Elizabeth Animal Shelter Shows Improvement, But Serious Problems Remain: Part 2

Update: 8/4/17: Subsequent to writing this blog, the Elizabeth Health Department “located” its 2016 inspection report performed by the Linden Health Department. This report noted several problems. I updated the inspection section of this blog to discuss this report.

My last blog discussed several changes the Elizabeth Animal Shelter made in 2016 after animal advocates raised concerns about the facility. Elizabeth Animal Shelter stopped illegally killing owner surrendered animals during the seven day protection period in 2016. As a result, the shelter’s live release rate significantly increased, but the shelter almost entirely relied on rescues and appeared to limit the number of animals it took in. You can read that blog here.

This blog will examine whether Elizabeth Animal Shelter still kills healthy and treatable animals. Additionally, this blog will answer the question as to whether the shelter still violates state law.

Shelter Continues to Illegally Transfer Stray Animals During the Seven Day Hold Period

Elizabeth Animal Shelter transferred and adopted out 73 dogs and cats during the seven day stray hold period in 2016. 64 of the 73 animals were cats which often have very low owner reclaim rates. Of the 64 cats, 52 were kittens which are highly susceptible to catching deadly illnesses in animal shelters. Additionally, the shelter sent a number of animals to rescue groups that provided much needed medical care. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter appeared to release many of these animals during the seven day hold period with good intentions.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter should retain ownership of the animals it releases during the seven day hold period. In other words, Elizabeth Animal Shelter should have the rescues and adopters “foster” these animals during this time. After seven days, the rescuers and adopters should then take ownership of the pet. While the animal is being fostered, the shelter should keep photos and other records as well as the rescue’s/adopter’s contact information to allow someone to redeem their pet. Similarly, the individual or group fostering the animal must return the pet back to the owner during the stray hold period. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter can easily comply with state law, give owners a chance to reclaim their lost pets, and create much needed space to save lives.

Shelter Still Kills Healthy and Treatable Animals

Overall, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s most commonly killed dogs for “aggression” and “severe behavior issues.” If we also add related problems, such as dog aggression, food aggression, leash behavior and bite cases, the shelter killed almost all dogs for some form of alleged aggression. In fact, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 19 of 22 dogs or 86% of these animals for aggression related problems.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s classified too many dogs with aggression and related behavioral issues. The shelter killed 6% of all dogs for aggression and similar reasons. On the one hand, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed a much lower percentage of dogs for so-called aggression than the regressive Bergen County Animal Shelter (21% of all dogs in 2015; 29% of dogs from Kearny in 2016). However, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed a significantly larger percentage of dogs for aggression/behavior issues than Austin Animal Center (0.5% of all dogs killed for aggression related reasons in the last quarter of of fiscal year 2016). Furthermore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 18% of all pit bulls for aggression related behavioral issues in 2016 compared to just 2% of all pit bulls at Austin Animal Center during fiscal year 2016 (that number may have dropped to as low as 1% by the last quarter of the year). In other words, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed pit bulls for aggression related problems at a rate of 9-18 times higher than Austin Animal Center.

