One thing is certain about the current uproar over animal control in Maplewood: There are impassioned feelings from all parties involved.
With the town entering into a full service contract with the Associated Humane Society of Newark for sheltering and animal control services, and firing its municipal animal control officer, some residents are worried about the welfare of the town’s animals.
See the resolution and the contract here, as PDFs.
The contract, approved 4-1 by the Maplewood Township Committee, led to concern from residents who oppose the AHS’s use of euthanasia, dispute its recordkeeping and disagree with the termination of eight-year Animal Control Officer Debbie Hadu. One Maplewood resident started a petition asking the town to reconsider; as of January 12, the petition had more than 1,000 signatures.
The contract, which ends Dec. 31, 2015, has a 60-day termination clause. The town will pay the AHS $41,802.25, to be paid on a monthly, prorated basis. Maplewood has had a temporary contract with AHS for limited, on-call services and sheltering since the closing last spring of the Jersey Animal Coalition, which served both Maplewood and South Orange, Township Health Director Robert Roe recently confirmed.
Hadu claimed in a phone interview that she was fired for “personal” reasons stemming from disagreements with her boss, Township Administrator Joseph Manning. She said she is considering hiring a labor attorney to fight her dismissal. The Village Green has reached out to her union representative for further information.
Manning said he would not comment on personnel issues, but that the contract is expected to save the township approximately $20,000. Hadu said her salary was $39,350 plus benefits that totaled approximately $10,000.
Scott Crawford, AHS’s assistant executive director, told The Village Green his organization began working with both towns after the JAC’s quarantine, which “left both Maplewood and South Orange with very [few] options.”
The AHS currently serves a total of 16 municipalities, the Essex and Union County Park system and the NJ Turnpike Authority. The facility has six full-time animal control officers, 17 staff maintenance workers, and is open seven days a week for adoptions. Critics have charged the AHS with long response times of as much as 40 minutes. Crawford disputed that, saying, “It takes us 20 minutes to get to Maplewood.”
AHS took in a total of 59 animals from Maplewood between January 2014 and January 2015, mostly through the AHS’s animal control services. Some of those animals came to the shelter when surrendered by their owners; others were from the township’s ACO, Crawford said. Twenty-seven of those were cats that came from one hoarding residence.
Attached is a copy of the 2013 NJ Annual Shelter Report for the AHS.
“Most [of the animals] were sent to various rescue groups out of that specific case and only a small fraction, about 6, had to be euthanized for health reasons….,” said Crawford.
Hadu said she only took in a total of six animals during that time period, one of which she brought to AHS. Roe said the discrepancy was likely due to animal “turn ins” that went directly to the AHS.
The AHS follows a state-mandated seven-day hold on euthanizing any animals taken into the shelter. If the animal has a tag or a microchip or can be identified with the help of a town’s Board of Health, the AHS will send a certified letter to the owner, who has ten days from that point to claim the animal before it is euthanized.
The AHS charges pet owners a $95 fee to retrieve their animals ($125 on weekends or after hours), plus $4.24 per day for care. The agency charges to remove wildlife such as raccoons from inside a home (unless it is an immediate threat to residents) but will not charge to trap an animal outside.
Crawford said the AHS’s euthanasia rate for the last state report in 2013 was 35%, which comes from totaling both cat and dog intakes for that time period (5,067) and dividing the number of animals euthanized (1,824). He does not see the euthanasia rate climbing and the shelter is making an effort to lower it.
“The no-kill equation doesn’t always work,” said Crawford in a phone interview. “Not every animal deserves to be kept in a little wire cage. That’s no life for an animal.”
Although he came in for some harsh criticism at last week’s meeting, Crawford said he came away with a positive feeling. “You can tell people [in Maplewood] love animals.”
At the recent budget workshop, Roe explained how Maplewood’s relationship with AHS works. The town’s health department calls AHS to pick up an animal that is lost or stray, then follows up to make sure it has been picked up. He said he was beginning to “gain confidence” in AHS’s responsiveness.
AHS will provide the township with monthly reports that will include totals of all animals brought to the shelter, through township requests or by owners relinquishing their pets.
Mayor Vic DeLuca said if Maplewood and South Orange come to an agreement to share animal control services, it will be different than other shared services, because a third party would be running it. He said any such agreement was not likely to happen soon.
Township Committeeman Jerry Ryan, who voted against approving the contract with AHS, said the town should focus its energies on the long-term goal of coming to an agreement with South Orange. “I see the current service as a stop gap measure.,..,” he said.
South Orange Asst. Township Administrator Adam Loehner said the town had no plans to let go of their ACO, Melanie Troncone. “[She] does a fantastic job,” he said. Since its temporary contract with AHS expired at the end of last year, South Orange has been exploring other short-term sheltering services. In 2014, South Orange picked up 12 dogs and 45 cats, Loehner said.
“We have investigated and are weighing our options,” he said. As for negotiating a shared service agreement, “Maplewood is our partner in whatever we do.”
He confirmed that South Orange owns the former JAC building as well as the land it is located on. Currently, the township is waiting for a judge to rule on legal action the JAC brought against South Orange in which they claim part ownership of the building. According to Township Administrator Barry Lewis, the JAC had 30 days to prove its claim, and that time period ended this week.
The Village is currently cleaning and fixing up the building.
Hadu wondered why Maplewood would let her go if a merger is in the future. “If you know you’re gonna merge, why wouldn’t you keep your ACO?” she said.