Hart said last week that he has been speaking with a lawyer about suing Raymaker for slander.
In the past, Raymaker's complaints about the Jersey City-based shelter focused on the conditions at the facility, which takes animals from Jersey City, Hoboken, West New York, Weehawken, and Secaucus. There was, indeed, much to complain about. Witnesses said they saw a former employee of the shelter beating a dog with a shovel, and the former director of the shelter later admitted that the incident had taken place. That director, Jack Shaw, could not provide verifiable documentation of what had happened to the dog after that. The state health department subsequently investigated the facility and charged that it was not in compliance with various health standards.
Hart, an animal lover and former city councilman, took over the embattled shelter in July and has made many changes. Raymaker, a longtime animal activist whose group, the Liberty Humane Society, has been raising funds for the city to build a new shelter, has since turned her attention from conditions at the shelter to decrying the shelter's financial practices and compliance with state regulations.
"His board of directors needs to resign and they need to bring the facility into compliance with state regulations regulating charities," Raymaker said.
Hart said his CPA and lawyers have checked out the agency's financial compliance.
"They're in good standing from the state of New Jersey," said Hart. "Why would I get involved if they weren't? I ain't that stupid."
Raymaker says there are still other problems with the current facility. Raymaker sent out press releases over the last two weeks and made phone calls to newspapers concerning the former and possible current problems with the shelter after it was revealed that the shelter may be running out of room for new animals. Hart has been refusing to euthanize healthy animals in order to make room for others.
Raymaker has argued that the shelter should not hold animal control contracts if the facility has limited admissions.
"If you wanted to be a limited admissions facility and a no-kill facility, that's fine, but drop your animal control contract," said Raymaker. "The facility has five animal control contracts. You can't hold animal control contracts and be a limited admissions facility. It's an oxymoron. You just can't do both. He seemingly wants to do both, and you can't do that. Go one way or the other; become a no-kill facility, get your non-profit in compliance with state regulations, get a new board of directors, start fundraising and do that if that's what you want to do. Or, get your charity in order, get a new board of directors that's responsible to the commitment of the organization."
But why is Raymaker blasting the current shelter, if it would take years for a new facility to be built? What would happen to animals in the meantime?
Hart charged that Raymaker is being political and simply wants to be in charge.
"I'm talking to the SPCA lawyers to discuss litigation for libel and slander," said Hart. "The woman won't stop lying and manufacturing this, that and other thing. ...I'm concerned about the use of my animals for Norrice Raymaker's personal agenda."
Raymaker was seemingly unconcerned about the threat of a lawsuit.
"File," said Raymaker. "It's the Department of Health and Senior Services that levied fines against the facility. All we're doing is just reporting what has happened. We're reporting the actions that the state agencies have taken in order to bring the SPCA into compliance. We're not manufacturing anything; we're reporting what the state has done."
Hart said despite all Raymaker's efforts, he doesn't believe that a new shelter will be built. Raymaker insisted the opposite.
"I have a $500,000 commitment of private money that will go towards the construction of the shelter," said Raymaker. "I do feel the new shelter will be built. I would say it would be open in about two years. Tom Hart can say all he wants. If he doesn't think that it's going to be built, well OK, fine. My frustration is, bring your facility into compliance with state regulations regarding charities."
Rather than helping Hart better the existing shelter, Raymaker said she thinks a new shelter is the only means of improving the Assisi Center, the former Hudson County SPCA.
"We're committed to seeing humane animal control services provided in Hudson County, and we're committed to the welfare of companion animals and effective animal control in Hudson County," said Raymaker. "That really does mean a new facility in Hudson County, because the SPCA is too small. Even under the best of all possible circumstances, if the shelter would come into compliance, if it would get a new board of directors committed to the facility. The facility itself has been described in the feasibility study that Jersey City did several years ago, that it is overcrowded, it is substandard, the surfaces are very worn, there is no ventilation system in the facility, so it doesn't make sense to us to continue."
But Raymaker did admit that the shelter's conditions have improved under Hart's supervision.
"I think the animals that are there now are being fed," said Raymaker. "We're talking about the dark ages."
She added, "We had animals locked in cages that were starved, that had no water, that were covered in ticks and fleas, that were being beaten over the head with shovels by the shelter workers. So of course Tom has improved conditions for the animals in the facility."
Hart said that the shelter does comply with state regulations.
"We euthanize any animal that needs to be euthanized for veterinary purposes," said Hart. "The allegation is that we're stockpiling animals and we're overcrowded, but we're not going to kill an animal to make room for another animal. We do now, and we will continue to, accept animal control."
The shelter's veterinarian said last week that the facility has adopted out 200 animals since this summer. The shelter, located at 480 Johnston Ave., can be reached at 435-3557.