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Dogs Killed ReasonsAs I mentioned in my blog last year, Elizabeth Animal Shelter brought in a former volunteer from Associated Humane Societies-Newark as a response to public outcry about the shelter illegally killing two dogs immediately upon intake in 2014. In her role, this contractor evaluates dogs, makes recommendations about whether a dog is suitable for adoption, and networks with rescues and donors to increase lifesaving and improve animal care. Clearly, this person has done an excellent job coordinating with rescues. Thus, I believe this part time contractor has done good work.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter may be misusing its part time contractor’s behavioral evaluations to justify killing dogs. Despite some concerns from other animal advocates, the part time contractor’s written evaluations did not call for the shelter to kill dogs. In fact, many of the evaluations concluded the dogs were very good. However, the shelter performed evaluations for 16 of the 19 dogs it killed for alleged aggression related issues. Based on my review of these 16 evaluations, all of them had some negative findings. In some cases, the evaluations recommended a special home, but it seems to me as if the shelter leadership used these evaluations as an excuse to kill.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s continued reliance on discredited temperament testing methods is concerning. Recently, a study found behavioral evaluations were scientifically invalid and recommended shelters should instead socialize dogs to truly determine behavior. Even the proponents of temperament testing, such as the ASPCA, state shelters should use evaluations to identify a behavioral rehabilitation plan to try and make the animal adoptable. I found no evidence of the shelter attempting to seriously rehabilitate alleged problem behaviors in dogs. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter used scientifically invalid temperament testing methods and may have failed to use these evaluations to fix supposed behavioral problems.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed several dogs for alleged aggression related issues despite owners reporting no such issues. Shelter temperament testing methods are inherently flawed as the testing conditions (i.e. in a stressful shelter) do not replicate conditions a dog experiences in a home. Carez was a 7-9 year old gray pit bull surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on December 29, 2016. The owner reported no behavior or aggression issues and stated Carez was good with dogs, kids, adults and was house trained. On January 9, 2017, Elizabeth Animal Shelter evaluated Carez, who they renamed as Cupcake, and stated she “refused handling”, attempted to bite when handled, and was fearful and timid. In other words, Carez/Cupcake was afraid after going to a scary shelter environment. Ten days later Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed Carez/Cupcake for human and dog aggression despite the owner reporting she was good with both people and dogs. Furthermore, no records provided to me indicated the shelter tried to rehabilitate this dog’s alleged behavior problems. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter appeared to use its behavioral evaluation as a justification to kill Carez/Cupcake and did not seem to make any effort to fix those claimed behavior problems.

Dog 16-L Surrender Form.jpg

Dog 16-L Evaluation.jpg

Dog 16-L Kill Record

Ghost was a two year old pit bull-boxer mix that was surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter along with his house mate, Blackie, on July 7, 2016. Ghost’s owner reported he had no behavioral or health issues. Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s evaluation stated he snapped, growled with teeth, attempted to bite and darted away when handled, had “higher energy”, but was controllable, was “dominant”, “does not like other people”, was not good with other dogs except Blackie, and requires an “adult only home.” Despite Ghost’s owner surrender form contradicting this evaluation and him being at the shelter a mere nine days, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed Ghost for having a “Severe Behavior Issue.” No records I received indicated any effort to fix these alleged behavior problems.

Dog 8-G Surrender Form.jpg

Dog 8-G Evaluation.jpg

Dog 8-G Kill Record

Ghost’s companion, Blackie, was a five year old pit bull-Labrador retriever mix that was surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on the same day. Blackie’s owner also stated on the dog’s surrender form that Blackie had no behavioral or medical issues. Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s evaluation of Blackie was almost identical to Ghost’s temperament test except the shelter concluded Blackie was “hyper” rather than “high energy” and controllable, and grabbed treats roughly. Additionally, the evaluation made no reference to Blackie not liking people. Once again, despite the owner surrender form contradicting the Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s evaluation, the facility killed Blackie just nine days after he arrived at the shelter and on the very same day as his house mate, Ghost. No records I received indicated any effort to fix these alleged behavior problems.

Dog 9-G Surrender Form.jpg

Dog 9-G Evaluation.jpg

Dog 9-G Kill Record

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s reasons for killing cats are listed below. Overall, the shelter still killed a significant number of cats it deemed feral or having a behavior issue. Frankly, a shelter should never kill a cat for any behavioral reason given such cats can be neutered and released or go to a barn/warehouse. Additionally, the shelter killed many cats for no disclosed reason. If Elizabeth Animal Shelter did not kill healthy and treatable feral and other cats (presumably cats killed for no reason were not hopelessly suffering), the shelter’s euthanasia rate would be 8% or the rate I target for animal control facilities. While a good number of the other cats may have been hopelessly suffering, the shelter failed to provide a specific veterinary diagnosis for a substantial portion (i.e. 13 cats with undisclosed severe injuries/illnesses and other undisclosed injuries and illnesses) of these animals. As a result, no one can say for sure how many of these animals were truly hopelessly suffering.

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Cats Killed Reasons.jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed several cats for absurd or no reasons. Cat 31-J’s owner died and she was surrendered to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on October 24, 2016. Despite having a home previously, the shelter concluded she had a “Severe Behavior Issue” and killed her just 11 days later. Furthemore, the shelter’s euthanasia record erroneously stated she was killed on October 20 (four days before she arrived at the facility).

