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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Mattfield

Waiting Lists are for Rescues, Not Municipal Impound Facilities

In the state's rush to accommodate no-kill advocates while maintaining political popularity, New Jersey has created a "slow kill" movement.

In 2021, this litter of 9 kittens found outside was refused intake by Warren Township's animal control contractor. The resident was told to find a rescue after an angry neighbor issued multiple nuisance complaints. All kittens were sick and Whiskers transported to a foster hours away, taking time away from low-income and disabled feeders who needed help trapping. No money was received by Whiskers from any residents for the kittens' care, transport, or fostering, yet tax dollars still go to the contractor.


In order to become no-kill, prevention has to be part of the equation but has been completely skipped by NJ municipalities.


Closed-admission or "no-kill" animal shelters currently turn residents' surrenders and strays away if they do not have space to accommodate every animal abandoned, bred outside, or left behind after a death. Instead of focusing on prevention of litters, the state's municipalities have elected to simply limit intake at shelters to avoid the overcrowding issue completely. This has resulted in an outdoor cat population explosion, where just as many cats still die, but instead of by a needle, they are hit by cars, predated, abused, poisoned or succumb to untreated injuries and illness. For every happy story of a rescue, there are hundreds more of cats abandoned and dead in every town because the shelter turned them away. In reviewing 2022 animal control call logs for Woodbridge, the numbers of reported requests for removal of dead cats from lawns, porches, streets, and sidewalks was staggering.


On the other hand, rescues are not allowed to have wait lists. We are held hostage by people who will dump or relocate if we don't take the cats that the shelter didn't. We are vilified and shamed when we tell desperate people that we are full and cannot take in more animals due to space or costs, despite receiving none of your tax dollars.

To add insult to injury, these very same closed admission town-funded shelters regularly tell taxpayers to "call a rescue" for everything from surrender to full service TNR. Not only are nonprofit rescues vilified for being unable to intake municipal surrenders, they are inundated by the shelters' "referrals." It should not be a surprise when the occasional rescue is on the news for hoarding or insufficient care with these choices. And yet still, no one holds the municipal employees or shelter responsible.


The more difficult but humane option is for shelters to be open admission (per New Jersey's Best Shelter Practices), performing the state-mandated 7-day stray hold. After - and not instead of - shelter intake, rescues can pull cats and provide support to the shelter. This would replace the current system of private, unregulated facilities doing the job of tax-funded entities.


Want further proof? Current state law was revised to include exceptions to the 7-day stray hold when the cat is transferred to a rescue or adoption agency from the shelter. The stray hold is still required; no one can euthanize an otherwise healthy impounded cat legally. But it appears that the intent of our state law is to provide the shelter a "pressure release valve" after intaking. Instead, our shelters and animal control contractors have conveniently sidestepped the difficult step of intake and left it all to overburdened rescues and residents while still collecting the same paychecks and funding. The reward? They get to boast lower intake numbers than reality and blithely post happy adoption stories, conveniently distanced from the hundreds of cats they turned away to let die on the streets instead of getting a chance at adoption or rescue transfer.


Wait lists are not a luxury to which civil servants and tax-funded shelters are entitled. It's time that we held shelters and animal control accountable for their vital part of the No Kill equation - which must include prevention - instead of letting them off the hook by avoiding them.


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