EAST ORANGE - The veterinarian overseeing the East Orange Animal Shelter says he will resign in the wake of a Kane In Your Corner investigation into that facility. Meanwhile, inspection reports obtained by News 12 New Jersey raise new questions about a potential conflict of interest involving the East Orange Health Department, which both operated that facility and was the agency primarily responsible for determining whether it obeyed the law.
Former East Orange Animal Control Officer Alex Kelly says having the city's Health Department inspect its own shelter is ridiculous. "They're not gonna say, 'Yeah, this place needs to be shut down.' Your own people are not gonna shut your place down," Kelly says.
Inspection reports show the city's inspector found problems in two inspections this year. In one report, he wrote, "We need portable water for the animals, as per the state requirement." Presumably, he meant "potable water," which is water that's safe to drink. The inspector also noted that the shelter's fire inspection was out of date and the shelter's license had been expired for more than two years, meaning the facility could not legally operate. Yet the inspector did not order the shelter to close or even give it an "unsatisfactory" grade. Instead, he gave the facility, run by his boss, a grade of "conditionally satisfactory," allowing it to continue doing business as usual.
Kelly, who was present for the inspections, was not surprised. "If you send me in to check your building, and me and you are tight, and we're friends, I'm gonna say, 'You got a couple of issues you gotta take care of whenever you get a chance, don't worry about it,'" Kelly says. "That's how it went, just like that."
East Orange's health inspections stand in stark contrast to the inspection conducted by the New Jersey Department of Health last month. As Kane In Your Corner reported, that inspection gave the East Orange facility a failing grade, citing numerous violations, including failing to provide animals with "at least prompt, basic veterinary care to alleviate pain and suffering." The state, however, does not have enough inspectors to visit each animal shelter regularly; that responsibility generally falls to local health departments.
In a written statement, East Orange spokesperson Connie Jackson says, "The City of East Orange is aggressively addressing the overall management, maintenance, and staffing of the East Orange Animal Shelter," adding that "in light of the recent inspection report which revealed repeated deficiencies, Mayor Taylor has demanded that corrective action be taken immediately."
That's a big change from the reaction city officials initially provided last week, when they falsely claimed the most serious violations against the shelter had been dropped by the state, and then sent security to prevent Kane In Your Corner from questioning the health director about that false statement.
Dr. Kimani Griffith, the veterinarian contracted by the city to oversee the shelter, says he will resign his position as soon as the city can find a replacement. "I realize they need someone who has more time to manage a facility like that," Griffith says. "I probably got a little in over my head."
Despite that admission, the city seems reluctant to let Griffith go. In an email obtained by News 12 New Jersey, Health Director Evans says, "Dr. Kimani (sic) can't leave his contract, so he will remain employed until his contract ends." The contract has 18 months remaining.