Monday, July 7, 2014

South Orange Village Sued by Jersey Animal Coalition, Quarantine Lifted

Above left: The quarantine signs have been removed from the door. Above right: a dog named 'Brownie' was adopted on Monday.

The quarantine at the Jersey Animal Coalition (JAC) shelter off of Walton Avenue in South Orange has temporarily been lifted, allowing the shelter to reopen. Several animals were adopted from the shelter within hours of the reopening on Monday afternoon.

The lifted quarantine comes after JAC and its president Ruth Perlmutter filed a lawsuit on Monday against the Village of South Orange, and the village's Health Department and Board of Health, in addition to Health Officer John Festa, Administrator Barry Lewis, Jr. and Deputy Administrator Adam Loehner. A former JAC executive board president, Robert Barenbach, is also named in the lawsuit.

The shelter had been originally been closed and placed under quarantine after a health inspection on March 12.

On Monday morning, Perlmutter sent a letter to local media regarding the lawsuit, reading: "On June 27, 2014 the Village of South Orange, after having shut down our shelter for four months, served notice on the Jersey Animal Coalition to terminate our lease, our services and demanding we vacate our shelter by July 9, 2014. The Jersey Animal Coalition takes great pride in serving the residents of South Orange and Maplewood at no cost. The Board, our staff, and all our volunteers want nothing more than to continue that service, save the lives of animals and find them loving homes. Due to our dedication to public service and to no kill sheltering, today, we are filing suit against South Orange and we thank the public for all the support we have received in this difficult time." 

In the complaint, Perlmutter wrote that JAC has met all requests made by the village since March. "Despite that, and despite requests from JAC", Perlmutter wrote, "the village has not re-inspected the JAC facility, has refused to lift the quarantine, and most recently, has tried to take over the shelter and seize the animals therein, contrary to existing law. As a result, the JAC has numerous animals in the shelter whom people wish to adopt, but who are stuck in our shelter due to the actions of the defendants. I come before this court praying for a court order to lift the quarantine and allow our animals to be placed in homes."

Perlmutter also claimed that former JAC president Robert Barenbach, of Monmouth County, was removed from his position in February in part because members of the JAC Executive Board learned that the JAC veterinarian of record was terminated by Barenbach, and was not replaced.

In the brief, JAC attorney William Strazza wrote that when Perlmutter once again became president of JAC, she "began putting out fires every place she found them, but could not move quickly enough to contain all the damage done before an incident in March 2014 which is the genesis, ultimately of this litigation". 

Strazza continued by requesting that the quarantine be lifted, and by saying that the animals at the JAC shelter are healthy, and contagious diseases at the shelter have been eliminated. "These healthy animals have people lined up to adopt them. Yet, they have been held hostage by the South Orange defendants inside the JAC shelter for over three months. For their sake, if for no other, plaintiffs pray this court will serve the interests of justice, act equitably, and provide all the emergent relief requested in this application for order to show cause with restraints."

In an email to Essex County Place, former JAC volunteer coordinator Nancy Schetelick questioned why the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) was not named as a defendant. "I find that interesting since JAC has not bothered to mention NJDOH as a defendant when it was the NJDOH who wrote up over 50 violations on the shelter for not being in compliance with numerous NJDOH Statutes", Schetelick wrote.

Loehner did not return requests for comment regarding the lawsuit.  

This afternoon in Newark, New Jersey Superior Court judge Dennis F. Carey, III ordered that the quarantine be lifted, and prohibited the village from evicting JAC from the shelter until further notice. Judge Carey also allowed adoptions to resume.

Several people came to the shelter to adopt animals when it reopened on Monday afternoon. 

When asked about the shelter reopening, LaVonne Trabal said, "I think it's fantastic. It's about time!" Trabal came to the shelter to adopt a cat named JoJo.

"We have fought very hard to keep this shelter open as a no-kill shelter for the people of South Orange and Maplewood", said volunteer Leo Davenport, who added that the shelter is in need of donations, including dog and cat food. "We're here for the animals", Davenport continued.

In an email to Essex County Place, Perlmutter said, "Our reaction (to the lifted quarantine) is bittersweet. Bitter because during our 4 months of closure we helplessly watched 4 week old puppies eager to share their joy and affection with their own families grow into adult dogs. We felt the frustration of not being able to give all our animals the homes they deserve, - all while watching our financial resources shrink. But also sweet, because we can now return to our mission of saving lives, finding caring homes,and making space for new arrivals by adopting and not euthanizing".

A hearing is scheduled to take place on August 20. 

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