Elizabeth Animal Shelter Shows Improvement, But Serious Problems Remain: Part 1

Last year, I wrote a series of blogs highlighting significant problems at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. You can read the two blogs here and here. Specifically, I discussed the following findings:

  1. Shelter had an unacceptably high kill rate
  2. Routine illegal killing of owner surrendered animals during the seven day protection period
  3. Frequent illegal transfers of stray animals to rescues during the seven day hold period
  4. Poor promotion of animals
  5. Shelter adopted out hardly any animals
  6. Shelter did not spay/neuter animals adopted out
  7. Rescues were often only the reason unclaimed animals made it out of the shelter alive
  8. No volunteers allowed at the shelter
  9. Little to no veterinary care provided
  10. Records indicated inhumane euthanasia/killing practices

In addition to my advocacy, other groups, such as the Reformers – Advocates for Animal Shelter Change in NJ, aggressively pushed for change at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Did Elizabeth Animal Shelter improve? Does the shelter still have serious problems?

Live Release Rate Increases Significantly

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s statistics for all dogs and cats it impounded in 2016 are listed below. You can view the actual records here and here. Overall, 8% of dogs and 16% of cats were killed, died or had unknown outcomes. This equates to a 92% dog live release rate and an 84% cat live release rate. In fact, the shelter reached the 90% live release rate threshold for dogs, and came pretty close to it for cats, that some people consider no kill (I use a much higher standard).

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Dog and Cat Statistics

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s death rate significantly decreased in 2016 compared to 2015. Overall, the shelter’s death rates for both cats and dogs dropped by about half in 2016.

2016 Verses 2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Death Rate

Elizabeth Animal Shelter still killed too many pit bulls in 2016. Specifically, about 1 in 5 pit bulls and 1 out of 4 unclaimed pit bulls lost their lives. On the other hand, Elizabeth Animal Shelter achieved very high live release rates for both small dogs and all other breeds.

2016 Elizabeth Dog Breeds Statistics

Similarly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed too many adult cats in 2016. Overall, around 1 in 5 adult cats lost their lives. On the other hand, Elizabeth Animal Shelter reported an impressive 92% live release rate for kittens.

2016 Elizabeth Cat Age Statistics

Despite Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s death rates for adult cats and pit bulls being too high, the facility still made progress in 2016. Overall, the death rates for adult cats and pit bulls decreased by half (from 42% to 21%) and by around one quarter (from 25% to 18%).

Improved Live Release Rate Associated with End of Routine Illegal Killings

Elizabeth Animal Shelter stopped routinely killing owner surrendered animals during the seven day protection period in 2016. In 2015, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 124 dogs and cats during the state mandated stray hold and owner surrender protection periods (many were killed immediately). On the other hand, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only euthanized 22 dogs and cats during these periods in 2016. While I do have some questions as to whether some of these animals were in fact hopelessly suffering, which they must be for a shelter to take the animal’s life during this time, the facility did appear to relegate these to medical cases.

Overall, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed/euthanized 15% and 4% of all the dogs and cats it impounded in 2015 and 2016 during the seven day protection period. This 11% decrease in killing over the two years accounts for nearly all of the 12% drop in the combined dog and cat live release rate from 2015 to 2016. Thus, the strong advocacy efforts to stop this illegal killing along with efforts to directly save these animals accounts for much of the improvement at the shelter.

Rescues Continue to Save the Day

Elizabeth Animal Shelter relied almost exclusively on rescues to save unclaimed animals. Based on my review of the supporting documents for approximately 40% of the dogs and cats listed as adopted or “medical release” in Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records, 89% of these cats and 84% of these dogs went to rescues. This is very similar to my findings from the prior year. If I were to extrapolate this data for the entire year, I’d estimate Elizabeth Animal Shelter only adopted out 9% of the cats and 10% of the dogs they impounded. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter almost entirely relied on the rescue community to save its animals.

Based on my observations, Elizabeth Animal Shelter made little effort to adopt out animals. First, the animal shelter is almost never open. The facility is only open from 4 pm to 6 pm on weekdays and from 3 pm to 4 pm on Saturdays. In other words, the shelter is essentially never open when working people can adopt (i.e. weeknights and weekends). In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter violates state law by not being open for at least two hours on the weekend. Second, the shelter’s adoption web site has terrible photos of dogs that look like prison mugshots. Even worse, not a single cat adoption listing is currently on the web site. Third, the shelter does not vaccinate or spay/neuter the animals it adopts out. Instead, the shelter threatens adopters from Elizabeth with fines if they do not spay/neuter the animal within 30 days. Fourth, Elizabeth continues to bar volunteers from the facility who could help market these animals. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s poor policies continue to result in the facility adopting out few animals.

While Elizabeth Animal Shelter has very limited space, it can adopt out substantially many more animals. For example, models I developed based on the performance of good, but not the best, animal shelters suggest Elizabeth Animal Shelter could adopt out around 150 dogs and 160 cats each year. If Elizabeth Animal Shelter did this, it would likely allow the shelter to significantly reduce both the pit bull and adult cat kill rates. In reality, most high performing shelters must adopt out a substantial percentage of pit bulls and adult cats to achieve no kill level live release rates for these animals. Furthermore, if Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out more animals, rescues could save animals from other high kill shelters and reduce more killing in the state.

Animal Intake Decreases Significantly

Elizabeth Animal Shelter impounded far fewer dogs and and cats in 2016 as compared to 2015. You can view the actual records here and here. Specifically, the facility took in 16% fewer dogs and 32% fewer cats. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter impounded 26% and 46% fewer owner surrendered dogs and cats in 2016 verses 2015.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2016 Verses 2015 Dog Intake

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2016 Verses 2015 Cat Intake

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s dog and cat intake decreased significantly more than both the Animal Care Centers of NYC and ACCT Philly. As you can see below, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s dog intake decreased around 2 to 3 times more than both of the two larger urban shelters in the region. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s cat intake decreased 3-11 times more than these other two shelters.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2016 Verses 2015 Intake Compared to Other Shelters

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s length of stay data supports this theory. The shelter’s average length of stay for dogs and cats in 2016 were 10.7 days (7.5 days in 2015) and 8.1 days (4.1 days in 2015). As a comparison, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only had about 11-13 days and 8-17 days to get each dog and cat out of the shelter in 2015 (i.e. when the shelter took in more animals) before it ran out of space. Therefore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter appeared to take fewer animals in, particularly cats, to avoid overcrowding, at least during higher intake months.

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Dog Length of Stay Data

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Cat Length of Stay Data

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s strategy of relying virtually entirely on rescues to create space is doomed to fail. While the shelter’s use of many rescues reduces the facility’s risk of any single rescue closing or not pulling animals for other reasons, large coalitions of rescues rarely are efficient at adopting out animals. Why? No single rescue faces any negative consequences if it fails to adopt out enough animals to prevent the shelter from killing. For example, if a single shelter or rescue agreed to pull all animals from Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s kill list, and Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed animals the rescue organization did not pull, the rescue organization could face criticism and lose donations. Similarly, if a single rescue saved all of the shelter’s animals it would receive praise and likely receive more financial support from the public. However, when dozens of organizations rescue animals voluntarily, no single group faces any repercussions and such groups have little to gain. Therefore, these organizations will often stick with overly restrictive adoption policies, less aggressive marketing, and overall less effective processes that result in fewer adoptions. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter has limited the number of positive outcomes it can achieve and will likely have to restrict intake to avoid overcrowding and/or killing.

While I would clearly prefer Elizabeth Animal Shelter impound and safely place more animals, the facility is better off not taking in dogs and cats if it is just going to kill them. Clearly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter can do much more and take in all animals needing help, but at the end of the day, I’d rather the animals have a chance of life on the streets or with their existing owners than face a certain death at a kill shelter (especially since most of these animals are healthy cats who are far better off on the streets than in a shelter).

In Part 2 of this series of blogs, I will examine whether Elizabeth Animal Shelter still kills healthy and treatable animals. Additionally, I’ll answer the question as to whether the shelter still violates state law. You can view Part 2 here.

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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.

What Great Animal Shelters Do After the End of the Year

Great organizations do big things and make people aware of it. In the business world, companies sell products and services customers love and advertise these facts. Businesses subsequently invest much of their profits to continuously improve these products and services. On the other hand, governments or not for profits run animals shelters and must rely on taxpayer and donor funding as well as volunteer support to help improve the way they do things.

What are some ways successful animal shelters secure the financial and volunteer support they need? How does this differ from the typical high kill shelter?

Do a Great Job

Animal shelters must save lives and inspire the public. Simply put, a shelter must lead by example to obtain public support. Organizations must enthusiastically implement most, if not all, of the no kill equation programs. You can see clear examples of organizations implementing these programs at animal control shelters in Austin, Texas, Kansas City, Missouri, and Lynchburg, Virginia. Thus, great animal shelters must perform at a high level to garner the public support they need.

