By ERIK ORTIZ
SPECIAL TO THE RECORD
PASSAIC - The Passaic Animal Shelter
has been slapped with an "unsatisfactory"
rating after an inspection uncovered 28 animal cruelty
and building code violations.
A Sept. 10 investigation of the shelter
by the state Office of Animal Welfare discovered numerous
problems, including negligent treatment of cats and
dogs, substandard conditions at the shelter, and a lack
of a certificate of inspection by the city Health Department.
The inspectors "look at the number
of violations and the severity of them when health and
safety are at issue," Marilyn Riley, a spokeswoman
for the state Department of Health and Senior Services,
which oversees the Office of Animal Welfare, said Friday.
The report states that animal control
officer Marilyn Comerford admitted to inspectors that
stray cats at the shelter on Benson Court were euthanized
before the state-mandated wait of seven days. Inspectors
found a sick kitten with ringworm that had not been
properly isolated and several cats and one dog that
did not have access to water.
The environment for the animals also
was inadequate. Two outdoor dog runs had metal pipes
that were "rusty and sharp with jagged edges, thus
exposing the dogs to significant injury," according
to the report.
Food supplies were improperly stored
and a cleaning solution had spilled onto dry-food bags,
the report said.
The report maintains that animal records
are not properly kept.
As a result of the findings, the shelter
must immediately cease killing stray cats before the
seven-day holding period, repair the dog runs, and have
fire officials inspect the premises.
The other violations must be corrected
within 45 days. The state can fine the city if it fails
to cooperate. Fines can range from $5 to $50 per violation,
After the inspection, the New Jersey
State Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
handed out three summonses to two employees of the shelter,
said SPCA spokesman Matthew Stanton.
Two summonses were given for needlessly
killing stray cats before the seven-day minimum and
one for leaving a live opossum in a vehicle for more
than two hours in 107-degree temperatures.
The employees, Comerford and Cristina
Crochiola, are required to appear in municipal court
on Oct. 4. They face a maximum fine of $1,000, six months
in jail, or community service, Stanton said.
Created in July under Commissioner Clifton
Lacy, the Office of Animal Welfare will inspect all
of the state's 600 animal shelters.
Riley said Passaic was inspected after
complaints were made.
A copy of the report was given to City
Health Officer Carlos Perez on Sept. 15. Perez was not
available for comment Friday.
Bill Maer, a spokesman for Mayor Samuel
Rivera and the city, said the shelter is complying with
all of the state's requests and that the municipal code
does not require the Health Department to inspect the
The shelter is "a busy place and
[the city] does not agree with all of the citations,"
Maer said Friday. "The city feels it can still
operate the shelter, and they're going to work towards
making the appropriate improvements."
The city, meanwhile, plans to use $275,000
to $300,000 from unused bonds to pay for a major renovation
to the shelter's interior. The proposed improvements
include a separate room for cats and dogs, new drainage
and lighting systems, and new windows and doors.
A federal Community Development Block
Grant for $40,000 also was awarded to the shelter for
this fiscal year.
The city is in the process of soliciting
bids for renovations to the shelter, Maer said.
Former volunteers at the shelter have
long complained about conditions and said animals were
unfairly killed. The volunteers, known as Helping Hands
of Passaic, were let go in March after the city said
they had violated a number of policies.
"I'm just glad that the people
who were doing the illegal activities can be brought
to justice instead of the volunteers," said Annette
Jiosi, a four-year volunteer at the shelter. "We
Sue Goodman, a 13-year volunteer at
the shelter, said she was bothered about the premature
euthanization of the cats, because, "You don't
know if they are feral or someone's pet."
Both women say volunteers were not the
ones who complained to the state about the shelter's