A process that began some 15 months ago culminated in a 4-2 City Council vote on April 8 to oust C.A.R.E. from the Evanston Animal Shelter as of May 9, 2014. The decision came after a splinter group of C.A.R.E. volunteers, along with the City’s Chief animal warden and Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, openly questioned the organization’s dog evaluation process. They argued that the process in use has resulted in a far higher rate than necessary of healthy dogs being euthanized.
Communication failures evident from the very start of the shelter dispute continued through the final two-night-marathon conclusion that began with the Human Services Committee meeting Monday night, April 7. Both Monday and Tuesday nights, red-shirted C.A.R.E. volunteers – self-divided into two groups, those who supported the C.A.R.E. board of directors and those who did not – flooded Council chambers.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, who visited the shelter for several hours Saturday, called the disconnect “tragic”: “We have a room full of people who all love dogs,” he said, “but who can’t seem to find a way to work together.”
C.A.R.E. volunteers split over dog evaluations and over what many view as unreasonable standards applied to dogs in the shelter. There has been very little dispute over the shelter’s treatment of cats; and the removal of C.A.R.E. from the cat side is a consequence of Tuesday’s vote that has been only cursorily considered.
The C.A.R.E. board never budged from its position, saying as late as Monday night through spokesperson and board member Gail Lovinger that “the City missed a great opportunity. This should have been a discussion about what kind of dogs do you want on your streets.” Strict dog evaluation standards may result in a higher euthanasia rate, but it also results in safer dogs being adopted by Evanston residents.
In response, Ald. Fiske said, “C.A.R.E. has a vision that is very different from what we need [in] a municipal animal shelter. I appreciate their vision, but it’s not what we need.” A City shelter must be prepared to accept all dogs and find homes for them either in Evanston or elsewhere. Keeping only certain dogs while slating the rest for euthanasia is not what Evanston wants, she and others argued.
The decision to euthanize ultimately falls upon the Evanston Police Department through the animal warden. For more than 20 years, the animal warden relied on the recommendations of C.A.R.E. staff. Only when the current dispute began did the warden, along with the splinter group of volunteers, question C.A.R.E.’s evaluation criteria.
Dissatisfaction with the shelter’s euthanasia rate led the City to prepare a “City of Evanston Animal Control Policy.” The Human Services Committee voted to present the draft policy to C.A.R.E. and negotiate with them to see if they could follow the new policy and stay on. It was the lack of substantive response to the policy that ultimately led Council to vote to sever ties with C.A.R.E.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, characterized the C.A.R.E. board’s response to the CEACP as “silence.” Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said that C.A.R.E.’s “just being silent” is “what got us here tonight.”
Ms. Lovinger said, “Negotiation implies give and take, compromise. If there are things open to negotiation, we’d like to know what [they are.].” The CEACP and companion Volunteer Animal Organization Partnership Policy (a 10-line sketch outline) evidences “a lack of true partnership. The arrangement being considered is one-sided.”
The exchange highlighted the fact that three sides, the City, the C.A.R.E. board, and the C.A.R.E. splinter group, seemed to continually talk past each other rather than to each other. The result was Tuesday night’s 4-2 vote in which Alds. Fiske, Wilson, Holmes and Tendam voted to cease negotiations with C.A.R.E., and Alds. Rainey and Burrus voted no. Aldermen Wynne and Grover were absent; Ald. Braithwaite was present for Monday’s Human Services meeting but missed Tuesday’s full Council meeting.
What comes next now that C.A.R.E. must abandon the shelter as of May 9 concerned many. “If we disassociate with C.A.R.E., the shelter will be in real trouble,” said Ald. Rainey. The City has little time between now and May 9 to find another volunteer organization to come in and handle shelter operations. “This is going to be an animal control facility. We’re going to distribute raccoon cages and pick up dangerous animals,” she said. The shelter will no longer act as an adoption facility.
Ald. Fiske has argued all along, however, that a new organization following “best practices” can be found. The City will prepare and distribute a Request for Qualifications in the coming weeks seeking exactly that – a new partner to run the shelter. Ald. Braithwaite and others have said that they expect that many C.A.R.E. volunteers will continue to help at the shelter no matter the name of the organization running the show.
Left undecided as of Tuesday night was the money question. C.A.R.E. has a reported $1.3 million of collected donations in the bank. The “extraordinary amount of money” concerned Ald. Wilson, who openly wondered why the money sat idle. C.A.R.E. has stated publicly that it has rebranded itself as a “northshore” adoption agency, and that they seek to open a facility outside of Evanston. The organization has been distancing itself from Evanston for at least three years.
A number of C.A.R.E. donors have come forward saying that they provided donations for an improved Evanston shelter, and never intended their money to leave the City. Others say they donated to C.A.R.E. and not Evanston. The City’s corporation counsel Grant Farrar, in a memo to Council, stated that the City has no right to seek any of the donated money.
C.A.R.E. board member Karen Williams, in response to Mr. Farrar’s memo said, “It’s been made clear that we keep our money, so whoever comes in has to have money ready to go.” The City as partner of C.A.R.E. or beneficiary of the charity does not change that, she said.
Ald. Tendam attempted to refer the matter to City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz in hopes that a negotiated settlement could be reached. Mr. Bobkiewicz said “it is appropriate to put that issue on an agenda.” It will take more than an aldermanic referral to obtain any donated funds for the improvement of the Evanston Animal Shelter. For now, it appears the money stays with C.A.R.E. and Evanston’s admittedly inadequate animal shelter must be improved with additional donations or tax dollars.
Below is a statement issued by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl on April 10:
“The Evanston City Council has recently concluded discussions on the future of the Evanston Animal Shelter. The discussions have led the City to seek out a new partner to help operate the Shelter and bring to a close the City’s long standing partnership with the Community Animal Rescue Effort (C.A.R.E). Thank you to all the C.A.R.E. volunteers who have worked so hard on behalf of Evanston’s animals.
“Since its founding in 1987, C.A.R.E and its hundreds of dedicated volunteers have been responsible for the adoption of thousands of dogs and cats at the Evanston Animal Shelter and have provided medical treatment to animals in need. The work of these dedicated volunteers has been outstanding. They’ve made a positive impact in our community and helped pair loving families with dogs and cats needing a caring home.
“The City of Evanston’s commitment to the Evanston Animal Shelter continues. The City will now begin a process in the next month to identify a new partner to help operate the shelter. Current Animal Shelter volunteers have been invited to continue helping Evanston animals in need. The City will organize volunteers at the Animal Shelter for the time being while a new partner is selected. Evanston Police Commander James Pickett will directly oversee the operations of the Shelter working with Animal Warden Linda Teckler and other City staff.
“The City will begin organizing volunteer shifts starting in early May, 2014.
“The City has set up a variety of ways for keeping in touch on issues regarding the Animal Shelter. This includes an electronic newsletter, as well as using social media, like Facebook and Twitter. For more information, check our website at cityofevanston.org/animalshelter. If you have more specific questions, please feel free to call 3-1-1.
“The welfare of Evanston’s dogs and cats in need remains a priority for the City. I believe these changes will allow the community to find homes for unwanted and abandoned animals long into the future.”