Passaic’s Pitiful Animal Shelter

In 2004, Passaic Animal Shelter banned its volunteer group for allegedly “violating a number of policies.” However, the volunteers, who were also known as Helping Hands Passaic, also complained about the facility’s poor conditions and unnecessary killing. Therefore, Passaic Animal Shelter, like many regressive facilities, banned the volunteers in order to protect themselves at the expense of the animals.

The New Jersey Department of Health vindicated the volunteers after it issued a scathing inspection report later that year. The inspection report’s key findings were as follows:

  1. Illegal killing of stray cats during the seven day hold period
  2. Inadequate isolation of a kitten with ringworm
  3. Several cats and dogs did not have access to water
  4. Two outdoor dog runs had metal pipes with rusty and sharp edges that could cause serious injuries
  5. Improper food storage, including cleaning solution spilled on dog food bags
  6. Improper record keeping
  7. No required inspection performed by the Passaic Health Department
  8. An animal control officer left an opossum in a vehicle for two hours in 107 degree temperatures

After the inspection, the NJ SPCA issued three summonses to shelter staff for needlessly killing the stray cats during the seven day hold period and leaving the opossum in the hot vehicle. Despite this horrific treatment of animals, one of the charged staff, Marilyn Comerford, stayed on as the Animal Control Officer for 10 more years until she retired in 2014. Even worse, the City of Passaic honored Ms. Comerford, who also was the shelter manager, “for her years of dedication and service.”

How does the Passaic Animal Shelter perform today? Is the shelter a refuge for homeless animals or a place where they go to die?

Passaic Runs a High Kill Shelter

Passaic Animal Shelter killed many dogs at its shelter in 2016.  You can view the actual records here. Overall, 22% of all dogs who were impounded in 2016 lost their lives at the Passaic Animal Shelter. If we just count the dogs not reclaimed by owners (i.e. dogs the shelter had to find new homes for), 39% of all the dogs Passaic Animal Shelter took in during 2016 were killed or died. In other words, more than one out of three dogs Passaic Animal Shelter had to find new homes for lost their lives.

Passaic Animal Shelter killed large numbers of pit bulls. Of the 86 pit bulls arriving at Passaic Animal Shelter in 2016, 33 or 39% of these animals lost their lives. If we just count pit bulls Passaic Animal Shelter had to find new homes for, 58% of these dogs lost their lives. Thus, Passaic Animal Shelter operated more like a pit bull killing factory than a shelter for pit bulls.

While Passaic Animal Shelter’s live release rate appeared good for small dogs and other non-pit bull like dogs, it still killed too many of these animals. 10% of small dogs and 13% of other non-pit bull like dogs impounded during 2016 and not reclaimed by owners lost their lives. As a comparison, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter, which is not a role model shelter, only euthanized 2% of nonreclaimed small dogs and 6% of nonreclaimed medium-large sized breeds other than pit bulls in 2016. Thus, Passaic Animal Shelter killed too many small dogs and medium to large sized non-pit bull like dogs.

Passaic Animal Shelter adopted out hardly any dogs. Of the 170 dogs arriving at Passaic Animal Shelter in 2016, the facility adopted out just 8 dogs or 5% of the dogs it took in. To put it another way, the shelter adopted out just 1 dog every 1.5 months. Frankly, a single person could foster and adopt out more dogs than the Passaic Animal Shelter did last year. Given this tiny number of dog adoptions, is it any wonder why the shelter kills so many dogs?

Passaic Animal Shelter 2016 Dog Statistics

Passaic Animal Shelter also killed large numbers of cats. You can read the actual records here. Overall, 48% of the 292 cats who were impounded during 2016 lost their lives. 45% of neonatal kittens (under 6 weeks old), 43% of older kittens (6 weeks to under 1 year) and 58% of adult cats (1 year and older) failed to leave the shelter alive. Simply put, Passaic Animal Shelter performed terribly for all types of cats.

