More than a year ago, a group of volunteers at the Evanston Animal Shelter cried out for a change in policy because, among other reasons, the shelter had an unusually high euthanasia rate for dogs housed there. The contentious process that followed neared conclusion on May 4, as the six-member Human Services Committee voted unanimously to officially turn over shelter operations to Saving Animals for Evanston (S.A.F.E.).

SAFE took over operations, in conjunction with the City’s Police Department, in June 2014 when City Council voted to cut ties with the Community Animal Rescue Effort (CARE). At the time, the understanding was that the shelter volunteers would be replaced by a new Volunteer Animal Organization (VAO) experienced in shelter operations.

Council formed a new committee, the Board of Animal Review made up of concerned citizens and Aldermen Jane Grover, 7th Ward and Judy Fiske, 1st Ward. The committee was charged with finding the VAO through the Request for Proposal process. The Board issued a formal RFP in late 2014 and received several responses.

Once response came from SAFE, the organization made up largely of former CARE volunteers, and the Board of Animal Review voted to accept SAFE’s proposal. The Human Services Committee delayed an immediate vote on the matter seeking more information at the request of Ald. Fiske.

The delay ended Monday night.

 City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz proposed a two-year agreement with SAFE under which SAFE will continue “coordinating volunteer and adoption programs, coordinating and funding medical and behavioral care, and providing special food and supplies,” according to his memo to the Committee. The City will continue registering volunteers, maintaining the shelter structure itself and paying utilities, providing core vaccines and rabies tags, administrative support and bulk food and cat litter purchases.

The City will continue to fund all operations at the shelter until October 2015, and thereafter SAFE will take over. Under the agreement, SAFE must raise at least $40,000 in donations every year to pay for shelter operations, and it may not raise funds for any other purpose.

Fundraising became controversial when CARE ran the shelter, as a number of citizens complained that money they donated toward capital improvements of the Evanston Animal Shelter went instead into CARE’s coffers for as yet unknown purposes. That controversy was also somewhat addressed Monday night as Mr. Bobkiewicz’s memo announced the return of “$29,402 from C.A.R.E. which had been designated for capital improvements at the animal shelter.”

Further, discussions will continue with two other VAO’s, Chicago’s Anti-Cruelty Society and Rogers Park’s Tree House Humane Society. Mr. Bobkiewicz noted that “both organizations desire to be helpful in supporting the welfare of animals in Evanston. I will continue to work with them on future opportunities.”

As the vote neared, Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said, “It’s nice to see a room full of happy faces.” When the process began in February 2014, volunteers on all sides were anything but happy.

 Now, as the journey nears completion, there is near consensus that, as Mr. Bobkiewicz put it, “in SAFE we have the partner we were looking for.”

Ald. Fiske proposed two minor amendments to the proposal. First, she proposed that all foster care fees incurred by volunteers will be reimbursed by the City, an amendment she said came because of an email from a volunteer detailing money spent without expectation of recovery. Second, she proposed the $29,402 received from CARE be used to renovate a standing brick structure into a dog behavioral evaluation facility. The renovations were a part of the plan and expected to cost $20,000 or less – Ald. Fiske’s amendment provides a funding source.

 Both amendments passed unanimously.

 Newly appointed Alderman Brian Miller, 9th ward, asked that SAFE’s budget and fundraising timeline be “flushed out more” as the background behind the numbers was not detailed enough for him. SAFE co-president Alisa Kaplan explained that the numbers came from several years of shelter budgets and “extrapolated adoptions over previous years.”

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, asked that Mr. Bobkiewicz “forward to Ald. Miller background information” accumulated over the last 18 months or so. After the vote, she looked out into the “happy faces,” and said something designed to make them even happier. “There are six of us up here,” she said, “When it comes to council,” she added, stopping for effect. It takes only five votes for a measure to pass at Council.

It is all but certain now – SAFE will be the shelter’s VAO.