VINELAND – The Cumberland County SPCA plans to close its doors as an animal impound/shelter at the end of the year, if they don’t get some financial help, Bev Greco, the agency’s executive director, told The Daily Journal on Thursday.
Letters are going out to 19 municipalities in Cumberland and Salem counties that have animal services contracts with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals with notifications that the contracts, expiring Dec. 31, will not be renewed.
“I don’t know what else to do,” Greco said.
A “perfect storm” of court rulings and health code changes increased costs to the point where the SPCA is unable to operate as a shelter, Greco said. However, they will continue their law enforcement animal cruelty duties.
When contacted Thursday, Cumberland County Freeholder Director Joe Derella said the board was briefly updated about the SPCA’s financial situation a couple months ago.
“We were unaware that they were at this point that they are actually going to be closing their doors,” he said.
“We need to have a conversation with the SPCA, in regards to where they are at,” he said.
The state Superior Courts in Monmouth and Gloucester ruled SPCAs are public agencies, despite their nonprofit status, Greco said, explaining this puts them in a financial gray area.
SPCAs are now charged with the additional responsibilities and liabilities of being a “public agency” but they can’t request funding for that because they are still “nonprofit,” she said.
Greco noted she can’t anticipate what the budget increases will total because “I don’t know what I don’t know,” noting several of the changes came down in June.
Devoting SPCA funds to increasing administrative costs rather than to direct animal care “defeats the purpose,” Greco said. The shelter, which has served the area for more than 70 years, takes in about 4,500 to 5,200 animals each year.Believing the court decisions are incorrect, Greco said the local SPCA does not have the resources to challenge the rulings.
“We can’t sit here and bleed to death,” she said. “We had to make a decision, if we can’t do sheltering right — if we have to sacrifice being able to save animals — then we can’t continue; it goes against our mission.”
When the shelter closes Dec. 31, the SPCA will continue to care for the animals in their custody until they are placed. They will not take in any more animals, including those from the public.
What will happen next, Greco said she does not know.
“The county and the municipalities are going to have to come up with a plan for that,” she said.
That’s the fundamental issue, she said, “they sympathize but they haven’t stepped up to the plate.”
“This is a community responsibility and the local governments are going to have to figure out a way to handle the future of animals,” she said.
Derella told The Daily Journal that the freeholder board “never received a formal request to subsidize anything.”
The county does annually contribute $20,000 to the SPCA for animal cruelty investigations.
Should the shelter close, Derella said, it would “significantly” impact the municipalities that use it as an impound center.
“If there is no more shelter here, they may have to go to a private vendor or out-of-county, at least that is the way it was described to us,” he said.
The freeholders do not have specifics about the shelter’s operations and budget, Derella said.
“We’ve got to have some communications with the SPCA board of directors to see what the potential avenues could be,” he said. “I don’t know legally where we can go from a nonprofit standpoint.”
What would prevent other nonprofits that provide services to residents requesting county funding, Derella said.
“Where do we draw the line?” he said. “That’s a legal question that we have to find out — we have some homework to do.”
Greco noted she is not opposed to changes, that include the state health code mandating more extensive record keeping and requiring that all sick and injured animals be personally examined by a vet and not solely a vet technician.
“It’s a good thing, it really is, but you have to have resources,” Greco said. “The way we conduct operations now has become so expensive, because of all these changes, that it exceeds our income.”
The financial hurdle put the local SPCA at a crossroads.
The assets are in the name of the New Jersey SPCA Cumberland County branch. If the branch disbands, their assets, including the building, will go into escrow until another county charter is given, which is unlikely, Greco said.
The assets would pass to the state SPCA.
The situation in Cumberland County is unlike that in neighboring counties, Greco said.
Cape May, Atlantic and Gloucester counties have built and operate their own animal shelters. Camden County built and maintains a shelter. It privatized the operations, but supplements the shelter’s income, she said.
“There are answers,” Greco said.
Deborah M. Marko; (856) 563-5256; firstname.lastname@example.org