited. Due to the vacuum effect, unaltered cats will quickly move in where trap and kill is practiced. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter appears to limit cat colony sizes to 10-20 animals based on language in its policy and procedures manual. This may result in sterilizing too small a percentage of the cat population to reduce the number of cats. In contrast, the Million Cat Challenge, inspired by successful return to field programs in places like Jacksonville, Florida, Albuquerque, New Mexico and San Antonio, Texas, advocates returning sterilized healthy cats back to the locations where they were found even when there is no colony caretaker when shelter killing is the likely alternative. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s advocacy for TNR, which is definitely a good thing, has some serious problems.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s policy and procedures manual spreads myths about feral cats and the shelter kills feral cats on the behalf of regressive municipalities. Specifically, the policies and procedures manual states cats in unregulated colonies are “likely in poor health”, can become “aggressive when cornered” and “increase the possibility of rabies transmission to humans.” In reality, we know many cats, such as those in the return to field programs described above, are healthy outside of “managed colonies” and do not pose any meaningful health risk to people. Finally, Bergen County Animal Shelter enables regressive municipalities by trapping and killing their so called feral cats. If Bergen County Animal Shelter refused to do this dirty work, many of these municipalities would reconsider their catch and kill statutes.

They tend to congregate in groups or colonies and are usually fearful of and avoid humans, possibly becoming aggressive when cornered.  Since their diets and living conditions are unpredictable, they are likely to be in poor health and have generally neither been neutered or immunized.  Feral cats often end up salvaging for food in the local dumpster along with wildlife that may be infected with rabies.  The proximity of unregulated feral cat habitats to humans increases the possibility of rabies transmission to humans.

In some communities, feral cats are valued for their rodent control activities.  Regulated Feral Cat colonies consisting of 10 to 20 cats have been established in those communities with a resident assuming the role of Colony Manager.  With the Manager’s cooperation, Bergen County Animal Control Officers trap these animals, have them immunized against rabies and have them spayed or neutered by special arrangement with a local veterinarian.  These animals are placed in cages clearly marked T & R (for Trap and Release), are given temporary housing until immunized, neutered, earmarked and returned to the colony.

Other communities have passed ordinances restricting establishments of colonies.  Stray cats picked up from these communities generally end up being euthanized since there is nowhere to return them.  All incoming stray cats not belonging to the trap and release program are held for 7 days to make sure that they are feral and no someone’s missing pet. Cats and kittens initially brought in as feral may be reassessed as adoptable during the 7 day hold and moved into the general population.

Shelter Makes it Difficult for Pet Owners to Reclaim their Lost Family Members

Bergen County Animal Shelter refuses to provide any information over the phone about animals to owners of lost pets. The shelter’s bizarre policy only allows staff to give a “yes” answer if someone provides a description of the animal. In the past, Bergen County Animal Shelter used to post photos of lost animals and descriptions of where animal control picked them up. Unfortunately, the shelter stopped doing this several years ago and now states that staff on the phone won’t look for your lost pet and you will have to come to the shelter yourself to do so. Clearly, this policy makes it more difficult for owners to find their lost family members and likely results in the shelter killing more animals as well as incurring increased costs as animals needlessly stay at the shelter longer.

Even worse, the shelter charges reclaim fees of $55, $80 and $105 for owners losing their animals for the first, second and third times plus a daily boarding fee. No documented policy I saw allows staff to waive or reduce these fees in cases of hardship. For economically disadvantaged pet owners, the shelter could literally kill their family members if the pet owners do not make these ransom payments.

The Wisconsin Watchdog blog posted a “how to” guide for shelters to increase their return to owner rates. Tips include immediately posting stray dog photos to shelter web sites and Facebook pages (Lost and Found Pets New Jersey is another great place for shelters in this state). Additionally, Wisconsin Watchdog recommends having specific volunteers check lost pet reports and help owners coming to shelters to find their lost pets. Also, they recommend giving guidance to owners on how to find their lost pet who is not at the shelter. Shelters should read and implement all the recommendations. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s does not follow best practices to increase owner reclaims and therefore make it more likely lost pets will lose their lives.

