On Sunday mornings outside of the Montclair Township Animal Shelter, crates, newspapers and pet food are left near the door as donations. It’s nothing out of the ordinary as community members are always extremely generous when it comes to giving to the shelter. Taped to the window is a list of acceptable items to donate and a flyer for a local pet loss support group.
Once it opens up to the public for the day, people of all ages walk into the shelter located at 77 N. Willow St. in Montclair, New Jersey hoping to add loving, new additions to their families. On the main level, a family meets their new best friend — a mixed puppy of Labrador, pit bull, bulldog and hound breeds named Francis — and learns what kinds of food and chew toys he prefers.
In the office upstairs, toys soak in a garbage bag full of catnip, waiting to be played with by the cats currently staying there. The shelter’s acting director, Liz Morgan, is passionate about enriching the animals’ lives in any way she can. She has over 27 years of experience working with animals.
The shelter’s employees take pride in the way they treat their animals, assuring that they are properly taken care of by sticking to a schedule. They eat breakfast at 8:30 a.m. every morning, dogs go for walks twice a day, cats socialize and they are all taken to their veterinarian appointments.
The Montclair Township Animal Shelter, which serves just Montclair and Nutley, New Jersey, currently takes care of 50 cats and 10 dogs, in addition to the handful of puppies and adult dogs being fostered.
The shelter has also had bunnies, ferrets, rats and birds stay there in addition to the usual cats and dogs. Her entire team feels a personal responsibility to make the animals feel as comfortable as possible, no matter what the situation.
“I will never turn away somebody in need,” Morgan said, referring to someone coming from another town.
If she can’t help them, which could be the case with a violent animal or if the shelter is at capacity, she’ll find someone who can.
The shelter received an unexpected call overnight last week from the Montclair Police Department about a stray iguana, which has never happened in this area before.
“In a facility like this, it’s not ideal for a reptile,” Morgan said. “[They require] a lot of specialized care.”
The shelter is holding the iguana for seven days, just like it would with any cat or dog, and then it will go to a rescue. In the meantime, Morgan was able to borrow a heat lamp from her friends at Brookdale Pet Center in Bloomfield, New Jersey to make the iguana feel comfortable.
Montclair State University’s organization, the Montclair Animal Activists believes that animal welfare is an important issue. The group hosts events throughout the year to advocate for animals and promote veganism, and they started a petition last semester for vegan food options in dining halls that received over 2,100 signatures.
“It’s really important for animal shelters to be at the front of people’s minds,” said Stephanie Russo, the club’s secretary. “Animals are just as equal — they are living and breathing. We’re even animals.”
The Montclair Animal Activists are always open to working with different organizations and are considering the possibility of a partnership with an animal shelter.
Ashlie Melchiorre, an English major at Montclair State, recently adopted her dog Oliver after he lived in a shelter and was fostered by another owner. She strongly believes that people should rescue pets instead of buying them from breeders or pet stores.
“Anyone looking for a new pet [should] go through adoption because there are so many animals out there who need a loving home,” Melchiorre said.
People of all different ages and backgrounds have consistently shown their support for animals in Montclair, not only college students. When Morgan posted on Facebook that she needed extra supplies for a new litter of puppies that just came in, two full Amazon vans delivered food, collars and training pads from her wish list.
One morning, two young girls named Kaia and Aubrey came into the shelter with donations that prove how important the animals are to them. They brought in a bunch of dog toys and donated $200 raised from a lemonade stand, respectively.
Younger kids in town often have birthday parties where in lieu of gifts for themselves, they ask for toys and treats for the animals. The same goes for weddings and engagement parties — people will ask for a donation to the shelter instead of typical gifts.
Morgan has been the acting director of the shelter since January 2016 and loves what she does. She is constantly amazed by how passionate everyone in the community is about animals.
“Being in Montclair, a town that is so wonderful about animal welfare, is just such a gift,” Morgan said.