Animal shelter is a haven for the homeless

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:18

‘Scrooges' abound during the holidays, say local officials. By Mark J. Yablonsky WEST MILFORD— At a time of year when "good will toward man" is an often touted phrase, animal welfare officials say it fails to extend to man's faithful four-legged friends. Every year, countless numbers of homeless pets and animals arrive at animal shelters where their fates may vary, from something as uplifting as adoption, to the ultimate decision of euthanasia. The reasons may vary, but the problem persists, especially at this time of year, according to a local facility's spokeswoman. "A lot of animals, this time of year, are released to our shelter," explained Shari Gerhold, operations director for the West Milford Animal Shelter. "As far as dumping strays are concerned, we're dealing with people who are on vacation and don't want to board their animals. So they dump the animals, too." In accordance with state law, any stray animal arriving at a shelter must be held for at least seven days before any decision on what to do can be made, "based on temperament, health and age," Gerhold said. Health is usually a determining factor, but generally euthanasia is based on animals who display aggression, ill health, or who may be older. "Right now, we've got two old beagles who are strays, with health problems," Gerhold said. "What are we going to do with them? Somebody just didn't want to deal with them, and they just dumped them. One of the beagles has bumps and cysts all over. And they're both very sweet. "We're a municipal shelter and we have to take everything in from the municipality," she added. "Some people think we're a no-kill shelter, but we're not. We can't pick and choose like no-kill shelters can. (But) we do not euthanize because of space. If we have one too many cats or dogs, we'll try to find space for them somehow." Gerhold said that her facility will work to find a home for any animal deemed "adoptable," and that the shelter has an adoption rate of about 80 percent, as opposed to a state rate that is only about 15 percent. "We see all the sad things here," she said. "But we also have good stories that keep us going." A survey of other animal shelters revealed that natural strays are commonplace anywhere, especially feral cats, those who have never had human contact. But, one of the most common scenarios that cause previously-owned pets to be dumped from their homes is that renters haven't determined if a landlord will allow a tenant's pets. The tenant adopts, only to find that the animal cannot be kept after all. And, sometimes, homeowners don't show great care for their pets, which the West Milford shelter tries to determine beforehand. "We do landlord checks before an animal goes out," Gerhold insisted. "We check with the vets to make sure that whatever animal they (petowners) have is well taken care of. And if they (potential adopters) rent or live with their parents, we check with the owners to make sure they can have this pet." Likewise, the Bloomingdale Animal Shelter Society, a private organization that runs that community's shelter and those in five other towns, adheres to a policy of adoption whenever possible and euthanasia only as a last resort. "We only euthanize when a cat has tested positive for AIDS or feline leukemia," explained Mickey Knott, a shelter trustee. "But amazingly, we eventually get all our cats adopted." Knott, whose organization also serves Butler, Wanaque, River Dale, Pompton Lakes and Ringwood, said she doesn't want to give the impression that "we're a no-kill shelter, but it is rare when we do it." Knott concedes that animal control officers often deal with feral cats and due to temperament, they are more likely to be euthanized. "But if we get them young enough, we can turn them around," she concluded.