The West New York zoning board on Jan. 28 unanimously approved a variance allowing a new animal shelter to open in a mixed-use building at 6410-6412 Dewey Ave. The facility, operated by the nonprofit New Jersey Humane Society, will be the first no-kill shelter in North Hudson.
The building houses a tenant in the front. Behind that is a large, L-shaped former commercial space and an open yard that will contain dog runs and an office trailer.
Geoffrey Santini, president of the New Jersey Humane Society, said the facility will open in two phases. He has been renting the property for about a year, preparing it for use as a shelter, with phase one nearly complete and ready to open within the month.
“Phase one consists of seven dog runs, 18 cat cages, and a quarantine room that holds three dogs and four cats,” he said. New arrivals will be isolated in the quarantine room until they are fully checked out for health before being exposed to the other animals. There will also be a large grooming tub.
“Every room has fresh air and return air built into it,” he said. “We have proper drainage, proper ventilation, a new central heat and air conditioning system that was donated.”
Everything is brand new throughout the building, including cages custom built from easily sanitized materials for animal safety.
The new facility will include a meeting room where people can play with the dogs before deciding to adopt.
Previously, animals throughout most of the area were taken to the North Jersey Humane Society shelter in Bergen County. The new facility will allow rescued animals to be housed and treated locally, making it much easier for residents to visit and adopt. As a nonprofit, it also allows for tax deductible donations.
Over the years, residents have been frustrated with the lack of nearby options for animal shelters, and in a slow economy, more animals end up abandoned. The new facility is designed to help.
What is animal control?
In addition to his role with the New Jersey Humane Society, Santini is the animal control officer and animal cruelty investigator for numerous municipalities in the region. He is a township employee of West New York and his company, New Jersey Animal Control and Rescue, is contracted to provide animal control services for North Bergen, Union City, Guttenberg, Bayonne, and Harrison.
“It’s 24 hours, this job,” he said about animal control. He typically receives between 50 and 75 calls a week on average, ranging from people seeking veterinary advice to major operations like the nationally recognized rescue last month of more than 50 animals held in deplorable conditions by a hoarder in North Bergen.
Animal control is not well understood by the public, who often picture an evil cartoon dog catcher and think of it as simply rounding up stray cats and dogs.
“I’ve done drug raids and dog fighting raids with the Secret Service,” Santini said. Because police officers are not trained to deal with animals, Santini is among the first in the door when an animal is present, and has worked with state police and the FBI to deal with situations where a guard or attack dog is used as protection from intruders.
Recently he was called to assist when residents contacted authorities because they couldn’t get in touch with a relative, who it turned out had died inside his home. “The guy overdosed and they couldn’t go in his house because there was a pit bull,” said Santini. “EMS tried to go in and the dog came charging at the door. As soon as they went to close the door, the dog went back to the body. It’s growling; it’s freaking out. I had to get the dog out so the medical officer could get the body out.”
Wildlife issues are also a big part of animal control, including dealing with anything from potentially rabid raccoons and coyotes to rescuing a deer that fell into an MUA water tank and got trapped several weeks ago.
“Every call is different,” Santini explained. He cited a recent call to rescue a seagull that had gotten its leg stuck in a piling on the Hudson River and was dangling over the water. Santini was transported on a North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue boat to free the bird.
He also regularly removes bags of animal parts used in religious ceremonies, many of them along the river and in parks or cemeteries. “Bags of headless roosters, chickens,” he said. “I picked up a bag floating by the Palisade General Hospital. They thought it was body parts because it was the inside of a goat. You have no idea how many goat heads I picked up last year.”
Phase two: expansion
The second phase of the new shelter will be the opening of the second, much larger section of the facility, with accommodations for about 45 dogs and 40 cats in separate rooms.
A fully functional veterinary office will allow for on-site treatment from two licensed vets who visit several times a week. “We will have a meet and greet room,” said Santini. “People can meet and play with the dogs. If they like the dog, then they go to the office trailer to fill out paperwork. Any dog or cat that leaves here will be spayed and neutered and have its rabies shots. When they leave here, as part of the adoption fee, they’re all microchipped.”
The expected fees will be about $175 to $250 for dogs and under $100 for cats. Santini also hopes to provide cheap spaying services and periodic rabies clinics. He plans to engage as much as possible with the community and provide regular educational events. “We want to teach about what animal control really is about: spaying and neutering your animals, disease control, keeping your kids away from wildlife in the back yard.”
Seeking donations, volunteers
Santini owns two dogs who are both rescues. Pups is a Yorkie who was tossed from a moving car in North Bergen. Alibi is a pit bull that Santini rescued in a raid on a dog fighting operation in New York. She was slated as a “bait dog,” or an untrained victim to be tossed in the ring to teach the “game dogs” how to kill.
Santini has been involved with animal control since January 1992. He has been a certified animal control officer class since 1994 and an animal cruelty investigator since 2010. He graduated first out of 25 in the first humane law enforcement officer class in the Bergen County Police Academy.
In 2010 he founded Hudson County Animal Enforcement and three years later replaced it with New Jersey Animal Control and Rescue. He has two full time employees, Aurelia “A.C.” Cruz and Fernando Rosario, as well as Thomas, who helps in the shelter.
The nonprofit New Jersey Humane Society was founded in 2013. “The shelter will be sustained by my animal control contracts and donations,” he explained. He has been working for about two years to open the shelter, renting the space a year ago and gradually purchasing supplies and outfitting the building to prepare it for operation.
The shelter is currently looking for donations of pet supplies, food, blankets, cleaning supplies, or monetary support, as well as assistance with construction and office supplies. Veterinarians willing to support the shelter with low-cost services are welcome.
To volunteer or make a tax deductible donation email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (201) 822-7333.
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.