2014 Cat Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

Cats are losing their lives at an alarming rate in New Jersey animal shelters. Over 20,000 cats or 45% of the cats coming into New Jersey animal shelters in 2014 were killed, died, went missing or were unaccounted for. This blog explores the reasons why this tragedy is occurring and whether we can end the massacre. Additionally, I’ll try and answer the question whether shelters need to resort to neutering and releasing healthy friendly cats or not impounding these cats at all to avoid killing cats in shelters.

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

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

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

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

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

I modified the methodology for space-constrained shelters for this year’s analysis. Space constrained shelters do not have enough room to adopt out all of the animals they need to. Therefore, these shelters require rescue help. In the past, I assumed these shelters adopted out each cat based on the average time it takes to adopt out all cats. However, many cats require much less time to get adopted. Therefore, I assumed space-constrained shelters adopted out these animals first and then sent the cats taking longer to adopt out to rescues. While this significantly changed the results for space-constrained shelters, this assumption only had a minor impact on the overall results for all New Jersey animal shelters.

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

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

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

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

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

Ideally, I would perform two analyses as follows:

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

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

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

My model assumes shelters are doing the proper thing and practicing TNR and placing the reasonable number of feral cats received as barn cats. Obviously, many shelters do take in a good number of feral cats due to poor laws or misguided policies. As a result, the number of New Jersey cats killed may be higher than my model predicts for some shelters. However, my model’s results using total cat intake rather than assuming a larger percentage of feral cats will not be too much different for the targeted adoption and euthanasia rate metrics as explained in last year’s blog.

The following analysis assumes shelters receive a reasonable number of truly feral cats. As a result, shelters can adopt out these cats through a barn cat program. While I realize some shelters do receive greater numbers of truly feral cats, the purpose of this analysis is to examine whether New Jersey animal shelters can handle the number of cats received.

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

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save most of the state’s healthy and treatable cats. The table below details the targeted numbers of cat outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 45,162 New Jersey cats coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2014, 32,501 and 7,583 cats should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the cats in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had enough capacity to rescue 24,931 cats or more than three times the number of cats needing rescue from space constrained facilities. Unfortunately, some of the cats needing rescue, such as very young kittens, should not go to a shelter and still must go to either kitten nurseries or foster homes. That being said, many adult cats are in fact killed in New Jersey animal shelters and many facilities with excess space could save these cats.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many cats from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out at least 17,348 cats from out of state shelters or New Jersey’s streets after achieving a greater than 90% live release rate for cats coming into the state’s animal shelters. In reality, the New Jersey shelter system could rescue more than 17,348 cats from out of state shelters or from New Jersey’s streets given the 17,348 figure assumes all cats needing rescue from space constrained New Jersey shelters are sent to other New Jersey shelters as opposed to rescue groups. As explained above, some of the cats needing rescue from New Jersey shelters with a shortage of space are young kittens which should not go into most animal shelters. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters contain enough space to make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for cats and increase those cities’ cat live release rates to 92% as follows (per 2014 data):

  • New York City – 3,127 additional cats need saving
  • Philadelphia – 3,786 additional cats need saving

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

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 6.4 cats per 1,000 people in the state (4.6 cats per 1,000 people if no cats were rescued from out of state and all cats sent to rescue were rescued by other New Jersey animal shelters and adopted out). As a comparison, recent per capita cat adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Tompkins County SPCA (Ithaca, New York area) – 16.5 cats per 1,000 people
  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 11.1 cats per 1,000 people
  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 10.8 cats per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas area): 10.0 cats per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada area) – 9.3 cats per 1,000 people

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

Additionally, the adoption target, 6.4 cats per 1,000 people, I set out for New Jersey animal shelters is lower than the state of Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate of 7.3 cats per 1,000 people. Given Colorado still has some regressive animal shelters and only an 82% live release rate for cats, Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate can increase. Thus, the cat adoption targets I laid out for New Jersey animal shelters are quite achievable.

2014 Cats Targets

Cat Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

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

The tables below detail the death rates for cats at each New Jersey animal shelter. All cats missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Shelters having cat death rates equal to or less than 8% and greater than 8% are highlighted in green and red in the tables below.

The overall results show too many cats are unnecessarily losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. Based on the assumptions above, 15,791 savable cats lost their lives or went missing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2014. Obviously, some of these cats are truly feral and require TNR or placement as barn cats, but surely many others could be adopted out. Thus, New Jersey’s shelter system is failing its cats.

Several animal shelters in South Jersey and elsewhere account for a large percentage of the savable cats unnecessarily losing their lives. Specifically, Atlantic County Animal Shelter, Burlington County Animal Shelter, Camden County Animal Shelter, Cumberland County Animal Shelter and Gloucester County Animal Shelter account for 7,441 of the or 47% of the 15,791 cats needlessly losing their lives. Associated Humane Societies three shelters had 1,818 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2014. Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility had 1,344 cats lose their lives needlessly in 2014. Bergen County Animal Shelter, which happens to serve many towns in one of the country’s wealthiest counties, had 805 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2014. Collectively, these 11 shelters are 11% of the state’s shelters and account for 11,408 or 72% of the cats needlessly losing their lives.

Rescue oriented shelters generally had fewer cats lose their lives than targeted. While saving large numbers of cats is what we all want, some of these shelters may have achieved this result by taking in easier cats. Austin Pets Alive, which is a rescue oriented shelter in Texas, has developed some of the most innovative cat programs and only had a cat live release rate of 93% in 2014. This was due to Austin Pets Alive taking in many cats requiring significant treatment, such as neonatal kittens, from the city animal control shelter. As a result, some of the rescue oriented shelters with significantly fewer cats euthanized than targeted may have avoided taking in many of the more difficult cases.

Several animal control shelters euthanized the targeted number of cats or fewer. Denville Animal Shelter, Ewing Animal Shelter, Byram Township Animal Shelter, Humane Society of Ocean County, Secaucus Animal Shelter, Trenton Animal Shelter and West Milford Animal Shelter prove municipal animal shelters can avoid killing healthy and treatable cats. While Bergen Protect and Rescue Foundation, North Jersey Humane Rescue Center and Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter reported low euthanasia rates and have animal control contracts, I cannot rely on their numbers due to the turmoil at these shelters during this time.

2014 Cat Death Rate

2014 Cat Death Rate (2)

2014 Cat Death Rate (3)

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

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

Overall, New Jersey shelters are not receiving enough help from other animal welfare organizations. While the overall number of cats rescued was about 82% of the amount needed for the state as a whole, the actual number was 41% since many cats were rescued from facilities which did not require so much rescue assistance. Only 23 out of the 76 facilities needing rescue assistance received the required support. In other words, only 30% of the animal shelters needing rescue help received the amount these facilities require.

We truly need to understand the reasons for this rescue shortfall. While poor data collection (i.e. shelters classifying rescues as adoptions) may explain part of this rescue deficit, the large size of this number points to other causes as well. For example, New Jersey shelters significantly exceeded their dog rescue needs, but only received 82% of their cat rescue requirements. Certainly, some of these cats are feral and not candidates for most rescues. However, many other cats surely are home-able. Many high kill facilities may not reach out to rescues for cats, such as during kitten season, as much as they do for dogs. This data supports the need for the Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”), which requires shelters to contact rescues and other facilities at least two business days before killing animals. On the other hand, shelters with excess capacity may not be doing their part to save cats from space constrained facilities.

Several shelters received too much rescue help. Rescues may want to help these organizations due to rescue friendly policies. Alternatively, these shelters may be relying too heavily on rescues to save their animals. Shelters receiving the most extra rescue support were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 714 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Cape May County Animal Shelter – 224 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Paterson Animal Control – 221 more cats transferred than necessary (estimated due to the shelter’s incorrect reporting of rescues as adoptions)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 195 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Toms River Animal Facility – 181 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Elizabeth Animal Shelter – 140 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter 124 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter – 78 more cats transferred than necessary
  • East Orange Animal Shelter – 71 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Linden Animal Control – 65 more cats transferred than necessary

While Cape May County Animal Shelter is known as a progressive shelter, most of the other facilities are not good in my opinion. Local activists have campaigned to remove Toms River Animal Facility’s Shelter Director, Jim Bowen. Associated Humane Societies-Newark has a history of problems and kills animals for ridiculous reasons. Paterson Animal Control has no volunteer program, no social media page or even a website with animals for adoption. Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed two dogs last year on the day the animals arrived at the facility. Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter, East Orange Animal Shelter and Linden Animal Control were all investigated in the last year or two due to serious state shelter law violations. Thus, many shelters receiving greater than expected rescue support seem to do little more than allow rescues to save the day.

