Whence We’ve Come and Where We’re At - Little Orange Buddha
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Whence We’ve Come and Where We’re At

Second in a Series about Saving Chicago’s Healthy and Treatable Animals


Chicago Dog by Josh Feeney

(Photo credit: The Amazing Josh Feeney)

Like those incredibly long and thin ladies sucking back cigarettes “tailored for the feminine hand,” would utter in bygone ads, Chicago has indeed “come a long way, baby.” Although sustained focus is needed on shelter animals in our City to continue the progress — and notably the ones that pour into the open admission shelters like Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC) and Animal Welfare League (AWL) — its important to understand just how much progress there has actually been, and why we need to keep it coming.

I had an opportunity a year and a half ago while writing a paper for the Chicago Literary Club to interview one of Chicago’s senior animal welfare guard who had been in the gut-wrenching business of animal sheltering for decades. I wanted to learn just how awful things once were and to gain perspective on how far we’ve actually come. Back in the 1970’s and 80’s, the volume of animals entering the three main open-admission shelters for stray and owner surrendered pets at the time– CACC, AWL and the Anti-Cruelty Society — was exponentially greater than the volume seen today. The organizations were inundated with thousands upon thousands of animals annually. My interviewee recalled a time in the late 1970’s when CACC’s gas chamber — now gone, thanks to a progressive, compassionate shelter director — was out of service, and CACC had to sign over to AWL more than a hundred animals a day for euthanasia. Methods of mass euthanasia like gas chambers and electrocution since been replaced with euthanasia by injection, a far more humane, significantly less repugnant approach to ending an animal’s life. But back then it was a numbers game and it wasn’t pretty.

Over the last few years, intake has significantly decreased from days of yore, but it is not insubstantial today. (The intake/outcome stats for CACC are online, and are posted monthly.) Since earlier darker times, there has also grown a public activism and expectation that healthy or treatable animals entering an open admission shelter should be able to get a second chance. That being said: The City shelter’s live release rate has increased significantly year on year, and euthanasia of shelter animals is at an all time low, especially in 2017 and thus far in 2018.

Why is this?

Chicago has never had a dictate from above, so to speak, as the Austin City shelter did in 2010 when its City council passed its No Kill Implementation Plan, with funding, based on key fundamentals of helping people and pets, creating a City-wide expectation for saving healthy and treatable shelter animals. Resolutions and ordinances in this City have not gone far, possibly because they have been ill informed and unfunded. From what I’ve reviewed, they would not have done anything to get the fundamentals in place.

That’s not to say that Chicago has not been hugely successful despite this. It has. What the City of big shoulders has had for many years, and continues to have, is a patchwork quilt of dedicated, hard-working individuals and non-profit organizations that have taken up the cause of animal welfare and that have focused on fundamental strategies for helping people and pets both before the door of the open-admission shelters, as well as in the shelter, once the pets come in. We’ve also had despite its funding and the criticism continually leveled at it, a hard-working City shelter, focused on finding opportunities for the lives within its walls.

Before the door strategies attempt to get at the root of the problem before animals are surrendered to an open-admission facility. Such fundamentals include educating people about responsible pet stewardship; providing spay/neutering/vaccination/microchipping clinics; providing animal services in under-served communities; providing stray animal return services; offering pet food pantry services or temporary animal shelter for pets of people rendered homeless or temporarily unable to care for their pets due to illness, injury, or domestic violence; fighting for housing that does not discriminate against pet owners; diverting homeless animals prior to entering the shelter; and administering community cat programs. Some examples include Friends of CACC’s Pets for Life and PAWS Chicago’s PAWS for Life community programs; Anti-Cruelty’s spay/neuter clinics, educational offerings, and SAFE program; Safe Humane Chicago’s in-school, court advocacy, and youth center programs; monthly vaccine clinics and neighborhood vaccine clinics run by the City shelter; the Chicagoland Rescue Intervention Support Program’s (CRISP) vaccine/microchip clinics; the Garrido Stray Foundation’s stray animal return services; Treehouse Humane Society’s and PAWS’ community cat programs; Famous Fido’s intervention program; the Friendship Pet Food Pantry; and the Animal Welfare League’s low cost vet services, to name but a few.

