Yesterday, five weeks after severing relations with its former operator — Liberty Humane Society – Jersey City invited media representatives to tour the now city-run municipal animal shelter at its same location, 235 Jersey City Boulevard, adjacent to the Sci-Tech Academy now under construction and Liberty Science Center.

Already, officials said, the city is committed to expanding its services to take in a few of its northern neighbors, namely Guttenberg and Hoboken.

Stacey Flanagan, city director of Health & Human Services, said the “biggest difference” with the city now in total control will be the surety that “we respond to residents” – something that the city administration claimed was missing bigtime when the contractor was in charge.

And, said Mayor Steve Fulop, because the prior vendor “has set a budget and had to live within those parameters,” if the vendor can’t live up to those expectations, “sometimes service will deteriorate,” whereas, given the city’s power to amend the budget, “we have more flexibility.”

Under the shelter’s former operation, Fulop said, “we have seen steady deterioration of (the shelter’s) volunteer base, extending to less service,” to the point where “we ended up with online adoption” of sheltered animals instead of inviting a potential foster-owner and/or adopter to the shelter to interact with the animal, as provided under the current shelter policy.

The city has budgeted $1.6 million to run the shelter with 22 paid staffers (including five animal control officers), according to Flanagan. If Hoboken comes on board, the plan is to “add one more hire,” she said. The City Council is still mulling a proposal to take on Guttenberg, only for shelter accommodations, for $11,000 a year.

Paul Bellan-Boyer, the city health officer, said the city “has an absolute commitment to (resident) responsiveness” at the shelter, which is now accommodating 33 dogs and 40 cats.

To help carry out that mission, for example, the city has had a cadre of police officers trained in the investigation and prosecution of animal cruelty cases, he said. Of the animals that the shelter has taken in since January 1, evidence of cruel treatment has been seen in 5% of them, he said.

If the department director concurs, the shelter may grant fee waivers or discounts “for a designated period of time” in order to “make a particular service more accessible to promote public health goals or operational considerations,” according to city code.

Dr. Lawrence Cyran, acting director of animal control at the shelter, said Jersey City offers “the lowest adoption fees” – ranging from $125 to $175, based on the weight of the animal, in the region.

All of the kennels and cages now being used at the shelter (dogs are on the first floor; cats, on the second) are inherited from the prior contractor, Cyran said, including a large portable container which, he said, the shelter hopes to deploy during warmer weather as an “adoption demonstration classroom” with the help of volunteers and health care partners.

Cyran said the shelter operates with two shifts – one from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; the other, from 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Among the duties staff is obliged to perform, as per state law, is walking each of the canines being sheltered for 10 minutes during morning hours and 10 minutes during the afternoon “outside in the fresh air.”

For more information, residents may call the shelter at 201-547-4888 or online.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...