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The Chicago Issue: The State of Animal Welfare in the City

With a new executive director at Chicago’s Animal Care and Control and more thoughtful, humane agendas being pushed in city council, many people would agree that animal welfare in Chicago is in a good spot. But what does that mean, exactly? We checked in with some of the city’s most dialed-in animal lovers to learn more about the state of animal welfare in the city. Here’s what they had to say.

The Panel

RobynBarbiers.photoRobyn Barbiers, D.V.M.
President, The Anti-Cruelty Society


Cynthia BathurstCynthia Bathurst
Executive Director and Co-Founder, Safe Humane


Paula Fasseas - Photo by Caitlin Lisa (3)Paula Fasseas
Founder and Chair, PAWS Chicago


kopijaLinda Kopija, DVM
Animal Welfare Committee Chair, Chicago Veterinary Medical Association


lauchSarah Lauch
Co-Founder, Live Like Roo Foundation


aldermanlopezRaymond A. López
Alderman,15th Ward


Susan-RussellSusan Russell
Executive Director, Chicago’s Animal Care & Control


abbysmithAbby Smith
Executive Director, Felines & Canines


The Questions

How we feel today

“With the new Executive Director at CACC, I am hopeful that there will be changes made to take better care of our animals.” – Smith

“The current state of animal welfare is improving—witness recent changes at CACC and the City Council’s attention to animal welfare issues. But we have a long way to go to be able to say that animal welfare is a priority in Chicago.” – Bathurst

“We have a great culture of activism among our city’s animal welfare community. As an alderman and, more importantly, as the proud parent of eight wonderful dogs, I am encouraged and inspired by all they do.” – Lopez


What we wish the community knew about the animals in our shelters

“They are lost or homeless, but not damaged. They are resilient. They need human companionship, and they will give love and loyalty in return. They are our responsibility. What each one of us does affects their lives, our lives, and our city.” –Bathurst

“What many of us already know: [animals] enter the shelter due to problems with their circumstances, not because of themselves. While some have medical and behavioral concerns that cannot be remedied, the vast majority of shelter animals are healthy, and accustomed to living in homes. Many are trained and will be loving pets when given the opportunity.” – Kopija

“There are wonderful, loving animals of all breeds, sizes, and ages in shelters. There is a constant flow of animals, so continue coming back and expanding your search to find the right pet for your family.” – Fasseas

“Fostering can save lives. Most of these animals are sweet and worthy of a good home.” – Smith

“Three things: 1. Volunteering at an open-admission shelter is heartbreaking and it really affects a person. Walking into a pavilion and seeing that an amazing dog you had outside in the yard yesterday was euthanized for illness or space makes your heart drop. Knowing you did all you could to get the dog to rescue and it still was not enough can easily break you. If the public saw that, I truly think it would affect most people. We are often guarded with our sadness and anger as to not take others to that dark place, but it is real and it is a huge problem in Chicago. Highly adoptable dogs are euthanized just because there is nowhere for them to go.

2. ‘Pit Bulls’ are amazing dogs. I am so sick of hearing the BS stigma about them. I will be honest: I was scared of them when I got to Chicago Animal Care and Control. Why? Because of the media. They are the most resilient, faithful, smart dogs that I have ever encountered, and I will always go to bat for them.

3. Rescues cannot do this alone—they need the support of the community. They do not make money (minus a few) and the work is tough. What goes on behind-the- scenes of rescue is not for the faint of heart. I really hope that when people have an option to donate some money, they look to trusted rescues in Chicagoland.” – Lauch


What we would do if we had fully-funded grants

“Every rental property would accept pets and there would be subsidized veterinary care for all those who need it.” – Barbiers

“[We would] focus on programs that help people choose the best pet for them and keep them for life. Developing a helpline for those struggling to keep their pets for any reason would offer a chance to discuss concerns, determine what resources are available, and decide if relinquishment is necessary.” – Kopija

“For every community in Chicago, free spay/neuter, vaccine, and veterinary clinics for those who need financial assistance; a behavioral hotline; a pet food pantry in all 50 wards; a rehoming/ counseling service for those who cannot keep their pets; homeless/ domestic abuse shelters that cater to people and their pets; a humane education class in every school; coordinated information systems such that all lost animals in Chicago are quickly reunited with their owners. You did say an unlimited grant right?” – Russell


How do we serve and protect Chicago’s strays?