Share Successes and Challenges from Prior Year

Elite animal shelters provide transparent statistics and summarize performance over the past year. Intake and disposition statistics, which provide specific details on how major types of animals came into and left the shelter, give the public a clear picture of how the organization is doing. In the business world, companies issue financial statements and supplemental disclosures to entice investors to provide funding. Similarly, detailed statistics and supporting commentary give donors and volunteers a reason to support a shelter.

In the upcoming months, many great shelters will voluntarily disclose their full 2016 intake and disposition statistics and also analyze their performance during the year. In general, you will notice several things:

  1. High and/or sharply increasing live release rates
  2. Continuous desire to improve with supporting data
  3. Inspirational tone

However, several elite shelters already provided some of this information for 2016.

Lynchburg Humane Society posted its key 2016 statistics on its Facebook page just nine days into the new year. The shelter’s post was short and contained the following key facts:

  1. Save rate increased to 96% in 2016 from 94% in 2015
  2. Shelter took in over 600 more pets than it impounded in the prior year
  3. Shelter adopted out nearly 800 more dogs in 2016
  4. Nearly 700 more kids participated in the organization’s programs in 2016
  5. Shelter saved around 600 animals from other counties and 300 more than in 2015
  6. Over 1,700 outdoor cats spayed/neutered
  7. Nearly 6,700 spay/neuter surgeries performed
  8. A link to donate to the organization

Clearly, the shelter communicates it is doing great things and improving. Simply put, the shelter inspires confidence and makes choosing to donate an easy decision.

KC Pet Project wrote an engaging summary of the organization’s 2016 performance on its web site shortly after the start of 2017. Some of the key takeaways are as follows:

  1. KC Pet Project quickly transformed a terrible shelter into the nation’s third largest no kill facility several years ago
  2. The shelter’s live release rate of 95% hit a record high in 2016
  3. The organization adopted out a record number of animals in 2016 (over 6,200 pets)
  4. The shelter impounded 4% more animals in 2016
  5. Dog length of stay decreased by 5 days to 18 days in 2016
  6. Cat length of stay decreased by 7 days to 41 days during the year
  7. Over 3,000 animals adopted out at the organization’s off-site adoption centers
  8. Thousands of pets went to foster homes during the year with over 800 of these animals directly adopted out by the fosters through the shelter’s Adoption Ambassadors program
  9. Nearly 100 feral cats adopted out as barn/warehouse cats
  10. Over 1,500 pets received extraordinary levels of care through a special program
  11. A link to donate to the organization

KC Pet Project clearly made the case it is highly successful and continuously improving. Thus, the shelter inspires animal loving people to donate and volunteer.

Austin Animal Center also shared an excellent summary of its 2016 performance on its web site in early January. The shelter’s communicated the following key messages:

  1. Shelter achieved a record high 96% live release rate (98% for dogs, 95% for cats)
  2. Shelter adopted out nearly 8,000 animals and around 500 more pets than it adopted out in the prior year
  3. Shelter returned nearly 2,800 lost animals to their families and ACOs returned an additional 700 more animals to their homes in the field (i.e. never went to the shelter)
  4. Around 800 volunteers contributed nearly 54,000 hours during the year (equivalent to 26 full time employees)
  5. 900 foster families housed 2,500 animals with fosters adopting out 2/3 of the pets themselves
  6. Fosters contributed nearly 82,000 hours in 2016 which is equivalent to 39 full time employees
  7. Shelter takes in 17,000 animal a year and typically cares for 900 animals at a time
  8. Shelter performs more than 5,000 spay/neuter surgeries a year
  9. Shelter achieved this great success despite severe weather events in the area that increased animal intake
  10. Shelter will participate in a pilot program to humanely mitigate human-wildlife conflicts
  11. Shelter started a program to help prison inmates provide care to dogs
  12. Austin Animal Center will help other shelters develop adult dog foster programs

In addition, Austin Animal Center issued detailed monthly statistical reports throughout the year. These reports provided intake and disposition statistics as well as live release rates by major animal class (i.e. neonatal puppy, neonatal kitten, puppy, kitten, adult dog and adult cat).

Austin Animal Center clearly communicates it performs excellent work, keeps improving, and looks to do even better things. In other words, Austin Animal Center’s message is inspiring and encourages people to support the shelter.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Follow Successful Formula

Hardly any New Jersey animal control shelters voluntarily disclose full statistics on their web sites and social medial pages and summarize their annual performance. In fact, I only recall a couple of shelters occasionally sharing this information. Instead, the state’s largest animal welfare organization, Associated Humane Societies, routinely posts alleged animal cruelty stories and fundraises off them while killing massive numbers of animals in its Newark shelter. As I’ve stated in a previous blog, these money-grubbing tactics make shelter pets seem like “damaged goods” to the average pet owner and reduce life saving. Additionally, these tactics shift the public’s attention from the shelter’s terrible performance to the alleged cruelty of individual people who are not representative of the public at large. Thus, most New Jersey animal shelters must start disclosing more information about themselves and stop shifting the public’s attention from their performance.

Clearly, the New Jersey animal shelter industry has an open niche for progressive organizations to sweep in and replace the many horrible organizations in the state. Now is the time for animal lovers to form a not for profit to do the great work our animals need. A few people formed KC Pet Project to take over the Kansas City animal control shelter. Within a few months, this new organization turned the facility from a high kill to a no kill shelter. If they can do it, so can you. Follow your dreams and use these successful shelters’ operating models as a guide to fix our failing shelters.

Elizabeth’s Enigma of an Animal Shelter (Part 2 of 2)

In my last blog, I discussed the recent history of the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Specifically, I wrote about how the shelter’s illegal killing of Jennifer Arteta’s two dogs, Daphne and Rocko, during the 7 day hold period in June 2014 sparked an effort to reform the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Additionally, I analyzed the shelter’s 2015 statistics to see if the changes the shelter made improved the plight of animals entering the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. To read Part 1 of this blog, please click this link.

Part 2 of this blog analyzes Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s compliance with New Jersey shelter laws. This blog also examines the shelter’s recent actions. Finally, I provide an answer to the question as to whether the Elizabeth Animal Shelter still needs reform.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Illegally Kills Massive Numbers of Animals Prior to the End of the 7 Day Hold Period

Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed animals during the 7 day hold before and after the illegal killing of Daphne and Rocko. Despite Daphne being playful and Rocko loving to cuddle, Elizabeth Animal Shelter wrote “aggressive” on their intake and disposition records and killed them on the day the two dogs arrived at the shelter. Under New Jersey shelter law, shelters cannot kill any animal, whether stray or surrendered by their owners, until after 7 full days. Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 48 dogs and 35 cats in 2014 prior to the end of the 7 day hold period. To put it another way, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 49% of the dogs and 85% of the cats it killed in 2014. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 25 dogs and 14 cats in 2014 after News 12 New Jersey reported Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s illegal killing of Daphne and Rocko. Even worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter resumed the illegal killings less than a month after the News 12 story came out and the related uproar. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter thumbed its nose at animal advocates, state law and all Elizabeth pet owners.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter continued to illegally kill animals during the 7 day hold period in 2015. Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 28 dogs and 96 cats during the 7 day hold period in 2015. To state it another way, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 53% of the dogs and 86% of the cats it killed in 2015. In addition, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 9 of those dogs and 5 of those cats after the New Jersey Department of Health issued a memo on October 20, 2015 reminding all shelters that it is illegal to kill animals during the 7 day hold period. Under New Jersey law, shelters technically can’t kill animals who are hopelessly suffering during the 7 day hold period, but the New Jersey Department of Health generally does not go after shelters if a veterinarian documents the animal was hopelessly suffering in a detailed manner. While Elizabeth Animal Shelter labeled some animals as “sick” or “medical euthanasia”, the city provided no veterinary records proving these animals were in fact hopelessly suffering. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed even more animals in 2015 than 2014.

You can find all the intake and disposition records for 2014 here and for 2015 here.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Illegally Adopts Out and Sends Stray Animals to Rescues During the 7 Day Hold Period

Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally adopted out and sent large numbers of dogs and cats to rescues during the 7 day stray/hold period in 2014. Under New Jersey shelter law, shelters must hold stray animals for 7 days prior to adopting those pets out or sending them to rescues. The law is designed to provide pet owners a reasonable opportunity to find their animals. In 2014, Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out/transferred to rescues 21 stray dogs and 120 stray cats during their stray/hold periods. 13% and 36% of all dogs and cats Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out/sent to rescues were done so illegally in 2014. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter violated the 7 day stray hold period on a massive scale in 2014.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter continued to illegally adopt out and send large numbers of animals to rescues during the 7 day hold period in 2015. In 2015, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally adopted out/transferred to rescues 30 dogs and 75 cats. 14% and 25% of all dogs and cats Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out/sent to rescues were done so illegally in 2015. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed or adopted out/sent to rescues 106 of 171 stray cats or 62% of these animals during the 7 day stray/hold period in 2015. Similarly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed or adopted out/sent to rescues 35 out of 209 stray dogs or 17% of these animals during the 7 day stray/hold period in 2015. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter willfully violated state shelter law and potentially prevented scores of animals from finding their families.

