On Feb. 3 the Human Services Committee of the City Council will discuss entering into a one-year agreement with the Community Animal Rescue Effort (C.A.R.E.), a private not-for-profit group that handles animal adoptions at the Evanston Animal Shelter on Oakton Street.
This is a particularly important discussion since some senior volunteers at the shelter have publicly asked why the euthanasia rate for dogs is so high and questioned the methods used to determine whether a dog will be made available for adoption or recommended for euthanasia.
Time and again, the volunteers say, dogs that they knew personally and considered to be good candidates for adoption were “failed” and subsequently euthanized based on questionable tests and outdated criteria.
The euthanasia rates based on C.A.R.E.’s own reporting are shocking. Over the three years 2010-12, the average annual euthanasia rate at the Evanston animal shelter exceeded 46 percent of dogs housed at the shelter, not counting “lost” dogs that were reunited with their owners.
By comparison, other area shelters are doing better to substantially lower their kill numbers. Waukegan Animal Control, which handles four times the number of unreturned dogs as Evanston, euthanized only 4 percent of its dogs in 2012 and less than that in 2013, relying instead on developing working partnerships with well-respected no-kill rescue organizations who commit resources to re-home and, if necessary, foster, re-train and socialize the animals so they will have the best chance of successful adoptions.
With the enthusiastic support of longtime animal advocate Mayor Wayne Motley and the dedication of Executive Director Susan Elliott, Waukegan has emerged as a leader in the state for its animal welfare practices.
The big municipal shelters are also moving away from euthanasia and are actively working to get dogs into rescue. In 2012, the euthanasia rate for dogs at Lake County Animal Care and Control was 12.6 percent, the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago was 22 percent and New York City Animal Control with over 7,000 dogs was 21.7 percent. Even Chicago Animal Care and Control cooperates with local rescue groups and has a lower kill rate for unreturned dogs than Evanston.
Why is the euthanasia rate in our shelter so high? And, as a community, what can we do to lower our kill rate and improve conditions for Evanston’s dogs?
The Evanston Police Department oversees the shelter and its operations. In response to concerns about dogs at the shelter, the EPD recently asked the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to send a representative to inspect conditions at the facility and recommend ways to improve operations. C.A.R.E. was also given the opportunity to have its own independent expert do the same, and both issued reports to the City.
The two reports suggested improvement was needed in several areas: transparency, record-keeping, reducing the amount of time that dogs remain in the shelter, advertising dogs quickly on social media, lowering euthanasia rates, providing better training for volunteers who handle and evaluate the dogs, increasing adoption hours and days for the public, reaching out to and cooperating with rescue organizations, immunizing incoming dogs, providing enrichment and/or training for all dogs, and discontinuing dependence on outdated “tests” to evaluate temperament.
That list seems like a good starting place if we are to bring our shelter up to basic industry standards, and I am sure that RoundTable readers will have other good ideas.
A roadmap for the future of our animal shelter is what the Feb. 3 meeting is all about. It is not about what got us to this point or assigning blame. It is not intended to discount the dedication of the many volunteers who have made life better for animals at the shelter over the years, and, it is not about dollars. It is about where we, as a community, go from here to create an animal shelter that works to benefit the animals for the long term and reflects well on Evanston.
Thankfully, the rescue world for animals has changed from 25 years ago when C.A.R.E. was founded. Then, area shelters routinely euthanized dogs after 7-10 days and very few options for placement existed. Today, we are fortunate to live in a metropolitan area where there are many well-regarded no-kill rescue organizations that invest time and effort to see that every animal has a reasonable chance for a long and happy life in a forever home.
The world for abandoned dogs is improving. We need to make sure that the Evanston shelter is part of the good work that is going on around us. If this is an issue you feel strongly about, please plan to attend the Feb. 3 meeting.
Ms. Fiske is alderman of the First Ward