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.

Why New Jersey Residents Must Support Animal Shelter Reform Bill S3019

Over the last three years I’ve documented New Jersey animal shelters routinely violating state law, abusing animals and killing pets for ridiculous reasons. During this time, I learned our state’s animal shelter system is broken and desperately needs reform. Recently, Senator Linda Greenstein introduced a bill, S3019, to “establish additional requirements for operation and oversight of animal shelters, pounds, kennels operating as shelters or pounds, and veterinary holding facilities.” Will S3019 improve New Jersey’s animal shelter system? Will more animals make it out of our shelters alive? Will shelters treat animals more humanely?

Bill Requires Shelters to Make Efforts to Save Lives

S3019 requires shelters and municipalities to conduct “community outreach” efforts to increase adoptions. Such efforts include using web sites and social media pages to promote adoptable animals. Furthermore, shelters must notify people who surrender animals, such as a good Samaritan who finds a stray animal and brings the pet to the shelter, prior to killing the animal if the person wants the shelter to contact them. In addition, the municipality where each shelter is located must post information about adoptable animals that is easily accessible to the public.

The bill makes shelters notify rescues, other shelters and interested individuals before killing an animal. Specifically, shelters must contact these organizations in writing or through electronic communication at least two business days before killing an animal. Unfortunately, the law allows shelter directors to still kill animals rescues and other shelters are willing to take if the shelter director determines an organization is “incapable of proper care for the animal.” While shelter directors should have that power when it comes to individuals, this provision provides regressive shelters a big loophole to kill animals other reputable groups want to save. Instead, the law should allow any 501(c)(3) rescue/other animal shelter to save an animal the shelter intends to kill unless the rescuing organization has pending animal cruelty charges, animal cruelty convictions, had its 501(c)(3) status revoked or seriously violated any rescue/shelter regulation.

S3019 also requires shelter directors to attest they made efforts to save an animal before killing the creature. Shelter directors must certify the following conditions apply:

  1. Animal was offered to rescues, other shelters and interested individuals and no suitable one wanted to save the animal.
  2. No cage space, whether permanent or temporary, exists (i.e. prevents killing with empty kennels)
  3. Animal cannot be housed with another animal
  4. No suitable foster homes exist
  5. No TNR programs in the state are willing to take a cat the shelter intends to kill

The bill also requires shelters to consider, study, and if possible, implement a TNR program. In addition, S3019 requires ACOs, NJ SPCA agents and officers and other law enforcement personnel to try and bring cats with no apparent owner to a shelter with a TNR program rather than a catch and kill facility.

Finally, the bill mandates animal shelters be open at least five hours on each weekday and one weekend day and stay open until at least 7 pm on one weekday. Given many New Jersey animal shelters are hardly open to the public, particularly when people are not working, this will greatly increase owner reclaims, adoptions, and transfers to rescues.

S3019 Requires Shelters to Try and Reunite Lost Pets with Families

The bill requires shelters to do three significant things to reunite more families with their lost pets. First, shelters must maintain continuously updated lost pet lists maintained by local law enforcement or other community groups (e.g. various lost pet Facebook pages covering each part of the state) and match the shelter’s animals with these lost pet listings. Once the shelter identifies an owner, the shelter must contact the owner. Second, shelters must post photographs and descriptions of stray animals with no identified owners on the internet (or in the local municipal clerk’s office if a shelter has no web site) along with the facility’s location, hours and contact information. Third, shelters must use universal microchip scanners, which can read all microchips, to identify and contact owners of lost pets. Thus, these required actions will increase the chances owners find their lost pets.

Bill Requires Humane Care

S3019 mandates shelters provide the following to their animals:

  1. Fresh water
  2. Appropriate food
  3. Environmental enrichment, such as socialization with staff or volunteers, toys and healthy treats
  4. Exercise outside of kennels at least once a day and more if required to maintain good condition and health and support recovery from diseases and injuries
  5. Prompt cage cleaning at least twice a day to prevent disease
  6. Not expose animals to spray from hoses and toxic cleaning agents
  7. Prompt and necessary veterinary care, including antibiotics, vaccines, fluid therapy, pain management and cage rest
  8. Specialized care for vulnerable animals, such as nursing females, infant animals, sick and injured animals, scared and reactive animals, older animals, and animals requiring therapeutic exercise
  9. Isolation of sick and diseased animals away from healthy ones
  10. Age appropriate vaccines that cover specific diseases upon intake to shelter
  11. Sick or diseased and injured animals must see a licensed veterinarian immediately and licensed veterinarian must document the animals’ condition, health and any health concerns

Thus, these provisions will make shelter animals healthier and more adoptable.

S3019 Requires Humane Euthanasia Techniques

The bill requires shelters do the following among other things when euthanizing animals:

  1. Only use licensed veterinarians or veterinarian technicians who are certified by the New Jersey Department of Health in humane euthanasia
  2. Use a properly ventilated and disinfected room
  3. No animal can see other animals, whether dead or alive, when sedated and euthanized
  4. Must lower animal after he or she is given the euthanasia drug onto a flat surface where the animal can lie or be held
  5. Shelter personnel must be with animal at all times during euthanasia

Shelters must verify an animal’s death by confirming no heartbeat, no respiration, pale bluish gums and tongue and no eye response to stimuli

Furthermore, S3019 allows shelters to immediately euthanize hopelessly suffering animals when a licensed veterinarian documents this diagnosis. Specifically, the veterinarian must document “the physical condition of the animal indicates that the animal cannot continue to live without severe, unremitting pain even with prompt, necessary, and comprehensive veterinary care, or the animal has an illness that cannot be remediated with prompt, necessary, and comprehensive veterinary care and will cause the animal continuing, unremitting pain.”

Animal Shelters Must Share Animal Intake and Outcome Statistics

Currently, New Jersey Animal Shelters voluntarily submit animal intake and outcome statistics annually to the New Jersey Department of Health. These statistics detail how animals arrived at the shelter (i.e. stray, owner surrender, confiscated by authorities, etc.) and how they left the shelter (returned to owner, adopted, euthanized, rescued, etc.). In addition, shelters report the population of dogs and cats and the facility’s capacity at the beginning and end of the year as well as the municipalities the shelter provides animal control and shelter services to. Based on my review of underlying records of several New Jersey animal shelters, these summary statistics are sometimes inaccurate.

S3019 requires shelters to report most of these statistics each year to the New Jersey Department of Health. This mandate would make these reports subject to inspection and could result in more accurate statistics. In addition, the bill requires the New Jersey Department of Health to publish these statistics, in total and broken out by shelter, on its web site. Furthermore, the New Jersey Department of Health must post other information it gathers under this bill on its web site.