Cat 31-J Killed

Cat 31-J Intake Plus Disposition Record

Cat 31-J Kill FormCat 12-L was a 10 year old cat taken to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter on December 14, 2016 by the property managers of an apartment complex. Presumably, this cat lived in a home, perhaps in one of the apartments in this building, since the property managers noted the cat was house trained. Despite this fact, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed this older cat for being feral and aggressive a little after a month later.

Cat 12-L Surrender Form.jpg

Cat 12-L Kill Record

Cat 21-F was surrendered with three other cats on June 16, 2016. According to the owner, none of these cats, including 21-F, had any behavioral or health issues. Two weeks later, Elizabeth Animal Shelter killed 21-F for no reason other than the animal being at the shelter for more than seven days.

Cat 21-F Surrender Form

Cat 21-F Kill Record.jpg

Shelter Provides More Veterinary Care, But Must Make Further Improvements

Elizabeth Animal Shelter provided veterinary care to some animals during the year. In 2015, the shelter essentially provided no veterinary care other than killing based on the records provided to me. Several animal advocates, including myself, raised these concerns last year. In 2016, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s veterinarian treated a number of animals at the shelter. Therefore, the pressure put on the shelter by animal advocates improved the care provided to the animals.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter must provide better veterinary care. While the shelter did treat some animals, I saw no evidence of the facility vaccinating animals upon intake. Shelter medicine experts strongly recommend facilities immediately vaccinate animals upon intake to reduce disease among the animal population. Elizabeth Animal Shelter should start doing this as its clearly better for the animals and will ultimately reduce the cost of treating sick animals. Additionally, the veterinary records I reviewed were often not very detailed and frequently illegible. Furthermore, many of the records I examined failed to fully meet the New Jersey Department of Health’s requirements. Thus, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter should vaccinate all animals immediately upon intake and improve its veterinary record keeping.

Shelter Has No Disease Control Program and Does Not Keep All Required Records

Elizabeth Animal Shelter currently has no disease control program. While the city’s Health Officer, assured me a draft program is currently under review by the Elizabeth Dog Control Committee, this is unacceptable. Under state law, a shelter must have a disease control program in order to operate. Last year, the New Jersey Department of Health made this explicitly clear:

If a facility does not have a disease control program established and maintained by a licensed veterinarian, the facility cannot be licensed to operate in New Jersey.

Therefore, Elizabeth Animal Shelter must put an appropriate disease control program into place as soon as possible.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also failed to document the breed on many cats it took in as required by state law. The shelter should start doing so especially since it does not require much effort.

Local Health Department Inspections Reveal Problems

Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.2, local health authorities must inspect licensed animal shelters each year to ensure compliance with state laws. In other words, an animal shelter cannot legally operate without an inspection showing the facility is following the law.

The Linden Health Department conducted a poor quality inspection of Elizabeth Animal Shelter in 2014. This inspection found no serious issues, but animal advocates, including myself, documented numerous shelter law violations at that time. Linden Health Department is the same health department that ran Linden Animal Control’s facility. Not only did Linden fail to inspect its own shelter for seven years, but the New Jersey Department of Health forced Linden to close its house of horrors later on in 2014. Thus, this positive 2014 inspection report lacked credibility.

To make matters worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter provided no 2015 inspection report. In 2014, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter inspected Linden Animal Control’s dreadful facility after the City of Linden failed to inspect its shelter for seven years. Despite knowing about this law, the City of Elizabeth apparently did not have its own shelter inspected in 2015. Thus, Elizabeth Animal Shelter should not have had a license to operate in 2015.

The Linden Health Department’s 2016 inspection of Elizabeth Animal Shelter found several concerning issues. Specifically, the inspection report noted the following

  1. Shelter did not have a required fire inspection
  2. The exhaust fan in the isolation area did not work (i.e. could result in infectious diseases spreading)
  3. Shelter had structural problems with the facility’s flooring
  4. Several damaged enclosures had wires used as a repair, but those wires could injure animals
  5. Cat enclosures were not adequate to house these animals
  6. Outside dog cages needed repairs
  7. Outside dog enclosures barriers not effective and might not prevent dogs from fighting
  8. Large stones used to block outside dog enclosures’ trough did not allow staff to clean properly

Despite these issues, the Linden Health Department gave Elizabeth Animal Shelter a “Conditional A” instead of an “Unsatisfactory” grade on the inspection. If the Linden Health Department found this many problems, one must wonder what the more competent New Jersey Department of Health would find.

