New Jersey’s Highest Kill Shelters in 2017

Last month, I wrote a blog discussing decreased killing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2017. This blog will explore the 2017 statistics in more detail and assess the current status of the state’s animal shelters.

Most New Jersey animal shelters voluntarily report detailed data to state authorities. Last month, I shared the 2017 summary statistics for New Jersey animal shelters on my Facebook page. Each year, the New Jersey Department of Health requests each licensed animal shelter in the state to submit animal shelter data for the previous year. Animal shelters voluntarily submit this data in the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report.” The New Jersey Department of Health takes these Shelter/Pound Annual Reports and compiles the number of dogs, cats and other animals impounded, redeemed, adopted and euthanized to prepare its Animal Intake and Disposition report. However, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include additional information on how animals were impounded (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, rescued from in-state facilities, rescued from out of state shelters, and cruelty/bite cases/other) and disposed of (i.e. returned to owner, adopted, sent to rescue/another shelter, and died/missing/other outcome). Additionally, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include the number of animals in shelters at the beginning and end of the year as well as the maximum number of animals facilities can hold. Thus, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include very important data not found in the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report.

I compiled the data from these reports and analyze the results in this blog. 2017 statistics for each New Jersey animal shelter are listed at this link. You can also view each “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” at this link.

Garbage Data Raises Serious Questions About New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Statistics

Most New Jersey animal shelters do not properly account for their animals. Simple math dictates the number of animals at a facility at the beginning of the year, plus all animals coming in during the year, less all animals leaving for the period, should equal the number of animals a shelter has at the end of the year. Stunningly, 59 out of 93 shelters reporting these dog statistics and 60 out of 91 facilities submitting this cat data failed to get this right. This raises serious questions about the accuracy of these shelters’ reported statistics. 39 of the 59 shelters with flawed dog statistics and 38 of the 60 facilities with incorrect cat statistics should have had more animals at the end of the year than reported. While these errors could have been due to incorrect counts of the number of animals at facilities, these shelters may have not recorded outcomes, such as animals who were killed, died, or went missing. To put it another way, 2,245 cats and dogs should have had outcomes reported and did not. Thus, there is the potential that as many as 2,245 additional dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing from New Jersey animal shelters than were reported in 2017.

Even worse, a number of animal shelters reported having a different number of animals at the end of 2016 and at the beginning of 2017. Obviously, shelters should report the same number of animals at the end of the prior year and the start of the current year. However, 34 of 93 shelters reported different numbers of dogs at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017. Similarly, 43 of 91 shelters reported different numbers of cats at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017. The worst offenders are listed in the tables below:

2017 New Jersey Animal Shelters Beginning Missing Dogs.jpg

2017 New Jersey Animal Shelters Beginning Missing Cats

Shelters may have failed to classify animals adopted out and sent to rescues properly. Both Paterson Animal Control and Elizabeth Animal Shelter reported no animals were sent to rescues and all dogs and cats leaving their facilities alive were owner reclaims or adoptions. However, intake and disposition records I reviewed at both of these shelters in recent years revealed almost all “adopted” animals are actually rescued. One has to wonder how many other facilities failed to properly classify adoptions and rescues properly. This data is very important as it provides details on the burden rescues and other shelters are taking on from these facilities.

We need better oversight of New Jersey animal shelters’ data reporting. Currently, these statistics are voluntarily reported and most shelters are not taking this seriously. For example, I noticed a large number of reports were submitted many months after the end of the year. This data should be easy to compile since facilities can utilize animal shelter software programs, some of which are free, to do this task. Furthermore, New Jersey animal shelter laws mandate facilities maintain much of the raw data found in the Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Unfortunately, New Jersey Department of Health inspections routinely find shelters do not properly keep records on animals. We need to make the data reporting mandatory for animal shelters as the shelter reform bill, S725, does along with serious penalties for significant errors (especially if deliberate). In order for animal shelters to take data reporting seriously, we may also need to require audits of these reports. Thus, these results show we need stronger laws and the New Jersey Department of Health to play a greater role in ensuring reported animal shelter statistics are in fact accurate.

Despite the errors in these reports, the data provided still reveals important information.

More Animals Losing Their Lives in New Jersey Animal Shelters Than Disclosed in Summary Report

The more detailed data in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports allows one to more critically examine the percentage of locally impounded animals dying in New Jersey’s animal shelters. The following table summarizes my analysis of the kill rate calculated from the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report and the data reported in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports.

2017 New Jersey Detailed Dog and Cat Kill Rates

This year I revised the dog statistics to remove an estimate of the dogs St. Hubert’s transfers in and quickly transfers out through its Sister Shelter WayStation program. Since St. Hubert’s is effectively acting as a middle man and not holding these animals very long, it makes sense to exclude these dogs from the various kill rate statistics below. If I did not exclude these animals, I would understate the dog kill rate due to inflated intake and outcomes numbers. Therefore, I removed all of St. Hubert’s dogs transferred out from the intake and outcomes figures to calculate the kill rates above except the “Kill Rate Per State Report (Intake).” This adjustment increased the dog kill rate (intake) from 6.6% to 7.3%. While St. Hubert’s also transfers in and transfers out cats through the Sister Shelter WayStation program, the numbers did not have a material impact on the statewide kill rates. As a result, I did not revise the cat statistics.

The Animal Intake and Disposition report prepared by the New Jersey Department of Health only allows one to calculate the number of animals killed as a percentage of total animals impounded or intake. I prefer calculating the kill rate as a percentage of outcomes rather than intake as this metric directly compares positive and negative outcomes. Using intake may depress the kill rate since shelters can simply hold animals for a long time to the point of overcrowding. Calculating the kill rate based on outcomes rather than intake caused the cat kill rate to increase from 18.4% to 18.8% while the dog kill rate remained at 7.3%.

To calculate the statewide kill rate, we must also back out transfers from one New Jersey animal shelter to another state facility to avoid counting animals still in the state’s shelter system or registering two outcomes for the same animal (i.e. one New Jersey animal shelter transfers a dog or cat to another state facility which then adopts out the animal). This adjustment increases the dog kill rate from 7.3% to 8.0% and the cat kill rate from 18.8% to 20.5%.

In addition, we should increase the kill rate for animals who died or went missing in shelters. In the past, I’ve labeled this metric the death rate as these animals are likely dead or in a very bad situation. Unfortunately, the Shelter/Pound Annual Report includes animals who died or went missing in the “Other” outcome category. The “Other” category contains positive live releases, such as TNR for cats, at a few shelters. While including the “Other” category in the death rate for most shelters is appropriate (i.e. those facilities that don’t do TNR or don’t include cats released through TNR programs in “Other” outcomes), I’m no longer doing this due to an increasing number of shelters implementing TNR. Instead, I calculated the kill rate by subtracting out “Other” outcomes from total outcomes. If a shelter specifies the number of animals included in “Other” that left the shelter alive, I count this as “Other Live Release” and do not back these amounts out of total outcomes. After making this adjustment, the dog kill rate increases from 8.0% to 8.1% and the cat kill rate rises from 20.5% to 21.9%. For those interested in seeing the estimated death rates, you can find them in the supporting spreadsheet.

Also, many shelters transport easy to adopt animals from out of state which artificially increases live release rates. To properly calculate the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives, we need to adjust for transports. Unfortunately, shelters don’t break out their save rates by local and out of state animals. However, most likely nearly all of the out of state animals (primarily puppies and easy to adopt dogs) make it out of shelters alive. Therefore, I back out the number of out of state transports from total outcomes to estimate the local kill rate. This adjustment increases the New Jersey dog kill rate from 8.1% to 10.5% and the state’s cat kill rate from 21.9% to 22.2%.

Also, I estimate a maximum local kill rate by including the number of unaccounted for animals described in the section above. Making this adjustment increases the maximum potential New Jersey dog kill rate from 10.5% to 14.2% and the maximum potential state cat kill rate from 22.2% to 24.7%.

Some animal shelters quickly return large percentages of their animals to owners. At these shelters, the populations served are typically well-off and animals are licensed and have microchips. To account for the animals facilities actually have to shelter, I calculated a kill rate for non-reclaimed animals and a maximum potential kill rate for non-reclaimed local animals. The non-reclaimed kill rate and maximum potential kill rate for dogs is 11.6% and 23.5%. Non-reclaimed cats had a 22.8% kill rate and a 25.8% maximum potential kill rate. Thus, the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives in our state’s animal shelters may be much higher than the state summary report suggests.

Kill Rates Extremely High at a Number of New Jersey Animal Shelters

Dogs and cats are likely to lose their lives at a number of New Jersey animal shelters. Shelters with the highest kill rates for dogs and cats (excluding very low intake facilities) are listed in the following tables:

2017 Dog Kill Rate

2017 Cat Kill Rate NJ.jpg

Thus, both dogs and cats have a very good chance of leaving many New Jersey animal shelters dead rather than alive.

In terms of raw numbers, the following shelters killed the most animals:

2017 Shelters with Most Dogs Killed

2017 Shelters with Most Cats Killed

Many shelters fail to account for large numbers of their animals. As discussed above, a shelter’s number of animals at the end of the year should be calculated as follows:

Beginning number of animals + animals impounded – animals leaving the shelter

Unfortunately, a large number of shelters take in far more animals than they can explain where they went. Shelters having the highest numbers of unaccounted for dogs and cats are listed in the following tables:

2017 Shelters Most Unaccounted for Dogs.jpg

2017 Shelters Most Unaccounted for Cats

Dog and cat kill rates at many shelters may be even higher if these unaccounted for animals are counted as killed. If we only consider animal shelters which reported transporting few or no animals in 2017, facilities with the highest dog and cat kill rates considering the unaccounted for animals described above are as follows:

2017 Shelters Maximum Potential Dog Kill Rate.jpg

2017 Shelters Maximum Potential Cat Kill Rate.jpg

Thus, the plight of dogs and cats may be far worse in New Jersey animal shelters when we consider the unaccounted for animals.

Shelters Turn Their Backs on New Jersey’s Animals

New Jersey animal shelters rescue far more dogs from out of state than from other New Jersey animal shelters. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters transferred in 9,918 dogs from out of state animal shelters and only rescued 2,950 dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. However, St. Hubert’s frequently transfers a substantial number of its transports quickly to its partners in New Jersey and other states. If I back out St. Hubert’s transfers of dogs to out of state organizations, the number of transports decreases from 9,918 dogs to 8,326 dogs. As a comparison, the total and adjusted transports in 2016 were 7,948 dogs and 7,033 dogs. While the state’s local kill rate decreased in 2017, it is likely the local kill rate would have decreased by more if not for the massive number of out of state transports.

While perhaps some shelters, such as Animal Alliance in Lambertville, take animals from nearby New York or Pennsylvania animal control shelters, the overwhelming majority of these dogs most certainly came from down south. In fact, New Jersey animal shelters transported more dogs from out of state than dogs who were killed in New Jersey animal shelters. This number does not include additional out of state dogs transported into New Jersey by rescues operating without a physical facility. Shelters transporting the most dogs from out of state were as follows:

2017 Dogs Transported into NJ

Shelters Do Far Worse with Animals Requiring New Homes

Since dogs reclaimed by their owners typically have licenses and/or microchips and quickly leave the shelter, its informative to look at dogs shelters have to find new homes for. To get a better idea of how organizations are doing with animals they actually have to shelter, I also examined what percentage of non-reclaimed dogs lose their lives at each facility. Shelters with the highest non-reclaimed dogs kill rates are as follows:

2017 Nonreclaimed Dog Kill Rate.jpg

Shelters with the highest maximum non-reclaimed dogs kill rates are as follows (excluding facilities that reported transporting many dogs in and taking very few animals in):

2017 Maximum Potential Nonreclaimed Dog Kill Rate

Shelters Leave Animal Enclosures Empty While Dogs and Cats Die

New Jersey animal shelters fail to use their space to save animals. Based on the average number of animals at all of New Jersey’s animal shelters at the beginning and the end of 2017, only 56% of dog and 71% of cat capacity was used. Given December is a low intake month, I also increased these populations to an average intake month. This adjustment only raised the dog capacity utilization to 62%. While this adjustment did increase the cat capacity utilization to 97%, it is highly unlikely this happened in reality. Shelter inspection reports I’ve reviewed often did not reveal significantly larger dog and cat populations in the summer and winter months. This is likely due to the influx of highly adoptable kittens having short lengths of stay and shelters killing cats with empty cages.

Many animal shelters with low kill rates failed to rescue animals with their excess space. Additionally, other shelters used little of their available space and still killed a large percentage of their animals. Some examples after increasing the population (and therefore capacity utilization) based on the adjustment discussed above are as follows:

Space Usage Dogs

Space Usage Cats

Thus, many New Jersey animal shelters are killing dogs and cats despite having ample space to house these animals.

New Jersey’s animal shelters continue to fail the state’s animals. The state’s animal shelters only impound 9.2 dogs and cats per 1,000 New Jersey residents. If we just count animals originating from New Jersey, the state’s animal shelters only impound 7.3 dogs and cats per 1,000 people. As a comparison, the average community in the country impounds anywhere from 14-30 animals per 1,000 residents based on estimates from Animal People Newspaper and the Humane Society of the United States. Despite New Jersey shelters impounding a fraction of the animals other no kill communities take in on a per capita basis, the state’s animal control facilities continue to kill and allow animals to die under their care. Even worse, many of these shelters can’t even properly keep track of how many animals leave their facilities dead or alive. Our state’s animals deserve far better treatment than this. Contact your local city council members and mayor and demand better from the animal shelter serving your community. We can do so much better and it is time our shelters operate this way.