The bill should provide some additional data to improve transparency. Specifically, it should require the additional data shelters currently voluntarily report, such as the population of dogs and cats and the facility’s capacity at the beginning and end of the year as well as the municipalities the facility provides animal control and shelter services to. Additionally, in order to provide more transparency on how shelters handle local animals, the bill should require shelters to report the following:

  1. Number of animals broken out by species impounded from New York and Pennsylvania during the year
  2. Number of animals broken out by species impounded from other states during the year
  3. Number of New Jersey animals broken out by species euthanized during the year

S3019 also should add the required data in the Shelter Animal Count project. The Shelter Animal Count project is led by several major national animal welfare organizations, such as Maddie’s Fund, HSUS, ASPCA and Best Friends, as well as a number of other animal welfare organizations. Shelters voluntarily provide this data and the goal is to use these statistics to analyze national and regional animal sheltering trends. S3019 should add the following data reporting requirements from the Shelter Animal Count project:

  1. Break out data to show dogs and cats 5 months and younger and over 5 months of age
  2. Number of cats placed into barn cat and warehouse cats homes during the year
  3. Number of cats released through TNR programs if such cats were impounded for reasons other than TNR (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, etc.) during the year
  4. Number of animals broken out by species that died during the year
  5. Number of animals broken out by species that were lost during the year

Mandating the sharing of animal shelter statistics with the public will increase transparency and allow people to pressure animal shelters to save more lives.

New Jersey Department of Health Must Increase Oversight of Animal Shelters

Under the bill, the New Jersey Department of Health must educate shelter directors and certify these individuals are properly trained. The New Jersey Department of Health is required to use Rutgers University to provide this training. The training would cover state shelter and animal cruelty laws as well as shelter operations.

While this sounds good in practice, Senator Greenstein should amend the bill to make clear that this curriculum must emphasize life saving. If the training requires traditional animal sheltering practices, such as killing dogs and cats for silly “behavioral issues” or to reduce disease outbreaks (e.g. killing cats with ringworm), then this feature in the bill will increase rather than reduce shelter killing.

New Jersey animal shelters regularly violate state law due to the lack of regular high quality inspections. Currently, local health departments must inspect an animal shelter each year. Unfortunately, local health departments routinely perform poor quality inspections, and in some cases do not even perform the required inspections. While the New Jersey Department of Health has the right to inspect animal shelters and does an excellent job, it rarely inspects animal shelters. Over the last decade, the number of New Jersey Department of Health inspectors decreased from five to one and the state essentially stopped inspecting animal shelters. Thus, New Jersey desperately needs high quality inspections at its animal shelters.

S3019 requires at least three unannounced inspections each year. Unfortunately, the bill allows the New Jersey Department of Health to delegate these inspections to local health departments if the local health department inspectors complete a New Jersey Department of Health/Rutgers University training. While this training may educate these inspectors, local inspectors will not deal with enough shelters to gain the practical experience they need to conduct high quality inspections. Furthermore, local health departments typically either run a shelter or report to local governments that run or contract with animal shelters. In other words, these inspectors have an inherent conflict of interest that often results in poor quality inspections and shelters routinely violating state law. Thus, Senator Greenstein should amend the bill to require at least a majority, if not all three annual required inspections, be performed by the New Jersey Department of Health.

The bill also increases penalties for noncompliance with state shelter laws. Individuals and organizations that violate the law are subject to a fine of $100-$200 for the first violation, $200-$400 for the second violation, and $300-$800 for any subsequent violations. In addition, shelters having a third violation may have their license to operate suspended or revoked. Also, individuals and organizations conducting inhumane euthanasia face increased fines of $125 ($25 previously) for the first offense and $250 ($50 previously) for the second offense. Thus, shelters and employees would have a much greater incentive to comply with state law.

S3019 also provides funding mechanisms to help shelters comply with its provisions. All collected fines except those for illegal euthanasia would go towards the bill’s training programs and grants to animal control shelters for spay/neuter and other veterinary care. In addition, New Jersey taxpayers will have an option to voluntarily contribute money for these programs on their tax returns.

Animal Lovers Must Call and Write their State Senator and Assemblyman to Support S3019

While I think Senator Greenstein should make some changes to this bill, S3019 still is a game changer in its current form. Clearly, this bill will cause shelters to improve, save more lives and treat animals more humanely. In other words, animal lovers should support this bill wholeheartedly.

Unfortunately, regressive shelters will try and kill this bill behind closed doors. Based on the history of similar legislation in other states, poorly performing shelters will contact elected officials to stop this bill. Many will not do so publicly since their positions are clearly unpopular. For example, many people believe Gloucester County Animal Shelter was behind Senator Sweeney’s recent quick kill bill. Given S3019 would force shelters to do more work and no major New Jersey shelters have publicly supported this bill to the best of my knowledge, many more regressive organizations will oppose this bill.

To make matters worse, some national animal welfare organizations will also likely oppose S3019. While Alley Cat Allies urged New Jersey residents to support S3019, other powerful animal welfare organizations will not do the same. For example, HSUS fought to stop similar bills in other states. In addition, HSUS has not made any public statements on S3019 despite urging New Jersey residents to support other animal bills in the state legislature. Simply put, HSUS should step up and support this bill or at least have the courage to make its position public.

Despite these influential adversaries, we have a secret weapon. The public overwhelmingly supports this bill. For example, 7 out of 10 Americans think shelters should not kill animals and only take the lives of hopelessly suffering animals or those that are too aggressive to place. In an animal friendly state like New Jersey, more people probably oppose shelter killing. Last month, the animal loving public stood up and forced Senator Sweeney to remove language from a bill allowing shelters to kill owner surrenders during the 7 day protection period. In fact, the public outrage was so strong that the change was made just two days after I posted about that bill.

So how can you make sure S3019 becomes state law? Call and/or write your local State Senator and Assemblyman and demand they support S3019, preferably with the changes outlined in this blog. Each municipality’s State Senator and Assemblyman are listed in the link below along with additional links containing their phone numbers.

http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/districts/districtnumbers.asp

Also, you can write your local State Senator and Assemblyman using the link below:

http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/abcroster.asp

If there was ever a time for you to step up for the animals, this is it. Thousands of animals lives will be saved in the future if you make a quick call and/or write a short note to your elected representatives. Be on the right side of history and tell others to do the same.

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.