Currently, Elizabeth Animal Shelter has not had a 2017 inspection performed despite 15 months passing since the last required annual inspection.

Records Continue to Raise Concerns as to Whether Elizabeth Animal Shelter Humanely Euthanizes Animals 

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s records did not specify the euthanasia drug it used (the records state “Euth.” which could mean Euthasol or just an unnamed euthanasia drug) and the method of euthanasia again in 2016. As a result, we cannot determine whether the shelter euthanized animals humanely as I discussed in last year’s blog.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter use of pure Ketamine as a sedative is not humane. The Humane Society of United State Euthanasia Reference Manual states shelters should not use Ketamine alone to sedate an animal for killing as it makes the animal’s muscles rigid and the injection stings so much that the animal reacts very negatively to it. If that was not bad enough, large doses can cause convulsions and seizures. To make matters worse, Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s records indicate the facility used excessive doses as they did in 2015 of Ketamine making such horrific side effects more likely.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter also purchased a massive supply of Ketamine at the end of 2015. Specifically, the shelter purchased 600 milliliters of the branded Ketamine drug, Ketathesia, which would provide recommended sedative doses for 1,500 cats weighing 8 pounds or 240 dogs weighing 50 pounds. Clearly, this purchase greatly exceeds the 41 cats and 22 dogs killed in 2016. In fact, this amount of Ketamine is also much more than would be needed for the number of animals the shelter would kill at this rate over the five year shelf life of the drug. To make matters worse, I did not see the legally required listing of inventory of both Ketamine and Fatal Plus (Sodium pentobarbital) or whatever killing agent the facility used on hand at the beginning and end of the year. One has to wonder what the shelter is doing with this huge supply of Ketamine? Given this is a widely abused drug, it certainly raises questions in my mind.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2016 Ketamine Invoice.jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s euthanasia logs list questionable weights for the animals and raise questions as to whether the shelter actually weighed the animals. Under N.J.A.C. 8:23A-1.11 (f) 3 and 4, shelters must weigh each animal and keep a log of those body weights as well as the drugs used to immobilize and euthanize the animals. Almost all the adult cats weighed exactly 8 pounds. Additionally, most of the weights listed for dogs were convenient numbers, such as 60, 65, and 80 pounds. Frankly, I find it highly unlikely that many dogs just happened to weigh in at these user friendly amounts.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Proves Shelter Reform Bill S3019 Will Save Lives

S3019 requires shelters to notify rescues at least two business days before killing an animal. While this bill should mandate shelters give animals to rescues the shelters would otherwise kill, existing animal cruelty laws (i.e. “needlessly killing an animal”) likely would also bar shelters from killing such pets. When this provision of S3019 is combined with the state’s existing ban on killing animals, whether stray or surrendered, for seven days, shelters will have a strong incentive to send animals, particularly owner surrenders, to rescues. Furthermore, rescues will have more time to save animals from shelters.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s compliance with the seven day protection period in 2016 and its significantly higher live release rate show how successful S3019 would be. As mentioned above, Elizabeth Animal Shelter does not really follow 10 of the 11 No Kill Equation programs. Despite this, the shelter nearly achieved a 90% live release rate once it stopped illegally killing animals during the seven day protection period. Why? The Elizabeth Animal Shelter is extremely rescue friendly and these rescues had the time to save many pets. Thus, S3019 would significantly increase live release rates at many of New Jersey’s high kill shelters.

S3019’s other requirements would further increase live release rates. Under the bill, shelters must stay open five hours every weekday, including one day until at least 7 pm, and one weekend day. Additionally, the bill requires shelters to take numerous steps to reunite lost pets with their families that most facilities do not currently do. Furthermore, it requires shelters to use web sites and social media to promote animals for adoption. Finally, the bill mandates shelters provide improved veterinary and behavioral care that will make pets more adoptable. Thus, S3019’s requirements would clearly increase Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s live release rate and allow the shelter to save more homeless animals.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s Unsustainable Path

Clearly, Elizabeth Animal Shelter must fix many basic sheltering issues. Specifically, the shelter must pass rigorous inspections every year, create and implement a robust disease control program, keep proper records, comply with the stray/hold law, and only euthanize animals humanely. Simply put, Elizabeth Animal Shelter must follow the law.

