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A recommendation by the City’s Board of Animal Control was held in the Human Services Committee on April 6, pending additional information to be gathered by City staff and presented at the May 4 Human Services Committee meeting.

The City’s animal shelter, 2310 Oakton St., has been operating for several months through volunteers under the supervision of the Evanston Police Department. Relations between the City and C.A.R.E., the Community Animal Rescue Effort, which had operated the shelter for years, became strained more than a year ago after some C.A.R.E. volunteers accused others of allowing the euthanization of some dogs that could have been safely re-housed. C.A.R.E. left the shelter, taking with it many volunteers and more than $1 million it had raised for an animal shelter.

A group of the accusing volunteers was able to save about 17 dogs and place them in homes. For the past 10 months, members of this volunteer group have been operating as S.A.F.E., Saving Animals For Evanston, volunteering at the shelter and often paying out of pocket, they said, for incidental expenses.

Earlier this year, the City issued a request for proposals, seeking a volunteer animal organization (VAO) to operate the shelter for the City.

Both S.A.F.E. and a Chicago organization called Tree House responded to the request for proposals. Jill Cabot of the Board of Animal Control told the Human Services Committee members the Board recommended Evanston-based S.A.F.E. over Chicago-based Tree House.

“It is important to know that the Board did not take this process lightly,” said Ms. Cabot. “Much time, thought and effort have gone into this decision.” She said the Board gave four reasons for its recommendation: S.A.F.E.’s singularity of purpose, its demonstrated expertise, its local relationships and knowledge and “S.A.F.E.’s proposal is simple and straightforward. It will take over all fundraising outside of salaries and will recruit, train and manage volunteers.”

The Board did not select TreeHouse, said Ms. Cabot, because it specializes in the rescue and rehabilitation of stray cats. “They have no experience in sheltering and re-housing dogs. The do not offer on-site management, and the Evanston Animal Shelter desires a VAO with its management team on-site. … The Evanston Animal Shelter is not TreeHouse’s main priority.”

While several members of the Committee appeared to agree with the Board of Animal Control recommendation, Aldermen Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, and Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, expressed reservations about making a decision that night.

Ald. Fiske said she was “a little concerned about one of your comments about TreeHouse. … TreeHouse has been very generous to the City of Evanston. They have helped us for many years. They have a new approach in taking over dogs. I believe they would do a good job.”

Ald. Fiske said her recommendation is “to try to get both groups together. We should explore what it would take to have a partner like TreeHouse partner with S.A.F.E.” She also said, “I think S.A.F.E. should review a fund-raising plan.”

Ald. Tendam said, “I worked with S.A.F.E. I know your passion is sincere. How would S.A.F.E. differ from C.A.R.E.? How would the City or the shelter protect itself from someone’s leaving with a significant amount of money?”

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said, “I think the idea that any VAO [volunteer animal organization] would have a formal written contract with the shelter – all of that would be prescribed in a document.

So are you, from S.A.F.E., comfortable with that – not having control of your own money?”

Alisa Kaplan and Vicky Pasenko of S.A.F.E. said the group would be amendable to a contract “or other obligations.” They also said S.A.F.E. had not engaged in formal fund-raising because they wished to wait to see whether the group would be selected as the VAO.

 “The former VAO raised $2 million. We were among the top fundraisers for C.A.R.E,” Ms. Dean said, adding that C.A.R.E. had a requirement that all volunteers be a member of C.A.R.E.

Ald. Tendam said, “It would be nice to hear from some of these other organizations that were interested in partnering with us.” He added that, although the Anti-Cruelty society wrote a letter “saying they would like to partner with us but did not send a response” to the RFP.  He moved to hold the matter in committee pending the receipt of additional information, which City staff will provide before the May meeting. Ald. Fiske said she hoped to see more specific information about fund-raising and about plans for sheltering and re-housing dogs. She added she hoped that other VAOs interested in partnering with the animal shelter would attend the meeting.

In response to an email question from the RoundTable about whether the City is seeking the return of funds from CARE or asking the Attorney General’s office to do so, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz wrote, “The City is currently not pursuing any actions involving C.A.R.E.”