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New Jersey Animal Shelters Kill Fewer Animals in 2017

In 2016, New Jersey animal shelter statistics significantly improved. This decrease in killing was driven by increased numbers of animals adopted out, sent to rescues and released through TNR programs.

How did New Jersey animal shelters perform in 2017 compared to 2016? What caused these changes? What shelters had positive and negative impacts on the state’s kill rates in 2017?

Killing Decreases Significantly in 2017

The tables below summarize the statewide dog and cat statistics in 2017 and 2016. To see how I calculate the various metrics, please review the footnotes in this link and my blog analyzing the 2015 statistics. You can view the full 2017 statistics here.

This year I revised the dog statistics to remove an estimate of the dogs St. Hubert’s transfers in and quickly transfers out through its Sister Shelter WayStation program. Since St. Hubert’s is effectively acting as a middle man and not holding these animals very long, it makes sense to exclude these dogs from the various kill rate statistics below. If I did not exclude these animals, I would understate the dog kill rate due to inflated intake and outcomes numbers. Therefore, I removed all of St. Hubert’s dogs transferred out from the intake and outcomes figures to calculate the kill rates below. While St. Hubert’s also transfers in and transfers out cats through the Sister Shelter WayStation program, the numbers did not have a material impact on the statewide kill rates. As a result, I did not revise the cat statistics.

All dog and cat statistics improved in 2017 verses 2016 at a faster rate when compared to 2016 verses 2015. Most of the dog kill rates decreased around 0.5% more in 2017 verses 2016 when compared to 2016 verses 2015. Similarly, most of the cat kill rates decreased around 3% to 4% more, with some kill rates dropping even more, in 2017 verses 2016 when compared to 2016 verses 2015. In fact, the decrease in most of the cat kill rates in 2017 verses 2016 were nearly double the decrease in the cat kill rates in 2016 verses 2015. In particular, the kill rates for non-reclaimed dogs and cats decreased more than most of the other kill rates. Since high reclaim rates sometimes mask killing of animals at shelters, this is good news. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters’ kill rates decreased at an even faster pace in 2017 than in 2016.

2017 New Jersey Animal Shelters Dog Statistics

2017 New Jersey Animal Shelters Cat Statistics

Decreased Intake and More Positive Outcomes Drive Increased Life Saving

Since a number of high kill shelters, such as Ron’s Animal Shelter and T. Blumig Kennels, did not report data in 2017, I added their 2016 numbers to the 2017 analysis below. Similarly, I did the same thing for several shelters that failed to report 2016 statistics, but disclosed 2017 data. As a result of doing this, the 2017 dog kill rate (outcomes) increased from 7.3% to 7.6% while the 2016 dog kill rate (outcomes) remained at 9.2%.

New Jersey animal shelters’ dog kill rate decreased due to both fewer animals taken in and increased live outcomes. New Jersey animal shelters reported killing 574 fewer dogs (626 dogs if we assume the animals in “Other” outcomes died). While a substantial percentage of this decrease was due to 479 fewer dog outcomes, New Jersey animal shelters sent 217 more dogs to rescues in 2017. Even though dog adoptions increased in 2017, local dog adoptions decreased after we take higher numbers of transported dogs into account.

2017 Verses 2016 Dog Outcomes.jpg

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

2017 Verses 2016 Dog Kill Rate Decrease Shelters

The table below provides insight as to why these shelters decreased the statewide dog kill rate the most. As you can see, most of the shelters, which are relatively large, had kill rates over 10% in 2016. All the shelters except for Camden County Animal Shelter, Burlington County Animal Shelter and Vorhees Animal Orphanage had fewer outcomes primarily due to decreased dog intake. In particular, Associated Humane Societies-Newark’s much lower intake, which may partially be due to its loss of animal control contracts relating to several horrific state health department inspections, was significant. Since these facilities have above average kill rates, these shelters had a smaller impact on the state’s dog kill rate in 2017. Finally, all these shelters had lower kill rates in 2017 compared to 2016.

2017 Verses 2016 Dog Kill Rate Change Shelters

The following table explains why most of these shelters’ kill rates decreased. In the case of Burlington County Animal Shelter, it adopted out many more dogs. On the other hand, Trenton Animal Shelter, Camden County Animal Shelter, Bergen County Animal Shelter and East Orange Animal Shelter all sent more animals to rescues. Camden County Animal Shelter, Burlington County Animal Shelter and Vorhees Animal Orphanage also significantly increased the number of dogs returned to owners. Most of the other facilities had fewer positive outcomes due to fewer animal outcomes, but the decrease in killing was greater. Thus, these shelters improved primarily due to having fewer animals come in.

2017 Verses 2016 Shelter Kill Rate Decrease Outcomes

Other Shelters Increased Statewide Dog Kill Rate

While the statewide dog kill rate decreased in 2017, several shelters partially offset this decrease. Specifically, the following shelters increased the dog kill rate, but this was more than offset by the facilities above.

2017 Verses 2016 Dog Kill Rates Shelters Increase

The following table provides more details on these shelters. Hamilton Township’s Animal Shelter’s and Harmony Animal Hospital’s dog kill rates increased dramatically to very high levels in 2017. Hamilton Township Animal Shelter recently came under fire for its needless killing and other problems. Both Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls’, Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park’s, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s and Humane Society of Atlantic County’s kill rates increased from under 10% in 2016 to 10% and higher in 2017. While St. Hubert’s-Madison’s kill rate decreased in 2017, its kill rate was still higher than the statewide kill rate. Therefore, this shelter’s increased number of dog outcomes in 2017 increased the statewide kill rate more in 2017 than in 2016. All the other shelters reported kill rate increases from relatively low levels.

2017 Dog Kill Rate Increase Shelters Kill Rates.jpg

The table below explains why most of these shelters’ dog kill rates increased. Hamilton Township Animal Shelter, Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls, St. Hubert’s-North Branch, Elizabeth Animal Shelter, Harmony Animal Hospital, Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park and North Jersey Community Animal Shelter all adopted out fewer dogs in 2017. Northern Ocean County Animal Facility’s increased kill rate was driven by lower owner reclaims and more dogs killed. St. Hubert’s-North Branch and St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark killed a greater percentage of dogs and had fewer live releases relative to total outcomes in 2017 verses 2016.

2017 Verses 2016 Dog Kill Rates Shelters Increase Reasons

More Cats Leave Shelters Alive

Since a number of high kill shelters, such as Ron’s Animal Shelter and T. Blumig Kennels, did not report numbers in 2017, I added their 2016 numbers to the 2017 analysis below. Similarly, I did the same thing for several shelters that failed to report 2016 statistics, but disclosed 2017 data. In addition, Bergen County Animal Shelter included cats it brought in explicitly to TNR (not included in statistics per the Shelter Animals Count methodology) as intake and returned to owners in 2016 and intake and adopted in 2017. Therefore, I replaced Bergen County Animal Shelter’s summary data with numbers I obtained via an OPRA request that excluded Bergen County Animal Shelter’s TNR cats. As a result of doing this, the 2017 statewide cat kill rate (outcomes) increased from 18.8% to 20.4% while the 2016 cat kill rate (outcomes) increased from 24.8% to 25.6%.

New Jersey animal shelters killed many fewer cats in 2017. The decrease in killing was driven by shelters taking less cats in (i.e. reflected in reduced outcomes). Since owner reclaims increased and shelters often classify cats that are impounded and then neutered and released as reclaimed, TNR efforts likely played a role in shelters impounding fewer cats. Even if shelters simply took in fewer cats, that still is a good thing since cats on the streets have a better chance surviving and finding their owners than cats entering into high kill shelters.

2017 Verses 2016 New Jersey Cat Statistics Changes Adjusted

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

2017 Verses 2016 Shelters Impact on Decrease in Cat Kill Rate

The following table provides insight as to why these shelters decreased the statewide cat kill rate the most. As you can see, the shelters, which are relatively large, had kill rates over 16% in 2016 and all reported decreases in those kill rates. All the shelters except for Bergen County Animal Shelter and Vorhees Animal Orphanage had fewer outcomes primarily due to decreased cat intake.

2017 Verses 2016 Cat Kill Rate Decrease Shelters.jpg

The table below explains why these shelters’ kill rates decreased. Associated Humane Societies-Newark’s positive outcomes all went down and indicates the decrease in its cat kill rate was due to reduced intake. This may be due to the shelter’s loss of some contracts after its abysmal state health department inspection reports in 2017. Most of the other shelters had fewer positive outcomes, but most increased their adoptions. Therefore, these shelters’ decreased cat kill rates were primarily due to taking fewer cats in. In the case of Woodbridge Animal Shelter, the decrease in cat intake is due to the fact the facility had an unusually large number of hoarding cases in 2016. On the other hand, Bergen County Animal Shelter and Vorhees Animal Orphanage significantly increased their number of positive outcomes. Both shelters sent more animals to rescues and Bergen County Animal Shelter also adopted out a good number more animals. As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been criticizing Bergen County Animal Shelter’s high kill rate since the Fall of of 2016.

2017 Verses 2016 Cat Kill Rate Decrease Shelter Outcomes

Other Shelters Increased Statewide Cat Kill Rate

While the statewide cat kill rate decreased in 2017, several shelters partially offset this decrease. Specifically, the following facilities increased the cat kill rate, but this was more than offset by the shelters above.

2017 Shelters Increasing Cat Kill Rate

The following table provides more details on these shelters. All the shelters, with the exception of Monmouth SPCA, had higher cat kill rates in 2017 compared to 2016. In addition, most of the shelters had kill rates of around 20% or higher in 2017. Hamilton Township Animal Shelter recently came under fire for its needless killing. Similarly, Old Bridge Animal Shelter effectively banned its volunteers a couple of years ago and that could have resulted in the shelter killing more cats.

2017 Verses 2016 Cat Kill Rate Increase Shelter Reasons

The table below explains why most of these shelters’ kill rates increased. Southern Ocean Animal Facility’s and Hamilton Township Animal Shelter’s increased cat kill rates were due to decreased adoptions. Liberty Humane Society’s increased cat kill rate was due to decreased numbers of cats sent to rescues and lower adoptions. North Jersey Community Animal Shelter’s increased kill rate was due to it sending fewer cats to rescues. St. Hubert’s-Madison, Old Bridge Animal Shelter and Humane Society of Atlantic County Animal Shelter did not achieve enough increased positive outcomes after these facilities took more cats in during 2017.

2017 Verses 2016 Cat Kill Rate Increase Outcomes

Advocacy Works

Overall, New Jersey’s 2017 animal shelter statistics are good news. While decreased animal intake was a major driver of the reduced kill rates in the state, shelters did send more dogs to rescues in 2017 compared to 2016. In addition, expanding TNR efforts may be a reason explaining the decreased cat intake at the state’s shelters in 2017.

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

The data proves this theory correct. In 2014, I and other shelter reform advocates started making the public aware of the needless killing going on in our state’s shelter. From 2013 to 2017, both the dog and cat kill rates decreased more than twice as much as the kill rates over the prior four year time period (2009 to 2013). Therefore, shelter reform advocacy is helping the animal welfare community save lives.

That being said, many New Jersey animal shelters are still horrific. In my next blog, I will identify these shelters and detail how they are failing their animals.

2016 Cat Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

Cats are losing their lives at an alarming rate in New Jersey animal shelters. New Jersey animal shelters killed more than 12,000 cats or 29% of those cats having known outcomes in 2016. Additionally, a number of other cats died or went missing. This blog explores the reasons why this tragedy is occurring and whether we can end the massacre. Additionally, I’ll try and answer the question whether shelters need to resort to neutering and releasing healthy friendly cats or not impounding these cats at all to avoid killing cats in shelters.

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ideally, I would perform two analyses as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save most of the state’s healthy and treatable cats. The table below details the targeted numbers of cat outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 44,748 New Jersey cats coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2016, 29,059 and 8,871 cats should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the cats in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had enough capacity to rescue 27,238 cats or more than three times the number of cats needing rescue from space constrained facilities. Unfortunately, some of the cats needing rescue, such as very young kittens, should not go to a shelter and still must go to either kitten nurseries or foster homes. That being said, many adult cats are in fact killed in New Jersey animal shelters and many facilities with excess space could save these cats.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many cats from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out at least 18,367 cats from out of state shelters or New Jersey’s streets after achieving a 92% live release rate for cats coming into the state’s animal shelters. In reality, the New Jersey shelter system could rescue more than 18,367 cats from out of state shelters or from New Jersey’s streets given the 18,367 figure assumes all cats needing rescue from space constrained New Jersey shelters are sent to other New Jersey shelters as opposed to rescue groups. As explained above, some of the cats needing rescue from New Jersey shelters with a shortage of space are young kittens which should not go to most animal shelters. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters contain enough space to make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for cats and increase those cities’ cat live release rates to 92% as follows (per 2016 data):

  • New York City – 1,416 additional cats need saving
  • Philadelphia – 1,958 additional cats need saving

Certainly, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. Even if I assumed all of the out of state cats rescued by New Jersey animal shelters came from New York City and Philadelphia, that number is only 4% of the number that New Jersey shelters could rescue from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. While some of these cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters are young kittens which should not go to a normal animal shelter, many other cats could go to New Jersey animal shelters and be adopted out. As a result, the additional number of cats New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City and Philadelphia is not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for cats and help other states reach that goal as well.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 6.2 cats per 1,000 people in the state (4.3 cats per 1,000 people if no cats were rescued from out of state and all cats sent to rescue were rescued by other New Jersey animal shelters and adopted out). As a comparison, recent per capita cat adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 22.7 cats per 1,000 people
  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 10.1 cats per 1,000 people
  • Tompkins County SPCA (Tompkins County, New York) – 9.9 cats per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada and Carson City, Nevada areas) – 9.8 cats per 1,000 people

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

Additionally, the adoption target, 6.2 cats per 1,000 people, I set for New Jersey animal shelters is lower than the state of Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate for both shelters and rescues of 7.3 cats per 1,000 people. Given Colorado still has some regressive animal shelters, Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate can increase. Thus, the cat adoption targets I laid out for New Jersey animal shelters are quite achievable.

