The State Department of Health confirmed this past week that it plans to inspect a Union City-based facility that deals with stray animals in North Bergen and West New York, after receiving a complaint.
The state is seeking to determine whether the facility used by the local animal control officer, Summit Animal Clinic in Union City, is complying with state regulations. Such regulations include keeping found pets for seven days before euthanizing them, and allowing people access to see their confiscated pets.
Geoff Santini of Hudson County Animal Enforcement is the contracted animal control officer for North Bergen and West New York. Santini has been used by the city of West New York since 1992.
Various animal activists and pet owners complained last week about Santini’s procedures. When contacted, Santini at first agreed to answer questions, but after the first question about which towns he works for, he said to contact his lawyer, John Lynch of Union City.
According to state regulations, an animal found by the city must be held seven days before it can be euthanized. Clinics must also provide access to the public for a minimum of two hours per day. Local animal activists have raised concerns that the clinic is not large enough to accomplish this.
Santini’s firm was also hired by Bayonne in August as part of the city’s efforts to get a better handle on the growing feral cat colonies. At the time, Santini told the Bayonne Community News that the criticism from animal activists was unfounded.
But a week later, the state said it plans to look at his facility.
“We welcome [the inspection],” said Lynch, the attorney. “We’re confident we’ll pass with flying colors.”
According to Executive Director Rosanne Trezza of the Associated Humane Societies, a non-profit animal sheltering system based in Newark, her organization has received several complaints about Santini’s procedures.
“This has been going on for three or four years or more,” charged Trezza. “Summit Animal Clinic does not allow people in there.”
“That’s not in accordance with state regulations,” continued Trezza. “What is he hiding?”
Lynch responded, “My understanding is that that’s a bogus complaint.”
Other activists have charged that Summit Animal Clinic is not properly equipped to hold stray animals for seven days.
“This is what is going on out there, and people can’t find their pets,” added Trezza.
What happened to Ms. Mulligan’s cat?
Bayonne resident Patricia Mulligan said last week that she was not allowed access to the clinic after her cat was taken. Since her pet is a yard cat, Mulligan grew suspicious that he might be missing after he did not return to her home after two days.
She eventually called the Bayonne Board of Health and was told that her cat was picked up on Sept. 2. When she asked to visit the Summit Animal Clinic in order to identify her pet, she claims she was denied.
Instead, the clinic chose to e-mail her pictures in order to confirm that they were in possession of her cat, she said.
Mulligan said last week that when her cat was eventually delivered to her after six days, he was in an unstable condition.
“He came back to me starving and sneezing,” said Mulligan. “The vet noted that he was extremely congested and dehydrated.”
She had to bring her cat back to the veterinarian additional times for shots.
“He was so sick that he was put on antibiotics for two weeks,” said Mulligan, adding that treatment cost a “couple hundred dollars.”
Town defends contractor
Department of Health Spokeswoman Donna Leusner said they plan to inspect the clinic this month.
“We are looking into it,” said Leusner, “and we will be going there sometime this month to do inspection.”
But North Bergen Town Spokesman Phil Swibinski refuted the accusations.
“People are brought in at any time of the day,” said Swibinski, who added that the firm also returns stray pets straight to residents’ doors.
He said the town had not gotten any complaints from residents about the contractor.
He added, “Also, Hudson County Animal Enforcement was the only respondent to the township’s request for a proposal, and is charging approximately $30,000 less than the previous vendor per year.”
Growing problem across country
The problem of where to house strays has been a national trend over the years, as during the recession, more pets have been abandoned, and fewer people have been financially able to adopt new pets. In Hudson County, the problem has reached severe levels, with one shelter closed two years ago by the state, and others experiencing major controversies.
Two years ago, the state closed the SPCA shelter in Jersey City after state inspections showed unsanitary conditions. The pets were brought to a shelter in Jersey City founded by volunteers, the Liberty Humane Society. However, that shelter has recently seen vicious arguments between activists and its leaders over its euthanasia policies. While the shelter has been trying to overcome those problems, its latest shelter manager resigned last month, forcing them to find new leadership.
Several towns have tried to find ways to care for their animals on their own. Secaucus built its own animal shelter several years ago. But Hoboken and Jersey City contract with Liberty Humane, and several of North Hudson’s towns have relied on contractors like Santini.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.