While I can understand Elizabeth Animal Shelter feels pressure to place animals quickly with its small facility, the shelter’s actions are not justified. Certainly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s limited space causes the shelter to fill up quickly. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter did not appear to consistently use its full capacity. The following table compares the “required length of stay” or the maximum time the shelter could keep each animal on average before it runs out of room each month with the average length of of stay for these periods. In other words, this metric estimates how much shelter capacity was used. As you can see, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only used around 61% and 27% of its dog and cat capacity on average during the year. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter did not come close to reaching its maximum capacity in any one month.

Elizabeth Dog Capacity Used

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (25)

Clearly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s space constraints did not force it to adopt out and send animals to rescues during the 7 day stray/hold period. The city and the shelter simply wanted to save money and do less work by handing animals to rescues as quickly as possible.

To further support the shelter having enough space to obey the state’s 7 day hold period, I recalculated Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s average length of stay if it kept animals for the required 7 day hold period. If the shelter held animals it either illegally killed or adopted out or sent to rescues during the 7 day hold period for 7 days, the shelter’s average length of stay would only rise to 6.3 days for cats and 8.2 days for dogs. As a comparison, the shelter’s required length of stay each month was significantly below these figures (8.8 days to 62 days for cats and 9.2 days to 25.7 days for dogs). Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter did not have to violate the state’s 7 day hold law to avoid overcrowding.

Animals Killed Off the Books

Elizabeth Animal Shelter took a number of injured and sick animals directly to an outside veterinarian and did not report doing so in its intake and disposition records. The veterinarian killed/euthanized almost all of these animals (3 dogs, 12 cats plus a number of wild animals). While many were hopelessly suffering, the veterinarian’s invoices inadequately documented the reason for killing/euthanasia in some cases. The example below provides one such example where the veterinarian killed a cat and listed the animal as “injured” without any specific details:

Elizabeth Vet Invoice

Furthermore, the shelter provided me no additional veterinary records in response to my OPRA requests. Given this veterinarian killed most of these dogs and cats on behalf of Elizabeth Animal Shelter prior to the 7 day hold period, the inadequate documentation represents additional shelter law violations. Also, I could not find any of these animals included in the Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records. Therefore, the shelter violated N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13 which requires intake and disposition data on every single impounded animal. Finally, the shelter’s inability to count these animals in its records raises questions as to whether the shelter is also killing other animals off the books.

If I add these dogs and cats to the intake and disposition records, the shelter’s death rates increase by 1-2 percentage points:

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (23).jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (24)

Highly Questionable Categorization of Animals as Owner Surrenders

Elizabeth Animal Shelter classified an unusually large number of dogs and cats as owner surrenders. Specifically, the shelter classified 42% of dogs and 60% of cats as being surrendered by their owners. As a comparison, New Jersey animal shelters as a whole only classified 32% and 27% of stray and surrendered dogs and cats as owner surrenders in 2014. Furthermore, shelters serving poor areas, such as Liberty Humane Society (20% of both stray and owner surrendered dogs and cats classified as surrendered by owners), Camden County Animal Shelter (28% and 19% of stray and owner surrendered dogs and cats classified as surrendered by owners), and Atlantic County Animal Shelter (19% and 11% of stray and owner surrendered dogs and cats classified as surrendered by owners), categorized much lower percentages of animals as owner surrenders. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter placed unusually large numbers of animals into the owner surrender category.

In fact, per the records I reviewed, the shelter classified nearly every single animal turned in by a person as an owner surrender. However, in reality, shelters receive significant numbers of strays from people finding animals and turning them over to the shelter. Below is an example of one of the shelter’s animal surrender forms (I removed certain information to protect the person’s personal information). As you can see, the form does not state the person surrendering the animal is the owner nor does the form seek any documentation that the animal is in fact owned by the person.

Elizabeth Surrender form.jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s convenient classification of most animals as owner surrenders rather than strays reduces costs and saves shelter staff from doing more work. Under current state law, shelters must hold all strays for 7 days to provide the animal’s owner the opportunity to get their family member back. If Elizabeth Animal Shelter classifies the animal as an owner surrender rather than a stray under current law, the shelter can immediately hand the animal over to a rescue instead of caring for the animal for 7 days. Prior to 2011, the shelter could also immediately kill an owner surrendered animal upon intake. As discussed above, Elizabeth Animal Shelter still operates as if the old law relating to owner surrendered animals was still in place and often kills owner surrenders during the 7 day hold period. To make matters worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only accepts owner surrenders on Thursdays, the day its part-time veterinarian comes to the shelter, and kills large numbers of so-called owner surrenders on that day. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed 77 or 72% of the 107 “owner surrender” dogs and cats it killed in 2015 on the day the shelter accepted those animals. In other words, just like Daphne and Rocko, Elizabeth Animal Shelter conveniently classifies animals as owner surrenders to kill them as soon as possible, even if doing so is illegal.

Records Raise Serious Questions as to Whether Elizabeth Animal Shelter Humanely Euthanizes Animals 

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s euthanasia records do not specify how the shelter killed or euthanized animals. Specifically, the records do not state whether the shelter euthanized/killed each animal by an intravenous (preferred method), intraperitoneal or intracardiac (i.e. heart sticking) injection. Per New Jersey law, shelters can only use intraperitoneal injections on comatose animals and neonatal kittens. Under this method, animals are injected in the abdominal cavity and can take up to 30 minutes to die. Heart sticking, as the name implies, involves stabbing an animal in the heart with Fatal Plus poison and New Jersey shelters can only use this method on heavily sedated, anesthetized or comatose animals. Additionally, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s records do not state what specific euthanasia drug the facility used for each animal. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s euthanasia records do not indicate whether animals are in fact humanely euthanized.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter chooses to sedate rather than comfort animals prior to euthanasia. Specifically, the shelter injected Ketamine into nearly every animal to restrain them prior to administering a poison to kill the animals. The Humane Society of the United States Euthanasia Reference Manual states shelters should avoid using a preeuthanasia anesthetic and hold and comfort animals when appropriate:

When appropriate, it is often best practice to hold and comfort an animal for direct IV or IP injection of sodium pentobarbital rather than injecting a preeuthanasia anesthetic, but neglecting or refusing to use pre-euthanasia drugs when direct injection would cause the animal undue stress is equally ill-advised.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s decision to sedate virtually every animal instead of comforting these creatures speaks volumes about how the shelter feels about animals. While some animals are aggressive and require sedatives, surely not 163 of 164 cats and dogs were vicious or incapable of being comforted. After all, when you order the “owner surrenders” to come in on Thursdays for killing you don’t have time to hold and comfort animals. You just stick them with Ketamine and then poison them to death.

To make matters worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s use of pure Ketamine as a preeuthanasia drug is cruel. 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.

Ketamine (available commercially as Ketaset, Ketaject, and others) is an anesthetic agent that renders an animal completely immobile. However, when used alone it can cause the muscles to become rigid, causing the body to  stiffen. It also stings so much upon injection that it creates a fairly pronounced reaction in most animals. Moreover, in large doses it can produce convulsions and seizures. For these reasons, ketamine is recommended for use only when combined with another drug (like xylazine to create PreMix, above), that tempers these negative effects.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also used excessive doses of Ketamine. Elizabeth Animal Shelter administered 1.5 cubic centimeters of Ketamine to virtually every adult cat. The product label states 1 milliliter, which equals 1 cubic centimeter, of the Ketamine drug contains 100 milligrams of the active Ketamine ingredient. In addition, the product label states cats requiring restraint should receive a dose of 5 milligrams/pound of cat. The product label also states veterinary personnel should use a dose of 10-15 milligrams/pound of cat to produce anesthesia. Based on most cats weighing 8 pounds, that means the cats should have only received 40-120 milligrams or 0.4-1.2 cubic centimeters of the Ketamine drug. In other words, Elizabeth Animal Shelter provided doses up to 4 times greater than the label indicates. In addition, cats weighing as little as 5 pounds, which would require 0.25-0.75 cubic centimeter doses per the product label, also received the 1.5 cubic centimeter dose. Given large doses can “produce convulsions and seizures”, this indicates many animals could have experienced agony prior to their killing.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also used incorrect doses of its euthanasia drug assuming it used sodium pentobarbital or Fatal Plus. Per the Humane Society of United States Euthanasia Reference Manual, shelters should use 1 cubic centimeter of Fatal Plus per 10 pounds of animal body weight for intravenous and heart sticking injections and 3 cubic centimeters of Fatal Plus per 10 pounds of animal body weight for intraperitoneal injections. For an 8 pound cat, that would equal 0.8 cubic centimeters of Fatal Plus. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter used 2 cubic centimeters of its euthanasia drug for just about every adult cat weighing 8 pounds and for most adult cats of different weights. If the shelter used intraperitoneal injections on the 8 pound cats, that would require 2.4 cubic centimeters of the drug compared to the 2 cubic centimeters used by the shelter. Animals receiving too small of a dose may have been still alive before being dumped in the trash or an incinerator if the shelter used intraperitoneal injections. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s use of these drugs raises serious questions about whether the facility humanely euthanizes animals.