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

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

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

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

Regressive Health Department Controls Shelter

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

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

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

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

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

Owner Surrender Policy Proves Shelter Violates 7 Day Hold Period

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

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

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

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

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

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

OWNER RELEASE AGREEMENT

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

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

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

Surrendering Owner’s Name: _____________________________________________________

Address: ___________________________________________State: ________ Zip: _________

Surrendering Owner’s Phone #: ____________________________________________________

Owner’s Signature: _______________________________________Date:__________________

Signature of Shelter Employee witnessing Owner Signature: _____________________________

Temperament Testing Animals to Death Enshrined as a Policy

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

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

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

Evaluated animals fall into three categories:

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

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

Flawed TNR Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limited Adoption Hours Increase Length of Stay and Killing 

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

Adoption Profiles Paint Dogs in a Terrible Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooklyn Adoption Profile.jpg

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

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

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

capatain-adoption-profiles

Shelter Makes it Difficult for Volunteers to Help Animals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spreading Dangerous Myths About Shelter Dogs and Pit Bulls

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

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

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

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

Bergen County Animal Shelter Requires Wholesale Change

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

The shelter also failed to comply with the weak Asilomar Accords to determine whether the shelter killed healthy and treatable animals. Part 1 of this series of blogs discussed that a condition is treatable under the Asilomar Accords if a “reasonable and caring pet owner/guardian in the community would provide the treatment necessary to make the animal healthy” or “maintain a satisfactory quality of life.” Based on Bergen County being one of the wealthiest counties in the nation (i.e. pet owners provide lots of care to their animals) and the absurd justifications documented in Part 2 of this series of blogs, Bergen County Animal Shelter clearly killed healthy and treatable animals even by the weak Asilomar Accords standards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Part 1 of this series of blogs, I reported details on Bergen County Animal Shelter’s high kill rate despite the county’s elected officials claiming the facility is no kill. This blog examines the reasons Bergen County Animal Shelter uses to kill massive numbers of animals.

Data Reviewed

Under the Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”), I requested all documents supporting animals killed/euthanized, such as owner surrender forms, adoption and rescue paperwork, veterinary records and invoices, euthanasia records, and any other documents pertaining to each animal for a couple of months in 2015. Additionally, I obtained the shelter’s Standard Operating Procedures manual. My objective was to obtain a complete understanding of the job Bergen County Animal Shelter is doing.

Absurd Justifications for Killing Dogs

Bergen County Animal Shelter cited “behavior issues” and “medical issues” for killing approximately 2/3 and 1/3 of the dogs in the sample of records I reviewed. Assuming these percentages apply to all dogs Bergen County Animal Shelter killed in 2015, the shelter killed approximately 21% of all dog who had outcomes for “behavior issues.” However, the No Kill Advocacy Center’s review of shelter data found only 1%-2% of all dogs arriving at shelters are a serious danger to people and cannot be rehabilitated. In other words, Bergen County Animal Shelter kills dogs for aggression at around 10-20 times the rate of high performing no kill animal control shelters. If the percentages in my sample are consistent with all of the dogs Bergen County Animal Shelter killed in 2015, the shelter killed 11% of all impounded dogs for “medical issues.” Assuming a well-run no kill animal control shelter saves 95% of all dogs and euthanizes 1%-2% for aggression, these facilities likely only euthanize 3%-4% of all dogs due to the animals hopelessly suffering. Therefore, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed dogs at around 3-4 times the rate for medical issues as well-run no kill animal control shelters. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s reasons for killing dogs raise red flags.

Bergen Dogs Killed ReasonsThe behavior issues Bergen County Animal Shelter cited are listed in the table below. Most disturbing, the shelter reported no specific reason for killing more than half the dogs for behavior issues in the sample I examined. As discussed in my prior blog, Bergen County Animal Shelter concluded every single animal it killed was “unhealthy and untreatable.”

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s killing dogs for kennel stress (i.e. barrier reactivity, cage aggression, etc.) is not consistent with no kill. Kennel stress was the second most common reason for killing due to behavior issues. As Dogs Playing for Life states, barrier reactivity is “not an accurate indicator of a dog’s social skills.” Volunteers at most animal shelters will tell you how different dog behavior is inside a cage at a stressful shelter and outside in real world situations. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s assertion that kennel stress is “untreatable” makes no sense.

The shelter’s killing of dogs who were food aggressive fails to meet no kill standards. The ASPCA, which is far from a no kill organization, removed food aggression tests from its SAFER behavioral evaluation tool and instead advises shelters to provide all adopters information on how to manage food aggression. Around half the time, dogs who display food aggression in a stressful shelter do not do so in a home. On the other hand, many dogs who pass food aggression tests in a shelter exhibit the trait in a home setting. Simply put, testing a dog who is stressed out at a shelter and may have recently not had regular access to food, is an unreliable way to determine if a dog will display this behavior in a home. Also, food guarding is a behavior that shelters can easily modify by hand feeding. Even if a dog remains food aggressive in a home, most people are willing to live with it based on a recent scientific study. As a result, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s classifying dogs displaying food guarding behavior as “untreatable” is incorrect and not consistent with no kill.

Bergen County Animal Shelter also killed a number of dogs for jumpy/mouthy behavior. As the Center for Shelter Dogs states, jumpy/mouthy behavior often occurs in adolescent dogs in shelters due to “decreased interaction with people, decreased exercise, and lack of control of their environment.” Jumpy/mouthy behavior is highly treatable in a shelter and people can effectively reduce it on walks by using a Gentle Leader collar. Furthermore, I noticed many dogs stop displaying this behavior when the animals go to a home. To argue these dogs pose a serious danger to people or other animals or that a “a reasonable and caring pet owner/guardian” would kill their pet for this reason is absurd. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s classifying jumpy/mouthy dogs as “unreatable” is incorrect and not consistent with no kill.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s killing of dogs due to dog aggression is not consistent with no kill in my view. While I recognize some no kill shelters kill dogs with severe dog aggression, I believe that experienced owners can manage this behavior. In fact, I am one such owner. Additionally, I’ve found very few people, particularly in a wealthy area like Bergen County, would kill their dog for displaying dog aggression. However, as you will see later in this blog, the shelter’s classifying of dogs as dog aggressive is highly suspect.

Bergen 2015 Dogs Killed for Behavior Issues Reasons

Bergen County Animal Shelter killed numerous dogs for “behavior issues”, but never actually documented what those problems were. Dog ID# 16973 in the table below (right click table and click “Open image in new tab” to see a more legible image) was a pit bull like dog that arrived as a stray at Bergen County Animal Shelter on July 8, 2015. After 17 days, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed her for “behavior issues”, but never specified what those alleged behavior problems were.

Bergen no reason for killing for behavior1

Dog ID# 17068 was a stray pit bull mix who arrived at Bergen County Animal Shelter on July 15, 2015. After just 11 days, the shelter killed her for “behavior issues” despite not specifying what those alleged problems were.

On July 15, 2015, Dutchess was surrendered by his owner to Bergen County Animal Shelter. After 26 days, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed him for “behavior issues”, but never documented what those alleged problems were.

