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Animal control contract goes to NJ Humane Society

Geoffrey Santini is again involved in Bayonne

A mural of animals on the wall outside the WNY shelter.

The Bayonne City Council has awarded the contract for an animal control officer and animal shelter to the NJ Humane Society of West New York. The organization offers animal control and rescue services and owns a no-kill shelter at 6412 Dewey Ave. in WNY.

The contract will run from May 1 to Dec. 31, 2021, with the option to extend it twice, each for one year. It will pay $6,765.48 monthly, for $54,123.84 over an eight-month period. Subsequent renewals will bring the annual contract to $81,185.76.

The move is another chapter in the years-long saga involving animal control in Bayonne.

Battle over animal control

In 2014, the council awarded the contract to Liberty Humane Society under then Mayor Mark Smith’s administration after animal advocates opposed previous contractor Geoffrey Santini.

In 2015, the council dropped the city’s contract with Liberty Humane Society, citing the need to deal with “nuisance wildlife.” The new contract was for New Jersey Animal Control and Rescue (NJACR) owned by Santini, beginning in April of 2016.

The change in contract prompted outrage by local residents in favor of Liberty Humane Society. The anger erupted in a protest outside of the December 2015 city council meeting during the public comment portion. But the council had already approved the contract, and NJACR stayed on as animal control.

In 2018, the council awarded the contract to Liberty Humane Society instead of of NJACR, after Santini had been accused in an NBC News investigative report of spending most of his time on his animal control business and little time at his federally funded full-time public housing job as Security Director at the North Bergen Housing Authority.

NJACR also came under fire for its alleged lack of documentation in the animal control process. Residents who came to the city council meeting in 2018 questioned whether the company followed proper animal control procedures and voiced displeasure with response times.

Tensions flare again

The city ended its contract with Santini. The contract was again awarded to Liberty Humane Society for 2019 and 2020. Santini is again in charge of animal control in Bayonne. The NJ Humane Society, which he owns, has landed the contract for 2021.

Councilman Gary La Pelusa said the terms of the contract were better for the city.

“It’s not just a matter of the quality, which is an issue, but the terms over the three years were slightly better,” La Pelusa said. “I think it’s a saving of about $26,000 over three years. I have seen the facility in West New York a few years ago so [Santini] does have my confidence. There were some disappointments in the contract that we have currently.”

City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski echoed La Pelusa’s sentiment: “I too, along with Councilman Gullace and Councilman Perez, have all visited the facility. We were pleased with what we saw.”

The council unanimously approved the resolution awarding the contract to the NJ Humane Society.

Prior to the council’s vote to approve the resolution at its April 14 meeting, two residents and members of the Bayonne Feral Cat Foundation wrote to the council in favor of the new contract. Ashe-Nadrowski read their letters into the record during public comment on the resolution.

Feral Cat Foundation speaks out

Phyllis Moledo asked the council to award the contract to NJ Humane Society instead of the current contractor, Liberty Humane Society in Jersey City.

“As a volunteer and member of the Bayonne Feral Cat Foundation for many years, it has been my experience to deal with the animal control issues,” Moledo said. “I have personally received many calls from citizens of Bayonne with issues involving injured or abandoned cats and kittens in our city.”

According to Moledo, it has been a “very difficult task” to get Liberty Humane Society to respond to calls for assistance.

“More often than not, they do not respond either by not returning the call for help or just not showing up to pick up an injured animal,” Moledo said. “On one such experience with Liberty Humane, a citizen called that a cat somehow managed to become lodged in the motor in their car. Upon receiving no help from the Liberty Humane Society, the citizen called me. When I arrived at the location, I called Liberty Humane. No response. Then I contacted the Bayonne Police Department. When the police officers arrived, they asked me if I tried to contact Liberty Humane. I advised him that I had, but they have not responded. Two officers were able to get the cat out of the car motor.”

According to Moledo, Liberty Humane’s alleged lack of response and concern for injured animals has been ongoing, angering Bayonne residents.

“Liberty Humane has not and will not pick up an abandoned kitten,” Moledo said. “There has been no help from Liberty Humane. Giving Liberty Humane the contract would not help the animals who need assistance, nor the concerned citizens who have reached out to them for help.”

Moledo sang the praises of the NJ Humane Society.

“Mr. Santini was instrumental in helping the Bayonne Feral Cat Foundation retrieve cats from an animal abuse situation,” Moledo said. “I have complete and utter confidence in Mr. Santini. His staff would do an excellent job for the city of Bayonne if awarded the animal control contract.”

In favor of NJ Humane Society

Kathleen Henderson, another resident and head of the Bayonne Feral Cat Foundation, also wrote the council asking the city not to renew the contract with Liberty Humane Society.

“The contract with them has expired, and I do not wish to see it renewed,” Henderson said. “They have been completely unresponsive to the needs of this town. Their response to people who call for help with cats that are injured, sick, or trapped in the engines of cars has been useless. They say to just leave kittens alone. They don’t respond to cats being stuck in cars, and you have to get the Bayonne PD to come and help. As a local rescue, I responded to numerous calls for help. We do not get paid to do their job, and we never turn our backs on our sick or injured cats.”

Henderson continued: “We are overwhelmed by cats and need a TNR [Trap, Neuter, Release program], and Liberty is doing nothing to help. They are more interested in giving lectures to people and many times are down right nasty. Please get rid of Liberty Humane.”

Henderson wants NJ Humane Society to get the contract.

“Please get Geoffrey Santini back as animal control,” Henderson said. “We have a good working relationship with him and his staff. He has spoken to me and Councilman La Pelusa previously about a satellite shelter here in Bayonne to address the concerns of the community. He has recently gotten involved with getting our cats back from a couple who had them on a pre-adoption trial period but then refused to return them.”

Liberty Humane Society responds

In an interview with the Bayonne Community News, Executive Director of Liberty Humane Irene Borngraeber said that Liberty Humane Society has not been notified by the Bayonne about any service complaints or issues to address. 

Borngraeber said Liberty Humane Society was aware of the change in contract but that the city had not yet formally notified them that it was changing animal control providers. She said her emails to the city had not been returned. 

According to Borngraeber, the city requested services “that do not align with animal welfare best practices, which includes requiring that their contracted shelter refuse to allow owners to reclaim their impounded dogs, if those dogs did not have a current dog license.”

Liberty Humane Society submitted a bid that would have provided these services in a better manner, Borngraeber said, but the city “ultimately chose to go in a different direction,” which she called “incredibly disappointing.”

And while Liberty Humane may be disappointed, the contract is a done deal.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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