State report shows major infractions at Linden animal shelter

LINDEN — The city has a lot of work to do at the animal shelter in order to pass muster with the state health department after an inspection found 29 violations and slapped an unsatisfactory rating on the door.

Although Linden contracts with five other municipalities who pay for animals control services, the shelter was in deplorable condition, without proper documentation or veterinary supervision, while some animals were in an “emaciated” condition, the state said. Linden Health Department records involving the shelter were also found to be incomplete and not maintained.

Meanwhile, although the state completed its inspection of the Linden shelter, according to sources, state inspectors have continued to investigate how this situation occurred.

Last week, sources indicated that state health department inspectors were visiting towns that contract with Linden for animal control services to review their contracts with the city.

Although the city is planning on demolishing the aging animal shelter at the beginning of next year and building a new one, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services expects violations they found will be addressed within 30 days, regardless if the facility is being torn down at the end of the year or not. If the violations are not addressed the state could shut down the shelter.
If this happens, the five towns that contract with Linden for animal control services, including Rahway, Roselle, Clark, Fanwood and Winfield Park, will be left without this state-mandated service and forced to find another service.

In recent months the Linden shelter came under fire not only for multiple health code violations after the Elizabeth Health Department completed the first inspection since 2007, but also complaints from the private sector about animals being euthanized before the seven day mandatory holding period was up.

The Elizabeth Health Department was called in by an ad hoc committee in early May to inspect the facility after discovering the shelter had not had the state required annual inspection since 2007. Among the 23 violations found was the fact the shelter had no current certificate of veterinary supervision, which is required by state law. Also cited, the facility had fallen into serious disrepair and did not have adequate ventilation for animals or employees.

Although Mayor Rich Gerbounka disagreed with all but one of the 23 violations found by the Elizabeth Health Department saying he had not seen any proof of the violations, the state health department disagreed.

They found even more proof that little or no care had been taken over the years to ensure the facility was properly maintained and also abided by state laws that govern this particular area.

LocalSource obtained a copy of the state health department inspection report dated July 23, 2014, which left little doubt the facility was not only in serious disrepair but was also not healthy for both animals and humans on site.

At the forefront was the serious violation of the city not having a local certificate of compliance issued by a local health department, which verified they were in compliance with state law. Linden had not complied with this law since 2007 and as of the state health department inspection was still in non-compliance because the repairs and documentation required were still at issue.

The state noted that not only was the shelter in non-compliance with state rules and regulations governing the location of sanitation at such a facility, but there was another more serious concern.

“Although the facility is named ‘Linden Animal Shelter,’ the facility performs the functions of a pound,” the state noted, explaining that because the facility did not take in animals surrendered by owners, this placed them in a different category than “animal shelter.”

This, the state said, clearly was documented on a 2013 form filled out by Linden Health Officer Nancy Koblis, the department head charged with overseeing the shelter and ensuring it complies with local and state law.

The state also noted the supervising veterinarian was listed as part of the Rahway Animal Hospital, but there was no documentation to indicate this was indeed true.

The state also found during their inspection there were two dogs that were not impounded but rather owned by municipal employees or other employees. One was being housed at the shelter for long-term boarding, but there were no records or information available, while the other dog was surrendered to the shelter by a city employee. This broke another state law because the Linden facility was not licensed as a boarding kennel.

Also at issue was that the shelter had only 11 dog enclosures available to house impounded animals for five municipalities, including Linden. One of these enclosures, the report noted, was being used to store equipment for animal euthanasia, two others housed employee dogs and one housed a dog being held on court order. This, the state said, left just seven available enclosures to house animals impounded from five towns, not enough to support an influx of impounded animals.

The facility also had no current fire inspection report, and, in general, was not in good repair, leaving animals at risk for injury. From holes in the ceiling, pipes exposed and leaking, animal food not stored but left open on the floor, to a hole in an outside wall “large enough for a rat to get through,” the shelter was found to be in unsatisfactory condition.

The interior floors were also lacking care, with food, fur and dirt strewn about, leaving the facility unkempt and unsanitary. The furnace was also rusted and air conditioning in poor working condition. Lighting was insufficient in some areas, including in some animal enclosures.

Contaminated water, stagnant water and feces had collected in trenches that had settled over the years, leaving animals unprotected from contamination, injury and disease transmission from animal waste and chemicals in the water.

Feces was also not scooped and removed from animal enclosures, but forced into drainage trenches with a hose, which the state said only increased the risk of contamination of adjacent animal enclosures due to particles of feces becoming airborne.

The facility, the state indicated in its report, was also not being cleaned and disinfected properly and the proper cleaning products were not on site.

The exterior of the building was worse, with concrete slabs supporting steel beams crumbling and carpenter bees boring into the upper wooden framing where dirty cat cages were stored, leaving the facility at risk for wild animals gaining entrance.

Grounds surrounding the facility were no better and left littered with trash and other discarded items, while fencing was falling apart and general landscaping neglected.

The city has said they would make the necessary repairs to comply with state laws, but it is unknown if those repairs are underway, or how the state report will affect contracts Linden has with the five towns paying for this service.

NEXT WEEK: Contracting towns speak out.