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.

Perhaps the most egregious example was Elizabeth Animal Shelter listing a groundhog weighing 40 pounds in its euthanasia log below. Groundhogs typically weigh from 4-9 pounds with 31 pounds being the maximum weight. Now either Elizabeth Animal Shelter impounded the largest groundhog in world history or it didn’t actually weigh the animal. Conveniently, the animal preceding this mammoth sized groundhog was a raccoon weighing the same 40 pounds.

Elizabeth Groundhoug weight.jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s questionable record keeping raise concerns about whether controlled substances at the shelter are secure. If the shelter reports using more of these controlled substances than they actually do (i.e. a possibility if they are in fact running a humane operation), that provides staff the opportunity to steal some of these drugs. In the case of Ketamine, this is a highly sought after black market recreational drug. As a result, the shelter’s euthanasia records raise concerns that go beyond animal welfare.

Shelter Budget Reflects Misguided Priorities

Elizabeth spends almost its entire shelter budget on employee salaries. Unlike most municipalities that separately disclose the animal shelter’s budget, Elizabeth buries the shelter’s projected expenditures within its Health Department budget. The Health Department’s 2016 budget reveals the Elizabeth Animal Shelter pays salaries totaling $144,481 for its ACOs and $23,241 for a part-time veterinarian. In addition, the Health Officer, Mark Colicchio, who spends part of his time overseeing the shelter, receives a salary of $92,787 a year. Unfortunately, the budget provides no other details on animal shelter expenditures. Unless other animal shelters costs are covered in the $145,000 “Other Charges” line in the Health Department budget, the shelter devotes nearly 100% of its costs to paying people’s salaries and not on animal care.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s part-time veterinarian seems to do nothing more than come in and kill animals. Based on discussions I’ve had with several people familiar with the shelter, the part-time veterinarian works at the shelter every Thursday. As discussed above, the shelter only accepts “owner surrenders”, which seems to include both animals actually surrendered by their owners and stray animals found by people, on the day the veterinarian comes in. Sadly, the shelter kills many of these animals on that very day. In fact, that is exactly what happened to Daphne and Rocko. Despite requesting veterinary records under OPRA, the shelter provided me no such records other than those for emergency care performed by an outside veterinarian (most of these animals were euthanized). In other words, Elizabeth’s part-time veterinarian appears to receive around $450 to come in on each Thursday to kill animals.

Videos Reveal Poor Animal Sheltering Practices

In a recent video, Darcy Del Castillo and another ACO were not conducting behavioral evaluations according to the ASPCA’s guidance. Specifically, the ASPCA guidance states:

  1. The room should be quiet: no phones, intercoms, pagers, barking dogs, people talking, and animals housed here
  2. No distractions during the test such as phones, multi-tasking assessors, side conversations and smells that can capture the dog’s interest.
  3. Tester should hold leash with slack

During the video, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s evaluator uses a room filled with distractions, talks with another person, and tethers the dog on a tight leash to a kennel. Additionally, another staff member yells at the dog.

Furthermore, the shelter still conducts food guarding tests despite the ASPCA recommending that shelters stop using these inaccurate tests and instead provide all adopters information on how to manage food aggression. Many shelters classify and kill dogs for being food aggressive that don’t display food guarding in a home. Additionally, many dogs who pass food aggression tests in a shelter display the trait in a home setting. Thus, the shelter’s continued use of food aggression tests puts both animals and people at risk.

Another video shows an ACO using a chokepole on a friendly dog abandoned in a home. Given chokepoles can strangle a struggling dog, ACOs should only use these devices as a last resort. Frankly, this video speaks volumes about how some of Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s ACOs feel about animals.

Elizabeth Tries to Dupe the Public Into Believing the Shelter Saved Lots of Animals During the Holidays

In late December, a local news story raved about the job Elizabeth Animal Shelter is doing. The article, which appeared like it was hastily written by the Elizabeth Health Department, stated the shelter saved all of its animals prior to Christmas. Additionally, the news story mentioned positive changes began in the Fall of 2013 (actually it was in 2014) after the facility started evaluating animals and allowing people to post the shelter’s animals on social media. Furthermore, the article touted the city’s pet limit law and policy requiring adopters to alter their animals or face fines. Finally, the article praised Darcy Del Castillo’s sharing of animals on her Shelter Helpers Facebook page and also made a quick reference to the Friends of Elizabeth Animal Shelter Facebook page.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed many animals during the month of December. As the tables below show, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 44% and 20% of all non-reclaimed cats and dogs. In fact, the shelter’s kill rate in December was higher than the average for the year despite very low animal intake relative to most months. While the shelter labeled some of these animals as “sick” and “medical euthanasia”, the city provided me no actual veterinary documentation that these animals were in fact hopelessly suffering. Furthermore, the high kill rate makes it highly unlikely that most of these animals were in a permanent state of severe physical distress. Thus, Elizabeth failed to tell the public about its entire performance during the holiday season.Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (20)

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (28)

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter also violated the 7 day hold period during December 2015. The shelter illegally killed 7 dogs and cats prior the end of the 7 day hold period during December 2015. In fact, the facility illegally killed two owner surrendered cats on December 31 just before the New Years Day holiday. Furthermore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter adopted out/sent to rescue 3 stray dogs during their 7 day hold period in December 2015. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter patted itself on the back while it operated in an illegal manner.

Elizabeth’s touting of its more stringent animal control laws reveals a city putting into place policies that will take rather than save lives. First and foremost, the shelter’s hypocritical requirement that Elizabeth residents alter adopted dogs when the city shelter refuses to do so discourages adoptions. How many companies sell you a product with the threat of heavy fines if you don’t do what they say? Its like Toyota selling you an automobile without seat belts and fining you if you don’t put them in yourself. Frankly, that type of policy scares adopters away. Second, pet limit laws reduce the number of homes for animals and lead to increased shelter intake and killing. The ASPCA, HSUS, Best Friends and the No Kill Advocacy Center all oppose these laws as these statutes waste scarce resources that cities can use to save animals and lead to increased shelter killing. Furthermore, cities can enforce animal cruelty statutes without having pet limit laws. Thus, Elizabeth brags about animal control policies that exacerbate rather than reduce shelter killing.

The glowing Elizabeth Animal Shelter story failed to recognize many of the other people responsible for emptying the shelter out before last Christmas. Specifically, the press release failed to recognize Jennifer Arteta, who runs the Friends of Elizabeth Animal Shelter Facebook page mentioned in the story. Ms. Arteta was the owner of the two dogs, Daphne and Rocko, who Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed in June 2014 and who led the effort to reform the shelter. In addition, the story failed to mention the Union County Lost Pets Facebook group which actively promotes and finds placement for Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s animals. The person running the Union County Lost Pets group also worked to reform Elizabeth Animal Shelter after the Daphne and Rocko incident. As a result, the article failed to mention that the very people fighting against the city to reform the shelter played a key role in emptying out the Elizabeth Animal Shelter.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Still Needs Reform

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter has improved in some respects since it illegally killed Daphne and Rocko in June of 2014. Certainly, the shelter decreased its dog kill rate and Darcy Del Castillo deserves some credit. However, the shelter’s cat kill rate increased since Ms. Del Castillo’s arrival at the shelter. That being said, Elizabeth Animal Shelter is a far safer place for animals than the atrocious Associated Humane Societies-Newark shelter located a few miles away.

However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s improvement with dogs is primarily due to the rescue community and not the city or its shelter. After following Facebook pages, such as Union County Lost Pets and Friends of the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, and reviewing the shelter’s records, I can clearly see how hard local rescues, animal advocates and Elizabeth residents work to save animals from the shelter. The shelter basically throws out a terrible photo and tells the rescue community to save the animal or the dog or cat will die. Even the few animals the shelter adopts out are due to local animal advocates promoting the pets rather than the shelter itself. Other than Ms. Del Castillo, no one at the shelter appears to do anything proactive to save the animals. Even worse, the near 100% reliance on rescues likely results in little to no net increase in lifesaving in the region due to rescues pulling from Elizabeth Animal Shelter rather than other local kill shelters.

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter fails to even do basic animal sheltering. The shelter typically provides no veterinary care other than killing. The city does not spay/neuter or even vaccinate its animals. Furthermore, the shelter willfully violates New Jersey’s shelter laws relating to public operating hours and the 7 day hold period. In other words, the shelter still regularly does the very thing that sparked reform efforts at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Additionally, the shelter may be violating state shelter laws in the areas of humane euthanasia as well as record keeping.

