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Jersey Animal Coalition Investigated for Possible Animal Cruelty at South Orange Shelter

Joe Grogan

Friday, April 4, 2014 • 5:48pm

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Animals under the care of the Jersey Animal Coalition at the shelter in South Orange have been kept in unsanitary conditions and have gone without veterinarian-supervised care, according to a report released by the South Orange and New Jersey health departments.

The conditions in the shelter, located on Walton Avenue, were serious enough to prompt an investigation by the New Jersey S.P.C.A. into the possibility of animal abuse. A notice that the shelter was closed was posted by the village health officer on March 13, a day after the inspection. It has not reopened.

“Both the state and the village inspectors thought that the conditions observed during the inspection warranted an investigation for possible cruelty, abuse or neglect,” said Adam Loehner, deputy village administrator.  “The S.P.C.A. was at the JAC to investigate on April 1, and this case is still an active investigation.”

Ruth Perlmutter, executive director of the board that runs the nonprofit JAC, initially agreed to be interviewed and invited the reporter to tour the shelter. However, she then said the interview was canceled on the advice of her attorney. She said only that there are “ulterior motives at play.”

The nearly four-dozen health code violations at the shelter range from minor infractions, such as a lack of paper towels at some sinks, to issues that pose a serious threat to the well-being of visitors, staff and animals. according to the report.

“Premises (buildings and grounds) were not cleaned of excessive feces and fecal residue to protect the animals, employees and visitors from the risk of disease and to facilitate the prescribed sanitary practices in these rules, and to prevent nuisances,” reads the 10-page list of health code violations. “The decomposing fecal matter was spread throughout the entire facility and throughout the grounds, including the parking lots and sidewalks, on the dog’s paws and pedestrians shoes and on the door handles when the dogs jumped up on the doors.”

Proper precautions were not taken to prevent animals from getting sick, and medical care was not made available when they did, according to the report.

“There was no evidence available at the time of this inspection which indicated that sick, diseased, injured or lame animals were provided with at least prompt basic veterinary care to alleviate pain and suffering,” the report continues.

The basic needs of the animals also were not being met. Inspectors found no written feeding schedule for the animals, and fresh water was not always available.

“Water receptacles were not removed from many of the enclosures during the cleaning process which caused the bowls to become contaminated from cleaning chemicals and waste material,” it reads.

A spokesperson for the state Health Department said the state inspector, Linda Frese, did not have any comment on the report. 

The joint health inspection by both the state and the local government was prompted by both numerous complaints and the need for an annual check-in at the shelter, according to Loehner. The findings resulted in an unsatisfactory rating and a building-wide quarantine.

A former JAC volunteer said that the closure has been a long time coming. Her sentiments were echoed by others who had met with Loehner prior to the inspection.

“Closure is way past due,” said Nancy Schetelick, former volunteer coordinator. “Sad that now the animals are paying the price because dedicated volunteers could not stand by any longer and do nothing.”

Schetelick said that she believes that Perlmutter and shelter manager Doreen Grasso do not mean to hurt the animals and a power struggle among those who supervise the no-kill shelter is to blame. Perlmutter had stepped down as board president for a time and was replaced by Bob Baerenbach. She was recently reinstated.

Loehner said that Baerenbach had looked at the financial records of the shelter and determined that the JAC could not continue to operate as it had been.

Schetelick said that Perlmutter and Grasso have a policy of banning anyone deemed a “disruptive force” from the shelter, but the former volunteer said a disruptive force could be someone simply brining to light issues with animal care. She is one of the individuals who was banned.

While the no-kill shelter remains closed, animals picked up by animal control in South Orange and Maplewood are being taken to the Associated Humane Societies shelter in Newark, which does euthanize animals. Animals already at the JAC shelter will remain there. It had not been determined when, or if, the shelter would reopen under JAC management.

Loehner said the correcting some of the issues could be costly.

“The village is hoping that the quarantine can be lifted and the JAC can continue to provide for the care and well-being of the animals in its control,” Loehner said. “Unfortunately, our understanding from the state and South Orange departments of health is that it may still be several weeks before the testing and treatment … can be properly completed and documented. Moreover, as there currently is no veterinarian of record, such testing and treatment could not as of yet have begun.”

Results from the New Jersey S.P.C.A. investigation are expected later in the week, according to Loehner.

The JAC has a contract with the Village of South Orange to operate the shelter.

NOTE: This article was updated to correct correct the attribution of information about the Associated Humane Societies shelter in Newark.

The reporter is a student participating in hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts.

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