Monday, April 14, 2014

JAC Shelter Remains Closed One Month Since Health Inspection

South Orange and Maplewood's only animal shelter has now been closed for over a month. The Jersey Animal Coalition shelter on Walton Avenue in South Orange was shut down by the South Orange Village Department of Health in March following an inspection conducted by village health officer John Festa and Linda Frese from the New Jersey Department of Health on March 12. 

The inspection report said that the shelter was allegedly violating multiple state laws, and their were several other issues at the facility causing the shelter to be shut down. The report said that "the fire inspection unification posted at the facility showing evidence of a satisfactory inspection had expired" in 2013, "(paper) towels were not provided at several of the hand washing sinks located in the animal rooms and at the sink in the food preparation area", and dog crates were being used as "primary enclosures to house dogs in various locations throughout the facility". According to the report, four of these crates, which were constructed of an "inconsistent gauge wire to provide safe containment of the animals", were located in the education room, and intended for aggressive dogs. Furthermore, the report said that the crates "wobbled and started to tip when the dogs jumped on the sides of the enclosures". The report also said that one dog was being housed in the staff break room. 

Other findings from the inspection included pieces of dog treats on the floor, walls with water damage, a hole in the laundry room ceiling, a phone jack outlet without a cover plate in a free-roaming cat room, and dangling electrical cords, according to the report. The report also said that the village health inspector found dog feces throughout the parking area and outside grounds, in addition to a bag of dog feces "melting into the snow". There was an "excessive amount of clutter", and unlocked cabinets with medical supplies inside, the report continued. Plus, the report cited insufficient ventilation, animals showing signs of illness being kept in the same room as other animals, dogs being placed in previously inhabited enclosures without the enclosures being cleaned first, lack of records, feeding pans not being cleaned daily, and no evidence of sick or injured animals receiving "prompt basic veterinary care to alleviate pain and suffering". The report cited dozens of additional violations, including that "many of the animals" not being identified. Also mentioned in the report was that a sign on the front door indicated that the shelter was closed on Mondays, but the report said that the shelter is required to be open for public access for at least two hours every business day. 

Other animal shelters in Northern New Jersey are reacting to the shutdown. Suzanne Roman, the Executive Director of the Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter in East Hanover, said that "Mt. Pleasant is saddened by the situation with JAC and hopes their problems can be addressed, then monitored to ensure the best possible care for the animals entrusted to them". Roman said that the JAC shutdown has caused minimal impact to the Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter. A representative for the Proud Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) of Montclair said "we lost our shelter at the end of 2008 so I think we know how they (JAC) feel, we took all our animals with us when we closed and now we are a foster network". Lisa Esak of the Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge shelter said the the JAC shutdown "does not have a tremendous affect on us other than that there is always an overwhelming number of homeless animals and people looking to surrender animals and a shortage of places for them to go regardless. That unfortunately doesn't seem to change." 

Regarding how the village has been impacted by the shutdown of the shelter, South Orange Village President Alex Torpey told Essex County Place that "the day-to-day services which the residents receive have not been affected. The Village has contracted with Associated Humane in Newark." The Jersey Animal Coalition shelter was where stray animals found in both South Orange and Maplewood were delivered before the shelter was shut down. 

The president of the Jersey Animal Coalition, Ruth Perlmutter, originally agreed to comment for this story, but then did not return our questions. A statement on the JAC website says the the coalition is "working diligently to ensure that (the shelter) will reopen in a timely always, the health and safety of the animals in our care is our primary concern". The statement also says that "over the last few months, rumors, both real and perceived, have been flying about the shelter’s operations and future. Please be assured that the JAC Board is aware of everything, has been conducting its own ongoing investigation and is taking action. As a result, we took significant steps last month to rectify the source of many of these problems. We are looking forward to working closely with the State and the Village of South Orange so that together we can bring the Shelter back to its pre-eminent role as a community resource, and as one of the very few 100 percent no-kill shelters in the Tri-state area. Community support matters more now than ever. We thank you for your past, present and future support of JAC in keeping no-kill a reality in NJ." The coalition says that donations are needed now "more than ever, since...adoptions have been stopped". 

When Essex County Place visited the shelter on April 14, a man who identified himself as a volunteer said that the shelter is in desperate need of donations. "Because of the vindictiveness of some of the volunteers, the only ones who really got hurt (by the shutdown) were the animals", said the volunteer, who said he is not employed by the coalition. According to the volunteer, the animals who live in the shelter have been locked in cages since the shelter was shut down. Pointing to a dog who he was bringing out of the facility, he said that many of the animals have become "very aggressive" because of this. The volunteer declined to give his name, but claimed that there were some volunteers who "weren't walking the dogs properly", and therefore were terminated by the coalition. "People found reasons to pick on the shelter", the volunteer said, alleging those volunteers reported the shelter to the village for various violations. 

South Orange Deputy Administrator Adam D. Loehner told Essex County Place that "under the quarantine, no animals should leave the facility (shelter grounds). As for volunteers it is up to the vet of record to determine who needs to be there to ensure the animals are well cared for. The Village has asked the shelter to only walk animals on their property to ensure each animal is getting enough exercise time to maintain good health". 

Donna Leusner, the director of communications for the New Jersey Department of Health told Essex County Place that "the Department (of Health) provided technical assistance to the South Orange Health Officer during the inspection. The New Jersey Department of Health does not have jurisdiction over animal cruelty situations but we were informed by the South Orange Health Officer that he notified the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA) of the conditions under which the animals were held at the facility". 

The Jersey Animal Coalition is due in South Orange Municipal Court in Maplewood tomorrow at 3:00pm on 51 charges. Ruth Perlmutter, JAC president, faces two different charges dating back to February. Perlmutter has pleaded not guilty, and JAC did not file a plea.