New Jersey Task force to safeguard animal rights

Friday, July 26, 2002
Star-Ledger Staff

More than one year after a state investigation produced a damning indictment of New Jersey's animal welfare system, Gov. James E. McGreevey yesterday established a task force to help overhaul the system and prevent future abuse and neglect.

McGreevey said the task force will seek to update the "archaic" laws that govern New Jersey's animal welfare and animal control programs. A major focus will be addressing an overpopulation problem among domestic animals that results in 51,000 strays being put to death annually.

The Governor said the commission also will eventually tackle the issue of overpopulation among wildlife. Its charter members include animal rights activists who seek to ultimately abolish hunting.

Last April, the State Commission of Investigation completed a three-year probe of New Jersey's Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and issued a report alleging that many of the county chapters were rife with thievery, misconduct and financial mismanagement. The privately run
agencies, the report said, frequently ignored blatant cases of animal cruelty and in some cases contributed to abuse by running dirty, disease-ridden shelters.

McGreevey said the SCI report exposed a "pattern of abuse and malfeasance" and "deplorable conditions" that were "completely unacceptable."

"The time has come to take a proactive step towards designing a new future for animal welfare in New Jersey," McGreevey said in a statement. "The Animal Welfare Task Force will help us meet that goal."

The task force will consist of 30 members and report recommendations to McGreevey within a year. Saying the problem was urgent, the Governor said he would begin to implement the recommendations as they came in, rather than waiting for a complete report.

Frank Arnemante, a lawyer for the state SPCA, would not comment yesterday.

McGreevey made his announcement at a Statehouse news conference where he was joined by animal rights activists -- as well as three strays that had been rescued: Montana, a 3-year-old German shepherd; Shyla, a 3-month-old pit bull mix, and Punky, a 5-year-old diabetic cat. Montana climbed and slobbered all over the Governor, who said he hoped to get his own German shepherd to bring into the governor's mansion next year.

Administration officials said the Governor has not chosen all the members of task force. But Theresa Fritzges of the New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance, whom McGreevey invited to speak yesterday, said the Governor has asked her to be on the task force.

The Alliance is a 20-year-old organization that has vehemently opposed hunting throughout the state, protesting government-sponsored efforts to reduce deer herds by lethal means. The group opposes the use of animals for clothing, food and medical or commercial testing. Its members also have opposed sport fishing.

McGreevey also invited to the news conference Linda Ditmars, who actively campaigned against a proposed bear hunt in New Jersey two years ago and called hunting "legalized animal abuse." She is a member of the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting, a national group that also opposes the use of animals for food and clothing.

Gwyn Sondike, another task force member present yesterday, runs an animal rescue operation in Somerset County and also opposes hunting.

McGreevey said the task force would have an opportunity to address overpopulation issues among wildlife. "The first charge will be domestic, but then the task force may proceed to wildlife," he said. But he said a ban on hunting was not on his agenda.

Fritzges said the task force's first objective would be to address issues involving domestic animals, adding she feels the laws defining "adequate shelter" for animals are too weak. For example, she said, they could be strengthened to specify that doghouses should be properly insulated and not face the wind.

As for wildlife issues, Fritzges said: "I think it's premature to know exactly where this task force is going. ... However, I do not see any problem with a body that speaks for animals to investigate ways other than killing to deal with controlling wildlife. Fish and Wildlife speaks only for hunters."

McGreevey's choice of advisers and the task force's scope alarmed some sportsmen.

"The animal rights people have been working for years to get a body to oversee or replace Fish and Wildlife because of their opposition to hunting and fishing," said George Howard, a member of the state Fish and Wildlife Council who also belongs to the New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen. "Sportsmen should be concerned if this commission is led by animal rights activists to look at controlling wildlife."

With the bear population rising, discussions have begun again on launching a hunt, and some think the new commission will become a state-sanctioned advocacy group to stop it.

"If this commission takes an animal rights approach toward our wildlife, we'll see what we already have witnessed since the animal rights people stopped the bear hunt -- more bear and more bear problems," said John Hoinowski of the United Bow Hunters of New Jersey.


Stephen Vantassel is a Certified Wildlife Control Professional. He is a nationally known writer including having been an assistant editor for Wildlife Control Technology magazine, author of numerous ADC articles as well as The Wildlife Removal Handbook rev.ed and the Wildlife Damage Inspection Handbook rev. ed. Mr. Vantassel is also a vocal critic of the growing animal rights movement. He has exposed the fallacies and deceptions of the animal rights protest industry through debate, lecture and publication.


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