If We Plan It, It Will Come — Creating a No Kill Chicago - Little Orange Buddha
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If We Plan It, It Will Come — Creating a No Kill Chicago

Part 8 in a series of Saving Chicago’s Healthy and Treatable Animals


I love this City. But I’ve noticed over the last few years that we really gotta talk. And we really need to come together and “make no small plans” for pets and people.

Chicago has a patchwork of governmental and nongovernmental organizations (from within the City and outside), and individuals committed to saving the City’s healthy and treatable homeless animals, and reducing euthanasia of homeless pets for reasons other than irremediable suffering or unpredictable and unprovoked aggression. Because of the hard work of staff, volunteers, non-profits and other concerned stakeholders, the Chicago municipal shelter has managed a 90 percent live release rate thus far in 2018.

A municipal shelter’s live release rate, however, is not a plan for sustainability of a No Kill philosophy citywide. And we’ve never really come together to have a conversation about what we really mean by a No Kill Chicago. After having spent two years directing the City’s shelter, I am acutely aware that it is so much more than just 90 percent — it’s an ethic, a continual obligation, an ongoing education and a huge ever-evolving challenge that I believe we have the arms, hearts and brains to solve.

Sustaining and growing such a save rate into the future will require a cogent plan made for Chicago by Chicago. There are many trends, including mythologies surrounding dogs that look a certain way, a desire for sociable and affordable puppies, and the importation of animals from other areas that will affect the municipal shelter’s ability to sustain progress, so innovative, out-of-the-box solutions need to be noodled to save all healthy and treatable homeless pets. Getting committed folks in the same room dedicated to discussing and tackling these challenges could be the start of a planning process that achieves a consensus (even if a loose one), which can inform a coherent plan to move Chicago to the next level of life-saving.

Most importantly, such a plan would better enable Chicago’s elected officials to propose and pass resolutions and ordinances that will truly benefit the people and pets of this City, and that would be part of an overall greater strategy to save Chicago’s healthy and treatable animals. I haven’t seen anything to date that does this. I have seen proposed aspirational resolutions and unfunded proposed ordinance amendments, whose primary purpose appeared to be to vilify a municipal shelter. When budget time rolls around, we need to help the shelter and the lawmakers target limited resources where there is commitment and the most bang for the buck. But we also need to agree on what we as a City are committed to doing. A No Kill Chicago Plan would identify potential funding sources from both the public and private sectors, and help stakeholders better understand what it is they should be asking this City to do to achieve the goal. It will also clearly identify which organizations might be able to assist with funding down the road.

chicago roosterA No Kill Chicago Plan must be focused on fundamentals associated with “before-the-municipal-shelter-door” strategies, i.e., community-focused initiatives to keep pets with their people or to help pets be safely rehomed; “in-shelter strategies,” i.e., those that will enable the municipal shelter (or other open admission shelter) to reduce intake, and find swifter opportunities for healthy and treatable animals that come through the door; and “post adoption follow up strategies” so that adopted shelter pets adopted stay in their homes. Any such plan must take into account that Chicago’s municipal shelter and the Animal Welfare League (Wabash facility) are currently the two most challenged shelters within the City’s limits for longer-stay bully-breed type dogs. Any such plan should also consider community reentry and jobs-training opportunities for people who need a second chance, and who can realize longer-term opportunities from working around and with animals.

Such a plan would also identify the animals most at risk of dying in the City shelter. These currently are the mixed breed dogs of medium to large size with treatable behavioral issues, ringworm cats and kittens, bottle baby kittens, and animals generally with treatable but highly contagious diseases. It might be that Chicago determines it needs a new organization that focuses on the most at-risk animals — an organization akin to an Austin Pets Alive, which would reduce length of stay and provide the critical resources for easing capacity concerns. Capacity issues will arise more frequently if a municipal shelter is focused on saving lives, as we have seen.

I know you are saying that’s all well and good. But as the old adage goes, what about the devil swimming around in the messy details. Well that is why this blog post is so darn long.

Here are some details.