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter also violates many of the standards of care advocated by the ASPCA. The ASPCA is a traditional shelter advocacy group and it typically recommends far lower standards than what no kill groups do. However, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter violates even these lower standards. Specifically, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter fails to do the following things:

  1. Have minimum standards for facilities, sanitation, medical protocols, and enrichment/socialization
  2. Shelters should never use the expiration of applicable holding periods or owner relinquishment as license to immediately euthanize animals simply because, at least legally, their “time is up”
  3. Shelters must provide clear notice to the public concerning shelter locations, hours, fees and the return-to-owner process
  4. Shelters should be accessible during reasonable hours to owners seeking to reclaim their pet. These hours should include some reasonable additional period of time beyond the typical workday (e.g. 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday) so that pet owners who may not have flexible work schedules have the best opportunity to reclaim their pets.
  5. Shelters should make written descriptions of key processes and information easily and readily available for public inspection.

Despite the increase in the facility’s dog live release rate, too many animals still lose their lives at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. 1 out of 3 pit bull like dogs and cats requiring new homes lose their lives at the shelter. In this day and age where animal control shelters in large cities, such as Jacksonville, Florida, Baltimore, Maryland, Salt Lake City, Utah, Portland, Oregon Austin, Texas, Atlanta, Georgia, Kansas City, Missouri, and Washington DC achieved or are close to reaching no kill status (90% or higher live release rate), we should expect far more from the Elizabeth Animal Shelter.

Elizabeth needs to operate its shelter using the no kill equation in an enthusiastic manner. The key programs are as follows:

NKE

For far too long, the city’s leaders have chosen to operate the Elizabeth Animal Shelter as cheaply as possible. The city’s shelter is literally located in a public works area hidden from public view.Elizabeth Dog Warden - Google Maps

City officials never expanded the facility, despite plenty of land being available, and allowed it to remain undersized. Furthermore, city officials compensated by violating its own residents’ rights by killing and transferring animals illegally during the 7 day hold period. Simply put, Elizabeth’s political leaders view homeless animals as trash and only allow rescuers to pick that trash up before its taken to the garbage dump.

Elizabeth residents should demand far more than an old school pound that expects rescues to save the day and completely pay the bills. Clearly, the city of Elizabeth’s residents have spoken up and taken actions that prove they desperately want a no kill city shelter. Just imagine what animal advocates could achieve if they had a city and a shelter determined to do its part in saving lives. Instead of desperately trying to take animals off of death row, these volunteers could urgently work with the shelter to treat, rehabilitate and quickly get homeless animals into permanent homes. In return, hundreds of people would come to the city to adopt, volunteer, donate funds to the shelter and spend money at local businesses.

If the city chooses to not operate the shelter according to state law as well as its residents’ desires, Elizabeth should issue an RFP to allow one or more of the rescues to take the facility over. Clearly, the city of Elizabeth is failing its animals and its pet owning residents. If elected officials won’t act, then its time for Elizabeth voters to replace these politicians with folks who will do the right thing for Elizabeth’s animals and citizens.

Elizabeth’s Enigma of an Animal Shelter (Part 1 of 2)

Several years ago I visited the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Upon arriving at the facility, which was open for a mere hour that day, I waited for 45 minutes for an animal control officer to show up and allow me in the building. Instead of keeping the shelter open for extra time, the ACO only gave me a few minutes to look at the animals before closing the shelter. The facility only housed a few animals despite serving the fourth largest city in New Jersey. When I inquired about a friendly pit bull like dog, the ACO said he didn’t like that dog and the animal must have something wrong with his head. When I offered to take photos of dogs to help increase adoptions, the ACO told me Elizabeth will not allow me to do so. As a result, I did not have a good experience with the Elizabeth Animal Shelter.

On June 5, 2014 the Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed two young adult dogs on the day the animals arrived at the facility. At the time, the owner, Jennifer Arteta, left her two dogs, Daphne and Rocko, with her father while she visited her sick grandfather in another country. For whatever reason, the owner’s father brought the dogs to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Within 30 minutes of the two dogs arrival at the facility, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed the two dogs for being “sick and unadoptable”, but never provided any specifics on how they came to that conclusion. Even worse, shelter personnel denied ever seeing the two dogs when Ms. Arteta went to the facility two days later. Apparently, the shelter placed more value on the the leashes and collars of the two dogs since Ms. Arteta spotted them in the building. Only at that point did the shelter admit to killing the two dogs. By law, the shelter could not kill Daphne and Rocko for 7 days. Thus, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed two dogs and tried to hide that fact.

Daphne’s and Rocko’s owner and other animal activists subsequently tried to reform the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Ms. Arteta created a Facebook page called “Justice for Daphne and Rocko” and along with other animal activists demanded reform at several City Council meetings in June and July of 2014. At those meetings, you clearly could see most of the City Council members feeling public pressure to act.

Elizabeth and the shelter reform activists appeared to cut a deal. From what I could tell, the shelter reform activists ended their campaign in exchange for the shelter giving them unflattering photos of animals coming into the shelter. To facilitate this apparent agreement, the shelter brought in Darcy Del Castillo, who previously volunteered at Associated Humane Societies-Newark, on a part-time basis. Based on my understanding, Ms. Del Castillo works/volunteers on Thursdays, which is the day Elizabeth Animal Shelter accepts owner surrenders. While Ms. Del Castillo certainly did help animals as a volunteer at AHS-Newark, I found her often defending shelters, even bad ones, as shown by the following statement on her “Shelter Helpers” Facebook page:

“No one is to use this page to bash or harass a shelter
it is here for the animals only”

Furthermore, Associated Humane Societies Executive Director, Roseann Trezza, wrote a glowing recommendation for Ms. Del Castillo and even pointed out how well Darcy got along with upper management and didn’t intrude into the shelter’s operations. Roseann Trezza has run Associated Humane Societies since 2003 and held high level positions for several prior decades during the awful Lee Bernstein era. Additionally, Roseann Trezza’s shelter had numerous poor inspection reports in 2009 and 2011 and her shelter kills massive numbers of animals. Frankly, getting a letter of recommendation from someone like Roseann Trezza for an animal sheltering position is a huge red flag. Apparently, Elizabeth felt comfortable bringing in someone who would not rock the boat.

Trezza Darcy letterAround a year after the illegal killing of Daphne and Rocko and the related uproar, the Elizabeth Law Department put out a statement saying people, including city residents, could not volunteer at the animal shelter.

So the question is did Elizabeth Animal Shelter change for the better? How does it compare to other shelters?

Data Reviewed

Several months ago I obtained Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records for each animal coming into the Elizabeth Animal Shelter in 2014 and through October 2015. Subsequently, I requested the rest of Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s 2015 intake and disposition records. Additionally, I requested all other supporting documents, such as owner surrender forms, adoption and rescue paperwork, veterinary records, veterinary invoices, euthanasia records, and any other documents pertaining to each animal for a few months of the year. My objective was to obtain a complete understanding of the job Elizabeth Animal Shelter is doing.

Statistics Show Mixed Results

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s 2015 statistics are summarized below. As you can see, the shelter has a moderately high death rate. Specifically, the overall death rate (animals killed plus dogs and cats that escaped plus animals that died at the shelter/known outcomes) was 22% for dogs and cats combined, 28% for cats and 16% for dogs. If we only consider animals requiring new homes (i.e. excluding animals returned to their owners), the overall death rate was 25% for dogs and cats combined, 29% for cats and 20% for dogs. Based on my review of a sample of underlying records, animals labeled as “Medical Release” left the shelter alive. Clearly, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter performs far better than the nearby Associated Humane Societies-Newark does for dogs and cats coming in primarily from animal control in the city of Newark. However, the shelter’s statistics reveal that Elizabeth is far from a no kill community.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (29)

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s statistics for dogs are less impressive upon examining the data more closely. Specifically, 40% of the dogs coming into the shelter in 2015 were small dogs. Given small dogs are quite easy to place, the large number of these dogs inflates the dog live release rate. While pit bull like dogs make up a significant portion of the shelter’s dog intake, the actual percentage (38%) was lower than I expected for an urban shelter. Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s death rate for pit bull like dogs with known outcomes was 25% in 2015. As a comparison, the nearby Perth Amboy Animal Shelter reported 14% and 0% death rates for pit bull like dogs in 2014 and 2015. Similarly, large animal shelters, such as KC Pet Project, Salt Lake Animal Services, Austin Animal Center and Longmont Humane Society, have pit bull like dog live release rates of around 90% or higher. If we only consider pit bull like dogs Elizabeth Animal Shelter had to place (i.e. excluding animals returned to owners), Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s overall pit bull death rate was 30%. As a result, Elizabeth Animal Shelter still needs to significantly improve its performance with pit bull like dogs.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (27)

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter has had mixed results since the turmoil in 2014. In 2013, the shelter’s kill rates were 12% for cats and 39% for dogs. While the dog kill rate decreased 24 percentage points over the last two years, the cat kill rate increased 14 percentage points over this time. As a result, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter has made some progress with dogs, but went in the wrong direction with cats.