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Cat Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

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

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

The overall results show too many cats are unnecessarily losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. New Jersey animal shelters needlessly killed 9,138 cats in 2016. Furthermore, additional cats died or went missing from many of these facilities. Obviously, some of the cats shelters killed were truly feral and required TNR or placement as barn/warehouse cats, but surely many others could have been adopted out. Thus, New Jersey’s shelter system is failing its cats.

Several animal shelters in South Jersey and elsewhere account for a large percentage of the savable cats unnecessarily losing their lives. Specifically, Gloucester County Animal Shelter, Cumberland County SPCA, Burlington County Animal Shelter, Atlantic County Animal Shelter and Camden County Animal Shelter account for 4,232 or 46% of the 9,138 cats needlessly killed. Associated Humane Societies three shelters had 1,876 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2016. Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility had 1,002 cats lose their lives needlessly in 2016. Franklin Township Animal Shelter, T. Blumig Kennels and Ron’s Animal Shelter, which had three of the highest cat kill rates in the state, needlessly killed 626 cats. Collectively, these 13 shelters are 13% of the state’s shelters and account for 7,736 or 85% of the 9,138 cats needlessly losing their lives.

Rescue oriented shelters generally had fewer cats lose their lives than targeted. While saving large numbers of cats is what we all want, some of these shelters may have achieved this result by taking in easier cats. Austin Pets Alive, which is a rescue oriented shelter in Texas, has developed some of the most innovative cat programs and only had a cat live release rate of 92% in 2016. This was due to Austin Pets Alive taking in many cats requiring significant treatment, such as neonatal kittens, from the city animal control shelter. As a result, some of the rescue oriented shelters with significantly fewer cats euthanized than targeted may have avoided taking in many of the more difficult cases.

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

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

Overall, New Jersey shelters are not receiving enough help from other animal welfare organizations. While the overall number of cats rescued was 95% of the amount needed for the state as a whole, the actual number was 41% since many cats were rescued from facilities which did not require so much rescue assistance. Only 31 out of the 74 facilities needing rescue assistance received the required support. In other words, only 42% of the animal shelters needing rescue help received the amount these facilities require.

We truly need to understand the reasons for this rescue shortfall. While poor data collection (i.e. shelters classifying rescues as adoptions) may explain part of this rescue deficit, the large size of this number points to other causes as well. For example, New Jersey shelters significantly exceeded their dog rescue needs, but just 42% of shelters needing cat rescue assistance received the needed support. Certainly, some of these cats are feral and not candidates for most rescues. However, many other cats surely are home-able. Many high kill facilities may not reach out to rescues for cats, such as during kitten season, as much as they do for dogs. This data supports the need for New Jersey to pass shelter reform bill S3019, which requires shelters to contact rescues and other facilities at least two business days before killing animals. On the other hand, shelters with excess capacity may not be doing their part to save cats from space constrained facilities.

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

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 1,021 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Paterson Animal Control – 199 more cats transferred than necessary (estimated due to the shelter’s incorrect reporting of rescues as adoptions)
  • Byram Township Animal Shelter- 170 more cats transferred than necessary (may have been due to hoarding cases not accounted for in my model that could have overwhelmed this small shelter)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 163 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Animal Hospital of Roxbury – 149 more cats transferred than necessary

Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Paterson Animal Control and Trenton Animal Shelter are terrible facilities. Associated Humane Societies-Newark has a history of problemskills animals for ridiculous reasons and its Executive Director had animal cruelty charges filed against her. Paterson Animal Control has no volunteer program, no social media page or even a website with animals for adoption and violated state law left and right. Trenton Animal Shelter violated state law per a New Jersey Department of Health limited scope inspection report. Thus, many shelters receiving greater than expected rescue support seem to do little more than allow rescues to save the day.

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

  • Northern Ocean County Animal Facility – 758 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Burlington County Animal Shelter – 484 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Vorhees Animal Orphanage – 437 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Southern Ocean County Animal Facility – 314 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 274 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Montclair Township Animal Shelter – 247 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 226 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Cape May County Animal Shelter – 152 fewer cats transferred than necessary

The million dollar question is why do these shelters receive very little rescue help? Some, such as Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean County Animal Facility, reported no cats sent to rescues and may incorrectly count these animals as adopted. As you will see below, Vorhees Animal Orphanage and Montclair Township Animal Shelter adopt out many cats and are doing a good job. Similarly, Cape May County Animal Shelter came very close to reaching its adoption target and achieved its euthanasia rate target. On the other hand, Gloucester County Animal Shelter routinely illegally killed animals during the 7 day hold period, allowed disease to spread like wildfire and does not adopt out animals at the shelter on weekends. Similarly, Bergen County Animal Shelter is a high kill facility and refuses to even give information to rescues over the phone. As a result, shelters receiving too little rescue help may or may not be doing their part to get that assistance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 8 out of 98 shelters met the cat adoption goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

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

Several animal control shelters also exceeded their adoption targets. Despite not being open many hours, West Milford Animal Shelter exceeded its adoption goal. This shelter charges a very reasonable $35 fee for all cats and runs a creative Facebook page called “The Real Cats at West Milford Animal Shelter.” Vorhees Animal Orphanage also exceeded its adoption goal. The shelter also is open 7 days a week, including weekday evenings and weekends (except one Wednesday a month and certain holidays), which makes it convenient for working people to adopt animals. Additionally, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts cats out at one PetSmart store and three PetValu locations.  EASEL Animal Rescue League, which operates the Ewing Animal Shelter, also exceeded its adoption target. This organization strives to make Mercer County no kill and it is no surprise this organization does a good job adopting out its cats. Thus, several animal control shelters exceeded or came close to achieving their cat adoption goals and therefore prove these adoption targets are achievable.

Montclair Animal Shelter also significantly exceeded its cat adoption target. In April 2016, a fire destroyed much of this facility. The shelter utilized many foster homes to save its animals. Since I assumed the shelter had no capacity from April through December of 2016, the shelter’s adoption target was very low. Nonetheless, Montclair Animal Shelter deserves credit for aggressively placing its cats into foster homes.

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

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

Associated Humane Societies performance is particularly disappointing. Specifically, Associated Humane Societies has the physical capacity to significantly reduce the killing of healthy and treatable cats. Associated Humane Societies adoption shortfall of 7,196 cats is 79% of the 9,138 cats unnecessarily losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters. Associated Humane Societies has the funding to reach these adoption targets as the organization took in $9.4 million of revenue last year. This works out to $642 of revenue per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in per my Life Saving Model. As a comparison, KC Pet Project, which runs the Kansas City, Missouri animal control shelter, only took in $340 per dog and cat and saved over 90% of these animals in 2016. Even if we add the amount Kansas City pays its own animal control department (i.e. this agency picks up stray animals and sends them to KC Pet Project), this only raises the revenue per dog and cat to approximately $540 per dog and cat (i.e. around $100 less revenue per dog and cat that my model projects AHS would have). Activists wanting to increase life saving in New Jersey should focus on changing Associated Humane Societies’ policies given the lifesaving potential of this organization and its current horrific state.

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Cats

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

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of cats they should. 89 of the 98 shelters should rescue some cats from other local shelters. In fact, 47 of the 89 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single cat from other animal shelters. Only 4 shelters with significant amounts of space to rescue cats from nearby shelters met or exceeded their cat rescue targets. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of healthy and treatable cats.

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

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

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

Shelters Do Not Need to Leave Friendly Cats on the Street

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

Kitten Nurseries and Ringworm Wards Key to Saving Vulnerable Cats

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

Kitten nurseries or bottle baby wards radically increase the save rate for orphaned kittens still requiring milk. While foster care and rescue programs can save unweaned kittens, kitten nurseries are more efficient and make the job easier. Austin Animal Services, which is the animal control shelter in Austin, Texas, killed 1,200 plus kittens a year before Austin Pets Alive created a bottle baby program. Volunteers work in two hour shifts to feed and care for the kittens. Additionally, nursing mothers are pulled from the city shelter and used to help nurse highly vulnerable young kittens who are orphaned. Kittens are put on antibiotics and treated for fleas and worms immediately to help prevent complications from transitioning from breast milk to formula. Austin Pets Alive has pulled as many as 1,600 kittens a year from the city shelter and saved nearly 90% of these kittens in recent years through this bottle baby program. Best Friends created a kitten nursery in South Salt Lake City, Utah and saved more than 1,400 kittens from Salt Lake City area shelters in 2016. Thus, kitten nursery programs can save young and vulnerable kittens.

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

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

Results Require New Jersey Animal Shelters to Take Action

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

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

Appendix Life Saving Model Assumptions

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

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

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

Each shelter’s community cat intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty cases), number of cats returned to owners, and maximum cat capacity were taken from its 2016 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health. You can see the full data set I compiled from these reports here.

  • Community cat intake and cats returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 cats were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 cats (240/12). In July, the cat intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 cats by 1.2 to equal 24 cats. If 120 cats were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of cats returned to owners in July would equal 12 cats (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off the average of the 2016 cat intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • The estimated number of community cats returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country.
  • The number of community cats euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 8% of intake. 8% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate to use given other open admission animal shelters, such as Austin Animal Services, equal or exceed this target and New Jersey’s much lower per capita cat intake makes it easier to save lives. The average length of stay for euthanized cats is assumed to equal 8 days. I assume these cats have severe and untreatable health issues and are euthanized immediately after their required 7 day hold period.
  • The average length of stay used for adopted community cats was 42 days. This estimate was roughly halfway between the average cat length of stay figures for a number of no kill animal control shelters. For example, the average length of stay for cats in recent years was 15 days at Montana’s Flathead County Animal Shelter, 16 days at Texas’s Williamson County Animal Shelter, less than 18 days at Nevada Humane Society, 24 days (23 days for cats and 27 days for kittens) at Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society, 42 days at Lynchburg Humane Society and 61 days for adopted cats only at New York’s Tompkins County SPCA. While the average length of stay of adopted cats at these shelters other than Tompkins County SPCA may have been slightly higher since this data is for all cats and not just those adopted, the difference is not likely significant given adoptions represent most of the outcomes at these shelters. Unfortunately, I was not able to break down the adoption length of stay figures by age or breed for New Jersey’s shelters like I did in my analysis on dogs due to a lack of detailed cat intake data at New Jersey animal shelters. Upon reviewing cats up for adoption at several New Jersey animal control shelters and a few of the high performing facilities above, I did not see any significant differences in types of cats taken in. In the future, I hope to refine this analysis further.
  • The average length of stay used for community cats adopted out from rescue oriented shelters was 30 days. Rescue oriented animal shelters typically carefully select animals taken into their shelters. Based on the San Francisco’s SPCA’s 22 day and Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation’s 23 day average length of stay figures reported a number of years ago, I used a shorter length of stay for community cats adopted from New Jersey animal shelters without animal control contracts. I chose 30 days as a conservative estimate.
  • Cats transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community cats not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month outside of kitten season (i.e. November-March). However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, cats are moved from adoption (i.e. with a longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • During kitten season (April-October), animal control shelters are assumed to send a certain percentage of cats to rescues even if they have excess space. Due to the large numbers of kittens coming into shelters during these months, I assume shelters will not be able to place all of them into foster homes or a kitten nursery at this time. As a result, I assume animal control shelters will send 10% of their annual community cat intake to rescues based on the shelters’ estimated relative cat intake each month. For example, if a shelter took 100 cats in during the year and August made up 50% of the total cat intake from April to November, 5 cats would go to rescue in August (i.e. 100*10% = 10 cats; 10*50% = 5 cats). I used 10% based off the rescue percentage of cat intake in 2014 at Kansas City’s KC Pet Project. KC Pet Project is a no kill open admission shelter with an inadequate facility and is a good comparison for some of our state’s run down shelters. Shelters requiring rescue support due to space constraints are assumed to send these additional cats to rescues during kitten season.
  • Shelters are not expected to use the excess space created by fosters taking kittens to rescue and adopt out additional cats. This is based on the assumption that the kittens will return to shelters once old enough to safely stay at the facilities.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out cats from other New Jersey animal shelters. Given some of these cats will be young and highly vulnerable kittens, I assume 5% of these rescues will be euthanized for humane reasons. I used 5% based off Austin Pets Alive’s and Austin Humane Society’s weighted average cat euthanasia rate in 2014. These two shelters pull many cats from Austin Animal Services, which is the city’s animal control shelter, and their cat euthanasia rate is a reasonable proxy for the percentage of hopelessly suffering cats rescued from animal control shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter cats are saved, I assume additional cats are pulled from nearby states. The average length of stay for rescued and adopted cats is the same as the cats taken in by animal control shelters (i.e. 42 days). Similarly, I used 8 days as the average length of stay for rescued and euthanized cats from other shelters.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many cats New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue and rescue from other nearby animal shelters.
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they run out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used cat adoption length of stay data from Perth Amboy Animal Shelter from 2014 and the first half of 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted cats in the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average cat adoption length of stay determined in the model above and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • The targeted number of cats adopted were capped at 8 cats per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of cats adopted were equal to this cap. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted adoptions in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of cats adopted in the county to yield the targeted numbers of cats adopted in the modified model. Rescued and euthanized cats for these shelters were reduced based on the modified model’s assumption that shelters adopted out and euthanized 95% and 5% of rescued cats.

