Montclair Township Council Agrees to Allocate Resources to Improve Conditions at Montclair Animal Shelter

Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett

MONTCLAIR, NJ - For years, there have been a growing number of concerns with the Montclair Animal Shelter (MAS). During the Tuesday night meeting of the township council, shelter advocates saw a breakthrough. 

Concerns regarding the shelter's treatment of the animals, shelter staff, and physical plant have been a common thread discussed over the past few months of the Montclair Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (MAWAC) meetings.

During the public comment portion of the council meeting, shelter volunteers and advocates packed the council chambers to let their voices be heard. Kay Sherwood and her team presented a visual display that included PowerPoint and pictures of the conditions and recommendations were made for immediate and long term action. 

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Although the advisory committee was selected to serve as liaison, this was the first presentation to the council. The MAWAC committee meets monthly with the town manager to express their concerns. There had been a breakdown in the last few months when allegations of animal abuse and neglect surfaced. Concerns raised ranged from extreme heat/cold temperature conditions inside of the shelter to concerns about shelter staff employees.

The presentation opened with commentary by Cecilia Pollack, volunteer with the Montclair Animal Shelter. She said, “Can you picture us as a town that is the model for the way a great shelter should be run? Why can't we be that town?"

Sherwood, the MAWAC chair gave a three-part presentation to the council along with Dr. Nancy Katz, Veterinarian and Vice chair of advisory committee and John Siek, founding member of the non-profit Friends of the Montclair Animal Shelter and animal advisory committee member. Other advisory members who were introduced to the council, but did not speak included Carolyn Sykes who specializes in animal behavior, Nancy Kaplan, secretary to NJ chapter of the Humane Society of the US and Sue Portuese, Health Department Director. Sherwood told the council that Melissa Neiss, Shelter Manager, was "...prohibited from attending meetings since last year".

“We have studied issues for a year before we developed recommendations for the town."

Sherwood expressed that some concerns were that the MAS "...failed to provide lawful protection from extreme weather. ...failed to provide legally mandated water supply. ...failed to respond to committee requests for assistance. ...That’s what has brought us here.”

Sherwood expressed that she disagreed with the recommendations made by Town Manager Marc Dashield to the council at the last meeting. She stated that the recommendation of outsourcing would not resolve the concerns

She further added that costs to run the shelter differ from Bloomfield Animal Shelter because Bloomfield shelter is half the size. "It is not comparable to Montclair." Sherwood added that there has been no serious analysis to make any determination toward outsourcing. "What the town needs and committee recommends is a qualified shelter director."

Katz approached and presented a seven step plan. “All of these things and doing these things right, really makes a shelter run well. ...It is crucial that this person is experienced has the right temperament…” As Katz spoke of hiring a new shelter director, she added that the committee could assist in the process. “This is Montclair’s chance to get it right. We owe it to the volunteers in the community that have stepped up. ...There is no one within the shelter staff and health department has the skillset to do this job."

“We can build a good shelter, we have the resources, we have the right community…” Katz further suggested convenient shelter hours, courteous phone answering, posts on pet finder, accurate information posted on the shelter website and taking measures to improve mental and physical health of shelter animals. Among those recommendations, included accessible water, daily feedings of shelter animals, regular sanitizing of enclosures, identification of sick or injured animals, having a foster network and developing a system of data collection. “We want to help. We are asking to be allowed to help,” Katz concluded.

Siek was the third presenter who spoke as a member of the MAWAC and Director of friends of MAS. He asked the Council to consider appropriating the money to make repairs. "We don’t have a lot of time before winter comes."

Siek's display of pictures showed a picture of the back area of the shelter that is open and exposed to the outside. He expressed that the dog runs in back of the MAS quarantine area is open to the extreme weather conditions. "The animals who come to the back to eat and drink and exercise, are open to the elements. Those doors are open for the majority of the day and some of the night." He added that the guidelines specify the indoor temperature is not supposed to drop below 55 degrees and without walls or windows, it often does."

Siek's presentation focused on the physical plant of the building highlighting areas that he recommended contractors to focus on to remedy some immediate concerns before the winter comes. He highlighted the south wall, open air area and the adoption dog view area, as well as the windows behind the dog run. There are currently, "No heaters and no AC in back of the runs, only in the front of the runs," added Siek.

“What the committee is asking, is that you appropriate the money so that what you’ve seen will be corrected. The friends of shelter have retained an architect with our funds...,” says Siek. “If we get a winter like we did last time, I'm concerned that these dogs are suffering....”

Siek concluded, "There are other issues, but I'm not asking you to address it now. These are the immediate issues...."

At the closing of the presentation, Mayor Jackson and the council members began discussing immediate ways to address the MAS concerns presented. Of the concerns raised, universal concensus was that the matter must be addressed before the winter comes.

Dashield said, “Perhaps we can authorize a bond ordinance and engage a contractor through the bid process…”

"We’ve got to get something done...", said Russo.

"The front portion of the shelter is heated and available for the animals." Dashield said, "We would have to look to see if we have any money in our maintenance funds."

“With proper ventilation, the best bet would be to enclose it,” replied Katz who walked back to the microphone.

Schlager suggested looking into possible grants "...once the building is up to snuff.”

Jackson said that they instructed Dashied and that " is the will of the council to work with John and the committee to get repairs done before (winter) weather. ...In the meantime, we are putting in some heaters."

The swift decisions were met with a roaring applause from the audience.

A once angry and concerned crowd was turned to an audience of praise for the council’s swift move to action. Public comment after the presentation was congratulatory of the council’s support of the committee’s recommendations. 

The crowd cleared after hearing the presentation of the MAS advisory committee conclude, leaving 5 behind.

Other matters discussed by the council

At the top of the meeting, the council highlighted Mental Illness Awareness Week Oct. 5-11. No one was there to accept the proclamation, Councilor Baskerville read and accepted the proclamation.

A bond ordinance was approved for the improvements to the Bellevue Avenue Branch of the Montclair Public Library.

Link to the Council Meeting agenda here.

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