NJ Animal Shelters Struggle to Meet Demand

By Brenda Flanagan

“She was just so cute. We wanted it,” said Melissa Nolan.

Nolan squeals with delight. Her family drove from Orange County, New York to adopt a little lab mix puppy in Cliffside Park.

“We saw it on the internet — on Petfinder — and looked through a whole bunch of different dogs and that face!” said Jeanine Nolan.

They’ll name her Shadow and pay an adoption fee — badly-needed income for this struggling non-profit. It’s called the Bergen County Protect and Rescue Foundation, and while its cages are almost always full, its bank account is always close to empty.

“I’m really desperate to get that money to keep this shelter going,” said Diane Errichiellio. “Most of it is coming out of our own pockets. We are always out there asking for donations.”

This is Severus. He’s a purebred Weimeraner and he’s been here for about a month.

To run the whole shelter for a month costs about $11,000 and they never euthanize any animals. In fact, they sometimes pull animals out of high-kill shelters.

“We rescue animals from those kill shelters when they have 24 to 48 hours to be put down. This weekend we took in eight from a kill shelter,” said Bergen Protect and Rescue founder Officer Vincent Ascolese.

Obviously the foundation rarely euthanizes an animal.

“How do we pay the bills? We find a way,” he said.

New Jersey’s Department of Health estimates licensed pounds and shelters took in more than 88,000 dogs and cats in 2012.

People adopted about 44 percent, 39,000. Shelters euthanized about 30 percent, 26,700. Owners reclaimed 13 percent, 11,100. And money’s in short supply, at shelters everywhere you look.

“We actually had a decrease in our budget this year,” said Debbie Yankow.

Yankow’s downsizing staff at the Bergen County Animal Shelter. The building’s at capacity, she says — 400 animals, mostly cats — who occupy new cat condos and greet visitors in the lobby. Out back, there’s a new traveling van complete with kennels so animals can attend adoption fairs. But the operating budget’s slashed.

“We’ve combined the Animal Control Division with the Animal Shelter this past year so we’re unifying those two divisions to make them more efficient,” Yankow said.

The county shelter tries to treat and rehab some animals, but euthanizes 15 percent of its dogs and 30 percent of its cats — all animals that Yankow says are too sick, too old or too vicious for adoption. Other no-kill shelters scramble for donations.

“People don’t donate. They’ll donate to cancer, childhood hospitals and all that. Animal rescue groups — always the last on the list,” said Errichiellio.

The foundation’s determined to save its animals and survive as a shelter.