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

  • Cumberland County SPCA – 865 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Atlantic County Animal Shelter – 306 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Hamilton Township Animal Shelter – 293 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 292 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Vorhees Animal Orphanage – 219 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Camden County Animal Shelter – 177 fewer cats transferred than necessary

The million dollar question is why do these shelters receive very little rescue help? As you will see below, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts out many cats and is doing a good job. On the other hand, Gloucester County Animal Shelter pursues an aggressive catch and kill policy for feral cats, routinely illegally kills animals during the 7 day hold period, does not adopt out animals at the shelter on weekends, allows disease to spread like wildfire and violates New Jersey shelter laws to an outrageous degree. As a result, shelters receiving too little rescue help may or may not be doing their part to get that assistance.

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

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

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

2014 Cats Rescued

2014 Cats Rescued (2)

cr (3)

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

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

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

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

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 8 out of 97 shelters met the cat adoption goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets. Animal Welfare Association exceeded its cat adoption target by the most of any shelter in terms of total adoptions. Based on the the types of cats currently available for adoption and the cat death rate of 7%, Animal Welfare Association does not seem to just take in highly sought after cats. Animal Welfare Association has reasonable normal adoption fees of $95 for kittens and $65 for adult cats, but runs reduced and no adoption fee promotions as well. Animal Welfare Association also waives fees for certain cats who may take longer to adopt out, such as cats who are older or have behavioral or health issues. Furthermore, the shelter’s “Best Friends” program allows people who adopt a cat to pay just $25 for a second cat who is 1 year or older. Additionally, Animal Welfare Association uses an open adoption process focused on properly matching animals and people rather than an overly judgmental procedure based on black and white rules. To aid its open adoptions process, Animal Welfare Association uses the ASPCA’s Feline-ality program. Animal Welfare Association’s adoption rate increased by 20% and its cat length of stay decreased by 23 days after the shelter implemented the Feline-ality program. Finally, Animal Welfare Association installed perches in their cat enclosures to provide cats more vertical space which keeps the cats happier and more adoptable. Beacon Animal Rescue also exceeded its adoption target and charges a reasonable $75 fee for all cats. Other rescue oriented shelters exceeding their adoption targets were Animal Adoption Center, Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge. Thus, several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their cat adoption targets and Animal Welfare Associated used a variety of innovative strategies to adopt out many cats.

Several animal control shelters also exceeded their adoption targets. Despite not being open many hours, West Milford Animal Shelter exceeded its adoption goal by the most of any animal control shelter in terms of total cat adoptions. This shelter charges a very reasonable $35 fee for all cats and runs a creative Facebook page called “The Real Cats at West Milford Animal Shelter.” Byram Township Animal Shelter also exceeded its adoption goal. While the shelter has very limited adoption hours, the shelter’s volunteer organization partner also holds frequent adoption days at high traffic retail stores. The shelter’s volunteer organization charges reasonable adoption fees of $75 and $85 for cats and kittens, but also offers discounts when two or more cats are adopted together. Also, adoption fees for senior and special needs cats are only $35, but those fees are currently reduced to $25 for the holiday season. The Humane Society of Ocean County also exceeded its cat adoption target. While the shelter’s hours are fairly limited, the regular adoption fees for cats and kittens are only $50. In addition, the shelter adopts out barn cats who otherwise could not go to most homes. Additionally, the shelter proudly markets itself as a no kill animal control shelter and has a modern in-house veterinary facility that helps keep cats healthy and adoptable. Vorhees Animal Orphanage came close to meeting its adoption goal. This shelter’s normal adoption fees are quite reasonable. For example, cats at the shelter for 6 months or longer are $30, senior cats are $50, adult cats are $65, and kittens are $100. The shelter also is open 7 days a week, including weekday evenings and weekends (except one Wednesday a month and certain holidays), which makes it convenient for working people to adopt animals. Additionally, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts cats out at one PetSmart store and three PetValu locations. Thus, several animal control shelters exceeded or came close to achieving their cat adoption goals and therefore prove these adoption targets are achievable.

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

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

Associated Humane Societies performance is particularly disappointing. Specifically, Associated Humane Societies has the physical capacity to significantly reduce the killing of healthy and treatable cats. Associated Humane Societies adoption shortfall of 5,542 cats is 35% of the 15,791 cats unnecessarily losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters. Associated Humane Societies has the funding to reach these adoption targets as the organization took in over $8 million of revenue last year. This works out to nearly $600 of revenue per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in per my Life Saving Model. As a comparison, Nevada Humane Society, KC Pet Project, and Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Society, which are no kill open admission shelters, took in only $219-$505 of revenue per dog and cat. Activists wanting to increase life saving in New Jersey should focus on changing Associated Humane Societies’ policies given the lifesaving potential of this organization.

Several other shelters had significant adoption shortfalls. Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adoption shortfall of 1,913 cats is quite disappointing. Bergen County is among the top 1% of the nation’s wealthiest counties and the shelter received nearly $500 of funding per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in based on direct support from Bergen County and the revenue from the local charity that helps support the shelter. Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s, Gloucester County Animal Shelter’s, Montclair Animal Shelter’s and East Orange Animal Shelter’s adoption shortfalls of 2,361 cats, 1,454 cats, 712 cats, and 253 cats are not surprising given the widely documented problems at these facilities during this time. Thus, many shelters with the ability to adopt out many cats are failing to do so.

2014 Cat adopt

2014 Cat adopt (2)

2014 Cat adopt (3)

Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Cats

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

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of cats they should. 91 of the 97 shelters should rescue some cats from other local shelters. In fact, 50 of the 91 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single cat from other animal shelters. Only 3 shelters with significant amounts of space to rescue cats from nearby shelters met or exceeded their cat rescue target. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of healthy and treatable cats.

2014 rescued cats

2014 rescued cats (2)

2014 rescued cats (3)

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

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

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

Shelters Do Not Need to Leave Friendly Cats on the Street

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

Kitten Nurseries and Ringworm Wards Key to Saving Vulnerable Cats

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

Kitten nurseries or bottle baby wards radically increase the save rate for orphaned kittens still requiring milk. While foster care and rescue programs can save unweaned kittens, kitten nurseries are more efficient and make the job easier. Austin Animal Services, which is the animal control shelter in Austin, Texas, killed 1,200 plus kittens a year before Austin Pets Alive created a bottle baby program. Volunteers work in two hour shifts to feed and care for the kittens. Additionally, nursing mothers are pulled from the city shelter and used to help nurse highly vulnerable young kittens who are orphaned. Kittens are put on antibiotics and treated for fleas and worms immediately to help prevent complications from transitioning from breast milk to formula. Austin Pets Alive has pulled as many as 2,000 kittens a year from the city shelter and saved nearly 90% of these kittens in recent years through this bottle baby program. Best Friends created a kitten nursery in South Salt Lake City, Utah and saved 1,372 kittens from Salt Lake City area shelters. Similarly, several Jacksonville, Florida animal welfare groups created a nursery program called “Kitten University” which was “on track” to saving 1,400 kittens last year. Thus, kitten nursery programs can save young and vulnerable kittens.

