LINDEN – The state has officially shut down the city’s dilapidated and unsafe animal shelter, leaving local officials scrambling in recent weeks to honor the animal control contracts they have with five municipalities until the end of the year.
Previously it was thought the city would keep the shelter built in 1972 open to the end of the year in order to fulfill animal control contracts they have with Rahway, Clark, Roselle, Fanwood and Winfield Park, but that is no longer an option.
Tuesday night, after press time, the city council was expected to approve a resolution approving the “purchasing” of animal control services from Associated Humane Societies, Inc., of Newark.
Associated Humane will not be completely taking over animal control services, though. They will be housing animals that Linden Animal Control Officers bring there from Linden and the five municipalities the city contracts with until the end of the year. This includes shelter, food and vet services.
Mayor Rich Gerbounka said Linden animal control officers will continue to work ly on site in a trailer adjacent to the shelter, performing the same duties they did before. The only difference is that any animals they pick up from any of the contracted towns or Linden will be taken to Associated Humane in Newark.
“It’s going to cost us about $8,000 a month,” the mayor said Tuesday in an interview, but noted the city had to “bite the bullet” and do what had to be done.
According to Gerbounka, in the draft resolution, which LocalSource obtained late Tuesday morning, the city recently requested quotes from various vendors that handle animal control in the area and Associated Humane came back with the “most advantageous” bid.
The resolution noted the maximum amount the city will expend for this service until the end of the year is $20,000, which will be prorated on the basis of a daily charge of $120 a dog and $90 per cat. However, should any dog or cat be brought to the Humane Society after hours or when the shelter is closed, the charge increases to $175 per dog and $140 per cat.
Prior to the shelter being shut down, the city was spending approximately $222,000 annually to operate the facility, which included paying two animal control officers, but it is unknown what each municipality is contractually obligated to pay towards this amount.
The fact that the state ordered the city to close down the shelter at the end of September has remained under wraps, but Gerbounka said he did not agree that the city was ordered to shut down the facility.
“They asked us to shut it down now, rather than at the end of the year,” he said, adding that he felt the state was “overreacting,” but the city had to comply with their wishes.
LocalSource reported in September, after both the Elizabeth and state health departments had completed their inspections, that the city decided on its own that they would be tearing down the aging animal shelter in 2015 rather than make repairs to a structure that generated dozens of violations.
“There is no sense throwing good money after bad,” Gerbounka said about the evolving situation in September, after it surfaced the state health department found 30 violations stemming from neglect of the facility.
One critical fact was that both the Elizabeth Health Department and state health department pointed out at the beginning of their inspection reports that the Linden Health Department failed to do an annual state-mandated inspection of the facility since 2007.
So far city officials have not addressed this issue, but when the facility came under fire, Linden Health Officer Nancy Koblis, was not concerned.
“We get very busy and it fell by the wayside,” she told LocalSource in an interview, but failed to explain why no one had brought the matter to her attention or why she did not stay on top of the animal shelter.
Koblis did admit conditions at the animal 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,” she said, adding that nothing had been done in the way of repairs since 1991.
The department head also would not discuss why repairs were not made since 1991 or if she had brought the matter to the city council over the years.
Among the many violations found by both Elizabeth and the state was the building housing animals and employees was structurally unsafe. There were also improper disinfection practices taking place that could be harmful to animals.
Contaminated water, stagnant water and feces had collected in trenches that 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 being scooped and removed from animal enclosures, but forced into drainage ditches with a hose, which the state said only increased the risk of contamination of adjacent animal enclosures due to particles of feces becoming airborne.
Improper use of drugs when euthanizing animals was also found by both the Elizabeth and state health departments, but this complaint was forwarded to the New Jersey Office of Drug Control for handling.
It remains unclear how the city intends to pay for a new shelter, although the mayor suggested in early October that sharing of animal control services by partnering with towns such as Roselle, Rahway and Clark with nearby municipalities contributing to the cost of the new facility was one possible answer.
Although Roselle Mayor Jamel Holley was on board with this concept, other towns were not as certain this was a viable option for them.
Several of the towns LocalSource spoke with that contract with Linden for animal control services said they were not interested in sharing the cost of building a new facility and presently were looking at a handful of options for 2015.
Rahway, for example, one of the larger towns contracting with the city for this service, pays $38,400 to Linden annually for this mandated service. However, according to officials there, this municipality is exploring various avenues to continue animal control services for 2015. This included looking at services offered by Edison, Union and Elizabeth, as well as private agencies, such as Associated Humane and Animal Control Solutions.