Help the Burlington County Animal Shelter!
In what will certainly result in substandard care for shelter animals, Burlington County officials have announced their plan to save money by using county jail inmates to work at the county animal shelter beginning June 2, 2008. Moreover, as shelter employees retire or resign, the county plans on replacing those positions not with people who have experience working with animals in shelter settings, but rather with the increased use of \"inmate staffing.\" Consequently, instead of competent employees who are trained and dedicated to taking care of the medical and emotional needs of shelter animals, there will be inmates revolving in and out of the shelter\'s doors. The animals deserve better. The animals deserve to be cared for by people who have the competence, experience, knowledge, and desire to best meet their needs and make a difference in their lives. The animals deserve to be cared for by a consistent team of people who are at the shelter every day and get to know the animals; it makes sense that consistency in caretaking helps to ensure that the animals\' medical and/or behavioral problems are quickly evaluated and treated. Equally as important, since shelter workers have the chance to get to know the animals they care for on a consistent basis, they are best equipped to help match animals with potential adopters. Safety issues exist as well. Having inmates working at the shelter exposes employees, the public, and the animals to an unacceptable level of risk. Not all inmates are violent, but can the county guarantee the safety of the public, the employees, and the animals while inmates are working there Who is going to supervise the inmates Corrections officers typically guard inmates, and they carry firearms. Does this mean that there will be inmates and armed corrections officers at the shelter Clearly, this will have a chilling effect on adoptions, as people who would visit the shelter to adopt an animal, especially families with children, will be deterred by the prospect of coming into contact with inmates and armed guards. Less people visiting the shelter will result in fewer adoptions and more euthanizations. Another issue of concern is the fact that narcotics, medications, syringes, and needles are kept at the shelter. It does not seem prudent to allow jail inmates access to an environment where such items are maintained in large quantities, particularly since so many crimes are committed due to substance abuse. The Burlington County Animal Shelter has come a long way. A decade ago, for example, the adoption rate was shockingly low. Since then, the creation of the Burlington County Animal Alliance (an animal rescue group who has rescued over 1,000 animals from the shelter), the physical renovation and expansion of the shelter facility, the enactment of a mandatory spay and neuter policy, and the creation of two dedicated Animal Advocate positions at the shelter have all resulted not only in a higher adoption rate, but also in a far superior shelter experience for the animals who, through no fault of their own, call the shelter home. The use of inexperienced and untrained county inmates will be a huge step backward in the quest for continued improvement of the shelter by the dedicated and trained staff, including volunteers, who have worked so hard and continue to do so every day to improve the fate of the animals in their care. It is understood that in times of fiscal crisis, county officials will search for ways to save money. The use of inmate labor might make sense in the county\'s Buildings and Grounds department, for example (inmates could mow the grass and pick up litter). It does not make sense, however, nor is it humane, to entrust the care of defenseless and vulnerable shelter animals to a revolving group of county inmates. Furthermore, it is simply unconscionable that county officials would jeopardize the safety of the public, the shelter employees, and the very lives of the shelter animals just to save a buck. We, the undersigned, urge Burlington County officials to reconsider permitting jail inmates to work at the shelter. Instead, we demand that our tax dollars be used to ensure that the animals are cared for only by shelter employees and animal rescue volunteers, all of whom are dedicated to the safety, health, and wellbeing of the shelter animals.