By Kelly Nicholaides
for Montclair Local
Bewildered and scared when they arrive at the Montclair Township Animal Shelter, cats and dogs have weathered the financial hardships, ailing health, homelessness, and other life changing events of their previous families.
Some were rescued from neglect or abuse.
All met potential new families during the “Clear the Shelters” weekend on Aug. 18-19. Adoption fees were waived for any animal one year or older. The event drew more than 250 people and roughly 33 adoption applications — the shelter’s average for the annual nationwide event.
“If I could take them all, I would,” said Clifton resident Kathy Boczniewicz. “I have two cats, both 7 years old. I love their different personalities.”
She took home two more. Siblings “Darian” and “Harold” are a patchwork of grey, black and white, and a bundle of energy. The 6-month-old brothers had been at the shelter since April, but will now have their ‘furever’ homes.
The shelter’s capacity is 100 cats and 26 dogs. Of the 70 cats and 15 dogs in current population, 32 cats are available and 15 are being fostered, shelter officials said. Newcomers are quarantined for a week. The average stay at the shelter is two to four weeks. Adult animals who aged out of their babyface cuteness are more vulnerable to staying longer. So are certain breeds like Casey, a pit bull terrier who has been living at the shelter for six months. As an incentive to adopt adult animals, adoption application fees during the event were covered by Friends of the Montclair Township Animal Shelter for any animal over the age of one year.
The biggest challenge is finding permanent families — a matchmaking service that director Liz Morgan tirelessly practices. Vetting applicants includes checking references and asking lifestyle-related questions. The process takes 24 to 48 hours, said Morgan who has been in animal rescue and shelter operations for 28 years. The Montclair shelter has aided other shelters in Bergen and Cumberland counties, Newark, Elizabeth, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Puerto Rico. Morgan along with the Montclair shelter’s nine employees and a small army of volunteers make shelter life cozy and warm as opposed to institutional and cold.
“If I’m asking animals to live in cages, I’m going to give them everything I can. They’re getting blankets, fresh water, food and treats, and anything else they need,” Morgan said.
Animal shelters have come a long way over the decades. “Animals have rights now. There are protocols on sound decibels, disease control, quality of life and enrichment,” she said.
In the “Free Roam” room, cats dart around chasing each other’s tails or lounge in bedding. “Streak” and “Dazzle” are 2-year-old tortoiseshell sisters who take cover in a kitty condo and peer out suspiciously when humans enter.
“Most cats in this room came from a hoarding situation, so they have a street/outdoor life mentality,” said kennel technician Nicole Brindisi.
Former shelter volunteer Erica Beaudoin brought her nieces, Petra and Penelope, to show the girls where she used to spend weekends. They had adopted a bulldog a few years ago from the shelter.
Tom and Nancy Liambas brought their son, Leo, 10.
“This would be our first dog or cat adoption,” Tom said. “We’re looking for a companion animal to care for and love, and to add some more life to the house.”
In the kennel, canines quickly rose, barked enthusiastically and wagged their tails to impress the stream of visitors who stopped in for a meet and greet.
A few are not ready for a new family, still going through the trauma of the previous home-to-shelter transition. But the hope of a new life and home hangs in the distance on a few cages. It’s a bright yellow tag marked “I’m Going Home.”