Chicago's Animal Care facility getting $8.2 million overhaul

Written By Fran Spielman Posted: 08/13/2014, 11:56pm

Chicago’s Animal Care and Control facility is getting an $8.2 million face-lift that could dramatically improve the much-maligned quality of care for dogs and cats.

The long-awaited overhaul of the David R. Lee Animal Center,  2741 S. Western, will be paid for, in part, by a $2 million donation from the family foundation created by the co-founder and board chairman of the Chicago Wolves hockey team.

Three months ago, Donald Levin publicly demanded sweeping reforms at the city pound “so I can continue to give” donations. He was responding to a Better Government Association investigation about accidental dog deaths.

The BGA has since filed a pair of lawsuits seeking to compel the city to release surveillance video of a city employee allegedly choking a dog to death while trying to bring it under control and emails exchanged by top mayoral aides scrambling to deal with the media fallout.

Levin could not be reached for comment to explain what specific reforms made him comfortable enough to proceed with the $2 million donation that will be combined with $6.2 million from Chicago taxpayers.

Earlier this month, the city awarded an $8.2 million contract to Friedler Construction that will bankroll a host of sorely needed repairs. They include:

■ Remodeling four of seven animal pavilions to include new cages and plumbing systems. Assistant Animal Care and Control Director Brad Powers said the work will be concentrated at two pavilions “most frequented by visitors and volunteers” that house “adoptable and highly transferrable” animals. Also targeted are two other pavilions that house dogs for long periods of time, either because they are biters or otherwise suspected of being dangerous, or because they are being held in connection with investigations tied to court cases, Powers said.

■ Completely replacing a roof that leaks.

■ New electrical, heating, cooling and ventilation systems that will allow “100 percent fresh outdoor air” to circulate and minimize the “risk of airborne disease.”

■ A new state-of-the-art security system so staffers can “respond at a moment’s notice to the aid of a person or an animal in need,” Powers said.

“The animal pound is a weathered facility that undoubtedly needs physical improvements for the sake of the animals, the employees working there, and the public and volunteers who visit. We hope the commencement of this renovation project is a signal from the Emanuel administration that the mayor is starting to pay more attention to an agency with vast problems — aside from the shelter building’s condition,” said the BGA’s President and CEO Andy Shaw.

“Our research has raised serious questions about the current leadership, as well as the training and supervision of certain employees. What’s more, service to the public — and treatment of the animals — at times has been woeful. Too often, Animal Care and Control doesn’t seem to exercise enough ‘care’ or ‘control’ in fulfillment of its mission. Beyond bricks and mortar, attitudes and practices need to change.”

The quality of care and hiring at the city pound where 300 to 600 animals are housed at any given time has been a constant source of controversy over the years.

Last year, Inspector General Joe Ferguson concluded that Chicago’s lost, stray and impounded dogs and cats are not always cleaned and fed properly — or getting veterinary exams within 24 hours — because of a 30 percent vacancy rate of feeding and cleaning staff.

Ferguson also disclosed that five animals adopted more than a month before the audit were shown in the shelter’s data system as still housed at the facility.

At the time, a veteran animal control officer told the Chicago Sun-Times about horrendous conditions that allowed dogs and cats to lie in their own waste for days either because employees didn’t care or there weren’t enough of them.

The BGA has subsequently revealed that the No. 2 administrator at Animal Care and Control had no animal welfare experience and a history of disciplinary problems at a previous city job.

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