“Chicagoland is dedicated to finding progressive solutions for our animals. Our network of concerned organizations and individuals continues to solve welfare problems as well as prevent them. Chicago has led the way in canine influenza identification and vaccine development. Cook County has developed a Veterinary Reporting System for early disease identification. Rescues have played a critical role in transferring animals and finding adopters, thereby reducing euthanasia rates. Managed TNR programs prevent suffering and euthanasia of feral cats while controlling population. New laws encourage responsible pet ownership, [and] new programs are being developed to decrease shelter intake and boost adoptions.” – Kopija

“We don’t, and that is a problem. Animal control officers are stretched thin. Many 311 calls go unanswered because there are not enough employees. It is a city issue and there is not enough funding. Luckily, there are good Samaritans, vets, and rescues to help with some of the overflow. You would not believe the amount of calls and texts I get about someone who found a dog and does not know what to do. Part of that is education, part of it is CACC trying to discern which calls are the most important.” – Lauch


How can we reduce euthanasia rates?

“The number one way to euthanize fewer animals—for reasons other than health and behavioral non-rehabilitation—is to keep them out of shelters, period! Better pet parents are the definite path to decreased euthanasia. We must ensure we are connecting families with the right animal, increasing awareness of the totality of the responsibility they are undertaking, and helping those in situations where they truly want to be good ‘owners’ but are falling short.” – Lopez

“The first responsibility is for people to keep their animals and to commit to spaying and neutering their pets. If we can reduce the number of animals going to CACC and other rescues, the need for euthanasia will be lowered.” – Smith

“Prevention is key: Access to affordable veterinary care so medical conditions can be treated sooner; education on proper training and socialization before behavior problems develop and/or progress; education on resources available to keep pets in homes; more resources for Chicago Animal Care and Control so they have the capacity to care for the volume of animals that they arerequired to house; and improved legislation.” – Barbiers

“CACC must continue to be responsible for taking in all stray and unwanted animals in Chicago, and work to increase the reunification of lost pets with their families. Incorporating advanced medical and behavioral programs at CACC to treat and rehabilitate homeless animals

will help prevent disease transmission and behavioral deterioration, with the ultimate result that more animals are able to be rescued.” – Fasseas

“Education and offering people options. Safe Humane Chicago is doing an amazing job of going into schools and talking to kids about animal welfare. Some kids grow up thinking it is okay to view animals as disposable. When they meet a nice dog and see how important dogs are in society, they are affected and that inspires change. But it takes work and patience.” – Lauch


In what ways are we failing our animals?

“Every day, we still see the faces of those dogs and cats that have been left behind at Animal Care and Control, pleading to be rescued. We need focused initiatives to help sick, injured, and behaviorally challenged pets, and we need to continue to enhance prevention and outreach efforts.” – Fasseas

“We fail our animals when we do not treat them as individuals or provide up-to-date, evidence-based information about them, their needs, and their welfare as part of our families and communities. – Bathurst

“Ideally, for every companion animal, there should be a loving home. For every feral cat, a vaccination, spay or neuter, and a job. Animals are sentient beings and are not always treated as such. We fail our animals in the same way we fail people: by failing to think compassionately and creatively about their inherent value, their individuality, and their needs. Education is an important part of the solution. We can make great strides forward by providing information to promote responsible pet ownership, and by continuing to enforce the laws prohibiting acts of animal abuse and neglect. I am committed to working with our partners to continually improve animal welfare in Chicago. It takes everyone— government, support agencies, and the public—working together.” – Russell


How are we doing right by them?

“I’m proud of our many, many partnerships, and for the Chicago Animal Shelter Alliance. We may have different strategies, but we all share a common goal: Working together to make Chicago a more humane city.” – Barbiers

“I am most proud of Safe Humane’s Court Case Dog Program and its central role in all of our programs for at-risk populations of people and companion animals—all of it accomplished through collaboration, partnerships, and beneficial, enduring relationships.” – Bathurst

“While with the CACC Transfer Team, we built great, trusting relationships with rescues and I am so proud and happy to continue those relationships. We saved a ton of dogs together. Rescues are so key to the dog problem in Chicago.” – Lauch

“I’m honored to have been appointed by the Mayor to become the Executive Director at CACC. There is much work to be done, but CACC has made great strides over the years, and I am very much looking forward to building upon those efforts.” – Russell

“We may need to work on the means, but I know we are all working towards the same end.” — Lopez

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