Former Director of NJ Animal Shelter Allowed Hundreds of Cats and Dogs to Die Prematurely, Officials Say

Jeff Plunkett, 63, of Hamilton, Township, was indicted on animal cruelty and official misconduct charges on Wednesday

The former head of a New Jersey animal shelter is accused of allowing more than 230 cats and nearly 100 dogs to be euthanized prematurely before they could be put up for adoption, violating state law. 

Jeff Plunkett, 63, of Hamilton, Township, was indicted on animal cruelty and official misconduct charges on Wednesday.

The investigation began in August 2018 when the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice received two complaints about the Hamilton Township Animal Shelter in Hamilton Township, New Jersey.

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The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Humane Law Enforcement Unit (HLEU) determined that between January 1, 2016 and October 1, 2018, approximately 236 cats and 93 dogs were prematurely euthanized at the shelter. Under state law, animals must be held or offered up for adoption for at least seven days before being euthanized.

Plunkett was both the director of the animal shelter as well as the Hamilton Township director of health at the time.

“They did not want anybody poking around into what happens at the shelter,” Steve Clegg, a former volunteer at the shelter, told NBC10. “They wanted to collect their paychecks, collect their pension, collect their overtime and not be bothered with actually caring for these animals.”

Plunkett as well as 57-year-old Todd Bencivengo, the former supervisor of the shelter, were both arrested and charged in May. Officials said the HLEU uncovered several examples of mismanagement during their investigation but they were unable to establish additional charges against the two men due to insufficient evidence.

Bencivengo was accepted into the pretrial intervention program on Oct. 23.

Hamilton Township Council is currently handling all of the administrative aspects of the investigation. Clegg and other volunteers said they went to the council demanding answers.

“There was always animals disappearing,” Clegg said. “There was always questionable things you couldn’t get an answer too.”

Clegg told NBC10 two pit bulls were killed “as revenge” after he requested public records on euthanasia at the shelter. NBC10 obtained the euthanasia documents citing the animals being “very sickly” or “aggressive” as reasons for them being put down.

“There were kennels,” Clegg said. “We spent a million and a half dollars on them. There were plenty of kennels. These dogs were not sick. They were not dying. They were not aggressive.”

Will Mack, the owner of one of the euthanized pit bulls, spoke to NBC10 about the allegations against Plunkett.

“That was some evil stuff,” Mack said. “That’s bad.”

Mack said he fell on hard times and thought that his dog had been adopted.

“They took my dog and killed her,” Mack said. “Had I known that she was here I could’ve came and picked her up.”

NBC10 reached out to the current director of the shelter for comment. We have not yet heard back from him. 

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