N.J. animal shelter 'totally out of control' after gruesome violations, critics say

Saturday, 11 November 2017, 08:45:41 PM. Jill Van Tuyl, assistant director for Associated Humane Societies, said the violations were unacceptable and staff was doing everything to correct ongoing problems

NEWARK -- The city's independently-run animal shelter is operating without a license after failing three back-to-back inspections that detailed kennels in severe disrepair, bags of carcasses covered in flies and sick animals not receiving basic vet care.

Associated Humane Societies, which opened its doors in 1906, is a nonprofit that operates three shelters, including one in Newark. The Newark facility on Evergreen Avenue also provides animal control services for the city and 13 other municipalities.

Jill Van Tuyl, assistant director for Associated Humane Societies, said the violations were unacceptable and staff was doing everything it could to correct ongoing problems. 

"It's an old building that has a lot of issues and we're doing our best to make sure any deficiencies with regard to the facility are rectified," Van Tuyl said. 

Some animal rights advocates, however, are questioning why the Newark shelter remains open despite more than a decade of egregious findings including a scathing 2003 report by the state and failed inspections in years since. 

Last month, health officials said the Newark shelter had made some fixes but hit the facility with new violations -- including not giving animals water and not having a supervising veterinarian. 

"This is completely and totally out of control at this point," said Collene Wronko, a member of Reformers - Advocates for Animal Shelter Change in NJ. "Why are they still allowed to take in animals?"

Van Tuyl, who began working at the nonprofit in January, said many of the violations stemmed from the inability to hire and keep personnel, including kennel technicians who clean and feed the animals.

"Give me a chance. I'm new here and I want us to be better and I want us to be in compliance," she said. "The team and I are working very hard to make these changes. It's a big ship to right."

Newark's Department of Health and Community Wellness that regulates the Newark shelter together with the state Department of Health said they were monitoring the shelter's progress and allowing it to operate on a conditional permit. 

"Corrective action for several deficiencies previously reported have been observed to date and implemented including the hiring of a full-time veterinarian and full-time staff member designated to ensure that animals are fed and provided water accordingly," the department said in a statement.  

Spurred by an anonymous complaint, local and state health officials conducted a joint inspection on Aug. 22 and slapped the Newark facility with 40 violations. A follow-up inspection on Sept. 26 and Oct. 20 found some improvements but the shelter still has not met licensing requirements. 

Among the cited deficiencies:

  • Sick animals were held in the same room as healthy animals and caretakers were not following procedures to control the spread of disease. Cats and kittens with nasal and eye discharge were held in the same room with nursing cats and kittens.
  • A white Maltese with sores and missing hair and other sick animals were not provided with vet care.
  • There was excessive amount of medical waste that was not properly disposed of and the facility kept poor records of the animals.
  • There was insufficient ventilation in the basement for animals housed there to remove odors and humidity. Flooring throughout the facility was in disrepair and needed to be removed. 

Van Tuyl said she took issue with the record keeping citations and said her staff showed inspectors the proper paperwork. She also said the staff didn't have time to address medical needs for some of the animals since inspectors came first thing in the morning and many of the animals became ill overnight.

"We are on top of this now, and the vets, they make their rounds in the mornings," she said.

Alan Rosenberg, who used to volunteer at the Newark facility and is a shelter reform activist, blamed the shelter's management for its ongoing woes. 

"They're not using best practices; there's so much information available nowadays on how to properly run an animal shelter," Rosenberg, who runs the NJ Animal Observer blog said. "A successful animal shelter tries to move animals out of the shelter as quickly as possible."

Associated Humane Society's current executive director, Roseann Trezza, has served on the board of directors since 1973 and according to the nonprofit's 990 tax filing, reported $112,000 in compensation in 2016. She could not be reached for comment. 

The nonprofit reported $9 million in revenue from grants, contributions and their animal control contracts with municipalities in its most recently available 990 tax form. Associated Humane Societies has two other facilities in Tinton Falls and Forked River, including the Popcorn Park animal sanctuary. 

"We're a nonprofit and it's a big operation," Van Tuyl said. The nonprofit is the largest sheltering system in the state and provides 24/7 animal control services. "It takes a lot to keep it going." 

Newark's $675,000 annual contract with the agency allows for the sheltering of animals picked up by animal control services. It also calls for the shelter to protect the animals from injury, keep them dry and clean, and give them enough space, according to a copy of the contract obtained by Rosenberg through a public records request. 

The agency reported spending more than $4 million on salaries, $127,000 in legal fees, more than $1 million on animal food and supplies, and $126,000 in repairs and maintenance. 

Rosenberg said health officials can -- and should -- shut the shelter down, but they're worried about "where are we going to put these animals?"

In 2011, then Newark Mayor Cory Booker proposed building a city-run, no-kill animal shelter. He cited ongoing problems at Associated Humane Societies and its high kill rate. Booker's administration pointed to a stinging 2003 report by the State Commission of Investigation that led to the resignation of long-time executive director Lee Bernstein.

The city-run shelter was never built -- despite Booker allegedly raising $39,000 for it -- and plans for it did not re-emerge under Mayor Ras Baraka's administration.

"We need to fix this and make it right," Van Tuyl said. 

Staff writer Noah Cohen contributed to this report.

Karen Yi may be reached at kyi@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook. 

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