In-shelter strategies focus on the municipal open admission shelter itself, as well as the open-admission AWL to save more of Chicago’s homeless animals. Partnerships with non-profits, volunteers and supportive public officials substantially have increased the City shelter’s capacity for care to save lives and for many animals, reduced their length of stay at the shelter. Examples include Friends of CACC’s ongoing donations of items not in the City’s budget, like huge portable kennels and bins, leashes, a digital X-Ray machine, and industrial washer and dryer; Safe Humane Chicago’s programming directed at the shelter’s dogs, including play groups, manners classes, in-kennel enrichment, the Court Case Dog program, and rabies vaccination program; the incredible animal rescue community that partners with the City shelter to transfer animals out of the shelter — more than 3300 this year alone; Anti-Cruelty and Four Paw Luv’s spay/neuter of 15-20 CACC cats every two weeks; the CRISP program, which helps pet owners keep their pets by providing assistance for veterinary services or that places many pets that cannot be diverted back to their owner before being impounded at the shelter; alderman who donated supplies and who promote the shelter and the animals needing help; and of course, the volunteers, networkers, funders and other individuals who are hands-on with the animals and truly a voice for them.

The City shelter also put in place a dizzying array of new processes, policies, procedures and programs over the past couple of years in an effort to respond to the urgency of saving a lot more lives, and partnered in consultation with various stakeholders, including national organizations Best Friends Animals Society and Animal Farm Foundation, to devise a continual improvement strategy.

These are just some of the improvements implemented by hardworking CACC staff since May 2016:

  • A vaccination standard operating procedure (SOP) to ensure all cats and dogs were vaccinated upon intake at the City shelter, and a separate vaccination room for the cats.
  • A revised euthanasia policy that enabled more animals to get a second chance, and to be evaluated in a more thorough manner.
  • A new cleaning and foot traffic protocol, to decrease the risk of spreading disease at the shelter.
  • CACC entered into a partnership with the Department of Family Support Service in July of 2017 to ensure there was enough cleaning power in the seven dog pavilions at the City shelter through a jobs training reentry program. Now, roughly 20 job trainees from the DFSS’s delegate agency, the Westside Health Authority, clean the kennels daily. CACC staff spot clean into the evening, and also clean the portable dog kennels and the cat kennels.
  • CACC has not had a known case of canine influenza virus (CIV) since August 2017, and resumed implementing the stray spay/neuter ordinance MCC 7-12-065 in February 2018. Up until that time, it had not been able to perform spay/neuter on claimed stray pets since the flu hit in the spring of 2015.
  • CACC managed to get through the renovation of all seven pavilions with the lowest euthanasia and highest live release rate it has ever had.
  • CACC reignited its volunteer recruitment and retention program in August 2016, which had ceased for over a year due to dog flu.
  • After more than three years with only 2 veterinarians and one less than part time veterinarian, CACC finally hired another full time veterinarian in early 2017.
  • CACC began its official Facebook and other social media sites in August of 2016, and its followers have been growing ever since, helping to promote the animals and provide supplies to the City’s animals.
  • Safe Humane Chicago expanded its programming throughout the City shelter, touching more dogs with playgroups, manners classes, and in-kennel enrichment than at any other time.
  • CACC began communicating regularly with its rescues, reaching out to more partners to help transfer animals, and streamlining the process for becoming a partner.
  • CACC participated in more Ward vaccine/microchip clinics than ever before.
  • CACC communicated regularly with aldermen in an effort to make 50 Wards, 50 opportunities.
  • The shelter worked with Safe Humane to review its dog assessment process and to improve on the information gathering at the City shelter when making determinations regarding adoption, rescue and euthanasia.
  • CACC sought management ordinance changes that would ultimately save lives, including the ability to waive adoption fees, the ability to run its own foster program, the ability to send pets home if owners challenged the spay/neuter ordinance.
  • CACC worked very closely with its Friends organization to identify needed supplies and equipment not provided for in the City’s budget.
  • Best Friends and Animal Farm Foundation donated microchip scanners for CACC’s animal control officers.
  • Because of generous donations, CACC placed a collar, leash and ID tag on every dog that was adopted from the shelter.
  • CACC worked with CRISP, and encouraged and supported the expansion of its incredible programming at the shelter.
  • Dogs Playing for Life, sponsored by the ASPCA and Petco, visited the shelter in June 2018 to run intensive training for getting more dogs out of kennel and socialized with one another.
  • CACC expanded access to data, posting all data monthly on CACC’s Web site.
  • CACC also has put in place the fundamentals for its own foster program, in partnership with its Friends organization, which will, when implemented, align CACC with sheltering best practices nationally.
  • Additionally the department explored partnerships that would enhance services in future to the animals and the public.

I call this the universe of the existing. It is a snapshot of where we as a City currently stand. And this is why we need that conversation with the key stakeholders. Where do we want to take this City?

We’ve come a long way indeed, but we still have quite a ways to go to sustain the considerable progress we have achieved because there are new challenges and trends on top of some of the old. Please stay tuned for a discussion about why the shelter still struggles with capacity, not unlike other municipal shelters especially in the summer months, and ideas for how this City can begin solving for the gap.

Please keep focused on the City shelter: Adopt. Foster. Volunteer. Promote. We must sustain and build on the progress that has been achieved.

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Susan Russell
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