Thursday, July 3, 2014

Village: JAC to be Evicted (Updated)

The Jersey Animal Coalition (JAC) will be evicted from managing the village-owned animal shelter off of Walton Avenue in South Orange. 

In a letter sent on June 27, South Orange Village Administrator Barry R. Lewis, Jr. informed JAC president and interim director Ruth Perlmutter and attorney William Strazza that the lease agreement between JAC and the village had been terminated, and that the organization must vacate shelter premises by 4pm on Wednesday, July 9.

In an email to Essex County Place, Deputy Village Administrator Adam Loehner said that the "JAC eviction will not impact the services the Village provides to our residents. This entire situation is very unfortunate and we are surprised that the JAC has not corrected the issues from the violations and our communications in-order to open as soon as possible. We are hearing from many potential adopters who would like to give an animal a good home and the JAC is refusing to allow their animals to be transferred out to be adopted".

Nancy Schetelick, a former volunteer coordinator for JAC, told Essex County Place that she would like the shelter to be taken over by a reputable organization. "The animals have been held hostage long enough", Schetelick said, "they need to be 'rescued' and hopefully other animal rescue organization's will step up and give them a chance at a new life".

However, some have questioned this move by the village. "What is the ulterior motive of South Orange on this one?", questioned Marilynn English. "The real issue should be what is best for the animals. If JAC has been working for 25 years and 9 years in South Orange, what really brought this conflict on?"

The shelter has been closed and under quarantine since ringworm was allegedly discovered at the shelter in March. At South Orange Municipal Court in April and in June, JAC attorney William Strazza pleaded not guilty on behalf of the organization to more than 80 violations.

In a statement, Strazza claimed that a ringworm was introduced in the shelter when an infected cat was brought in by a South Orange Animal Control Officer, and put in the general animal population of the shelter. "After the discovery of the ringworm, the JAC has vigorously and aggressively treated the issue", Strazza said. "That fact is well known to South Orange, yet South Orange has refused to lift the quarantine", he added.

JAC was founded 25 years ago, and has managed the shelter since it opened in 2005.

Both the letter from the village to Perlmutter and Strazza, and the statement by Strazza, are below.


Full Letter from Village:

Dear Mr. Strazza and Mrs. Perlmutter: 

This letter follows my letter of June 13, 2014 to each of you, and my letter of June 25, 2014 of Mr. Strazza. As you know, my letter of June 13, 2014 served as a Notice of Default and provided the JAC with ten (10) days in which to cure the stated defaults under the Lease between the Township of South Orange Village, the Township of Maplewood and the Jersey Animal Coalition dated December 15, 1999. (“the Lease”) Since that time, we have only been provided with documentation relating to the insurance requirements under the Lease and the remaining listed defaults have not been addressed or cured. 

In the absence of such curing of the stated defaults, you are hereby notified, pursuant to Paragraph 10.1 of the Lease, that the Township of South Orange Village hereby terminates the Lease and demands that the JAC quit and vacate the premises on or before 4 p.m., Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Please be advised that if the JAC fails to vacate the premises by that time, the Village will take immediate action to enforce its rights under the Lease. Please govern yourselves accordingly. 

Very Truly Yours, 

Barry R. Lewis, Jr. 
Village Administrator


Statement by JAC Attorney William Strazza:

Since this entire ordeal began, the JAC, its Board and its President, Ruth Perlmutter, have taken the position that they have no intention to try the charges filed against them by South Orange in the press. Other than to continue to assert that there is no legal basis for the charges, it remains my client's policy to handle this matter only in court. That said, there are facts unrelated to the charges the JAC feels are important for the public to know. South Orange issued its quarantine order due to the presence of ringworm in several animals at the shelter. Our investigation reveals that the ringworm outbreak was caused by a South Orange ACO bringing a ringworm infected feral cat into the shelter after hours, and leaving it in general population, as opposed to it being left in isolation. After the discovery of the ringworm, the JAC has vigorously and aggressively treated the issue. That fact is well known to South Orange, yet South Orange has refused to lift the quarantine. In fact, South Orange is in possession of health certificates for all shelter animals, and an affidavit from the Shelter vet indicating the entire facility is disease free. Despite that, and despite the knowledge that the JAC had people lined up willing to adopt, the quarantine remains on place. In addition, despite repeated requests to have South Orange and the State re-inspect and to lift the quarantine, those requests have been ignored. This inexplicable refusal to act, combined now with South Orange moving to evict the JAC for alleged lease violations, which the JAC flatly denies, amounts to animal cruelty. In addition, it strongly suggests some improper underlying motive for every action taken since March 12th.

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