JAC, South Orange Village in War of Words

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After South Orange recently took steps to initiate eviction proceedings against the Jersey Animal Coalition (JAC) for the shelter’s alleged refusal to address health code and leasing violations, the case has become a war of words between the Village and the JAC’s attorney.

The attorney, William Strazza, has accused South Orange of “animal cruelty” and an “improper underlying motive” for refusing to lift the quarantine that has been in place since March.

Township officials fired back with a letter deploring the accusations as “vitriolic” and “demonstrably untrue.”

The shelter has been closed since the township issued the quarantine for what officials said were more than 50 health code violations. The Village then discovered the JAC also had various leasing and personnel violations, said Deputy Administrator Adam Loehner.

On June 27 the Village sent the JAC a letter stating it had ten days to resolve the issues before eviction proceedings would be initiated on July 9.

On Wednesday, Strazza sent South Orange Village Administrator Barry Lewis a letter saying the quarantine was issued because of ringworm at the shelter that was the fault of the South Orange Animal Control officer “bringing a ringworm infected feral cat into the shelter after hours, and leaving it in general population, as opposed to it being left in isolation.”

Strazza claimed the JAC had “vigorously and aggressively” treated the issue yet the township had yet to lift the quarantine.

He continued, “In fact, South Orange is in possession of health certificates for all shelter animals, and an affidavit from the Shelter vet indicating the entire facility is disease free. Despite that, and despite the knowledge that the JAC had people lined up willing to adopt, the quarantine remains…” He added that South Orange ignored “repeated requests to…re-inspect and to lift the quarantine.”

Strazza said the township’s actions are tantamount to animal cruelty and “strongly suggests some improper underlying motive for every action taken since March 12th.”

On Thursday, Lewis responded with a letter declaiming Strazza’s use of “vitriolic and demonstrably untrue accusations” against South Orange.

Lewis’s letter asserts the affidavit doesn’t specify the nature and extent of the examinations or address many of the conditions the South Orange Health Officer said would need to be fixed for the quarantine to be lifted.

“Each and every one of the conditions…is directly related to requirements under the applicable New Jersey statutes and regulations and the health and safety of the animals,” said Lewis.

The Village contends that in the two months since the letter, the JAC has failed to offer any proof it had addressed the issues except for the affidavit, which Lewis said came after the town began formal eviction proceedings.

As for the lease violations, Lewis told the Village Green that South Orange had given the JAC a list of all lease breaches and that so far the shelter had only responded to one, a request for proof of insurance.

“…[T]he conditions for the lifting of the quarantine were very clearly conveyed to the JAC in April and they have never approached the Village to indicate that they had met the conditions and requesting an inspection,” said Lewis in the email.

He continued, “Finally, the story that the ringworm was traced to a cat brought to the JAC by the Village’s ACO (conveniently now retired) is the first time we have ever heard this and the timing of this claim…is remarkably convenient since the alleged event occurred many months ago.”

Lewis said the inspection of the shelter revealed more than one disease in more than one animal.

What’s next? “We are hoping they will comply,” said Loehner. “[But] the village has passed the point where we think [the violations] will be remediated.”

The township’s next step is to file with the superior court for an eviction order, said Loehner.

If the JAC is evicted, the town has three options, which Loehner will present to the South Orange Board of Trustees: estimate the costs to continue outsourcing care of the animals; bring in another private organization to run the shelter, or open a municipal pound to be run jointly by South Orange and Maplewood along with a veterinarian.

Loehner said he was disappointed but not surprised by the JAC’s inaction. “It’s a shame,” he said.

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