The Elizabeth Animal Shelter shelter has a very short average length of stay (“LOS”) for animals having positive outcomes. Reducing length of stay in a good way is critical for shelters, particularly space constrained facilities like Elizabeth, to save lives. Additionally, shelters with short lengths of stay have lower disease rates and fewer animals developing behavioral problems. Typically, returning lost pets to owners is the fastest way an animal safely leaves a shelter. Overall, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s owner reclaim rate (number of stray animals returned to owners/number stray animals impounded) for dogs was 36%. While that number isn’t very high, owner reclaim rates generally are lower in poor areas. As a comparison, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s owner reclaim rate for dogs was higher than AHS-Newark’s reclaim rate for dogs primarily coming from animal control in Newark (10% in 2014) and about the same as Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s rate for 2014 and the first half of 2015 (37%). Additionally, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s average length of stay for animals rescued/adopted was 4.8 days for cats, 9.3 days for dogs, 12.3 days for pit bull like dogs and 5.3 days for small dogs. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter quickly sent out the animals it got out of the shelter safely.

Rescues Save the Day

Virtually all non-reclaimed animals leaving Elizabeth Animal Shelter alive are saved by rescues. The Elizabeth Animal Shelter erroneously reports all of these animals as “adopted” in its “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health and the supporting intake and disposition records. Based on my review of the underlying paperwork for 35% of these “adoptions”, rescues “adopted” at least 85% of these animals. In reality, I believe rescues make up a higher percentage of these “adoptions” since the shelter did not always list the rescue on the adoption forms. Thus, rescues are saving virtually all animals not reclaimed by owners who leave the Elizabeth Animal Shelter alive.

While many rescues saved animals from Elizabeth Animal Shelter, the following groups pulled the most dogs and cats per the paperwork I reviewed:

Elizabeth Dog Rescues 2015

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Cat Rescues 2015

Elizabeth Animal Shelter has the ability to adopt out far more animals. Certainly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s small facility makes it difficult for the shelter to have enough time to adopt out large numbers of animals. For example, Elizabeth Animal Shelter only has around 9-13 days and 10-16 days to get each dog and cat out of the shelter on average before the facility runs out of room during most months. However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter could have adopted out 140 dogs (39% of dog intake) and would only have needed to send 120 dogs (33% of dog intake) to rescues using the model from my recent blog for dogs and the 2015 dog intake and disposition records. Similarly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter could have adopted out 206 cats (47% of cat intake) and only would have needed to send 188 cats to rescues (43% of cat intake) using the model from my recent blog for cats and the 2015 cat intake and disposition records. Furthermore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter could have rescued and adopted out an additional 21 cats during the lower intake months resulting in potentially 229 cat adoptions in 2015. As a comparison, Elizabeth Animal Shelter should have adopted out 369 dogs and cats, but only adopted out at most 75 dogs and cats or just 20% of the number they should have. Additionally, Elizabeth Animal Shelter could adopt out even more animals if it expanded capacity by creating a foster program as well as building additional animal enclosures on the vacant land around the shelter. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter could adopt out far more animals than it does.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s almost exclusive reliance on rescues is not impressive. As I wrote in a previous blog, sending animals to rescues generally leads to no net increase in lifesaving in New Jersey. Specifically, rescues that pull from Elizabeth Animal Shelter cannot take animals from other shelters as foster homes are typically in short supply. While Elizabeth Animal Shelter certainly needs rescue assistance, the facility is requiring rescues to do all the hard work in finding good homes. Additionally, Elizabeth Animal Shelter does not spay/neuter its animals or provide vaccinations. Furthermore, the records I reviewed indicated Elizabeth Animal Shelter provides virtually no veterinary care whatsoever to animals other than a handful needing emergency medical care. As a result, Elizabeth Animal Shelter requires rescues to save its animals and bear almost all the financial costs.

Poor Policies Lead to Low Adoption Rates

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s policies explain the facility’s low adoption rate. First and foremost, the shelter only adopts out animals for 2 hours a day on weekdays and for just a single hour on Saturdays. In fact, the shelter’s weekend hours violate state shelter law requiring the facility be open for two hours on the weekend for people to reclaim their lost pets. Second, the shelter currently has no animals listed on its adoption web site, Adopt a Pet. Third, the city allows no volunteers to help. Fourth, the shelter does not alter or vaccinate any animals prior to adoption. Even worse, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter threatens adopters that they must alter their pet within 30 days or face fines on the descriptions of the dogs they post on Facebook:

“AS PER CITY ORDINANCE ANY ANIMAL ADOPTED MUST BE ALTERED WITHIN 30 DAYS OR FACE FINES”

While New Jersey’s low cost spay/neuter program allows people to alter pets adopted from shelters for $20, many prospective adopters don’t know about this program and wouldn’t be willing to risk breaking the law. Furthermore, people often have to wait long periods of time to alter their pets through the program due to delays in funding. Frankly, Elizabeth’s refusing to take responsibility for the animals it adopts out while demanding adopters do the right thing is a clear example of chutzpah and hypocrisy.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s posting of depressing photos discourages adoptions. As Best Friends’ adoption guidance states, good photos are critical in getting animals adopted. Specifically, Best Friends recommends shelters take clear photos of happy animals where the pets are relaxed and not scared or anxious. As you can see in the following photos from the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, the pictures are of poor quality and the animals look stressed and unhappy. In fact, the photos look more like prison mugshots than something that would appeal to adopters.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 2

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 1

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 3Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 4Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 6Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 5Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 7

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s adoption profiles posted on Facebook also turn off adopters. Specifically, Elizabeth Animal Shelter usually fails to write appealing bios and often the profiles turn off adopters. Kristen Aurbach, the Deputy Chief of the no kill Austin Animal Services municipal shelter, recently wrote an excellent blog on the Animal Farm Foundation website explaining why shelters should use adoption bios to exclusively market animals and save all their perceived flaws for adoption counseling sessions. The profile serves to get someone in the door and build an emotional connection with the animal. Once that happens, the shelter discloses the full details of the animal during an adoption counseling session. An adoption profile is like a resume and no job seeker would ever expect to land an interview let alone a job if the person listed all their flaws on the resume. As you can see in the bio below, Elizabeth Animal Shelter is mixing marketing with adoption counseling and discouraging many potential adopters.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Adoption Profile

Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter poor adoption policies result in few adoptions.

Part 2 of this blog analyzes Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s compliance with New Jersey shelter laws, the shelter’s recent actions, and provides an answer to the question as to whether Elizabeth Animal Shelter still needs reform. You can read Part 2 at this link.

Big or Small Animal Shelters: Which are Better?

One key issue in animal welfare is whether animal shelters should serve small or large numbers of people and animals? Unfortunately, I’ve never seen much discussion about this topic. This blog attempts to answer this question and provide practical solutions.

Live Release Rates Are Lower at Large No Kill Animal Control Shelters

Smaller no kill animal control shelters tend to have higher live release rates than similar facilities taking in more animals. While some small to medium sized no kill animal control shelters achieve live release rates in the 97%-99% range, most large no kill animal control shelters are in the 90%-95% range. As a result, smaller facilities tend to have the potential to achieve higher live release rates.

Smaller shelters may take advantage of their limited service areas. Shelters taking in animals from a very limited area can adopt out many animals to people outside the communities they take animals from. From my review of shelters, the only facilities achieving per capita adoption rates exceeding around 23 dogs and cats per 1,000 people were small-medium sized shelters. Of course, if every facility was tiny smaller shelters as a whole would not sustain such sky high per capita adoption rates.

On the other hand, per capita animal intake rates are lower at larger shelters. Smaller shelters may have higher per capita intake rates due to animals coming in from outside their limited service areas. If a shelter serves a relatively small area, stray animals from other communities may come in more often. Also, larger communities may have fewer animal control officers relative to their populations and therefore impound fewer dogs and cats. Thus, larger shelters may have lower per capita adoption rates at least in part due to the facilities impounding fewer animals relative to the human population in the area.

Smaller Shelters Are More Conducive to Getting Animals Adopted

Animal shelter environments are unnatural for dogs and cats. Despite cats being able to live in colonies and with people, these animals are still solitary by nature. In a typical animal shelter, cats must share living quarters with large numbers of other cats as well as potential predators (i.e. dogs). Therefore, animal shelters are usually highly stressful environments for most cats. While dogs are social animals, they evolved to be social with their family or pack (an extended family generally). In fact the dog’s ancestor, the wolf, is fiercely territorial to the point where being killed by other wolves in turf wars is the number one cause of natural mortality. As a result, putting large numbers of strange animals in one building is highly stressful to most dogs and cats.