17068 17069 bergen

Temperament Testing Dogs to Death

Bergen County Animal Shelter used discredited harsh behavioral evaluation methods. Recently, a new scientific study found behavioral evaluations were scientifically invalid and recommended shelters instead socialize dogs to truly determine behavior. Even the proponents of temperament testing, such as the ASPCA, state shelters should use evaluations to identify a behavioral rehabilitation plan to make the animal adoptable. Based on my review of numerous evaluations of dogs that the shelter killed, the shelter simply used these tests to justify killing “untreatable” animals.

Captain was a 5 year old poodle surrendered by his owner to the Bergen County Animal Shelter on November 3, 2015. Based on his evaluation below, Captain, like many toy breeds, was traumatized after arriving at a scary shelter. In his kennel, he barked, which is not unusual in toy breeds and other dogs at shelters. Once out of the kennel, Captain allowed the temperament tester to check his teeth, which is quite intrusive for many dogs. Additionally, Captain let the tester pick him up despite being “a little unsure and nervous” at first. In fact, Captain “went belly up for petting” and sat by the tester while the person typed up the evaluation that would ultimately kill him.

Bergen County Animal Shelter condemned Captain to death for displaying protective behavior in his kennel and nipping a stranger’s leg during his evaluation. During Captain’s evaluation a stranger entered the room and Captain “tentatively bit stranger’s leg”, but caused no puncture wound. Captain then retreated to “his handler for safety.” Captain, like so many toy breeds, nipped the legs of a stranger and caused no injury. In a re-test conducted the very next day, Captain would not approach the stranger and “lunged when the stranger moved away.” The evaluation also dinged Captain for being aggressive in his kennel, which has no relationship to real life conditions.

Clearly, Captain was a small dog who was fearful. As the evaluation showed, Captain exhibited many positive behaviors, but displayed some fearful ones. After all, Captain was on death row in a shelter that is quick to kill. Wouldn’t you be a bit scared in that environment especially if a stranger just barges into your evaluation room or towards your kennel? Let’s be real, a small poodle is never a serious danger to people, especially if put in the right home (i.e. no small children). Despite calling itself a no kill shelter, Bergen County Animal Shelter never tried to rehabilitate Captain, never documented any attempt to send him to a rescue or a foster home, and recommended killing him “due to unpredictable aggressive nature, dog will likely bite when protecting his territory or home environment.” Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter did nothing more than temperament test Captain to death.

Bergen Captain Evaluation Part 1.jpg

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

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

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

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

Bergen Dog ID 17052 Evaluation

Inadequate Medical Reasons for Killing Dogs

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

Bergen Medical Issues Dogs Reasons

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

Bergen Owner Requested Euth Dogs Medical.jpg

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

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

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

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18810 ORE

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

17141 ORE Behavior Pt 1.jpg

17141 ORE Behavior Pt 2.jpg

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

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

Zena Reason

Zena ORE

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

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

Poor Reasons for Killing Cats

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

bergen-cats-killed-reasons

Shelter Kills Cats with Treatable Medical Issues

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

Bergen Cats Killed for Medical Issues.jpg

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

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

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

Cat ID 17032 killed

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

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

Cat 16903 Killed for FIV

Cat 16903 Killed for FIV Part 2

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

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

Cat 18939 Killed FeLV

Cat 18939 Killed FeLV PT2.jpg

Temperament Tests Used to Kill Cats

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

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

Cat 16904 Killed Behavior Part 1

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Cat 16904 Killed Behavior Part 3.jpg

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

Cat 17085 Killed for behavior pt 1

Cat 17085 Killed for behavior pt 2

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

cat 17035 killed behavior pt 1

cat 17035 killed behavior pt 2.jpg

cat 17035 killed behavior pt 3

Controversial Coyote Killing

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

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

BACA Coyote Killed Emails

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

BCAS Coyote Incident Report

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

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BCAS Coyote Photo 1

BCAS Coyote Photo 2

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Questionable Euthanasia Practices

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

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

BCAS Euth Weights

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

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s No Kill Con Job (Part 1 of 3)

In 2015, Bergen County Executive, James Tedesco, and the Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders announced the approval of a resolution recognizing Bergen County Animal Shelter as a “no kill shelter by adopting the Asilomar Accords.” Mr. Tedesco went on to state the following:

As an animal lover, I believe formalizing this designation gives the residents of our county a better understanding of the shelter’s mission and helps us highlight what a great organization this is. Bergen County’s Animal Shelter is not only one of the best public animal shelters in the state, but arguably one of the best in the Northeast.

Furthermore, Bergen County Freeholder, Dr. Joan Voss, gave Bergen County Animal Shelter Director, Deborah Yankow, a “Women of Distinction” award in 2016 for Ms. Yankow’s achievements in “The field of Animal Compassion.”

Is Bergen County Animal Shelter a no kill shelter? Is Bergen County Animal Shelter one of the best public animal shelters in New Jersey and arguably in the Northeast? Should Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Director receive an award for animal compassion?

Asilomar Accords Do Not Equal a No Kill Shelter

The Asilomar Accords were a deeply flawed agreement. In 2004, the regressive shelter establishment, Maddie’s Fund and certain limited admission shelters created the Asilomar Accords to allegedly save more animals in shelters. In general, the Asilomar Accords did not require shelters to adopt any lifesaving programs. However, the Asilomar Accords required members to not criticize each other, even if such criticism was warranted. Additionally, the Asilomar Accords encouraged members to not use terms such as “no kill’ as it was “divisive.”

The Asilomar Accords require members to compile specific animal shelter statistics and report this data to the public each year. Animal shelters must report the numbers of impounded animals each year and the specific outcomes in an “Animal Statistics Table.” Euthanized animals are broken down into “healthy”, “treatable” and “unhealthy-untreatable” categories. Animals are considered “treatable” if a “reasonable and caring pet owner/guardian in the community would provide the treatment necessary to make the animal healthy” or “maintain a satisfactory quality of life.” However, animals that “pose a significant risk to human health or safety or to the health or safety of other animals” are not “treatable” per the Asilomar Accords. Shelters calculate an Asilomar Accords Live Release Rate excluding animals euthanized by request of their owners and classified as “untreatable” and dogs and cats who died or went missing. Shelters must share these statistics with the public by posting on their web site, in newsletters, etc.

The Asilomar Accords statistics often have been exploited by regressive shelters. For example, many poorly run facilities classify large numbers of animals as “untreatable” and then claim they are no kill (i.e. “we don’t euthanize healthy and treatable animals”).

