Township Approves Maintaining Regional Animal Shelter

Credits: TAP Staff

The Bridgewater Township Council unanimously approved a motion to maintain the Somerset Regional Animal Shelter as is, despite the upcoming loss of Somerville revenue in July.

“I am convinced that maintaining the shelter with Manville is the proper course at least for the next few years,” council president Matthew Moench said. “Services for outsourcing will not match what we get here.”

Somerville, Manville and Bridgewater are part of the original three with the shelter, with each town contributing money to keep the shelter going every year. 

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According to the 2014 budget, Bridgewater contributes $221,000, Somerville contributes $74,800 and Manville contributes $44,200. The remaining money, about $21,000, comes from donations, adoptions, surrender fees and more.

But as of July 1, Somerville will pull out of the contract with the Somerset Regional Animal Shelter in favor of contracting with St. Huberts for animal control services, which will save the borough about $50,000.

The decision to keep the shelter as is led to the about 100 residents in attendance at the May 19 meeting giving the council a standing ovation.

“It is clear to me that the shelter is a very important part of the community,” said councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose.

The shelter has had to figure out how to make up the shortfall, and the township council was considering whether changes should be made.

But after meeting with officials and hearing presentations on the shelter, the council has decided to move forward as is.

According to Niki Dawson, executive director of the shelter, the shelter is a municipal shared service for shelter and animal control, and it acts as a resource for residents, while also finding homes for animals.

Since Feb. 1, Dawson said, the shelter has made many changes that have allowed it to bring in more money and provide more services for the residents. The shelter is now open seven days a week, and also has a web-based system for animal intake.

In addition, Dawson said, there are new vaccination and sanitation protocols, as well as heightened community outreach, all of which have drastically reduced the length of stay of animals in the shelter.

“Animals are now moving through quickly, which costs less,” she said.

Services provided by the shelter, Dawson said, include 24/7 animal control, low cost spay and neuter services, in-house micro-chipping, behavior and training advice and more. Dawson said they also have increased enrichment programs, with a trainer that works the dogs and makes them more adoptable.

“Long term dogs are being adopted more quickly,” she said.

Dawson said the shelter has a junior volunteer program, with students from schools helping out. Students at Hillside Intermediate School, she said, raised $1,000 for the shelter, and a local girl raised $600 for her Sweet 16.

Dawson said they have also developed a Pets at Home Program to keep families from surrendering their pets.

Some of the community partners, Dawson said, include Pet Valu in Branchburg, which holds free pet adoptions, and Camp Bow Wow in Bridgewater, which does free training.

Dawson said the shelter also has the Friends of the Somerset Regional Animal Shelter (FOSRAS), which was established in 2002, and has 30 core volunteers.

“They put in 120 volunteer hours per month, saving the shelter $1,000 per month,” she said. “They have raised $141,206 in financial support since 2010.”

At this point, Dawson said, the shelter has a live release rate (animals leaving the shelter to new homes) of 98 percent, while the national average is about 50 percent.

“We are one of five shelters in the country that can boast that figure,” she said.

Dawson said that with the loss of the money from Somerville looming, the shelter is looking into ways of making up those funds. That includes researching retail services for donations and looking at partnering with other municipalities.

They are ready to roll out a program for canvassing for licensing requirements, as well as offering affordable euthanasia services.

Dawson said that, based on current projections, the shelter is looking at a 30 percent decrease in its expenditures this year.

Dawson said the length of stay for animals at the shelter is averaging about 14 days right now, and their new best practices are allowing them to keep the animals healthier so less money is spent on medications.

“The shelter has been enhancing the quality of life for Bridgewater and other towns,” said resident Lori Moog, a volunteer at the shelter.

Jennifer Feeney, a veterinarian with the Somerset Veterinary Group, said she believes the shelter is very important to the community.

“I have worked with 13 different shelters, and I have never seen the kind of changes in such a short amount of time that Niki has done,” she said.

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