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

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

Results Require New Jersey Animal Shelters to Take Action

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

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

Appendix Life Saving Model Assumptions

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

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

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

Each shelter’s community cat intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty cases), number of cats returned to owners, and maximum cat capacity were taken from its 2014 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health.” Unfortunately, 2015 data will not be available until August 2016.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community cat intake and cats returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 cats were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 cats (240/12). In July, the cat intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 cats by 1.2 to equal 24 cats. If 120 cats were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of cats returned to owners in July would equal 12 cats (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off 2014 cat intake data on the New York Animal Care & Control web site.
  • The estimated number of community cats returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country.
  • The number of community cats euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 8% of intake. 8% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate to use given other open admission animal shelters, such as Austin Animal Services, equal or exceed this target and New Jersey’s much lower per capita cat intake makes it easier to save lives. The average length of stay for euthanized cats is assumed to equal 8 days. I assume these cats have severe and untreatable health issues and are euthanized immediately after their required 7 day hold period.
  • The average length of stay used for adopted community cats was 42 days. This estimate was roughly halfway between the average cat length of stay figures for a number of no kill animal control shelters. For example, the average length of stay for cats in recent years was 14.2 days at Texas’s Williamson County Animal Shelter, less than 18 days at Nevada Humane Society, 21 days at Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society, 32 days at Lynchburg Humane Society,  33 days (32 for cats and 34 for kittens) at New Hampshire SPCA, 35 days at Montana’s Flathead County Animal Shelter, 41 days at Colorado’s Ark Valley Humane Society, and 61 days for adopted cats only at New York’s Tompkins County SPCA. While the average length of stay of adopted cats at these shelters other than Tompkins County SPCA may have been slightly higher since this data is for all cats and not just those adopted, the difference is not likely significant given adoptions represent most of the outcomes at these shelters. Unfortunately, I was not able to break down the adoption length of stay figures by age or breed for New Jersey’s shelters like I did in my analysis on dogs due to a lack of detailed cat intake data at New Jersey animal shelters. Upon reviewing cats up for adoption at several New Jersey animal control shelters and a few of the high performing facilities above, I did not see any significant differences in types of cats taken in. In the future, I hope to refine this analysis further.
  • The average length of stay used for community cats adopted out from rescue oriented shelters was 30 days. Rescue oriented animal shelters typically carefully select animals taken into their shelters. Based on the San Francisco’s SPCA’s 21 day and Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation’s 23 day average length of stay figures reported a number of years ago, I used a shorter length of stay for community cats adopted from New Jersey animal shelters without animal control contracts. I chose 30 days as a conservative estimate.
  • Cats transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community cats not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month outside of kitten season (i.e. November-March). However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, cats are moved from adoption (i.e. with a longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • During kitten season (April-October), animal control shelters are assumed to send a certain percentage of cats to rescue even if they have excess space. Due to the large numbers of kittens coming into shelters during these months, I assume shelters will not be able to place all of them into foster homes or a kitten nursery at this time. As a result, I assume animal control shelters will send 10% of their annual community cat intake to rescues based on the shelters’ estimated relative cat intake each month. For example, if a shelter took 100 cats in during the year and August made up 50% of the total cat intake from April to November, 5 cats would go to rescue in August (i.e. 100*10% = 10 cats; 10*50% = 5 cats). I used 10% based off the rescue percentage of cat intake in 2014 at Kansas City’s KC Pet Project. KC Pet Project is a no kill open admission shelter with an inadequate facility and is a good comparison for some of our state’s run down shelters. Shelters requiring rescue support due to space constraints are assumed to send these additional cats to rescues during kittens season.
  • Shelters are not expected to use the excess space created by fosters taking kittens to rescue and adopt out additional cats. This is based on the assumption that the kittens will return to shelters once old enough to safely stay at the facilities.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out cats from other New Jersey animal shelters. Given some of these cats will be young and highly vulnerable kittens, I assume 5% of these rescues will be euthanized for humane reasons. I used 5% based off Austin Pets Alive’s and Austin Humane Society’s weighted average cat euthanasia rate in 2014. These two shelters pull many cats from Austin Animal Services, which is the city’s animal control shelter, and their cat euthanasia rate is a reasonable proxy for the percentage of hopelessly suffering cats rescued from animal control shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter cats are saved, I assume additional cats are pulled from nearby states. The average length of stay for rescued and adopted cats is the same as the cats taken in by animal control shelters (i.e. 42 days). Similarly, I used 8 days as the average length of stay for rescued and euthanized cats from other shelters.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many cats New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue and rescue from other nearby animal shelters.
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they ran out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used cat adoption length of stay data from Perth Amboy Animal Shelter from 2014 and the first half of 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted cats in the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average cat adoption length of stay determined in the model above and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • The targeted number of cats adopted were capped at 8 cats per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of cats adopted were equal to this cap. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted rescues in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of cats adopted in the county to yield the targeted numbers of cats adopted in the modified model. Rescued and euthanized cats for these shelters were reduced based on the modified model’s assumption that shelters adopted out and euthanized 95% and 5% of rescued cats.
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Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s Amazing Turnaround Story

Several years ago the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter was in a crisis. Under the control of future Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter Director and Assistant Director, Michal Cielesz and Richard Cielesz, the shelter lacked community support. In 2010, which was the Cieselzs’ last full year at the shelter, the facility killed 25% of its dogs and 58% of its cats. Furthermore, the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter only adopted out 2 dogs and 10 cats for the entire year in 2010. During 2011, the Cieselzs’ left Perth Amboy Animal Shelter, but the facility still killed 14% of its dogs, 42% of its cats and 49% of its other animals. (i.e. rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, etc). As a result, the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter was a high kill shelter with a poor reputation.

City Hires New Animal Control Officers To Transform the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter

The city government oversees and has ultimate authority over the animal shelter. As is typical with municipal animal shelters, a department of city government, the Police Department in the case of Perth Amboy, controls the animal shelter. The city hires animal control officers to run the animal shelter and make day to day decisions. However, the Police Department has to approve new policies. Additionally, the Perth Amboy City Council may also have to approve significant new initiatives at the animal shelter. As a result, a successful animal shelter in Perth Amboy requires a supportive Police Department and City Council.

During the middle of 2012, Perth Amboy hired current Head Animal Control Officer, Christie Minigiello, to work at the animal shelter. The city hired Christie based on a recommendation from her Kean University Animal Control Officer Training program professor. Other than a very short stint at another animal control agency, Christie was new to animal sheltering. Prior to this, Christie worked in the dental field, operated a crafts business and was a passionate animal advocate. For example, several years ago Christie sent a dog, who we considered adopting before choosing another long-stay dog, to a reputable sanctuary after the shelter decided to euthanize the dog for alleged aggression. Thus, Perth Amboy decided to hire a competent person with a passion for saving animals.

Perth Amboy subsequently hired two additional compassionate animal control officers. In 2013, the city hired Joe Lipari to work at the animal shelter. Previously, Joe volunteered at the Woodbridge Animal Shelter. Joe is known as the “Pit Bull Whisperer” among Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s staff based on his ability to train and understand large dogs. Perth Amboy hired Jackie Rivera in 2014. Jackie volunteered at the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter prior to becoming an ACO at the facility. Thus, the city hired compassionate ACOs to run the animal shelter.

Perth Amboy Animal Shelter is not an easy place to save lives. 24% of Perth Amboy’s population lives below poverty level compared to New Jersey’s average of just 10%. Perth Amboy’s poverty rate exceeds the levels found in Jersey City, Elizabeth and East Orange. In 2013, the city only spent $281 per dog and cat on animal control and sheltering compared to the high kill and dreadful East Orange Animal Shelter’s budget of $345 per dog and cat. While Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s budget thankfully increased in 2014 and 2015, the budgeted amount per animal is still significantly lower than the amounts of many high kill shelters. Furthermore, few dogs coming into the shelter have microchips or licenses, which is likely due to the relatively low socioeconomic status of many of the city’s residents. Based on the facility’s small capacity and the number of dogs impounded and returned to owners in 2013 and 2014, I estimate the shelter only had 24-32 days in 2013 and 35-45 days in 2014 to get dogs out of the facility before no room was left to house these animals. Thus, Perth Amboy is not an easy city to achieve no kill.

Christie, Joe and Jackie dramatically improved the shelter. In 2012, when Christie was only at the shelter for half the year, the euthanasia rate decreased from 14% to 7% for dogs and from 42% to 25% for cats. Undoubtedly, the euthanasia rate was much lower in the latter half of the year after Christie started working at the shelter. In 2013, the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saved 97% of its dogs and 93% of its cats. In other words, only 3% of dogs and 7% of cats were euthanized or died at the shelter. Based on the facility exceeding a 90% live release rate, the shelter achieved no kill status in 2013 and was recognized by Saving90.org as being a role model shelter.

Detailed Data Shows Perth Amboy Runs a Highly Successful Shelter

In order to better analyze the shelter, I obtained detailed animal intake and disposition records for 2014 (except for one month for dogs and two months for cats) and the first six months of 2015. These records included the date the animal arrived at the shelter, species, breed, outcome (i.e. adoption, returned to owner, rescued, euthanasia, etc.) and outcome date. I tabulated this data to calculate the live release rate, average length of stay and other metrics to analyze the shelter’s performance. One slight methodological difference in my calculations verses the figures above is I counted outcomes occurring in a subsequent year as happening in the year the animal came to the shelter. For example, an animal arriving at the shelter in December 2014 and adopted out or euthanized in January 2015 will count towards the 2014 live release rate and average length of stay figures.

In 2014, the shelter continued to do an incredible job saving its dogs. The outcome statistics and average length of stay figures for dogs arriving at the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter in 2014 are detailed in the table below. 95% of the 135 dogs coming into the shelter were saved. In addition, rescues only pulled 4% of the dogs indicating Perth Amboy Animal Shelter was able to save almost all of these dogs on their own. Furthermore, dogs only stayed 26 days on average at the shelter and only took 31 days to get adopted. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saved almost all of its dogs on its own and those dogs did not spend a long time at the shelter.

All Dogs Perth Amboy 2014

Perth Amboy Animal Shelter also did an excellent job with its pit bull like dogs. While Perth Amboy Animal Shelter does take in a large number of small dogs, which are easier to adopt out, 27% of the shelter’s dog intake were pit bulls and pit bull mixes. The outcome statistics and average length of stay figures for pit bull like dogs arriving at the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter in 2014 are detailed in the table below. The shelter saved 86% of pit bulls in 2014. Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s 2014 pit bull live release rate was the same as two of the nation’s best no kill animal control shelters, Kansas City’s KC Pet Project (2013) and Austin Animal Center (2014). Additionally, the shelter’s pit bull like dogs only stayed at the facility for 66 days and were adopted out on average in 82 days. Furthermore, rescues only pulled a small percentage of these dogs. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saved a very high percentage of its pit bulls in 2014 and got these dogs out of the shelter in a reasonably short time period.