Bergen County Animal Shelter fails to comply with the Asilomar Accords despite the county’s elected leaders claims. Bergen County Animal Shelter does not publicly share its “Animal Statistics Table” on its web site as required by the Asilomar Accords. In addition, Bergen County Animal Shelter is not listed as a participating organization on the Shelter Animals Count web site (current version of the Asilomar Accords data reporting standards). Even worse, Bergen County Animal Shelter fails to explain in its Standard Operating Procedures manual how its definition of “unadoptable” (i.e.”unhealthy-untreatable” per the Asilomar Accords) is consistent with Asilomar Accords requirement that the shelter provide care that a “reasonable and caring pet owner/guardian in the community” would give to the animal. The shelter simply uses a general definition of “unadoptable” for “animals with serious unmanageable health problems, or an aggressive bite history toward humans or other animals, or who exhibit unmanageable antisocial behavioral characteristics.” To fully comply with the Asilomar Accords, Bergen County Animal Shelter needs to state what specific health problems are “unmanageable” and why “a reasonable and caring pet owner/guardian” in Bergen County would not provide that care. Given Bergen County is in the top 1% of the wealthiest counties in the country, most residents would provide lots of care to their pets before deciding to euthanize a beloved family member. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter fails to comply with the weak and traditional shelter friendly Asilomar Accords.

Statistics Reveal Bergen County Animal Shelter is a High Kill Shelter

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s 2015 “Shelter Pound Annual Report” proves the shelter is far from a “no kill” facility. In 2015, 24% of dogs and 28% of cats were killed, died or went missing. Specifically, Bergen County Animal Shelter reported killing 166 dogs and 561 cats. On average, Bergen County Animal Shelter kills 2 dogs and cats each day of the year. The animal welfare community generally requires a shelter to achieve a 90% or greater live release rate to call itself no kill. However, no kill leader, Nathan Winograd, who created the 90% test, recently raised the standard to achieve higher live release rates. Clearly, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s 2015 reported statistics prove Bergen County Animal Shelter is a high kill shelter and not a no kill facility.

Bergen County Animal Shelter 2016 Shelter Pound Annual Report

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s 2015 statistics in its Asolomar Accords format were different from its 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report. While Bergen County Animal Shelter does not publicly report its Asilomar Accords Animal Statistics Table, I obtained each month’s table from 2015 under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”) and tabulated the totals below. Bergen County Animal Shelter reported taking in significantly fewer cats in the Asiolmar Accords format. Similarly, Bergen County Animal Shelter reported fewer cats reclaimed by owners and more cats adopted, killed and died in the Asilomar Accords Animal Statistics Table. The shelter also reported taking in significantly more dogs in the Asilomar Accords Statistics Table. Furthermore, Bergen County Animal Shelter disclosed significantly more dogs who were killed in the Asilomar Accords Statistics Table. Additionally, a number of various other outcomes were different. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter reported different statistics in the two reporting formats indicating the numbers in one of the reports were incorrect.

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Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Underlying Records Reveal Much Higher Kill Rates

In order to better understand the Bergen County Animal Shelter’s performance, I obtained the facility’s 2015 intake and disposition records under OPRA. Bergen County Animal Shelter sent me shelter software reports listing each dog and cat the shelter impounded in 2015, its outcome and its intake and outcome dates.

I tabulated all of this data and recalculated Bergen County Animal Shelter’s statistics. While the intake numbers are calculated the same way as the Shelter/Pound Annual Report above (i.e. all animals impounded in 2015), the outcome numbers are calculated slightly differently. In the Shelter/Pound Annual Report, only 2015 outcomes are counted. This could include animals impounded in 2014 who were subsequently adopted or killed in 2015. On the other hand, my data counts the animals who were impounded in 2015 and had outcomes in 2015 and 2016. However, the outcomes should be close as both methods calculate outcomes over a 12 month period and the overwhelming number of ultimate outcomes occur in the year the animals were impounded in.

The table below summarizes Bergen County Animal Shelter’s 2015 statistics using the shelter’s underlying records. The total number of impounded cats is significantly different than the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report.” The “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” had 578 more cats than the underlying records. Apparently, much of the difference is due to Bergen County Animal Shelter reporting more cats that the shelter neutered and released in its “Shelter/Pound Annual Report.” In a recent article, Bergen County Animal Shelter Director, Deborah Yankow, stated the shelter neutered and released 788 cats in 2015, which accounts for much of the difference between the 852 cats reclaimed per the Shelter/Pound Annual Report and the 71 cats reclaimed per the underlying records. However, the underlying records have a “Release” outcome as well and the shelter only recorded only 122 cats in this category. It is unclear to me whether that represents cats who were trapped, neutered and released or cats released to their owners. Thus, it seems Bergen County Animal Shelter overstated the number of cats that were trapped, neutered and released in its 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report or failed to record hundreds of these cats in its records as required by N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13.

The total numbers of impounded dogs and dogs killed are significantly different than the corresponding figures in the Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Specifically, the “Shelter Pound Annual Report” reported 104 fewer impounded dogs during 2015. Apparently, this is primarily due to Bergen County Animal Shelter excluding 103 dogs classified as owner-requested euthanasia from the Shelter Pound Annual Report’s total dogs taken in and killed figures. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Shelter Pound/Annual Report clearly is incorrect.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records revealed it killed many more cats and dogs than it reported in its 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Specifically, Bergen County Animal Shelter reported killing 58 more cats and 97 more dogs in its underlying records than its Shelter/Pound Annual Report.

Additionally, Bergen County Animal Shelter reported sending 52 fewer cats and 54 fewer dogs to rescues in its intake and disposition records compared to its Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Most of the other outcome categories in the underlying records and the Shelter/Pound Annual Report were reasonably close.

Overall, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records revealed a far higher death rate than that reported in its 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report. 42% of cats were killed, died or went missing per the facility’s underlying records compared to just 28% of cats per data from Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Similarly, 33% of dogs were killed, died or went missing per the facility’s underlying records compared to just 24% of dogs per data from Bergen County Animal Shelter’s Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s underlying records reveal far more animals are losing their lives at this self-described “no kill shelter.”

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s death rate for animals actually requiring sheltering is even higher. Since Bergen County Animal Shelter serves a very wealthy county, most stray dogs have licenses and/or microchips allowing the shelter to quickly return these dogs to their owners. While the cat owner reclaim rate is low, it is still significantly higher than the nationwide cat owner reclaim rate. If we calculate the death rate based off animals not reclaimed by owners, which are the ones the shelter has to work to save, 44% of cats and 49% of dogs lost their lives. Thus, nearly half of all dogs and cats requiring any amount of real work lose their lives at this so-called “no kill shelter.”

