Vince Ascolese, Director of Animal Services at the North Jersey Humane Society Rescue Center in Bloomfield, spoke at a Town Hall meeting Tuesday evening about the organization’s ambitious plans for the former Bloomfield Bukowski Animal Shelter.
North Jersey Humane Society, a nonprofit organization, took over the shelter on November 15, 2014 and reopened it as a “true no-kill shelter.”
After being introduced by Mayor Venezia, Ascolese introduced his team to the audience, which was made up of a mixture of animal advocates, former Bloomfield shelter volunteers, and other interested residents, as well as Councilman Nick Joanow, and Township Administrator Ted Ehrenburg, who had managed the shelter for the town prior to its takeover by the North Jersey Humane Society.
Ascolese thanked the Mayor and the administration for their support, saying that he has weekly meetings with them and “everyone is on board” with what his organization is trying to do at the shelter. He also said that when they took over the responsibility of the shelter, they knew that in order to make it work, it would take the support of the people of Bloomfield.
“We’re all about inclusion,” he said. “Whether you’re volunteering at the shelter or at home, you’re just as important.” He urged anyone interested in volunteering to go to their website, njhumane.org, and download an application, which can be emailed or brought directly to the shelter.
He said there was a lot to do in just a few short months. In addition to working to get the new volunteer program up and running during the first quarter of the year, the team has already made cosmetic improvements at the shelter, including a new coat of paint, rearranging the front reception area to be more welcoming, and completion of construction on the second floor of the shelter. He said they have created a library on the second floor that will serve as a training area for volunteers. The library includes facilities for volunteers to view webinars on various subjects related to animal welfare, enrichment programs for animals, and more. An orientation session for volunteers will be scheduled in the near future.
He said construction is about to start on Phase 2. They intend to pull down walls and ceilings, install skylights to increase natural light, and build a dog pen in the back of the shelter to allow dogs to socialize and undergo training.
Ascolese said he is an advocate of TNR (Trap, Neuter and Release) for cats and has spoken nationally for the organization, Alleycat Allies, which supports TNR programs. North Jersey Humane intends to expand the existing TNR room at the shelter. Also in the plan is the construction of the “Wild Wild West,” an outdoor living space for feral cats with a number of structures for them to shelter in and keep warm. It will include a cat “hotel,” a “saloon” and other buildings for the cats to congregate in. He invited the public to come help build and paint when they start the project.
Ascolese also spoke about former shelter staff members. He said that although some decided to leave, others were promoted to new positions. Former kennel worker Angie McGowan is now an ACO and is very talented, he said. “She can deal with dogs no one else can handle.” He mentioned that there are five dogs at the shelter who have been there for a very long time and have issues as a result, and they are working with them to ensure they become adoptable.
Two of the five, Theo and Jemma, are now in the front area of the kennels where they can interact with people, and Theo now has an application for adoption.
The shelter has also instituted a microchipping program through Home Again. All dogs adopted out will be microchipped and cats will be microchipped on request. He said that they fill out all the paperwork to ensure the animal is properly registered.
Dr. Nelson Diaz is now the shelter’s new veterinarian. He has a veterinary practice in Old Bridge, New Jersey, and speaks nationally about animal health and welfare. He has made two visits since coming on board, spending most of a day at the shelter each time, examining all the animals. In addition, Dr. Laurie Heeb has been coming in on a voluntary basis to give vaccinations to the cats.
North Jersey Humane plans to create a surgery center at the shelter so they will be able to provide low-cost spay and neuter and vaccinations to the public. They also plan to increase the number of free rabies clinics and eventually have two veterinarians on staff. Ascolese said there will be an upcoming rabies clinic, probably in April, but they are still finalizing the date with the township clerk.
In terms of animal control, Ascolese explained that the ACOs are “out there on a daily basis.” He said this time of year it is common for people to dump their animals in parks, and that they had taken in three or four only recently.
Unlike the former Bloomfield Shelter, which only accepted animals from Bloomfield, Caldwell or Glen Ridge, the towns that the Bloomfield shelter serviced, North Jersey Humane Society is a rescue organization and takes in animals from kill shelters or other organizations that are overwhelmed with animals. They have entered into an agreement with Liberty Humane in Jersey City to pull dogs from their shelter and are working with organizations in the South to save dogs as well. “We believe it’s our responsibility, if we have the room, to fill it up,” he said.
