I don’t pretend to know all of what’s true or not regarding the increasingly long list of serious allegations targeting the Animal Welfare League (AWL) of Chicago and Chicago Ridge.
I do believe there are plausible explanations that could answer some of those allegations, but credible sources are increasingly reaching out to me independently and proactively with evidence of wrongdoing at the AWL. Some of those sources include veterinarians, directors of other animal shelters, animal rescuers, past employees and volunteers, as well as some pet owners who adopted animals from the AWL. Can they all be wrong?
What’s more, some of these sources have documentation to back up their claims. I’m unsure how all this can be denied.
At some point, the Board of Directors needs to pay attention and to take action. If the board circles their own wagons and doesn’t step up soon, a price will be paid. And I don’t want to see that happen to AWL.
In full disclosure, this is kind of personal for me and my wife.
In July 2011, I accompanied a friend who asked me to visit AWL’s Chicago location on South Wabash Avenue. She was then an involved volunteer for AWL and on the board of a Chicago animal rescue organization. My task was to comment on the shelter conditions, in general, and to put it all in writing. I noted why more dollars (clearly) needed to be allocated to the Chicago facility. Also, I advised on how it may be possible to enrich the lives of animals in AWL’s care.
As I walked up and down the rows, I noticed a little white Chihuahua/terrier mix huddled in a corner, cowering. I thought, “My god, her time has to be up.”
I asked the amazing operations manager, Diane, “Can I see this dog?”
She answered “yes” before I even finished the sentence. She took the dog out. Instantly the pup jumped into my lap and began to deliver kisses.
And, just as instantly, my friend and I both began texting my wife. “I’m coming home with a dog,” my text read.
Only a few months prior, one of our dogs, Lucy, had died. We might not have been ready for this eager new dog, but she was ready for us. My friend named her Hazel.
Incidentally, Hazel had only been at AWL for less than 2 hours when I saw her. No, her time was hardly up.
Hazel has brought such joy into our lives and delivers joy to others visiting assisted care facilities with my wife a few times each month. Of course, my wife and I have a special place in our hearts for AWL. We want AWL to succeed.
Chicago needs AWL to succeed. Its open-door admission policy makes it possible to relieve some of the load of already over-burdened Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC). Aside from the Anti Cruelty Society and CACC, there’s aren’t many places that will accept pretty much whoever walks in the door. And AWL provides for an underserved community with many needs.
Yes, AWL is valued, but this litany of allegations cannot be hidden any longer.
On January 31 at 6 p.m., there is a scheduled protest to reform AWL at the Chicago Ridge facility (10305 Southwest Highway). (I have a business meeting, which people are coming into town for, or I would be there).
I advise the AWL Board of Directors not to discount the power and passion of animal advocates.
It’s true that the popular press news cycles won’t stay on this story forever. But, working under a magnifying glass, AWL could land in the news again anytime.
The Board of Directors’ chief responsibility is the fiduciary viability and stability of the organization.
It’s no secret that the Chicago animal shelter scene recently witnessed the downfall of Tree House Humane, likely losing thousands (perhaps more) in donations, and likely millions of dollars in bequests only because they dug their heels in.
I implore you. This doesn’t need to be your outcome. Please don’t make the same mistake. Please orchestrate change. It’s the right thing to do. And as board members, it’s the responsible thing to do for the greater good of the organization.
Here are additional viable solutions:
Listen to the community; hold a meeting, which I believe can be kept civil. I realize there are also personal grievances mixed into all this, but I believe board members may be wise enough to sift through that. AWL is a private organization and is under no legal obligation to answer to the public. However, the snowball is growing and isn’t going to melt away anytime soon. Pretending this isn’t happening is not a solution. As the pressure mounts, donors will back off. Learn from the experiences of others.
To build trust and transparency, another idea is to strategically place cameras where people can see what’s going on 24/7. Cameras and an internet feed are not prohibitively expensive, and dollars could be raised online to cover the expense.
I don’t know a single board member at AWL. My hope is that together you do what is right so you can move on and continue to achieve your valued mission, and AWL can be even more effective at saving lives.
I’ve been there as a board member, and I know how difficult it can be to do an about face to do what is right—that requires a certain fortitude. My hope is that you somehow see this post, and then, as a group, that fortitude exists. Please, for the animals. Thank you for your service on the board. But, you need to know that animal advocates aren’t going to hibernate on this one. And the longer the story lingers, the higher the price that will be paid.
I am happy to speak with any of the board members.