Perth Amboy 2014 Pit Bull Data

The shelter performed even better with dogs in 2015. Through the first 6 months of 2015, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saved 98% of dogs who had outcomes. In fact, the shelter only euthanized one dog who had a broken back and leg and was hopelessly suffering. Additionally, dogs stayed at the facility one day less in 2015 verses 2014 despite the uptick in the live release rate. Even more impressive, the shelter saved 100% of its pit bulls through the first half of 2015. Additionally, pit bulls stayed at the facility on average 18 days less in 2015 verses 2014 and adopted pit bulls’ average length of stay decreased by 30 days in 2015. In fact, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter adopted out its pit bulls in roughly the same amount of time as the benchmark animal shelter, Tompkins County SPCA, I use to grade New Jersey animal shelters. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter has done a fantastic job with all of its dogs.

Perth Amboy 2015 Dogs

Pit Bulls 2015 Revised

Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s dog performance for the combined period (2014 and the first half of 2015) was excellent. 96% of all dogs and 90% of pit bull like dogs made it out of the shelter alive. In other words, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter achieved no kill for all dogs, including pit bulls. Additionally, the average length of stay for all dogs was just 26 days and a respectable 60 days for pit bulls. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter achieved no kill for its dogs and was able to place those dogs relatively quickly.

All Dogs PA Revised

All Pit Bull PA Revised

While Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s cat live release rate slipped a little in 2014 and 2015, the shelter still does a pretty good job with cats. Based on the facility’s 2014 Shelter/Pound Annual Report submitted to the New Jersey Department of Heath, the shelter only euthanized 9% of the cats who had outcomes during the year. However, the live release rate drops to 82% if we count cats who died at the shelter during the year. Sadly, cats do die even at very good animal control shelters. For example, KC Pet Project had a cat live release rate of 83.5% in 2013. Similarly, the Lynchburg Humane Society only had cat live release rates of 74% and 83% in 2013 and 2014. Both KC Pet Project and Lynchburg Humane Society were considered among the nation’s best shelters during this time period, but these organizations’ older facilities made it more difficult to eliminate disease despite diligent cleaning. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s cat live release rate in 2014 was still pretty good taking into account these other factors.

Perth Amboy Animal Shelter also did a reasonably good job getting cats out of the shelter quickly. In order to do a proper analysis with enough data, I combined 2014 and 2015 cat intake and disposition statistics in the table below. Over this period, the shelter had an 81% cat live release rate. As with dogs, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter did much of the work based on cat adoptions exceeding the number of cats sent to rescues by an 8 to 1 margin. While I target a lower average length of stay for cats in my recent analysis of the state’s shelters, an average length of stay of 61 days for cats (75 days for cats who are adopted out) proves the shelter does not have to hoard cats to save a large percentage of them.

All Cats

Finally, the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saved 100% of all the other animals coming into the facility during 2013, 2014 and 2015. These animals include rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, etc.

Perth Amboy Creates a Welcoming Looking Shelter

Recently, I visited the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter and toured the facility. Immediately, you can see the ACOs created a very welcoming atmosphere with flowers and friendly decorations on the shelter’s front door:

IMG_456521834 Flowers

IMG_456522023

Additionally, during Easter the shelter added holiday festivities to the area near the entrance to create a positive and welcoming atmosphere:

Easter Decorations 3

Inside the shelter, the ACOs and volunteers took the depressing looking shelter and made it look happy. They repainted the dog and cat areas with inviting colors and added cute pictures of animals enjoying themselves:

Before runs

Volunteers Giving Shelter Make Over

Runs

Doggie ISOCat ISo 1

At the beginning of the kennel area, visitors are greeted by a pretty hanging basket of treats. This encourages adopters to interact with the dogs and increases the chance of dogs and adopters connecting with each other. Also, I really liked the positive vibe they created in the meet and greet room for adopters:

Meet & Greet Room

Even the bathroom, which is a very scary place in most shelters, got a complete makeover and looked beautiful:

Restroom

Thus, the ACOs created an inviting shelter where adopters can have a positive experience adding a new member to their families.

In addition, the shelter was extremely clean despite being full due to a large number of dogs coming in just before my visit. The ACOs regularly checked the shelter and cleaned up throughout the day. As a result, the shelter did not have that typical animal shelter smell which helps make it a welcoming place for adopters.

Strong Leadership Creates a Successful Animal Shelter

In order to run a highly effective shelter with a relatively small budget, the ACOs use a number of local high school students to clean the shelter and socialize animals during the week when many adult volunteers work. The students help out at the shelter as part of their required volunteer service to graduate from high school. Not only does this program help run the shelter at a lower cost, but it also helps the community connect with the shelter. For example, families of the students or friends of those families may choose to adopt animals or donate to the shelter. In fact, on the day of my visit a group of grade school students helped plant flowers outside the building:

Student FlowersStudent Flowers 2Student Flowers 3

The ACOs also implemented key programs that help dogs, particularly pit bulls, safely get out of the shelter more quickly. While the facility is small, the shelter has a fenced in yard where dogs can go out and run. Additionally, social dogs can play with other dogs. Playgroups are essential to keeping high energy dogs happy and healthy at shelters and are a common denominator among the nation’s best shelters for pit bull like dogs. Additionally, the ACOs started a foster program for all types of animals that allows animals to leave the shelter sooner. If I calculate the average length of stay based on when dogs left the shelter to go to foster homes rather than their final adoption date (i.e. after going to a foster home), the average length of stay for all dogs and pit bulls would decrease by 3 days and 7 days since the foster program began. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter created some very positive programs for pit bull like dogs.

Christie clearly demonstrated a passion for what she does and an initiative to improve. During my visit, Christie shared innovative ideas on how she could add space to a pretty small facility. In addition, she told me that the shelter wants to help neuter and release feral cats to assist local TNR advocates in the future. Finally, Christie talked to me about a planned program to allow children to read to shelter animals. Reading programs reduce stress in animals and may help kids gain confidence to speak in front of groups of people.

While I do have some different opinions on tactical strategies to saving lives, the ACOs have an unwavering passion to do the same. In addition to being the Head ACO, Christie runs the shelter’s Facebook page. On her day off recently, she helped catch a dog that was lost for 9 months. Also, Christie, Jackie and Joe often come to volunteer at the shelter on their days off. Most striking was how appalled Christie and Jackie were when I told them how other shelters used frequent killing as a method of population control. Thus, the ACOs clearly have a passion for saving animals and will do what it takes to make sure that happens.

Additionally, the City of Perth Amboy deserves a lot of credit. The Police Department, which oversees the shelter, has been very supportive of the ACOs and their efforts. Similarly, the local government also has stood behind the ACOs as well. The city keeps the facility open more hours than other similarly sized shelters, 10 am – 4 pm weekdays (shifting these hours a little later, say from 1 pm – 7 pm, would make the facility more convenient for adopters who work) and 10 am to 3 pm on weekends. Also, the location is near a commercial area with lots of foot traffic. Thus, the combination of supportive government officials, and competent and passionate ACOs helped turn the shelter around and make the city a role model for others.

Many other people noticed the positive change at the shelter as well:

Perth Amboy Turn Around 2

Perth Amboy Turn Around

Perth Amboy Turn Around 3

People Should Volunteer to Make the Shelter Even Better

While the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter is doing wonderful things, more volunteers can take the shelter to the next level. For example, additional fosters can help get cats out of the shelter more quickly to reduce the number of cats dying and raise the cat live release rate back over 90%. Similarly, volunteers can create a nonprofit to help fund some higher cost care, such as expensive veterinary procedures requiring specialists or a behaviorist for certain dogs needing extensive rehabilitation. Thus, more volunteers can help the shelter raise its live release rate even further.

Volunteers can also help Perth Amboy Animal Shelter save the lives of animals in other communities. To the extent Perth Amboy Animal Shelter can reduce its average length of stay, the facility can contract with additional communities currently served by high kill shelters. For example, if Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s average length of stay decreased by 50%, the shelter would have the space to handle twice as many animals. Volunteers can help get animals adopted more quickly by taking excellent photos, with a professional photographer being ideal, or creative videos. Similarly, volunteers can help with off-site adoption events or better yet, a satellite adoption center in a Petsmart, Petco or PetValu store. Additionally, volunteers can foster more animals to create more space for the shelter to take in more animals. Also, volunteers can train dogs that stay longer at the shelter to reduce their length of stay. Thus, more volunteers can help the shelter save more animals in many ways.

Volunteers should donate their valuable time to organizations where their contributions will be valued. Clearly, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter is run by passionate and highly skilled animal advocates. In my opinion, this is the type of shelter where volunteers can do more good. Sadly, volunteers at other shelters often have to fight management to save lives. Luckily, central New Jersey has an excellent shelter and people should volunteer at this facility to make a real difference.

