Animal Shelter To Be Leased To County, Staff Remain

Residents protested the potential closing of the animal shelter. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

By Bob Vosseller and Chris Lundy

  TOMS RIVER – The Toms River Animal Shelter will likely be leased out to the county, but the animal control officers will keep their jobs for now.

  The issue began a few months ago, when Mayor Daniel Rodrick directed staff to send any stray animals to the Northern Ocean County Facility in Jackson. A whistleblower signaled that this was step one in shutting the facility down, though Rodrick denied it.

  At a recent Township Council meeting, they introduced an agreement to lease the shelter to the county. Council members James Quinlisk, Thomas Nivison and David Ciccozzi voted no but the majority voted yes. The final reading of the ordinance making this law will be at the April 24 meeting.

  However, the council tabled a motion to contract with A-Academy Termite and Pest Control for animal control services. Tabling, Township Attorney Gregory McGuckin explained, is that the council wouldn’t act on this but that the council can put it back on the agenda at any time.


  During a portion of the meeting where members of the public can comment on issues, residents said they were concerned about privatizing animal control. One resident noted that a contracted company doesn’t have the same pride in their work or sense of community as a township worker would have.

  Resident Dennis Galante asked what the cost savings would be. Rodrick said it costs $200 per animal pick-up if privatized and there would be hundreds of thousands in savings if the town had contracted with A-Academy.

  Galante asked what was going to happen to the $1 million donation that the shelter recently received. McGuckin said that his office is reviewing the donation.

  Galante used the example of having to call about a rabid raccoon and asked if an outside company would be as quick to respond.

  A Vaughn Avenue resident said he is one of the animal control officers. He said that another local town, Stafford, went private and immediately regretted it.

Residents protested the potential closing of the animal shelter. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  There’s more to this than financial, he said. A-Academy covers eight municipalities. If there’s a call for a dangerous stray dog, you want them to come right away, not two hours later. “It’s a public safety issue. It’s a liability issue.”

  A-Academy would not come for an injured swan, for example, he said. They are not legally required to respond. They’d only respond if it was an animal that can spread disease. “That’s something we provide now for zero cost.”

  Continuing to use Stafford as an example, he said they brought in $50,000 in pet licensing. “We have three times as much.” If pet licensing could be enforced and licensing fees collected, these employees would pay for themselves.

  Toms River is beating Ocean County’s Northern Facility adoption rates 85% to 47% last year. “We went through every statistic – Toms River Animal Shelter was better every way across the board.”

  Rodrick had described a number of issues with the animal shelter, saying it was dirty and that animals were treated poorly. He noted that some of them had been at the shelter a long time because of the shelter’s restrictive hours and rules that there has to be an appointment. These things were changed and fees were eliminated.

  Resident Julie Adamek said that there is different staff now. In the past, maybe there were issues, but not now.  

  Resident Liz Dorick said that “We’ve got something that works now, so we don’t need to fix it.”

  Councilman Nivison moved to table the decision to privatize animal control. He said that the pest control company is akin to exterminators.

  Councilman George Lobman said there was enough new information brought to light that it warrants being discussed more.

  “I have to go with my heart on this; I’m going to vote to table,” Councilwoman Lynn O’Toole said.

Long Standing Issue

  The animal shelter issue has been a focus for months.

  At a previous Township Council meeting, resident and shelter employee Michael Cohen put some of Rodrick’s numbers in perspective. “The mayor has said 50 animals were adopted, the actual number is 43.” Last year’s numbers, at this time last year, they were up to 58 adoptions. “This was done without wrecking fees,” and also with appointments.

  In 2022, there were 71,110 registered voters. He won 13,701 votes. 19 percent of all registered voters which means that “81 percent of registered voters did not vote for you. That might indicate that you’re not as popular as you think you are.”

  Resident Julie Adamek asked if it gets privatized, how long will it take for a response? Would the company even be headquartered in Toms River? If an animal is injured from a car, how long will it have to wait for help? Will the police just go and shoot it instead?

  After the meeting, Rodrick said that they recently took in some animals but didn’t say that the policy had been reversed. He noted that the county has better outreach and have a vet available. “I don’t need to re-invent the wheel. I just want to do what’s best for the animals.”

Recent Protest

  Citizens for the Shelter have been holding protests against the changes at the facility. The shelter is located next to the Toms River Police Department Police Station, at 235 Oak Avenue.

  Around 40 protestors came out to a rally held next to the Toms River Animal Shelter recently. “I think it is really bad with what they want to do. These animals are well taken care of here. My granddaughter works here and she posts pictures of the animals and she works great with them. She and all of them do a great job,” said resident Alice Cerrato, who came out to protest that day.

  She noted that Mayor Rodrick “wants to send the animals to other places and that they might close this place. He seems to be against them having this here. It is a big concern. They are not even taking animals in right now.”

Residents brought signs like this to recent Township Council meetings. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  “We are here to support the Toms River Animal Shelter and the dedicated employees there who are so compassionate in trying to help these animals and Mayor Rodrick wants to turn over the shelter to the county. The county shelters are full. They have no space which means animals could be euthanized. We are here because we want to save our shelter and keep it where it is,” resident Maryanne Kopla said.

  The fate of a million-dollar donation to the shelter remains a matter of mystery and concern for those supporting the continuation of the township animal shelter.

  Councilman David Ciccozzi didn’t know the answer either. “Your guess is as good as mine. He (Rodrick) is in control,” he told one of the protestors. The councilman was out joining the rally with his 4-year-old dog Sambuca during that rally. “I’m only a councilman. I know what is going on like 15 minutes before I get to a (Township Council) meeting when I get the agenda.”

  He explained to The Toms River Times that, “a lady years ago in her will, and I think it is actually $2 million left it specifically for the care and help of this shelter and the animals. We have a beautiful shelter here and it took years to get it like this.”

  New Jersey Animal Save Movement member Susan Kearney was also curious about the donation funds left to the Toms River Animal shelter and where they might go in the event the shelter is transferred to Ocean County or closed.

  “It was given by a woman who is an animal lover. We don’t know who it is. What would happen? During the last meeting we were protesting the mayor said right to my face, ‘oh that million dollars could be used to run the shelter for two years’ so I asked what happens to that money if the county takes over and he said they would get it,” Kearney added.

  “I don’t think that is true. You can’t just give it to anyone if it is stipulated in a will,” said Debbie Geissinger co-founder of Lost Dogs Search and Rescue.

  “We’re trying to find that out,” Kearney said.

  Geissinger said, “what I think is if the shelter is closed the town gets the money and that might be the mayor’s alternative. He said it could run the shelter for two years so I said why don’t you let it but he said the county could run it a lot better at getting the animals adopted and he said the county would get that (willed) money. I don’t believe that.”

  “The scary part is the privatization of animals and transparency. We are still trying to find out what the real motive is,” Kearney added. She is concerned a pest control firm would be hired to replace an animal control service. They also lied about this shelter being full. It wasn’t full.”

  Geissinger added, “he lied about that but thankfully a few brave shelter workers came forward to say what was really going on.”

  Krystal Hendrix works at the shelter and said, “my observation has been that the township administration doesn’t particularly want us. They ignore us, they tie our hands behind our back. It has been a struggle with every new administration in wondering if they will close us. We post about animals who need to be adopted on social media but they have to approve that.”