While the shelter’s apparent decision to impound fewer cats is preferable to killing these animals, the shelter is allowing problems to grow. Elizabeth Animal Shelter does not practice TNR to any significant degree. Therefore, the stray cats the shelter does not neuter and release remain intact and will continue to breed on the streets. Ultimately, residents will complain and either force the shelter to catch and kill these animals or potentially take matters into their own hands. Clearly, Elizabeth needs to practice TNR or better yet, Return to Field, preferably with the help of cat advocates, to limit the community cat population and resolve conflicts with people.

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s complete reliance on a part time contractor to network with the rescue community is not sustainable. While this person has done an admirable job networking with rescues, it is unrealistic to expect this person to remain long-term at the shelter with the city paying her no more than $16,000 a year. Furthermore, the person will have difficulty performing all her duties with her just working 20 hours a week. In other words, Elizabeth should hire this contractor on a full time basis and adequately compensate her.

At a minimum, the city should reallocate the time this contractor spends conducting scientifically invalid behavioral evaluations to activities that would improve live release rates and care provided to animals. For example, this person could help design an enrichment program in conjunction with the shelter veterinarian, and help carry it out. Similarly, the part-time contractor could use this time to take engaging photos and videos of animals and write excellent adoption profiles.

Last year, this house of cards nearly collapsed. At the time, postings on social media suggested the city might part ways with this contractor. Thankfully, the rescue community protested and the part-time contractor remained with the shelter. However, this incident reveals how easily the shelter could regress.

Ultimately, a shelter must comprehensively adopt the 11 step No Kill Equation if it truly wants to succeed. Clearly, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter significantly improved after following the state’s seven day owner surrender protection period and using one No Kill Equation program, rescue partnerships. However, if the Elizabeth Animal Shelter wants to consistently provide a refuge for all the city’s homeless animals, it must enact most, if not all, of these programs.

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

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

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

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

Live Release Rate Increases Significantly

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

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Dog and Cat Statistics

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

2016 Verses 2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Death Rate

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

2016 Elizabeth Dog Breeds Statistics

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

2016 Elizabeth Cat Age Statistics

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

Improved Live Release Rate Associated with End of Routine Illegal Killings

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

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

Rescues Continue to Save the Day

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

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

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

Animal Intake Decreases Significantly

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2016 Verses 2015 Dog Intake

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2016 Verses 2015 Cat Intake

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2016 Verses 2015 Intake Compared to Other Shelters

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

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Dog Length of Stay Data

2016 Elizabeth Animal Shelter Cat Length of Stay Data

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

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

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

Elizabeth’s Breed Specific Legislation and Other Anti-Animal Laws

Update 5/13/16: On May 11, the Elizabeth City Council passed a repeal of the BSL ordinance and it will take effect 20 days later. I want to commend the City Council and the Health Officer for taking this action.

Update: 4/22/16: Elizabeth’s Health Officer states the city does not enforce Elizabeth’s Breed Specific Legislation due to state law overriding the municipal code. However, I believe Elizabeth must revoke the law due to citizens reading the law and believing that it applies in Elizabeth. Additionally, we have no guarantees the city will not enforce the law in the future. Furthermore, the law sends the wrong message about pit bulls to the public.

In my last blog, I criticized Elizabeth’s elected officials for running a regressive pound. However, the city’s laws also affect animals and their owners. Do these laws help the animal shelter save lives or make shelter killing more likely? Does the city’s animal statutes protect or break the human-animal bond in the city?

Breed Specific Legislation is Ineffective

Breed Specific Legislation (“BSL”) is designed to regulate pit bull like dogs and certain other breeds in order to protect the public from these animals. All the major national animal welfare groups except for PETA oppose BSL. The following groups publicly came out against BSL:

  1. American Bar Association
  2. American Kennel Club (“AKC”)
  3. ASPCA
  4. American Veterinary Medical Association
  5. American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior
  6. Animal Farm Foundation
  7. Association of Pet Dog Trainers
  8. Best Friends Animal Society
  9. British Veterinary Association
  10. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (“CDC”)
  11. Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”)
  12. National Animal Care and Control Association
  13. National Canine Research Council
  14. Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – Australia
  15. Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – United Kingdom
  16. United Kennel Club (“UKC”)
  17. United States Department of Justice
  18. President Obama’s Administation

BSL is ineffective and costly. Multiple case studies show serious dog bites do not decrease after BSL is enacted. Furthermore, funds used to enforce BSL are diverted from saving shelter animals and other productive uses. Additionally, cities could face significant litigation costs when enforcing these laws against owners of restricted breeds. Also, people may not license their dogs due to the fear of being targeted by authorities. Lower dog licensing rates lead to fewer owners reclaiming their animals from shelters and increased shelter killing as well as operating costs. Finally, these laws tarnish the reputation of communities that enact BSL.

