LIVINGSTON, NJ — As construction begins at the new Livingston Animal Shelter, members of the Friends of the Livingston Animal Shelter (FOLAS) advisory committee attended Monday’s mayor and council meeting to make recommendations on how to improve shelter operations and how to address the township’s feral cat problem with a more productive Trap Neuter and Release (TNR) program.

With construction expected to be complete within the next 120 days, members of the council and the Livingston Police Department took note of the FOLAS advisory committee’s recommendations and vowed to take action once pricing on each option is determined and compared.

“I was very encouraged that the shelter committee is very excited about the shelter,” said mayor Shawn Klein, who thought that Monday was a productive meeting with the advisory committee. “It seems like it’s going to be a shelter that everyone is going to be very proud of and it’s going to be a source for more shared services. We’re going to hopefully get more towns involved and construction is starting, so we’re going to move along and get this done.”

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In order to have a functional shelter capable of supporting contracts with other towns, however, FOLAS advisory committee member Sherri Marrache said the township needs to build a working shelter infrastructure and implement standard operating procedures for adoption, vetting, administration, cleaning and sterilization, and training. Over the past year, Marrache said FOLAS has made several recommendations regarding shelter staffing, shelter signage, volunteer processing methods and pet adoption fees, with little progress.

Some of these outstanding recommendations include:

  • Hiring a shelter manager or supervisor (as opposed to an animal control officer) to oversee the shelter by being on-site during operating hours to handle pet-socialization needs as well as administrative paperwork;
  • Installing signage on Eisenhower Parkway to create public awareness of the shelter and adoptions as well as on the entrance gate with operating hours listed;
  • Eliminating some requirements currently involved in the volunteer clearance/approve process that have been deemed excessive in order to allow access to more volunteers; and
  • Amending the current township ordinance on pet adoption fees so that adoption fees are earmarked to specifically go back to the shelter to recoup veterinary and shelter supply costs.

“If we implement [these] FOLAS recommendations to build an efficient and working infrastructure for our new building, we’ll have a working shelter to be proud of—with the potential of marketing to other towns for future outside contracts,” said Marrache.

Having previously stated that they are committed to supporting a TNR program in Livingston, both the Livingston Township Council and Livingston Police Department requested assistance from FOLAS in obtaining options for how to move forward. 

Mary Beth Picini, chairperson of the FOLAS advisory committee, recommended a TNR program with manageable intake, which will be determined once the building is complete and trailer availability and staffing is addressed. The hope, she said, is that the TNR program will address over-population issues; that limited intake of kittens will eradicate colonies faster and reduce the need to re-visit them; that volunteers will be able to assist in the adoption, fostering and advertising of adoptable cats; and that the public will have a positive response to both the limited intake of cats and the TNR program.

The first recommended option proposed at Monday’s meeting was to outsource the TNR program to a third-party organization and remove Livingston’s animal control officer from the process. According to Picini, the benefit of this option is experience and optimization because trapping would begin in the winter—in order to address the population issue before kitten season—and the third party would house the cats in their facility.

Once such organization FOLAS discovered was Neighborhood Cats, which currently has an individual ready to assist during the winter months and would cost the township $3300 per month, according to the organization’s initial discussion with FOLAS. This includes the cost of trapping the cats, transportation of cats to be spayed/neutered, intake if any are found and a facility to support this effort while the Livingston Animal Shelter is under construction.

According to Picini, PFA endorses the Neighborhood Cats Organization as well as its handbook, which is used as a “best practices” guide for many TNR programs.

A second candidate for a third-party organization was St. Hubert’s, which is currently hiring new staff and is offering a package that includes all shelter operations and animal control officer services. According to Picini, St. Hubert’s might be interested in a partial package with the Township of Livingston. The next step in this case is for members of the advisory committee and the Livingston Police Department to meet with St. Hubert’s to discuss.

A third option that the FOLAS advisory committee recommended as an option after the implementation of a 2018 program is to implement a town-managed TNR program. After removing the animal control officer from the process, this option would include two or three part-time individuals to support all TNR functions, including standard operating procedures of the shelter.

“I think they gave us some important feedback, they gave us some good options and we’re going to try and move forward,” said Klein. “If it turns out that financially the town is not worse off looking at some other options, then maybe the council will decide to move ahead and either go with an outside group or change what we’re going to do.”

Putting Livingston’s feral cat issue into perspective, the advisory committee estimated that one unspayed female cat, her mate, and other offspring producing two litters per year with an average of 2.8 surviving kittens per litter can total more than 10,000 cats in five years.  It was also noted that although the cats are being released to the same locations once they are spayed/neutered, the population will eventually decrease significantly because the life expectancy for a cat living outside (7-10 years) is much lower than the expectancy of an indoor cat (16-18 years).

Regardless of which option the township selects, Picini said promotion and marketing of TNR is an absolute top priority in order to educate residents on how to properly report a problem. She said that offering print materials and potentially workshops to township residents on proper trapping and care of colonies would also be beneficial.

A major issue that FOLAS advisory committee said needs to be addressed immediately is that residents are still being directed to the Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter when they conduct an Internet search for the Livingston Animal Shelter. This issue was addressed during a mayor and council meeting in September, but still persists. Amending the search engine and educating residents on the proper contact method is essential to the success of the Livingston Animal Shelter when it opens in four months.

The purpose of the FOLAS advisory committee is to provide recommendations and ensure that the basic needs and resources for the shelter are up-to-date and in compliance; to get the community involved with their hearts, hands and minds; and to create a compassionate and responsible animal shelter. Its mission is to protect the health and safety of Livingston residents, to protect the health and safety of Livingston residents' pets, and to promote humane treatment of the animals within the township.

Follow the FOLAS Facebook Page to learn more.