A fundraiser/community awareness program held several weeks ago in Jersey City taught Jaclyn Fulop two things: first, that a lot of people really love animals, and second, that when nonprofit organizations and motivated people work together, great things can happen.
At the end of the program, Ms. Fulop — who is the wife of Jersey City’s Mayor Steven Fulop and a co-owner of Exchange Physical Therapy Group, an outpatient orthopedic physical therapy clinic in Jersey City and Weehawken — presented a check for $120,000 to the Liberty Humane Society, the local animal shelter serving not only Jersey City but also Bayonne, Hoboken, and surrounding areas. The funds have been used to buy a van, which allows the group to run a mobile low-cost spay and neuter program.
“Not many cities have this program,” Ms. Fulop said. She worked with EPTG co-owner Drew Nussbaum and the 18 members of their staff to bring this venture to life. “New York does, and Puerto Rico just [launched] a huge initiative.” She hopes that her project will spur other communities to act.
“It’s probably one of the best things I’ve done in my life,” she said, calling herself a lifelong animal lover. “Since Steven became mayor of Jersey City, I often hear residents complaining about the problem with the growing number of stray outdoor cats. After visiting our local animal shelter … I realized that it’s not just cats, but the shelter is overcrowded with pit bulls as well.”
The problem is not unique to Jersey City, but it may be somewhat worse there than in other, wealthier cities. “With 16 percent of our city population living below the poverty line, many of our local residents simply don’t have the financial resources to spay or neuter their pets,” Ms. Fulop said. “This leaves many animals susceptible to entering the shelter system and possibly having to be put down if they are not adopted.
“I brainstormed with my staff about how we could help. We came up with the idea of a mobile low-cost spay and neuter program. We felt that the mobile component would take the burden off of many residents who do not have the means to transport their pets. Our goal was to raise $15,000, to start to fund the program.
“I know a lot of people are animal lovers, but I didn’t think for a moment that we would not only fund the program for a year but actually purchase a mobile van.” The van, which Ms. Fulop described as “huge,” will be maintained by Liberty Humane but staffed with veterinarians from People for Animals, which is in Hillside.
The original plan was to subcontract PFA’s spay/neuter surgical truck twice a month. That no longer is necessary.
“I truly believe this will have an everlasting impact on Jersey City,” Ms. Fulop said. “This will be the first low-cost spay/neuter program in Hudson County, and I believe the lowest cost in the entire state of New Jersey. Normally, the service would cost $220 for a big dog and $55 for a cat, but with this program, it will only be $10 for our residents.”
She described the problem the program is addressing. “There are stray cats all over my block,” she said. “They keep reproducing. In the winter you see them under cars. The problem is ballooning and it’s impossible to stop without a subsidized program.”
Ms. Fulop, who grew up Protestant in Rhode Island and converted to Judaism several years ago, said that she always has been drawn to Jewish teachings, especially those concerning tikkun olam and acts of kindness. Before she became a Jew by choice herself, “A friend of mine converted and explained the concepts to me,” she said. “I was really interested in hearing what she had to say about the religion. I seemed to identify more with Judaism than with my own religion.”
“I loved the symbolism of the seders,” she said, adding that she also read books about Judaism before making the decision to convert. Her husband’s grandparents were Holocaust survivors, but his parents did not try to convince her to convert. “But I wanted it for them and for myself,” she said, describing conversion as a “long process.”
Jaclyn and Steve Fulop now are planning a trip to Israel.
Ms. Fulop said that she is grateful to her staff for their hard work in raising the funds needed for the program. “We all really hustled,” she said, noting that Mr. Nussbaum made presentations to animal activists to enlist support and that all staff members urged their clients to attend the event and sent out emails seeking sponsors. “They went above and beyond,” she said, adding that as the mayor’s wife, “I’m lucky enough to have a platform to help out as best I can.”
While her husband was not involved in the effort, “he’s definitely proud of me,” Ms. Fulop said. “He was shocked that we raised that much money.” She hopes that the fundraiser will become an annual event. Liberty Humane has asked her to serve on its board, she said, and she’s “very excited. I hope cities around the country will follow suit, saving animals and serving their communities.”