Bergen County Animal Shelter also refuses to provide rescues or adopters information over the phone about shelter animals. Obviously, any shelter that refuses to talk to rescues who call the shelter about animals is putting animals at risk. Rescues may have to drive long distances to the shelter and may not make the trip if the facility fails to provide important details on animals. Similarly, adopters may not make the trip if the shelter insists on keeping them in the dark about animals. Simply put, this is terrible customer service that has deadly consequences.

In my humble opinion, Bergen County Animal Shelter would rather not let the public know about animals at the shelter since it doesn’t want people to know about the slaughter going on at this facility. Obviously, telling people about animals who the shelter may kill is bad publicity for a self-proclaimed “no kill” shelter.

Shelter policy on giving out information about shelter animals to public/to rescue groups:  We do not give out any information on any of our animals over the phone.  Once an animal is turned in, it becomes property of the Bergen County Animal Shelter.  If someone is interested in a particular animal, they are welcomed to come in and look at the animals.  If someone has lost an animal and they want to know if we have it, they can describe it and we can say yes, we have an animal that fits that description, you will have to come in, complete a lost pet report and walk through the shelter.  If someone has turned their animal in and they wish to reclaim it, they need to come in.  No information about any specific animal is given over the phone regarding the disposition of any animal at the shelter.  We do have a website and Facebook page for the shelter and post pictures of animals eligible for adoption.

Shelter’s Restrictive Adoption Policies Increase Killing and Costs to Taxpayers

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adoption policies do not follow the guidance from the national animal welfare organizations as well as many no kill groups. HSUS, the ASPCA, and Best Friends all favor open or conversational based adoption processes focused on matching people with the right pet instead of looking for ways to deny people. Best Friends’ Co-founder, Francis Battista, described these regressive policies perfectly

The truth of the matter is that animals are dying in shelters because of outdated and discredited draconian adoption policies that are designed to protect the emotional well-being of the rescuer rather than to ensure a safe future life for a dog or cat.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s policy requiring adopters to prove they own their homes or that their landlord allows pets puts more animals at risk. The HSUS Adopters Welcome guide cites a 2014 study where landlord checks did not result in fewer returned adoptions. Furthermore, HSUS rightly points out that making people prove home ownership diverts staff time from lifesaving work and turns off adopters who feel the shelter does not trust them.

The shelter’s policy requiring entire families and their existing dogs to meet the dog the family wishes to adopt is counterproductive. The Adopters Welcome Guide from HSUS cites a 2014 study showing dog meet and greets did not increase the chance dogs would get along in the home. Such meet and greets are unreliable since both the dog in the shelter and the family’s existing dog are stressed out inside or near an animal shelter. Furthermore, some people may not want to expose their existing dog to the stress of coming to a shelter. Additionally, these meet and greets take staff time away from work that can save lives. Also, arranging meet and greets and visits with entire families often result in animals staying in the shelter longer and more lives lost if the shelter kills for lack of space. HSUS recommends that shelters only arrange meeting with entire families if the families request these meet and greets. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s onerous policy requiring meet and greets increases killing and costs to taxpayers.

Finally, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s refusal to adopt animals out as gifts results in more killing and increased costs to taxpayers. The ASPCA has authored peer reviewed research showing animals adopted out as gifts are just as loved and likely to remain in their homes as animals not adopted out as gifts. Similarly, HSUS also recommends shelters adopt out animals as gifts in their Adopters Welcome guide. Clearly, adopting out animals as gifts safely moves more animals out of shelters and reduces taxpayer costs. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s prohibition on adopting out animals as gifts is wrong, deadly and costly.

Despite all these adoption restrictions, the shelter’s return rate of 8% was about the same rate as the average shelter and actually twice as high as an urban shelter that implemented an open or conversational based adoption policy.

Limited Adoption Hours Increase Length of Stay and Killing 

Bergen County Animal Shelter is hardly open for adoptions. The facility is only open to adopters for around 4 hours on most days and does not adopt out animals on Mondays. Additionally, the shelter only adopts out animals to 5:00 pm or 5:30 pm on the other days it does adoptions except for Thursdays. On Thursdays, the shelter adopts animals out until 6:30 pm, but that may still be too early for many working people who must contend with rush-hour traffic in the area. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s limited adoption hours result in longer lengths of stay and more killing.

