The John A. Bukowski Shelter for Animals in Bloomfield has suspended its volunteer services inside the shelter temporarily, according to a Health Department source, while it undergoes a reorganization and assessment of ways it can better structure its volunteer program. Regular volunteers, meanwhile, are “frustrated and angry” about the decision.
Once the reorganization and assessment are completed, says Karen Lore, acting director of Health & Human Services at the Township of Bloomfield, volunteers will be able to reapply but must participate in a volunteer orientation and training program. They will also be asked to sign off on new policies and procedures developed during the reorganization.
An email from the Health Department recently went out to about 40 volunteers stating that while the facility is being expanded and modernized, the shelter’s administrative staff seeks to “align with the best practices of our nation’s most respected animal welfare agencies,” and looks to strengthen its policies for staff and volunteer work procedures. The letter went on to state that most volunteer committee activities that take place off shelter grounds will continue as usual, particularly fund raisers already in progress and publicity to promote those events.
“Our volunteer program was run very informally,” Lore said. “We are seeking to provide more structured training and protocols so that the whole process flows more smoothly. For example, we’ve found that if the behavioral work we do with the animals is not done consistently and with the same volunteers, it is not as effective.”
She added that the formal process for reinstating volunteers will include seeking out people with the skills to work in particular areas the shelter seeks to expand, including the Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) program for feral cats, animal fostering, and working with dogs and cats in enrichment programs designed to make them more adoptable.
She also spoke of plans to expand the shelter’s outdoor play area and to create a play area specifically for cats.
While she could not give a definitive deadline for the assessment and reorganization’s completion, Lore said the animals living at the shelter are currently being cared for by seven staffers, which include a manager, animal attendants, and a veterinary technician.
Patricia Gilleran of Bloomfield is one of several former volunteers who are concerned about the welfare of the animals going forward.
“These animals will no longer receive the individual attention, socialization, and love that the many volunteers provided,” Gilleran said. “It will be harder for the cats to be adopted and as you may know, kitten season will be on us very soon. The shelter is usually filled to capacity during kitten season and yet there will be no postings on Petfinder, blogs, and in local news outlets to try and reduce the cat/kitten population.”
Gilleran said the Bloomfield Health Department has shown a lack of managerial experience, due to the fact that there have been three shelter managers in the last year, each one with different policies and procedures for the staff and volunteers. One shelter manager, she noted, was allowed to take home the shelter’s computer and remove and dispose of the hard drive, destroying weeks of work that volunteers had completed in creating cat and dog bios, photos, and videos.
When asked about the concerns of former volunteers who say that the animals will not receive adequate care that goes beyond mere feeding, watering, and cage cleaning, Lore said that was not the case at all. She expressed extreme confidence that staffers will be able to manage the shelter on their own for a brief time, using streamlined procedures for feeding, cleaning, socializing, and exercising, as well as pet adoptions, veterinary checks, and home visits.
“We have chosen this particular time to reorganize because the population of our shelter is lower than usual right now,” Lore said.
As of March 16, the shelter was home to three dogs and 37 cats.
Volunteer Karen Banda, whose story about her 87-year-old mother being barred from accompanying her daughter to the shelter can be found here, is understandably upset.
“I am frustrated and angry at yet another bad decision made by the Health Department to suspend only in-shelter volunteer activities while allowing the ‘feel-good’ fund raising and public relations to continue,” Banda said. “We volunteers have been increasingly marginalized and victimized by each succeeding shelter manager, not one of which has had any experience managing a municipal animal shelter. The [Board of Health] is clueless about shelter operations and merely rubber stamps whatever Ms. Lore presents to them. Keep in mind this is the same body that couldn’t muster a vote to fire one of the previous managers even after he admitted to removing the shelter’s computer and trashing the hard drive. To say their knowledge of shelter operations and volunteers is minimal at best is being kind.“