Ascolese said, however, they always leave enough space to accommodate the local animals that come into the shelter, and that they are continuing to build relationships with local rescue groups as well. He also explained that they can move animals back and forth between the Bloomfield location and their shelter in Cliffside Park, which they manage under the auspices of their sister nonprofit, Bergen County Protect and Rescue Foundation. Usually animals that are moved from Bloomfield to Cliffside Park are those that are being overlooked at the Bloomfield shelter and may stand a better chance of adoption if they move to a new location, he explained.
The organization has also acquired an ambulance that will be used for their emergency response team, and will also be outfitted to serve as a mobile spay and neuter clinic for cats, said Ascolese.
Kristi Heller, Executive Director of Shelter Services for both locations, also spoke about the plans for the Bloomfield Rescue Center. She said she is working directly with the veterinarian to identify what equipment and facilities will be needed for the new vet clinic. She emphasized the importance of educating the community about vaccination, spaying and neutering, and said that having a facility on site to serve adopters and the public will make it a lot easier to accomplish their goals in this regard.
Mimi Michalski [full disclosure, this reporter is a volunteer at the shelter] spoke about the importance of social media and public relations for the shelter. She will be responsible for community outreach, establishing and maintaining a new Petfinder site for the North Jersey Humane Society Rescue Center, press releases and other types of marketing of the animals and the shelter. She said writers and photographers are needed and urged people to volunteer.
Jerry Blasi, the shelter’s new Volunteer Coordinator, spoke enthusiastically about the new management at the shelter. “I’ll be working with the staff and volunteers to make North Jersey Humane one of the best shelters in the country,” he said. He said he has been helping out at the shelter for the last six weeks. “I was there yesterday when Angie picked up an old dog someone had tied in Watsessing Park,” he said, “and he looked so sad when he came in. When they come in and then find a home, it’s the greatest feeling to be part of this.”
After the team spoke, they fielded questions from the audience. Mary DiLorenzo asked about the number of dogs and cats currently at the Bloomfield facility, and asked about the capacity of the shelter. Director Ascolese said the number was about 16 of each, and that one cat room is empty, and the other is half-empty, due to the number of adoptions that have taken place recently. He said they have actually asked the foster families to bring back some of the cats so they can be available at the shelter for people looking to adopt a cat.
Overall, he said, he “never says no” to an animal, and said that if Bloomfield is full, they would transfer an animal over to Cliffside Park if needed.
In response to a question by Pat Gilleran about the spay and neuter policy, Kristi Heller explained that they do require adopted pets to be neutered, but it is flexible based on condition and age. Their vet will be a member of the SpayNJ program.
Former Bloomfield and Montclair volunteer Nellie Reynolds asked about the adoption process when an application comes in. Ascolese explained they first meet the people and have a conversation, and they check with two references and the family’s veterinarian. If the potential adopter is a renter, they require the approval of the property management company or landlord before they adopt out the animal.
Heller said that they assess the living situation and lifestyle of the person who is interested in adopting before they go meet any animals. “It’s like a blind date,” she explained. She said they try to match up the person with the right animal for them.
Nellie Reynolds and Danielle Loffredo asked about home visits. Reynolds said the former shelter volunteers had an adoption committee that made home visits to ensure the animals went to appropriate homes. Ascolese explained they don’t like to hold up the process with too much red tape. However, he said they are open to considering it. He said that they develop a relationship with their adopters and follow up frequently after the adoption takes place.
In response to a question by Mayor Venezia about wildlife, Ascolese said that the ACOs do pick up injured wildlife, both birds and animals, and take them to an animal hospital in Franklin Lakes that specializes in wildlife. If the animal is just walking around in the neighborhood and not acting abnormally, he said they recommend that residents just leave it alone. They will come help trap an animal in the house for a fee. He emphasized the importance of homeowners keeping attractive items such as open garbage cans or other food sources out of their yards so as not to attract them.
Ascolese stated that the shelter does not discriminate by breed, and talked about the importance pit bull type dogs have to him. He and Heller told the story of Donny Boy, a former fighting dog that had come to Cliffside Park with many issues due to his past. They worked with him on his behavioral issues for many months, and after almost 16 months he was finally adopted.
“We believe there’s a dog for every person and a person for every dog,” said Heller.