Linda Moss

Nearly a year after a devastating fire, with repairs not completed yet, the Montclair Township Animal Shelter is soldiering on and successfully finding homes for dogs and cats. As part of its efforts, the facility is in the midst of a 10-day-long “St. CATrick’s Day” event, where people can adopt adult felines at a discounted price of $17, far less than the usual $120 fee.

“We have a grant to offset the cost,” said Liz Morgan, the shelter’s acting director.

An April 3 blaze last year severely damaged the shelter on North Willow Street, not only destroying its rear kennel area but doing heavy smoke and water damage to the rest of the building. All of the shelter’s dogs and cats were rescued.

Township fire officials never determined the cause of the blaze.

At this point the facility’s renovations are about two-thirds done, with areas like the second-floor cat pens and offices fixed and repainted. But the rear kennel has not been repaired yet, and until that work is done the shelter is using a small temporary kennel it set up on the first floor.   

Morgan said that contractors have made a good deal of progress on the work. The township has paid $50,243 for the renovations so far, and has submitted those bills to its insurer, according to Katya Wowk, the municipality’s communications director.

“I would say almost 70 percent of the building is complete,” Morgan said. “The area that received the most damage was the dog-kennel area, and that’s been a process to repair. It’s a lot of specialized construction because it is dog kennels.”

The general contractor handling the repairs has had fencing companies and kennel experts visit the shelter regarding fixing the rear kennel, according to Morgan.

“So we’re anticipating that work to start shortly,” she said, adding that she expects that the kennel might be finished by the end of the summer.

“There’s still some number-crunching that has to be done about what upgrades may be needed,” Morgan said.

Even dealing with the challenge of repairs not being completed, Morgan and her team, working with area rescue groups and other shelters, had a good year in 2016 placing animals. There were 243 cats and 163 dogs adopted, and more canines overall were handled by the shelter in 2016 than the prior year, Morgan said. The facility’s so-called live-release rate, the number af animals that exit a shelter alive, was 98 percent for dogs and 91 percent for cats, according to Morgan. Three dogs and 23 cats were euthanized, all because of illness.

“We do not euthanize for space and we have not had to euthanize for behavior,” Morgan said.

Karen Sacks, president of Friends of the Montclair Township Animal Shelter, FOMTAS, credited Morgan and her team with doing an “extraordinary job” following the fire.

“Animals in need of permanent homes are cared for and adopted out quickly to loving homes and community calls for animal-control services are handled immediately,” Sacks said. “We look forward to reinstituting community programming, such as training events ... in the near future, and to continue to support the incredible work of our local shelter.”

Immediately after the blaze, the Montclair shelter arranged for most of its cats and dogs, “double-homeless from the fire,” to be put in foster care, and they ended up being adopted, Morgan said.

“We have the great support of a wonderful community, so we’ve been able to utilize foster homes,” she said.

To accommodate animals, the Montclair shelter has been working closely with area rescue groups and other shelters, including Puppy Love in Union, Pet ResQ Inc. in Bergen County, the Bergen County Animal Shelter in Teterboro, the Clifton Animal Shelter, the Bloomfield Animal Shelter, Long Island Bulldog Rescue and Adopt A Boxer Rescue.

“Animal welfare and its advocates are a very small community so we support each other,” said Morgan, who has roughly 27 years’ experience in the animal-welfare field.

The township administration, residents and FOMTAS have been instrumental in helping the shelter get its work done placing animals during the past year, according to Morgan.

“That’s the message we really want to get out, that it’s been extraordinary circumstances since the fire and it’s heck of team and a heck of a community and the animals are winning because we’re here,” she said.

For example, fundraising by FOMTAS has paid the bills when animals need to be examined by behaviorists or require specialized medical treatment.

“That’s not something that’s going to be in a municipal budget,” Morgan said.

Before the fire the Montclair shelter’s capacity for dogs was 26, and it now stands at seven. With the second-floor work complete the shelter is back to normal in terms of its capacity to hold cats, and there are about 50 of them there now, according to Morgan.

Animal control and the shelter are part of Montclair’s Health Department. The township also has contracts to provide animal control and shelter services for Verona and Glen Ridge.

Last year the shelter also rescued or transferred 55 wildlife animals, with some going to Antler Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary in Newton and others to the Raptor Trust in Millington, and released 58, according to Morgan.    

“These animals have nowhere left to go,” Morgan said. “We’ve taken their space.”

The most memorable wildlife visit last year in town was when a bear cub traveled fom the Eagle Rock Reservation to the Church Street area, and was successfully captured.

“The Animal Control lines began jumping off the hook,” Morgan said. “The fourth call came in and it’s clear that he’s [the cub] headed toward Church Street. I guess he wanted a latte. It was all hands on deck.”