Cloverleafs and corruption: Navigating the Garden State
Updated: Apr 15
We hear it all the time:
"I'm not going to call Animal Control; nothing will get done."
"I'm not going to report the shelter; nobody ever answers or does anything."
"I tried calling the police, but they told me there's no HLEO."
(A HLEO is a Humane Law Enforcement Officer and required by NJ law)
We get it. In one of the most corrupt, populated and broken states, the problems associated with our animal control and enforcement systems seem insurmountable. The easy answer has become, "The system is broken. I need a rescue." Believe it or not, we have caught municipal shelters and animal control officers refusing intake of animals and telling people to call rescues. Imagine you are paid to do a job that requires training and tax dollars, but assigning your work to unpaid volunteers at nonprofits who don't get the same funding and are not subject to inspections, regulations, or training. Instead of fighting for more resources, shelter managers instruct employees to simply shut the doors and turn residents away. Even worse, they might imply that the stray will be killed upon surrender, which is both illegal and inaccurate. It's unacceptable.
It's no wonder rescues burn out, or people with good intentions quickly become overwhelmed and become sad news stories, and animals ultimately end up dumped outside unfixed.
First of all, it's fine to independently rehome your pet or care for your animals without using AC or the shelter system. If you see an injured cat in your yard, and elect to trap and vet the cat, that's completely responsible and good for you! However, many people do not have the funds or simply do not wish to address a stray or injured cat. That's where New Jersey agencies start to veer off of the legal track, and why we as taxpaying residents have an obligation to hold their feet to the fire by using our many voices.
For those of us without the resources to help stray, injured and abandoned animals on our own, read on.
If you head right to Facebook strangers and rescue lists without first attempting to find help at your municipal shelter, you are contributing to the problem. How does anyone know that the shelter is underfunded or inadequate if no one is actually trying to use the shelter? It's like having a bad employee and giving all of their work to other employees without addressing the problem. Why would you reward an inadequate shelter by not "bothering" them with work? Calls to animal control are logged. If you don't call, the problem is never recorded and does not exist. If you cannot intake and vet a stray, report it to animal control. We know that shelters are not anywhere near perfect, but abandoning an animal or leaving an animal outside in need of medical care is unlawful. In addition, almost any unfixed cat outside is injured in some way, be it an upper respiratory infection, abscess, or parasites. The cruelest thing you can do is nothing. Make the call if you can't get the animal help yourself. The people on facebook who shame you for it are wrong.
If you are avoiding animal control or the shelter out of fear, you are putting animals in danger. NJ law does not allow an animal to be put down immediately upon intake unless the animal is deemed by the municipality's veterinarian to be medically in need of euthanasia. After intake, animals are to be held for 7 days while the owner is located, or put up for adoption. One tactic used by closed admission shelters is implying that the animal will be killed because the shelter is "full." Stating that the shelter is full or "at capacity" is just another way for shelters to keep operating without inconveniencing themselves or losing contracts by demanding adequate funding from towns. They know that it's easier to have taxpayers walk away than to go and fight for contracts that are adequate to serve the number of people and animals in the towns they serve.
If you are instructed by a shelter employee or animal control officer to abandon an animal or deny the animal medical attention, you are obligated to report the incident to the police for violating NJ cruelty statutes. Every town is required to have a 24/7 designated Humane Law Enforcement Officer, or HLEO. If you do not get a timely response, or if you are told that there is not HLEO on duty, immediately report the incident to the County Prosecutor's office. If you need help navigating, please reach out to us.
If Animal Control refuses to intake an injured or stray animal, you are obligated to report them to the state public health veterinarian. You can find up to date contact information for each state's public health veterinarian here. Refusal to intake stray or injured animals is against state law. Towns are even required to have 24/7 veterinarians on call. If you do not report animal control breaking the law, the state assumes everything is ok, shelters are sufficient as is, and no one is being turned away. As you sit with the stress and heartache of an animal in need with nowhere to turn, you owe it to yourself and the animal to escalate by reporting. If you need help with wording or contacts, please reach out to us.
Shelters and animal control are not free resources. As taxpayers, we finance them and we have an obligation to fight for adequate services and legal uses of our tax dollars.
There is no shame in using municipal resources when you lack the funds or other means to do the right thing for a stray cat. If we do not use the system when needed and hold its members accountable, we are perpetuating a broken system. Hold their feet to the fire and report them when they break laws, just as you would report any citizen committing animal abuse.