The barking has stopped Council finishes report on dogfight between animal control officer and shelter

A city council committee charged with looking into allegations flung between the city’s animal control officer and the members of the city’s contracted animal shelter has issued a report that doesn’t place blame, but outlines ways for the two entities to work together.

According to a three-page release, the city found that “the city, Health and Human Services, and the Liberty Humane Society have attempted to administer the contract….the relationship between animal control and LHS has never been defined nor have there been substantial progresses made to find common ground that would enable each entity to co-exist peacefully or to find redress.” The animal control division operates under the city’s Health and Human Services Department.

At City Hall, City Council members and representatives from Liberty Humane attended the press conference where details were given on an endeavor that started in March and wrapped up last week.Beginnings of the dispute

In February, the Liberty Humane Society, which is under contract to operate the city’s animal shelter located on Jersey City Blvd. near Liberty State Park, asked Mayor Jerramiah Healy to remove Joseph Frank, a city animal control officer for 30 years.

LHS claimed that he has engaged in a pattern of harassment against the relatively new shelter and its director, Niki Dawson, over the past four years.

So in March, the City Council authorized a subcommittee of council members Steve Lipski, Mary Spinello and Peter Brennan to look into the various complaints and accusations leveled by Liberty Humane and Frank against each other. Tips on making peace

The city’s recommendations include the city revisiting the contract to operate the city’s animal shelter with LHS; assign a mediator to listen to any complaints from either party within 30 days; create an animal safety board to review any complaints unresolved by a mediator; LHS not retaining the services of private investigators to investigate the Animal Control Division or any other city department without first going through the city to address any problems; oversight by the city’s business administrator office to improve response to calls to Animal Control; and personnel shifts at animal control structured 24 hours a day to respond to calls and work more smoothly with LHS.

The subcommittee also calls for recommendations to be implemented within six months or they could launch a full-scale investigation with full subpoena power into the dispute. Animal control problems

Members of the Liberty Humane Society had alleged in the past that Joe Frank often violated the New Jersey Vicious and Potentially Dangerous Dog Act by seizing dogs without providing proper notification to the dog owner and to local courts.

In turn, Health and Human Services complained about the LHS hiring a private investigator to probe Frank’s actions. In response to Monday’s report, Liberty Humane issued a two-page response which stated they were “satisfied that the findings of this committee validate LHS’s observations and experiences.”

It also states that LHS will be “taking a ‘wait and see approach'” based on supposed past inaction by the city regarding the complaints against Frank, and also felt “it remains to be seen whether either the mediator or the animal review board will adequately address Mr. Frank’s conduct in the future.”

Vivian Kiggins, LHS executive director, said last week that so far she has had a “cordial” working relationship with Frank since she has been in her post starting in June.

HHS Director Harry Melendez, when contacted last week, said he would not comment at length on the recommendations other than thanking Councilpeople Steve Lipski, Mary Spinello, and Peter Brennan, along with the city’s risk manager Peter Soriero for their “concern and interest.”

Melendez continued, “We are committed to continue working with LHS in a spirit of cooperation.”

When asked if HHS has felt the impact of any of the recommendations, he did say, “We are seeking to hire more people to provide more coverage for more hours.”

Councilman Steve Lipski said all the recommendations will be implemented simultaneously in the next six months. At the head

The details from four years of acrimony between the two sides were outlined by Lipski during the meeting as well as in the subcommittee’s three-page document and in the LHS’s response.

In February 2002, Jersey City government severed their relationship with the Hudson County SPCA on Johnston Avenue, which was providing animal sheltering services at the time, after an investigation found various examples of neglect and abuse of animals.

A group of volunteers in the city had started the Liberty Humane shelter. First, the city placed Joe Frank in charge of animal shelter duties, but he was replaced that same year by Nikki Dawson, shelter manager. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at SIDEBAR Why turn down $7,000 to save a dog?

Last week, Hoboken resident Yavor Efremov wanted to give the Liberty Humane Society a $7,000 donation if they would simply spare a dog’s life. But he had to get a court order at the end of the week to prevent the shelter from euthanizing the animal in question.

Efremov had started volunteering in early November at Jersey City’s animal shelter, which is run by Liberty Humane Society. On Nov. 9, he came in contact with a German Shepard brought into the shelter, and he started bonding with the animal.

“He was very friendly, and I am very familiar with the breed so I can relate,” said Efremov. “He is extremely intelligent and his eyes go to your heart.”

Efremov said he tried to pursue adoption through various means, but claimed his offers were refused by both shelter manager Niki Dawson and executive director Vivian Kiggins. Efremov went to court and received a stay of execution (literally) of a few days for the dog, until the matter can be further pursued this week.

A response from the Liberty Humane Society was faxed to the Jersey City Reporter on Friday.

In the three-page response, LHS says the dog in question, known as “Toby,” is 12 years old and “aggressively lunges at anyone” who come near him with “teeth bared, hackles raised.”

They also claim that Efremov was dismissed from the LHS’s volunteer training program for disregarding safety rules. They say that they believe his dismissal “is the true impetus that has caused his campaign.” – RK


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