Bergen County Animal Shelter also reported large owner-requested euthanasia figures. Specifically, the shelter’s records indicated owner-requested euthanasia represented 3% and 12% of all impounded cats and dogs. If we just count animals surrendered by their owners, Bergen County Animal Shelter classified 15% of cat and 32% of dog owner surrenders as owner requested euthanasia. While the cat numbers seem a bit high, the dog numbers are off the charts. The shelter asserts that nearly 40% of the dogs killed and around 1 of 3 dogs surrendered by their owners are owner requested euthanasia. Given Bergen County Animal Shelter largely serves a wealthy area, I find the number of dogs requested by their owners to be euthanized suspicious. I’m also concerned since some shelters coerce people to sign owner-requested euthanasia forms. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s large owner-requested euthanasia figures raise major red flags.

Even if we exclude owner-requested euthanasia, 40% and 23% of all cats and dogs lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. If we exclude owner-requested euthanasia from the non-reclaimed animal death rate, 41% and 37% of all non-reclaimed cats and dogs lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter is still a high kill shelter even if we exclude owner-requested euthanasia.

Bergen 2015 Intake and Disposition Records Summary (3)

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s length of stay data reveals much about the shelter’s operation. On average, the shelter kills cats and dogs after 20 days and 16 days. However, these figures, particularly for dogs, are heavily influenced by the large number of owner surrendered animals that the shelter kills immediately. As expected, owner reclaimed animals go home quickly (10 days for cats and 3 days for dogs). On the other hand, the shelter takes way too long to adopt out cats (66 days) and dogs (47 days) particularly given the types of animals it adopts out (i.e. few challenging animals make it to the adoption floor due to the high kill rate).Bergen County Animal Shelter LOS All Dogs and Cats

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s length of stay data indicates the shelter kills with empty kennels. Based on standard animal shelter population equations, we can estimate the average number of animals at the shelter during the year as follows:

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

Therefore, based on the shelter’s reported animal intake and average length of stay, we can estimate the facility housed 219 cats and 56 dogs on average during 2015. Based on these estimates and the shelter’s capacity disclosed in its 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report, Bergen County Animal Shelter only used roughly 2/3 of its available animal holding space on average during 2015. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter clearly kills dogs and cats when the shelter has room to house those animals.

Bergen County Animal Shelter 2015 Capacity Used

Adult Dogs and Cats Killed at an Alarming Rate

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s statistics are far worse when we focus on animals the shelter labels as “adult.” Generally speaking, the shelter classified cats and dogs over 1 year old as “adult”, but there were a few classification errors (i.e. older dogs classified as “adult”). However, the number of these animals were not large enough to significantly impact the outcomes below. 54% of adult cats and 36% of adult dogs were killed or died. Similarly, 59% of non-reclaimed adult cats and 54% of non-reclaimed adult dogs were killed or died per the facility’s underlying records. In other words, more than half of adult cats and dogs requiring actual sheltering lost their lives at this so-called “no kill shelter.”

Even if we exclude owner-requested euthanasia, 51% and 25% of all adult cats and dogs lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. If we exclude owner-requested euthanasia from the non-reclaimed animal death rate, 55% and 41% of all non-reclaimed adult cats and adult dogs lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s underlying records reveal this self-proclaimed “no kill shelter” kills tremendous numbers of adult cats and dogs.

Bergen Adult Animals 2015

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adult animal length of stay data revealed the shelter killed adult dogs and cats quickly and took too long to adopt out these animals. Specifically, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed adult cats and dogs after just 18 days and 15 days, respectively. In other words, the shelter generally seemed to make little effort to rehabilitate animals. Furthermore, the shelter took 74 days and 50 days on average to adopt out each adult cat and dog. These figures are even worse considering these are likely very adoptable animals since the shelter kills virtually all animals with any significant issues.

Bergen Adult Animals LOS

Pit Bulls Killed in Droves

Bergen County Animal Shelter kills pit bull like dogs at an astounding rate. 50% of all pit bull like dogs lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. Even worse, 67% of non-reclaimed pit bull like dogs were killed or died at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. If we exclude owner-requested euthanasia, Bergen County Animal Shelter still killed 47% of its pit bulls and 64% of its pit bulls not reclaimed by owners. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter kills around half of all its pit bull like dogs and around two thirds of those pit bull like dogs requiring actual sheltering.

Bergen County Animal Shelter kills most of its adult pit bull like dogs. 61% of adult pit bull like dogs lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. In fact, 83% of non-reclaimed adult pit bull like dogs were killed or died at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. Even if we exclude owner-requested euthanasia, the shelter killed 58% of its adult pit bulls and 81% of its adult pit bulls not reclaimed by owners. As a result, adult pit bull like dogs virtually have no chance of making it out alive of the so-called “no kill” Bergen County Animal Shelter.

Bergen Pit Bull Data

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s poor performance is exemplified by its pit bull length of stay data. While Bergen County Animal Shelter’s average length of stay of 36 days for all pit bulls is reasonable, the actual details uncover the true story. The shelter’s average length of stay is relatively low due to owners reclaiming and Bergen County Animal Shelter killing many pit bulls. Of course, we want owners to reclaim their lost pets. However, Bergen County Animal Shelter’s respectable number of reclaimed pit bulls is due mostly to the relatively wealthy people in its service area obtaining licenses and microchips (i.e. making it easy for the shelter to find the owner). On the other hand, Bergen County Animal Shelter kills its pit bulls relatively quickly (26 days on average). These two factors mask the horrendously long time it takes to adopt out pit bulls (73 days for all pit bulls, 115 days for adult pit bulls). As a comparison, data from recent years showed no kill animal control shelters adopting out pit bull like dogs within around 20-40 days. Given the pit bulls Bergen County Animal Shelter adopts out are likely easier to place (i.e. Bergen County Animal Shelter quickly kills many of the types of pit bulls these other shelters spend time to rehabilitate), this performance is even more disappointing. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter quickly kills its pit bulls and takes way too long to adopt out the few pit bulls it allows to live.

Bergen Pit Bulls LOS

Small Dogs Are Not Safe at Bergen County Animal Shelter

At most New Jersey animal shelters, small dogs fly out the door to rescues and adopters. For example, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter, which has little space and serves a poor area, saved 97% of 116 small dogs it took in during 2014 and the first half of 2015 per records I reviewed last year. Even the regressive Elizabeth Animal Shelter saved 95% of the 144 small dogs it impounded in 2015. Thus, “no kill” shelters should save 95% or more of the small dogs they take in.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s killing even extends to large numbers of small dogs. 26% of all small dogs lost their lives at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. Even worse, 39% of non-reclaimed small dogs were killed or died at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015. Additionally, the shelter labeled an extraordinary large number of these dogs as “owner-requested euthanasia”, which raises questions about whether these animals were truly hopelessly suffering. If we exclude owner-requested euthanasia, Bergen County Animal Shelter still killed 14% of its small dogs and 24% of its small dogs not reclaimed by owners. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter fails to achieve “no kill” status even for small dogs.

