Advisory Committee Calls For New Team at Montclair Animal Shelter After ASPCA Visit

BY  |  Monday, Aug 11, 2014 1:39pm  |  COMMENTS (15)

animalwelfaremeetingAnimals suffering in isolation or kept in cages 24/7 for years, inadequate ventilation, illegally high temperatures and incompetent management are among the concerns Montclair Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (MAWAC) have voiced about the township-run Montclair Animal Shelter, to municipal and shelter officials for almost a year.

At a meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 5, and previously at a July meeting, committee members say their concerns, and a list of recommendations for town officials and animal shelter staff, have largely been ignored. One exception is the creation of a volunteer coordinator.

“We have animals in our shelter for three years and longer and there is suffering going on,” said Kay Sherwood, chair of the Montclair Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (MAWAC).

“It’s unacceptable for the wheels of government to turn slowly, particularly with the case of animal welfare,” Montclair veterinarian Nancy Katz, vice-chair of the committee, has said. “When a shelter cannot meet its needs, animals’ lives are in danger.”

Township Manager Marc Dashield has recently met multiple times with the committee, and has worked with them on devising a plan to rectify the situation. “I want what you want,” Dashield said at a meeting with the committee last Wednesday, Aug. 6.

However, the plan won’t be ready for the Township Council to review until September.

“We have animals in our shelter for three years and longer and there is suffering going on,” Sherwood told the crowd Tuesday night, noting there are now 58 cats and 27 dogs at the facility on 77 N. Willow Street.

“There are cats in cages who are depressed, dogs stressed out and hard to adopt because they are so stressed out. Strategic planning is not the answer to what is needed here.”

Committee members also say they don’t trust that anything substantive will change unless shelter manager Melissa Neiss is replaced.

“I don’t believe any plan can be executed without a competent shelter director,” says Katz, who adds she is grateful that Dashield is on board and working with the committee to make changes.

ASPCA Report Critical of Shelter

At Tuesday night’s public meeting of the MAWAC, a crowd of about 25 — many expressing outrage at how the shelter is being run — heard excerpts of a report read by committee chair Sherwood and prepared by a staffer from the ASPCA who visited the shelter July 2, at the request of the MAWAC. The report, shared with Dashield, (who was not at the meeting at the request of Sherwood because a town council meeting was being held at the same time.) includes:

*Inconsistent animal identification. “You can’t find out who is in there, where they came from and how long they have been there,” she says.

* A building with ceiling leaks, missing doorknobs, and a temperature of 92 degrees in the dog runs due to ineffective air conditioning. Of the heat, says Sherwood: “It is not only inhumane but it’s illegal. That’s an animal cruelty violation.”

* Cat cages stacked in front of the dog runs. “If you had your choice you wouldn’t have your cat cages stacked in front of the dog runs and every time the door is opened, the dogs bark and leads to stress and unhealthy conditions in the cats,” Sherwood says.

Other conditions include dog runs open to the weather year-round; no separation of air circulation between healthy animals and sick ones in quarantine; a dirty building; dirty litter boxes and not enough litter boxes for the cats; no enrichment activities for the dogs and few for the cats; lack of behavioral assessment of the animals.

“None of these things are any different than the things we have been talking about for quite some time,” Sherwood says.

The ASPCA staffer also observed a rabbit cage on top of a cat cage. “You’re not supposed to put prey (the rabbit) and predators (the cat) on top of each other,” says Sherwood. “It’s a sad confirmation of what we see when we go to the shelter.”

Some residents at Tuesday night’s meeting called for Montclair residents to contact Mayor Robert Jackson and other council members to express their outrage and “keep the pressure on” municipal officials to do something quickly.

“When are people going to be held accountable for what we are paying them to do?” said Karen Shinevar, a Montclair resident and almost daily shelter volunteer. “This is Montclair, New Jersey. This supports our values. Fix the shelter.”

Resident Nancy Willis put together a two-page proposal to spearhead changes in the volunteer program, one that has lost many members due to what she describes as inhospitable attitude towards them from staffers.

“My fear is that Melissa [Niess] won’t greenlight it and these are viable things to do,” Willis said. (Niess is not allowed to comment to reporters, and although a member of the MAWAC committee, she has been asked by Dashield not to attend MAWAC meetings.)

Sue Portuese, the director of the Montclair Health and Human Services Department, under which the shelter lies, attended Tuesday night’s meeting. Portuese assured Willis that “Melissa isn’t going to squash any ideas you have.”

Portuese did add that she can’t evaluate Niess because no town employees receive evaluations. It is a policy instituted by a prior town manager, municipal officials told Baristanet.

