It is a truth universally acknowledged that dog lovers do not recognize political boundaries.
While that may be the case, city departments must and do. Thus, when a PSEG worker went on a service call in Trenton’s 800 block of East State Street on June 24 and found one of the homes emitting a raucous onslaught of barking as well as an overpowering stench, he called the Trenton Police Department.
That is the beginning of the incredible rescue of 52 dogs barely surviving in disgusting hoarding conditions. There were huge smooth haired mastiffs; tiny, shaggy haired Yorkshire terrier puppies; mixed breeds of all kinds. Some were manacled, some were starving. All were suffering.
The rescue—removing more than four dozen dogs from East State Street and then providing not only medical care but also new homes—was accomplished in less than a week. It was a rescue that involved numerous people—private citizens and public workers—from Trenton, Ewing, Lawrence, Hamilton, and across state borders into Pennsylvania.
But to start at the beginning. Upon receiving notice of the problematic animal cruelty on East State Street, the police called the Trenton Animal Shelter (officially the Trenton Humane Law Enforcement and Animal Services Unit, or THLEAS). Shelter manager Jose Munoz was on vacation, so the message was passed to animal control officer Jose Millan, who immediately drove to East State Street.
When he arrived, it was obvious that he was confronting a horrific situation. But because there was no one at home—or at least no one answering the repeated knocking and doorbell ringing—his maximum recourse was to ensure that a 24-hour notice was affixed to the property.
“And then we had to prepare ourselves,” recalls Millan, who had recently injured his Achilles tendon and was on crutches.
After the 24-hour period had elapsed, representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Police accompanied Millan to the home. THLEAS is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and Human Services.
This time, James Marshall, who has since been charged with animal cruelty, was on the front lawn with several dogs, refusing anyone admittance into his house. But because of the legal precautions taken and the presence of officers, he could not stop them from entering.
And shortly after they went in, the urgent phone calls went out. It was obvious that there were a lot of dogs in the home, but the sheer amount was overwhelming. Pleas for help went to the Ewing Animal Shelter, the Center for Animal Referral and Emergency Services (CARES) in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, the remaining staff at the Trenton Animal Shelter and to Danielle Gletow of Ewing, among others.
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Gletow is a busy woman, a founder of two nonprofits: the nationally recognized One Simple Wish foundation (onesimplewish.org), and the local Trenton Animals Rock (TAR), a foundation dedicated to helping injured, abused, and abandoned animals in Trenton. It was her role in the latter that prompted Millan’s call.
“In some ways,” Gletow remembers, “it was fortunate that one of my daughters was sick that day. That meant I was home. Otherwise, I would not have been able to respond so promptly to that call.”
And respond she did, first calling Donna Gletow, her “awesome” sister-in-law and fellow Ewing resident, to come watch her daughter, then alerting TAR board members as well as a wide network of animal lovers in Mercer County and beyond.
While Gletow was calling in help, the staff at the Trenton Animal Shelter was ordered to East State Street. Members of the Ewing shelter also went to help transport dogs. It wasn’t long before it was obvious that the seriously underfunded Trenton shelter’s 20-dog capacity was about to be overwhelmed.
James Mongru, the shelter’s maintenance manager, says going into the house get the dogs “was terrible. There were feces everywhere.” Many of the dogs needed immediate help. Bolt cutters were required to remove shackles on some of the dogs.
Gletow arrived at the shelter around noon. The doors were locked; the entire staff of the shelter was on East State Street, helping to put dogs into trucks. With the arrival of the first truck, the doors were unlocked and Gletow swung into action.
They moved dogs that were already in the shelter to the backmost kennels, to allow space for the new arrivals, Gletow says. As dogs were brought in, she did visual assessments and wrote down their breed, age and condition.
Gletow noted those that were most critical, and notified veterinarian staff at CARES that they were soon to have many patients. Ewing resident Matt Gellar, whose classes at TCNJ had finished, and Hamilton resident Jen Share, a volunteer at the shelter, assumed responsibility for driving the neediest dogs to CARES.
“I left work on my lunch hour, figuring I’d transport pups to CARES and return to the office in about an hour,” Share says. “I wound up being involved until 9 p.m. that night. Never got back to the office.”
Share has vivid memories of walking into the shelter and seeing crates of Yorkies in the hallway, then seeing the kennels filled with rottweilers, mastiffs and Neapolitan mastiffs, sometimes three or four to a kennel. “The smell… the noise!” she says.
She remembers carrying the first two sticky, filthy, bony pups into the hospital and feeling like the check-in was taking an eternity.
“I remember watching the poor things perk up a bit and begin to explore the exam room—making me hopeful that they had enough strength to get through their ordeal,” she says.
Later, heading back to the shelter to transport more dogs, Share recalls seeing what looked like a convoy of cars going into the Trenton shelter to drop off crates in response to an alert that had been put out on social media.
“I wanted to hug every one of those kind people who made the trip to help,” she says.
The Animal Alliance in Lambertville had offered its services, so Geller drove the youngest and smallest Yorkshire puppies, many in need of immediate care, to that organization. And still trucks were going back and forth from East State Street, and additional dogs were arriving at the shelter after each round trip. Mongru counted nine round trips all told.
More volunteers arrived around 5:30 p.m., once they had left their jobs. TAR board members Judy Flowers, from Yardley, Pennsylvania; Nadia Adam, from Ewing; and Anne Ullestad from Lawrence were among those helping out. Joe Antonello, a recently retired animal cruelty investigator, also went in to help.
Ullestad, a lighting designer, runs TAR’s home-based foster initiative. She got to work finding foster homes for pups that were in good enough shape, to make room at the shelter. At the same time, Flowers made calls to area rescue organizations including Pick Your Paw Animal Rescue of Red Bank and Zoe’s House of Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania. Share says Heathre Goldberg of Pick Your Paws rescue, along with her son, a veterinarian technician, had been at the shelter since at least noon, assessing dogs, caring for them and bathing them.
At one point, Flowers and Share volunteered to get food for everyone. “They picked up pizzas,” Gletow says, “but we were all so busy we didn’t have time to eat until 9:30—right before we left.”
Volunteers from Trenton Animals Rock and other organizations didn’t leave until every dog that needed medical care was at a hospital and every dog had an indoor kennel for the night, Gletow says.
Still, more work needed to be done. Gletow was among the volunteers arriving early the next day to continue the process of assessing the temperament and condition of the remaining dogs. The shelter, she notes, is super small, quite old, and desperately in need of additional city funding to care for the hundreds of animals that pass through its doors.
“The guys who run it are among my favorite people because they love these animals and work so hard for them with so little resources,” she says.
That day, it was decided that several more dogs needed medical attention. They were transported to CARES as well. The TAR foundation, Gletow reports, raises funds to pay for the medical needs of dogs transported out of the shelter as well as to provide support for the shelter’s operations.
It took six days to move all the East State Street dogs into foster homes or rescue groups, Gletow says. They also moved other dogs that were waiting in the shelter before the hoarding case.
Looking back at the late June rescue, Gletow remarks that it was an incredible effort and something that inspires her to continue volunteering with TAR.
“When people set aside their opinions and just get to work, so much good can be done,” she says.
Joe Emanski contributed to the reporting of this story.