The shelter, located at 525 Meadowlands Parkway, is a mecca for the town's population of feral and abandoned pets.
The facility, donated to the town in 2000 by Hartz Mountain Industries, consists of one main housing unit, two auxiliary units, a garage, a large yard, and a good-sized animal park. The shelter relies mostly on donations. According to the town's animal warden, Michael Gonnelli, who is also the superintendent of the Department of Public Works and a recently elected Battalion Chief for the Fire Department, Hartz Mountain and the Geraldine Dodge Foundation are big supporters of the shelter's projects.
"The Dodge Foundation gave us a $30,000 grant for two years," said Gonnelli. "We got $15,000 in both 2003 and 2004. I plan to ask for $50,000 for this year and next." Gonnelli also was recently notified of a $3,000 donation being made by the Sudha Vaswani group, a local Indian affiliation active in animal rights and health initiatives.
According to Animal Control Officer Ed McClure, that donation might help fund the shelter's spay-neuter release program.
"Last year, we spayed or neutered almost 150 cats and then re-released them," said McClure.
"Keep in mind though that it costs us $70 per cat to do this," added Gonnelli, "and that's with a substantial discount from out veterinarian."
McClure indicated that if a cat seems young and friendly enough, it will be held for adoption. If it is not suitable for domestication and needs to be released, at least it will be unable to reproduce, and thus, the feral population is still controlled.
Besides monetary donations, McClure said that food drives by the town's schools and churches help supply a majority of the food.
"The kids in the school and the churches really come through for the animals," said McClure. "They do a couple of drives a year that keep us stocked with food."
Volunteers express concerns
Mayor Dennis Elwell visited the shelter on Wednesday to examine the tenants of the shelter, which happened to be relatively low with only three dogs and a handful of cats currently awaiting adoption. The shelter can accommodate roughly 10 dogs and 25 cats.
Elwell was eager to participate in an ongoing discussion between Gonnelli, staff members and volunteers about concerns that some residents have expressed about how animal shelter is run.
"One of the problems we face here is that people tend to think we have a bottomless pit of money, and we're far from that," said McClure.
The township supplies a $15,000 annual budget to the shelter. It goes towards food, cleaning supplies, traps, and other equipment. The larger donations are used to pay salaries of the three animal control officers currently on staff.
A major concern of some animal lovers is the fact that the shelter will not readily accept every animal. First off, the animal has to be found within Secaucus. It cannot be brought in from surrounding towns. Second, because of budgetary restraints, residents have to use discretion when bringing in pets they can no longer afford or handle in their homes.
"A message needs to get out that while people love animals when they are pups or kittens, they will eventually grow up and become hard work," said Elwell. "Then, people want to come down here and dump them on the shelter. People need to keep in mind that when they go out to buy a pet, they are making a 10 to 15-year commitment."
However, one volunteer recently complained that when she wanted to bring in a dog because a resident was about to move and give it up, a shelter employee told her she would need to pay $1,500 if she wanted to drop it off. She also said that when she wanted to drop off a stray cat, an employee told her she should clean the floors as a volunteer.
The shelter officials said last week that the dog was old and was going to be put to sleep by the owners, and no one would have adopted it. They said the shelter doesn't like to, nor can it afford to, put animals to sleep. McClure said the hours of the shelter are mandated by the budgetary restraints the shelter faces, he said, but the shelter does manage to open its doors seven days a week.
According to McClure, the public can access the shelter Monday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sometimes, it is open as early as 6:30 a.m.
"We had some difficult times where the hours were a bit unstable due to different circumstances," said McClure, "but now the hours have stabilized and we want to encourage volunteers and make the shelter accessible." McClure did say, however, it is wiser to call before heading down, to make sure someone from the staff is available to supervise. The number is (201) 348-3213.
"You have got to have a certain love for this job to do it," said McClure. "But at the same time, you have to remain detached and realize animals get adopted, get sick, and get released, and we can't keep every animal here forever."
Hartz provides volunteers
Four female volunteers were at the shelter Wednesday morning, giving the resident dogs baths and teeth cleanings. The women were a regular group from Hartz Mountain pet supplies, a former subsidiary of the real estate conglomerate that was sold off years ago but kept the same name.
But that doesn't mean that the old pet supply business no longer has its heart in what it does. The volunteers said they come about every other week, donning pet supplies and goodies for the animals, helping to clean the animal cages and floors. About three or four times a year, they come in and help clean up the animals. They give them showers, brush their teeth, and play with them in the animal park.
Many other volunteers regularly appear at the shelter to help clean up the facility and to feed the dogs or feral cats hanging around the outdoor units.
According to McClure, one of the bigger problems within the town is a population of about 40 to 50 homeless cats that live in or around the garages at the Harmon Cove Towers. McClure theorizes that because of the high turnover in apartment complexes, a lot of residents release their pets when they are moving out. It is his hope that people will become more aware of the shelter and utilize its adoption programs for pets that have already been domesticated.
"One of our biggest successes is using the internet to put animals up for adoption," said McClure. "We use pet finders (www.petfinders.com) to advertise what animals we have available, and the response has been great."
Currently, the shelter is working with Harmon Cove Towers to come to a solution for trapping and spaying or neutering the cats. Once a cat is captured, it not only has the reproduction reduction surgery, but it also receives vaccinations and blood tests for a variety of diseases. This is true for every animal brought to the facility.
Additionally, the shelter just added a roofing structure adjacent to one of the outdoor units that houses strays. The roof is to provide a sheltered area for cats and volunteers who come to feed them during winter months.
The staff at the shelter asks that residents call with any questions or concerns. Volunteers over the age of 18 from around the county are welcome. McClure or any of the shelter's staff can be reached at (201) 348-3213. Cat adoption fees are $30 and dogs are $65.