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Mayor: Regardless of Recall Vote, Animal Shelter Won’t Operate Under Toms River Control

Toms River Animal Shelter (Source: Toms River Township)

Toms River Animal Shelter (Source: Toms River Township)

As a campaign to overturn an ordinance introduced by the township council to lease the Toms River municipal animal shelter to the Ocean County Health Department gets underway, Mayor Dan Rodrick said if the recall ordinance manages to pass, the shelter will close since it was not funded in the 2024 municipal budget.

Rodrick has held that the animal shelter – one of the few municipally-operated shelters in the state – has been poorly run and has a higher euthanization rate than the county’s two shelters, located in Jackson and Stafford townships. A number of residents, representing a combined group of animal activists and Rodrick’s political foes, have staunchly opposed an offer by the county to take over the shelter’s operations, countering that the county’s animal shelters have higher euthanization rates and the staff and volunteers at the shelter operate it well.

Michael Cohen, an employee of the shelter, said the Toms River shelter achieved “no kill” status by saving more than 90 percent of animals, while the county saves about 70 percent. Those numbers have been disputed by those of the opposite side of the aisle.

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“This animal shelter has had its hands tied behind its back because it has not had enough staff,” township resident Julie Adamek said at a council meeting two weeks ago. “The staff members there really are animal advocates and really love the animals.”

The council ultimately passed a measure leasing the animal shelter building, located adjacent to the township’s police headquarters, to the county in a 4-3 vote.

At a meeting of the Ocean County Health Department last week, opponents of the plan attended to convince members of the board to turn down the request to operate the shelter. The board decided it would not operate the shelter if a campaign by residents to recall the lease ordinance passes. The recall campaign, if successful, would require the township council to rescind its vote or put it to a referendum at a future election. Recalling an ordinance requires the signatures of 15 percent of the total votes cast in the November 2023 election, all from Toms River residents.

If the recall petition does pass, and the shelter cannot be leased to the county, Rodrick said it will close.

“They’re not going to be successful, but if they were, all it would do is place the lease on the ballot,” he said. “I don’t have the funds to run it.”

Rodrick has fumed over what he sees as mismanagement at the shelter, including a lack of time the building is physically open for people to visit animals. He said that after an employee he had temporarily supervising the shelter had to return to his normal position as the summer season approached, “they started closing the doors again.”

“As soon as I remove someone who oversees them, they lock the doors,” he said. “I went there on a Saturday and it was locked. A woman came to the door and was very terse and said, ‘it’s by appointment only.’”

Rodrick said the county would bring it a veterinarian to spay or neuter the animals being held in the shelter, a practice that faced delays and had prevented some animals from being adopted in the past.

“We want someone who is passionate, competent and qualified – so why not the Board of Health?” he asked rhetorically. “They are willing to put a lot of money into it.”

Toms River budgets about $1 million per year to run the shelter – an item that was not included in this year’s operating budget.

“I didn’t budget for it,” Rodrick said. “We don’t have the money, and I’m not raising taxes for everyone in town when they’re doing a bad job and the county will do it for free. They have advertisements on the radio, television, internet. What do we have? People who lock the door.”

A number of businesses and individuals have set up petition drives to recall the ordinance authorizing the lease. The Toms River Times reported 3,079 signatures are needed for the recall to pass. It also must pass within 20 days of the April 24 council meeting at which the lease was adopted.