Illinois Animal Shelters Will Ultimately Benefit; The Real Story


Illinois Animal shelters and rescues are overwhelmed as it is. Pet blogging colleagues’s Kathy Mordini of Raining Cats & Dogs and Dancing Dog Blogger Mary Haight both did superb jobs of articulated why a bill proposed in Illinois, SB0648,  sponsored by State Senator Andy Manar  (48th district) and House sponsor Wayne Rosenthal (95th District) was not a good idea. I agree.

However, here’s the story behind the story, Manar and Rosenthal’s motivations for crafting such a bill are compelling.  I admire Manar, Rosenthal, and now Sara Feigenholtz  (12th district) for their determination, yet willingness to put the bill on hold in order to do the right thing.

When it was announced that the bill (SB0648) might pass, animal lovers on the Internet exploded. Various national animal welfare organizations as well as local shelters. including Tree House Humane Society in Chicago; and countless others around the state and around the country emailed Manar and Rosenthal. Some of those emails unjustly vaulted personal attacks against the public officials.

Just before the flurry of blog posts appeared, and emails were launched, I personally reached out to Rep. Rosenthal. We spoke. And the result of our conversation will surprise many….’Till now, I’ve not publicly spoken about this. I wasn’t going to – but I’m telling the story mostly because I don’t want Manar and Rosenthal to be attacked for wanting to do the right thing, as I believe they are.

I began the phone call by explaining to Rep. Rosenthal that the proposed piece of legislation – which would have required animal private shelters and rescues to turn in stray dogs and cats to animal control or law enforcement within 24 hours or face a fine is a bad idea.

I explained this proposed bill is antithetical to progress made in recent years, as rescues and private shelters increasingly take pressure off government animal control agencies. As a result, countless lives have been saved. Cat rescue, in particular, would be affected. Trap, neuter, return (TNR) gives stray kittens and friendly (once-owned) cats a chance to be adopted from others, which often goes well – rather than go to animal control. It’s unclear, but likely the way the bill was authored TNR efforts( to trap, neuter and return feral or community cats; spay/neutering these cats, vaccinating for rabies and returning them humanely to live out their lives without continuing to reproduce) could be limited. For shelters like Tree House, the bill would impact their ability to instantly take in sick, injured or abused animals. Also, the way the bill was written could have restricted foster families for quickly taking in animals from places other than animal control.

There was an outcry about SB0648, Haight was among those who led the charge, “In an animal community shocker, an ill-conceived, poorly advised piece of legislation.”

Only a pawful knew the story behind the story – why this bill – was conceived in the first place. And you’ll be shocked, perhaps, that these public officials actually are on the right track. At least, I believe so.

It’s complicated to explain. I will do my best.

A dog in Bunker Hill was either lost or stolen (apparently likely the latter) from a yard in February. Buddy, the Black Labrador, happened to belong to a neighbor of Manar’s.  Someone identified the dog via social media which was being held by a “rescue” in nearby Madison County.  Reportedly, the dog was picked up with frostbite, worms, fleas, and severely injured a leg. The “rescue” asked for donations online to pay for medical care, and reportedly raised over $1,200.

When animal care and control officials in Bunker Hill heard about this, they were first reportedly denied when asked to get Buddy back and return him to the rightful owners. According to a veterinary evaluation, aside from arthritis (greatly due to old age), this dog never needed care for an injured leg. Eventually, there was a happy ending, as Buddy was finally returned to his family.

The details aren’t as important as the larger picture of what’s going on around the country….

Pets are taken in by a so-called rescue or shelter, which may or may not be a legit 5013c non-profit. These pets may be voluntarily relinquished to these places, lost or even stolen by the so-called non-profit animal rescues. Anyone can say anything online – it doesn’t mean it’s what you really are. Even if it is a legit 501 3-C, can the co-called organization solicit dollars via the Internet for medical care which isn’t even needed? Buddy reportedly had ID, yet wasn’t returned. Shouldn’t that be unlawful?  Maybe shelters and rescues should be more specifically defined as well.

I agree, that the first crack at a bill meant to deal with these issues was very poorly written. The truth is that Rosenthal told me that he agreed too. As people and organizations were furiously shooting nasty emails, and calling their offices, Rosenthal was very obliging. He explained the motivation behind creating the bill and agreed to table the bill until he comes up with something better where unintended consequences aren’t as likely to occur. He will enlist the help of longtime animal welfare advocate, Rep. Feigenholtz.

Rosenthal also agreed to hear input from a panel of local experts. He asked me to suggest some, and I have done so.

On May 25, Rosenthal and Feigenholtz appear on my WGN Radio show, Steve Dale’s Pet World, 6:35AM CDT – and you can offer input yourself, if you like.