Austin Animal Center in Texas proves Passaic Animal Shelter can save all of its healthy and treatable cats. Only 5% of all cats, 7% of cats 1 year and older, 3% of kittens aged 6 weeks to just under 1 year and 5% of kittens under 6 weeks lost their lives or went missing at Austin Animal Center in 2016. In other words, the death rate at Passaic Animal Shelter was 8 to 14 times greater for cats of various ages. Therefore, despite Passaic Animal Shelter impounding far fewer cats than Austin Animal Center in total and on a per capita basis, Passaic Animal Shelter killed a much higher percentage of these animals.

Passaic Animal Shelter also hardly adopted out any cats. Of the 292 cats entering the shelter in 2016, only 32 cats or 11% were adopted out. In fact, Passaic Animal Shelter only adopted out 1 cat every week and a half. To put it bluntly, the shelter seemed to make little to no effort to adopt out its cats.

Passaic Animal Shelter 2016 Cat Statistics

Austin Animal Center 2016 Cat Statistics

Passaic Animal Shelter’s length of stay data reveals it quickly killed dogs. On average, Passaic Animal Shelter killed all dogs after 18.9 days, pit bulls after 41.9 days, and small dogs after 10.7 days. Only one dog from other breeds was killed making its 103 day length of stay irrelevant.

To make matters worse, Passaic Animal Shelter killed dogs with empty kennels. Based on an equation for determining a shelter’s population, we can estimate the Passaic Animal Shelter’s average dog population during the year. Using the 170 annual dog intake figure and the 19.3 day average length of stay for all dogs, we can estimate Passaic Animal Shelter had on average 9 dogs in its shelter during 2016. The Passaic Department of Health’s June 7, 2016 inspection report (10 dogs at facility) and Passaic Animal Shelter’s 2016 Shelter/Pound Annual Report (7 dogs and 10 dogs at facility on 1/1/16 and 12/31/16) indicate this estimate was reasonable. 9 dogs only represents 3/4 of the shelter’s 12 dog capacity per its 2016 Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Thus, Passaic Animal Shelter killed dogs while other kennels remained empty during the year.

Passaic Animal Shelter 2016 Dogs Length of Stay

Passaic Animal Shelter quickly killed cats and took too long to safely place the other cats. On average, the shelter killed all cats after 23.3 days, neonatal kittens after 20.5 days, older kittens after 29.0 days and adult cats after just 19.5 days. With Passaic Animal Shelter killing so many cats, one would expect the facility to have an easy time adopting out the remainder who should have exhibited few behavioral or medical issues. On average, Passaic Animal Shelter adopted out all cats after 56.9 days, neonatal kittens after 71.7 days, older kittens after 40.0 days and adult cats after 71.8 days. Similarly, Passaic Animal Shelter took 43.4 days to send cats of all ages to rescues with adult cats taking nearly 2 months. As a comparison, Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society, which serves as an animal control shelter, achieved a live release rate of 91% for cats over 4 months of age as well as for kittens 4 months and under with average lengths of stay of just 23 days for the older cats and 27 days for the younger cats in 2016. In other words, cats at Passaic Animal Shelter lost their lives at 5 times the rate as Longmont Humane Society despite Longmont Humane Society impounding more cats and having a 30% lower average length of stay than Passaic Animal Shelter (24.4 days verses 34.6 days).

The shelter also killed cats when empty cages existed. Based on the same equation used for dogs above, Passaic Animal Shelter only had an average population of 28 cats in 2016 compared to a capacity of 35 cats. The Passaic Department of Health’s June 7, 2016 inspection report (25 cats at facility) and Passaic Animal Shelter’s 2016 Shelter/Pound Annual Report (13 cats and 17 cats at facility on 1/1/16 and 12/31/16) indicate this estimate was not too low. While the shelter may have been full during certain kitten season months, the shelter clearly killed cats while empty cages existed in many other parts of the year.