Larger shelters increase the risk of sickness and behavioral deterioration. Simply put, more animals means more dogs and cats can potentially transmit contagious diseases to each other. Similarly, all else being equal, more animals equals more noise, sights, and scents that can stress animals out. Shelters with a greater percentage of animals becoming sick and developing behavioral problems will have prolonged lengths of stay, increased costs and decreased lifesaving. Thus, shelters that can prevent physical and mental illness in the first place have greater lifesaving potential.

Animal shelters housing more animals tend to have longer lengths of stay all else being equal. If two shelters adopt out the same number of animals and one of the facilities has twice as many animals, each animal will stay twice as long at that shelter. Longer lengths of stay tend to radically increase the chance of cats catching upper respiratory infections in shelters. For example, a recent study found that 40% and 60% of highly socialized cats and other cats at a medium sized animal control shelter developed upper respiratory infections after just 30 days. Similarly, disease rates for dogs are likely higher as well during longer lengths of stay. Additionally, animals are more likely to develop behavioral issues the longer they reside at shelters making adopting those pets out harder. Thus, larger shelters tend to have longer lengths of stay and animals face greater challenges staying happy and healthy in such places.

Smaller shelters with fewer animals up for adoption make it easier for people to select a pet. While extremely small shelters may not have enough animals for people to choose from, most facilities seem to have enough animals for people to find a suitable pet (excluding people looking for animals rarely coming into shelters). Virtually all people prefer to have a reasonable number of potential animals to choose from. Unfortunately, adopters often become overwhelmed when they must select among vast numbers of animals. Often dubbed “The Paradox of Choice”, people tend to buy less of things when presented too many options. In an animal shelter environment, which tends to involve far more emotion than buying typical consumer goods, this effect is likely amplified. In fact, the ASPCA found one shelter increased adoptions and doubled the rate of people who left with a pet after limiting the number of animals on the adoption floor. While a larger shelter can of course reduce the number of animals up for adoption, most do not and consumers have a more reasonable number of animals to choose from in smaller shelters.

Financial Issues Place Greater Challenges on Smaller Shelters

Shelters and any other enterprise have both fixed and variable costs. Variable costs vary with the level of operations. In other words, if an animal shelter takes in more animals, it incurs more costs to care for the animals (i.e. additional kennel staff to care for animals, veterinary expenses, etc.). Fixed costs do not vary with the level of operations in the short-term. Examples include rent, administrative salaries, such as those of an Executive Director, and insurance. If a shelter has a high amount of fixed expenses, it basically starts in a hole and needs significant revenue, such as taxpayer funding, donations and adoption fees to cover these costs.

Fixed costs are more significant at smaller shelters. Typically animal control shelters are funded indirectly based on the number of animals they take in. In other words, shelters expecting to take in more animals receive more money from the contracting municipality than if those shelters anticipated impounding fewer animals. At a smaller shelter taking in fewer animals, that means less revenue comes in. On the other hand, that shelter will typically incur many of the same fixed costs as a larger shelter. As a result, smaller shelters have high costs, but lack the revenue to cover those expenses.

The following example illustrates the financial challenges smaller shelters face. Let’s assume a municipality has 20,000 people. Based on the average New Jersey community taking in around 8 dogs and cats per 1,000 people, the shelter would impound 160 dogs and cats each year. In order to ensure a prompt response to animals in distress at any time of day, the municipality would require at least two ACOs. Additionally, the shelter would require a director to manage the facility. Assuming a $50,000 salary for each ACO and an $80,000 salary for the shelter director, the municipality would spend $180,000 on these employee salaries alone. This works out to a cost of $9 per resident for animal control and sheltering just considering these fixed costs. However, most New Jersey communities only pay around $2 or less per resident for animal control and sheltering. Furthermore, the municipality would spend $1,125 per animal and that would exclude any direct animal care costs and other fixed and variable costs. As a comparison, some no kill animal control shelters spend less than $300 per animal counting all costs. Thus, operating a small animal control shelter is very expensive.

Municipalities often operate under a pound model to compensate for these unfavorable economics. Under a pound model, the shelter has no director and ACOs work in the shelter when not on animal control calls. Unfortunately, most ACOs are not qualified to perform all the specialized tasks at an animal shelter, such as providing veterinary care, customer service, marketing, fundraising, community relations, etc. Often these facilities operate for very limited hours and many times are not open during those times when an ACO is out on a call. Also, many times these pounds only hold animals for a short period of time and then either kill the dogs and cats or send the pets to rescues. Furthermore, many of these pounds often rely on various fines and fees to raise money that result in the facility impounding more animals, more animals staying longer at the shelter and more killing. Examples include aggressive enforcement of animal control laws and high owner reclaim fees. Thus, many of the compensating measures to reduce operating costs of small animal control shelters do not benefit the animals.

Preferred Animal Shelter Operating Models

Municipalities can use shared service arrangements for animal control services while operating a local shelter. While towns operating their animal control operation undoubtedly improve response times, such functions are expensive. Recently, Fair Lawn sought proposals to outsource its animal control operation, but maintain its municipal shelter. Fair Lawn budgeted $141,000 for animal control officers salaries in 2014 when the municipality performed animal control and ran the shelter . In 2015, the Bergen County Animal Shelter put out a bid for just $42,000 to provide animal control services and operate the town’s local animal shelter (Fair Lawn ultimately selected Tyco Animal Control). As a result, a municipality can save significant amounts of money by outsourcing animal control, but keeping the local animal shelter.

Multiple small municipal shelters can collaborate and share expenses. In a small animal shelter, an Executive Director, behaviorist, marketing manager, ACO and a veterinarian would not have enough work to keep busy. However, several small municipal shelters can collectively hire these specialized people to provide such services. For example, the veterinarian can spend a couple of days a week at one shelter, a day or two at other facilities, and go to individual shelters additional times when needed (i.e. an emergency). Typically, many small and medium sized shelters contract with a private veterinarian who prioritizes his or her individual clients over shelter animals. Thus, smaller shelters can work together to obtain the benefits of operating both a small and large shelter while keeping costs down to a manageable level.

Several small shelters can also collaborate to operate adoption centers at pet stores. Typically, a small shelter could not provide enough animals and staff and volunteers to operate a dog and cat adoption center in a Petco or PetSmart. However, several small shelters would have enough animals to place in these venues. Additionally, these shelters collectively could hire the staff and/or recruit the volunteers needed to run the operation. In exchange, the shelters could enter into an arrangement with each other to split the costs and revenues from operating the adoption center in an equitable manner. Thus, small shelters can work together to conduct activities only bigger shelters do.

Small municipal animal shelters can use volunteers to significantly reduce costs. Volunteers provide free labor to perform basic tasks like cleaning the shelter and administrative work. Additionally, volunteers conduct activities requiring highly specialized skills, such as behavioral rehabilitation, marketing and fundraising. For example, Michigan’s Chippewa County Animal Shelter saved 98% of its dogs and cats in 2014 despite receiving only $182 of government funding per dog and cat. As a comparison, Associated Humane Societies takes in around $900 of total revenue in per dog and cat. Chippewa County Animal Shelter, which takes in nearly 1,000 dogs and cats in a year and serves a human population of around 39,000 people, only has a shelter manager and three kennel attendants. In fact, the Chippewa County Animal Shelter credits its volunteer and foster programs for saving lives.  Thus, small shelters relying heavily on volunteers can run efficient and effective operations.

Private volunteer organizations dedicated to helping shelters can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of small shelters. Often these organizations have more time to dedicate to developing and enhancing volunteer programs. For example, an ACO at a small shelter may not have the time or the skills to recruit volunteers as well as a separate volunteer group dedicated to that effort. An example in New Jersey is EASEL and the Ewing Township Animal Shelter. Prior to EASEL taking over the Ewing Animal Shelter several months ago, EASEL helped the shelter attain no kill status through its coordinated volunteer efforts. Thus, independent volunteer organizations can make shelter programs more effective.

Privatizing small municipal shelters can significantly improve efficiency. Municipal shelters of any size face more bureaucratic challenges. For example, the municipal council may have to approve any policy changes, such as lowering adoption fees for a promotion, making it difficult to save lives. Additionally, municipal shelter employees typically are in a union and the union can make it next to impossible to terminate poorly performing staff. In perhaps the most egregious case of unions interfering in shelter operations, the Teamsters Local 210 President defended the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter Director and Assistant Director, who were subsequently charged with animal cruelty, despite ample evidence showing these people committed unspeakable atrocities. Even after the local prosecutor charged the former Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter Director and Assistant Director with animal cruelty, the union continued to fight against Helmetta’s firing of these two people. Thus, private organizations can operate more efficiently than municipal shelters.

Large organizations also can obtain some of the benefits of smaller shelters. Big shelters should operate adoption centers at Petco and PetSmart stores to reduce the number of animals at their main shelters and to increase adoptions. KC Pet Project, which operates Kansas City’s no kill animal control shelter, runs two permanent off-site adoption locations and adopts out 35% of its animals at these locations. Additionally, large shelters can operate smaller facilities and use its leadership to oversee those operations in a manner similar to the collaboration model I describe for smaller shelters above. Thus, large shelters can also obtain some of the benefits smaller shelters enjoy.