Cat Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

Cats are losing their lives at an alarming rate in New Jersey animal shelters. Approximately 23,000-24,000 cats or nearly half of the cats coming into New Jersey animal shelters in 2013 were killed, died or went missing. This blog explores the reasons why this tragedy is occurring and whether we can end the massacre. Additionally, I’ll try and answer the question whether shelters need to resort to neutering and releasing healthy friendly cats or not impounding these cats at all to avoid killing cats in shelters.

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

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

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

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

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

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

Ideally, I would perform two analyses as follows:

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

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

The second analysis assumes local laws cannot be changed and shelters are stuck receiving unadoptable feral cats. Unfortunately, I do not have the data to calculate the percentage of truly feral cats received at each New Jersey animal shelter. Based on an analysis of Michigan animal shelter data, Nathan Winograd estimated at least 6% of cat intake at Michigan animal shelters are truly feral cats. Similarly, Wisconsin’s Clark County Humane Society 2014 cat statistics show feral cats who were trapped, vaccinated and returned to the community made up 7% of cat outcomes. Based on these numbers and the success of barn cat programs in Pflugerville, Texas and the Maryville, Tennessee area, barn cat programs should be able to save most feral cats in similar communities. On the other hand, California’s Orange County Animal Care reported approximately 24% of the cats it took in during 2012, which was before it practiced TNR, were feral and euthanized. However, I suspect at least some of these cats were fearful rather than truly feral and could have been socialized and eventually adopted out.

My model assumes shelters are doing the proper thing and practicing TNR and placing the reasonable number of feral cats received as barn cats. Obviously, many shelters do take in a good number of feral cats due to poor laws or misguided policies. As a result, the number of New Jersey cats killed may be higher than my model predicts for some shelters.

My model’s results using total cat intake rather than assuming a larger percentage of feral cats will not be too much different for the targeted adoption and euthanasia rate metrics. The Life Saving Model assumes euthanized cats stay at shelters for 8 days (i.e. euthanized immediately after the 7 day hold period). Many shelters will have a lot of extra space free up if more cats are feral and killed since the net impact will be moving local cats from adopted (assumed length of stay of 42 days) to killed (assumed length of stay of only 8 days). This creates extra space that my model assumes shelters use to rescue and adopt out cats from other places. For example, if I assume New Jersey animal shelters have a local cat kill rate of 30% as opposed to 8% due to more feral cats, total cat adoptions (New Jersey plus other states) will only be 2% lower and the kill rate would only rise from 7% to 16% for the New Jersey shelter system. A few space constrained shelters with high feral cat intake would have a significant increase in the targeted number of cats euthanized and a decrease in cats needing rescue due to cats moving from sent to rescue (assumed length of stay of 8 days) to euthanized (assumed length of stay of 8 days). However, on a statewide basis, shelters with excess capacity would partially offset this increase in the kill rate by rescuing and adopting out cats from shelters outside of New Jersey. Thus, the difference between my model’s assumed and actual feral cat intake will not have too much of an impact on the targeted cat adoption number and kill rate.

The following analysis assumes shelters receive a reasonable number of truly feral cats. As a result, shelters can adopt out these cats through a barn cat program. While I realize some shelters do receive greater numbers of truly feral cats, the purpose of this analysis is to examine whether New Jersey animal shelters can handle the number of cats received.

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

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save most of the state’s healthy and treatable cats. The table below details the targeted numbers of cat outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 49,163 New Jersey cats coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2013, 31,641 and 12,195 cats should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the cats in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had enough capacity to rescue 37,736 cats or three times the number of cats needing rescue from space constrained facilities. Unfortunately, some of the cats needing rescue, such as very young kittens, should not go to a shelter and still must go to either a kitten nursery or foster homes. That being said, many adult cats are in fact killed in New Jersey animal shelters and many facilities with excess space could save these cats.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many cats from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out at least 25,541 cats from out of state shelters or New Jersey’s streets after achieving a greater than 90% live release rate for cats coming into the state’s animal shelters. In reality, the New Jersey shelter system could rescue more than 25,541 cats from out of state shelters or from New Jersey’s streets given the 25,541 figure assumes all cats needing rescue from space constrained New Jersey shelters are sent to other New Jersey shelters as opposed to rescue groups. As explained above, some of the cats needing rescue from New Jersey shelters with a shortage of space are young kittens which should not go into most animal shelters. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters contain enough space to make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for cats and increase those cities’ cat live release rates to 92% as follows (per 2014 data):

  • New York City – 2,366 additional cats need saving
  • Philadelphia – 6,171 additional cats need saving

Certainly, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. Even if I assumed all of the out of state cats rescued by New Jersey animal shelters came from New York City and Philadelphia, that number is only 8% of the number that New Jersey shelters could rescue from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. While some of these cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters are young kittens which should not go into a normal animal shelter, many other cats could go to New Jersey animal shelters and be adopted out. As a result, the additional number of cats New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City and Philadelphia is not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for cats and help other states reach that goal as well.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 7.6 cats per 1,000 people in the state (4.9 cats per 1,000 people if no cats rescued from out of state and all rescued cats were rescued by other New Jersey animal shelters and adopted out). As a comparison, recent per capita cat adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 14.2 cats per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada area) – 9.9 cats per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas area): 9.5 cats per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 8.2 cats per 1,000 people

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

Additionally, the adoption target, 7.6 cats per 1,000 people, I set out for New Jersey animal shelters is only slightly higher than the state of Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate of 6.5 cats per 1,000 people. Given Colorado still has some regressive animal shelters and only a 79% live release rate for cats, Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate can increase. Thus, the cat adoption targets I laid out for New Jersey animal shelters are quite achievable.

Summary

Cat Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

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

The table below compares the targeted and actual number of cats euthanized/killed, and who died or went missing. In order to better compare the targeted and actual numbers, I only calculated the target number (8% euthanasia/death rate) based on the number of cat outcomes at each shelter. The Life Saving Model also targets a 5% euthanasia rate for additional cats rescued, but this would overstate the total targeted number of cats euthanized in this comparison. In other words, the targeted number of euthanized cats would be higher due to more cats being rescued as opposed to having a high kill rate. All cats missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Shelters having less and more than the targeted amount of cat deaths are highlighted in green and red in the table below.

The overall results show too many cats are unnecessarily losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. Based on the assumptions above, 18,877 savable cats lost their lives or went missing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2013. If I only count shelters where actual deaths exceeded the targeted deaths, the number of savable cats who lost their lives rises to 19,078. Obviously, some of these cats are truly feral who require TNR or placement as barn cats, but surely many others could be adopted out. Thus, New Jersey’s shelter system is failing its cats.

Several animal shelters in South Jersey and elsewhere account for a large percentage of the savable cats unnecessarily losing their lives. Specifically, Atlantic County Animal Shelter, Burlington County Animal Shelter, Camden County Animal Shelter, Cumberland County Animal Shelter and Gloucester County Animal Shelter account for 9,707 of the or 51% of the 19,078 cats needlessly losing their lives. Associated Humane Societies three shelters had 2,059 cats unnecessarily lose their lives. Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility had 1,594 cats lose their lives needlessly in 2013. Bergen County Animal Shelter, which happens to serve many towns in one of the country’s wealthiest counties, had 649 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2013. Collectively, these 11 shelters are 11% of the state’s shelters and account for 14,009 or 73% of the cats needlessly losing their lives.

Rescue oriented shelters generally had fewer cats lose their lives than targeted. While saving large numbers of cats is what we all want, some of these shelters may have achieved this result by taking in easier cats. Austin Pets Alive, which is a rescue oriented shelter in Texas, has developed some of the most innovative cat programs and only had a cat live release rate of 93% in 2013. This was due to Austin Pets Alive taking in many cats requiring significant treatment, such as neonatal kittens, from the city animal control shelter. As a result, some of the rescue oriented shelters with significantly fewer cats euthanized than targeted may have avoided taking in many of the more difficult cases.

Several animal control shelters euthanized fewer cats than the number targeted. Denville Animal Shelter, Ewing Animal Shelter, Byram Township Animal Shelter and Wayne Animal Shelter prove municipal animal shelters can avoid killing healthy and treatable cats. Furthermore, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter shows even a poorly funded shelter serving an area with a high poverty rate can avoid killing healthy and treatable cats. Mercerville Animal Hospital, which only reported data from 2012, also euthanized far fewer cats than targeted at its shelter. This shelter had an animal control contract for the first seven months of the year. While St. Huberts – Madison outperformed its targeted euthanasia number, St. Huberts – North Branch underperformed by a greater amount. Humane Society of Ocean County also euthanized far fewer cats than targeted. While Jersey Animal Coalition and John Bukowski Animal Shelter (Bloomfield) reported fewer than targeted cats losing their lives, I do not trust these organizations numbers due to the turmoil at these shelters during this time.

