Needless to say, it has been a tumultuous few days since the announcement of the cessation of our sheltering services at the Cumberland County SPCA the end of the year. Years of struggle have come before this decision was reached. As is normal for any nonprofit organization, we’ve always fought to make ends meet, but we’ve always managed to stay true to our mission. As is the case with so many things, the rules and regulations that govern our industry have become so overwhelming that the concentration on administrative requirements saps our resources. Taking funds away from animal care to pay for pushing paperwork undermines our very mission.
Many people, because of our name, think that we are county-funded when, in fact, the county contributes only $20,000; that accounts for 1.5 percent of our annual expenses, which is basically a travel allowance for our cruelty investigations van. Other than that, the only money we receive from any government entities are the per-animal fees that the municipalities pay for their stray animals. These fees cover the cost of the strays for their seven-day holding period only. Then the burden of costs is completely on us. We often have cats and dogs for weeks and months, and they usually require veterinary care that we must provide as well.
In the late 1800s, the Cumberland County Society for the Protection of Children and Animals was formed as a nonprofit. In the late 1940s, we were chartered by the state as a volunteer nonprofit organization with the power to enforce animal cruelty laws. This has always been an odd situation, and has become increasingly challenging over time.
When I first started at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter 30 years ago, every cruelty case involved a dog without shelter, a dog without water or a dog that was too skinny. Now, animals are fought for entertainment, hanged in the city park and drowned in the river; the areas that our investigators are sent to are often gang-infested and dangerous.
The shelter, on the other hand, has gone from a little old house with tacked-on additions to a nicely equipped building that can accommodate hundreds of animals. Our euthanasia rate has dropped 59 percent in the past three years alone, and we are well within reach in a few short years of euthanizing only in cases of severe aggression or dire illness.
But now, the court has decided that we are an instrumentality of the government that requires us to perform as a public agency. Our county freeholders recognize us as a nonprofit that they cannot subsidize. The New Jersey State Investigations Commission also proclaimed us a volunteer-run nonprofit in their assessment of state and county SPCAs. So what the heck are we?
We are a necessary provider of care for thousands of homeless animals every year. We are an organization that works diligently to prevent all forms of animal cruelty and prosecute those who would deny innocent animals a safe and cared-for existence. We are a group of dedicated, compassionate people desperately trying to turn the tide of unnecessary euthanasia of unwanted pets.
Unfortunately, we have come to the point where our very mission has been threatened by the burden of regulatory and adjudicated decisions. The new responsibilities and liabilities are beyond our means. Without the resources to continue high standards of animal care and placement, we simply cannot continue our sheltering operations.