By Pamela MacKenzie
May 27, 2016
BRIDGEWATER – How does a small animal shelter with 10 dog runs and three cattery rooms go from 254 adoptions in 2013 to 764 in 2015?
The Somerset County Animal Shelter, which is based in Bridgewater but also serves surrounding towns, did it with new leadership, an active social media program and partnerships with the neighboring Bridgewater-Raritan Regional High School, the Somerset County 4H Club and other community involvement programs.
On Thursday, May 26, former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman visited the shelter to see how the shelter is succeeding. A former breeder of Scotty dogs, Whitman also has raised Labrador retrievers and a collie. Some of her non-Scottish terriers have come from shelters, and she asked details about several dogs in the shelter. Her biggest concern seems to have been that any dog she adopted would adapt well to her young grandsons.
“You don’t like to be picked up,” she said to one Pomeranian mix, “and my grandsons would definitely want to pick you up and carry you around.”
Brian Bradshaw, the director of the shelter, guided a tour of the shelter for Whitman, with Tim Pino, a member of the shelter’s executive board; Arthur Wildman, a Bridgewater resident and founder of a foundation to promote animal welfare; and a handful of reporters. Pino also is a K-9 officer with the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office and was the handler for Dano, a drug-detecting Belgian Malinois dog for whom Dano’s Law was named. Dano died last year.
“When I’m off duty and not running the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit, my other passion is being on the executive board of the animal shelter,” Pino said. “It means a lot having my friends Gov. Whitman and Arthur Wildman here today to bring public awareness to the amazing job this shelter is doing in rescuing animals.”
Bradshaw explained that the shelter relies on donated food and cat litter to care for its animals. The shelter does not use foods that contain a lot of sugar, so donations of those foods are forwarded to food banks. The shelter also does not use clumping cat litter. But even with these restrictions, they are able to feed their animals with donated food and take care of the cats’ needs.
The two biggest expenses at the shelter are salaries and medical expenses, Bradshaw said. Every animal is brought up to date on shots and neutered or spayed before it leaves the shelter. The staff buys medications in bulk to bring down the cost, but it’s still one of the largest budget items.
The shelter meets most of its staffing needs with volunteers, Bradshaw said. There are four full time and four part time. The rest are volunteers. The shelter has a very active junior volunteer program for high school students 14 and older. The youngest ones work with animals, but once they are 16, they get dog-handling training and can do more, according to Rose Tropeano-Digilio, the shelter’s assistant manager, who also was on the tour.
Just as she said this, an adult volunteer passed by who said she’d been working at the shelter for many years.
“Some volunteers arrive before I do in the morning to walk the dogs,” Bradshaw said. “They are here seven days a week, some of them. These dogs get more walks than mine do at home, their beds are washed more than mine, and they get more treats than my dogs. So they don’t have it so bad.”
Still, the shelter works hard to find the animals permanent homes. And this is reflected in the growth in adoptions since Bradshaw became director.
Whitman expressed her admiration for the small facility.
“For such a small operation, to adopt out over 700 animals is incredible,” she said. “And I like the fact that they don’t euthanize to make space. They only euthanize the aggressive animals that would not be safe for the public.”
The shelter has a wish list that includes a larger fenced area for the dogs and a few more parking spaces.
If you would like to see the animals available for adoption, there are visiting hours from noon to 4 p.m. every day except Wednesday, when the shelter is open until 7. It’s behind the municipal complex in Bridgewater at 100 Commons Way. For more information, visit www.srasnj.org or call 908-725-0308. For a video of some of the dogs, visit www.mycentraljersey.com.