Julie Morris, VP, National Shelter Outreach, ASPCA
The West Milford Animal Shelter Society (WMASS) in West Milford, NJ, is one of the warmest, friendliest animal shelters in the country. And the fact that it is a 100 percent volunteer-operated municipal facility makes it quite unusual in the world of animal sheltering.
The WMASS was formed in 1976 out of a desperate need for humane treatment of the animals sheltered at the municipal facility. Cats in particular were largely ignored by the township. For the next 18 years, WMASS volunteers worked side-by-side with paid animal control officers to provide labor, food, supplies and medical care for the animals at the facility. In 1993, conflict between WMASS and the municipal employees escalated to the point that WMASS went public and wrote a letter to the local newspaper. This was stage one in what would become the hottest issue in the township’s history.
Over the next seven months the controversy continued. Each week, animal shelter issues were prominently featured in the local newspaper. Finally, WMASS won the contract for complete responsibility for all animals at the facility, and animal control’s involvement was restricted to providing licenses, summonses and stray animal pick-ups.
The shelter has around 25 volunteers, with a core group of 10 to 12 people who volunteer at least one day each week. Bettina Bieri, the president and secretary who in real life is a certified public accountant, assumes all of the executive director duties. Doris Kohls, the health officer, volunteers four days a week from 8 A.M. to 3 P.M., then goes home to care for her own animals before heading to her full-time job as a veterinary technician. Carol Grandmougin, a business analyst, maintains the WMASS’s Internet presence, organizes the annual Walk-A-Dog-A-Thon and makes sure that every dog at the shelter has a blanket. Bieri, Kohls and Grandmougin are just three of the dedicated individuals who make WMASS a success.
The WMASS of 1997 is an amazing operation. The annual operating budget is a paltry $50,000 including capital improvements. Veterinary care makes up the largest expense, and without the generous assistance of Ringwood Animal Hospital, the cost would be at least three times as much. The shelter is open seven days a week to receive approximately 1,000 animals annually, about half of whom are cats. More than 80 percent of the animals are adopted with about a 95 percent spay/neuter compliance rate.
In its brochure, WMASS states, “We believe there is a lot more to managing an animal shelter than feeding and cleaning.” Indeed, one visit verifies this claim. Dogs are walked four times a day and every dog has a blanket. Ozzie, an incredibly sweet pit bull, even had his own hammock on a recent visit. Dogs have access to a large outdoor exercise area and their own wading pool for hot summer days. Cats have their own “jungle habicat,” a separate indoor/outdoor cat housing complex with plenty of natural light, multiple levels of shelving for lounging and plenty of toys and scratching posts. In the last year, WMASS has added a cat room where every cat has his or her own window, an isolation room and an examination room for incoming animals.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Bieri has written an action guide for The ASPCA entitled, “Friends Groups and Municipal Shelters: Working with and Improving.” Shelters and individual humanitarians who want a copy of this guide should contact the address shown below.
Readers who wish to support the efforts of WMASS can join as a Sponsor-A-Pet participant. For $50 a year you will receive photographs of the animals and updates concerning their activities throughout the year. Rest assured that your entire contribution will benefit the animals directly at this strictly volunteer-operated shelter. To be a sponsor, write to: WMASS, P.O. Box 72, West Milford, NJ 07480; or call (201) 728-2859.
Shelter staffers wishing to share news of special programs or resources with readers should contact:
ASPCA National Shelter Outreach, 424 E. 92nd Street, New York, NY 10128-6804
ASPCA Animal Watch- Fall 1997
© 1997 ASPCA
424 East 92nd St.
New York, NY 10128-6804