The City Council moved Wednesday to relieve Chicago taxpayers of the costly burden of sheltering 12,000 stray animals each year.
Assured that the goal is to euthanize fewer stray animals — not more of them — aldermen approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to speed animal adoptions and bolster animal identification.
The mayor’s ordinance empowers the city to declare any impounded animal that remains unclaimed after three days to be the “property” of the Commission on Animal Care and Control.
That would pave the way for adoptions after three days and “any other disposition” after five days, the ordinance states.
Currently, strays cannot be adopted by individual owners or otherwise removed from the city pound for five days.
The mayor’s plan also allows for the “immediate” adoption or transfer to an animal shelter or “similar facility” of any impounded cat of unknown ownership and any impounded litter of puppies under four months old along with the puppies’ mother.
Every year, the city pound places more than 1,000 animals in new homes after outreach programs that include daily lost pet tours and posting photographs of lost pets online.
But the cash-strapped city is still forced to bear the burden of providing “humane shelter for more than 12,000 stray animals.”
Last year, less than 1 percent of the more than 5,000 stray cats were claimed by an owner. The same goes for less than 15 percent of the more than 5,000 stray dogs.
The ordinance does not affect lost pets that arrive at the city pound with some form of identification, including a micro-chip, dog license, county rabies tag or any other name tag.
Those animals are held for at least seven days while the city researches ownership information, calls owners or tries to contact them by email or traditional mail.
At a committee hearing earlier this week, retiring Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th) sought assurances that the mayor’s ordinance would “not result in the increase in euthanization of animals, particularly dogs.”
“Some of my constituents were concerned about that,” Cullerton said.
Sandra Alfred, executive director of the Commission on Animal Care and Control, told Cullerton he and his dog-loving Northwest Side constituents have nothing to fear.
“The goal of this amendment is to make sure we’re able to move adoptable animals through our facility quicker…. Our goal is not to increase euthanasia. Our goal is to continue to mark a decrease in euthanasia as we’ve done in the last several years by allowing rescue groups to come in and pull these animals after the third day — especially if they’re highly adoptable. And we can also adopt them to city residents,” she said.
Alfred noted that the city impounds roughly 23,000 animals a year and euthanizes roughly 6,000 of them, many of them for “health reasons and behavior” issues.
As tragic as that is to animal lovers, the percentage of stray animals euthanized has actually dropped — from 70 percent just a few years ago to 26 percent, the director said.
Arguing that strays with no micro-chip or tags have an “extremely low chance” of being claimed by an owner, Alfred said, “this ordinance will not only help facilitate our life-saving programs, but also incentivize animal owners to obtain micro-chips, city dog licenses and county rabies tags for their pets.”
Also on Wednesday, the City Council is expected to approve a catch-all “management ordinance” tied to the mayor’s 2015 budget that could set the stage for a long-awaited crackdown on Chicago’s more than 600,000 unlicensed dogs.
The changes impose new display requirements on dog owners and stiffer fines if they don’t comply.
“The owner of each dog required to hold a license shall, when the dog is on the public way, either ensure the license is visible and securely attached to a collar, harness or similar device worn by the dog or, upon request by an authorized city official, make available the license for inspection,” the ordinance states.
The mayor’s plan allows tickets to be “served by hand upon the person in possession of the animal at the time the violation is identified.”
Currently, tickets can only be sent by first-class mail “addressed to the owners of the most recent address show on county rabies vaccination records.”
Yet another change dramatically increases the fine for unlicensed dogs on the public way — from a one-time penalty of $30 to $200 to the same amount for every day until a dog license is purchased.
Mayoral spokeswoman Elizabeth Langsdorf has insisted that there is no crackdown in the works and that the changes were “just meant to clarify the language.”