Why New Jersey Residents Must Support Animal Shelter Reform Bill S3019

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

Bill Requires Shelters to Make Efforts to Save Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

S3019 Requires Shelters to Try and Reunite Lost Pets with Families

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

Bill Requires Humane Care

S3019 mandates shelters provide the following to their animals:

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

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

S3019 Requires Humane Euthanasia Techniques

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

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

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

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

Animal Shelters Must Share Animal Intake and Outcome Statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Jersey Department of Health Must Increase Oversight of Animal Shelters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Great Animal Shelters Do After the End of the Year

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

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

Do a Great Job

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

Share Successes and Challenges from Prior Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Follow Successful Formula

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

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

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.

paterson-animal-shelter-2015-intake-and-disposition-records-final-17

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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.

47962

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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.”

Dog ID 48012.jpg

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.

cat-id-47557

47557-euth-records

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.

47630.jpg

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?

Paterson’s Pathetic Pound – Part 1: Deadly Statistics

When ones drives to the Paterson Animal Shelter, you find an unmarked road that looks more like a driveway to an abandoned warehouse. If you are brave enough to go down to the end of this road, you will be greeted at the shelter by a large security fence and various signs saying you are being filmed. Clearly, the City of Paterson placed its pound in a place few people would visit.

The Paterson Animal Shelter is in a time warp. This pound does not spay/neuter or vaccinate the animals it adopts out. The facility has no web site and social media pages. Volunteers, with the exception of a couple of rescues, are barred from helping the animals at the facility. In fact, one of the shelter’s key rescue partners that make pleas to save death row animals at the facility does not even name the shelter.

What kind of job does the Paterson Animal Shelter do at saving lives? Should we expect better?

Paterson Kills Healthy and Treatable Animals

To obtain a better understanding of the Paterson Animal Shelter’s performance, I obtained the shelter’s “Impound Animal Report” for each animal the facility took in during 2015. The Impound Animal Report provides various details about each animal, how they came in, the date they came in, their ultimate outcome, and the date of the outcome.

The tables below summarize the Paterson Animal Shelter’s 2015 statistics based on all the facility’s Impound Animal Reports the shelter provided to me. Overall, 19% of cats and dogs, 13% of cats, and 22% of dogs lost their lives during the year.

Paterson Animal Shelter’s death rate for animals actually requiring sheltering is even higher. Since many stray dogs have licenses and/or microchips allowing the shelter to quickly return these dogs to their owners, it makes sense to exclude these animals from the death rate calculation. If we calculate the death rate based off animals not reclaimed by owners, which are the ones the shelter has to work to save, 22% of cats and dogs, 14% of cats and 30% of dogs lost their lives. Thus, nearly 1 out of 3 dogs and 1 out of 4 cats requiring any amount of real work lost their lives at the Paterson Animal Shelter in 2015.

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Paterson Animal Shelter killed 28% of the 265 pit bull like dogs who had outcomes during 2015. If we exclude dogs reclaimed by owners, nearly 40% of pit bull like dogs lost their lives at the Paterson Animal Shelter.

Small dogs were not even safe at the Paterson Animal Shelter. 13% of all small dogs lost their lives and 18% of small dogs not reclaimed by owners did not leave the facility alive.

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Paterson Animal Shelter killed nearly 1 out of 3 adult cats it took in during 2015.

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Overall, Paterson Animal Shelter’s statistics are very similar to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter. Both pounds rely heavily on rescues and provide little care to animals. Due to these shelters’ minimal efforts at saving lives, their kill rates are significantly higher than many large no kill animal control shelters, such as those in Austin, Texas, Kansas City, Missouri and Jacksonville, Florida. Despite the shortcomings of these two pounds, their live release rates were significantly higher than those I calculated in similar analyses I did for Associated Humane Societies-Newark and Bergen County Animal Shelter.

Rescues Are Only Hope for Unclaimed Animals

Rescues saved virtually all the unclaimed animals that made it out of the Paterson Animal Shelter alive last year. Stunningly, rescues made up 97% of total dog and total cat adoptions and rescues in 2015. In other words, only 3 out of 317 cats and 15 out of 296 dogs finding new homes were actually adopted out by the shelter. To put it another way, Paterson Animal Shelter only adopted out 0.8% of the cats and 2.6% of the dogs who had known outcomes at its shelter in 2015. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter has the lowest adoption rate of any shelter I’ve seen that allows people to adopt animals.