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

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

Overall, New Jersey shelters are not receiving enough help from other animal welfare organizations. While the overall number of cats rescued was about 37% of the amount needed for the state as a whole, the actual number was 28% since many cats were rescued from facilities which did not require so much rescue assistance. Only 18 out of the 84 facilities received the required rescue support. In other words, only 21% of the animal shelters needing rescue support received the amount these facilities require.

We truly need to understand the reasons for this rescue shortfall. While poor data collection (i.e. shelters classifying rescues as adoptions) may explain part of this rescue deficit, the large size of this number points to other causes as well. For example, New Jersey shelters received 89% of their dog rescue needs, but only 37% of their cat rescue requirements. Certainly, some of these cats are feral and not candidates for most rescues. However, many other cats surely are home-able. Many high kill facilities may not reach out to rescues for cats, such as during kitten season, as much as they do for dogs. This data supports the need for the Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”), which requires shelters to contact rescues and other facilities at least two business days before killing animals. On the other hand, shelters with excess capacity may not be doing their part to save cats from space constrained facilities.

Several shelters received too much rescue help. Rescues may want to help these organizations due to rescue friendly policies. Alternatively, these shelters may be relying too heavily on rescues to save their animals. Shelters receiving the most extra rescue help were as follows:

  • Toms River Animal Facility – 327 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Cape May County Animal Shelter – 201 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Passaic Animal Shelter – 106 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Paterson Animal Control – 88 more cats transferred than necessary (estimated due to the shelter’s incorrect reporting of rescues as adoptions)

While Cape May County Animal Shelter is known as a progressive shelter, the other facilities are not good in my opinion. Local activists have campaigned to remove Toms River Animal Facility’s Shelter Director, Jim Bowen. Passaic Animal Shelter has no volunteer program or even a social media page. Paterson Animal Control also has no volunteer program, no social media page or even a website with animals for adoption. Thus, many shelters receiving greater than expected rescue support seem to do little more than allow rescues to save the day.

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

  • Camden County Animal Shelter – 1,875 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 1,499 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Atlantic County Animal Shelter – 1,437 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Vorhees Animal Orphanage – 470 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Northern Ocean Animal Facility – 427 fewer cats transferred than necessary

The million dollar question is why do these shelters receive very little rescue help? As you will see below, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts out many cats and is doing a good job. On the other hand, Gloucester County Animal Shelter pursues an aggressive catch and kill policy for feral cats and allegedly killed kittens within 3 days of arriving at the shelter per this letter to a local newspaper. Northern Ocean Animal Facility failed to send even a single cat to a rescue which indicates either poor rescue outreach or an error in its reported numbers. As a result, shelters receiving too little rescue help may or may not be doing their part to get that assistance.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull cats from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the table below. One exception is Associated Humane Societies – Newark given Associated Humane Societies two other facilities have more than enough room to help the Newark location. If shelters not needing rescue support get that extra help, these shelters will not take the steps necessary to properly run their facilities. As a result of enabling poorly performing shelters and not pulling cats from truly space constrained facilities, rescuing cats from shelters with enough space leads to less lifesaving.

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

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

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

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

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

High kill shelters with very limited space as well as rescue oriented organizations may look better than they actually are. For example, the model assumes the mix of cats facilities are adopting out are the same as the types of cats these groups take in. However, if these shelters only adopt out a very small number of cats due to limited physical capacity, the cats adopted out may be highly adoptable ones with much shorter lengths of stay compared to the majority of cats these facilities impound. Similarly, many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt cats than the bulk of cats needing to get rescued from local facilities. Thus, the results from shelters with very limited capacity and rescue oriented organizations may look better than they actually are.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 6 out of 101 shelters met the cat adoption goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Two rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets. Animal Welfare Association had the most impressive results by far. This facility adopted out nearly 3 times the number of cats targeted by the Life Saving Model. Based on the the types of cats currently available for adoption and the cat death rate of 11%, Animal Welfare Association does not seem to just take in highly sought after cats. Animal Welfare Association has reasonable normal adoption fees of $95 for kittens and $65 for adult cats, but runs reduced and no adoption fee promotions as well. Animal Welfare Association also waives fees for certain cats who may take longer to adopt out, such as cats who are older or have behavioral or health issues. Furthermore, the shelter’s “Best Friends” program allows people who adopt a cat to pay just $25 for a second cat who is 1 year or older. Additionally, Animal Welfare Association uses an open adoption process focused on properly matching animals and people rather than an overly judgmental procedure based on black and white rules. To aid its open adoptions process, Animal Welfare Association uses the ASPCA’s Feline-ality program. Animal Welfare Association’s adoption rate increased by 20% and its cat length of stay decreased by 23 days after the shelter implemented the Feline-ality program. Finally, Animal Welfare Association installed perches in their cat enclosures to provide cats more vertical space which keeps the cats happier and more adoptable. Animal Rescue Force also exceeded its adoption targets and a key part of its success is using three different adoption sites, two of which are not in a traditional setting. Thus, Animal Welfare Association and Animal Rescue Force used a variety of strategies to exceed their cat adoption targets.

Several animal control shelters also exceeded their adoption targets. Camden County Animal Shelter adopted out more animals than expected. This shelter’s normal cat adoption fees are reasonable and the organization also uses four different Petsmart locations and one Petco store to adopt out cats. However, the shelter can likely further increase its cat adoptions if it abandons its cumbersome adoption process and uses an open adoptions process like Animal Welfare Association’s Feline-ality program. Vorhees Animal Orphanage also exceeded its adoption goal. Vorhees Animal Orphanage’s operating hours include weekday evenings and weekends which allows working people to adopt. This shelter’s normal adoption fees are quite reasonable. For example, cats at the shelter for 6 months or longer are $30, senior cats are $50, adult cats are $65, kittens are $100 and both senior citizens and military personnel receive a 25% discount on adoption fees. Additionally, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts cats out at one Petco store and two PetValu locations. Mercerville Animal Hospital also exceeded its adoption target in 2012 (no statistics reported in 2013) and had an animal control contract for the first seven months of the year. A rescue group, Animals in Distress, runs the adoption program. The shelter has a reasonable $75 adoption fee, which includes testing for Feline leukemia and immunodeficiency virus (“FIV”). Additionally, the shelter adopts animals out during weekday evenings which is convenient for working people and the cats are kept in an environment which provides lots of stimulation. Harmony Animal Hospital also exceeded its adoption target and charges no adoption fee. Thus, several animal control shelters exceeded their cat adoption goals and therefore prove these adoption targets are achievable.

Rescues should focus on pulling animals from Camden County Animal Shelter and Vorhees Animal Orphanage. Both these shelters have high cat death rates and their need for rescues greatly exceeds the amount of animals actually pulled from these organizations. While some of these cats may be feral and therefore not adoptable, many other cats surely could be rescued from the two shelters. Given these shelters are adopting animals out at a good rate, rescues and other other shelters should help these facilities out by pulling more cats from Camden County Animal Shelter and Vorhees Animal Orphanage.

Some municipal animal control shelters may be doing a better job with cats than the numbers below indicate. In some cases, municipalities may frown on government run shelters using taxpayer funds to rescue cats from elsewhere. For example, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter had a significant adoption shortfall, but only used a small percentage of its cat capacity. In other words, it is quite likely this shelter adopted out its cats quite quickly, but failed to meet its adoption target due to not using enough of its space. This shelter saved 93% of its cats compared to the previous shelter management’s reported live release rate of just 42%. Similarly, this shelter adopted out more than 10 times as many cats in 2013 than the previous management did a few years before. My suggestion to shelters like Perth Amboy Animal Shelter is to find ways to use more of your facility’s capacity to expand your lifesaving work to other areas. For example, these shelters should consider taking in animals from other shelters for a fee or even contracting with other municipalities.

Many shelters with the ability to help other local shelters fail to do so. New Jersey animal shelters have the potential to rescue and adopt out more than 3.5 times as many cats as the number of cats unnecessarily dying in the state’s animal shelters. Approximately 20-50% (depending on how capacity used for the year is estimated) of the adoption shortfall is due to shelters not using their existing capacity to adopt out their own cats or rescue cats from space constrained nearby facilities. The other 50-80% of the adoption shortfall is due to shelters not adopting out animals as quickly as these organizations should. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters fail to even come close to their adoption potential.

Associated Humane Societies performance is particularly disappointing. Specifically, Associated Humane Societies has the physical capacity to significantly reduce the killing of healthy and treatable cats. Associated Humane Societies adoption shortfall of 6,555 cats is 34% of the 19,078 cats unnecessarily losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters. Associated Humane Societies has the funding to reach these adoption targets as the organization took in over $8 million of revenue last year. This works out to nearly $500 of revenue per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in per my Life Saving Model. As a comparison, Nevada Humane Society, KC Pet Project, and Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Society, which are no kill open admission shelters, took in only $254-$415 of revenue per dog and cat. Activists wanting to increase life saving in New Jersey should focus on changing Associated Humane Societies’ policies given the lifesaving potential of this organization.

