The State Department of Health’s recent inspection of the Summit Animal Clinic in Union City – which takes in stray and lost animals from North Bergen, West New York, and Bayonne -- found that the clinic was not in compliance with certain state regulations, according to the subsequent report.
The inspection came after the state received a complaint from a pet owner that the clinic was not complying with some regulations. The state mandates that animal shelters keep found pets for seven days before euthanizing them, that they allow people access to see their confiscated pets, and that they follow certain health guidelines.
In the current economy, more and more people have parted with their pets or declined to adopt animals, forcing local towns to search for places to house stray and found animals. But there are very few shelters in the area, forcing cities to scramble to find adequate animal control services.
“Sadly, it seems like my concerns had been validated.” – Bayonne resident Patricia Mulligan
According to state regulations, an animal found by a city must be held for at least seven days before it can be euthanized. Clinics must also provide access to the public for a minimum of two hours per day. Local animal activists recently raised concerns that the clinic is not large enough to accomplish this (see our prior cover story on Oct. 9, 2011).
One animal lover complained to the state, which followed up with an inspection of the facility on Thursday, Oct. 6.
Following the inspection, the clinic received a “Conditional B” mark, which is neither a passing nor a failing grade, according to Daniel Emmer, communications manager for the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.
What the inspection showed
“A conditional B rating on a NJDHSS inspection report means that there are violations that must be remedied by the facility in order to come into compliance with the laws and regulations to operate an impoundment facility,” said Emmer in an e-mail.
“In this case, the state is working with the local health officer to bring the facility into compliance,” continued Emmer. “A reinspection of the facility will be conducted, but will be unannounced.”
The inspection report maintains that the Summit Animal Clinic was not in violation of the seven-day holding period. But according to the report, the clinic allegedly failed to keep adequate records, failed to isolate sick animals, and didn’t have a disease control program.
Geoff Santini could not be reached for comment. Both Santini’s attorney, John Lynch, and Dr. Carlos Triana of the Summit Animal Clinic did not return calls for comment.
Bayonne resident Patricia Mulligan told The Reporter last month that she was not allowed access to the clinic after her cat was found in Bayonne. The town of Bayonne recently began contracting with Santini.
Mulligan called the Bayonne Board of Health and was told that her cat was picked up on Sept. 2. She claimed that she was denied access to visit the Summit Animal Clinic in order to identify her pet.
Instead, the clinic chose to e-mail her pictures in order to confirm that they were in possession of her cat, she said.
Mulligan said that when her cat was eventually delivered to her after six days, he was in an unstable condition. Her vet later confirmed that her cat had been diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection.
“He was so sick that he was put on antibiotics for two weeks,” said Mulligan earlier this month, adding that treatment cost a “couple hundred dollars.”
Santini’s firm was hired by Bayonne in August as part of the city’s efforts to get a better handle on the growing feral cat colonies. At the time, Santini told the Bayonne Community News that the criticism from animal activists was unfounded.
And last month, John Lynch, an attorney for Santini, told The Reporter, “We welcome [the inspection]. We’re confident we’ll pass with flying colors.”
North Bergen Town Spokesman Phil Swibinski said last month, “People are brought in [to the facility] at any time of the day.” He also said the firm returns stray pets straight to residents’ doors.
He said the town had not gotten any complaints from residents about the contractor.
He added, “Also, Hudson County Animal Enforcement was the only respondent to the township’s request for a proposal, and is charging approximately $30,000 less than the previous vendor per year.”
The state report said that records of stray animals kept at the facility were incomplete.
“How does anyone know or prove that an animal that comes in is held in seven days?” asked Roseanne Trezza of the Associated Humane Societies, a non-profit animal sheltering system based in Newark. “No animals were individually identified, so how can you tell the arrival date?”
“Our inspection of the Summit Animal Clinic found that records were kept; however, they were incomplete,” said Emmer in an e-mail. “The inspector did not document a violation in regards to the seven-day holding period for stray animals.”
Trezza claimed that AHS has had to step in to pick up some pets because there wasn’t room at the Union City facility.
“The lack of enough space at their holding facility at the Summit Animal Clinic may be the reason they were left for the AHS to pick up,” continued Trezza.
“This situation is not new,” added Trezza. “I complained a year or two ago.”
Trezza also stated that she believes the problems with the clinic will never be solved.
“Months from now nothing will have changed,” said Trezza. “You’ll never know because there’s no written record. There’s no way to tell.”
The inspection report also states that, “Some primary dog enclosures do not meet the size requirements for the dogs housed in them.”
“A few cats were exhibiting signs of upper respiratory infection,” the report continues. “Evidence that these cats were provided with basic vet care were not avail.”
The report says that cats with symptoms of upper respiratory infection were not isolated from healthy cats.
“Sadly, it seems like my concerns had been validated,” said Mulligan in regards to the report. “They’re not taking care of the animals properly.”
Joe Waks, director of municipal services for the town of Bayonne, could not be reached for comment.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.