Animals caught in the middle: Newark, shelter stuck in contract war

NEWARK -- Animal Humane Societies Newark branch and the City of Newark are locked in a contract battle over how much the shelter should be paid for caring for upwards of 170 dogs and cats found in the city each month.

AHS says they will stop taking animals from the city or it's residents beginning on November 8, unless an agreement can be reached. AHS had a contract with the city for approximately $56,000 per month, which later grew to $80,000 per month when that agreement lapsed and the two entered into an emergency agreement.

Now, AHS says that Newark has stopped paying the shelter anything at all, as of July.

“Residents are calling me outraged because they are in the dark as to what is happening with the animals," said AHS assistant executive director Robert Russotti.

Meanwhile, the city says that AHS will not come to the table unless they get a contract for the elevated, emergency price.

“We believe that AHS did not negotiate in good faith," said Newark business administrator Eric Pennington. “AHS [has] refused to come to the table, unless we agreed to pay the 40 percent increase…”

The shelter's contract lapsed amid multiple health violations. An investigation by PIX11's Andrew Ramos exposed horrific conditions, including cramped enclosures; sick pets mixed with healthy; and frequent or early uses of euthanasia.

The executive director was charged with 16 counts of animal cruelty. Roseann Trezza took a plea agreement, which allowed all charges to be dismissed but she is still banned from the shelter for a period of two years.

Russotti, who came in six months ago, says that is now history. He touts numerous improvements including over $30,000 in new cages for the animals, separate spaces for sick animals and a large decrease in euthanizations, while adoptions are up.

Lisa Graber, a foster with FOWA Rescue out of Wayne, took home Dora home today, a senior pit bull found in Newark.

“From what I see when I was here two years ago, it's definitely cleaner," she said. “How can you take money away from animals? And the people who are caring for them? Where do they go? What happens to them?”

Russotti believes the city is trying to capitalize on the shelter’s tough times by withholding a final health inspection.

“Its a form of extortion in my opinion. I know it's a harsh term. But they are using this as a tactic to get us to come to the table at a lower rate," he said. "And it's not fair to us. It's not fair to the animals."

Pennington stated today:

"The City presented AHS with a proposed agreement for the maximum term allowable by law, at a rate that was consistent with the rates AHS charged other municipalities. AHS went back on its word to negotiate for a long-term agreement at a reasonable rate, and instead advised that it would not consider anything less than the 40 percent increase going forward."

He added:

"In addition, Roseanne Treazza, who was convicted of animal cruelty and banned from involvement with the shelter, has been a principal obstructionist in our efforts to reach agreement with AHS. The residents of the City of Newark cannot be held hostage by AHS..."

The shelter denies that Trezza had any involvement in the contract negotiations.

The city is promising residents there will be no loss of animal shelter services come the November 8 deadline.