Several other shelters had significant adoption shortfalls. Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adoption shortfall of 1,929 cats is quite disappointing. Bergen County is among the top 1% of the nation’s wealthiest counties and received $430 of funding per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in based on direct support from Bergen County. If the revenue from the local charity that helps the shelter is counted, the funding increases to $483 per dog and cat the shelter should take in. Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s and Montclair Township Animal Shelter’s adoption shortfalls of 2,084 and 1,323 cats are not surprising given the widely documented problems at these facilities during this time. Cumberland County SPCA’s adoption shortfall of 2,045 cats is consistent with its overly restrictive adoption process. Thus, many shelters with the ability to adopt out many cats are failing to do so.

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Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Cats

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

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of cats they should. 98 of the 102 shelters should rescue some cats from other local shelters. In fact, 64 of the 98 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single cat from other animal shelters. Of the 98 shelters with the space to rescue cats from nearby shelters, only Animal Welfare Association met or exceeded its cat rescue target. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of healthy and treatable cats.

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

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

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

Shelters Do Not Need to Leave Friendly Cats on the Street

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

Kitten Nurseries and Ringworm Wards Key to Saving Vulnerable Cats

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

Kitten nurseries or bottle baby wards radically increase the save rate for orphaned kittens still requiring milk. While foster care and rescue programs can save unweaned kittens, kitten nurseries are more efficient and make the job easier. Austin Animal Services, which is the animal control shelter in Austin, Texas, killed 1,200 plus kittens a year before Austin Pets Alive created a bottle baby program. Volunteers work in two hour shifts to feed and care for the kittens. Additionally, nursing mothers are pulled from the city shelter and used to help nurse highly vulnerable young kittens who are orphaned. Kittens are put on antibiotics and treated for fleas and worms immediately to help prevent complications from transitioning from breast milk to formula. Austin Pets Alive has pulled as many as 2,000 kittens a year from the city shelter and saved nearly 90% of these kittens in recent years through this bottle baby program. Best Friends created a kitten nursery in South Salt Lake City, Utah and saved 1,372 kittens from Salt Lake City area shelters. Similarly, several Jacksonville, Florida animal welfare groups created a nursery program called “Kitten University” which was “on track” to saving 1,400 kittens last year. Thus, kitten nursery programs can save young and vulnerable kittens.

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

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

Results Require New Jersey Animal Shelters to Take Action

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

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

Appendix Life Saving Model Assumptions

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

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

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

Each shelter’s community cat intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty cases), number of cats returned to owners, and maximum cat capacity were taken from its 2013 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health. 2012 “Shelter/Pound Annual Reports” were used for shelters failing to submit reports in 2013. East Orange Animal Shelter’s 2013 data was obtained from a local news article due to the shelter failing to submit any “Shelter/Pound Annual Reports.” Unfortunately, 2014 data will not be available until Fall 2015.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community cat intake and cats returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 cats were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 cats (240/12). In July, the cat intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 cats by 1.2 to equal 24 cats. If 120 cats were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of cats returned to owners in July would equal 12 cats (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off 2013 cat intake data on the New York Animal Care & Control web site.
  • The estimated number of community cats returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country.
  • The number of community cats euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 8% of intake. 8% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate to use given other open admission animal shelters, such as Austin Animal Services, equal or exceed this target and New Jersey’s much lower per capita cat intake makes it easier to save lives. The average length of stay for euthanized cats is assumed to equal 8 days. I assume these cats have severe and untreatable health issues and are euthanized immediately after their required 7 day hold period.
  • The average length of stay used for adopted community cats was 42 days. This estimate was roughly halfway between the average cat length of stay figures for a number of no kill animal control shelters. For example, the average length of stay for cats in recent years was 14.6 days at Texas’s Williamson County Animal Shelter, less than 18 days at Nevada Humane Society, 21 days at Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society, 33 days (32 for cats and 34 for kittens) at New Hampshire SPCA, 35 days at Montana’s Flathead County Animal Shelter, 41 days at Colorado’s Ark Valley Humane Society, and 61 days for adopted cats only at New York’s Tompkins County SPCA. While the average length of stay of adopted cats at these shelters other than Tompkins County SPCA may have been slightly higher since this data is for all cats and not just those adopted, the difference is not likely significant given adoptions represent most of the outcomes at these shelters. Unfortunately, I was not able to break down the adoption length of stay figures by age or breed for New Jersey’s shelters like I did in my analysis on dogs due to a lack of detailed cat intake data at New Jersey animal shelters. Upon reviewing cats up for adoption at several New Jersey animal control shelters and a few of the high performing facilities above, I did not see any significant differences in types of cats taken in. In the future, I hope to refine this analysis further.
  • The average length of stay used for community cats adopted out from rescue oriented shelters was 30 days. Rescue oriented animal shelters typically carefully select animals taken into their shelters. Based on the San Francisco’s SPCA’s 21 day and Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation’s 23 day average length of stay figures reported a number of years ago, I used a shorter length of stay for community cats adopted from New Jersey animal shelters without animal control contracts. I chose 30 days as a conservative estimate.
  • Cats transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community cats not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month outside of kitten season (i.e. November-March). However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, cats are moved from adoption (i.e. with a longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • During kitten season (April-October), animal control shelters are assumed to send a certain percentage of cats to rescue even if they have excess space. Due to the large numbers of kittens coming into shelters during these months, I assume shelters will not be able to place all of them into foster homes or a kitten nursery at this time. As a result, I assume animal control shelters will send 10% of their annual community cat intake to rescues based on the shelters’ estimated relative cat intake each month. For example, if a shelter took 100 cats in during the year and August made up 50% of the total cat intake from April to November, 5 cats would go to rescue in August (i.e. 100*10% = 10 cats; 10*50% = 5 cats). I used 10% based off the rescue percentage of cat intake in 2014 at Kansas City’s KC Pet Project. KC Pet Project is a no kill open admission shelter with an inadequate facility and is a good comparison for some of our state’s run down shelters. Shelters requiring rescue support due to space constraints are assumed to send these additional cats to rescues during kittens season.
  • Shelters are not expected to use the excess space created by fosters taking kittens to rescue and adopt out additional cats. This is based on the assumption that the kittens will return to shelters once old enough to safely stay at the facilities.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out cats from other New Jersey animal shelters. Given some of these cats will be young and highly vulnerable kittens, I assume 5% of these rescues will be euthanized for humane reasons. I used 5% based off Austin Pets Alive’s and Austin Humane Society’s weighted average cat euthanasia rate in 2013. These two shelters pull many cats from Austin Animal Services, which is the city’s animal control shelter, and their cat euthanasia rate is a reasonable proxy for the percentage of hopelessly suffering cats rescued from animal control shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter cats are saved, I assume additional cats are pulled from nearby states. The average length of stay for rescued and adopted cats is the same as the cats taken in by animal control shelters (i.e. 42 days). Similarly, I used 8 days as the average length of stay for rescued and euthanized cats from other shelters.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many cats New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue and rescue from other nearby animal shelters.
  • The Life Saving Model assumes shelters can adopt out animals outside their service territory. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation and shelters can easily adopt out cats to people outside their service area. For example, people from outside the service territory of New Jersey shelters adopt animals from these facilities and at off-site adoption locations. Based on this assumption, shelters with a lot of capacity relative to the population in their service area have higher targeted per capita adoption rates (i.e. based on the population in their service area). However, these shelters can easily adopt out animals to people outside the area they take animals from.

Lessons Learned from Maddie’s Free Pet Adoptions Event

On May 31 and June 1, Maddie’s Fund sponsored a free pet adoptions event in various parts of the country. Research studies show animal welfare groups can increase adoption numbers without compromising the quality of the homes by waiving fees. People can use the money instead to pay for other substantial costs, such as vet care and pet supplies. In order to save lives now and encourage animal welfare groups to offer such promotions in the future, Maddie’s Fund pays these organizations a substantial per adoption subsidy. Specifically, shelters and rescues receive $500 for healthy younger animals, $1,000 for older animals or ones with certain medical conditions, and $2,000 for older pets with certain medical issues.

Three northern and central New Jersey animal shelter organizations participated in the event. St. Huberts, Liberty Humane Society and Associated Humane Societies’ Newark and Tinton Falls shelters ran the promotion. All three organizations should be commended for participating and choosing to save lives. However, we should also look at the experience and see what areas these shelters can improve upon to save more lives in the future.

Too Many New Jersey Shelters Did Not Participate

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the state’s animal shelters failed to take advantage of this opportunity. Frankly, people who donate to these shelters should question their leadership on why they chose to not take on this opportunity to save lives and receive significant grant money from Maddie’s Fund. Whether the low participation rate was due to not knowing about the event or ideological reasons (i.e. “free adoptions are bad”), the end result is less life saving. The low participation rate shows we need to promote this event better to shelters and hold shelter leaders accountable who choose not to sign up.

