Animal Welfare League Story Unfolds for the Better


I will not let the issues surrounding Chicago’s Animal Welfare League (AWL) be forgotten. That was my promise, and I will keep that promise.

Over the past months, I’ve heard concerns regarding the Animal Welfare League of Chicago Ridge and Chicago. Seemingly overnight, I was inundated with email and social media posts about animals being treated inappropriately, horrific conditions, and an unwillingness to work with legitimate rescue partners and shelters to relieve their burden. To be honest, I didn’t believe it when I first heard it.

Shortly after, I was inundated once again, and this time with real medical documentation, some of which I posted here. I also received images (most too horrific to post), phone calls, and emails from those I trust in the industry, including directors of other shelters and veterinarians. How could I not take this evidence seriously?

At the same time, to their credit, the village of Chicago Ridge (where one location of Animal Welfare League is located) took the matter seriously and investigated. Chicago Ridge Trustee Edmund Kowalski created a panel to further investigate. What they learned confirmed that Animal Welfare League has been in serious need of help for some time and disregarded best practices of animal shelters. In some cases, the animals in their care have paid a fatal price. And, that’s the sad truth. The problems were real and abundant.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture has investigated. Various other public officials have weighed in, and I hosted a radio show with two of the panel members. Chicago media offered several news reports.

While I have not posted about the Animal Welfare League or talked recently on the radio about the situation, I have not been out of touch.

Animal Welfare League is now following the guidance of shelter veterinarian Dr. Sandra Newbury, director of the University of Wisconsin Shelter Medicine program in Madison, Wisconsin, and Assistant Professor of Shelter Medicine at the School of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Medical Sciences. This isn’t Newbury’s first rodeo. And, while every facility has different personalities, many of the welfare issues are surprisingly common. I told Dr. Newbury and Linda Estrada, longtime executive director and president of the Board of Directors at Animal Welfare League, that they should have time to rectify as many problems as possible.

The Animal Welfare League is an open-intake facility. We need them in Chicago, particularly in the underserved South Side. Need, however, should never allow for gross mistreatment or negligence.

Dr. Newbury says the Animal Welfare League is making changes and adjustments and is setting up standard operating procedures quite quickly. Things are better.

I hope to speak with Newbury, Estrada, and a panel member on the radio soon. That’s just how optimistic I am. Two months ago, I doubt many advocates would have thought this would be possible.

Having said that, building a trust and a bridge to the community, I believe, is more than a good idea, it is necessary.

I don’t know how Estrada can continue in both her role as executive director and also President of the Board. For any nonprofit anywhere, that dual role appears to be a conflict. What’s more, it’s clear that AWL has strayed from its own mission.

I have served on many boards. That’s where the buck stops. Of course, not every daily decision lies on the Board of Directors, but the fact that so much had been wrong for so long… that’s on the board. Period.

Clearly, the board needs an infusion. People like Kowalski, who truly care, understand the community, and who can offer a fresh perspective. I have no idea what the AWL board bylaws are, but people can always resign (no bylaws don’t allow for that). Again, I am not suggesting that the board members as individuals had any malice; I am just stating fact. Adding people knowledgable of animal welfare and who care (such as panel members) only makes common sense, maybe a few of those panel members (if willing) could even be employed at the Animal Welfare League. There needs to be some sort of nod to the communities that the AWL serves. Having said that, Estrada also merits credit for what the AWL had done well over the years.

I am grateful to Newbery; she cares so much about Chicago (where she got her start).

I am grateful that the Animal Welfare League is participating and is working to improve conditions.

I hope that the Mayor of Chicago Ridge and fellow trustees understand that Mr. Kowalski is doing what public officials are supposed to do by getting involved to better the communities served. The panel Kowalski formed cares, and they wear their hearts on their sleeves.

However, the greatest thanks goes to the animal advocates who forwarded this entire process. You are heroes. For the most part, the group has been reasonable and really smart. My message to you: Don’t let go, because reform isn’t certain yet.  I am hopeful, though.