Adoption Profiles Paint Dogs in a Terrible Light

Adoption profiles are marketing tools designed to bring people into the shelter to consider adopting. Best Friends advises shelters and rescues to accentuate an animal’s positives. Similarly, the Deputy Animal Services Officer of Austin Animal Center, which is the largest no kill animal control shelter in the country, strongly recommends shelters use adoption profiles to market animals and adoption counseling sessions to disclose all facts about animals and provide guidance on transitioning the dog into a home environment. Specifically, this successful municipal no kill shelter leader states to not put home restrictions in the adoption profile itself. Obviously, writing a negative adoption profile can prevent people from coming to the shelter to adopt. Thus, shelters should use adoption profiles to bring people into the shelter where adopters and shelter staff/volunteers can honestly discuss the animal and determine if the pet is the right fit for the family.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s dog adoption profiles turn adopters off. The shelter’s dog adoption profiles read very much like the shelter’s overly harsh behavioral evaluations. Basically, they highlight alleged flaws and make them seem like overwhelming problems. Often, the shelter makes it seem like Cesar Milan or Victoria Stillwell could only adopt these dogs.

The shelter’s adoption profile for Fawn illustrates this misguided philosophy. The adoption profile states the following about Fawn:

  1. She is shy
  2. Has an unknown history
  3. Needs a calmer home
  4. Do not socialize until she forms a bond with the family
  5. Need to do various things to build her trust
  6. Was returned to the shelter
  7. Gets anxious if she feels confined and out of options
  8. No first time owners
  9. No children

After reading this profiles, how many potential good homes ruled out Fawn without ever meeting her? While I personally think some of these faults may not be accurate, the shelter should not write such damning adoption profiles as it makes Fawn and shelter animals in general seem like damaged goods.

Fawn Adoption Profile
Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adoption profile for Brooklyn also hurts her chances for adoption. While the shelter took a great photo, the language reads more like a legal disclaimer than a marketing effort. Specifically, the shelter stated the following about Brooklyn:

  1. She is a special needs adoption
  2. She needs a very experienced home
  3. Needs an adult only home that has experience with dog behavior issues
  4. Needs a home with no other pets and kids

Speaking as someone who adopted a dog with a similar label as Brooklyn, I have to think how my family could not adopt her. We are not an adult only home and therefore would be rejected. Furthermore, we’ve fostered numerous dogs (who all got along good to great with our dog who had the same label as Brooklyn) that would also disqualify us from adopting Brooklyn. After posting this profile, the shelter basically ruled out hundreds or even thousands of homes without ever talking with these people. Thus, Brooklyn, who has been at the shelter since April 27, 2015, has stayed at the facility way longer than she should have.

Brooklyn Adoption Profile.jpg

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adoption profile for Captain America also made it harder for him to find a good home. The profile states the following:

  1. He is not polite
  2. People will need to have lots of time to train and exercise him
  3. He is not properly socialized
  4. He will mess up your house
  5. Adult homes (17 years old plus) only can adopt him

Clearly, this adoption profile would eliminate most potential good homes for Captain America for his main crime of being a big puppy. In fact, Dr. Emily Weiss of the ASPCA has written that shelters should in fact adopt out dogs like Captain America to families with young children. Significant numbers of shelter dogs fit Captain America’s description and do fine in many homes. Unfortunately, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s awful marketing and insane adoption policies relegate dogs like Captain America to long shelter stays and even death.

capatain-adoption-profiles

Shelter Makes it Difficult for Volunteers to Help Animals

Bergen County Animal Shelter makes volunteers sign a form that may make these kindhearted people think twice about helping animals. The shelter’s volunteer manual includes a form that requires volunteers who work with cats or dogs to sign off on having around 2 dozen “essential” physical, mental and emotional capabilities and other abilities. Some of the “essential capabilities” include

  1. “Quick reflexes and ability to use both hands simultaneously”
  2. “Must have the ability to judge an animal’s reaction and to change voice to a soft or strong, authoritative tone in order to calm a dog’s response or give commands”
  3. “Possess immune system strong enough to tolerate exposures to zoonotic diseases such as ringworm and mange”
  4. “Ability to cope with unexpected animal behavior without assistance”

While these characteristics are good to have, making volunteers sign off on all these may very well make many good people think twice about volunteering. In other words, its a way for Bergen County Animal Shelter to say it has a volunteer program, but reduce the number of pesky volunteers who could expose the shelter for the fraud that it is. Furthermore, this form is a politically convenient way for a regressive health department to limit the number of people exposed to animals they views as public health risks.