What I would propose is this: A multiple-meeting No Kill Conference of the invested stakeholders in this City and within National Organizations — those who have contributed already to and invested significantly in the incredible success achieved to date. There should be representatives from national organizations that can assist with funding important life-saving initiatives as well as with transforming appropriate aspects of the Plan into legislative proposals. Maddies Fund, Best Friends, the ASPCA, and Animal Farm Foundation come to mind. In addition, there should be participants from under-resourced Chicago neighborhoods most affected by animal welfare issues. And finally, let’s not forget some of the younger minds with fresh ideas. I’ve met some of these young people at the schools in Chicago and in some of Safe Humane Chicago’s youth leaders programs; they’re damn smart, have great big hearts and are filled with innovative ideas.

The meetings and break-out sessions would need to be structured and focused so they don’t run amuck. Ever get a bunch of passionate folks in one room? Such meetings could be tightly moderated by a national organization, like Best Friends Animal Society and the National Canine Research Council, if they are willing, which I believe they would be, given their commitment to seeing this City succeed. Convene two to three of these sessions. Same place and time and over the course of a few months. Ensure that all the ideas elicited are captured, and that there is someone (or an organization at the end of the day) that agrees to pull it all together.

Start off with a general open session that sets the stage for all participants. Someone from the municipal shelter should be able to provide a presentation whence we’ve come, and set the stage for how far Chicago has progressed over the last few years, the reasons why, and where we still need to go — with data, as well as illumine the historical contributions of organizations like PAWS, Anti-Cruelty Society, and Animal Welfare League to getting Chicago where it currently is today.

But generally this open session would be dedicated to gaining some consensus on the following questions:

  • What does saving all healthy and treatable homeless animals mean for Chicago?
  • What are the challenges?
  • How will success be measured in Chicago?
  • What is the role of the municipal shelter and other open admission shelters like Animal Welfare League that take in more challenging animals?
  • Ideally what should the relationship between the municipal shelter and the rescue community be?

The remainder of the conference would have participants assigned to groups specifically to brain-storm around the fundamentals for saving healthy and treatable animals, how strategies might be funded, and how, if appropriate, they might be considered legislative proposals. The general categories are already out there; I’ve taking many of them from conversations with Best Friends’ Tawny Hammond. Why? Because she’s already succeeded in helping to create big plans in places like Fairfax, Virginia and Austin City and to help operationalize them.

Below are the general ingredients from the cities and counties have already succeeded in establishing their own plans. Chicago doesn’t need to reinvent the general bones of it, but it does have to fashion its own muscles to put on it.

The fundamental success elements, or “bones of it,” as set forth by these other successful cities are as follows:

Before the Municipal Shelter Door:

Access to Pet Resources– Promoting access for those without financial means and for those who live in under-resourced areas the medical and behavior support, spay-neuter, wellness services, microchipping, intake diversion

Emergency Housing Options – foster program, domestic violence, homeless, medical emergencies, incarceration

Policies that Reduce Discriminatory Practices – housing, attitudes toward perceived breeds and dog sizes, perceptions, stereotypes, making local homeless pets a priority

Comprehensive Cat Programming – community cats, indoor and outdoor cats

Policies for Spay/Neuter, and Importation, Breeding, Selling of Pets in Chicago

A Comprehensive Pet Reunification Program – data, centralized sources for lost pets, microchipping, licensing

Education and Collaborative Justice for Humane Animal Stewardship


Properly funded municipal facilities that provide options for animals most at risk of euthanasia for medical and treatable behavioral issues, and that have the resources so save roughly 90 percent of the dogs and cats that enter the facility.

  • What would that look like for a City his size?

Programming that effectively reduces length of stay:

  • Comprehensive foster programming, behavioral resources within and beyond the shelter (what might these look like)

Programming that better manages intake at the facility:

  • Scheduled intake, additional resources to assist families in keeping their pets

Programming that focuses on the most at-risk animals in the shelter, medically and behaviorally.


However the conferences are structured, i.e., whether the same groups work the same fundamentals to drill down, or whether at subsequent conferences, groups strategize for different fundamentals, there’s no need to waste time trying to figure out what exists or reinvent wheels, because the efforts to date in Chicago to achieve the fundamentals could be up on the walls for all to see.


Chicago’s Organizations and Their Focus on the Fundamentals:

Here’s a preliminary list of organizations and programs categorized under the fundamentals (what is not captured below could be added at the conference).

