Two dogs were sweltering in a car in 90-degree temperatures in a parking lot in Secaucus until someone reported their owner. Five dogs were killed after someone allegedly fed them liverwurst laced with antifreeze. A cat’s collar was embedded so deeply into its skin that it died from maggots and other insects eating it alive. All these incidents of animal abuse have been reported in Hudson County in the last two years.
Animal rights activists say a bill recently passed in the New Jersey Assembly will give authorities more teeth to go after certain types of animal abusers, and some residents of local towns are pressing their town halls to toughen local laws.
Chris Conte, manager of the Secaucus Animal Shelter, said that her town recently began getting tougher with enforcement.
“We’re using state statutes, depending on what the animal abuse is,” Conte said. “People are doing it more and more, and taking the abuse to the next level. So we have to follow it to the state now.”
In July, a North Bergen woman who left two small dogs in her car in the Best Buy parking lot in Secaucus during 90-degree temperatures was fined $2,500, according to Conte. She also had to repay $600 in vet bills because the dogs were overheated and had to be put into a cold bath and taken to the vet. They survived. (For more on this story, see last weekend’s Secaucus Reporter at hudsonreporter.com.)
“We’re hitting someone where it hurts,” Conte said. “We’re not trying to damage people, but we’re trying to say learn the rules.”
Police and animal supporters say instances of animal abuse are hard to prove and prosecute, and that when they are investigated, sometimes the perpetrators get light sentences.
But the tide may be turning.
A new measure sponsored by five Assembly Democrats, including three from Hudson County, was passed on Aug. 10. The law cracks down on any abuse of animals, but specifically takes on the practice of forced animal fighting.
Assembly members Raj Mukherji, Carmelo Garcia, and Angelica Jimenez of Hudson County, as well as Assembly members Bob Andrzejczak and Joseph Lagana, sponsored the legislation, which adds the crime of animal fighting to RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statutes. That addition makes animal fighting considered a “racketeering activity” under New Jersey law.
“This is a barbaric and cruel practice that has no place in modern society,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson).
The new law, A-3037, specifically prohibits the tormenting, torturing, maiming, hanging, poisoning, beating, abusing, or mutilating of a living animal or creature.
The Bayonne Police Department sent a message to animal abusers on Aug. 13 when it charged a Bayonne man already arrested for arson with five counts of animal cruelty resulting in death – a third-degree crime — for allegedly lacing liverwurst slices with antifreeze and feeding them to his family’s five dogs before allegedly setting fire to the house.
The charges, a first for the Bayonne Police, came after an animal cruelty investigation by Sgt. Stephanie Burt, a New Jersey certified animal cruelty investigator.
“This was such a loss of animal life,” said Det. Sgt. Tim Wilgus. “The Bayonne Police take the abuse of animals very seriously. It’s important the community knows we do care about the animals and we will go after anyone who does violate these laws.”
Kathy Henderson, executive director of the Bayonne Feral Cat Foundation, said she’s received reports of cats being poisoned, with one man in her city allegedly intentionally putting antifreeze under cars to entice and hurt cats.
Henderson said she heard about the incident from a friend about a year and a half ago, and reported it at that time. However, no one was charged in the incident, even though Bayonne’s then-animal control officer visited the man’s house to discuss the alleged abuse, she said.
“She had a conversation with him,” Henderson said. “She warned him that what he did wasn’t allowed.”
“It’s important the community knows we do care about the animals and we will go after anyone who does violate these laws.” – Bayonne Det. Sgt. Tim Wilgus
Abuse on the books
Animal abuse is rampant in the county, according to Miguel Fernandez of Union City’s The Lucky Cat rescue. And while the most violent cases get the public’s attention, Fernandez said that animal abuse can take many forms, including owners taking food away from their pets or not feeding them at all, or people leaving their dogs outside all winter. It could also take the form of people taking adult dogs and keeping them just for breeding, and then abandoning either one of or both of the parents.
“They get rid of the father or the mother after the puppies are born, by throwing them out on the street, and they sell the babies,” Fernandez said. “It’s just a money-making thing for them.”
Fernandez said he also knows of a Union City case in which people threw a cat into the street just after she delivered her kittens.
He said the incident and others point to the need for a countywide animal shelter in North Hudson. Several towns have their own shelters, and some contract with shelters in Jersey City and Newark, but there is no central shelter to deal with stray, lost, and abused pets.
“That’s what we need,” Fernandez said. “Or just a holding facility.”
Rally coming up
In a related matter in North Hudson, animal advocate Fernando Portes said that a petition is being circulated that questions the current animal control practices of Weehawken, Union City, West New York, and North Bergen, who use the same contractors.
There are “thousands of badly served homeless and sick cats,” Portes argued.
On Saturday, Sept. 19, at 2:30 p.m., in front of West New York City Hall, the Union City Feral Cat Committee and West New York residents were scheduled to deliver a petition to Mayor Felix Roque and his council members to correct “the [alleged] 18th century/third world level of the West New York animal control practices,” Portes said. Included with the petition was to be a request for proposal for a possible new contractor.
The UCFCC did say that Union City Mayor Brian Stack has showed concern and support for homeless cats.
What to do about abuse
Animal advocates suggest reporting incidents of neglect or abuse to local police departments or the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at (800) 582-5979.
The Liberty Humane Society has municipal contracts for Bayonne, Jersey City, and Hoboken and can be reached at (201) 547-4147.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.