2016 Dog Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

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

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

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

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

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

This year I made one change to the Life Saving Model. For shelters with animal control contracts, I place 10% of all dogs that are not reclaimed by owners into the targeted sent to rescue category. Austin Pets Alive used data from Austin Animal Center, which is the local municipal shelter, to determine large dogs with behavioral challenges are part of the last 10% of animals losing their lives. While shelters can save most of these dogs through behavioral rehabilitation and/or foster programs, I decided to put an estimate of these dogs into the sent to rescue category since that is another good outcome for these dogs.

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

My analysis puts a cap on the targeted numbers of dogs rescued from other shelters and adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I want to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animals shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita dog adoption rate of around one half to one quarter the level found at some of the best animal control shelters. Similarly, the unmodified model yielded a statewide pit bull per capita adoption rate (2.4 pit bulls per 1,000 people) that is close to one of the best animal control shelters in the country. In my opinion, New Jersey shelters could more easily achieve that per capita pit bull adoption rate given my model includes far fewer dogs from competing breeds than those in this role model animal control shelter.

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

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

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

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

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save all of the state’s healthy and treatable dogs. The table below details the targeted numbers of dog outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 22,846 New Jersey dogs coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2016, 10,765 and 2,070 dogs should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the dogs in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had more than enough capacity to rescue the 2,070 dogs from space constrained facilities. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters should be able to able to adopt out every single healthy and treatable dog taken in from the state and not require any support from rescue organizations without physical facilities from a space perspective.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many dogs from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out 9,738 dogs from out of state after achieving a 95% live release rate for New Jersey dogs. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters could make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for dogs and increase those cities’ dog live release rates to 95% in 2016 as follows:

  • New York City – 1,153 additional dogs need saving
  • Philadelphia – 1,453 additional dogs need saving

Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters could save another 7,132 dogs from other locations outside of the state. Of course, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some dogs from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. However, most of these dogs are likely easy to adopt and therefore have short lengths of stay. As a result, the additional number of dogs New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere is probably not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for dogs as well as many other places.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 2.6 dogs per 1,000 people in the state (1.2 dogs if no dogs rescued from out of state). As a comparison, recent per capita dog adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 18.0 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 10.1 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada and Carson City, Nevada areas) – 7.6 dogs per 1,000 people
  • KC Pet Project (Kansas City, Missouri) – 6.9 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Humane Society of Fremont County (Fremont County, Colorado) – 6.8 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Huntsville Animal Services (Huntsville, Alabama area) – 5.6 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas) – 5.5 dogs per 1,000 people

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

Some naysayers may claim New Jersey would have a more difficult time due to the state’s shelters taking in many pit bulls. However, this is a myth. My model estimates New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out roughly 0.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people to save 95% of New Jersey’s dogs. Our shelters would only need to adopt out around 1.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people if New Jersey shelters also rescued and adopted out the targeted number of pit bulls from other states. As a comparison, I estimate Longmont Humane Society adopts out 2.1 pit bulls per 1,000 people based on the number of pit bulls impounded in 2014 as a percentage of total dogs impounded in 2014 and multiplying that number by the 10.1 dogs per 1,000 people adoption rate in 2016. Furthermore, the pit bull adoption targets are even more reasonable given the model assumes there are roughly 1/7 of the number of dogs from other breeds to compete with in the New Jersey adoption market compared to the Longmont, Colorado area.

2016 New Jersey Animal Shelter Targets

Animal Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

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

The tables below detail the estimated local dog death rates. Consistent with the Life Saving Model’s assumptions, the actual dogs euthanized/killed/died/missing assumes these dogs came from the local community. All dogs missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. As discussed in my prior blog, the estimated local death rate includes “Other” outcomes as animals who died or went missing along with dogs reported as killed. Based on my review of a number of shelters’ underlying documents, virtually all of the dogs in the “Other” outcome category died or went missing. Shelters having estimated local dog death rates less than and greater than 5% are highlighted in green and red in the table below.

The Humane Society of Atlantic County had an unusually high estimated local dog death rate. While this number may be higher if some rescued dogs are euthanized/killed (i.e. targeted number assumes no rescued dogs are killed/euthanized) or many terminally ill dogs are surrendered for owner-requested euthanasia, this may possibly point to overly strict temperament testing at this shelter. This facility’s total kill rate of 9% is still very high for a rescue oriented shelter with no animal control contracts and raises serious questions about how life and death decisions are made by this organization. The total kill rate at other rescue oriented shelters, such as Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge and Animal Welfare Association (both had total dog kill rates of 1%) are much lower than the Humane Society of Atlantic County. Thus, I find it difficult to believe the Humane Society of Atlantic County’s larger than expected estimated local dog death rate is due to this organization rescuing a large percentage of their dogs from other shelters.

The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Specifically, 12 out of 99 or 12% of the shelters accounted for 80% of the estimated 2,168 dogs unnecessarily losing their lives. In fact, Associated Humane Societies-Newark, which both broke state shelter law left and right this year per New Jersey Department of Health inspection reports, and Trenton Animal Shelter, which also violated state shelter law this year per a state health department inspection report, accounted for 35% of the dogs needlessly losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. Shelters with the greatest number of unnecessary dog deaths are as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark (519)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter (238)
  • Camden County Animal Shelter (171)
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter (145)
  • Cumberland County SPCA (124)

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

Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Require Little Rescue Assistance

Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake, very limited space, and few stray dogs returned to owners, it will need more help than other shelters. In an ideal world, rescues would take all shelter animals. However, due to limited numbers of foster homes, lesser ability to find foster homes due to many rescue organizations’ small sizes, and most rescues’ restrictive adoption policies, all shelters cannot heavily rely on rescues. The tables below compare the number of dogs a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of dogs actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.

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

54 shelters received too much help, 16 facilities received just enough assistance and 28 shelters received too little help from other animal welfare organizations. However, the excess dogs rescued (3,472 dogs) at shelters receiving too much assistance was far higher than the rescue deficits at other shelters (487 dogs) resulting in the state’s shelters sending 2,985 more dogs than needed to rescues and other animal welfare organizations. Northern Ocean Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility received less rescue support than needed. However, neither of the shelters reported rescues taking any animals, which raises questions as to whether these shelters correctly reported their data (i.e. counting animals sent to rescues as adoptions). Nonetheless, the New Jersey shelter system as a whole is receiving enough rescue assistance, but some shelters are hurt by rescues pulling animals from less needy facilities.

Associated Humane Societies-Newark hogged up the most rescue support. While St. Hubert’s-Madison sent the most dogs to rescues, many of these were dogs it recently transported in. Therefore, this shelter acted more like a middle man than a shelter impounding dogs and sending them to rescues. Rescues and other shelters pulled 433 more dogs than needed from AHS-Newark. Even worse, AHS-Tinton Falls also sent too many dogs to rescues as well as other shelters and this facility and AHS-Popcorn Park rescued far fewer dogs from other shelters than they should have. As a result of this poor performance, AHS diverted much needed rescue assistance from more needy shelters in the region.

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

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

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

In certain circumstances, it may make sense for shelters with excess space to send dogs to rescues. For example, a unique breed or a dog needing very specialized behavioral or medical rehabilitation. However, these cases are accounted for in my targeted sent to rescue figures for animal control shelters.

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

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

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

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

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 10 out of 99 shelters met the adoptions goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets. Beacon Animal Rescue and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge adopted out more animals than I targeted. While these organizations are both rescue-oriented shelters that appear to pull fewer pit bulls than I target, Beacon Animal Rescue and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge do at least have a reasonable number of pit bull like dogs up for adoption currently. Additionally, these shelters rescue animals primarily from other New Jersey animal shelters rather than transport large numbers of dogs from the south.

A number of other rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets, but this may at least partially be due to the types of dogs they impounded. While St. Hubert’s-North Branch has animal control contracts, most of its animals up for adoption are rescued from other shelters. St. Hubert’s uses progressive adoption policies, such as open or conversational based adoptions, adopting animals out as gifts, and adopting out animals almost every day of the year. On the other hand, St. Hubert’s appears to rescue far more adoptable animals than my model assumes (i.e. 80% of rescued dogs are pit bulls) and that likely also explains the organization’s strong performance. Common Sense for Animals operates more like a rescue oriented than an animal control shelter. While this organization exceeded its adoption targets, the shelter’s figures were off by 128 dogs using the methodology outlined in another blog. This makes me wonder if their adoption numbers were accurate. Somerset Regional Animal Shelter, which also operates more like a rescue oriented shelter than an animal control facility, exceeded its adoption target. However, this shelter appears to mostly rescue easier to adopt dogs from New Jersey animal shelters. Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter also exceeded its adoption targets, but this is likely due to this organization rescuing easier to adopt dogs from New Jersey shelters.

Montclair Animal Shelter significantly exceeded its local dog adoption target. In April 2016, a fire destroyed much of this facility. The shelter utilized many foster homes to save its animals. Since I assumed the shelter had no capacity from April through December of 2016, the shelter’s adoption target was very low. Nonetheless, Montclair Animal Shelter deserves credit for aggressively placing its dogs into foster homes and more than doubling its estimated local dog adoptions from the prior year.

Five other animal control shelters exceeded their adoption targets, but this was likely due to factors unrelated to performance. As discussed above, both Northern Ocean Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility reported no animals sent to rescues. Personally, I doubt this is the case and it is likely rescues saved a significant number of dogs reported as adopted. Additionally, these two shelters may have benefited from the method I used to cap adoptions in the county and reduce the adoption targets for these two shelters. For example, Northern Ocean Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility only reached 94% and 66% of their adoption targets using my unadjusted model only taking the shelter’s physical space into account. Similarly, while Toms River Animal Facility exceeded its dog adoption target, it only reached 45% of my unadjusted model adoption target. Since Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park reports a very large capacity (i.e. very high adoption potential), my model reduces all Ocean County animal shelters’ target adoptions to my county adoption cap. Therefore, Northern Ocean Animal Facility, Southern Ocean Animal Facility and Toms River Animal Facility have relatively low dog adoption targets. Thus, none of these shelters may have really done a great job adopting out dogs.

Two animal control shelters deserve mentioning. Camden County Animal Shelter was only three dogs shy of meeting its adoption target (it rounded to 100% on a percentage basis). As a large county shelter that includes a poor urban area, this is an impressive result. Similarly, Ewing Animal Shelter, which is operated by EASEL Animal Rescue League, came very close to meeting its adoption target.

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

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 1,499 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park – 1,095 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Monmouth SPCA – 586 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Plainfield Area Humane Society – 468 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen Protect and Rescue Foundation – 449 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 449 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Shake a Paw-Union – 363 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Paterson Animal Shelter – 323 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls – 282 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Humane Society of Atlantic County – 241 fewer dogs adopted than targeted

Unsurprisingly, Associated Humane Societies has archaic adoption policies that make it more difficult to adopt than the procedures recommended from national animal welfare organizations. Furthermore, Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls, Paterson Animal Shelter, Monmouth SPCA, Bergen Protect and Rescue Foundation and Bergen County Animal Shelter had troublesome stories involving the shelters and/or prominent people affiliated with these organizations over the last few years. Humane Society of Atlantic County’s low local adoption figures are not surprising given the large number of out of state transported dogs it brings in and its relatively high estimated local death rate. Shake a Paw-Union’s low local adoption numbers are not surprising since it also operates a for profit pet store and transports almost all of its dogs it rescues from out of state. Finally, Plainfield Area Humane Society’s local dog adoption deficit is quite disturbing since this organization could easily take on Plainfield’s dogs who currently go to the horrific and high kill Associated Humane Societies-Newark.

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Local Dogs

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

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of local dogs they should. 92 of the 99 shelters should rescue some dogs from other local shelters. In fact, 48 of the 92 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single dog from a New Jersey animal shelter. Of the 92 shelters with the space to rescue dogs from nearby shelters, only the following shelters met or exceeded their local dog rescue targets:

  1. Somerset Regional Animal Shelter – 122 more dogs rescued than targeted
  2. St. Hubert’s-North Branch – 93 more dogs rescued than targeted
  3. Montclair Township Animal Shelter – 83 more dogs rescued than targeted
  4. St. Hubert’s-Madison – 65 more dogs rescued than targeted
  5. Beacon Animal Rescue – 62 more dogs rescued than targeted
  6. Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge – 24 more dogs rescued than targeted
  7. Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter – 21 more dogs rescued than targeted
  8. Montville Animal Shelter – 8 more dogs rescued than targeted
  9. Common Sense for Animals – 6 more dogs rescued than targeted
  10. Randolph Township Pound – 4 more dogs rescued than targeted

As mentioned above, many of these shelters local rescue numbers are inflated due to these organizations cherry picking highly adoptable animals to rescue. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of local healthy and treatable dogs.

