For the past eight years, Illinois has come in at #1 in the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s rankings of the best states for animal protection laws. The state—and the counties within it—regularly defends its animals with laws that serve to protect and foster a more humane environment. When it comes to Cook County, one name consistently comes up as a spearheading supporter for animal welfare and pet-friendly laws: Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey.
Fritchey is a former member of the Illinois House of Representatives and has been serving on the Cook County Board of Commissioners since 2010. During his time in office, he has led campaigns to strengthen current animal welfare laws, and was instrumental in passing Cook County’s anti-puppy mill ordinance.
We talked to Fritchey to learn more about his role as an advocate for animals, as well as his inspirations, his opinions on how the county is doing in protecting its animal residents, and of course, his dog Smudge.
You stand out among your peers in the county government as an ardent supporter of animals. What inspires your passion for animal welfare?
I’ve always been an animal lover. Over the years I have had cats, dogs, and even an African Grey parrot. My work on animal welfare issues started when I was a state representative working on legislations that included banning horse slaughter in Illinois, requiring humane euthanasia of animals in shelters, and trying to ban forced molting of chickens. As a county commissioner, I passed legislation making Cook County the largest entity in the country to ban the sale of dogs from puppy mills. And I have a couple more important issues coming up, so stay tuned.
Did you grow up with pets?
As a child, I had the usual run of pets ranging from gerbils to turtles, but my longest companion was a cat who we had for about 12 years.
Tell us about your dog, Smudge. What is his personality like?
Smudge will always have a special place in my heart. I rescued him during a rough patch in my life, and he is a constant source of stability for me. He’s not your typical kind of affectionate ‘licky’ dog, but he is as gentle an animal as you’ll find. He wants little more than to just be around me.
What is your favorite part about being a pet parent?
Knowing that every time I come home there’s somebody there who’s happy to see me.
How does being a pet parent affect your work?
I tend to work a lot of odd hours at home in the early morning and late at night, so having Smudge around makes the time go by faster and ensures that I’ve got a good partner for my work breaks. Plus, I may or may not bring him with me to the County Building when I’m doing work there on weekends.
During your time in office, both for the state and for the county, how have you noticed things changing for animals?
More people are realizing that smart animal welfare policies aren’t just ethically the right thing to do, they often make economic sense as well. At the end of the day, it becomes a win/win situation [for everyone].
How do you believe the city is failing its animals?
Current policies at both the city and county levels have been incorrectly focused in a way that does little to help deal with the overpopulation of strays, and, as importantly, in reuniting lost pets [with their caregivers].
Alternatively, how is it doing right by them?
There is a group of interested stakeholders engaged with city officials in selecting a new head of Animal Care & Control (ACC). I think that having the right people in place from the top down will go a long way in helping institute better policies and outcomes.
One of your proposals for fixing the problems at ACC is to create the county’s own shelter. Can you tell us more about this?
One of my main goals right now is for the county to own and operate its own shelter, rather than contract it out to a private shelter that happens to have one of the highest kill rates in the states. The county could also contract with other municipalities, including Chicago, to provide services to them that would create greater efficiency and save money for both the county and the municipalities. I also want the creation of a user- friendly, searchable website that would make it much easier to reunite lost pets with their caregivers.
What new initiatives do you have in the works?
In addition to the shelter project, I will shortly be introducing legislation to create an animal abuser registry aimed at preventing people who have these types of convictions from adopting pets in the future.
What do you still dream of doing?
A vacation would be nice!