Closings and delays

‘House of horrors’ animal shelter director faces slew of cruelty charges

NEWARK, N.J. -- The executive director of a New Jersey shelter that has become infamous within the animal welfare community has been charged with animal cruelty.

The New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA) announced charges against Roseann Trezza, executive director of Associated Humane Societies, for incidents at the Newark location.

The charges, which included eight criminal counts and eight civil counts of animal cruelty, were filed in Newark Municipal Court Wednesday, according to WPIX.

Trezza, 70, of Matawan, New Jersey, is being charged with failing to provide necessary care to multiple animals, with violations ranging from filthy water bowls to commingling sick and healthy animals.

These charges are the result of a multiple-month, multiple-visit inspection and joint efforts of the State Department of Health, Newark Department of Health and NJSPCA Humane Police. A court date of 4 p.m. on Dec. 7 has been scheduled.

A recent joint inspection by the City of Newark and the state’s Department of Health uncovered a slew of violations, including animals kept in cramped enclosures without any exercise or light. Many of the animals are getting euthanized before being held the required seven days.

The problems at this so-called “house of horrors” date back much longer, to the 1980s, according to state investigators.

The images are heartbreaking. Dogs and cats forced to lay in their own squalor. Most are sick, some are on the verge of dying and a majority are neglected.

Those are the claims being made by over a dozen former and current volunteers and workers at Associated Humane Societies in Newark – one of New Jersey’s largest and busiest animal shelters which services over a dozen municipalities in the state.

To their disbelief, inspectors also discovered a live skunk in a carrier, covered in blankets and sitting directly in the sun.

For over two months, WPIX investigated numerous animal cruelty allegations from former workers and volunteers at the AHS Newark facility.  Video obtained by WPIX gives just a glimpse of the conditions. The footage shows dogs locked away in a cellar. They rarely get exercise or have human contact, a source tells us, all while loud music and constant alarms sound off in the background.

“It was bad, you had to carry the dogs in and out because they didn’t want to go back in,” a tearful Debra Ann Honan said.

Honan worked as a volunteer at AHS for 3 years and, according to her, when volunteers or workers speak out against the horrid conditions – it results in immediate termination.

“It starts at the top – there needs to be changes,” she said.

For decades, AHS in Newark has become infamous within the animal welfare community.

Deplorable and horrendous conditions at the facility date back to the 1980s – something state investigators acknowledged in a scathing 2003 report. Inspection reports in 2009, 2011 and now in 2017 turned up the same – if not worse – conditions.

People interviewed by WPIX say the person at the center of the dysfunction is the shelter organization’s current Executive Director Roseann Trezza, who has served on the AHS Board of Trustees since the 1970s.

Former workers – some who did not want to be identified in fear of retaliation – described the culture within AHS as “maddening.”

According to inter-office emails, management appears to be aware of the dysfunction but doesn’t seem to care.

“It’s like a teacher teaching in a classroom and not liking kids,” said a former worker who did not want to be identified. “How do you have someone running a facility that has no compassion whatsoever for animals.”

What’s even more disturbing – according to sources - is that under Trezza's direction, the shelter would regularly hold animals with compelling stories hostage until the not-for-profit would raise a certain amount of funds through donations.

One of those cases involved a pit bull nicknamed “Vinnie Van Gogh,” a bait dog that suffered a number of injuries. His story of survival went viral in 2014.

“They held that dog for months from being adopted,” an anonymous source said. “Just to keep the donations coming in – there have been so many cases like that.”

Vinnie was eventually adopted.

When WPIX made a recent unannounced visit to the Newark shelter, it appeared the horrific conditions detailed in the state’s inspection had – at least for this visit – improved.

The facility is currently running with a temporary license while it makes improvements to get back into compliance.

Assistant Director Jill Van Tuyl, who is fairly new at the shelter, acknowledged there are problems at the facility and insists the staff is currently working around the clock to remedy the situation.

“There are things that we changed now that I would’ve liked to have changed sooner and I think it’s a good thing,” she said.

Despite a track record of violations and years of failed inspections, the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals  – the state’s law enforcement agency for animal cruelty – took no action against AHS.

The agency itself was the subject of a blistering report by the State Commission of Investigation, where it was dubbed "wolves in sheep's clothing" full of so-called "wannabe cops" who fail to investigate animal cruelty cases in a timely manner.

With a questionable reputation of its own in the spotlight – and on the heels of  the WPIX investigation – the NJSPCA finally closed in on the organization’s executive director Wednesday.

Trezza was charged with 8 criminal counts and 8 civil counts of animal cruelty including failing to provide necessary care to multiple animals, with violations ranging from filthy water bowls to commingling sick and healthy animals.

It’s the first step to fixing what one volunteer described as “Newark’s House of Horrors” where animals are said to struggle to stay alive amid dysfunction.

“The animals that come to these places are at the mercy of these people,” former SPCA chief officer Stuart Goldman said. Goldman currently works as a private investigator who specializes in animal cruelty. “If they want to leave an animal in the hot blazing sun, they want animals sneezing and coughing, (with) bloody diarrhea, there’s nobody there to stop them.”

Numerous interview requests were made to Roseann Trezza for this story. None were answered.