Marie-Christine Lochot, a longtime Montclair resident, spoke about her experience of adopting a cat that turned out to be sick with giardia, herpes in an eye and other ailments. She says she called the shelter to tell them to treat the other cats, and that her friend contacted the health department, under which the shelter falls.

A few days later, her phone rang on a Sunday morning. “It was Melissa Neiss screaming at me because we called the health department and we were going to jeopardize the shelter,” Lochot told the crowd. “I told her the health department should know and I asked her ‘Why are you so afraid?’ And I thought it was completely inappropriate to call me.”

During Tuesday night’s meeting, residents offered their services to volunteer to help, including Keith Ballantine, a contractor and owner of Montclair-based KB Electric. Last Wednesday, according to MAWAC member and shelter volunteer John Sieck, Ballantine visited the shelter with Sieck and volunteer Jerry Blasi, viewed the runs open to the elements, and said he will work with Sieck in arranging architectural and contracting services to close off the walls before winter’s arrival, Sieck told Baristanet.

Other areas in need of immediate repair are pieces of metal hanging down in the dog runs that cut and scratch the pups when they go back and forth between indoors and outdoors, a staffer told this reporter in June after I inquired about why a dog named Tiger had fresh cuts on his head and neck.

Dashield told Baristanet he welcomes volunteers to help with improvements to the building and other areas in need, particularly since the town is cash-strapped. In addition, $39,000 is promised for some building repairs, Dashield said.

At the end of last Tuesday night’s meeting, MAWAC ended with a discussion on if the township should even be in the sheltering business at all.
“The town has been responsible for the shelter for more than five years now, and the conditions have declined,” Sherwood says. “The people responsible for the shelter have proven over five-plus years that they are not up to the job and it’s time for a new team.”

In an email sent to Baristanet following the July MAWAC meeting, Portuese writes:

“The Township of Montclair is committed to making the Montclair Township Animal Shelter the best it can be. The health and welfare of the animals in our care is our top priority. During the past year I worked with the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, heard their concerns and ideas, and provided insight as to what have been some of the greatest challenges we face at the Shelter. Moving forward, I am in the process of determining the best ways to proceed, working with other departments and trying to obtain the necessary funding to improve our operations.

The concerns and complaints I have heard, both since being involved in the Committee, and resulting from today’s meeting, will be investigated more carefully and addressed so that we can work toward fulfilling those expectations.”

Readers interested in more information on the MAWAC can contact Kay Sherwood at [email protected]


  1. POSTED BY alic314  |  August 11, 2014 @ 2:14 pm

    Wait, is this an accurate statement?

    “Portuese did add that she can’t evaluate Niess because no town employees receive evaluations. It is a policy instituted by a prior town manager, municipal officials told Baristanet.”

  2. POSTED BY kyle41181  |  August 11, 2014 @ 8:05 pm

    Mr. Kyle Martinowich, 10 Godfrey Road, urged the Township to stop the expansion of the shelter project before it gets out of control. He is also concerned about the humane aspect of the shelter.

    Though I don’t live in town anymore, it still saddens me to know I was correct from the beginning. These poor animals!

  3. POSTED BY kbanda  |  August 11, 2014 @ 10:21 pm

    How can this happen in Montclair NJ? How long has that building been without a wall in the isolation/back areas? VERY disheartening. With all it’s problems re management, at least the Bloomfield Animal Shelter is a relatively decent building. Montclair should be ashamed.

  4. POSTED BY theprimroseplath  |  August 11, 2014 @ 10:53 pm

    If there currently is a rabbit, why isn’t it listed on Petfinder? Maybe it has been adopted, but “exotics” need the exposure!

  5. POSTED BY adventurene  |  August 12, 2014 @ 9:51 am

    This saddens me, but I don’t totally blame the shelter. Having worked at an animal hospital as a technician I can tell you it is a rewarding job. Having to work as a volunteer under a volatile staff within the confines of a municipally funded organization must be a nightmare. Without the proper funding the staff is probably stretched extremely thin and irritable as a result. The shelter’s hours are limited as well, which is a major issue probably due to lack of funds to cover the cost of employees or overhead. Most people work 9-5 or even later in a commuter town like Montclair. Having hours 2-6pm and 2-4pm doesn’t allow the public to get in a adopt except maybe on the weekends.
    MAWAC has a right to complain openly about how the shelter is being run and the state that it is in, but they should be directing their energy at fixing the problem instead of having a meeting about how terrible it is. That time could have been spent on trying to generate ideas on how to fix the problems like reaching out to the community for volunteers or donations. I live in the town, not a few blocks away and didn’t know about their meeting. In short, MAWAC needs to make the public aware of their existence before trying to enact change. Having this article run does help spread awareness of the problem and generate ire within the public, but doesn’t offer any solutions aside from citizens complaining to the township.
    As kyle41181 posted above, expanding the shelter will be beat down repeatedly. Space is at a premium in all of NJ, even more so in a desirable community like Montclair. The shelter is too small to service the needs of the animals within the confines of Montclair, much less any animals from other, surrounding towns. Add to that the prolific breeding of stray animals like cats and you see that the problem is not just the shelter. It is the growing needs of the animals compounded by the inability to expand to meet those needs.
    I will agree that the shelter needs to have more of an online presence and should coordinate better with sites like petfinder, but again that goes back to asset allocation. If you don’t have the staff to maintain what you have, how are you going to broaden your services?

