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Heroic Hopatcong Animal Control Officer in danger of losing his position.

Animal Control Officer (ACO) Dale Sloat has diligently served the community of Hopatcong for over 11 years. Those that know him would call his a major asset to the municipality, having saved many a domestic (dog, cat, etc.) or wild animal (from baby bunnies to bears) from harm. Now he faces the possibility of losing his job without any benefits.

Baby raccoon rescued by Hopatcong ACO Dale Sloat.
Photo courtesy of: Mikel M. Zarrella-Murray (Hopatcong resident) and ACO Dale Sloat
Hopatcong ACO Dale Sloat with two dogs
Photo by Michelle Shawiak Francomacoro

The story began with ACO Sloat being called into his supervisor's office and being told that he would lose his job within 90 days of his notification. That was early in June. ACO Sloat made this announcement to his friends via Facebook. To his surprise, many of his friends and residents of Hopatcong came forward to give support to the cause of saving the ACO's job. Christina Bradley, a Hopatcong resident, created a group on Facebook called "Help Save Hopatcongs Animal Control Officer Dale Sloat", where she encouraged those visiting the page to leave a comment as to why ACO Sloat should be kept as the Hopatcong ACO. Many visitors to the page told of rescues that Sloat performed including The page was initially open to the public but later was closed as plans for how to support the dedicated ACO began to unfold. The petition has been shared by many animal rescues/animal interest groups such as Amnesty for Animals, Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey, Mount Olive TNR (trap, neuter, release) Project, West Milford Animal Shelter, and Boutique Puppies and More,

One post that stands out on this page was told by Darlene Rose Tardive, a Roxbury resident, who speaks of the Roxbury ACO and police department calling Sloat to help in the rescue of two German Shepherds running at large. One of the dogs had a litter of puppies which were later adopted out.

Bradley also created a slideshow showing the feats performed by ACO Sloat.

Elizabeth Long, another resident of Hopatcong, began a petition on Change.org to try and save Sloat's job. She mentioned many reasons why a full time ACO (instead of the proposed on-call ACO that would replace Sloat) is needed, such as needing someone to move feral (wild) cats, the need for a local ACO (Sloat lives in the municipality) for a fast response such as if someone is being attacked by a wild animal or dog, and the need for someone to help reunite lost pets with their owners. The municipality also has a shelter to run; an ACO is often critical to the proper running of a municipal shelter. The petition reached 546 signatures in less than 24 hours.

Long was at the meeting when the municipality elected to terminate Sloat's position. The decision was based on the fact that when Sloat was on sick leave, the police kept track of the calls that were ACO related and determined that a full-time ACO was not needed. What they failed to look at was that the time that Sloat was away was also the slow period for animal control calls. Sloat intentionally picked the slowest period for animal control to take some personal time off so as not to leave Hopatcong without an ACO. There is a seasonality to the birth of young animals and animal neglect cases regarding exposure to extreme temperatures (heat vs. cold); most people become concerned when the temperature starts becoming cold in the fall and thus the number of calls that an ACO responds to during that time is increased but dies down during the winter months. In that same meeting, Sloat was blamed for the shelter "being a disaster" and "unfit for animals" but failed to mention that Sloat was not the one responsible for doing the cleaning. The Sussex County Health Department and Hopatcong Health Department merged around that time, eliminating their staff and the paperwork handled by these employees was then passed onto Sloat. The police would also not have known about any calls that came directly to Sloat's phone rather than through the police dispatcher.

Minutes from the February 2014 meeting on hopatcong.org show that Hopatcong is considering an agreement with the Township of Jefferson (Resolution #2014-32) and the Borough of Stanhope (Resolution #2014-33) for Animal Control Services from January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2015.

On June 10, Beth Longo, a Hopatcong resident, announced that she had spoken with Hopatcong Mayor Sylvia Petillo. Longo stated that the municipality elected to keep Sloat for another year (retirement date June 1, 2015, confirmed by Sloat) so that Sloat could retire with full benefits. In an interview with Joe Carlson of the NJHerald, Mayor Petillo stated that the municipality was trying to make the animal control program more efficient and that they had no intention of firing Sloat. But what about the resolutions for Animal Control Services listed in the minutes? Many municipalities do not like to be challenged by their residents and often use tactics to still get their way. Unfortunately, this is what is occurring in Sloat's case.

Sloat was previously in charge of running the Hopatcong Borough Pound. These duties were turned over to Hopatcong Pound Project. As of the announcement of a retirement date for Sloat, Sloat has been reassigned to cleaning the pound, apart from his other duties. Sloat had an agreement with the municipality that he was not to clean the shelter initially; Sloat has lost a finger due to a cat bite while serving as an officer. Medical orders stated that Sloat is not to clean the shelter yet the job is not his. Sloat is also the only animal control officer for the municipality which means that more work has been added to his plate. The job of taking the animal census has also been assigned to Sloat, leaving little time for his rescues. All calls for the animal control officer must be phoned in through the police dispatcher who will make the decision as to whether or not to call out an animal control officer, namely Sloat. On June 25, Longo delivered two orphaned skunks to Antler Ridge, a wildlife santuary. She followed procedures and called the Police department but was told that an animal control officer would not be dispatched since the municipality is not responsible for wildlife. (This Examiner met Longo at Antler Ridge since by shear luck, an orphaned raccoon needed to be taken up to Antler Ridge by this Examiner.) Sloat has previously rescued orphaned wildlife but is no longer allowed to do this part of his job.

Some of Sloat's most famous feats are listed below:

March 2011 Sloat rescued and released an injured red-tailed hawk.

February 2012 Sloat is honored as a local hero at the New Jersey Nets - Detroit Pistons game.

December 2012 Sloat performed a daring rescue of a dog stuck on a cliff by tying a rope to a tree and then to himself and lowering himself to the dog.

July 2013 Sloat saves a fawn hit by a car.

A picture of Sloat holding a snake can be seen on the New Jersey Certified Animal Control Officer Association website.

Apart from Sloat's regular work schedule, Sloat often donates his time to the local boy and girl scouts, as well as other school/community events.

Followers of Sloat purchased lawn signs to support their ACO keeping his job.

To quote Valerie Mitchell Pereillo, a resident that Sloat has helped in the past, "This is not just a job or a paycheck to Dale, it's his life. He truly loves his job and loves the animals." This is true of many Animal Control Officers that are properly trained and truly care for their animals. Unfortunately, many municipalities are turning to outsourcing their services to large companies which cover multiple municipalities. This often delays services to the residents.

There is still time to support Sloat. Please sign this petition. Remember as the celebration of the 4th is about to end that our constitution says, "We the people" not "We the municipal government."

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