Passaic Animal Shelter 2016 Cats Length of Stay.jpg

Passaic Animal Shelter Fails to Provide Good Reasons for Killing

Passaic Animal Shelter killed most of its dogs for no reason. Overall, Passaic Animal Shelter listed no documented reason in the records provided to me for 69% of the dogs it killed. In other words, the shelter could not even explain why it took these animals’ lives. The shelter listed “aggressive” and “unpredictable” as reasons for 11% of the dogs it killed. Of the remaining reasons for killing dogs, Passaic Animal Shelter reported 8% were for bite cases, 6% were for serious injuries, 3% were for being nervous and 3% had an undisclosed illness.

Passaic Animal Shelter Dogs Killed Reasons

Hazel was an adult pit bull surrendered by her owner to the Passaic Animal Shelter on May 22, 2016. According to the shelter, Hazel had a “good” temperament, was not “aggressive” and had not bitten anyone. Despite this dog being clearly adoptable, Passaic Animal Shelter killed her for no documented reason 12 days later.

D69 Surrender Form

D69 Kennel Card

D69 Euthanasia Record

Kahloua was a 4 year old pit bull surrendered to the Passaic Animal Shelter by her owner on August 1, 2016. Her owner wrote a letter stating the dog was “not aggressive”, was “friendly”, was “happy”, “likes attention”, has “a good appetite” and “likes to play.” The owner also informed the shelter that Kahloua barked a little bit at people at first, but stopped once she got to know them. Despite the owner’s obvious plea to not kill her dog, Passaic Animal Shelter killed Kahloua 18 days later for no documented reason.

D112 Owner Letter to Shelter

Kaholoua.jpg

D112 Kennel Card

D112 Euthanasia Record.jpg

King was a stray adult pit bull picked up at a Burger King on December 21, 2016. Passaic Animal Shelter stated King had a “good” temperament, was not aggressive and was not involved in a bite incident. Despite King being obviously adoptable and arriving at a time of the year when few animals come into animal shelters, Passaic Animal Shelter killed King just 8 days later.

D173 Euthanasia Record

Passaic Animal Shelter Kills Cats for No Reasons and Preventable Conditions

Passaic Animal Shelter killed cats using the reasons in the table below. Overall, the shelter most commonly killed cats for no documented rationale. Additionally, the facility often killed cats for exhibiting illnesses, such as Feline Panleukopenia and upper respiratory infections, that it could significantly reduce by vaccinating cats upon intake to the facility, using volunteers to provide enrichment (improves immune response to disease), cleaning the shelter properly, and reducing the animals’ length of stay in a good way. Also, many of the cats with undisclosed illnesses likely had one of these preventable diseases. Thus, Passaic Animal Shelter killed numerous cats for no reasons and preventable causes.

Passaic Animal Shelter Cats Killed Reasons.jpg

Cat C66 was a 1 year old cat surrendered to the Passaic Animal Shelter by its owner on May 23, 2016. After just 11 days, Passaic Animal Shelter killed this cat for no documented reason.

C66 Surrender Form

C66 Euthanasia Record.jpg

Cat C188 was a 4 month old cat picked up a stray on August 25, 2016. Subsequently, the cat was surrendered to the Passaic Animal Shelter by his owner on September 6, 2016. After 21 days, Passaic Animal Shelter killed him and 3 other cats he came in with for having Feline Panleukopenia. Given the 14 day incubation period and the many other cases at Passaic Animal Shelter, it is likely Cat C188 and the other cats he came in with contracted the disease at the shelter.

C188 Intake Record

C188 Surrender Form.jpg

C188 Euthanasia Record.jpg

Frankly, the large number of Feline Panleukopenia cases at Passaic Animal Shelter are disturbing. Shelter medicine experts state shelters can greatly reduce the instances of this disease by vaccinating animals upon intake, housing cats appropriately, and cleaning effectively:

Although a scary and potentially devastating disease in a shelter, reliable vaccination on intake, effective routine cleaning with a parvocidal disinfectant, and housing that minimizes fomite transmission will greatly reduce the risk of spread. With new tools for diagnosis and risk assessment, even outbreaks can generally be managed without resorting to depopulation.

