Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Current and Former JAC Volunteers Speak Out

Only on PlaceNJ.com: The Jersey Animal Coalition (JAC) shelter off of Walton Avenue in South Orange remains open more than a month since a judge ordered that the shelter quarantine be lifted. Current volunteers at the shelter hope that it will stay this way.

"It is one of the prettiest shelters", volunteer Carole Leonard, of South Orange, told Essex County Place.

The shelter had originally been shut down and placed under quarantine after a joint health inspection between village and state authorities on March 12. At the time, village officials charged JAC with over 50 violations. That number has since increased to over 80 violations. Due to the quarantine, no adoptions from the shelter were permitted. On July 7, nearly four months after the March 12 inspection, JAC sued the village, its board of health, health department, and several of its employees. 

"These healthy animals have people lined up to adopt them", attorney William Strazza wrote at the time. "Yet, they have been held hostage by the South Orange defendants inside the JAC shelter for over three months".

After reading the lawsuit that day, New Jersey Superior Court judge Dennis F. Carey, III in Newark ordered that the quarantine be lifted. Adoptions began that evening, and have continued to this day. 

Current volunteer Michael Schickram, of West Orange, told Essex County Place that there are fewer than 20 dogs remaining at the shelter. "We have been aggressively adopting", he added.

However, since the inspection on March 12, stray animals found in both South Orange and Maplewood have been taken to the Associated Humane Society (AHS) in Newark, rather than the Jersey Animal Coalition shelter. 

Both the current and former volunteers came to the South Orange Board of Trustees meeting on Monday night to voice their opinions about this issue. Former volunteer coordinator Nancy Schetelick, of Union Township, spoke to the trustees, saying "there's a lot of publicity going out by JAC about all the animals being sent to die". Schetelick then requested to see the figures regarding the animals being sent by the village to JAC. After Schetelick spoke, Deputy Village Administrator Adam Loehner shared the figures with the former volunteers, as well as Essex County Place, outside the meeting. The figures, which can be seen below, do not include animals sent to AHS from Maplewood.

All of the current volunteers who wanted to speak to the board of trustees arrived after the public comment period had ended. Several of these volunteers accuse the village, particularly Administrator Barry Lewis, Jr. and Deputy Administrator Adam Loehner, of trying to have the shelter shut down even before the inspection on March 12. These volunteers include Leonard and Schickram, both of whom told Essex County Place that they want the trustees to visit the shelter to see how it has improved.

"Nobody understands this", said Leonard. 

At a Board of Trustees meeting in June, Leonard accused Loehner and Lewis of having a vendetta against JAC president and founder Ruth Perlmutter. At the time, Lewis denied the allegation, and said that the term 'vendetta' was "grossly inappropriate".

According to the current volunteers, the village is paying up to $100 for every animal sent to AHS. "We (taxpayers) are paying for something that's heartbreaking", said Leonard. "Those ladies (former volunteers) do not even live in South Orange".

However, the former volunteers disagreed with the current volunteers. "If they are truly worried about taxes, Ruth (Perlmutter) should drop the lawsuit", said Schetelick, adding that South Orange has hired an additional taxpayer funded lawyer for the lawsuit. 

JAC is due at South Orange Municipal Court in Maplewood this afternoon regarding the charges.

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