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  • Writer's pictureKathy Gabrielescu

NJ Best Shelter Practices Ignored

Our mission at Whiskers Rescue is to alleviate the stray and feral cat population by properly implementing Trap-Neuter-Return. This can only be done with the cooperation of municipal animal control officers and functioning shelters. While the state of NJ does not promote or mandate TNR, it does clearly outline guidelines for the best practices of both animal control and shelters. While unfortunately these are not mandatory, they do establish municipalities' responsibilities with regards to animal control and sheltering.

Part of what is making TNR not work as it should in NJ is a constant state of confusion on what is required, allowed and expected of both municipalities and their residents. We are going to great lengths to compile this information for you, with towns being added each week here. The lack of consistent or even accessible information is leading to increasing numbers of both animal cruelty cases and feral cats.

While we understand that the guidelines are not requirements, we would expect that municipalities would make an effort to follow them. You can read the state's guidelines in their entirety here. Here are just a few sections that we see ignored on a daily basis.


1. Refusal to respond to calls about cats.

We commonly get calls or see social media posts from residents calling their municipal animal control for assistance with stray cats. Their calls go unanswered as endless numbers of desperate people beg strangers to help them online. It has become so bad that some towns shamelessly advertise that they will NOT accept any calls regarding cats. Even more common is that the calls are taken but in some fashion ignored or delayed. This contradict's the state's goal that all calls be answered in a timely fashion:

Timely response to calls and complaints from the public concerning suspected rabid wild or domestic animals; dogs and cats that are stray, injured, ill, creating a threat to public health, safety or interfering with the enjoyment of property; and vicious dogs. The response to animal-related emergency calls should be prompt, even on nights, weekends and holidays to safely control dangerous animals and minimize pain and suffering of stray, sick and injured animals(N.J.S.A.4:19-15.16).

Please note that this includes animals that are interfering with the enjoyment of property and not just those appearing to be sick or injured.

Waiting lists, requirements to contain animals, and unreturned phone calls do not align with "best practices" established by the state.

The guidelines clearly state that calls should be addressed even at night, on holidays, and over weekends.


2. Closed or selective admission shelters.

Residents are constantly told that the shelter is full and that animals cannot be accepted. At best, only a few select people seem to be able to surrender animals to shelters. We have firsthand knowledge of NJ residents being instructed by municipal shelters to abandon animals back on the streets. Not only is this illegal and inhumane but unaltered animals who survive will add to the feral population over time. The best practices guidelines addresses this issue as well:

Impoundment facilities must have a large enough capacity to house animals obtained from their contract service areas and hold animals for the required 7-day period.

This means that at no time should a shelter be simply claiming to be full, turning animals away, or making implied threats of euthanasia without the state mandated holding period.


3. Refusing to collaborate with rescues and other shelters.

No one wants to see animals killed and that includes us. However, leaving animals on the streets to suffer is not the answer. Leaving unaltered animals free roaming makes this issue worse by the year. The state guidelines also address this issue:

Shelter and impoundment management should encourage adoption of animals deemed adoptable by working collaboratively with local adoption and rescue groups, as well as other shelters, to place adoptable animals into long-term homes as quickly as possible.

The upside of shelters being required to intake animals is that there is no waiting period for the cat outside while calls are made to find a rescue. In the days or weeks that it may take to find a foster or rescue, the cats can wander and may never be seen again as they try to find food and survive hazards and injuries. Encouraging shelter intake and collaboration with rescues allows for safe containment while placement is found. When the animal needs more care than a shelter can provide, a transfer into the hands of legitimate rescues who have the resources to provide medical care, and adoption services is a clear solution. Instead, animal control and shelters attempt to use rescues as an underfunded, understaffed replacement of their municipally-funded resources, telling people to "go find a rescue" rather than intake or pick up animals.


While we certainly feel that these guidelines need some revisions to more adequately address feral cats, a good start for NJ would be municipalities following the guidelines as they exist today.


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