Adoption Numbers Increase Significantly

The following table summarizes the participating shelters performance during the Maddie’s Fund event. In order to provide some perspective, I compared each facility’s adoption rate during the two days to these shelters’ most recently available adoption rates. Additionally, I also estimated the percentage of each shelter’s animal population adopted during the promotion by using each shelter’s adoption numbers and the most recently available shelter population numbers. The actual adoption numbers may differ if the shelters revised their totals or did not report some adoptions on their Facebook pages, but the general trend should not be different.

Maddies Results Revised

Each shelter significantly exceeded their typical adoption rate during the event. St. Huberts and Liberty Humane Society adopted out animals at over 20 times their typical two day adoption rate. The two AHS facilities, which reported far fewer adoptions, also adopted out significantly more animals than normal.

AHS-Newark’s improvement may be better than these results indicate. Based on my experience with the shelter, I suspect transfers to rescues might be included in their 2012 adoption numbers. Also, the shelter’s reported 12/31/12 shelter population number seemed extraordinarily high. The shelter reported having 300 dogs and 225 cats (maximum claimed capacity), but a July 30, 2009 Office of Animal Welfare inspection report stated the facility was at full capacity with 325 animals. If we assume half of AHS’s 2012 adoptions were really transfers to rescues and the facility only had 325 animals, AHS-Newark would have adopted out 160% more animals than normal and 4% of its shelter population.  Thus, AHS-Newark may have done a bit better than the table above suggests.

Types of Animals Impacts Adoption Numbers

St. Huberts large number of adoptions may be in part due to the types of animals it takes in. St. Huberts has largely shifted from being an animal control to a rescue shelter. Additionally, St Huberts remaining animal control contracts are in wealthier areas which tend to have easier to adopt dogs (i.e. fewer pit bulls). As a result, St. Huberts probably has more highly adoptable animals than the other three shelters.

Additionally, St. Huberts may have potentially rescued a larger than normal number of animals in preparation for the event. Shelters have a strong incentive to bring more dogs and cats in with the $500-$2,000 subsidy for adopted animals sourced from the local area.

Nonetheless, St. Huberts still did an excellent job during the event. Specifically, I noticed St Huberts adopted a good number of adult pit bull type dogs in photos posted to the St. Huberts Facebook page.

More Adoption Locations Results in More Adoptions

St. Huberts adopted out animals at numerous locations and provided more people the chance to adopt. St. Huberts adopted dogs out at its two shelters and cats were made available at the two facilities and eight off-site adoption locations. Six of the eight off-site locations were at pet stores in retail centers. These retail centers are in high traffic areas and therefore attract large numbers of potential adopters. Thus, St. Huberts made it convenient for people to go and adopt an animal.

Open Adoptions Process Verses Overzealous Screening Leads to More Adoptions

Open adoptions promote matching people with the right pet and providing excellent customer service. St. Huberts and Liberty Humane Society utilize an open adoptions process. The Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA, Petsmart Charities and of course most in the no-kill movement strongly advocate using open adoptions. Specifically, these groups note overzealous screening ends up turning people off from adopting and often doesn’t match people with the right pet or properly educate the adopter.

Open adoptions are even more important during a busy event with large numbers of people. Long and cumbersome adoption procedures can create long wait times for people to adopt which may make them leave. Additionally, shelters with a reputation for difficult adoption processes may attract fewer people to these events due to fear of a long wait time and/or an unpleasant experience. Thus, open adoption processes likely lead to more people coming to the event and more of those folks leaving with a new family member.

How AHS Can Do Better Next Time

While AHS adopted more animals than they typically do, AHS can adopt more animals at future events. Liberty Humane Society, which is an open admission shelter servicing an urban area in Hudson County, adopted out more than 3 times as many animals as both AHS shelters combined per the table above.  Liberty Humane Society’s performance relative to its typical adoption rate was over 4 times and nearly 700 times as great as AHS-Tinton Falls’ and AHS-Newark’s results. Additionally, Liberty Humane Society has far fewer financial resource than AHS. For example, Liberty Humane Society’s and AHS’s net assets per their most recently available financial statements were approximately $197 thousand and $10.7 million (including $7.8 million of cash and investments). Thus, AHS performed far worse than another nearby inner city shelter with less financial resources.

AHS can promote this event better. Liberty Humane Society’s volunteers actively promoted the event, which included plastering the local area with flyers. Strangely, the very popular Associated Humane Popcorn Park Facebook page, which has nearly 50,000 likes, did not promote the event or participate for that matter. The Associated Humane Popcorn Park Facebook page often posts stories about the Newark and Tinton Falls shelters, but did not do so this time. This critical mistake likely resulted in much less foot traffic at AHS facilities during the event. Thus, AHS should promote the event heavily in the communities it serves and on the Associated Humane Popcorn Park Facebook page in the future.

AHS’s adoption process focused on vigorous screening and paperwork may reduce the organization’s ability to process large numbers of adoptions. AHS’s web site describes a pretty long adoption process, which includes not adopting puppies or small dogs to families with children under 5 years old. Additionally, the process involves significant paperwork and “screening” which suggests a cumbersome procedure. Adoption processes such as these often makes an adopter feel disrespected and may decrease their satisfaction with the shelter and adopting in general. Cumbersome adoption processes in an event like the Maddie’s free pet adoption weekend where adoptions must occur during the two days can create a significant bottleneck. For example, people may have to wait at the shelter a long time while veterinarians are called and paperwork is reviewed. Additionally in my past experience with AHS-Newark, the shelter did not alter most dogs until an adoption was approved. People typically would bring the dogs home at a later date after the shelter spayed/neutered the animal. If people met unaltered dogs or cats at AHS during the Maddie’s free pet adoptions weekend, the animals may not have been able to get altered until after the event.  As a result of AHS’s adoption policies and procedures, the organization may not have been able to process adoptions fast enough to adopt as many animals as St. Huberts or Liberty Humane Society.

AHS should move away from its existing adoption process to a procedure focused on making excellent matches. Two great examples are the ASPCA’s Meet Your Match and the Center for Shelter Dogs Match Up II programs. Both programs offer lots of free materials online to help shelters implement these programs. KC Pet Project, which is Kansas City’s open admission shelter, provides an excellent example of how one shelter implements these types of programs. In fact, KC Pet Project has had tremendous success in similar events exemplified by its adopting 228 animals during a 3 day $25 dollar adoption promotion.

KC Pet Project Empty Kennels

Thus, AHS has lots of available information to implement a more efficient and effective adoption process.

AHS-Newark needs more volunteers to better promote its animals. Until recently, AHS-Newark had virtually no volunteer program. Currently, the shelter has a small group of hard-working volunteers doing great things. For example, the volunteers run an excellent Facebook page, do offsite meet and greet events, pack walks with a few select dogs, dog behavioral evaluations and post animals to Petfinder.  AHS-Newark needs additional volunteers or staff to post dogs onto Petfinder. As of today, AHS-Newark only had 60 dogs and cats on Petfinder which likely represents a small portion of the animals at the facility. For example, this would only be 11% of the shelter’s total population if the shelter currently has as many animals it reported having at December 31, 2012 per AHS-Newark’s 2012 Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Additional animals need to get onto Petfinder in order to properly promote all of the animals and not just a select few.

AHS-Newark needs to expand its volunteer program to make animals more adoptable and to facilitate adoptions. Currently, the shelter’s volunteer program is fairly limited. AHS-Newark should seek to emulate Nevada Humane Society whose volunteers contribute over 2,500 hours per month to the organization and conduct a variety of activities. AHS-Newark could greatly benefit by expanding its volunteer base to socialize more animals. Better socialized animals and volunteers knowing more animals well would facilitate adoptions at the Maddie’s event by properly matching families and animals. Furthermore, additional volunteers allows adopters to meet more dogs outside the kennels where the dogs show better.

While the shelter’s space is limited, the organization could find a way to create a playgroup program. Playgroups are a common theme for large shelters who save pit bull type dogs at a high rate. Specifically, these programs make the large dogs, which AHS has lots of, more adoptable and show better in kennels. During the Maddie’s free adoption weekend event, dogs regularly participating in playgroups would seem more attractive to adopters.

Finally, AHS should adopt animals out at multiple locations in future Maddie’s Fund events. Both the Tinton Falls and Newark shelters could increase cat adoptions by holding the event at multiple high traffic locations, such at various Petco, Petsmart, and Pet Valu retail stores. Additionally, AHS-Newark should adopt dogs and cats out at the Union Square adoption center location in New York City. AHS-Newark’s large amount of animals may overwhelm adopters based on recent research and some adopters may not want to visit an inner city shelter. Thus, AHS would likely increase adoptions by adopting animals out at multiple high traffic locations.

Animals Depend On Us Always Improving

Overall, all three organizations adopted more animals than normal during the Maddie’s Pet Adoption Days event. Each organization should evaluate their performance and see how they can better their performance at future events. At the end of the day, animal welfare groups should always strive to improve. Lives are at stake and the animals are counting on you doing the best you can.