Concerned residents packed a conference room at City Hall on Tuesday night for a meeting of the board of the Liberty Humane Society, which runs Jersey City’s only animal shelter. Along with expressing concerns over a recent state health inspection, attendees debated the facility’s euthanasia policy.
The shelter was once seen as the answer to Jersey City’s animal control problems when the non-profit LHS – an activist group – raised money and built the facility at Liberty State Park eight years ago. But last month, the shelter’s entire board resigned due to various issues. Among them, the board did not like the fact that the shelter’s management had apparently begun to implement a “no kill” policy without notifying them. Some said the policy was starting to cause overcrowding.
One former board member, John O’Keefe, said last week that it wasn’t the policy that caused the disagreement, but the fact that the board was not being notified of certain changes.
Meanwhile, the shelter’s problems worsened this month when state inspectors threatened to close it over health violations.
“That’s the sad reality of an animal shelter.” – Diana Jeffrey
Ironically, the LHS shelter was the savior to many animals that had to be moved a year ago when Jersey City’s other shelter, the SPCA shelter, was closed permanently due to health violations. The LHS shelter took in yet more animals earlier this year when the city of Hoboken contracted with them for animal control.
After the board resigned last month, a new board took over. In the last week, seven dogs were euthanized, a shelter official said.
Diana Jeffrey, a member of the new board, said it is shelter policy to put animals to sleep only after evaluations are done to consider whether they could be adopted.
A former manager of the shelter, Niki Dawson, who is helping out with the interim board, said all animals that come into the shelter as strays are held for the state mandated seven days for owners to claim them.
On the eighth day, the unclaimed animal is officially the responsibility of the shelter, who determines its fate.
Adoptable animals that pass medical/behavioral tests will not have a time limit on their stay, she said.
25 dogs in one month
However, 25 dogs have been euthanized since July 18, according to Dawson. Only nine of those were put to sleep at the owner’s behest. Forty-seven cats have been euthanized, with only four of those procedures requested by owners.
Those numbers were contradicted by an unnamed source with knowledge of the workings of the shelter. The source said at least 15 to 20 dogs have been put to sleep in the last week and a half.
This source also said that some of the workers at the shelter are opposed to the euthanasia since they believe in the “no-kill” policy. The source said they do not speak up because they fear losing their jobs.
“We’re finding that some of the dogs there that been housed for many months are aggressive and cannot be adopted out,” Jeffrey said. “That’s the sad reality of an animal shelter.”
After an animal comes into the shelter and is being held, it’s evaluated after five days, Dawson explained in an e-mail.
“Due to the stress an animal is exposed to in a shelter environment, the shelter allows an animal to settle into the shelter for at least five days before he/she will be evaluated,” she wrote. “Owned animals surrendered to the shelter will be afforded the same time to settle in if space allows.”
The evaluations are done by trained professionals who look at how the dog responds to a specific action. For example, if an evaluator puts his hand in a bowl of food and the dog shows aggressive action, they may be scheduled to be euthanized. Jeffrey said three or four evaluations of dogs can be carried out each day.
‘Chase’ could have been saved
Some speakers at the meeting questioned how the evaluations are carried out. Laura Waddell, a longtime Hudson County animal trainer, said she came to shelter last weekend to do some evaluations. She said her evaluations were not taken into consideration by those now running the shelter; yet she offered her services for a future time.
A shelter volunteer, who identified herself as Carina, mentioned a dog named Chase whom she said was put to sleep due to his reaction to a recent evaluation where he was found aggressive. However, Carina said that the animal was going to be adopted by an individual who wanted to help make the dog less aggressive. Carina said the owner could have signed a waiver to absolve the shelter from any litigation against them.
However, the board said that the shelter could have still incurred legal risk if the dog had attacked its owner.
Worried about inspection
At the meeting, Diana Jeffrey, a former board president who heads an interim board that includes former board presidents Bonnie Swazo and Laura Moss, said the current board was primarily concerned about whether the shelter would pass a state inspection by this past Friday.
An inspector from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, along with employees from the city’s Health Department, had first visited the shelter on Aug. 4. They found violations like dogs being kept in cages smaller than allowed and sick animals being kept in the same area as healthy animals.
Jeffrey said inspectors found the same problems at the shelter on two previous occasions, but they were not remedied under the shelter’s previous management. The shelter’s former executive director was fired last month by the interim board.
The state inspection was key, said Jeffrey, because if the shelter is still in violation, state officials can order the shelter shut down and the animals removed.
“There are many, many other violations,” Jeffrey said last week. “We failed in every category that you can fail at.”
Jeffrey said the board, along with employees at the shelter and volunteers, would work throughout the week to isolate the sick animals, and to get better cages into the facility.
The shelter currently has 80 dogs and 275 cats, according to Dawson.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.