Linden animal control committee releases progress report

LINDEN — The city’s ad hoc committee is proposing to privatize animal control and overhaul the existing municipal facility after reviewing conditions in response to citizen complaints.

After concerns regarding the facility were brought to the attention of municipal officials in May, the City Council established a committee consisting of Councilwoman Michele Yamakaitis, Councilmen Adam Kuczynski and  Armando Medina.  

The panel, working very closely with Mayor Richard Gerbounka, asked the Elizabeth Health department officials to inspect the facility to make sure there were no signs of animal abuse or neglect as well as evaluate the current structural housing.

Committee members also visited Woodbridge Township’s Animal Control facility and met with both  professionals in various fields and volunteers to best understand the issues.

“This was something the council didn’t take lightly,” said Yamakaitis. “It was my intent as chairperson to make sure we investigated every complaint, to the greatest extent, even if it delayed our findings.”

“We did make immediate recommendations to modify and review certain aspects of current procedures out of an abundance of caution,” said Yamakaitis.

The committee recommended that all euthanasia  stop on the premises, with the exception of mercy killings for extremely injured or sick animals.  Instead, the procedures are to be performed at a local veterinary clinic.

The committee also recommended improvements assure that the facilities remain viable for animal control, including replacing doors, gates, lighting/electrical work, landscaping, ventilation work, and equipment maintenance, as necessary.

To help owners reclaim lost pets the city will explore posting photographs of them, upgrade record-keeping, and employ successful strategies used by other animal shelters, such as the one in Woodbridge, all adoptions will be handled through the Friends of the Linden Animal Shelter.

The committee wants to demolish the current facility and build a new one mostly financed by donations and private funding rather than taxpayer dollars. No source for that money was identified in a statement released by officials.

The panel recommended that until a new facility is constructed, animal control be privatized in partnership with all regional municipalities that now contract for those services with Linden.

“There have been many concerned individuals that have come forward,” said Gerbounka.  “And it is my hope that we can harness this energy and project it forward to funding, building, and maintaining a new animal control facility.

Gerbounka pointed out that there was a delay in upgrading the facility waiting on a proposed Union County animal control center that stalled and eventually failed.

“Our facility certainly wasn’t the best in the area, but we attempted to maintain it with reasonable standards while Union County was proposing a county-wide facility,” Gerbounka said.

“In order to adequately serve the animals of this region, we need to work together with those who are experts in this field,” said Kuczynski. “These animals come from a variety of circumstances and backgrounds, whether lost, neglected, or abused.   So, it will take a concerted effort and time to create an agency that can handle these challenges and adopt out as many of these animals, as possible.”

Unfortunately, there has also been regarding the current Animal Control facility and practices.

“We began to recognize that some of the claims had some validity, which we addressed as quickly as possible,” Yamakaitis said. “But, we also began to see that many did not have merit.”

Yamakaitis blamed delays on misinformation spread through social media and other outlets but said officials want to move forward and fix all problems found.

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