animal shelter
Director Liz Morgan checks in on the dogs at the shelter. The kennels were opened last week after being completely damaged by fire two years ago. JAIMIE WINTERS/STAFF

By Jaimie Julia Winters

As volunteers help with cat adoptions, Liz Morgan opens up the door to the kennels and in a firm, yet gentle voice yells quiet! The barking immediately ceases. Two years ago a fire ripped through the Montclair Township Animal Shelter, sparing every animal’s life, but leaving smoke and water especially to the kennels that were finally re-opened last week.

On Wednesday June 13, the animal shelter will celebrate its being fully functional again with a noon celebration. Morgan, the director, said it’s been a long, but blessed haul. Immediately following the fire, residents volunteered to foster animals in their homes, shelters offered space and the shelter team adapted by re-purposing rooms within the Montclair Shelter.

animal shelter
The shelter has up to 26 dogs waiting for new families. JAIMIE WINTERS/STAFF

“We were back up and running two weeks after the fire. But there was a lot of smoke and water damage and the entire kennel area was ruined,” Morgan said. Up until last week, the community room was filled with pre-fab kennels purchased from Home Depot. Instead of housing 26 dogs, their capacity was at a dozen. Rapid Recovery, the company called in to oversee the rehabilitation, finally pulled out June 9. The 26-kennel area was back to housing dogs up for adoption.

All are welcome to stop in the shelter on Wednesday at noon for its grand re-opening and to meet the animals and the volunteers.

The town did not answer inquiries on the cost of the rehabilitation.


Morgan and the staff are in the matchmaking business. It’s not always easy finding the right fit when it comes to adopting out the dogs that wind up at the shelter due to their former owners not being able to care for them or in most cases having to move, said Morgan.

Last year, the staff was able to match up 233 cats and 150 dogs with new owners. The facility only euthanize animals due to illness.

“If we have a Yorkie, I have 15 people knocking on my door,” said Morgan, adding others are harder to adopt out.

There’s the potential dog owner who thinks he wants a bigger breed, but doesn’t have the space or the strength, she said.

“You don’t want to adopt out a Pit Bull or Akita to someone in an apartment. That’s a lease breaker (due to insurance reasons). The person has to fit the dog. But, ultimately it’s the dog that picks the person,” Morgan said.

Charlie, a Yorkiepoo; Wilson from Puerto Rico; and Flash, a Newfoundland, are some of the dogs the facility is currently sheltering. Flash was handed over last weekend by his owner. He was overheated with a temperature of 106 after walking across town with both his knees displaying luxating patella or trick knee when his owner handed him over to the shelter.

animal shelter
Dr. Elizabeth Housten gives the animals special care.

“We got his temperature down, now we need to get him an operation to fix his knees,” said Morgan. It will take some good connections with a veterinarian who does orthopedic surgeries and some donations as it will cost a couple thousand. Once Flash is operated on, he should have a long life as he is only 13 months old.

Upstairs in the cat room, a dozen cats wait for adoption. Figaro rubs up against the cage and purrs. He too has luxating patella and will need an operation. More kittens are in foster homes until they can be spayed or neutered, vetted and adopted out.

Once and while the shelter has some pocket pets such as lizards or bunnies. Currently they have three parakeets that need a home.

Friends of the Montclair Township Animal Shelter, FOMTAS, helps with fundraising for veterinary bills and more. Adoptions are $160 for dog and $120 for cat, which “doesn’t cover the veterinary and sheltering costs,” so the fundraising goes a long way, said Morgan.

The group’s goal is provide the animals with the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare created by the Farm Animal Council – Freedom from Hunger and Thirst, Freedom from Discomfort, Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease, Freedom to Express Normal Behavior and Freedom from Fear and Distress, “The comfort of the animal is first. If we are going to ask them to live in a cage for some time, we can give them the five freedoms,” said Morgan.

The Investigators

Two orange tabbies, rescued from the notorious Nutley cat cannibalism house, also are up for adoption.

Michele Shiber, Julie Hamer and Ryan Urbano are certified animal control officers. Shiber and Morgan are municipal humane law enforcement officers and respond to allegations of animal cruelty as they did in Nutley, after police were called due to the smell. Thirteen cats were taken to Montclair, a dozen were found dead and Morgan said some of the cats had started eating the dead ones.

“In hoarding situations, the owners mean well, but things very quickly get out of hand. Without neutering and spaying cat populations increase quickly,” said Morgan.

They also investigated two recent incidents of animal cruelty that made headlines. In March, a local resident was charged with animal cruelty after he allegedly swung a dog on a leash into a tree. Last July, a dog was thrown from a car during an alleged road rage incident. Both incidents are still in the courts, said Morgan. In total, 14 incidents of animal abuse were investigated in 2017.

Snakes, owls and bears, oh my!

animal shelter
A baby owl was rescued two weeks ago after abandoned by his mom. The shelter team took it to the Raptor Trust.

Residents also call the shelter in the case of exotic or out of the ordinary animal sightings. Two years ago, a bear cub traveled from the Eagle Rock Reservation to Church Street.

“I guess he wanted a latte,” Morgan quipped. While the group waited for Fish and Wildlife to respond, they kept the cub up in a tree.

Recently a resident called about a snake near Panera Bread. A baby owl found at the bottom of a tree was rescued and spent the night at the shelter before being transported to the Raptor Trust in Millington. A deer with his antlers caught in a hammock was rescued and taken to Antler Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary in Newton. Residents help out sometimes by driving rescued birds to the Raptor Trust.