Two rescues pulled all the dogs and cats out of Paterson Animal Shelter. Second Chance Pet Adoption League took all 281 dogs and 171 or 54% of the 314 cats rescued from Paterson Animal Shelter during 2015. START II rescued 143 cats or 46% of 314 cats rescued from the facility. Unfortunately, Paterson Animal Shelter did not keep records of any rescues that subsequently took ownership of these animals. In the case of Second Chance Pet Adoption League, I’ve seen many of their pleas asking for rescues to take dogs from an unnamed pound that clearly is the Paterson Animal Shelter. Furthermore, Second Chance Pet Adoption League currently has mostly small dogs and no cats listed in its adoption listings suggesting that the organization transfers most of the animals it pulls from Paterson Animal Shelter to other rescues. Therefore, Paterson Animal Shelter’s records do not allow us to see which rescues are actually fostering and adopting out the most animals from the shelter.

Animals Quickly Leave Shelter Dead or Alive 

The Paterson Animal Shelter had a very short average length of stay (“LOS”) for animals having positive outcomes. Reducing length of stay in a good way is critical for shelters, particularly space constrained facilities like Paterson, to save lives. Additionally, shelters with short lengths of stay have lower disease rates and fewer animals developing behavioral problems. Typically, returning lost pets to owners is the fastest way an animal safely leaves a shelter. Overall, the Paterson Animal Shelter’s owner reclaim rate (number of stray animals returned to owners/number stray animals impounded) for dogs was 42%. While that number isn’t very high, owner reclaim rates generally are lower in poor areas. As a comparison, Paterson Animal Shelter’s owner reclaim rate for dogs was higher than Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s 2015 owner reclaim rate (36%), AHS-Newark’s reclaim rate for dogs primarily coming from animal control in Newark (10% in 2014) and Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s rate for 2014 and the first half of 2015 (37%). Additionally, Paterson Animal Shelter’s average length of stay for animals sent to rescues was 4 days for cats, 6 days for adult cats, 3 days for kittens, 7 days for all dogs and pit bulls, and 4 days for small dogs. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter quickly sent out the animals that left the shelter safely.

On the other hand, Paterson Animal Shelter quickly killed animals. On average, Paterson Animal Shelter killed all cats and adult cats after just 1 day, kittens on the day they arrived at the facility, all dogs after 5 days, pit bulls after 6 days and small dogs after 1 day.

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

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

Therefore, based on the shelter’s animal intake from the records it provided me and the facility’s average length of stay, we can estimate the facility housed 4 cats and 8 dogs on average during 2015. Based on these estimates and the shelter’s capacity disclosed in its 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report, Paterson Animal Shelter only used roughly 1/3 of its available animal holding space on average during 2015. Even if I used Paterson Animal Shelter’s higher reported animal intake figures in its 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report (see discussion below), the facility would only have used 47% of its cat and 37% of its dog capacity.

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Paterson Animal Shelter only used a small portion of its capacity on several dates in 2015. Based on the facility’s 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report, Paterson Animal Shelter only used 57% and 50% of its dog capacity at the beginning and end of 2015. Similarly, Paterson Animal Shelter filled 50% and 33% of its cat spaces at the beginning and end of 2015. Furthermore, the Paterson Division of Health’s June 15, 2015 inspection report only found 5 dogs and 2 cats at the shelter. Despite June being a high intake month for most shelters, Paterson Animal Shelter only used 18% and 8% of its dog and cat capacity. Around the same times, the shelter killed many dogs and cats per underlying records I reviewed. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter killed when it had empty kennels.