Elizabeth’s BSL Makes Pit Bulls and Their Owners Seem Like Criminals

Elizabeth requires owners of pit bulls to obtain a special pit bull license in addition to a regular dog license. While this may not seem like a big deal, the law sends the message that pit bulls are different and more dangerous than other dogs. Requiring owners to obtain a special pit bull license stigmatizes owners and their dogs. After all, if the city believes pit bulls are dangerous, why shouldn’t landlords fear these animals? This government sponsored discrimination encourages rental polices preventing tenants from owning pit bull like dogs. Fewer housing options in turn results in more people surrendering their pit bulls to the shelter and increased killing. Given that around 1 of 3 unclaimed pit bulls lost their lives at the Elizabeth Animal Shelter in 2015, this is a very serious problem. Thus, the special license makes owners and their dogs feel like criminals and feeds the cycle of discrimination against people and their pit bull like dogs.

Elizabeth’s restrictions on walking pit bull like dogs are disgraceful. Elizabeth’s city code states “No person under the age of eighteen (18) years may own, control, attempt to control or walk a pit bull.” In other words, a family’s teenage son or daughter cannot walk their own pit bull like dog legally in the city. If a parent’s teenage son or daughter does walk the family’s pit bull, the parent or other adult owner of the dog could face a sentence of of up to 6 months in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine (applies to any violation of the city’s anti-pit bull law). To make matters worse, the city requires owners to muzzle their pit bulls, use a steel leash and collar, and carry a device that can pry open the dog’s jaws when walking their pit bull. Honestly, Elizabeth’s laws make it nearly impossible for any pit bull owner to legally walk their dog. Additionally, people can’t walk more than one pit bull at a time even if such dogs are fully under the person’s control. Furthermore, Elizabeth requires pit bull owners to put up visible signs at their homes “advising of the presence of a pit bull and its potential viciousness.” Finally, the city confiscates the owner’s pit bull (i.e. takes to the city’s kill shelter) if the owner violates the law on two occasions. Thus, Elizabeth’s laws treat all pit bulls and their owners as convicted criminals.

Dog Licensing and Animal Shelter Fees Go to Elizabeth and Not the Animal Shelter

Elizabeth requires all dog license and animal shelter fees paid by the public go to general government purposes rather than to the animal shelter. Assuming Elizabeth’s residents own a similar number of dogs as people in the United States as a whole and each resident paid $10 on average for their dog license (the fees are $12 and $8 for intact and altered dogs) and 25% of those dog owners licensed their animals, the city could have provided over $76,000 to its animal shelter. As a comparison, the Elizabeth Health Department’s 2015 budget only showed $167,722 specifically allocated to animal control and sheltering. If Elizabeth simply earmarked these estimated dog licensing fees to its shelter, the city would have $106 more to spend on each unclaimed dog and cat arriving at the shelter. The city could use these licensing fees to pay for spay/neuter and vaccinations for all animals the shelter adopts out and sends to rescues. Thus, Elizabeth should change its laws to ensure dog licensing fees go to funding the animal shelter and not the general operations of the city government.

Adopters Threatened with Massive Fines

Elizabeth’s city code threatens adopters with significant fines if the adopter does not spay/neuter and vaccinate their animals within 30 days. As I mentioned in my previous blog, the city has chutzpah to require adopters to spay/neuter their animals when the shelter itself refuses to do so. Upon reviewing the Elizabeth’s statutes, I found it is even worse. Specifically, adopters must alter their animal as well as get a rabies vaccine within 30 days or face a $250 fine for each offense (i.e. $500 if neither is done within 30 days). If the person commits the offense a second time, say they adopt two animals at different times, the fines double and could total up to $1,000. In a city like Elizabeth, where many residents face serious economic challenges, 30 days may not be enough time to find a vet to provide low-cost spay/neuter services and a city or privately run low-cost or free rabies clinic. Thus, a person seeking to do right by animals and adopt could face severe financial penalties for failing to do the very things the city of Elizabeth refused to do.

