The $130,008-a-year executive director of Chicago’s chronically troubled and overcrowded Animal Care and Control shelter was rushed to a hospital over the Christmas holidays after a pit bull she was walking took a chunk out of her arm and leg.
Contacted Tuesday, Susan Russell said she did not “particularly wish to discuss” the Dec. 22 incident that required a co-worker to summon an ambulance to transport her to the hospital.
Nor would she explain why she ordered the pit bull that bit her euthanized immediately, in apparent violation of city protocols for dog-biting incidents. The dog had been picked up as a stray just eight days before the incident.
Jenny Schlueter, an assistant to the director, said the dog that attacked Russell was euthanized “to protect public safety.”
Schlueter insisted that “all proper protocols” were followed.
“When a dog bites a human, CACC must make a decision as to whether an animal is safe to adopt out directly to the public or transfer to a rescue organization. Given the nature of this particular incident, CACC determined that this dog was a public safety risk, and the dog was euthanized,” Schlueter wrote in a follow-up email.
“Generally speaking, dogs are not immediately euthanized when they bite someone. They have to be deemed a dangerous animal. There are protocols that have to be followed,” said Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), an outspoken critic of conditions at the city pound at 2741 S. Western.
“The fact that it happened so quickly without any kind of fact-finding or determination, in my mind, raises questions about how well we are following the protocols set forth by the Animal Control Commission,” Lopez said. “This may have been an overreach — especially if the animal was just reacting to the stresses at the shelter.”
Jennifer Jurcak, a longtime volunteer at the city pound, accused Russell of applying a double standard to biting incidents.
“If you like the dog and it bites somebody, that dog could stay there. But since this dog bit you and you’re not happy with it, that dog immediately gets euthanized. She was dead that day. What’s fair for one should be fair for all,” Jurcak said.
Lopez warned that biting incidents are a mounting threat because of overcrowded conditions at the city pound that started long before temperatures dipped below zero.
“We have a shelter with close to 300 animals barking and stressed out because they’re not in a familiar environment and they’re not being socialized properly because they’re left in these cages for days on end,” Lopez said.
“When dogs become de-socialized — they revert back to more of an animalistic state,” he said. “They are going to be hyper-aggressive. That can put them on a more dangerous path. The over-population . . . will cause them to react in ways that are not healthy — either for them or the employees and volunteers.”
Jurcak agreed, adding, “When you walk past these cages and see these dogs, it’s like mental abuse. . . . This is inhumane. If you went there and did a walk-through, you would be appalled to see how these dogs are just like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in the cage.”
In a series of recent Facebook posts, Russell has warned that the dog population at the city pound stands at 291, which is way “beyond capacity.”
“We need your help. The open admissions shelter continues to fill, but the dogs are not moving out. We have no place to put incoming dogs and we will need to make some very difficult decisions if things don’t change. We don’t want to do that,” one post states. “Rescues, please consider transferring dogs. Chicagoland, please consider adopting a local homeless animal today. We really need everyone’s help to save lives.”
The biting incident that injured Russell and could have been a whole lot worse occurred at about 7:30 a.m. on Dec. 22.
Russell was in the unloading area taking some of the dogs in portable kennels out for walks, as she claims to do on most other early mornings.
“I had taken the dog involved in the incident a couple of times previously without incident. He had signs of prior abuse. A healed neck where there appeared to be an embedded collar,” Russell wrote in the incident report forwarded to the Chicago Sun-Times by Jurcak, who obtained it through a Freedom of Information request.
“Although timid, he had not shown any signs of aggression. After I walked him, I tied him to one of the pen doors so I could straighten up his kennel. He began barking at the dog in the portable beside his portable. I went to untie him and move him from his post,” she said. “When I did this, he re-directed onto my right hand, causing a bite injury, and then onto my left leg, causing a bite injury. I was able to move away from the dog.”
Russell noted that a supervisor was able to “safely contain the dog on a bite pole” and an assistant was able to “assist in moving the dog.”
In November 2016, Lopez complained that three injured pit bulls were turned away from the city pound in violation of Chicago’s policy to accept dogs at any hour of the day or night so long as they are accompanied after hours by a uniformed police officer.
Russell acknowledged then that there was “some confusion with the security guards” and that “additional training” would be conducted to ensure city policy was being enforced.
But she made no apologies for the decision to turn away the three injured pit bulls.
“We don’t offer a 24-hour service to the public. We simply do not have the capacity to provide that kind of care overnight,” she said then.
Lopez used that incident to renew his push to shake up Animal Care and Control and “order” Chicago to become a “no-kill” city where animals brought to shelters are euthanized only if they are terminally ill.