At the end of the day, just about any shelter, large or small, can succeed if it enthusiastically implements highly effective programs, such as those making up the no kill equation, to reduce intake and quickly send animals to good homes. However, shelters can operate even more effectively if they utilize some of the business models discussed in this blog. Clearly, homeless animals should expect organizations to operate at the highest possible level given these creatures lives are literally on the line. Thus, municipalities and shelters should act to make their operations more efficient and effective at saving lives.

Associated Humane Societies-Newark Kills Friends and Families

In 2013, the NJ SPCA confiscated a loose dog named Telly around a yard that was littered with trash in Newark. The NJ SPCA sent the dog to Associated Humane Societies-Newark as the animal was apparently a stray dog. However, the NJ SPCA decided to educate and work with the property owner to improve the care of a dog named Tez the family often kept outside. Justice Rescue reported the family faced serious hardships and really needed help. The rescue cleaned up the family’s property and provided a warm dog house and much needed supplies to see if the dog could avoid going to the high kill AHS-Newark shelter. If the remediation efforts did not work, the NJ SPCA could still seize the dog and rescues were willing to take the animal.

AHS demanded the NJ SPCA and the owner surrender the dog to AHS immediately. Through a series of posts over several months, AHS whipped the animal welfare community into a frenzy. While anyone reading this blog and my Facebook page know I am highly critical of the NJ SPCA, I thought AHS was acting hypocritically. For example, AHS claimed it did not operate a high kill shelter and mostly euthanized terminally ill animals or vicious dogs:

Contrary to what has been put on the internet, we are not a high-kill shelter; we do not euthanize senior dogs for space. We have a very low euthanasia rate — much of which is senior citizens from the community who cannot afford vet fees to euthanize their own pets or extremely vicious dogs that failed evaluation and were unsafe to adopt out to families. Just log on to our home page and you will see what we do for lots of animals that come through our doors.

However, my recent analysis of AHS-Newark’s underlying intake and disposition records revealed AHS-Newark kills vast numbers of healthy and treatable animals.

To further pull at the animal welfare community’s heartstrings, AHS argued the NJ SPCA and the owner should surrender their dog to AHS due to the two separated dogs missing each other. In order to determine if these concerns were legitimate, I reviewed documents detailing how AHS cared for other bonded animals arriving at AHS-Newark from the City of Newark. Does AHS show as much compassion for these other animals who are not in the public eye?

AHS Hypocritically Kills Bonded Animals

On January 29, 2014, the Newark Police Department seized three dogs in a drug raid and sent the animals to AHS-Newark. After 14 days, AHS-Popcorn Park took one of the dogs, a highly adoptable 1 year old whippet named Summer (ID# 122684). In fact, the owner signed this desirable dog over to AHS, due to the owner lacking financial resources, on the day AHS-Popcorn Park transferred the whippet in. However, AHS-Newark kept the other dog in this household, a 5 year and 2 month old pit bull (ID# 122683) for 29 more days at AHS-Newark until AHS-Newark killed the dog for no documented reason. Similarly, AHS-Newark killed another owner’s dog seized in the raid, a 4 year and 2 month old pit bull (ID# 122686) on the same day as the other pit bull for no apparent reason. If AHS was legitimately concerned about the well being of the two bonded dogs, Tez and Telly, why would AHS separate this highly adoptable whippet from her brother and possibly another friend? Furthermore, why would AHS kill these two pit bulls who were potentially friends?

122684 pt 1

122684 pt 2

122683 pt 1

122683 pt 1 (2)

 

122686 pt 1

On February 19, 2014, the Newark Police Department confiscated three emaciated dogs in a backyard and brought the animals to AHS-Newark. If AHS were to ever go the extra mile to save animals, this was it. Unfortunately, AHS-Newark killed all three dogs for dubious reasons. After just 9 days, AHS-Newark killed a 3 year and 1 month old pit bull mix (ID# 122974) for no documented reason. Other than standard vaccinations, deworming and flea and tick medicine, AHS-Newark’s intake and disposition record documented no special veterinary care or treatment to heal this animal’s emotional wounds. AHS-Newark killed the second of the three emaciated dogs, a 2 year and 1 month old pit bull mix (ID# 122973), after 46 days for no documented reason. Other than various vaccinations, AHS-Newark documented no additional veterinary care or emotional support provided to this abused animal. The third dog, a 2 year and 1 month old pit bull-Dalmation mix (ID # 122972), received an evaluation stating the dog was very shy and submissive. Additionally, the evaluation said the dog needed someone with patience. Instead of rehabilitating this traumatized dog, AHS-Newark kept the dog at the very stressful and loud Newark shelter for 4 months or so and killed him for not getting along with other dogs and being “cagey.” If AHS decided to kill all three of these apparently bonded and abused dogs, how can the organization argue that the connection between Tez and Telly should not be broken?

122974 pt 1

122974 pt 2

122973 pt 1

122973 pt 2

122972 pt 1

122972 pt 2

Mumu (ID# 124221), Blade (ID# 124222) and Finn (ID # 124223) were three brother cats surrendered to AHS-Newark on April 17, 2014. Despite all three cats being less than two years old and housetrained, AHS-Newark killed all three animals on the same day for no documented reason. According to AHS the connection between Tez and Telly was so powerful that the two animals could not live apart, but the bonds between these three brother cats were not strong enough to even warrant an explanation for their killing.124221

124222

124223

On June 9, 2014, Newark Animal Control picked up three stray dogs and sent the animals to AHS-Newark. Dog ID# 125725 was a 4 year and 10 month old pregnant pit bull like dog. The pregnant dog gave birth to one still born puppy. Despite this poor mother dog losing her puppy, AHS-Newark killed her just 11 days after her arrival for having a URI, being “hard to handle”, and not being compatible with dogs (even though she came in with two other dogs). The second of the three dogs, Dog ID# 125727 was a 1 year and 7 month old pit bull like dog. After just 12 days, and the day after AHS-Newark killed Dog ID# 125725, AHS-Newark destroyed this dog for having a URI, the isolation area being full, and not being good with other dogs (even though he came in with two other dogs). The third dog, Dog ID# 125726 was one of the rare dogs receiving a name and an evaluation. The evaluation stated this dog, named Danny, was “playful”, “good with other dogs”, and “high energy.” Furthermore, Danny was one of the select few dogs to participate in a photoshoot. Despite all this going for him, AHS-Newark killed Danny after around 3 months for not being compatible with dogs and acting “insane in kennels.” Apparently, AHS-Newark placed little value on the emotional connection between these three dogs and the mother dog’s sadness due to recently losing a puppy.

125725

125727

125726 pt 1

125726 pt 2

AHS-Newark impounded a lactating mother cat, ID #126021, and her kitten, ID# 126020, on June 19, 2014. Miraculously, AHS-Newark adopted out the kitten 8 days after her arrival at the shelter. However, the kitten’s mother remained at AHS-Newark. AHS-Newark killed the mother cat four days after the shelter adopted out her kitten. Once again AHS placed no value on the mother-kitten bond yet claimed the dogs, Tez and Telly, must be kept together at one of the organization’s shelters.

126020

126021

AHS-Newark impounded another mother cat, ID #126023, and her kitten, ID# 126022, on June 19, 2014. After just 11 days, AHS-Newark killed the mother cat for no documented reason. Five days after AHS-Newark killed the kitten’s mother, AHS-Newark killed the kitten for no apparent reason. As a result, AHS-Newark placed no value on the bond between a mother cat and her kitten and the kitten’s sadness after losing her mother.

126023

 

ID 126022

Donors Must Demand Far More from AHS

The examples above expose the hypocrisy of AHS. AHS emphasized the bond between animals when it came to winning a fight with the NJ SPCA and raising money, but obliterated those types of bonds when no one was looking. In fact, AHS regularly highlights alleged animal cruelty to raise money on its web site with tabloid like headlines such as “3 Abandoned Dogs Tied Outside with No Shelter”“Calista – Emaciated, Sweet 10 Month Old Pup”, “Van Gogh – Mutilated, Abandoned, Found by Good Samaritan”. While AHS may save these animals, AHS does not tell donors about the many other dogs and cats AHS-Newark kills for dubious reasons. As a result, AHS fails to disclose the complete truth about its operations to donors and the animal welfare community.

At the end of the day, donors must wake up and demand AHS change its ways. Apparently, AHS thinks it can dupe its donors into thinking most of the animals it impounds from Newark are heroically rescued and sent to loving homes. Based on the records I reviewed, this absolutely is not the case. AHS must remove its entire senior leadership team, including Roseann Trezza and Scott Crawford, and replace them with people dedicated to comprehensively implementing the no kill equation. The good people donating to AHS clearly expect the organization to save its animals. It is time donors require AHS to use their hard earned money to save animals and not kill them for convenience and cost savings