Seven days. That's how long most shelters give abandoned, lost or stray animals to be rescued or be euthanized. Ruth Perlmutter has devoted two decades of her life to creating and running northern New Jersey's only "no kill" animal shelter and here is why:
"A few months ago, a couple from Irvington came into the shelter to adopt a dog," recalled Perlmutter. "They were reviewing our photos when the woman saw a red pit bull.
"She said, 'That looks just like our dog, but we lost her more than three years ago so that couldn't be her.' The shelter manager asked if she wanted to go in the back to see the dog. She said, 'I don't. It couldn't possibly be her. It's been over three years and it's too upsetting for me. '
"We asked for some identifying markers on her dog and she mentioned a scar on the leg, a chipped tooth. The manager checked, saw the markers and brought the dog into the room. The dog and the owner went bonkers. We had that dog for three-and-a-half years."
Perlmutter is the leader of a pack of volunteers whose blood, sweat and tears helped to create and sustain the Jersey Animal Coalition shelter in South Orange. A retired soprano who has sung at Lincoln Center, Perlmutter is now president of JAC, overseeing fundraising, adoptions, shelter maintenance, animal socialization and anything and everything else associated with the welfare of stray, lost or abandoned animals.
It all started back in 1989, when there was no local shelter and animals were brought to Newark and typically euthanized days later. Perlmutter founded the Jersey Animal Coalition to press for a local shelter that would keep animals nearby until they were retrieved or adopted. There were years of fundraising and bandaid solutions, like paying local veterinarians to provide shelter and then running adoption days in the vet's parking lot.
Finally, in 2005, the non-profit animal rescue organization opened its "no kill" shelter in South Orange. Today it houses about 50 dogs, 75 cats and has taken in an assortment of other animals including rabbits, a white rat, a ferret, a chicken and an African Gray Parrot fluent in curse words and Yiddish.
"We know we can't save the whole world, but we try to save as much of it as we can," Perlmutter explained. JAC has rescued or placed 9,000 animals since it was founded.
"With this economy, we are getting pets that people can't afford to care for anymore," she added. That includes a 10-year-old Yorkie with a skin condition, recently left on the shelter doorstep in a bag with all of its medical records. The dog has since been adopted.
To prepare animals for adoption, the shelter keeps them up to date on their shots. Veterinarians are brought in to neuter or spay and to insert a microchip under the skin that can be scanned by a vet so that a lost animal can be more easily identified and brought home, rather than to a shelter that might not have a "no kill" policy. "We charge about one quarter of what it would cost if you paid for all those things independently," Perlmutter said.
Adoption fees and donations are the sole source of funding for the shelter, which recently hired its first employee, mainly to ramp up fundraising.
How can Maplewoodians who love animals help out? "We always need donations," said Perlmutter. "We also need supplies, like any kind of dog and cat food and cleaning materials. If you're over 18, you can be trained as a dog walker, to help socialize and exercise the animals. Teenagers can help socialize the puppies and kittens inside the shelter."
MapleGOOD is a blog that profiles our hometown heroes and their feats to better mankind. It's inspired by our neighbors' sense of selflessness and the good works that they carry out quietly all the time. If you know a MapleGOOD-doer whom you'd like to see profiled, drop us a line.