Will Trenton Animal Shelter keep ‘no-kill’ mission after council axes contract?
TRENTON — Days after the City Council voted to retake control of the Trenton Animal Shelter, there are no concrete plans for what comes next.
Trenton City Council voted 4-3 at a recent meeting to cut ties with a local non-profit running the shelter at 72 Escher St. It rejected a $375,000 contract extension with Trenton Animals Rock in favor of giving back control to the city.
After the Council's vote, a locksmith showed up Friday to change the locks on the shelter. Now only city employees are allowed inside.
Mayor Reed Gusciora's office denounced the vote. The mayor called it "another example of Council's inaction having real consequences," in a statement from spokesperson Timothy Carroll.
"Following Council's reckless actions, the City is providing staff to ensure continuation of services. Because of Council's decision to vote against funding the shelter, the City is losing the expertise of a veterinarian, vet techs, dog cage cleaners, and professionals who provide important services for residents."
Gusciora asked for state assistance in a letter to Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver on Monday. He called TAR "instrumental" in maintaining a no-kill shelter.
"I have determined that a resolution to this matter requires utmost urgency for the sake of the animals embraced under the care of the City of Trenton animal shelter," Gusciora said.
TAR Executive Director Danielle Gletow told New Jersey 101.5 that the Council's vote was "devastating."
Gletow explained the nonprofit operates on a budget of $750,000, but half comes from donations. The city had offered to cover the other half last year and agreed to a six-month contract.
Recently, the city had asked for additional services at the shelter, according to Gletow. But when those services increased the cost of operation, they went back to the original contract of $375,000.
Gletow was caught off-guard by Thursday's vote. She doesn't understand why Council chose to take Trenton backward.
Before TAR stepped in, Trenton Animal Shelter euthanized 47% of its dogs because of space. Now Gletow says the "kill rate" is under 5%, in keeping with their mission to run a no-kill shelter.
Along with her work with TAR, Gletow is the founder of One Simple Wish. The national, multi-million dollar nonprofit focuses on helping children in foster care.
Gletow joined the shelter several years ago. She said volunteers had to sign confidentiality agreements to keep details of the conditions from getting out.
"I know that four years ago when I came through these doors this was a horrid place for animals to come to," Gletow said out front of the shelter Friday. She spoke of extremely dirty conditions, animals stacked on top of each other, and other horrors.
"I don't understand what Council's plan was here. Lock us out, and who's coming in?" Gletow asked.
East Ward Councilman Joe Harrison was on scene to support TAR.
"This is embarrassing to believe that my colleagues want a kill shelter," Harrison said. "They're making allegations up. They have no plan."
But not everyone is touting their confidence in TAR or Gletow.
Councilwoman Robin Vaughn said at Thursday night's meeting that she had an "email full of complaints" about TAR. The West Ward representative said people had raised concerns about managing disease, keeping the facility, and making sure staff have the right certifications.
"I have some serious concerns about this organization," Vaughn said.
Gletow took issue with Vaughn's comments.
"None of them have even been here," Gletow said of the members of Council who voted to ax the contract. "So all of the claims that are being made are through third parties, some of them through fictitious names, coming through in emails, and a fake non-profit group that is spearheaded by a woman who lives in Ocean County.
Later on Facebook, Vaughn posted that she wanted to dispel "disinformation and misinformation."
"The government of the City of Trenton did not close the shelter and will continue to operate its animal shelter as other cities and towns do," Vaughn stated. "And just like it has done historically fully staffed with City workers or employees, not via outsourcing a contract."
But historically, the conditions at Trenton Animal Shelter have also raised concerns.
In 2017, the state Department of Health cited the Trenton Animal Shelter for euthanizing dogs before the minimum seven-day waiting period.
"Records showed that 18 animals were euthanized between March, 2017 and
May 5, 2017 without being held the required 7 days," the report found.
New Jersey 101.5 reached out to Vaughn for comment asking for any details about how the city would run the shelter but did not receive a response Monday.
In a video on Facebook, Gletow said the city is keeping animals locked up 24 hours a day.
"They're not being walked at all," Gletow said.
She added it's a return to how the city operated before bringing in TAR. "That is what it was like. They weren't being socialized, walked, enriched."
Council Vice President Marge Caldwell-Wilson made a similar point at Tuesday night's City Council meeting. She detailed the city's failings regarding the shelter, saying Trenton neglected it.
"We have certain council members that want to put animal welfare on the back burner," Caldwell-Wilson said. "And I say shame on you because we finally have an organization that is actually taking care of these animals."
Her comments prompted outrage from Vaughn, who interrupted and had to be muted.
"She will wish she never said anything about my advocacy," Vaughn said. "I will shut you down, Caldwell-Wilson."
It's not the first time tensions have flared between the all-Democratic council members during meetings.
Dysfunction in the City of Trenton has gained statewide attention. Gusciora and City Council agreed the situation had escalated to "a crisis level" last month.
Volunteers with TAR worked Monday morning to get dogs out of the shelter. They confirmed all but six were safely relocated.
Most are going to foster homes. Three other dogs are going to SAVE, A Friend to Homeless Animals in Montgomery.