Camden County Animal Shelter also deserves mentioning. This facility rescued 320 dogs from other New Jersey shelters last year. While this is an obviously good thing, this may have artificially decreased this shelter’s estimated local death rate by as much as 2% if it only pulled highly adoptable dogs.

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

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New Jersey Animal Shelters Need to Form Life-Saving Coalitions

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

Sobering Results Require Shelter Leaders to Critically Examine Themselves

Shelters should examine the reasons why their adoption numbers fall far short of these benchmarks. In some cases, shelters need to expand the hours they are open for adoptions. Many shelters should switch from an overly judgmental adoption process based on black and white rules to a conversational one focused on educating the adopter. Organizations will need to radically increase their off-site events and do same day adoptions. Similarly, many shelters must reduce adoption fees and run frequent promotions. Executive Directors should monitor the latest life-saving programs on Maddie’s Fund’s, ASPCA Pro’s, the 2015 and 2016 American Pets Alive Conference’s, and the Best Friends National Conference’s web sites and put some of these policies into place. Shelter management teams will need to ensure their facilities are clean and customers are treated with respect (this can be measured by encouraging the public to complete surveys). Thus, poorly performing shelters need to stop making excuses and do what it takes to reach their adoption potential.

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

Appendix – Life Saving Model Assumptions

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

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

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

Each shelter’s community dog intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty bite cases), number of dogs returned to owners, and maximum dog capacity were taken from its 2016 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community dog intake and dogs returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 dogs were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 dogs (240/12). In July, the dog intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 dogs by 1.2 to equal 24 dogs. If 120 dogs were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of dogs returned to owners in July would equal 12 dogs (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off the average of the 2016 dog intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • The estimated number of community dogs returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country. If anything, this estimate is conservative (i.e. average length of stay for dogs returned to owners may be less than 5 days and therefore frees up more shelter space for adoptions) based on some shelters returning the bulk of their dogs to owners within 3 days.
  • The number of community dogs euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 5% of intake. 5% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate for shelters in New Jersey to meet given few vulnerable stray puppies (i.e. who could die or require euthanasia) arrive in the state’s animal shelters. The average length of stay for euthanized dogs is assumed to equal 14.5 days. Half of dogs are assumed euthanized for untreatable aggression towards people and 21 days is the time estimated to make that determination. The other half of dogs are assumed euthanized for severe and untreatable health issues and I estimate these dogs are euthanized after 8 days (subsequent to the end of the stray hold and owner surrender protection periods).
  • Adopted dogs are assumed to stay at shelters for varying lengths of time. Adoption length of stay was based on data from a study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare and the figures used (except for space-constrained shelters) are located in a prior blog on pit bull adoption. The data primarily comes from Tompkins County SPCA during a time it saved over 90% of its dogs. This was a fairly conservative data set to use as other no kill open admission shelters’ average length of stay are substantially shorter. Specifically, the following assumptions were made:
    1. 80% and 20% of each communities dogs (including pit bulls) were adults 1 year and older and under 1 year.
    2. Pit bulls were assumed to comprise 50%, 35% and 25% of community dog intake at poor, middle/upper middle class, and wealthy area animal control shelters. While some shelters may have pit bulls comprising more than 50% of their shelter dog population at a given time, this is due to pit bulls longer average length of stay. For example, a shelter with pit bulls making up 50% of their dog intake and pit bulls having an average length of stay three times longer than other dogs will have pit bulls constituting 75% of the dog population. Shelters without animal control contracts were assumed to only have pit bulls make up 10% of their community dogs (i.e. strays and owner surrenders) based on most of these shelters’ highly selective admission practices.
    3. Pit bull adoption length of stay was taken directly from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare study. The average adoption lengths of stay for other breeds from this study were averaged and used for dogs other than pit bulls in the analysis
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they ran out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used pit bull adoption length of stay data from Greenhill Humane Society from March 2013 through May 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted pit bulls in the Greenhill Humane Society data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average dog adoption length of stay determined in the previous bullet and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • Dogs transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community dogs not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month. However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, dogs are moved from adoption (i.e. longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • Animal control shelters have a minimum of 10% of unclaimed dogs go to rescues. To the extent shelters transfer 10% of unclaimed dogs to rescues despite having space (i.e. reclassifying dogs from adoptions with a longer length of stay to rescues with a shorter length of stay), I do not require these facilities to use that space to rescue additional dogs.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter dogs are saved, I assume additional dogs are pulled from nearby states with similar types of dogs. I assume all rescued dogs will not be killed since the transferring and receiving shelters should evaluate these dogs’ behavior. Based on pit bull type dogs having longer lengths of stay at shelters, I assume 80% of dogs rescued from local animal shelters are pit bulls and 20% are non-pit bulls. 80% and 20% of pit bull and non-pit bull type dogs are considered 1 year and older and under 1 year. The average length of stay for rescued pit bulls and other dogs are the same as the adoption length of stay figures above.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many local dogs New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue, rescue from other nearby animal shelters and euthanize.
  • The targeted number of dogs rescued and adopted were capped at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of dogs adopted were set to equal to this cap using the pit bull percentage assumptions above. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted adoptions in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of adoptions in the county to yield the targeted numbers of dogs adopted in the modified model. If the shelter also rescued animals from other shelters, the rescued numbers were also reduced since I assume rescued animals are adopted.

2016 New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Reveal Many High Kill Shelters

11/1/17 Update: An earlier version of this blog had the Beginning Missing Cats table erroneously list Tabby’s Place-Cat Sanctuary as having 112 missing cats. That shelter had no Beginning Missing Cats. That table is now corrected.

Earlier this month, I wrote a blog discussing decreased killing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2016. This blog will explore the 2016 statistics in more detail and assess the current status of the state’s animal shelters.

Most New Jersey animal shelters voluntarily report detailed data to state authorities. Last month, I shared the 2016 summary statistics for New Jersey animal shelters on my Facebook page. Each year, the New Jersey Department of Health requests each licensed animal shelter in the state to submit animal shelter data for the previous year. Animal shelters voluntarily submit this data in the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report.” The New Jersey Department of Health takes these Shelter/Pound Annual Reports and compiles the number of dogs, cats and other animals impounded, redeemed, adopted and euthanized to prepare its Animal Intake and Disposition report. However, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include additional information on how animals were impounded (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, rescued from in-state facilities, rescued from out of state shelters, and cruelty/bite cases/other) and disposed of (i.e. returned to owner, adopted, sent to rescue/another shelter, and died/missing/other outcome). Additionally, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include the number of animals in shelters at the beginning and end of the year as well as the maximum number of animals facilities can hold. Thus, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include very important data not found in the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report.

I compiled the data from these reports and analyze the results in this blog. 2016 statistics for each New Jersey animal shelter are listed at this link. You can also view each “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” at this link.

Garbage Data Raises Serious Questions About New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Statistics

Most New Jersey animal shelters do not properly account for their animals. Simple math dictates the number of animals at a facility at the beginning of the year, plus all animals coming in during the year, less all animals leaving for the period, should equal the number of animals a shelter has at the end of the year. Stunningly, 60 out of 99 shelters reporting these dog statistics and 64 out of 98 facilities submitting this cat data failed to get this right. This raises serious questions about the accuracy of these shelters’ reported statistics. 35 of the 60 shelters with flawed dog statistics and 37 of the 64 facilities with incorrect cat statistics should have had more animals at the end of the year than reported. While these errors could have been due to incorrect counts of the number of animals at facilities, these shelters may have not recorded outcomes, such as animals who were killed, died, or went missing. To put it another way, 1,424 cats and dogs should have had outcomes reported and did not. Thus, there is the potential that as many as 1,424 additional dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing from New Jersey animal shelters than were reported in 2016.

Even worse, a number of animal shelters reported having a different number of animals at the end of 2015 and at the beginning of 2016. Obviously, shelters should report the same number of animals at the end of the prior year and the start of the current year. However, 40 of 99 shelters reported different numbers of dogs at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016. Similarly, 44 of 98 shelters reported different numbers of cats at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016. The worst offenders are listed in the tables below:

2016 Beginning Missing Dogs.jpg

2016 Beginning Missing Cats

Shelters may have failed to classify animals adopted out and sent to rescue properly. Both Paterson Animal Control and Elizabeth Animal Shelter reported no animals were sent to rescues and all dogs and cats leaving their facilities alive were owner reclaims or adoptions. However, intake and disposition records I reviewed at both of these shelters in recent years revealed virtually all “adopted” animals are actually rescued. One has to wonder how many other facilities failed to properly classify adoptions and rescues properly. This data is very important as it provides details on the burden rescues and other shelters are taking on from these facilities.

We need better oversight of New Jersey animal shelters’ data reporting. Currently, these statistics are voluntarily reported and most shelters are not taking this seriously. For example, I noticed a large number of reports were submitted many months after the end of the year. This data should be easy to compile since facilities can utilize animal shelter software programs, some of which are free, to do this task. Furthermore, New Jersey animal shelter laws mandate facilities maintain much of the raw data found in the Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Unfortunately, New Jersey Department of Health inspections routinely find shelters do not properly keep records on animals. We need to make the data reporting mandatory for animal shelters as the shelter reform bill, S3019, does along with serious penalties for significant errors (especially if deliberate). In order for animal shelters to take data reporting seriously, we may also need to require audits of these reports. Thus, these results show we need stronger laws and the New Jersey Department of Health to play a greater role in ensuring reported animal shelter statistics are in fact accurate.

Despite the errors in these reports, the data provided still reveals important information.

More Animals Losing Their Lives in New Jersey Animal Shelters Than Disclosed in Summary Report

The more detailed data in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports allows one to more critically examine the percentage of locally impounded animals dying in New Jersey’s animal shelters. The following table summarizes my analysis of the kill rate calculated from the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report and the data reported in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports.

2016 Dog and Cat Stats

The Animal Intake and Disposition report prepared by the New Jersey Department of Health only allows one to calculate the number of animals killed as a percentage of total animals impounded or intake. I prefer calculating the kill rate as a percentage of outcomes rather than intake as this metric directly compares positive and negative outcomes. Using intake may depress the kill rate since shelters can simply hold animals for a long time to the point of overcrowding. However, that did not happen this year primarily due to several shelters reporting significantly more outcomes than intake. Associated Humane Societies-Newark had the largest discrepancy and it was likely due to the shelter reporting incorrect numbers. Calculating the kill rate based on outcomes rather than intake caused the dog kill rate to go from 8.9% to 8.7% and the cat kill rate to change from 25.4% to 24.8%.

To calculate the statewide kill rate, we must also back out transfers from one New Jersey animal shelter to another state facility to avoid counting animals still in the state’s shelter system or registering two outcomes for the same animal (i.e. one New Jersey animal shelter transfers a dog or cat to another state facility who then adopts out the animal). This adjustment increases the dog kill rate from 8.7% to 9.5% and the cat kill rate from 24.8%% to 26.8%.

In addition, we should increase the kill rate for animals who died or went missing in shelters. In the past, I’ve labeled this metric the death rate as these animals are likely dead or in a very bad situation. Unfortunately, the Shelter/Pound Annual Report includes animals who died or went missing in the “Other” outcome category. The “Other” category contains positive live releases, such as TNR for cats, at a few shelters. While including the “Other” category in the death rate for most shelters is appropriate (i.e. those facilities that don’t do TNR or don’t include cats released through TNR programs in “Other” outcomes), I’m no longer doing this due to an increasing number of shelters implementing TNR. Instead, I calculated the kill rate by subtracting out “Other” outcomes from total outcomes. If a shelter specifies the number of animals included in “Other” that left the shelter alive, I count this as “Other Live Release” and do not back these amounts out of total outcomes. After making this adjustment, the dog kill rate increases from 9.5% to 9.6% and the cat kill rate rises from 26.8% to 28.5%. For those interested in seeing the estimated death rates, I included them in the Appendix to my last blog as well as the supporting spreadsheet.

Also, many shelters transport easy to adopt animals from out of state which artificially increases live release rates. To properly calculate the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives, we need to adjust for transports. Unfortunately, shelters don’t break out their save rates by local and out of state animals. However, most likely nearly all of the out of state animals (primarily puppies and easy to adopt dogs) make it out of shelters alive. Therefore, I back out the number of out of state transports to estimate the local kill rate except for St. Hubert’s. Since St. Hubert’s subsequently transfers many of these animals to other shelters, I only subtract out the number of dogs St. Hubert’s rescues from out of state less the number of dogs it transfers to other shelters. This adjustment increases the New Jersey dog kill rate from 9.6% to 11.9% and the state cat death rate from 28.5% to 28.6%.

Also, I estimate a maximum local kill rate by including the number of unaccounted for animals described in the section above. Making this adjustment increases the maximum potential New Jersey dog kill rate from 11.9% to 14.1% and the maximum potential state cat kill rate from 28.6% to 31.6%.

Some animal shelters quickly return large percentages of their animals to owners. At these shelters, the populations served are typically well-off and animals are licensed and have microchips. To account for the animals facilities actually have to shelter, I calculated a kill rate for non-reclaimed animals and a maximum potential kill rate for non-reclaimed local animals. The non-reclaimed kill rate and maximum potential kill rate for dogs is 13.4% and 22.2%. Non-reclaimed cats had a 30.8% kill rate and a 34.3% maximum potential kill rate. Thus, the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives in our state’s animal shelters may be much higher than the state summary report suggests.

