HAMILTON (Mercer) — After prosecutors charged the municipal health director and the former municipal animal shelter supervisor with animal cruelty in the killing of 300 animals in a euthanasia-for-hire scheme, Mayor Kelly Yaede has called for the case to be reviewed by a "higher authority."

Yaede continues to defend the animal shelter, which has been criticized by advocates for animals as well as her opponent in the Republican primary. Even though she has described the euthanasia policy as a "public community service" and a humane alternative to keeping sick animals alive for the required seven days, the township discontinued the policy after it was brought to light by state investigators.

As The Trentonian reported on Wednesday, the mayor sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito, urging him to investigate the charges.

In her letter, Yaede wrote she does not "possess specific details regarding the factual basis for the charges" and suggests that it is politically motivated.

In a four minute video posted to the municipality's Facebook page, Yaede said she recognized "that some charges being made about pets being humanely put down" prior to the state's "required waiting period" painted the Hamilton Animal Shelter in an "unfavorable light."

Between 2016 and 2018, 236 cats and 93 dogs were illegally euthanized at the Hamilton Animal Shelter before the seven day "grace period" required by law for each animal to be held or offered up for adoption, according to the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office.

Yaede said the shelter had historically "accepted owner-surrendered pets at the end of their lives" and said it was a similar practice to what occurs at veterinary offices around the state. She also said last year, the shelter "discontinued offering this public community service."

She called the ongoing investigation into past activities at the shelter "personally frustrating."

Yaede said she believes "much of the ongoing issues have more to do with politics," which is why she was "asking a higher authority to review the issue."

Jeffrey Plunkett, 62, the township's Director of Health, Recreation, Senior and Veterans Services, and Todd Bencivengo, 56, the former supervisor of the animal shelter, each face two counts of animal cruelty and one count of official misconduct. The charges were outlined in a release by the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office on May 3.

The on-demand euthanizing of animals at the Hamilton shelter was first documented in a state Department of Health inspection report in July. The inspection also found unclean conditions and improper storage and use of medications, some of which had expired years earlier.

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