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Inaccurate Records Raise Concerns Things Are Much Worse

Paterson Animal Shelter’s 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health included many more animals than those that were in the underlying records provided to me. Specifically, the facility’s Shelter/Pound Annual Report had 130 more cats and 157 more dogs than those in the facility’s supporting records. Additionally, the shelter’s summary statistics included 48 fewer dogs reclaimed by owners and 175 more dogs rescued/adopted. Furthermore, Paterson Animal Shelter erroneously classified all of the animals sent to rescues as adoptions in its 2015 Shelter/Pound Annual Report. While the death rates based on the data in the Shelter/Pound Annual Report and the underlying records were similar, this discrepancy raises questions about the accuracy of both the summary statistics and the supporting records.

The shelter also included multiple animals on the same intake record in many cases. For these animals, the shelter used the same intake number and it is impossible in most cases to determine what happened to each individual animal. On some records, the shelter wrote the outcome of each animal, but this was the exception and not the rule. For example, the record below states the shelter took 4 cats in and the rescue, START II, saved the animal(s). However, one cannot determine if START II took 1, 2, 3 or all 4 of the cats.

For purposes of the statistics I tabulated, I counted all animals on the same record as having the outcome listed on the record. In total, 43 dogs, 15 pit bulls, 5 small dogs, 135 cats, 10 adult cats and 125 kittens had unknown outcomes, but were counted as live releases in my statistics. If I recalculate the statistics and count these animals having no known outcome as “N/A”, the death rates for dogs, pit bulls, and small dogs barely change. On the other hand, the cat death rate increases from 13% to 21%, the adult cat death rate increases from 30% to 33% and the kitten death rate increases from 2% to 4%. However, if Paterson Animal Shelter really killed these animals with unknown outcomes, the shelter’s death rate would be much higher.

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Paterson Animal Shelter’s many missing animal intake numbers raise serious questions as to whether more animals are dying at the shelter. Most animal shelters use a sequential numerical system to track each impounded animal. For example, a shelter would assign #1 to the first animal the shelter impounds, #2 to the second animal the shelter takes in and so on. During the year, the shelter had 277 missing animal intake numbers in the records provided to me. While the shelter may just have been sloppy in their record keeping or failed to provide me all the OPRA records (which is illegal), it could also mean that the shelter killed or lost 277 additional animals, people stole 277 animals, 277 animals escaped or some combination of these. Thus, Paterson Animal Shelter’s death rate may be much higher than the shelter’s records suggest.

Clearly, Paterson Animal Shelter kills many healthy and treatable animals. In Part 2, I will discuss whether the shelter complies with state laws and how it can end the killing.

2015 Cat Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

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

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ideally, I would perform two analyses as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Cats

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

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

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

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

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

Shelters Do Not Need to Leave Friendly Cats on the Street

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

Kitten Nurseries and Ringworm Wards Key to Saving Vulnerable Cats

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

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

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

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

Results Require New Jersey Animal Shelters to Take Action

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

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

Appendix Life Saving Model Assumptions

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

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

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

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

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

2015 Dog Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

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

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

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Animal Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Require Little Rescue Assistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Local Dogs

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

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

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

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New Jersey Animal Shelters Need to Form Life-Saving Coalitions

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

Sobering Results Require Shelter Leaders to Critically Examine Themselves

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

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

Appendix – Life Saving Model Assumptions

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

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

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

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

This data was then used as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

Regressive Health Department Controls Shelter

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

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

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

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

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

Owner Surrender Policy Proves Shelter Violates 7 Day Hold Period

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

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

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

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

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

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

OWNER RELEASE AGREEMENT

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

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

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

Surrendering Owner’s Name: _____________________________________________________

Address: ___________________________________________State: ________ Zip: _________

Surrendering Owner’s Phone #: ____________________________________________________

Owner’s Signature: _______________________________________Date:__________________

Signature of Shelter Employee witnessing Owner Signature: _____________________________

Temperament Testing Animals to Death Enshrined as a Policy

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

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

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

Evaluated animals fall into three categories:

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

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

Flawed TNR Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limited Adoption Hours Increase Length of Stay and Killing 

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

Adoption Profiles Paint Dogs in a Terrible Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooklyn Adoption Profile.jpg

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

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

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

capatain-adoption-profiles

Shelter Makes it Difficult for Volunteers to Help Animals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spreading Dangerous Myths About Shelter Dogs and Pit Bulls

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

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

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

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

Bergen County Animal Shelter Requires Wholesale Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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