As the clock ticks away on the deadline for the Jersey Animal Coalition (JAC) to vacate its building on Walton Avenue in South Orange, volunteers for the organization are mobilizing to ensure all the animals are adopted before the shelter shuts its doors for good.
The shelter had been closed since March after the township issued a quarantine for numerous health code violations. After a Superior Court judge ruled to temporarily lift the quarantine in early July, the town and the JAC reached a settlement in principle on August 20 in which the JAC agreed to vacate the premises and South Orange agreed to drop all complaints against them.
From that point, the JAC had 30 days to remove all the animals from the shelter, after which if they show “good faith progress” the town can grant them a 30-day extension. The JAC then has another 30 days to remove furniture and completely vacate the space.
Currently, the town is waiting for the JAC to execute the agreement, said Township Administrator Barry Lewis in a phone interview Wednesday. And although the JAC has agreed in principle to the settlement’s terms, they have taken exception to the date by which they are expected to vacate.
“The trigger date is up in the air,” said Lewis, who said the town’s attorney is in the process of drafting a letter of response to the JAC’s attorney.
As for the status of the animals still left in the shelter, Lewis said the town has not heard from the JAC on their progress. “They are supposed to be keeping us posted,” he said. If the town still hears nothing as the deadline grows closer, they might legally seek to have the animal control officer enter the shelter to assess the situation, he said.
Meanwhile, a group of JAC volunteers is spearheading an online fundraiser to raise $45,000 to help adopt the remaining dogs and cats, place some in an animal sanctuary, and provide medical care to those in need.
Details of the fundraiser, and pets up for adoption, are posted on the JAC Facebook page. As of Thursday evening, nearly $4,000 had been raised.
“[Time] is running out for the dogs and cats residing in our shelter,” the fundraising letter reads. “[Ten] years ago a ‘no-kill’ promise was made to all the animals who stepped through our door and entered our hearts. Today, with the shelter closing in South Orange, that promise is in jeopardy and we have limited time and resources to find a loving place for them to go.”
It is unclear how many animals are still in the shelter; however, the website Petfinder currently lists 21 cats and 15 dogs at the JAC that are up for adoption.
In the meantime, the town is making contingency plans for any animals that are not adopted by the deadline.
“If D-Day comes and there are still animals there, we can grant a little additional time,” said Lewis, who also said the town would seek the assistance of other local shelters, including the SPCA and Associated Humane Societies of Newark to help them place animals.
“We have no desire to go and euthanize animals,” said Lewis. “We will make every effort to adopt [them] out.”
After the JAC vacates, South Orange has a number of different options. It can enter into a lease agreement with another entity to run the shelter, lease the building to another facility, or join with Maplewood and possibly other nearby towns to operate it as a municipal shelter.
This last option is one other New Jersey towns do successfully, by entering into an interlocal shared services agreement. “This situation lends itself to shared services,” said Lewis.
Asked if a municipal shelter would be no-kill, Lewis said it is too early to say. “It depends on how you define no-kill,” he said, noting that the JAC’s insistence on no-kill regardless of whether animals were ill or unadoptable was “perhaps part of the problem” and why some animals were in the shelter for years.
Speaking to reports of animals who have recently died while in the shelter, Lewis said the town was limited in its legal ability to request necropsy reports. He said the town would take every appropriate action it could within its power to protect the animals.