Kill Rates Extremely High at a Number of New Jersey Animal Shelters

Dogs and cats are likely to lose their lives at a number of New Jersey animal shelters. Shelters with the highest kill rates for dogs and cats (excluding very low intake facilities) are listed in the following tables:

2016 Dog Kill Rate Less Other V2

2016 Cat Kill Rate Less Other

Thus, both dogs and cats have a very good chance of leaving many New Jersey animal shelters dead rather than alive.

In terms of raw numbers, the following shelters killed the most animals:

2016 Dogs Killed

2016 Cats Killed.jpg

Many shelters fail to account for large numbers of their animals. As discussed above, a shelter’s number of animals at the end of the year should be calculated as follows:

Beginning number of animals + animals impounded – animals leaving the shelter

Unfortunately, a large number of shelters take in far more animals than they can explain where they went. Shelters having the highest numbers of unaccounted for dogs and cats are listed in the following tables:

Unaccounted for Dogs.jpg

Unaccounted for Cats.jpg

Dog and cat kill rates at many shelters may be even higher if these unaccounted for animals are counted as killed. If we only consider animal shelters which reported transporting few or no animals in 2016, facilities with the highest dog and cat kill rates considering the unaccounted for animals described above are as follows:

2016 Dog Maximum Potential Kill Rate

2016 Cat Maximum Potential Kill Rate

Thus, the plight of dogs and cats may be far worse in New Jersey animal shelters when we consider the unaccounted for animals.

Shelters Turn Their Backs on New Jersey’s Animals

New Jersey animal shelters rescue far more dogs from out of state than from other New Jersey animal shelters. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters transferred in 7,948 dogs from out of state animal shelters and only rescued 2,669 dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. However, St. Hubert’s frequently transfers a substantial number of its transports quickly to its partners in New Jersey and other states. If I back these out of the transports figure, it decreases from 7,948 dogs to 6,117 dogs. As a comparison, the total and adjusted transports in 2015 were 5,350 dogs and 5,004 dogs. While the state’s local kill rate decreased in 2016, it is likely the local kill rate would have decreased by more if not for the massive number of out of state transports.

While perhaps some shelters, such as Animal Alliance in Lambertville, take animals from nearby New York or Pennsylvania animal control shelters, the overwhelming majority of these dogs most certainly came from down south. In fact, New Jersey animal shelters transported more dogs from out of state than dogs who were killed in New Jersey animal shelters. This number does not include additional out of state dogs transported into New Jersey by rescues operating without a physical facility. Shelters transporting the most dogs from out of state were as follows:

Dogs Transported In

Return to Owner Rates Better Than Average at Most Shelters

Return to owners (“RTO”) rates are one of the positive results from this analysis. Overall, the dog and cat RTO rates of 56% and 10% are several times the national average. However, several shelters included cats placed into TNR programs as owner reclaims and therefore overstated their cat reclaim rates. As I noted in my blog on reuniting lost pets with owners, return to owner rates are highly correlated with socioeconomic status. Wealthier people likely have more resources/knowledge to license and microchip their dogs. Similarly, people with greater incomes are more likely to afford reclaim fees or ransom payments to animal shelters. New Jersey’s RTO rates for dogs clearly fit this pattern with shelters serving wealthy towns returning most stray dogs to owners while certain urban shelters are returning a much lower percentage of lost dogs to owners. Clearly, we need to help people in urban areas get microchips and ID tags on their dogs. Additionally, we need to create pet help desks at shelters in these cities to help people pay the reclaim fees, which are often mandated by the cities themselves, when necessary. The statewide cat reclaim rate, like figures from across the nation, is still very low and suggests shelters need to figure out better ways to get lost cats back to their families.

To get a better idea of how organizations are doing with animals they actually have to shelter, I also examined what percentage of non-reclaimed dogs lose their lives at each facility. Shelters with the highest non-reclaimed dogs kill rates are as follows:

Non-Reclaimed Dog Kill Rate

Shelters with the highest maximum non-reclaimed dogs kill rates are as follows (excluding facilities that reported transporting many dogs in and taking very few animals in):

Max Potential Nonreclaimed Kill Rate.jpg

Shelters Leave Animal Enclosures Empty While Dogs and Cats Die

New Jersey animal shelters fail to use their space to save animals. Based on the average number of animals at all of New Jersey’s animal shelters at the beginning and the end of 2016, only 46% of dog and 65% of cat capacity was used. Given December is a low intake month, I also increased these populations to an average intake month. This adjustment only raised the dog capacity utilization to 47%. While this adjustment did increase the cat population to a level exceeding capacity, it is highly unlikely this happened in reality. Shelter inspection reports I’ve reviewed did not reveal significantly larger dog and cat populations in the summer and winter months. This is likely due to the influx of highly adoptable kittens having short lengths of stay and shelters killing cats with empty cages.

Many animal shelters with low kill rates failed to rescue animals with their excess space. Additionally, other shelters used little of their available space and still killed a large percentage of their animals. Some examples after increasing the population (and therefore capacity utilization) based on the adjustment discussed above are as follows:

Space Usage Dogs.jpg

Space Usage Cats

Thus, many New Jersey animal shelters are killing dogs and cats despite having ample space to house these animals.

New Jersey’s animal shelters continue to fail the state’s animals. The state’s animal shelters only impound 8.5 dogs and cats per 1,000 New Jersey residents. If we just count animals originating from New Jersey, the state’s animal shelters only impound 7.6 dogs and cats per 1,000 people. As a comparison, the average community in the country impounds anywhere from 14-30 animals per 1,000 residents based on estimates from Animal People Newspaper and the Humane Society of the United States. Despite New Jersey shelters impounding a fraction of the animals other no kill communities take in on a per capita basis, the state’s animal control facilities continue to kill and allow animals to die under their care. Even worse, many of these shelters can’t even properly keep track of how many animals leave their facilities dead or alive. Our state’s animals deserve far better treatment than this. Contact your local city council members and mayor and demand better from the animal shelter serving your community. We can do so much better and it is time our shelters operate this way.

 

New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Improve in 2016

In 2015, New Jersey animal shelter statistics significantly improved. More cats left the state’s shelters alive, but the dog live release rate increased primarily due to lower animal intake. While the decrease in the kill rate in 2015 was great news, it might not be sustainable if shelters take in more animals.

How did New Jersey animal shelters perform in 2016 compared to 2015? What caused these changes? What shelters had positive and negative impacts on the state’s kill rate in 2016?

Killing Decreases at a Slower Rate in 2016

The table below summarizes the dog statistics in 2016 and 2015. To see how I calculate the various metrics, please review the footnotes in this link and my blog analyzing the 2015 statistics. You can view the 2016 statistics here.

This year I replaced the “death rate” metrics with “kill rate less other” ones. More shelters are including cats released into TNR programs in the other outcomes category. Therefore, counting other outcomes as died or missing may no longer be appropriate for cats. As such, I subtracted other outcomes from total outcomes to calculate a kill rate based on known outcomes. In order to be consistent, I also used this calculation for dogs. To see the “death rate” calculations, please look in the Appendix at the end of this blog. The year over year changes between the “kill rate less other” and “death rate” calculations were not significantly different.

All dog and cat statistics improved in 2016 verses 2015. On the positive side, the kill rate for non-reclaimed dogs decreased more than the other kill rates. Since high reclaim rates sometimes mask killing of dogs at shelters, this is good news. On the other hand, the much more modest improvement in the maximum potential kill rate metrics are concerning. Since more animals were unaccounted for in 2016 than 2015, this could indicate shelters killed animals they did not include in their statistics.

2016 Verses 2015 Dog Kill Rates.jpg

2016 Verses 2015 Cat Kill Rates

All of these metrics improved at much slower rate in 2016 compared to 2015. Overall, the dog kill rate adjusted for New Jersey transfers in 2016 only decreased at 57% of the rate as in 2015 (1.7% verses 3.0% decrease). Similarly, the cat kill rate adjusted for New Jersey transfers only decreased at 54% of the rate as in 2015 (3.7% verses 6.9% decrease). Since the year over year change in the death rate metrics in the Appendix were very similar to the kill rate data in the tables above, we can compare those death rate tables to the same data from my blog from last year. The maximum local death rate for dogs in 2016 decreased at just 10% (0.5% decrease in 2016 and 5.2% drop in 2015) of the rate in 2015. For cats, this metric decreased at just 16% of the rate in 2015 (1.6% decrease in 2016 and 9.8% drop in 2015). Finally, the non-reclaimed dog death rate decreased at 72% of the rate in 2015 (2.8% decrease in 2016 and 3.9% decrease in 2015) while the non-reclaimed cat death rate dropped by 34% of the rate in 2015 (2.4% decrease in 2016 verses 7.1% decrease in 2015).

While the decreased rate of improvement in 2016 is disappointing, this may be due to an unusually large drop in killing in 2015. In 2016, both the dog and cat kill rates adjusted for New Jersey transfers decreased more than these metrics did in 2014 (dogs: 1.7% verses 0.3% decrease; cats: 3.7% verses 3.4% decrease).

Positive Outcomes Drive Increased Life Saving

New Jersey animal shelters significantly increased the number of dogs leaving their facilities alive in 2016. Despite animal intake increasing (i.e. reflected in 3,619 more dog outcomes and a 12% rise from 2015), New Jersey animal shelters reported killing 242 fewer dogs. Even if we count “other” outcomes as died or missing, 219 fewer dogs lost their lives in 2016. Adoptions and transfers to rescues increased by 1,873 dogs or 12% and 1,731 dogs or 62%. While dogs transported in accounts for some of the increased adoptions, local adoptions still increased by 700 dogs.

2016 Vs 2015 Dog Outcomes.jpg

Even if I exclude St. Hubert’s, which transports many dogs in and quickly transports those dogs out (i.e. inflating total outcomes and sent to rescue amounts), the general trend remains the same.

2016 Vs 2015 Dog Outcomes Excluding St. Hubert'sThe following shelters contributed most to the decrease in the statewide dog kill rate.

2016 Verses 2015 Dog Kill Rate Largest Impacts.jpg

The table below provides insight as to why these shelters decreased the statewide dog kill rate the most. As you can see, all the shelters, which are relatively large, had kill rates over 10% in 2015 and all except Associated Humane Societies-Newark reported decreases in those kill rates. All the shelters except for Burlington County Animal Shelter, AHS-Newark and Cumberland County SPCA had fewer outcomes primarily due to decreased dog intake. Since outcomes and intake increased overall in the state and these facilities have above average kill rates, these shelters had a smaller impact on the state’s dog kill rate in 2016. This also applies to AHS-Newark since its dog outcomes were essentially flat last year.

2016 Large Decrease in Dog Kill Rate Shelters.jpg

The following table explains why most of these shelters’ kill rates decreased. In the case of Burlington County Animal Shelter, it adopted out many more dogs. On the other hand, Cumberland County SPCA sent more animals to rescues. Almost Home Animal Shelter switched from operating a kill shelter with animal control contracts to a limited admission facility. Most the other facilities except for AHS-Newark had fewer positive outcomes due to fewer animal outcomes, but the decrease in killing was greater. Thus, these shelters improved primarily due to having fewer animals come in.

2016 Verses 2015 Dog Decrease in Kill Rate Outcomes.jpg

Other Shelters Increased Statewide Dog Kill Rate

While the statewide dog kill rate decreased in 2016, several shelters partially offset this decrease. Specifically, the following shelters increased the dog kill rate, but this was more than offset by the facilities above.

2016 Shelters Increasing State Dog Kill Rate

The following table provides more details on these shelters. Franklin Township Animal Shelter’s dog kill rate increased dramatically to a very high level in 2016. Tyco Animal Control-Wyckoff’s increase in its dog kill rate in 2016 was due to it taking in dogs in 2016 and not 2015. All the other shelters reported kill rate increases from relatively low levels. However, the increased dog kill rates at some facilities could reflect changing management philosophies. For example, Old Bridge Animal Shelter effectively banned its volunteers and that could have resulted in the shelter killing more dogs for behavioral and other reasons. Finally, several shelters having much lower kill rates than the statewide kill rate took fewer dogs in during 2016 causing the statewide kill rate to increase.

2016 Dog Kill Rate Increasing Shelters

The table below explains why most of these shelters’ dog kill rates increased. Despite total outcomes increasing, all types of live releases decreased at Franklin Township Animal Shelter while the facility killed many more dogs. Liberty Humane Society’s and Edison Animal Shelter’s increased kill rates were driven by lower owner reclaims and more dogs killed. Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s increased kill rate seemed to result from fewer adoptions and more dogs killed. Montville Animal Shelter’s owner reclaims and adoptions decreased significantly while it killed more animals. Most of the other shelters killed a greater percentage of dogs and had fewer live releases relative to total outcomes in 2016 verses 2015.

2016 Dog Kill Rate Increasing Shelters Outcomes.jpg

More Cats Leave Shelters Alive

New Jersey animal shelters significantly increased the number of cats leaving their facilities alive in 2016. Despite animal intake increasing (i.e. reflected in 1,717 more cat outcomes and a 4% rise from 2015), New Jersey animal shelters reported killing 1,219 fewer cats. Even if we count “other” outcomes as died or missing, 872 fewer cats lost their lives in 2016. Adoptions and transfers to rescues increased by 929 cats or 4% and 605 cats or 8%. Additionally, the significant increase in return to owners of 1,055 cats or 48% and other outcomes of 347 cats or 12% likely reflects shelters practicing TNR/SNR more.

