It's Time to Stop Working Outside the System
Over the last two and a half decades, I have seen more and more rescues established.
I have watched more and more people taking cats off the streets to try to help them.
In some ways this is a good thing.
But in one huge way it is creating a major problem in NJ.
L-R: Magic the cat died from his injuries in a town that deems itself "not required" to respond to calls about cats; Warren animal control refused to intake nine sick kittens found outside; Millie, who would have died of infection if we did not take her after Bayonne's ACO refused to answer calls to intake an injured stray cat.
More and more municipal shelters have been closed over the last twenty-five years. Simultaneously, private animal control companies have popped up, being awarded undisclosed numbers of municipal animal control contracts. Some have no dedicated shelter, insufficient impound facilities, and above all, no way to remove animals born or abandoned on the streets. Legally required services are simply not provided by these contractors and no one knows, thanks to the gradual removal of responsibilities from animal control and public health.
Private nonprofits should exist.
We should help towns and animal control resolve the feral and stray cat problem.
However, this responsibility should not be shifted completely to the unregulated and privately funded world of rescue. Even if we'd like to, we cannot hope to replace municipal animal control. By trying to do so we are encouraging the system to crumble before our eyes. Here's how.
For the most part, private non-profits like us do not receive any funding from municipalities. While we all fundraise and do our best, we cannot accomplish on our own what should be the job of an animal control program under the umbrella of public health. Budgets are not guaranteed in the non-profit world. Would we allow any other municipal service to be provided exclusively by non-profits? Imagine if sanitation services were provided by non-profits instead of through annually budgeted funding. What would happen when donations were too low to send trucks to every house?
We have no authority to enforce the law. If a municipality gets a report of sick, injured or breeding cats on a persons property, they not only are only allowed but required to respond. Town officials are able to file charges of cruelty and ask for proof that local ordinances are being followed. If I as the officer of a non-profit knock on the door of a homeowner with multiple sick, breeding cats in a yard and I am told to get off the property, I legally have no recourse and must leave immediately. This is despite the homeowner breaking state cruelty laws by denying the cats medical attention.
Rescues have finite resources that are neither guaranteed nor sufficient to serve as animal control. State guidelines published in 2018 suggest that all municipalities have animal control contracts that include adequate intake and impoundment space. While we know that is almost never the case, towns do have budgets based on our tax dollars that are reviewed every year. If deemed inadequate, public health officers have the authority to adjust budgets so that they are in compliance with public health and animal control ordinances. On the other hand, non-profits often work through foster homes and donations. The only way for them to remain humane is to limit the number of cats they have based on space and financial ability to care for them.
Working outside of the system directly leads to more and more hoarding cases. Allowing towns to refuse intake means residents are forced to choose between taking in "just one more litter" or leaving them on the street to die if no rescues have space. Often the choice is made to take in more cats despite being unable to care for them. Not only does this lead to animal cruelty; it means the system is basically forcing private residents to break the law!
Report. Report. Report!
We understand that this is not as simple a task as it may seem. We understand that your call may go unanswered but reporting is vital in reforming the system.
How do I report animal control or local humane law enforcement for refusing to follow state laws?
By following the protocol outlined in Cloverleafs and Corruption you will create a record of the problem. There will be a paper trail to follow that will create proof of a failing system. If you skip this step, there is no record, and while there is a good chance you will not get a reply, refusing to officially report guarantees that nothing will be done.
Why can't I just post on Facebook? Isn't that evidence?
Right now we are enabling municipalities to do little or nothing to control or even acknowledge the cat overpopulation crisis. While all of us in rescue know how horrific the problem is based on the calls we receive and social media reports of homeless cats, social media posts are not the proof that will be required to affect change in New Jersey. You need to e-mail or write directly to the correct official.
But I volunteer for a rescue! I'm helping people by intaking cats that animal control doesn't! Isn't that enough? I'm doing their JOB!
If we want to resolve the feral and stray cat problem and decrease the number of animal cruelty cases, we must make sure there is a record of what is happening on our streets. This means it is up to us as rescues and the public to report, report, report. Every time animal control or a humane law enforcement officer denies assistance it must be put on the record. It is more work for private citizens, but in the end it is the only way we can prove that change is needed. In the case of rescues, we actually have more information and contact with residents than the average person, so it is imperative that we make sure the acts causing harm to cats are reported. It may involve helping a person who witnessed the act in filing a report.
This is a lot of work! Why can't you just report it for me?
We cannot report something we did not witness firsthand, despite having filed many reports of our own. But we are happy to help you find the correct contact for your report as well as any tools that will make it easier for you, such as online portals. We can also help you with wording and referencing laws or statutes, as well as where to turn if your complaint is not acknowledged. Contact us anytime.
We know the system is not operating the way many towns and politicians claim. We know that it is unreasonable to have to fight so hard to get a town to follow the best practices outlined by the NJ Board of Health.
We know that being asked to make more calls and write more letters simply to get the legally required help these animals need is unreasonable.
That being said, it is what we must do if we are going to decrease the number of cats suffering on our streets.
It is time to do all we can to force change as a community.
It is time to decide if a few more phone calls is worth it to change a broken system that ends in animals suffering.