NJ Strays opens shop in town

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Millburn Avenue in Maplewood welcomed a new tenant this month as NJ Strays opened its first headquarters. The nonprofit animal welfare organization has worked since 2012 to reduce shelter intake and euthanasia in the area, in addition to operating a pet food pantry and assisting families in finding their lost pets. Until now, NJ Strays was operating out of the staff members’ and volunteers’ homes and cars. The Maplewood space will now allow the group to store supplies, and hold events and workshops.

“We had a P.O. box that we would keep donations in and things would be in our homes and cars,” Rachel Moehl, director of marketing for NJ Strays, said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Jan. 24. “Now we have a place to send people and we have a centralized location where we can meet.”

NJ Strays’ mission is to decrease euthanasia in New Jersey animal shelters. Because state laws allow kill shelters to exist, often when animal shelters have too many animals or are unable to care for aging or unhealthy pets, they will euthanize them. The goal is to keep animals out of shelters by reuniting lost pets with their owners, microchipping pets to prevent them from getting lost and providing education about animal welfare.

According to the NJ Strays founder and Executive Director Adriana Bradley, many people believe that shelters are the best place to bring a lost or stray animal. But that’s not the case, she said.

“Shelters aren’t always safe,” she said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Jan. 24. “People who work at them do a great job and work really hard, but unfortunately we know the reality of it. We’re not no-kill in New Jersey yet, so when they can’t provide the care or cover the cost, sometimes shelters will euthanize them.”

So Bradley’s solution is to provide free consultations, fliers, alerts, search and recovery, and trapping for pet owners who have lost their animals. That way, the animals are less likely to end up in an already overcrowded shelter. Microchips are also provided for pet-owners who can’t afford them.

“We stop pets from going into shelters,” Bradley said. “We want to be the resources and the middle man, to help people and tell them what to do in that situation. We’ve also had people on military deployments or going through cancer treatments and can’t take care of a pet, so we find foster homes to take care of those animals until the family is ready to take them back.”

The barn and outdoor cat relocation project is another facet of NJ Strays’ work. If families can no longer care for a cat, or if stray cats in a specific area become a nuisance or self-detrimental, the organization will relocate them to farms looking for barn cats.

The organization also provides behavioral consultations and training for pets, and information about how to adopt a dog or cat. In addition, the organization houses pet food and supplies for people who need help providing for their animal but don’t want to give them up.

“If you have a high vet bill or are just low on money for the month, you can come and get food for your pet,” Moehl said. “We take donations from pet stores and we’ll run events where we take donations. Often we’ll have a table outside grocery stores and ask people to buy dog or cat food while they’re inside and donate it.”

That’s where the Maplewood headquarters comes in. After growing to a staff of 24 volunteers, 67 families helped and 1,064 lost pets recovered, the organization outgrew meeting in a different space every month. Now more volunteer outreach can be done and more events held.

“It was the perfect opportunity to interact with the community,” Bradley said. “Having the office is opening the door to the public. We can continue the mission better when the public has somewhere to find us. We’re hoping to have a footprint in the area.”

Since NJ Strays serves eight counties — Hudson, Bergen, Passaic, Essex, Union, Morris, Warren and Sussex — Maplewood is centrally located. The organization works with many pet owners in nearby Newark, and being so close to Rutgers University-Newark and Seton Hall University will help it reach prospective young volunteers. According to Communications Director Jackie Roman, the location has already made an impact.

“Headquarters is a huge step for us,” Roman said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Jan. 24. “The first day I was there someone came in with a kitten and we were able to give them a microchip and talk to them about caring for the kitten. That kind of face–to-face interaction is a big deal.”

Roman said NJ Strays is not actively pushing for legislation to change no-kill shelter laws, but is trying to make pet owners and animal lovers aware of the shelter situation.

“It would be huge if it changed,” she said. “We’re not actively knocking down the doors of city halls because it’s a hard change to bring about. It’s possible, but until then that’s why we exist. We can educate pet owners to strengthen our connections.”

Bradley said the Maplewood location will not only help animals in the area, but also positively affect the pet owners it helps.

“This is a chance to be in the community and to tell people we’re here,” she said. “We’re helping the animals, but we’re also helping the people. Pets are like our kids, we love them so much. So it’s animal welfare, but by helping the animal we’re also helping that family.”

The NJ Strays headquarters is located at 2202 Millburn Ave. Information about volunteering and donating can be found at www.njstrays.org or by emailing volunteer@njstrays.org.

Photos Courtesy of Rachel Moehl