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Chicago Offers Explanation for Animal Control Director’s Firing: Do You Buy It?


Pound director fired for ‘warehousing’ dogs is the sad and shocking headline in the Chicago Sun-Times. Sad because it’s not true. and sad because the City of Chicago Animal Care & Control (CACC) facility is not a “pound” but an animal shelter, a place to save lives of healthy and treatable animals. Most animals are there through no fault of their own. Municipal shelters, these days, DO save animals using all sorts of tools, anything at their disposal.

In the story, journalist Fran Spielman called the facility chronically-troubled. That may be her view, or better put the view of one Chicago alderman, Ray Lopez (15th Ward), who for whatever the reason has Spielman’s ear and has criticized Russell from her first weeks on the job. I do suggest the vast majority of aldermen (likely all 49 others) disagree with Lopez. Most importantly, so do the overwhelming vast majority of people who actually work in the trenches in animal welfare.

Sources, Spielman says, indicate Russell’s fate was sealed by her underlying philosophy that every dog, even those deemed dangerous, could rehabilitated.

I know Susan Russell (who is now traveling overseas) and that is a misrepresentation and oversimplification of her philosophy.

I have prior knowledge that this would be the hand the city would play. The allegation is that she “warehoused” dogs and some dogs adopted from the shelter (not the pound – a term used up until the 1970’s) attacked another family dog or family members in their new homes.

First, I have never witnessed dogs being warehoused at CACC, not under Russell. Under one of her predecessors, yes.  Russell had found willing partner rescue organizations. However, sadly, at times, more dogs and also cats would come in than resources which could be mustered quickly to relieve the pressure.

When she would publicize this fact, that the shelter was filled, even bursting at its seams  – the Mayor’s office would actually admonish Russell. Still, the publicity made big-hearted Chicagoans aware, and adoptions went up.

Every other major City in America uses social media and traditional media to promote adoptions, and CACC did too – but were limited in what they could do and what they could say. For various reasons, Chicago City officials actually created a myriad of obstacles -which would presumably still be in place, regardless of whoever happens to be in charge.

The real problem is that nearly 15,000 animals are relinquished to CACC annually. 

What does the City expect Russell to do? So, the City sounds like they’re saying that killing perfectly healthy animals is acceptable before trying every possible means to get the dogs (and cats) out? Shouldn’t Chicago be better than that?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said on more than one occasion that Chicago is to be a humane City. I will take the Mayor at his word that he really wants that. Indeed, various studies demonstrate companion animals are a significant part of the equation that enhances quality of life.

Oddly Russell’s most vocal critic, Aldermen, Lopez,  says he wants Chicago to be a “No Kill” city. Actually, with a 90 percent plus live release rate, Chicago’s numbers are for the first time in “No Kill” territory. But how you can have it both ways – no kill, but at the same time not to do the best you can to save animals?

If there was true overcrowding for any length of time, rampant disease would be spreading throughout the facility – and happily that isn’t happening.

As for the number of dog bites either at the facility or after dogs have been adopted, to some extent that is a potential reality for any shelter. Do understand that by law, CACC cannot say “no” to any animal presented at their door. The overwhelming number of dogs that turn up aren’t aggressive, but among those that are – for many, their aggressive behavior may be treated which takes some time and patience. Aggressive dogs are nearly always only afraid.

For dogs adopted and reportedly involved in attacks, the City hasn’t explained the circumstance for which the dogs acted aggressively. Of course, each and every instance should be investigated.

It’s possible that some dogs adopted, in truth, should not be.

I am not a believer that you can save them all.

I’ve long suggested that a certified animal behavior expert – a REAL expert at assessing canine (and feline) temperament – should be hired, not only to help assess dogs but also to provide training and enrichment, even for cats. and to answer behavior questions once a dog or cat is adopted into the community – a potentially valuable resource. Such a position can’t occur, however, out of thin air – it must be budgeted for.

Maybe Russell erred on the side of the dogs, offering the benefit of the doubt to a greater degree in a few instances than she should have. I don’t know. I do know she alone wasn’t the sole decision maker regarding individual animals. While you never want to hear about dog attacks post adoption, it can happen at any shelter.

As I’ve written about if more Chicago shelters pulled more dogs and cats (some pull zero) to relieve pressure (a reality few talk about), and if City resources were enhanced so people had more options to not give up pets – the situation would improve. Otherwise any executive director will deal with more of the same.

I seek to give Mayor Emanuel the benefit of the doubt, hoping he simply was misinformed regarding Russell, who actually contributed significantly to make Chicago a more humane City.

Various rescue groups and shelters have organized a protest at Chicago Animal Care & Control to demand the Mayor care for Chicago’s Animals, Tuesday July 3, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at CACC 2731 S. Western Ave. More HERE.



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