HOWELL, NJ — Residents see the faces every week on the Howell Police Department Facebook page – beautiful, obviously well-cared for dogs who just wandered from home.
They get picked up by police after being spotted by the public. The lucky ones are microchipped or registered in town with a collar and get reunited within hours with their owners.
But others who aren’t given a temporary home with the Howell Police before Animal Control must house them at a shelter, hoping to reunite pet and owner.
Police Officer Heather Scherbinski, whose assignment is that of Humane Officer for the department, said summertime lends itself to an increase in the lost dog population.
“It’s summertime; fences are left open by mistake. Or kids come and go and don’t remember to latch the gates,” she said.
Scherbinski is a patrol officer, so she is primarily on the road and handles the animal issues as part of the job.
As she patrols she might spot problems relating to pets, although calls to police most often alert officials to dangerous conditions.
She also offered some advice to residents – and to anyone who loves their pet dog – to help avoid having your pet posted as “lost.”
“A lot of pets are just escape artists,” she said. But you may be able to outsmart them with some of her advice from her:
“The advice that I would give pet owners would be to keep the pets indoors, especially during inclement weather (hot/cold),” she said in response to an email.
She said they when your dog is outside, a proper shelter needs to be provided for the animal. In addition to constant access to fresh food and water in a liquid state, the law states the shelter needs to be sturdy and sound and include:
- Adequate ventilation and a cooling area whether it’s natural or artificial so they are able to maintain a normal body temperature.
- Natural or artificial light to match the regular cycle of day/night.
- Enough space for the animal to move around in a full circle, sit, lay down with their limbs stretched out.
In addition, she said the shelter needs to be sanitary and clean and be able to minimize the accumulation of water. It is also helpful to have a windbreak at the front to keep the elements out.
But security is a big step in making sure your pet stays safely on your property, and doesn’t become lost.
“Make sure your backyard is secure. And if there are any entry/exit areas the animal is able to slip through, rectify those before letting the animal outside,” Scherbinski said.
Howell Township also requires pet owners to register their cats and dogs each year with the clerk’s office and display that registration tag on their collar.
If an animal were to escape and go missing, this will allow police to easily identify the owner for a safe return home once they are found, she added. Microchipping is a great way to identify your pets, but make sure the data is up to date and renewed each year.
Be aware of penalties
She explained penalties regarding shelters and control of your pets:
“When it comes to proper shelter, if the owner does not follow the law, they could be criminally charged with failure to provide proper shelter to the animal. There are also township ordinances that are in place that could be issued to the owners when the pets are found running loose, such as running at large. If they are not registered within the township, the owner could also be issued a summons for having an unregistered dog or cat. All of these are court mandatory,” she explained.
She also added some other tips for pet owners they might not be aware of regarding tethering of dogs.
She said it unlawful to cruelly restrain a dog who is:
- A nursing female or less than four months old.
- Outdoors between the hours of 11 pm and 5 am
- In an unoccupied building or unoccupied property.
- It is tethered in a manner that does not allow the dog continuous access to fresh water whenever the dog is tethered for 30 minutes or more.
- It is tethered in a manner that exposes the dog to adverse environmental conditions for more than 30 minutes.
- Restricted using a choke collar, prong collar, head harness or any other type of collar, harness or similar device other than a properly fitted harness or buckle type collar.
- Using a chain with metal links that are more than one quarter inch thick or a tether or collar with a weight attached.
- Tethered with more than one dog attached.
- Using a tether that allows the dog to reach another dog or poses a risk of entanglement, strangulation, drowning or other harm to the health and safety of the dog.
And leaving an animal alone in a vehicle is another instance that can have tragic consequences, she noted.
“Animals that are left unattended in vehicles under inhumane conditions that are adverse to the health or welfare of the living animals or creature is another common issue police often face,” she said.
It is illegal to leave an animal unattended in your vehicle under these conditions, she said. These violations could result in criminal charges being filed if the owner or person who is caring for the animal is found to be in violation, she added.