Animal shelter cited for violations
Saturday, September 25, 2004


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, Riley said.

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 shelter.

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 were innocent."

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 conditions.

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