Saving lives takes money: Agreement between Father John’s Animal House and Wantage still up in the air

Wantage. The optimistic report from Wantage had Father John’s trying to save animals in line for euthanasia. But the Father John’s director says it needs to “see the stats” first, since caring for animals is costly, and the shelter has already taken in 700 this year.

| 15 Nov 2021 | 10:11

Reporting in the Advertiser News that Father John’s Animal House might take in animals from the Wantage Dog Pound needs to be clarified, says Father John’s director.

“This was a little presumptuous,” Garret Barcheski told the paper. “We have had one meeting, but there is a lot more to work out should this come to fruition. We’ve received a number of calls questioning how ‘we’ are running the Wantage pound. It’s a complete misconception. We are a complete separate organization.”

The news article reported on the Oct. 14 meeting of the Wantage Township Committee. No representative from Father John’s was present at the meeting, in which Committeeman Ron Bassani said that any animal who stays in the Wantage pound for seven days, and is poised to be euthanized, will be sent to Father John’s, which will try to move the animal out for adoption.

“We left our conversation regarding the possible partnership with that I needed to see the stats,” Barcheski said. “We don’t know how many they take in and from what townships. I was waiting to see the numbers so that we could reasonably and honestly say that we could take this on or not. I just received them two days ago and have done extensive research into what funds are allocated to Wantage’s animal control as well as all the other municipalities in the county. Each municipality is required to have at least one animal control officer.”

Bassani said in an e-mail that he preferred to wait to comment until “we finalize a few details.”

Father John’s Animal House is a non-profit that relies on donations from the community. Father John’s is a shelter, not a pound, meaning it not only feeds its animals but takes care of their veterinary needs, exercises them, and, when needed, rehabilitates them for adoption. A pound is more of a holding place for found animals.

In August, Wantage terminated the employment of its head animal control officer for reasons that have remained confidential.

Saving lives takes money

New Jersey Assemblyman Parker Space, as the owner of Space Farms Zoo and Museum, knows a lot about animals and applauds both pounds and shelters for taking them in.

“Father John’s is great organization, and we’ve worked with them in the past,” said Space. “I’m sure they want to step up to help the Wantage pound but it takes money to feed and care for animals, and they’re a non-profit.”

He said if Father John’s were to agree to take in animals from Wantage, “something should be something worked out to pay for the feed and rehabilitation. It’s like me being on the fire department.” Space has been a volunteer firefighter since 1989. “We’re all volunteers and we rely on the town to pay for the equipment.”

Karen Reed is an animal control officer in Wantage.

“Since the head animal control officer was fired in August, myself and my co-worker (Mike Flood) have been running the show,” she said. “We’re under the township administration and committee.”

In the Advertiser News’s reporting, Bassani made reference to instituting a trap, neuter and release program (TNR) for feral cats, which she said are “one of the township’s greatest problems in managing homeless animals.”

“We were livid about that because a TNR doesn’t currently exist, and we animal control officers are servicing eight towns with part-time employees,” Reed said. “We feel that we’re doing a great job with limited employees.”

She is a huge advocate of Father John’s and believes they must be compensated.

“Since the head animal control officer was terminated, no animal has been euthanized and will not unless a vet determines it is necessary,” Reed said. “Father John’s has always helped us out when we’ve had an adoptable animal for two or three months, and they would take it as they have much better foot traffic and are so well-known in the community. Every time they take on an animal from us or another pound, they’re taking in and doing all of the vet work. If Father John’s is going to take in these animals, they need to come up with some sort of agreement that when we do transfer animals there is some type of fee paid to the shelter.”

Reed said she’s “heard through the grapevine” that, come January, the Wantage pound will do animal control for only three towns. Barcheski has heard this as well.

700 animals so far this year

“Everyone is scrambling,” Barcheski said. “Every town is legally required to provide animal control. “We currently provide impoundment services for Sparta, so if their animal control officer finds a stray animal, they bring it here. So far, this year, we’ve taken in 31 lost dogs and kept them until their owners have reclaimed them.”

Father John’s mission is to be a place where community members can take their pets when hardship means they can no longer care for them.

“So far this year we’ve taken 223 cats and 33 dogs that need to be re-homed,” Barcheski said. “We don’t want to turn away these people who have suffered hardships and can’t feed their animals or take them to the vet. The 223 cats and 33 dogs are just from Sussex County residents who needed to surrender their pets. In total, we have taken in over 700 animals this year to date.”

Barcheski feels that Sussex County needs to find its balance.

“It’s every town’s legal mandate to serve pets, but Father John’s mission is to serve our local community when they can no longer care for pets,” he said. “Taking on more cannot jeopardize this, so we have to be sure we would not be overloaded.”

Father John’s does contract with Sparta to provide space for stray dogs and cats from Sparta and Andover.

Meanwhile, the proposed coalition between Wantage and Father John’s hangs in the balance, pending further discussion and a firm contractual agreement.

“Father John’s has always helped us out. Every time they take on an animal from us or another pound, they’re taking in and doing all of the vet work. If Father John’s is going to take in these animals, they need to come up with some sort of agreement that when we do transfer animals there is some type of fee paid to the shelter.” Karen Reed, Wantage animal control officer