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The Chicago Issue: How Did We Get Here?

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Chicago is a city for the animals. Our pets have parks and beaches, hotels and boutiques, spas and gyms, and even their own food trucks. Those looking for homes are cared for by an expansive network of compassionate individuals— many of them volunteers—who work selflessly on their behalf. The city has its problems, but at its heart it’s a sweet home for our four-legged friends.

Chicago’s evolution as a pet- friendly city mirrors many other municipalities that have moved towards honoring pets as valued and protected members of society. As we continue to push animal welfare forward, it’s important to take a look back at some of the events that have made our animal-loving city what it is.


A Tribune reporter writes a story about the deplorable conditions of Chicago’s animal pound, where he found 300 dogs freezing in pens in the cold. John G. Shortall, president of the American Humane Society, called the situation “a disgrace to the city.” Public outcry was met by iron fists as do-gooders attempted to deliver straw to the dogs and were turned away. A few days later, officials returned to find all 300 dogs missing. Reports say the dogs had been taken by rescuers and sent on the Santa Fe railroad to Texas and a warmer future.


The Anti-Cruelty Society (founded in 1899) opens the city’s first animal shelter, a response to the influx of homeless animals and suffering workhorses that accompanied the depression of the late 1800s. The shelter was opened at 1898 North Clark, and moved to its current location at 157 West Grand in 1910. By the 1920s, the Society was taking in over 20,000 animals a year, a number that greatly increased with the onset of The Great Depression.


The City Council unanimously bans the then-common practice of sending unclaimed dogs from the city pound to medical schools for research and surgical practice.


The Humane Care for Animals Act is passed to punish acts of animal cruelty within Illinois. Over time the act has been amended to make punishments stricter and to include a greater range of what constitutes cruelty.


Tree House Humane Society becomes the country’s first shelter to house FIV+ cats.


Wiggly Field, located at 2645 North Sheffield, is established by the Chicago Park District as the city’s first official dog park.


The Dog Advisory Work Group (D.A.W.G) is formed. This unique coalition helps communities improve the overall coexistence of dogs, dog guardians, and non-dog guardians. The group helped shape what is today Safe Humane Chicago.


Montrose Dog Beach becomes Chicago’s first legal off-leash dog beach.


A coalition of Chicago shelters comes together to create the Chicago Animal Shelter Alliance (CASA). CASA has since grown to include many local veterinarians and animal welfare organizations, working together to create a community in which every animal has a home.


The “Vicious Dog Act” is signed into law by Rod Blagojevich. Instead of following other states who were enacting strict legislation against specific breeds (mostly Pit Bull-type dogs), the ordinance focused on dogs who have been deemed dangerous by their actions.


The Court Case Dog Program launches through Safe Humane Chicago. Prior to the program, dogs whose guardians were arrested for crimes were held in Chicago Animal Care & Control as evidence until the case was closed—a process that could take years. Through Safe Humane’s programs, the dogs receive behavioral training, socialization, and medical support until partnering local rescues take them in and find them loving homes. Safe Humane continues to offers behavioral training even after they are adopted.


Chicago’s Companion Animal Protection Ordinance, led by City Clerk Susana Mendoza with support from The Puppy Mill Project, is approved, banning pet stores from selling commercially-bred dogs, cats, and rabbits. A lawsuit to overturn the ordinance by Park Pet Store, Pocket Puppies, and Missouri-based breeder Cedar Woods Farm was dismissed by the courts in 2015.


January. Furthering efforts to keep pets safe, an amendment to The Humane Care for Animals Act makes it a misdemeanor offense for people to leave pets outside in extreme cold or heat.

May. Led by Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey, the city approves a plan to maintain and make publicly available a list of convicted animal abusers. Those on the list will be unable to buy or adopt another animal for 15 years, and will face a lifetime ban if they are convicted of a second offense. The ordinance requires that every pet store, shelter, and rescue must check the list prior to adopting out an animal, and other people are prohibited from adopting on behalf of those on the list. Abusers will be required to register on the database, or face a $2,000 fine.

May. After months of uncertainty and unrest, the city finally names a new Executive Director of Chicago Animal Care & Control: Susan Russell, a volunteer with more than 20 years of experience in the animal rescue community, author of multiple dog rescue books, and attorney by trade. Those on the front-lines of the rescue community have expressed confidence that with Russell at the head of the CACC, it’s only going to get better for the city’s animals from here.

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