Last month, residents of the Jersey City luxury building The Beacon were getting concerned about a dog.
A husky had been seen lying on an outside balcony for several days, with no apparent food or water. Photos show the dog lying on a balcony strewn with feces.
“The dog was living in filth,” one resident of the building said. Residents were so concerned that they lowered a dish of water onto the balcony and slid food under a divider for the animal. After the dog was outside for two days, the neighbor called Liberty Humane Society.
But instead of removing the dog, animal control officers from LHS allowed the owner to keep it.
Liberty Humane Society Executive Director Irene Borngraeber said the organization acted appropriately, but a coalition of animal welfare groups throughout Hudson County say the incident illustrates what they describe as the longstanding inadequacy of LHS.
The incident at the Beacon is “just one story of, like, hundreds of stories just like this,” said Anne Mosca, a board member of the cat rescue organization, JerseyCats.
In a series of interviews, the leaders of six Hudson County animal welfare groups said LHS often declines to help injured or sick animals. The organization often requires residents to pay a “surrender fee,” even when they are simply seeking help for abandoned strays and not trying to surrender their own pet, the animal advocates said.
And LHS sometimes leaves traps for animals unattended for long periods at a time, the leaders said, meaning an animal could spend days inside a cage outdoors before being picked up.
LHS has been providing animal control and shelter services to Jersey City since 2017, when the nonprofit was awarded a two-year, $1.2 million contract. The City Council has renewed that contract twice, most recently in May. Jaclyn Fulop, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop’s wife, sits on the organization’s board. Bayonne and Hoboken also have contracts with the nonprofit.
But in interviews and written accounts, more than a half dozen people said the organization was unresponsive to calls and appeared reluctant to help animals in danger or in poor health.
“People give up on calling animal control because they’re not going to be responsive,” said Denise Labowski, a director with rescue group PAD PAWS Rescue. “So they figure, why bother?”
In one account, a person wrote that an animal control officer from LHS declined to help remove a kitten from a sewer, saying that its mother would return to take care of it. Another said that when a kitten was stuck under the hood of a car, an LHS officer suggested leaving a note on the vehicle. Others said that officers appeared hours later than they said they would.
Borngraeber said she was unaware of those specific complaints.
“I would encourage the individuals quoted to contact LHS directly to discuss their concerns and provide additional information needed to document and assess next steps,” she said in an email. “We must work together.”
And she pushed back on the allegations from animal welfare groups. “LHS responds to thousands of calls for injured or sick domestic and wild animals each year, and provides emergency medical treatment through our network of local and regional veterinary partners and wildlife rehabilitation facilities,” she said. “The humane treatment of injured animals is an essential part of our work, and we work closely with our veterinarians to provide relief from pain and suffering and facilitate an appropriate recovery.”
LHS receives up to 800 calls for service a month with two to three field officers working at a given time, she said.
After responding to the call at the Beacon, Borngraeber said, “the (animal control officer) began working with the dog owner on a plan to remedy the immediate situation and provide additional access to care,” she said.
She denied that the organization leaves trapped animals unattended for long periods of time. “It would be inappropriate for an animal to be left unattended in a trap for days, and that is not our practice,” she said.
But in a May letter to the City Council, leaders of animal welfare organizations called for the creation of an “independent Animal Welfare Commission” and an audit of Liberty Humane Society’s “policies and procedures.”
“There’s so much suffering going on in our streets that this shelter has turned its back to,” said Carol McNichol, the president of the nonprofit rescue, Companion Animal Trust.
Borngraeber said officers of other animal welfare groups “are passionate about helping animals,” but added, “shifting to think about helping people is not always a natural fit, especially when the problems we’re facing require larger, broader, and more complex solutions.”
“Working together is the only way we can proactively, and positively, move forward as we seek a more humane reality for pets and people alike,” she added.
City spokeswoman Kim Wallace-Scalcione declined to respond to questions about whether the city was aware of the allegations lobbed at the nonprofit.
“For over a decade, Mayor Fulop has worked to address these types of issues surrounding animal control and response,” Wallace-Scalcione said. “Liberty Humane Society has been an integral part of helping animals in need find safe homes, and of course, we want to fix any issues that may be hindering those efforts.”