COMPASSIONATE CARE: “I would like to highlight the role of volunteers in our overall mission. EASEL relies on volunteers for some of our crucial operations. Adoptions, admission, training, off-site events, follow-up calls and placement are all primarily run by volunteers. The relationship between our staff and our volunteers has been instrumental in the success of EASEL. Mark Phillips, director of animal services for the EASEL Animal Rescue League, is shown with Pinky, a longtime shelter dog with medical issues, and, from left, operations manager Lori Cima and assistant manager Andrea Dunks.
By Jean Straton
EASEL – Ewing Animal Shelter Extension League – has a mission. It’s about helping stray, abandoned, transferred and returned dogs and cats find happy homes and, in the meantime, provide them with a caring, healthy and safe environment.
Founded in 2008 and established in its current location at 4 Jake Garzio Drive in Ewing in 2013, it is a no-kill shelter. As a voluntary, nonprofit animal welfare organization, it is dedicated to ending the euthanasia of unwanted animals in Mercer County through collaborative coalitions and community alliances.
“We are the only shelter at Ewing,” said Mark Phillips, director of animal services. “We are both a place to take animals and a place to get animals. Currently we have 40 cats and 13 dogs at the shelter. We also have 20 cats (mostly kittens) in foster care.
Animals are brought to the shelter by animal control officers. They may have been found abandoned or people have reported seeing a stray animal. They can also be transferred from other shelters. Sometimes owners may be forced to give up a pet for a variety of reasons, Phillips reports.
“Sometimes it can be for financial reasons,” says Phillips. “Unfortunately, people may have lost their homes or are in other financial difficulties and need to bring in their dog or cat.”
When an animal arrives at the shelter, it is examined by a veterinarian for health issues and assessed for its behavior. In the case of a dog, how does it interact with other dogs, with humans? Is it aggressive? Calm? Is it finally adoptable?
The dogs are kept in large cages with an opening to an even more spacious area, and are also walked in the morning and afternoon. Plus, there’s a large outdoor play area, where they can get more exercise and socialize.
On Saturdays, a “pack walk” takes place with many dogs coming together for a long walk, adds Phillips.
The cats are housed in large cages, which include a litter box, a soft bed and assorted toys of various sizes. Opportunities for cats to roam outside of their cages are also available.
The foster program allows kittens to temporarily live with a family in a home environment, Phillips explains. “Baby and very young kittens usually stay with the family for six weeks, after which they return to EASEL to await adoption.”
This is useful for a number of reasons, including when the number of cats at the shelter is high, as well as in cases where temporary homes are needed to care for sick, young or undersocialized animals.
“We also have short stays,” adds Phillips. “Dogs and cats can go to a family for a weekend or a week. People will provide a report on the animal’s behavior, likes and dislikes. It’s a chance to try out the dog or cat in a home environment.
Those wishing to adopt an animal can complete an application available online on the EASEL website. It includes questions about the lifestyle of the family or the individual. Are there children in the household? Other pets? What kind of life will the animal have? Will he live in a house or an apartment? Is this the first time the applicant will have a pet?
What type of dog or cat are they interested in? Specific breed? Full of energy or calm? Young or older?
The next step is to come to the shelter to meet with a staff member and see the animals.
Not all adopters want kittens or puppies, notes Phillips. “Some people want an older animal that is calmer and does not need to be trained. Also, others will take animals at the end of their life, which is very nice.
Companion and playmate
In the case of kittens, Phillips adds that if there are no other cats in the household, EASEL does not allow the adoption of a kitten alone. The reasoning is that it is better for him to have company, a playmate for socializing. Plus, as he explains, “Kittens need to learn to play well with other cats. We want to prevent kittens from learning that biting and scratching hands are acceptable forms of play.
Adoption fees are as follows: adult dogs $250; small breed dogs $300; and puppies $400. Adult cats cost $100; seniors $75; and kittens $135. The cost is $200 for two kittens.
The fee helps support the work of the shelter and also includes spaying services, injections, microchipping and heartworm prevention medication for the animal.
The level of adoption remains stable, says Phillips, who adds that EASEL was very busy during COVID-19, when many people wanted to adopt an animal. There were 1,300 cats and 350 dogs adopted in 2020.
Plus, he points out, “If people are interested in adopting, it’s a great idea for them to come and volunteer. They can see the animals and learn about our program. Of course, also, the more adoptions we have, the more people learn about us.
Adopters come from all over Mercer County, as well as Pennsylvania, he adds. They are of all ages, singles, couples and families.
Prospective adopters can also see the animals through EASEL’s special event programs.
“I started an adoption event at pet stores,” Phillips reports. “People can see dogs and cats outside the shelter. We do this at area stores including Concord Pets in Princeton, Bag of Bones Barkery in Hamilton and Rosedale Mills in Hopewell, all of which are once-a-month locations. We also have cats in cages at PetSmart in the Nassau Park Boulevard mall all week, so it’s like an off-site adoption center for us.
Phillips, who grew up with animals, knows he’s in the right place. After adopting a dog from the Trenton Animal Shelter, he later volunteered with the former Ewing Shelter and found he loved working with animals. He is closely involved with them in his role as director of animal services at EASEL, and he admits to having grown fond of many of the four-legged inhabitants of the shelter.
“I will definitely miss some of them, but seeing the animal find a good home is the most important thing, and my greatest satisfaction is the adoption,” he says.
Phillips is very proud of the EASEL staff and volunteers, whose dedication, enthusiasm and hard work are the foundation of the shelter’s work. “A lot of volunteers have been with us for a long time,” he says. “Also, the move to this location has been very positive. We have more volunteers and more adoptions. We currently have over 50 active volunteers and 12 part-time employees.
Looking forward, Phillips eventually hopes to establish a Mercer County-wide shelter. “Our goal is to build a bigger facility to save more animals in need while awaiting adoption,” he says. “When people abandon their pets or lost animals are brought to the shelter, we need more space to accommodate that need. A new, larger shelter will continue our core values of compassion, commitment, integrity and generosity in helping local animals and their human caregivers.
EASEL is open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., with overtime on Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
JIf you are interested in adopting, volunteering, or adopting a foster, you can call (609) 883-0540 or visit easelnj.org. Monetary donations are particularly useful, but there is also a wish list of items needed to www.easelnj.org/wish-list.