The grant is “a wonderful opportunity,” says Vicky Pasenko, executive director of the Evanston Animal Shelter Association, the volunteer group that operates the City’s Animal Shelter at 2310 Oakton St. ?

Evanston officials say they are excited at the prospects of a grant from Cook County to build a new animal shelter, though they acknowledged the facility will likely be scaled back from what was originally proposed, with the grant substantially lower than requested.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced last week that the Evanston Animal Shelter Association (EASA) and the South Suburban Humane Society as the two recipients of grant awards totaling $8 million under the County’s Housing Cook County Animals program.

The County program seeks to expand the capacity of existing nonprofit and governmental animal shelters to address overcrowding and provide housing for animals currently impounded by Cook County Animal and Rabies Control personnel, the County said in its announcement. 

“This program gives us greater capacity to safeguard all animal residents of Cook County ensuring they have safe shelter in times of need,” Ms. Preckwinkle said. “We are fulfilling our commitment to ensure that animals are not turned away because of overcrowded shelters.”

Under the grant awards, the City received a $2 million grant for the Evanston Animal Shelter Association, the volunteer citizen group that runs the shelter, at 2310 Oakton St. The South Suburban Humane Society (SSHS), located in Chicago Heights, received a $6 million grant. 

“We are grateful and excited to provide animals in Cook County with the kind of resources they need while we find their forever homes,” said Vicky Pasenko, executive director of EASA, reacting to the announcement. “This is a wonderful opportunity for our shelter.”

The $2 million for the City is substantially less than the $4.5 million the City requested in its application, noted officials.

In the City’s original plans, officials were hoping to combine the $4.5 million from the County with a $1 million contribution from the City and $500,000 from EASA to replace the present animal shelter building with an 8,000 square foot facility.

The grant still represents “a huge opportunity,” said City Engineer Lara Biggs, working with EASA on the project.

Nevertheless, with the grant coming in substantially lower, officials are still in talks with the County about scaling down some of the features that the County had on its wish list for the Evanston Animal Shelter, said Ms. Biggs. Under the terms of the grant program, the City would be required to enter into a long-term contract with the County to receive and process impounded Cook County animals.

Ms. Biggs said Kelley Gandurski, the City’s Corporation Counsel and formerly executive director of the City of Chicago’s Department of Animal Care and Control, has been a valuable resource in that regard, reaching out to animal groups on the best way to optimize space in a shelter reduced in size.

Funding for the grant program is provided through small fees paid by dog and cat owners whose pets receive rabies vaccinations in Cook County, the County said in its release. These funds are used for operations of Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control (CCARC) as well as special projects that safeguard residents and their pets throughout the County, the County said.

“I see the need for more shelter space every day,” said Dr. Thomas Wake, CCARC administrator. “My department is committed to providing the most innovative and safe homes for our animals in need.”

Dating back to 2017, the Evanston Animal Shelter Association volunteers and staff have raised concerns about the inadequacy of the current animal shelter facility, including no intake area for animals being dropped off, minimal adoption facilities, and no space for in-house medical procedures.

In February, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-13) wrote a letter in support of EASA’s application.

“Between 2016 and 2019, the Evanston Animal Shelter has taken care of over 2,290 animals whole posting a “Live Release Rate” of 97%,” he noted.

Officials’ original timeline called for planning and design to begin later this year, and construction to take place in 2021, with June 2022 considered the earliest date for a new shelter to be in service. If the City and County can arrive at an agreement, Ms. Biggs said she anticipates bringing the project back to the City Council for support before moving forward.

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.