2016 Cat Changes

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

2016 verses 2015 cat kill rate shelter decreases.jpg

The following table provides insight as to why these shelters decreased the statewide cat kill rate the most. As you can see, all the shelters, which are relatively large, had kill rates over 20% in 2015 and all reported decreases in those kill rates. All the shelters except for Bergen County Animal Shelter and Camden County Animal Shelter had fewer outcomes primarily due to decreased cat intake. Since outcomes and intake increased overall in the state and most of these facilities have above average kill rates, these shelters had a smaller impact on the state’s kill rate in 2016.

2016 verses 2015 cat kill rate decreases shelters.jpg

The table below explains why most of these shelters’ kill rates decreased. Cumberland County SPCA’s kill rate decreased due to it sending many more cats to rescues. Bergen County Animal Shelter’s kill rate decreased due to the organization sending many more cats into its TNR program (classified as return to owner). Camden County Animal Shelter’s kill rate dropped due to increased adoptions and more cats sent to rescues. Almost Home Animal Shelter switched from operating a kill shelter with animal control contracts to a limited admission facility. The other facilities had fewer positive outcomes due to fewer animal outcomes, but the decrease in killing was greater. Thus, these shelters improved primarily due to having fewer animals come in.

2016 Verses 2015 Cat LR Improve Shelter Outcomes.jpg

Other Shelters Increased Statewide Cat Kill Rate

While the statewide cat kill rate decreased in 2016, several shelters partially offset this decrease. Specifically, the following facilities increased the cat kill rate, but this was more than offset by the shelters above.

2016 verses 2015 cat increases kill rate

The following table provides more details on these shelters. T. Blumig Kennels’ cat kill rate increased dramatically to a very high level in 2016. Tyco Animal Control-Wyckoff’s increase in its cat kill rate in 2016 is due to it taking in cats in 2016 and not 2015. All the other shelters, except for Burlington County Animal Shelter, reported increases in their cat kill rates in 2016. Finally, many of these shelters had above average kill rates and took many more cats in during the year. Therefore, these shelters’ cat outcomes represented a larger portion of total cat outcomes in New Jersey and caused an increase in the statewide cat kill rate.

2016 verses 2015 cat kr increases shelters.jpg

The table below explains why most of these shelters’ kill rates increased. Most of these facilities’ kill rates increased due to these shelters taking in and killing more animals in 2016. Woodbridge Animal Shelter had several hoarding cases that increased intake and killing. These facilities need to improve their adoption and other programs to handle increased intake. AHS-Newark and Hamilton Township Animal Shelter reported a significant decrease in cat adoptions despite having more total cat outcomes. T. Blumig Kennels reported significantly fewer cat adoptions and less cats sent to rescue despite total cat outcomes barely decreasing.

2016 cat kr increase shelter outcomes.jpg

Advocacy Works

Overall, New Jersey’s 2016 animal shelter statistics are good news. While killing decreased at a lower rate last year than in 2015, New Jersey animal shelters took in more animals in 2016. Therefore, New Jersey animal shelters had to work harder to save additional animals. Given New Jersey animal shelters saved more animals, this suggests the state’s shelters as a whole are improving their lifesaving programs.

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

That being said, many New Jersey animal shelters are still horrific. In my next blog, I will identify these shelters and detail how they are failing their animals.

Appendix – Death Rates 

The statistics below calculate “death rates” assuming animals in “Other” outcomes lost their lives or went missing using the methodology from last year’s blog. The change in the “death rates” used below and “kill rates” in the tables above from 2016 and 2015 were not significantly different.

2016 Verses 2015 Dog Death Rates

2016 Verses 2015 Cat Death Rates

Paterson’s Pathetic Pound – Part 2: Illegal Activities

In Part 1, I reported details on Paterson Animal Shelter’s high kill rate. In this blog, I will examine whether the shelter complies with state shelter laws. In addition, I will discuss ways the shelter can turn things around.

Illegal Killing During Seven Day Protection Period

Under state law, shelters cannot kill either owner surrendered or stray animals until seven days pass. The purpose of this law is to provide owners a chance to reclaim their lost pets and prevent shelters from immediately killing animals. In practice, the New Jersey Department of Health allows shelters to euthanize animals during this seven day period if facilities meet both of the following conditions:

  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

Paterson Animal Shelter illegally killed animals during the seven day protection period on a massive scale. In 2015, the shelter killed 125 cats and dogs, 47 cats and 78 dogs during this seven day protection period. Remarkably, Paterson Animal Shelter killed 71% of the cats and dogs, 98% of the cats and 61% of the dogs it killed in 2015 during this seven day period. Even worse, Paterson Animal Shelter killed 96 out of the 125 (77%) cats and dogs, 41 out of the 47 (87%) cats and 55 out of the 78 dogs (71%) it killed during the seven day protection period on the very first day. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter killed large numbers of animals during the seven day protection period and on the very day many of these animals entered the shelter.

Paterson Animal Shelter killed large percentages of owner surrendered animals during the seven day protection period. Specifically, Paterson Animal Shelter killed 23% of owner surrendered cats and dogs, 12% of owner surrendered cats and 33% of owner surrendered dogs during the seven day protection period.

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Paterson Animal Shelter had none of the legally required documentation that would allow it to euthanize these animals during the seven day protection period. While the shelter wrote things like “sick”, “grave condition”, and “tumor” in the records of some of these animals, the shelter provided no veterinary records documenting these animals were truly hopelessly suffering and that the veterinarian euthanized the animal as required by state law. In a small number of cases, the shelter mentioned some of the animals were taken to its outside veterinarian and euthanized, but this is not sufficient to comply with state law. Therefore, the shelter violated state shelter law even if some of these animals were hopelessly suffering.

The shelter killed many animals during the seven day protection period for convenience. In fact, Paterson Animal Shelter killed 27 of the 78 dogs (35%) during the seven day protection period for behavioral reasons. The shelter also killed 7 of the 47 cats (15%) for behavioral reasons that clearly indicated the animals were not hopelessly suffering.

Dog ID# 47962 was a 4 year old female Cane Corso surrendered by her owner to the Paterson Animal Shelter on December 6, 2015. Based on the shelter’s record keeping methodology described in the second image below, the date in the upper right corner indicates when the dog was killed. Paterson Animal Shelter killed this Cane Corso in the prime of her life after just 2 days and stated she was “very vicious” as the reason. Even if this dog was truly dangerous to people and would not respond to behavioral rehabilitation efforts (impossible to determine after just 2 days), a shelter can never kill a dog for behavioral reasons until seven days go by. Even worse, Paterson Animal Shelter illegally killed this dog after the New Jersey Department of Health sent out a directive on October 20, 2015 clarifying state law requiring shelters to not kill owner surrendered and stray animals during the seven day protection period. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter illegally killed this dog.

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Ghost was a 5 year old pit bull surrendered by his owner to the Paterson Animal Shelter on November 30, 2015. After just one day, Paterson Animal Shelter illegally killed Ghost for being “not friendly.”

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Dog ID# 48012 was a female mixed breed dog surrendered by her owner to the Paterson Animal Shelter on December 29, 2015. Despite state law prohibiting the killing of owner surrendered animals for seven days, Paterson Animal Shelter killed this dog on the day she arrived at the facility for being “not adoptable.”

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Cat ID# 47557 contained 2 white and gray cats that were surrendered by their owner to the Paterson Animal Shelter on July 24, 2015. Despite having an owner, Paterson Animal Shelter deemed both cats “wild” and “not friendly” and killed the two animals on the day they arrived at the facility per the euthanasia log below. Clearly, no one can determine if cats are feral, particularly ones that had an owner, as soon as they arrive at a shelter. However, even if these cats were truly feral, Paterson Animal Shelter cannot kill them until seven days pass. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter illegally killed these two cats.

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Dog ID# 47955 was a 1 year old pit bull surrendered to the Paterson Animal Shelter on December 2, 2015. Paterson Animal Shelter killed this young dog six days later for being “sick”, but did not provide any additional details. The shelter provided no veterinary records to prove this animal was hopelessly suffering for this or any other animal despite my OPRA requests for such information. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter appeared to illegally kill this young dog during the seven day protection period.

Dog ID 47955.jpg

Dog ID # 47630 was a 4 year old pit bull surrendered to the Paterson Animal Shelter on November 17, 2015. On that same day, Paterson Animal Shelter killed this dog for being “sick”, but provided no documentation that the dog was hopelessly suffering. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter appeared to illegally kill this dog during the seven day protection period.

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Cat ID # 48010 contained 5 cats that were surrendered by their owner to the Paterson Animal Shelter on December 29, 2015. The record also stated it had 6 cats, but I assume that was a mistake. The shelter’s euthanasia log shows the shelter killed all 5 cats on the day the animals arrived at the facility. Paterson Animal Shelter simply wrote “old” and “sick”, but provided no veterinary documents to prove the animals were hopelessly suffering and euthanized by a veterinarian. Most importantly, it is next to impossible that all 5 cats were hopelessly suffering. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter clearly violated the seven day protection period.

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

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

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

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

Paterson Animal Shelter’s decision to sedate virtually every animal instead of comforting these creatures speaks volumes about how the shelter feels about animals. While some animals are aggressive and require sedatives, surely a good number of these animals were not vicious or incapable of being comforted.

To make matters worse, Paterson Animal Shelter’s use of pure ketamine as a pre-euthanasia drug is cruel. The Humane Society of United State Euthanasia Reference Manual states shelters should not use ketamine alone to sedate an animal for killing as it makes the animal’s muscles rigid and the injection stings so much that the animal reacts very negatively to it. If that was not bad enough, large doses can cause convulsions and seizures.

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

Paterson Animal Shelter’s use of another pre-euthanasia sedative, pure xylazine, is not humane and also puts shelter staff at risk. The Humane Society of the United States Euthanasia Reference Manual recommends shelters not use xylazine alone as it may cause vomiting, the animal to act violently to sudden noises and movements, the animal to bite, and makes it more difficult to inject the euthanasia drug.

Despite these advantages, xylazine is not recommended for use as a pre-euthanasia drug by itself because: a) it commonly causes vomiting, particularly in cats and in any animal that has recently eaten; b) though sedated, the animal remains conscious, and may react violently to sudden noises and movements; c) it may dangerously reduce the animal’s natural bite inhibition, making it potentially even more dangerous to handle; and d) it lowers the animal’s blood pressure to the point that it can be difficult to inject the sodium pentobarbital for euthanasia. For these reasons, xylazine is recommended for use only when combined with another drug (like ketamine to create PreMix, above), that tempers these negative effects.

Euthanasia and Intake and Disposition Records Do Not Comply With State Law

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.

Establish and maintain, in accordance with N.J.A.C. 8:23A-1.13, euthanasia records that contain the body weight and dosage of all euthanasia, immobilizing, and tranquilizing agents administered to each animal.

Many of Paterson Animal Shelter’s euthanasia logs failed to document the weight of the animals killed/euthanized. Additionally, many of the weights listed had suspiciously round numbers like 20 pounds, 25 pounds, 70 pounds, etc. that possibly point to shelter staff estimating weights. If animals received too small of a dose of euthanasia drugs due to not being weighed, it is possible some animals were dumped or put into an incinerator still alive.

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N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.13(a) requires shelters keep intake and disposition records containing the following information for each animal the facility impounds:

There shall be kept at each kennel, pet shop, shelter or pound a record of all animals received and/or disposed of. Such record shall state the date each animal was received, description of animal, license number, breed, age and sex; name and address of person from whom acquired; date euthanized and method, or name and address of person to whom sold or otherwise transferred.

Most of Paterson Animal Shelter’s intake and disposition records did not include the animal’s age. Additionally, most of the shelter’s cat intake and disposition records also did not list the animal’s breed. Finally, many of the shelter’s records contained multiple animals on the same record under the same ID number. Therefore, Paterson Animal Shelter did not retain all the required information for each impounded animal as the New Jersey Department of Health explained in its August 26, 2009 inspection report on Associated Humane Societies-Newark.

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Shelter Lacks Any Records Proving it Provides Veterinary Care and Has a Disease Control Program

Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.9(d), animal shelters must provide “at least prompt basic veterinary care” to “sick, diseased, injured or lame animals.” In practice, New Jersey Department of Health inspectors require shelters to retain veterinary records to prove the shelter complies with this law.

Paterson Animal Shelter did not maintain veterinary records during 2015. Despite my repeated OPRA requests, the shelter stated it had no veterinary records at the shelter or with its outside veterinarian.

Furthermore, Paterson Animal Shelter’s veterinarian invoices listed no explanation for the services performed. Specifically, Blue Cross Dog and Cat Hospital charged the City of Paterson $2,000 a month for unknown services. Based on both the shelter and veterinarian providing me no medical records, I have to assume the City of Paterson pays this veterinarian to act as the supervising veterinarian, to kill animals, and do little else.

As a result of Paterson Animal Shelter’s lack of any veterinary records, the shelter appears to provide little to no veterinary care to its animals other than killing.

Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.9(a), shelters “shall establish and maintain a program of disease control and adequate health care (program) under the supervision and assistance of a doctor of veterinary medicine.” Furthermore, “the program shall address the physical and psychological well-being of animals at the facility, including stress-induced behaviors, such as repetitious behavior or vocalizations, from auditory, visual, and olfactory stimuli.” Finally, the supervising veterinarian must sign a form certifying such a program is in place. Thus, animal shelters must develop a program to address physical and mental disease at their facilities.

