Department of Health

Animal Control Services in New Jersey
September 28, 2021

Public Health Message Type:
☐ Alert
☐ Advisory
☐ Update
☒ Information

Intended Audience:
☐ All public health partners
☐ Healthcare providers
☐ Infection preventionists
☒ Local health departments
☐ Schools/Childcare centers
☒ ACOs
☒ Animal health professionals
☒ Other: Municipal authorities

The New Jersey Department of Health, Infectious and Zoonotic Disease Program (Department) has received complaints that New Jersey municipal animal control services are not responding to calls about stray cats. As such, the Department is issuing this LINCS message to remind municipalities of the statutory requirements for animal control services. Local health departments and municipalities are requested to share this information with all Animal Control Officers (ACOs), licensed shelters, and licensed pounds in their jurisdiction.

N.J.S.A. 4:19-15.16 mandates that the certified animal control officer appointed by the governing body of the municipality shall take into custody and impound:

(1) Any dog off the premises of the owner or of the person charged with the care of the dog, which is reasonably believed to be a stray dog;

(2) Any dog off the premises of the owner or the person charged with the care of the dog without a current registration tag on its collar or elsewhere;

(3) Any female dog in season off the premises of the owner or the person charged with the care of the dog;

(4) Any dog or other animal which is suspected to be rabid; or

(5) Any dog or other animal off the premises of the owner or the person charged with its care that is reported to, or observed by, a certified animal control officer to be ill, injured, or creating a threat to public health, safety, or welfare, or otherwise interfering with the enjoyment of property.

Cats are a type of “other animal” referenced in this statutory provision.

Failing to impound stray cats presents an obvious threat to the public health. When stray animals, such as cats, are left unchecked they can reproduce quickly, leading to a larger public nuisance and increasing the risk of diseases spreading among animals. Of particular concern, zoonotic diseases, such as rabies, becomes a greater risk to the municipality’s residents when the municipality fails to control and impound stray cat populations.

In summary, all calls regarding cats need to be investigated by the municipality’s ACO. Any cat which the ACO determines to be stray must then be captured and transported to the impoundment facility designated by municipal agreement and held for 7 days prior to adoption or euthanasia.

Furthermore, animal control officers should be responding to calls about other mammal species suspected to be rabid, including wildlife. N.J.S.A. 26:4-78 through 95 set out the rabies control provisions and mandate that all animal bites and rabies exposures to humans and domestic animals be reported to the Health Officer in the jurisdiction where the exposed person or animal lives. Health Officers frequently utilize Certified Animal Control Officers (ACOs) to assist with rabies investigations, animal confinements and submission of specimens for rabies virus testing at the Department’s Public Health and Environmental Laboratories (PHEL).

The Department requests that local health departments and municipalities also share the attached document “Municipal Animal Control in New Jersey, Best Practices” with Animal Control Officers in their jurisdiction. This document can be found on the NJDOH Veterinary Public Health Website under “Resources for Animal Control Officers.”

Additional Resources

NJDOH, Veterinary Public Health- Animal Control

NJDOH, Veterinary Public Health- Free Roaming and Feral Cats

NJDOH, Communicable Disease Service- Rabies

Contact Information

• Darby McDermott, State Public Health Veterinarian,

• The Office of Veterinary Public Health at (609) 826-4872 during business hours


Post Office Box 174
Pennington, NJ 08534