Bergen Small Dog Data.jpg

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s length of stay data shows how poorly the facility handles small dogs. Overall, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed small dogs after just 10 days on average. On the other hand, Bergen County Animal Shelter took an astonishingly long 42 days on average to adopt out its small dogs. As a comparison, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter took 14 days on average to adopt out its small dogs based on data from 2014 and the first half of 2015. Similarly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter took 5 days on average to safely get non-reclaimed small dogs out of the shelter in 2015. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter quickly killed small dogs and took way too long to adopt out these highly desirable animals.

Bergen Small Dogs LOS

Wildlife Slaughtered

Bergen County Animal Shelter killed wildlife at an alarming rate. Based on over 450 records of wild animals I reviewed, 46% of all wild animals impounded during 2015 lost their lives. In fact, this figure would be even higher if I counted the many animals who died on their way to Bergen County Animal Shelter after being picked up by the shelter’s animal control officers.

Bergen County Animal Shelter’s wildlife kill rate was much higher for some species. Specifically, Bergen County Animal Shelter killed 65%, 62% and 69% of all the opossums, raccoons and skunks it impounded during 2015. While raccoons and skunks are considered “rabies vector species”, it is virtually impossible that most of these animals were exhibiting signs of the disease or bit someone. Furthermore, the shelter killed a similar percentage of opossums, which are not rabies vector species. Thus, Bergen County Animal Shelter appeared quite content to kill common wildlife species without even sending the animals to a wildlife rehabilitation facility.

Bergen Wildlife 2015

Clearly, Bergen County Animal Shelter is a high kill shelter rather than a “no kill” facility. Despite Bergen County’s highest elected officials boasting, the shelter kills large numbers of all types of animals and the Director does not deserve any award for “animal compassion.”

In Part 2 of this series of blogs, I will examine the reasons why Bergen County Animal Shelter kills large numbers of animals.

2015 New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Show Significant Improvement and Prove Advocacy Works

Recently, a number of people and organizations in the no kill movement slammed animal advocates for demanding shelters save more animals. Susan Houser, who is the author of the Out the Front Door blog and Facebook page, repeatedly denounced animal advocates for criticizing regressive high kill shelters that allegedly were improving. Ms. Houser has also claimed strong advocacy was driving good leaders out of the shelter industry resulting in potentially less lifesaving. Best Friends Co-Founder, Francis Battista, wrote an article comparing President Obama’s recent statement on getting things done in a democracy to no kill movement tactics. While the article denounced people who say nasty things about high kill shelters, it also criticized people who act with “moral purity” and call out those regressive facilities. In a nutshell, Mr. Battista stated people should shut up and not try to win over hearts and minds with principled stands and instead try to work with bad actors.

Does strong advocacy that is highly critical of shelters reduce or increase lifesaving?

Data Reviewed

Each year, licensed animal shelters in the state submit animal shelter data to the New Jersey Department of Health for the previous year. For the last several years, I’ve tabulated this data and calculated various metrics. You can view the 2015 data at this link. After compiling the 2015 data, I compared the results to the 2014 statistics I tabulated last year.

2015 Statistics Show Significant Increase in Lifesaving

The table below summarizes the dog statistics in 2015 and 2014. To see how I calculate the various metrics, please review the footnotes in this link and my blog analyzing the 2014 statistics.

All dog statistics significantly improved in 2015 verses 2014. While an approximate 3% decrease in the dog kill and death rates may not seem huge, this is a large decrease considering the prior kill and death rates were relatively low. For example, a 2.9% decrease in the 2014 kill rate of 13.5% represents a 21% reduction. As a comparison, in 2014 the kill rate based on intake was 0.1% higher than the 2013 figure and the death rate based on outcomes was only 0.7% lower than this measure in 2013. Given saving the last 15% of animals is more difficult due to animals having more medical and behavioral problems that require treatment, this result is very good. Additionally, the larger decrease in the death rate for non-reclaimed animals indicates the kill rate decreased even more for dogs shelters actually had to find new homes for. Finally, the larger decrease in the maximum local death rate indicates shelters had less unaccounted for animals and this may indicate even fewer animals lost their lives in the state’s shelters in 2015 verses 2014.

2015 Dog vs 2014 stats

The cat statistics improved even more than the dog statistics in 2015 verses 2014. As you can see in the table below, the kill rates and death rates decreased by approximately 7% and 8% in 2015 compared to 2014. As a comparison, the cat kill rate based on intake and the cat death rate based on outcomes only decreased by 3.9% and 3.8% in 2014 verses 2013. Even more impressive, the maximum local death rate decreased by around 10% in 2015 compared to 2014. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters became much safer places for cats in 2015 than in 2014.

2015 cat vs 2014 stats

Dog Kill Rate Decreases Due to Lower Intake and Shelters Saving a Greater Percentage of Impounded Animals

The table below summarizes the changes in the dog statistics in 2015 verses 2014. Based on the changes in the metrics used moving in a similar direction, I anlyzed the kill rate based on intake below. As you can see, both dog intake and dogs killed decreased significantly while positive outcomes decreased much less. In particular, dog adoptions barely decreased despite shelters receiving 1,870 fewer dogs in 2015 compared to 2014.

Data from prior years indicates positive outcomes along with lower intake drove the improvement in the dog kill rate in 2015. While lower intake can theoretically increase live release rates due to shelters having more time and space to save animals as well as having more resources per animal, this does not always work out in the real world. For example, shelters may kill with empty cages and hoard money instead of spending it on animals. In 2014, dog intake decreased by more from the prior year (2,821 fewer dogs impounded), but the number of dogs reclaimed by owners, adopted out and sent to rescues decreased by almost as much (2,292 fewer positive dog outcomes). Therefore, the kill rate for dogs based on intake actually increased despite lower intake due to fewer positive outcomes. This indicates the decrease in the dog kill rate in 2015 was not only due to shelters taking fewer animals in, but shelters also finding more positive outcomes for the dogs coming into their facilities. In fact, this latter conclusion is consistent with my finding that New Jersey shelters have plenty of space to save their dogs and many others from elsewhere.

Dog 2015 vs 2014 reasons

The table below details which shelters contributed most to the decrease in the dog kill rate in the state during 2015. As you can see, this list mostly represents large shelters that have high kill rates (i.e. shelters with high kill rates have more room for improvement).

