SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Village administrators are preparing to take the first steps to evict the Jersey Animal Coalition from the animal shelter on Walton Avenue, denying accusations of a personal vendetta against the facility’s management.

A recent letter from Village Administrator Barry Lewis to the JAC, which has closed since a March 12 state inspection found 51 health code violations, gave management 10 days to bring the shelter up to code and to provide personnel and financial records.

The nonprofit JAC has a lease agreement with South Orange for operation of the shelter.

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Lewis said that the issues with the shelter cannot be ignored. “We can’t sit idly by,” he said. “We are prepared to assist the JAC, but to date, we’ve not received any indication (that the JAC is working to comply with all regulations). Failing that, we have to take whatever other options we can.”

Representative from the JAC did not return requests for comment.

The JAC’s representatives are due in municipal court today. The organization’s attorney, William Strazza, has previously stated that the quarantine and charges against the JAC are baseless. In a court appearance on April 22, the JAC pleaded not guilty to each of the 51 health code violations.

If the case cannot be settled in a conference with the prosecutor and the defendant on Tuesday, a trial date will likely be set.

Deputy Village Administrator Adam Loehner said that the conflict between the village and the shelter has come to such a head because the JAC has refused to work with officials to resolve the issues from the beginning.

“Unfortunately, the situation involves the JAC’s noncompliance with state laws and local health ordinances that serve to protect the health, safety and welfare of the animals inside the facility,” he said. 

Jim Block, a three-year veteran volunteer at the shelter, said that while there may have been some minor issues at the facility in the past, he believes the village is unnecessarily “hell-bent on choking the JAC out.”

“Were there some cages that weren’t cleaned right away?  Sure,” he said.  “But nothing is a health risk to the public. There are a lot of animals in here that a really adoptable. What do people think is going to happen to them when they are sent to another shelter that euthanizes animals?”

Loehner acknowledged that there are plenty of animals at the shelter that are ready to find permanent homes, adding that the village has established a procedure that would allow adoptions.

“The village worked with the state to arrange a process whereby animals could be adopted out of the quarantined facility but we have not received one request from the JAC to utilize this process to permit any adoptions, even though the village has received many inquiries from people interested in adopting animals,” he said.

Instead, Loehner said, the JAC has illegally removed one dog from the shelter, transferring it to a rescue organization.

Another issue of contention between the village and shelter supporters is the fact that the village expects the JAC to reimburse it for transporting stray animals other shelters while the facility is closed. The facility is designated as the intake shelter for animal control in both South Orange and Maplewood under the terms of its lease.

“I see the village wants the JAC to pay back all the money you are spending to ship stray South Orange dogs and cats to Newark to be killed,” said Richard Fishbein, a South Orange resident, at a Board of Trustees meeting on June 9. “This is, of course, anathema to a no-kill shelter. That letter, heavily lawyered-up, was cruel and contemptuous.”

Fishbein also said that he recently spoke with three veterinarians familiar with the JAC, all of whom agreed that the reasons behind the quarantine are ones of “personal antagonism” on the part of the village.

Lewis said, “The notion that there’s a vendetta is completely untrue.” He added: “We’ve remained ready to show up and make the inspection. We are doing everything we can. There is no personal vendetta. If they provide that (information), the quarantine can be lifted.”

Several people spoke at Monday’s Board of Trustees meeting asking the village administration to reopen the shelter.

However, Loehner said that without formal contact from the JAC, no action could be taken.