Bergen County Animal Shelter also has very restrictive dog handling protocols that hinder dog socialization and efforts to adopt out these animals. For example, volunteers never can allow, unless they receive permission from the behavioral staff, two dogs to intermingle or go nose to nose within 10 feet of each other. Furthermore, volunteers cannot do meet and greets (i.e. dog introductions) unless they have been trained by the behavioral staff, shadow the behavioral staff or an approved volunteer on at least two meet and greets, “have a very good understanding of canine body language”, and have at least 40 volunteer hours. Clearly, volunteers do not need these inordinate amount of restrictions unless the shelter views all dogs as ticking time bombs. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter prevents volunteers from helping dogs as much as these animal loving people could.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s puts massive roadblocks up for volunteers wishing to simply walk dogs. To walk green coded dogs, which are typically under 35 pounds, have no behavioral issues, and are highly adoptable, volunteers must do a number of things including

  1. Complete an orientation with the Friends of the County Animal Shelter (FOCAS) group and another orientation with Bergen County Animal Shelter
  2. Complete 4 “Buddy Hours” with an approved “Buddy”
  3. Pay dues to FOCAS
  4. Must brush/groom dogs and practice obedience commands and tricks

In other words, to even walk the easiest of dogs, volunteers have to go through hours of training, pay fees for the privilege to walk dogs, and agree to do obedience training. Thus, the shelter’s overbearing requirements make it difficult for people to volunteer to walk the easiest of dogs.

The shelter makes it even more difficult to volunteer to walk dogs coded blue. These dogs, which are typically 35-50 pounds, have never bitten, are “medium” leash pullers, have “mild to moderate jumping or mouthing problems”, and can include “shy or frightened dogs.” Simply put, these are very common dogs at every shelter that almost any volunteer can handle. However, Bergen County Animal Shelter requires volunteers to do the following things in addition to the green coded dog requirements:

  1. Must volunteer regularly for at least one month
  2. Must attend 6 weeks of obedience training classes with a perfect attendance record with a practice dog
  3. Must pass an evaluation of the volunteer’s abilities, including knowledge of dog training (if they fail, the volunteer may or may not get the chance to go through more training to pass this evaluation)
  4. Must enforce commands dogs learned
  5. Must teach dogs commands, tricks, proper leash manners, and manners around people

Thus, the shelter needlessly makes it difficult to walk dogs that almost anyone could safely walk.

Bergen County Animal Shelter makes it extremely tough for volunteers to walk dogs coded yellow. Yellow coded dogs include hard leash pullers, jump/mouthy dogs, high energy animals, dogs who have been at the shelter for several months, extremely shy dogs who might snap if pushed too far, dogs who have minor aggression (i.e. food guarding, problems around other dogs or children) and dogs who have left Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3 bites (dogs who have left Level 3 bites also fall under the next more restrictive category at the shelter). According to Dr. Ian Dunbar’s dog bite scale, these are very minor bites:

  1. Level 1. Obnoxious or aggressive behavior but no skin-contact by teeth
  2. Level 2- Skin-contact by teeth but no skin-puncture. However, may be skin nicks (less than one tenth of an inch deep) and slight bleeding caused by forward or lateral movement of teeth against skin, but no vertical punctures.
  3. Level 3- One to four punctures from a single bite with no puncture deeper than half the length of the dog’s canine teeth. Maybe lacerations in a single direction, caused by victim pulling hand away, owner pulling dog away, or gravity (little dog jumps, bites and drops to floor).

Two of the three bites cause no real physical harm and the third causes only a minor injury. In other words, most of the yellow coded dogs are easily handled by people with the physical strength to handle a hard pulling or energetic dog.

To walk a yellow coded dog, a volunteer must go through the following hurdles in addition to those they did to walk green and blue coded dogs:

  1. Must volunteer for at least 6 months
  2. Must have at least 2 hours of behavior instruction during volunteer training classes
  3. Must train a yellow coded dog and pass an evaluation on their ability to handle the dog and ability to conduct obedience training (if they fail, the volunteer may or may not get the chance to go through more training to pass this evaluation)
  4. Complete yellow coded dog course homework
  5. Must keep a log when required of all interactions and training done for each dog and give to trainer once a month

With the possible exception of dogs who have Level 3 bites on their records, these requirements to simply walk a dog are insane. At numerous shelters I volunteered at, I and many other people safely handled many dogs like these with virtually no instructions. Of course, a shelter should train its volunteers and have some restrictions, but these are overkill.