Furthermore, if Passaic Animal Shelter welcomed volunteers, it could treat cats with Feline Panleukopenia by sending these animals to specially trained fosters (technically the shelter has a foster program, but the facility does not promote fostering and few people would be willing to return fostered kittens to a high kill shelter). At these homes, the cats would receive anti-nausea drugs, antibiotics and fluid therapy in an safe environment where they would not infect other animals.

Cat C175 was a stray adult cat taken to the Passaic Animal Shelter on August 17, 2016. After 27 days, Passaic Animal Shelter killed her for being dehydrated, underweight and being icteric (i.e. having jaundice). Since this cat was at the Passaic Animal Shelter for nearly a month, she likely contracted the disease causing these symptoms at the facility.

C175 Kennel Card.jpg

C175 Euthanasia Record.jpg

Veterinarian Contracts Support Killing

Passaic Animal Shelter contracts with Rutherford Animal Hospital to provide veterinary care. On the surface, Rutherford Animal Hospital looks like an excellent choice given it is a large and modern veterinary facility. However, when one looks at the specifics in the contracts, major concerns arise.

Passaic Animal Shelter rarely vaccinates animals upon intake. While Rutherford Animal Hospital vaccinates the shelter’s animals, it visits the shelter as little as twice a week. Since Rutherford Animal Hospital, and not anyone who works at the shelter, vaccinates animals, many dogs and cats, including ones carrying highly contagious diseases, will sit in the facility spreading disease until the outside veterinarian comes to the shelter. The UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program clearly explains why shelters must immediately vaccinate animals to control diseases in their facilities:

When should the vaccine be given?

Immediately upon intake, if not sooner! In almost all cases, shelter animals should be vaccinated immediately upon intake. A delay of even a day or two will significantly compromise the vaccine’s ability to provide protection. In a cost saving effort, some shelters delay vaccination until the animal is made available for adoption, or even until it is adopted. While this does provide a service to adopters, the protective effect of the vaccine within the shelter is greatly reduced or eliminated. (In some cases, the chance of the vaccine preventing disease may be 90% or better if given the day before exposure, but will drop to less than 1% if given the day after exposure.) When possible, vaccination prior to intake is ideal (e.g. for owner surrendered animals or those returning from foster care).

Therefore, Passaic Animal Shelter’s vaccination program is ineffective and this may partially explain why the facility killed so many cats for illnesses and had so many other cats die.

Passaic Animal Shelter’s contract provides details on the veterinary funding it provides. In the City of Passaic’s contract with Rutherford Animal Hospital, Passaic only pays $1,516 per month for veterinary services and $70.82 per month to test the cats it adopts out for FIV testing. Based on the details of the arrangement outlined in Rutherford Animal Hospital’s response to Passaic’s request for proposal, the city will only pay $850 per year for the FIV testing. Therefore, Passaic could pay Rutherford Animal Hospital a maximum of $19,150 per year ($20,000 total fee cap – $850 FIV fee) to provide veterinary care (excluding FIV testing and spay/neuter which adopters pay for) or $41.45 per dog and cat the shelter impounded in 2016.

The City of Passaic’s veterinary funding is inadequate. After we back out the cost of vaccines of approximately $15.53 per animal (based on $21.25 per adult dog, $27.25 per puppy, $9.25 per adult cat and $13.25 per kitten according the Maddie’s Fund’s Financial Management Tool) from the average $41.45 veterinary care fee per animal, Passaic Animal Shelter would have just $25.92 to treat each animal for all other illnesses and injuries. Clearly, that is not nearly enough to treat sick or injured animals. Given this fee also must cover the cost of killing, the city and Rutherford Animal Hospital have strong incentives to kill any animal where veterinary treatment may be costly or might not work. Thus, the contract’s financial terms encourage killing.

