South Orange township will soon issue an RFP (Request for Proposals) for animal control and sheltering to serve both South Orange and Maplewood.
“[The RFP] is being reviewed by our attorney now and should be posted publicly by the end of the month,” said Township Deputy Administrator Adam Loehner in a phone interview Wednesday.
The town will seek an individual or entity to rent the former Jersey Animal Coalition building on Walton Avenue, which South Orange owns, and to provide animal control and sheltering needs for both towns under a shared service agreement with Maplewood, said Loehner.
For example, a local veterinarian could rent the space and use one or two rooms for sheltering animals and the rest for veterinary office space. South Orange, and Maplewood if it agrees to the plan, would pay the vet to manage animal control and sheltering services. The manager would be required to accept owner surrenders by residents of the two towns and to actively seek to adopt out stray animals.
Loehner said South Orange had been approached by at least one local vet as well as local shelters and animal rescue groups interested in such a plan.
“We will see what comes back” to the RFP, he said.
South Orange will present a formal shared service agreement to Maplewood, detailing the duties of the Animal Control Officer and other financial and logistical details. Both township governing bodies would have to formally agree to enter into the shared services agreement.
Currently, South Orange has a full-time Animal Control Officer (ACO). If the shared services agreement moves forward, the town would likely hire additional staff.
Asked if this would be a no-kill shelter, Loehner said, “No, not at all.” They would follow standard timelines in terms of how long an owner has to claim a pet before it is euthanized.
“We are well on our way to a long term plan for animal control led by South Orange,” said Maplewood Township Committeewoman India Larrier, who chairs the Board of Health, at Tuesday’s TC meeting. Township Adminstrator Joseph Manning said that while Maplewood will be involved in reviewing the RFP before it is released, South Orange is the lead agency in a potential agreement.
Manning said the towns would work with local rescue groups to “find a solution that’s as humane as possible,” adding, “I’m going to do my best to make sure all concerns are addressed.
Maplewood is currently in a contract with the Associated Humane Services (AHS) of Newark for sheltering and animal control. Manning said AHS had only taken three animals from Maplewood in January. Loehner said one animal in South Orange had been brought to a local shelter during that time, although he expects those numbers to increase as the weather warms up.
However, it is not guaranteed that the former JAC building will be used for animal sheltering purposes, said Loehner.
The town has been meeting with community groups to gather ideas and input for putting the building to other uses. Recently, he met with members of the Farrell Field Conservancy which proposed several options including a day care center or a bike shop, which would tie in with the developing greenway project.
If the RFP doesn’t result in a plan for animal control, South Orange could look to contract with a local shelter or a vet with the capacity for sheltering, Loehner said.
Either way, he said, “Anything we try to figure out we’d like to do with Maplewood.”
Loehner is meeting this week with members of a new local group, Maplewood Loves Animals, whose mission is to “avoid killing healthy and/or treatable dogs and cats,” according to member Veronica Peralta. “We want AHS/Newark out of Maplewood, but we don’t want to replace it with another provider who will also kill.”
Peralta said while it looks like the current plan is “going in the right direction,” the group still has “serious reservations” about how communication would be coordinated among the ACO, the vet, rescue groups and volunteers. “We are willing to work with their ideas, so long as they result in humane treatment of animals and [a] very low kill shelter.”
Peralta said the group will urge South Orange to contract with a no-kill shelter such as St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center which has “a track record of success.”
Loehner said he had not contacted St. Hubert’s, although he had discussed sheltering and animal control options with other local shelters. Manning had reached out to St. Hubert’s but decided against using them because their bid was too high.
“Feeding, sheltering, walking, assessing the health and behavior of animals, socializing, training dogs and pet owners, giving medical care and marketing healthy and treatable companion animals will always be more expensive than killing them, but the [cost difference] is justified in our view,” said Peralta. “This difference can probably be financed with the rental of the Walton Avenue facility.”
Peralta urged anyone in the community who wishes to help to contact the group at [email protected]