Black Diamonds are the shelter’s most risky category of dogs that certain volunteers can walk. While some of these dogs may have serious behavior issues that do require a very experienced volunteer, some of these dogs can be walked by reasonably competent people. For example, this category includes dogs who have “serious” food guarding issues ,”problems around other dogs”, display “problem fence fighting” behavior, and act “excessively” mouthy, pushy, jumpy and unruly as well as dogs who are “extremely shy or fearful” and “who could snap if pushed too far.” However, this category also includes dogs with predictable behavior problems that respond to training and dogs who have been at the shelter for several months. Basically, these are dogs that were evaluated by the shelter’s trainers and determined to have serious behavior issues that may potentially be fixable. However, as we saw in Part 2, many of the dogs doing worse on these evaluations (i.e. killed by the shelter) were dogs that could easily go to most homes. Therefore, I’m highly suspicious of any dog the shelter claims is such a risk unless it actually has inflicted a very serious bite on someone.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s requirements to walk dogs labeled as Black Diamonds are nearly impossible for volunteers to meet. To walk a Black Diamond dog, volunteers must meet all the green, blue and yellow coded dog requirements and do the following

  1. Volunteer at the shelter for at least one year
  2. Attend all required training classes or regularly keep in touch with the trainer/head shelter staff member
  3. Must attend 2 hour Black Diamond dog course and complete all homework
  4. Must have at least 4 hours of experience with a trainer or Supervising Animal Attendant
  5. Must attend a 7 week course with a Black Diamond coded dog and pass an evaluation on their ability to handle the dog and ability to conduct obedience training (if they fail, the volunteer may or may not get the chance to go through more training to pass this evaluation)
  6. Must keep a log when required of all interactions and training done for each dog and give to trainer once a month

Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter makes it virtually impossible to simply walk many dogs who could be safely handled by lots of people and are in most need of socialization, exercise and help.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s volunteer logs prove that these restrictions hurt the facility’s animals. Recently, I requested 3 weeks of volunteer logs from August 2016. Volunteer hours during this period totaled around 245 hours. If we assume volunteer hours stayed at this rate for the entire year, volunteers would provide 4,247 hours annually to the shelter. As a comparison, volunteers at KC Pet Project, which only took over the Kansas City, Missouri animal control shelter a few years ago, logged 30,681 hours in 2015. Similarly, volunteers at the Nevada Humane Society, which is an animal control shelter, contributed 43,259 hours in 2015. In other words, these two no kill animal control shelters, which serve similar numbers of people as Bergen County Animal Shelter, built volunteer programs that log around 7-10 times more hours than Bergen County Animal Shelter. While volunteers at Bergen County Animal Shelter may have contributed some additional hours outside of the shelter, it would not come close to reducing this huge gap. Thus, Bergen County’s hostile attitude towards volunteers and killing results in fewer volunteers, animals not receiving the help they need, and increased costs to taxpayers.

Perhaps the most telling thing about how the shelter views its volunteers is the fact that it prohibits volunteers from counseling adopters or even showing dogs to adopters unless specific permission is granted by the behavioral staff. If the people who know the dogs the best can’t show dogs to adopters, how does one expect adopters to understand the dogs they will bring home?

Spreading Dangerous Myths About Shelter Dogs and Pit Bulls

The shelter’s volunteer manual also gives away its anti-animals views. Specifically, it states pit bulls require owners who are “MORE responsible than other dog owners” and suggests the breed is more of a liability risk. Sadly, this messaging flies in the face of recent research showing that

  1. Breed identification in shelters is often unreliable
  2. All animals should be treated as individuals

Is it any wonder why the shelter killed 4 out of 5 adult pit bulls requiring new homes?

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s volunteer manual also stated large numbers of dogs in shelters are damaged goods. Specifically, the manual states a “good amount of them are here because of behavior issues” and ALL dogs adopted from shelters require “some measure of rehabilitation” in a home. Frankly, this sums up the Bergen County Health Department’s views on shelter dogs perfectly and explains why they kill so many of these homeless pets.

