After 23 violations, animal shelter to close

LINDEN – After 23 health violations were found at the city animal shelter and countless complaints lodged by the public, officials decided to shut down the facility by the end of the year and build a new one in 2015.

This leaves the city, along with four towns that contract with them annually, looking for a new animal control provider.
Mayor Richard Gerbounka said late last week the city had no other choice but to shut down the dilapidated and unsanitary facility that received a “conditional” rating from the Elizabeth Health Department because of the extensive number of violations.
“We made a decision to close at the end of the year,” the mayor said, adding “we realize it is an inadequate facility.”

“There is no sense putting good money after bad,” the mayor said in an interview with LocalSource late last week, explaining a committee set up in May to look into the matter found it would be a waste of money to sink any money into making major repairs to the facility built in 1972.
The city health department, which oversees the animal shelter, provides contracted animal control services for Rahway, Clark, Roselle, Fanwood and Winfield Park. In turn, two paid city animal control officers pick up stray animals and bring them to the shelter while a part-time employee also aids in operations on site.

It is unclear how much the city brings in from contracts with these towns because this information was only available through an Open Public Records request, which takes seven business days to obtain.

However, the mayor said the city spends about $22,000 a year to operate the shelter, which includes paying the three employees who work there.

In recent months the shelter came under fire not only for health code violations, but also complaints from the private sector that the facility had unsanitary conditions and animals were allegedly not being held the appropriate time length prior to being euthanized.

As a result, the state was looking into the matter, according to State Health Department Communications Manager Daniel Emmer.
In an interview with LocalSource late last week, Linden Health Officer Nancy Koblis readily agreed conditions at the shelter were less than satisfactory.

“It needs a lot of repair work but at this point it’s so old not even repairs would make a difference,” said the department head.
Koblis said the building is old and “nothing has been done to it since 1991.”

As for allegations that animals were not being treated well at the facility and there has been no effort to try and find homes for unwanted dogs and cats, Koblis did not mince words.

“We do animal control. We don’t have the staff or means to be an adoption center. We hold animals for seven days with the hope their owner will find them,” she said, but, that would be difficult since the public cannot access the shelter online because there is no direct computer access there.

Nor is there reliable phone service, according to Koblis.
The health officer did mention that the Friends of Linden Animal Shelter, across the parking lot, have tried to help with adoptions over the years.

“Their main purpose is to take animals and adopt them out,” the health officer added, but explained that due to the large volume of animals the city shelter receives, it would be impossible for every animal to find a home.
“They have done the best they could,” Koblis added.

Gerbounka admitted the city has not put money into the shelter, and “things got away from us.”
Complaints that the animal shelter was not treating sick or injured dogs also surfaced, but Koblis was clear about what the shelter does and does not do.

“We don’t pay for extensive medical treatments on dogs or cats,” she said, but explained that for basic medical care animals are taken to the Rahway Animal Hospital.

Koblis also said animals are no longer euthanized at the shelter, but the two animal control officers are certified to handle that procedure.
Ward 10 Councilman Adam Kuczynski explained that it was the committee that called in the Elizabeth Health Department to inspect the animal shelter after a series of complaints were lodged against the Linden Health Department because of conditions at the facility.

Kuczynski pointed out that while the Elizabeth Health Department did find 23 violations during a recent inspection of the facility, “many of them were minor.” As for complaints from the public, the councilman made it clear the city health department was not lax.

“We take every complaint seriously,” Kuczynski said, adding that the city will undertake the repairs needed “to get us through the end of the year.”

City officials also did not address one of the more serious violations, not having a current certificate of veterinary supervision.
Gerbounka admitted the shelter has deteriorated over the years, agreeing that the city is fully prepared to do certain repairs so the facility can remain open.

“We have contracts to honor with towns that expect us to fulfill our obligation,” the mayor said, adding that the city fully intended to do that by keeping the animal shelter open until the end of 2014.

What remains at issue is why Koblis failed to have the city shelter inspected every year, as required by state law. According to information obtained by LocalSource, prior to this year the last time the shelter was inspected was 2007. Koblis did not deny the allegation.
“We get very busy and it fell by the wayside,” she said.