MONTCLAIR, NJ - The MAWAC meeting was all, but quiet Tuesday evening. Tempers flared over shelter conditions and staffing. Among the disagreements and disappointments, there was a mix of applause and celebration for the successes made in the last two months. 

After the MAWAC leaders presented a vivid display of shelter conditions at the October meeting, the Mayor and council moved into swift action to remedy most of the problems.  Since then, changes had occurred which included: Shelter Director Melissa Neiss resigned from the position, the position of volunteer coordinator was instated, animal control officers were hired and construction to remedy some of the extreme weather conditions issues were underway. 

With all of the progress and the celebrated the successes, MAWAC members expressed that there was still more that needed to be done. 

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The meeting provided insight into the successes and challenges the Township has made since the October presentation before the council. This was also an opportunity to re-examine what needs to be done further. Through a passionate display of concern for the animals, MAWAC members began to map out what specific measures need to be taken to bring the shelter up to acceptable standards.

Volunteer Coordinator and Shelter Director

Kaye Sherwood announced Hiring another shelter director. After the former Shelter Manager Melissa Neiss came under fire from the committee, she resigned in October. “There will be a long road, said Sherwood. The salary is between $70,00-$90,000, which is a considerable increase.”

The Volunteer Coordinator that had been hired, came and went very quickly. When an audience member asked why she quit. Dr. Nancy Katz addressed the question citing flaws made in the selection process and a search committee who is not as familiar with hiring staff to work with animals. “I’m not sure what the issue is with people helping with knowledge,” said Katz. She asked for someone who is familiar with working with animals involved in the selection.

The council voted in favor of making the volunteer coordinator position a full time job and the township will be responsible for hiring and recruiting staff.

Veterinary services for shelter animals

Concerned citizens in the audience were informed that an agreement had been made for a Vet of Record to begin. Katz expressed that many of the concerns had resulted from not having a Vet of Record. However, the township informed Katz that Dr. Wellington had been hired Tuesday. Having been familiar with his work with animals, the MAWAC was pleased to hear the new revelation.

Katz did much of the talking during the meeting expressing concerns about the availability of vaccines, administration of medications and oversight of disease prevention. She also cited improper protocols for feeding stating that the dogs were losing weight rapidly.

Katz said, “The shelter is out of vaccines and medicines. We were told the shelter has no money.”

The township’s response to that was that although a lot of the budget line items had been expended, transfers can occur to remedy that.

Among the concerns raised Katz spoke of weight loss in dogs, cats admitted without vaccines, cats adopted without updated vaccines. She also advised on regular cleaning of cages and seasonal medicine, as well as organizing files would be a big job for the new vet of record to correct. 

Although there had been a few cases cited where animals were adopted out without vaccines, the Township had remedied the problem by recalling those animals to give them the vaccines they needed.

Shelter staff have been going through files, making corrections and updating them. However, since the files have been in disarray for such a long time, it has proven to be a lengthy process.

Sherwood asked for “…a review of the records before the Vet of Record comes aboard and becomes responsible.”

With the hire of a Vet of Record, the Township is confident that many of the issues raised with the health and care of the shelter animals will be resolved.

John Siek, of Friends of the Montclair Animal Shelter, offered to fund a scale for the animals which is necessary to check the health of the animals. He said, “We will be more than happy to fund the scale.”

Some other questions raised by the committee included protocol for entering animals, training of staff entering data into the computers. The MAWAC and the Township are hopeful that once the new shelter director is hired, they will be aware of the best practices.  

Volunteer programs and structure

Celebrations during the meeting were in the area of cat adoptions. Mainly due to the hard work of shelter volunteers. During the month of November, there were 20 cats adopted, up from 83 for the entire year last year. Cats have been listed on Petfinder and a partnership has been formed with Petco.

Concerns swirled over the frequency and times of day dogs are being walked. The committee members are hoping to remedy this once the Volunteer Coordinator is hired.  

After a blow up with shelter staff last month, volunteers also expressed arriving at the shelter and discovering a sign indicating that they had been let go. Only a few shelter staff ever received a call back, despite the vast need for volunteers to waljth the dogs and play with the animals.

"The large scale cutback on volunteers hurts the animals,” Says Katz.

Numerous volunteers poke about the sign that says “The program is suspended.” The volunteers are concerned that they had been fired and wondered why they were never called back.

Julie Wassell, certified pet dog trainer and behavior trainer, says there were orientations on health and safety of the animals. She says that it is necessary in the recommitment to how the animals are treated. She said, “The environment is different and there are new protocols and anyone that comes needs to understand the protocol based on proper behavior with animals.”

MAWAC members expressed that some of the problems continue to exist, citing specific personnel employed with the shelter. A debate ensued with other volunteers defending the individuals mentioned.

Status of shelter repairs

John Siek gave a status of repairs. He said, “Repairs are a process. The torn tarp is now covered. All of the quarantine area is covered by tarp and Plexiglas, the opening behind the dog run is going to be sealed off in the next few days, additional heaters were installed at the front of the dog run.” Although progress has been noted, they are still awaiting the window installation bid to come in as well as the bid on the walls. “I am confident and comfortable because of the temperature fixes.” He applauded the town for listening and responding.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, much time was spent discussing demeanor of shelter staff toward volunteers. The Township is hoping to remedy that concern with the hiring of a new director.

The next meeting will take place in January with the time and 2015 calendar to be determined.