Bergen County Animal Shelter Requires Wholesale Change

Bergen County Animal Shelter is a high kill rather than a no kill shelter. As Part 1 of this series of blogs documented, 33% of dogs, 42% of cats and 50% of pit bulls lost their lives at the Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. If we only count animals not reclaimed by their owners, 49% of dogs, 44% of cats, 67% of pit bull like dogs and 83% of pit bull like dogs labeled as “adults” lost their lives at this so-called “no kill” facility. Clearly, these death rates vastly exceed the 10% or lower death rate that is generally accepted to meet no kill status. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter operates more like a slaughterhouse than a no kill shelter.

The shelter also failed to comply with the weak Asilomar Accords to determine whether the shelter killed healthy and treatable animals. Part 1 of this series of blogs discussed that a condition is treatable under the Asilomar Accords 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.” Based on Bergen County being one of the wealthiest counties in the nation (i.e. pet owners provide lots of care to their animals) and the absurd justifications documented in Part 2 of this series of blogs, Bergen County Animal Shelter clearly killed healthy and treatable animals even by the weak Asilomar Accords standards.

Bergen County Executive, James Tedesco, and the Board of Chosen Freeholders lied to the public when they declared the county shelter a no kill facility. Clearly, these elected county leaders knew that their constituents, who as a whole are highly educated and love animals, want their tax dollars to support a no kill facility. Instead of doing the necessary work to serve Bergen County residents, the elected officials bragged about their shelter being no kill when it was in fact high kill.

Not only was the shelter actually a high kill facility, but it also violated state shelter law. In Part 2, I documented numerous occasions where the shelter illegally killed owner surrendered animals during the 7 day hold period. Also, the shelter failed to keep proper records at times as required by law. Additionally, the shelter’s euthanasia logs listed highly questionable weights that suggested the shelter might not have actually weighed animals prior to euthanasia/killing as required by law. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter violated state law.

Bergen County residents should be outraged that their tax dollars support a high kill shelter that conducts illegal activities and their elected leaders tried to deceive their constituents. Frankly, many politicians who defrauded the public to this extent on other issues saw their political careers end quickly. If James Tedesco and the Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders are smart, they’d come clean and make wholesale changes at the shelter.

Bergen County needs to overhaul the shelter’s leadership. First, the county should remove the Department of Health Services control over the shelter and have the Shelter Director report directly to the County Executive or his designee. Second, the shelter should hire a successful shelter director or assistant director from a medium to large size no kill animal control shelter. Certainly, Bergen County, which is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, can afford to pay someone who really knows what they are doing. Additionally, Bergen County is a very attractive location for a shelter director with its close proximity to New York City, its great schools, and its educated and wealthy population. Once the county hires a new Shelter Director who would have the authority to make key decisions under this operating structure, he or she can replace behavior and medical staff that are quick to kill animals.

Bergen County Animal Shelter can and should be highly successful. The facility only took in 7.2 dogs and cats per 1,000 residents in 2015. As a comparison, the Austin, Texas animal control shelter took in 15.6 dogs and cats per 1,000 residents and saved 94% of its dogs and cats in 2015. In August 2016, which is one of the highest intake months of the year, this municipal shelter saved over 98% of the 756 dogs and more than 96% of the 694 cats that left the shelter. Bergen County Animal Shelter also has a larger and more modern facility than many other shelters in the area. Furthermore, the facility is located in a major shopping area with lots of traffic. As a result, Bergen County Animal Shelter can not only become a no kill facility, it can take on more municipalities by safely placing animals more quickly.

Bergen County resident must demand immediate action from James Tedesco and the Board of Chosen Freeholders. Three of the seven Board of Chosen Freeholders’ seats (including incumbents, Maura DeNicola and Thomas J. Sullivan, who approved the fraudulent declaration that Bergen County Animal Shelter is no kill) are up for election this November and voters have an excellent opportunity to make their voices heard about the shelter. Simply put, Bergen County residents must make the Bergen County Animal Shelter no kill con job a key election issue and demand a credible plan to quickly make the facility a real no kill shelter.

The lives of thousands of animals in Bergen County are on the line this November. Let’s make the voices of animal loving residents heard.

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.