Paterson Animal Shelter has no written policies and procedures. Specifically, the City of Paterson’s response to my request for such policies and procedures stated the shelter follows the state’s shelter laws. In other words, the shelter has no written disease control program let alone other policies, such as intake, adoption, and rescue. Frankly, it is stunning that the animal shelter in the state’s third largest city has no documented policies.

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Shelter May Violate Operating Hours Law

Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.10(b), an animal control shelter must have public access hours to allow people to reclaim their lost pets. The law states “the hours for public access shall be at least two hours each business day Monday through through Friday and two hours Saturday or Sunday, excluding legal holidays.”

Paterson Animal Shelter’s compliance with the law is questionable. On weekends, the shelter is only open by appointment only from 9 am to 3 pm. Based on my interpretation of the law, being open by appointment only on weekends does not meet the public access requirement. Regardless, any shelter requiring people make an appointment to visit the facility on weekends is not serious about saving lives. Similarly, the shelter’s very limited weekday hours, which are limited to two hours in the morning and one hour in the afternoon, make it extremely difficult for working people to reclaim, rescue or adopt an animal.

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Paterson Division of Health Fails to Perform Proper Annual Shelter Inspections

Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A 1.2(b), the local health authority must inspect an animal shelter each year and issue a certificate indicating the shelter complies with state shelter laws. After requesting the Paterson Division of Health’s 2014, 2015 and 2016 Paterson Animal Shelter inspection reports, the City of Paterson could only provide a June 15, 2015 inspection report. Subsequent to my request, the Paterson Division of Health conducted its 2016 inspection on November 29, but this inspection occurred five and half months after the required deadline for the annual inspection (i.e. 2016 inspection occurred seventeen and half months after the 2015 inspection). Presumably, the Paterson Division of Health did not inspect the Paterson Animal Shelter in 2014 and the shelter therefore should not have had a license to operate during 2014 and for five and half months in both 2015 and 2016.

The Paterson Division of Health’s 2015 and 2016 inspection reports provide no confidence that the shelter complies with state shelter laws. The 2015 inspection, which took just an hour and half, missed all the shelter’s illegal killing of animals during the seven day protection period, the lack of a documented disease control program and veterinary records, missing required information in the intake and disposition and euthanasia records, and possible violations of the public operating hours requirement on weekends. In fact, the inspection report’s only comment stated “No Chapter 23A violations observed at the time of this inspection.” Similarly, the 2016 inspection report also only wrote essentially the same comment. Thus, the Paterson Division of Health failed to do even the most basic inspection.

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 Paterson Animal Shelter is under the same municipal government as the animal shelter. Clearly, this is a conflict of interest and recent experience in the state shows it plays out in poor quality inspections.

Passaic County SPCA Fails to Crack Down on Illegal Killing

The Passaic County SPCA has jurisdiction over the shelter and can enforce animal cruelty laws. For example, the Passaic County SPCA could potentially file animal cruelty charges related to the shelter illegally killing certain animals during the seven day protection period. Stuart Goldman, who is the former President and Chief Humane Law Enforcement Officer for the Monmouth County SPCA, recently brought such a case alleging this against the Gloucester County Animal Shelter.

The Passaic County SPCA has an inherent conflict of interest in enforcing animal cruelty laws against the Paterson Animal Shelter. The Paterson Animal Shelter Chief Animal Control Officer, John Decando, also is a law enforcement officer with the Passaic County SPCA. Thus, the Passaic County SPCA’s lack of action is not surprising.

Shelter Budget Reflects Misguided Priorities

Paterson spends almost its entire shelter budget on employee salaries. The shelter’s 2015 budget reveals the Paterson Animal Shelter allocated $270,234 for its ACO salaries and $25,000 for a part-time veterinarian. Shockingly, 93% of the shelter’s budget went to pay the shelter’s ACOs and its shelter veterinarian (who provided no details on the services he performed in 2015). Even worse, virtually none of the remaining $23,900 in the shelter’s budget seems to go to saving lives. For example, $5,200 goes to janitor services and another $7,000 is allocated to a “clothing allowance.” One has to wonder why ACOs need $7,000 to buy clothes? Thus, the Paterson Animal Shelter appears to allocate virtually no money to saving the animals the public expects it to save.

Paterson Animal Shelter has enough funds to save lives. While the Paterson Animal Shelter’s budget is not huge, it still received $327 per dog and cat impounded during 2015 ($252 per dog and cat using the facility’s 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report animal intake figures). As a comparison, Michigan’s Chippewa County Animal Shelter, which also serves an impoverished area, received $242 per dog and cat and saved 98% of the 402 dogs and 488 cats it took in during 2015. In contrast to Paterson Animal Shelter, Chippewa County Animal Shelter relies heavily on volunteer and foster programs to save lives.

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Shelter Must Comply with State Law

The Paterson Animal Shelter has some positive things going for it. Many times the shelter waived fees for people surrendering as well as reclaiming animals due to hardships. Additionally, the shelter has low owner reclaims fees that help increase the chance animals are returned to owners. Finally, the shelter worked very closely with Second Chance Pet Adoption League and Start II rescue to save many animals.

That being said, Paterson Animal Shelter has significant problems that it must immediately address to comply with state law. Paterson Animal Shelter must cease killing animals, whether stray or owner surrenders, during the seven day protection period unless a veterinarian documents why the animals are hopelessly suffering and that veterinarian euthanizes the animal. The shelter and its veterinarian must create a written disease control program addressing both the physical and mental needs of its animals. Furthermore, the shelter must provide veterinary care to animals at the shelter and retain all records to document it is doing so. Also, the shelter must develop specific euthanasia protocols, which must include weighing animals and using recommended euthanasia procedures in the Humane Society of United State Euthanasia Reference Manual. Finally, Paterson Animal Shelter must include all required animal information, such as age and breed, in its intake and disposition records and remain open for at least two hours on weekends. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter must do many things to comply with the bare minimum standards in state shelter laws.

Chief Animal Control Officer Must Turn Shelter Around or Resign

Chief ACO, John DeCando, has been the face of the Paterson Animal Shelter for more than four decades. Mr. DeCando has led the animal shelter since 1975 and often is covered in the media. Unfortunately, Mr. DeCando only appears to contact the media to bring the spotlight on himself. For example, he frequently gives interviews about animal cruelty cases portraying himself as a hero, but to my knowledge never uses the media to save animals at his shelter.

John DeCando came under fire in recent years for collecting huge sums of money. From 2006 to 2010, Mr. DeCando claimed he was on call after hours and entitled to double time pay totaling $144,000 despite not doing any actual work approximately 80% of the time. Even worse, John DeCando’s own union president stated Mr. DeCando was not entitled to this pay. In fact, John DeCando’s subordinates only logged less than a month of this overtime during this five year period suggesting Mr. DeCando kept this sweet money for almost nothing deal entirely for himself. One has to wonder how many dogs, cats and wild animals could have received veterinary care with John DeCando’s $144,000 windfall?

While John DeCando’s failures at the Paterson Animal Shelter are serious, I do think Paterson should give him the opportunity to turn the shelter around. Mr. DeCando is charismatic and has the ability to run the shelter at a high level if he chooses to do so. He also has done some good things, such as waiving fees in hardship cases. Also, city officials do not seem to help him much with the shelter. As such, Paterson’s elected officials should give John DeCando a reasonable period of time to bring the shelter into compliance with state law and enact progressive lifesaving policies to increase the shelter’s dog live release rate to at least 95% and its cat live release rate to 92% or higher.

Paterson Animal Shelter Must Implement Lifesaving Policies

Paterson Animal Shelter should create a pet surrender prevention program to reduce intake at this space constrained facility. Nearly 40% of the dogs and more than 50% of the cats arriving at Paterson Animal Shelter were surrendered by their owners. If the shelter is coercing owners, who love their animals, to surrender their pets, then the shelter needs to cease doing so. Ideally, Paterson Animal Shelter would reach out to a group like Downtown Dog Rescue, which runs a highly successful pet surrender prevention program on behalf of the South Los Angeles City Shelter and three other municipal shelters, to learn how it can recruit a private organization to volunteer at the Paterson Animal Shelter to help families keep their pets. In 2015, Downtown Dog Rescue kept 1,172 pets, including 1,063 dogs and 108 cats, out of the South Los Angeles Shelter at an average cost per animal ranging from $50 to $150. Downtown Dog Rescue helps struggling pet owners pay fees, fines, and pet care costs and fix broken fences and dog houses. Paterson Animal Shelter can also reach out to national organizations, such as the ASPCA, Best Friends and HSUS, to seek guidance on recruiting such an organization as well as obtaining any additional funding that may entice a private group to run a shelter intervention program.

Paterson Animal Shelter can also move towards managed intake for owner surrenders. Under a managed intake program, a shelter uses various techniques to slow down and reduce intake. For example, a shelter will typically require owners to wait for a short period of time, such as a week, or make an appointment to surrender an animal. At the same time, the shelter will offer advice and provide materials to solve various pet problems. Often times, pet owners reevaluate their decision and keep the animal during the short wait period. However, the shelter must always immediately take in an animal the pet owner refuses to keep during this short period or if the pet is in a dangerous situation. As a result of this program, Lynchburg Humane Society found 60% of people wanting to surrender their pets ended up keeping their animal or rehomed the animal themselves with no increase in pet abandonment. Similarly, Liberty Humane Society in Jersey City achieved a live release rate of around 90% after instituting an appointment program.

The City of Paterson must ensure all animals are vaccinated upon arriving at the shelter to reduce the risk of disease. In the case of owner surrenders, the shelter should vaccinate the animals prior to the waiting period discussed above to ensure the animal has time to build immunity. In the end, this small investment will save the shelter money, particularly since it will need to hold animals longer to comply with state law.

The City of Paterson must shift money from animal control to lifesaving and heavily rely on volunteers. Given virtually all of the shelter’s budget is paid to ACOs, the shelter should reallocate a substantial portion of these funds to actually care for animals. Additionally, the shelter should recruit a “Friends” group to help raise funds for the shelter. To assist the effort, the City of Paterson should create a clear plan to reach a 90% plus live release rate and attain no kill status. Furthermore, the shelter should actively recruit volunteers to help in all aspects of caring for animals and getting those pets quickly into good homes. Simply having a single rescue make pleas to pull dogs from an unnamed shelter is not enough.

The shelter must stay open for many more hours to allow people to save animals. Specifically, the shelter must stay open seven days a week for at least six hours each day and include weekday evening hours. Simply put, people cannot reclaim, rescue or adopt dogs and cats if the shelter is often closed.

Paterson Animal Shelter must create a high volume adoption program. Currently, people can adopt unaltered and unvaccinated animals for $28, but the shelter makes no effort to market animals. Unsurprisingly, Paterson Animal Shelter only adopted out 3 cats and 15 dogs in 2015. Obviously, the shelter must vaccinate and alter all animals it adopts out. Furthermore, it should do so immediately for owner surrenders and right after the hold period for strays. The shelter can use volunteers to take attractive photos and videos, write engaging profiles, and market the animals on social media and adoption web sites. Additionally, John DeCando, who is very savvy with the media, should use his connections to frequently promote adoption, particularly when the facility is at near capacity.

Paterson Animal Shelter and nearby facilities should create a coalition to rescue dogs and cats. Based on my recent analyses on New Jersey animal shelter performance for dogs and cats, Paterson Animal Shelter would still need to send a substantial number of animals to rescues or other shelters even if it adopts out animals at a good rate. Specifically, Paterson Animal Shelter should have sent 232 dogs and 156 cats to rescues and/or other facilities in 2015. While Paterson Animal Shelter exceeded those goals, placing so many animals with rescues puts an unfair burden on these cash-strapped groups and also prevents rescues from saving animals from other shelters. As a result, other nearby shelters should step up and take animals from Paterson Animal Shelter after the facility runs out of space.

Paterson Animal Shelter can team up with a number of nearby shelters to save all of the facility’s healthy and treatable animals. If other nearby shelters perform as they should and quickly move animals out of their facilities, they can easily save Paterson Animal Shelter’s animals. For example, the nearby Wayne Animal Shelter, Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge and Pequannock Animal Shelter could save all healthy and treatable dogs that the Paterson Animal Shelter lacks the space to adopt out. Similarly, both Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge or Wayne Animal Shelter could single-handedly rescue all of the cats that Paterson Animal Shelter lacks the space to adopt out. Furthermore, many other nearby shelters could also help as well. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter and nearby animal shelters can easily end the killing in the area.

Recently, Paterson Mayor, Joey Torres, expressed interest in moving the shelter to a more accessible location, expanding it, and adopting out animals. While I have doubts as to whether Paterson has the funding to build a proper animal shelter, these remarks do indicate the city’s elected officials could be receptive to turning this shelter around.

The City of Paterson must change course at its shelter. In an impoverished city with widespread corruption at the highest levels of government, Paterson desperately needs something to inspire residents. Turning around the Paterson Animal Shelter with local residents playing a key role fits the bill. Allowing youth, working families and senior citizens the opportunity to build something wonderful helps people as much as the animals they are caring for. If Paterson’s elected officials do turn this shelter around, they will not only help their animals and voters, but also their own political careers. Will they do the right thing?