Pet Limit Law Leads to Increased Shelter Killing

Elizabeth’s pet limit law results in increased shelter intake and fewer available homes for animals at the shelter. The city restricts households from owning more than any combination of five dogs and cats (households owning more than 5 licensed animals before this ordinance was enacted are exempted). While the city allows people to petition the Director of the Health and Human Services to house more than five animals, I highly doubt many people would try. First and foremost, if the city denies the pet owner’s petition, the person will have to get rid of a family member. Most people would simply take their chances with the authorities not finding out. Second, the Director of Health and Human Services can deny the petition if he or she views the animals as a “nuisance”, which has nothing to do with animal welfare. The ASPCA, HSUS, Best Friends and the No Kill Advocacy Center all oppose these laws as these statutes waste scarce resources that cities can use to save animals and lead to increased shelter killing. Cities should pursue policies that keep animals with their loving families and increase the number of good homes for animals in shelters. Thus, Elizabeth’s pet limit law hurts Elizabeth’s dogs and cats and pet owning residents.

Secretive Dog Control Committee Not Conducive to Running a Successful Shelter

The city’s animal laws delegate the design of Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s policies to three council members serving on the Dog Control Committee. First and foremost, politicians should not design detailed animal shelter policies. Certainly, the Dog Control Committee can set overall goals and the general types of programs the shelter should have, but it should not dictate how the shelter is run on a day to day basis unless the shelter’s leader is incompetent. In that type of environment, you will have great difficult attracting and retaining a dynamic and compassionate leader to to run the shelter. Second, the city must disclose the members of the Dog Control Committee and the shelter’s policies to provide transparency as to what exactly happens at this facility as the ASPCA recommends.

Elizabeth’s Police Department and Animal Control Department Can Kill Animals for Dubious Reasons

Elizabeth’s city code allows police officers and ACOs to “kill any dangerous animals of any kind when it is necessary for the protection of any person or property.” While killing an animal that poses a serious danger to a person may be a necessary evil that occurs rarely, killing any animal “for the protection of property” is unacceptable. Under that standard, the city’s police or animal control personnel can kill a scared, abused dog abandoned in an apartment that was biting the door to get out.

Elizabeth  Must Change its Animal Laws to Become a Humane Community

Elizabeth’s elected officials clearly need to overhaul their animal laws. The city treats pit bull owners like common criminals and perpetuates discrimination against these people and their dogs. Elizabeth must change laws leading to increased killing at its shelter. Furthermore, the city must remove the curtain hiding the secretive Dog Control Committee and its policies. While the city’s animal control employees may not enthusiastically enforce these laws, Elizabeth residents are always at risk of that changing. In addition, the presence of these laws sends the wrong message and communicates either the city cares little about animals and/or is not serious about enforcing its own laws. Most Elizabeth residents would be appalled if they knew these laws existed in their city. The time has come for Elizabeth’s elected officials to act. The sooner these laws become past history the better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Dog Capacity Used

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (25)

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

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

Animals Killed Off the Books

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

Elizabeth Vet Invoice

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

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (23).jpg

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (24)

Highly Questionable Categorization of Animals as Owner Surrenders

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

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

Elizabeth Surrender form.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter’s euthanasia logs list questionable weights for the animals and raise questions as to whether the shelter actually weighed the animals. Under N.J.A.C. 8:23A-1.11 (f) 3 and 4, shelters must weigh each animal and keep a log of those body weights as well as the drugs used to immobilize and euthanize the animals. Almost all the adult cats weighed exactly 8 pounds. Additionally, most of the weights listed for dogs were convenient numbers, such as 60, 65, and 80 pounds. Frankly, I find it highly unlikely that many dogs just happened to weigh in at these user friendly amounts.

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

Elizabeth Groundhoug weight.jpg

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

Shelter Budget Reflects Misguided Priorities

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

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

Videos Reveal Poor Animal Sheltering Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (28)

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

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

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Still Needs Reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NKE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Data Reviewed

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

Statistics Show Mixed Results

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (29)

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter 2015 Statistics (27)

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

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

Rescues Save the Day

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

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

Elizabeth Dog Rescues 2015

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Cat Rescues 2015

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

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

Poor Policies Lead to Low Adoption Rates

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 2

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Photo 1

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

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

Elizabeth Animal Shelter Adoption Profile

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

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