Dog Shelter Kill Rate Impact

The following table showing the change in data at each shelter in 2015 verses 2014 highlights the pattern of shelters saving a greater percentage of animals they took in during 2015. As you can see, the reduction in dogs killed made up a large percentage of the drop in intake while positive outcomes decreased by much less or actually increased in some cases.

Atlantic County Animal Shelter and Liberty Humane Society deserve specific recognition for achieving greater than 90% live release rates for dogs in 2015 (i.e. often considered no kill status). The kill rate at Atlantic County Animal Shelter decreased from 19% in 2014 to 8% in 2015. Liberty Humane Society’s kill rate decreased from 21% in 2014 to 5% in 2015. These results are impressive as both shelters serve some very poor areas of the state. Atlantic County Animal Shelter’s kill rate decreased due to a combination of lower intake and adopting out more dogs and sending more dogs to rescues and other shelters. On the other hand, Liberty Humane Society’s kill rate decreased due to lower intake resulting from implementing a pet surrender prevention program and an appointment system for owner surrenders. While I’m not thrilled that the shelter has a “significant wait period” for owner surrenders, I much prefer this system over killing healthy and treatable dogs.

2015 Summary Stats (1) (7)

Cat Kill Rate Decreased Due to Shelters Increasing Positive Outcomes

The table below summarizes the changes in the cat statistics in 2015 verses 2014. In contrast to dogs, New Jersey shelters impounded more cats during 2015 as compared to 2014. However, the state’s shelters significantly increased positive outcomes.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine how much of the increase is due to TNR. Generally speaking, many more communities embraced TNR in 2015. However, the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” shelters fill out does not provide TNR as an outcome. In practice, some shelters may place TNR cats in the return to owner (RTO), adopted, sent to rescues or other categories. Montclair Township Animal Shelter wrote in the number of their TNR cats in 2015 and 2014 and Edison Animal Shelter did so in 2015. I included these cats in the TNR category. Additionally, approximately 500-600 of the increase in cats returned to owners likely represents TNR based on this article and Bergen County Animal Shelter’s increase in cats returned to owners listed below.

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The table below details which shelters contributed most to the decrease in the cat kill rate in the state during 2015.

Cats 2015 kill rate change

The following table showing the change in data at each shelter in 2015 verses 2014 documents the increase in positive live releases. All shelters except for Jersey Shore Animal Center, which stopped serving as an animal control shelter in 2015, significantly increased the number of cats adopted out and/or sent to rescue. As indicated above, approximately 500-600 more cats were neutered and released at Bergen County Animal Shelter in 2015, and were likely included in the RTO category. Therefore, the increase in the cat live release rate was largely due to shelters increasing the number of positive outcomes.

Cats shelter 2015 vs 2014

Advocacy Efforts Coincide with Increase in Lifesaving

Obviously, people working with animals, such as shelter staff, volunteers and rescuers are directly responsible for the increase in lifesaving. However, advocacy efforts can create the climate where those people are allowed to save lives in a more effective manner. For example, public pressure can force a shelter to start a kitten foster program, do off-site adoption events, and act more rescue friendly.

Statewide shelter advocacy efforts began to grow in 2015. While this blog and my related Facebook page started in early 2014, readership increased significantly in 2015. Additionally, I started analyzing and grading each of the state’s animal shelters at the end of 2014 which I think put pressure on many facilities to improve. In the past, no one really knew what went on behind closed doors. Also, a number of local advocates have told me the ideas expressed on this blog and my Facebook page inspired them to take action. Several advocates also told me that exposing poorly performing shelters they were fighting helped their cause. Thus, I do think this blog and my related Facebook page helped create a climate where local advocacy efforts could be more successful.

The Reformers-Advocates for Shelter Change in NJ group also likely positively contributed to the increase in the state live release rate in 2015. This no holds barred animal advocacy group grew out of the movement to reform the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter and started having a significant impact in 2015. The Reformers use the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), powerful messaging and relentless public pressure to bring bad actors to justice. While this group employs much different tactics than I use and sometimes has different views on things than me, they have been wildly successful at exposing the NJ SPCA, pet stores, disreputable rescues, poorly performing animal shelters and even facilities with high live release rates. Love them or hate them, no one can deny the positive impact this group has had on New Jersey animal welfare. In fact, many regressive shelters truly fear this group and that alone may change bad behavior.

Local advocacy efforts seem to have increased in recent years. While I can’t quantify this phenomenon, I do see these campaigns increasing and getting more media exposure. Ultimately, local advocates on the ground are the key actors in forcing change.

Finally, the professional advocacy efforts by groups like People for Animals and the Animal Protection League of New Jersey have played a key role in convincing municipalities to implement TNR. These groups bring well-thought out plans that provide compelling cases, for fiscal, public health and humane reasons, to convince towns to adopt TNR.

Clearly, confrontational shelter advocacy efforts have played a positive role in New Jersey animal welfare. If shelter killing can decrease to this extent during the same time a no holds barred group like the Reformers have actively inserted themselves into the state’s shelter issues, then that pretty much proves the argument that confrontational shelter advocacy efforts work. While I favor a less in your face approach more akin to Ryan Clinton’s campaign in Austin, I do believe we must honestly call out shelters that needlessly kill and not brush that killing under the rug for the sake of collaboration. Personally, I have great respect for the work Best Friends has done to create no kill communities, and do not oppose collaboration when appropriate. In fact, I have often advocated that shelters should work together to save lives in New Jersey. However, Best Friends and Susan Houser should not make bold assertions about confrontational animal advocacy efforts without having solid data to back those claims up. As the data in this blog shows, Best Friends and Ms. Houser are dead wrong about confrontational shelter advocacy efforts, at least in New Jersey.

Speaking as someone who for years did just the things Mr. Battista is arguing for, I found his remarks perplexing. As many of us who have worked and volunteered within our broken sheltering system know, most regressive shelter leaders and animal unfriendly politicians have little interest in saving lives. At the same time, we know the public at large wants to save animals in shelters and is unaware of just how bad most of our shelters are. Naturally, making the public aware of what is really going on in shelters and calling for action puts pressure on those elected officials and shelter leaders. This pressure in turn improves the negotiating position of those animal advocates engaging elected officials and shelter directors.

In the political world, we have opinion columnists, think tanks, and special interest groups that change public opinion to make negotiations more favorable for their causes. Whether you like the National Rifle Association or not, no one can deny how effective their “moral purity” stances have been in blocking laws they oppose and passing ones they support. Thus, advocates arguing on principle help other advocates doing the negotiating for change.

Unfortunately, New Jersey animal shelters still kill too many animals and do not save nearly as many pets as they should. In future blogs, I’ll address the current state of New Jersey animal shelters. Clearly, New Jersey shelter reform advocates have much work to do, but at least for a moment, they can feel good about the recent progress made.