Pet Resources/Access

  • Chicagoland Rescue Intervention Support Program (CRISP) – an innovative partnership at the municipal shelter that provides assistance to pet owners so they can keep their pets, and that diverts a number animals surrendered by their owners into rescue; CRISP also provides the Parvo Intervention Project Chicago neighborhoods, offering free vaccines and microchips, as well as access to spay/neuter assistance.
  • PAWS Chicago’s PAWS for Life (primarily Englewood neighborhood)
  • Friends of CACC’s Pets for Life (primarily North Lawndale and Little Village neighborhoods)
  • Alderman sponsored clinics/information fairs/CACC community vaccine/microchip clinics
  • Anti-Cruelty’s community programs (SAFE program, rehoming assistance, spay/neuter clinic, meals on wheels, pet food assistance, behavioral hotline, training classes, humane education, stray cat intake (no ID) some owner surrender intake)
  • PAWS Chicago (low cost spay/neuter, some owner surrender intake)
  • Spay Illinois (low cost spay/neuter)
  • Community Pet Food Pantries (Friendship Pantry (Northside), Animal Welfare League’s pantry, PAWS Chicago, Treehouse Humane Society, Red Door Animal Shelter)
  • Animal Welfare League – community programs (Wabash food pantry and stray/owner surrender facility; Chicago Ridge location, stray hold facility, low-cost vet clinic and open admission shelter.)
  • Touched by an Animal – organization dedicated to helping elderly keep their pets

Emergency Housing Options

  • Anti-Cruelty’s SAFE program
  • CRISP assistance with temporary boarding for at-risk animals whose owners need temporary help.
  • Rescues providing ad hoc temporary pet housing assistance (i.e., Famous Fido Rescue)
  • PAWS Chicago Safe Haven Program

Discriminatory Practices

  • CRISP assistance with landlord related issues/temporary boarding
  • Anti-cruelty’s pet friendly housing resource (provides key search engines)
  • org – organization dedicated to assisting people
  • Northside Community Resources – Fair housing Outreach/services for people who live with service animals.
  • Animal Farm Foundation/National Canine Research Council — research and educational materials to promote all dogs as individuals
  • Safe Humane Chicago’s community programming

Cats – community cats, indoor and outdoor cats

  • Municipal shelter works with partners who TNR to provide resources, such as food, housing, and with community cat partners to place feral and working cats (Treehouse, PAWs, other)
  • PAWS Chicago – Trap/neuter/return South Side
  • Treehouse – Trap/neuter/return North Side

Policies for spay/neuter, and importation, breeding, selling of pets in Chicago

  • Puppy Mill Project dedicated to eliminating puppy mills, and sale of mill-bred animals in Chicago
  • Current ordinances (County/Chicago Municipal Code)

Pet Reunification

  • Municipal shelter services, low-cost microchip clinics, use of Helping Lost Pets/ACO scanners on trucks
  • Lost Dogs Illinois/Lost Cats Illinois
  • Garrido Stray Foundation providing return to owner services on North Side
  • Chicago Police Officers with scanners funded by Animal Farm Foundation able to reunite microchipped lost pets with owners

Education and Collaborative Justice for Humane Animal Stewardship

  • Safe Humane Chicago’s programming focuses on creating safer more humane communities by inspiring positive relationships between people and animals through court advocacy on behalf of animal victims, in-shelter programming focused on reentry (pairing people who need a second chance with dogs that need the same) and education, engaging youth leadership with hands-on opportunities with the animals.
  • Anti-Cruelty Society’s and PAWS Chicago’s humane education offerings.

In Shelter

  • Friends of Chicago Animal Care and Control dedicated to providing resources for essential equipment/items not in CACC’s budget/assisting with volunteers
  • Safe Humane Chicago providing dog enrichment: Playgroups, manners classes, in-kennel enrichment, dog assessment, reentry and youth training programs, volunteer dog-handling training
  • Four Paw Luv/Anti-Cruelty spay/neuter cats from City shelter
  • The Municipal shelter’s Homeward Bound Rescue partner network that transfers animals out of the municipal facility, saving thousands of lives annually (a full list of these can be found here.

At the end of the day, a No Kill Chicago Plan made by Chicago for Chicago will guide our City toward more humane communities and the value, including brand value, that a commitment to saving all healthy and treatable homeless animals can bring to a city.

I am confident that if we plan it, it will come.

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Susan Russell
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