  6. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  August 12, 2014 @ 10:04 am

    I didn’t think it was possible to get so much misinformation in one post. I almost think you must work for the Township.

  7. POSTED BY kbanda  |  August 12, 2014 @ 10:50 am

    More and more I wish Montclair and Bloomfield could join together. House cats in Montclair and dogs in Bloomfield which has more space inside and out and more kennels and runs for dogs, especially large dogs. Why can’t we all work together?

    However built that building in Montclair had rocks in his head. Who leaves part of a building housing animals open to the elements? Where is the vet of record? Does anyone who is responsible for overseeing the shelter inspect it? Why is a municipal building allowed to get into such disrepair? How is it that staff cannot be evaluated by their employers?

    So much to be fixed, but it is fixable. Of course, only if enough people care enough about the shelter, animals, staff and volunteers to fight for change.

  8. POSTED BY stu  |  August 12, 2014 @ 11:30 am

    Montclair was significantly better off with PAWS.

  9. POSTED BY adventurene  |  August 12, 2014 @ 11:37 am

    On the contrary, Frank Rubacky, I was trying to point out that the shelter has a distinct lack of funding available to them. If anything I was trying to point out that the funding provided by the township is not enough. Sadly, it probably never will be as it is difficult to get anything out of the township. Most social programs get mired in red tape to the point that the organization usually gives up. That is part of the system in place. In order to have any sort of change, the citizenry need to do more than just show up to the town hall meetings to complain. That is at least a place to start, though.

  10. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  August 12, 2014 @ 12:08 pm

    Their budget is $331,000… and that excludes capital improvements. The citizenry is not the problem. The municipal management and elected official oversight has been woefully lacking.

    What I find sad is the Mayor can push for diversity in the workforce, but he is not pushing for a humane shelter operation. If we used the same standard the Township Manager uses to justify the quality level of shelter operations (Montclair is above average), than we have totally appropriate level of diversity in our public safety ranks and our vendors.

  11. POSTED BY sandybeach  |  August 12, 2014 @ 1:06 pm

    Stacking rabbits on top of cats sounds like a symptom of burnout or a lack of common sense. Given the type of people who want to work with animals, it’s probably the former. It think there does need to be some sort of evaluation of whether this is a budget issue vs a leadership issue. This not to disparage management’s intentions (I’m sure they are good) but we need a very honest assessment on what should change in order to help the animals.

  12. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  August 12, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

    You are a generous sandybeach to attribute this latest incident to worker/mgmt burnout.

    It just doesn’t work for me in explaining the previous 4 years. Now the shelter mgmt is soliciting teenagers to volunteer in this environment. Exactly what is the Council thinking?

  13. POSTED BY State Street Pete  |  August 12, 2014 @ 2:10 pm

    “More and more I wish Montclair and Bloomfield could join together.” – I was thinkning the same thing. Shared resources would save money, each location could have a focus on one either cats or dogs. The idea has merit. I’m sure there would be many reasons why it might not work, but it’s worth consideration.

  14. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  August 12, 2014 @ 8:38 pm

    Well, it is really not a good idea and not worth considering:

    1. Montclair doesn’t buy shared services, it only sells shared services
    2. Bad management/elected oversight is bad management/elected oversight
    3. We kill more cats than dogs by far
    4. We have no shelter standards
    5. Bloomfield one of the shelters we likely compare ourselves to now
    6. The shelter building is located in a Master Plan TOD & a Focus Area
    7. 90% of the cost is in personnel and capital expenses controlled by 2 separate political entities that don’t have any history of working together

    I could go to on, but you get the idea.

  15. POSTED BY dogmom  |  August 13, 2014 @ 11:06 am

    @alic314, it is correct that Montclair employees don’t receive evaluations, confirmed to me by several municipal officials. This policy was instituted under a prior town manager.

    The next meeting of the MAWAC is Weds., Sept. 3 at 10 a.m. in the municipal building.

    Diane Herbst

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