HAMILTON (Mercer) — As the township’s Republican mayor and Democratic council have been fighting like cats and dogs over the local animal shelter, state investigators found disturbing conditions at the facility, which township officials say they have been correcting.

A state Department of Health inspection report last month found that the shelter may have been quickly killing lost or rescued pets before offering them for adoption or giving owners the minimum required time to claim them. The state, for example, said that the shelter killed 46 cats on the same day that they were rescued from a hoarding house.

Shelters are required to wait at least seven days before killing surrendered or captured animals. The shelter can also transfer the animals to a rescue organization or foster home.

But Township Health Official Jeff Plunkett on Wednesday said stray pets were never killed before the required seven-day period, although he acknowledged that records were not immediately available when inspectors showed up at the shelter.

Plunkett said most of the euthanized animals were terminally ill pets surrendered by residents who could not afford to have their pets put down by a veterinarian. Plunkett said the shelter charged just $100 for the service, whereas vets may charge at least double. Plunkett said the shelter staff would receive verbal approval over the phone from the shelter's veterinarian before euthanasia was administered on surrendered animals.

That policy, however, was recently discontinued before the inspection. Plunkett told New Jersey 101.5 on Wednesday that the shelter no longer accepts unadoptable pets or provides euthanasia services for terminally ill pets.

Plunkett said the 46 rescued cats were extremely ill after living in squalid conditions and that euthanasia was the appropriate, humane action.

The inspection report also found abysmal record keeping, lack of veterinarian oversight and countless expired and mishandled medications.

Last month, the Township Council launched its own investigation into the animal shelter, prompting Mayor Kelly Yaede to call it “gutter politics” and slam critics who characterized the shelter staff as “killers of innocent animals.”

Yaede on Tuesday continued to defend the shelter, saying the inspection happened on a Monday, “during the very same time when routine cleaning operations would normally occur following the weekend.”

Yaede also noted that the report “does not list one finding of animal abuse or animal cruelty; and the majority of the report cited clerical errors and other items that have already been corrected. The very fact that the State allowed our facility to continue routine operations following the inspection illustrates that the health and daily care of our shelter animals was never in question.”

Yaede issued a separate statement Wednesday to clarify the shelter's former euthanasia policy.

"Our shelter may be the only shelter in the state that provided this service to pet owners upon request; and owner requests accounted for the majority of euthanized dogs at our facility," Yaede said. "But unlike a private veterinarian, state law treats our shelter differently.  Technically, the law reads that there would be a seven day holding period."

Plunkett on Wednesday said that the shelter is in the process of ending its pen-and-paper record keeping in favor of a computer database.

He also said the scores of unexpired medicines that inspectors found was akin to people leaving unused medicine in their bathroom cabinets. Staff would sometimes stop providing medication to animals when they no longer seemed sick. But as a result of the inspection report, Plunkett said staff were instructed to discard old medication and to follow veterinarian instructions, including providing antibiotics until completion.

The shelter recently underwent a $1.1 million expansion and the budget for animal control increased by 56 percent in four years, The Trentonian reported.

The shelter has three full-time and two part-time animal control officers and one full-time and four part-time animal attendants. Volunteers help foster and adopt the animals but do not work in the shelter, Plunkett said.

Among the more than two dozen deficiencies uncovered by state investigators:

— Staff administering euthanasia were not certified by a licensed veterinarian. Plunkett on Wednesday said the animal control officers have received the proper training since the inspection report.

— Animals were not being weighed, and there was no scale, in order to determine the correct dosage for euthanasia. The inspectors found evidence of numerous possible miscalculations. For example, an owner surrendered a dog reported to be 120 pounds but the euthanasia log says it was 80 pounds. The dog was given 10 mL of euthanasia solution rather than the minimum of 12 mL required for a 120 pound dog.

— Euthanasia records do not match. A cat was recorded euthanized but then reclaimed. Another cat was recorded as euthanized and then adopted. Another cat was reportedly euthanized twice – once on May 9 and again Aug. 24, 2017.

— About 67 mL of euthanasia solution was unaccounted for.

— There were no prescription labels, instructions, dosage calculations for the euthanizing drugs, which were not stored in refrigerator or dated.

— Cat vomit was on several surfaces.

— The kitten isolation room was not ventilated or air conditioned during a 90-degree day.

— Food and water bowls were not being disinfected daily.

— Small animal cages were not being cleaned and disinfected regularly. Staff did not know the last time they had been cleaned.

— Dog food was spilled on the floor.

— The shelter had no veterinarian-written or supervised disease control and health care program.

— There were no medical records, treatment orders, or medication logs. Treatment documents were not available for killed animals.

— Some medication had expired five years ago.

— Prescribed medication had not been administered.

— Medicine was lying around with no labels or instructions.

— There was no isolation room for sick dogs.

— An isolation room for cats was connected to the central air system.

— Animals are supposed to be scanned for ID chip three times – when they are captured by an officer, during intake and again upon release or euthanasia. The state said the shelter only scanned animals intake.

Also on New Jersey 101.5:

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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