Passaic Animal Shelter Veterinary Care Funding.jpg

Rutherford Animal Hospital plays a major role in Passaic Animal Shelter’s high kill operation. Specifically, Rutherford Animal Hospital “makes the final determination of status of animal for adoption, fostering or euthanasia.” In other words, Rutherford Animal Hospital approves all the absurd reasons for killing animals documented in this blog. Sadly, Rutherford Animal Hospital apparently chooses to kill for financial reasons rather than treat the shelter animals like valued clients from its private practice.

Passaic Animal Shelter’s contract with Rutherford Animal Hospital seems to indirectly cap adoptions at a low number. According to the City of Passaic’s contract for spay/neuter services with Rutherford Animal Hospital, it only pays a maximum of $6,000 per year with $80, $55 and $130 fees to spay/neuter each female cat, male cat and dog of either sex. Assuming the shelter used its spay/neuter fees based on the proportions of dogs and cats it took in (i.e. 37% dogs, 63% cats) and altered equal numbers of each sex, it could only spay/neuter 17 dogs and 56 cats. Based on the shelter’s Petfinder web site indicating the adoption fees include spay/neuter and the shelter’s policy and procedure manual indicating all adopted animals must be altered, this suggests the shelter could only adopt out 17 dogs and 56 cats for the entire year. However, Passaic Animal Shelter would need to have adopted out 39 dogs and 148 cats last year to achieve 95% dog and 92% cat live release rates. Thus, Passaic Animal Shelter cannot come close to achieving no kill status based on its contract.

Passaic Animal Shelter Spay & Neuter Contractual Cap.jpg

Despite Rutherford Animal Hospital being required under its contract to maintain legally required euthanasia records, an unusually large number of dogs had weights ending in convenient numbers such as 0 or 5. Under state law, the shelter must weigh each animal prior to killing/euthanizing. If Passaic Animal Shelter only estimated weights, the shelter could have provided the wrong amount of tranquilizing and killing agents to these dogs. Thus, the shelter’s dog euthanasia records raise questions as to whether the facility actually humanely killed/euthanized dogs.

Passaic Animal Shelter Veterinary Records.jpg

Passaic Must Take a New Path

Clearly, Passaic Animal Shelter took action to protect itself at the expense of the city’s homeless animals after volunteers exposed its dirty little secrets more than a decade ago. After banning volunteers, the shelter no longer had anyone to make sure they tried to save lives. Instead, the shelter used its unilateral control to take the easy way out and kill animals needlessly. Why? The shelter’s leadership, within the facility, the Passaic Health Department, and its elected officials, simply found it easier to save a few animals and kill the rest. In fact, Passaic Animal Shelter’s “Animal Control Policy and Procedure Manual” explicitly states it will not run a no kill shelter.

Passaic Animal Shelter has more than enough resources to run a no kill facility where it only euthanizes hopelessly suffering animals. In 2016, Passaic Animal Shelter received $384 of city funding per each of the 462 dogs and cats it impounded. As a comparison, Michigan’s Chippewa County Animal Shelter only received $253 of funding per dog and cat and saved 99.5% of the 398 dogs and 99.2% the 471 cats who had outcomes in 2016. Furthermore, Chippewa County Animal Shelter impounded more animals in total (851 dogs and cats at Chippewa County Animal Shelter verses 462 dogs and cats at Passaic Animal Shelter) and on a per capita basis (22.4 dogs and cats per person at Chippewa County Animal Shelter verses 6.5 dogs and cats per resident at Passaic Animal Shelter). Unlike Passaic Animal Shelter, Chippewa County Animal Shelter welcomes volunteers and operates its facility using no kill methods. Thus, Passaic Animal Shelter has no excuse for running a high kill shelter.

Passaic residents must call newly elected Mayor Hector Lora at 973-365-5510 and make sure the mayor keeps the following promise he made:

This was about leaving a legacy for our children and (setting) an example for all.

Clearly, Passaic must set an example that taking the easy way out and killing homeless animals for convenience is unacceptable. Mayor Lora can leave a legacy for Passaic’s children by turning his shelter around and allowing his constituents and others to help him do so. Teaching children the value of life and hard work is priceless. Let’s help Mayor Lora understand this.

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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.