BLOOMFIELD, NJ — In the first couple of weeks of March, the Bloomfield Animal Shelter was housing seven dogs and 20 cats. Then, as the world was thrown into the chaos that is still ongoing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the shelter’s phone started ringing off the hook.
“It escalated pretty quickly,” Nick Laratta, the Bloomfield Police Department’s animal control investigator, said in a phone interview with the Independent Press on July 6. “We really got inundated with calls. Normally they probably would have been there for a month or so, but those seven dogs were placed within two weeks.”
Many residents were concerned that animal shelters would be closing and wanted to help by bringing home a pet. Most of the cats were either fostered or adopted too, even though Laratta said the shelter is operating but is closed to the public. The staff has still been there every day since the lockdown began, taking care of the animals that remain.
“It seemed like people were making an extra effort to foster or adopt,” Laratta said. “People weren’t working. They were home and had time.”
Like so many other things in the last few months, the rapid pet adoption rate was new for the animal shelter. In the so-called “before times,” the building on Bukowski Place was a haven for five to seven dogs at a time and twice as many cats. Many would be strays, or animals that owners gave up because they could no longer care for them. In addition, Laratta and the shelter staff respond to wildlife calls in Bloomfield, Nutley, Glen Ridge and Caldwell.
“We make an effort to take care of others, like baby squirrels, birds, skunks and possums,” Laratta said. “Normally we don’t hold them here; we transport them to the Franklin Lakes Animal Hospital or the Woodland Wildlife Refuge. They assess the injury and rehabilitate them.”
The shelter is always looking for donations of cat food, dog food, pet toys and cleaning supplies. Eventually the volunteer program, which had to be shut down because of the pandemic, will start up again and residents who want to volunteer can walk the dogs on a daily basis and play with the other animals. But the lack of normal access to the shelter hasn’t stopped residents who care about pets and wildlife, according to Laratta.
“The animals still have an avenue to be adopted,” he said. “We’re able to balance everything and keep it flowing. It was good that we got all the dogs adopted. Animal control calls have doubled from 2018 already, and are up 30 percent from where they were this time last year. People are home more and are seeing things they normally wouldn’t.”
The Suburban Essex Chamber of Commerce awarded the Bloomfield Animal Shelter with the 2020 Community Service Award in January, which Laratta said is a testament to the township council, Mayor Michael Venezia and Public Safety Director Sam DeMaio giving the shelter resources. Town officials aren’t the only ones who help though. Residents do as well.
“No one wants to go outside and see an injured baby squirrel,” Laratta said. “I’ve had people stand guard over them until animal control can get there. People notice, and it’s important to them.”