After several months of frustration and anticipation, we are very pleased that our former governor signed into law a bill that moves the enforcement of animal cruelty laws away from the New Jersey SPCA and into the county prosecutor’s offices. This is a much-needed advancement in the protection of domestic animals that, quite frankly, was decades overdue.Our society in Cumberland County received its charter as a county branch of the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1915. Perhaps, more than 100 years ago, the system of having a charitable organization of volunteers was adequate to respond to reports of animal cruelty and neglect – but certainly not in today’s world.
When I first became involved with the Cumberland County SPCA back in the 1980s, almost every report of cruelty or neglect that we received involved a skinny dog, a dog without water or a dog without shelter. Rarely, if ever, did our agents need to have a police escort into any of our neighborhoods; it was a very different time. The nature of abuses that the animals suffer has become more heinous. By the mid-1990s, we saw dogs being hanged in a city park and drowned in weighted crates in the river, and an incredible rise of the popularity of dogfighting and cockfighting throughout the county. The perpetrators have become violent and there often are other concerns, such as weapons and drugs, on the properties to which we respond. The cases are much more complicated to prosecute, and the streets much more dangerous for our investigators.More: Fanucci keys on business in State of the City addressMore: Juvenile uninjured after crashing school busThe new law requires the county prosecutor to establish “within the office of the prosecutor, a county prosecutor animal cruelty task force which would be responsible for animal welfare within the jurisdiction of the county, and enforce and abide by the animal cruelty laws of the state.” It also requires all municipalities to have a humane law enforcement officer properly commissioned to enforce the cruelty laws.
The transition of enforcement powers from the SPCAs to the prosecutors must be achieved within the next six months, but it will certainly take much longer to educate the new enforcers and to establish an effective and committed task force. We hope to work with our own county prosecutor’s office to make the transition as smooth as possible.
As far as the big picture for our organization is concerned, the only major difference is that we will not be responding to reports of cruelty once the transition has been made. We will, however, continue to act as advocates for the pets in our community as well as for our residents that need help with animal-related issues. Our shelter and clinic services will continue without interruption.2017 was a very difficult and trying year for us, both as the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter and as the Cumberland County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. And 2018 promises to be challenging as well. But with the changes in law enforcement and new contracts being negotiated with the municipalities whose stray animals we house, we are hopeful that it will be a year of growth and progress. Through all of the trials and tribulations of the past year, your voice has been invaluable in helping us secure our future. We want to thank all of you who have supported us by communicating with our local and state government officials on our behalf.