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No more alligators or coyotes: Chicago’s Animal Care and Control director resigns

Hailed as a rising star in the Lightfoot administration, Kelley Gandurski resigned to accept a more tranquil job as corporation counsel for the city of Evanston.

Kelley Gandurski, Chicago’s now departing executive director of Chicago Animal Care and Control, pets the alligator rescued from the Humboldt Park Lagoon by Florida alligator expert Frank Robb in July.
Kelley Gandurski, Chicago’s now departing executive director of Chicago Animal Care and Control, pets the alligator rescued from the Humboldt Park Lagoon by Florida alligator expert Frank Robb in July.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Kelley Gandurski wrestled with capturing alligators and coyotes in just the last few months of her two-year tenure as executive director of Chicago’s chronically-troubled Animal Care and Control shelter.

Compared to those adventures, her new job should be a piece of cake.

Gandurski resigned Thursday to return to her lawyer roots, accepting a job as corporation counsel for the city of Evanston. Although the choice was hers alone, it means yet another change at the top for a troubled city agency that has seen far too much of it.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot made no bones about it. It’s a big loss. The mayor had privately touted Gandurski as a rising star at City Hall.

In a statement, Lightfoot said Gandurski made the switch from the Law Department to Animal Care and Control “at a critical time” and that her “values and vision transformed” the agency “for our residents and the animals they care for.”

“During her tenure, Kelley restored trust with advocates and residents, reformed critical services, and fostered partnerships and programs with the community and fellow animal care organizations, all of which led to a record high level of pet adoptions,” Lightfoot was quoted as saying.

“Of course, many Chicagoans will remember Kelley for her leadership during last year’s Humboldt Park Lagoon alligator incident, but the true measure of Kelley’s service is the eight years she dedicated to the residents of Chicago through her work at the City’s Law Department and [Animal Care and Control].”

The city will conduct a nationwide search for a new executive director, a position for which Gandurski was paid $135,624. In the meantime, Deputy Director Mamadou Diakhate will serve as interim chief.

Gandurski, who had seemed to embrace and relish the Animal Care job, could not be reached for comment.

Dog-loving Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) said Gandurski will be difficult to replace. He can only hope Lightfoot conducts a “true nationwide search for someone as compassionate and committed to a no-kill Chicago” as Gandurski was.

“We were making great strides at Animal Care and Control. We were making transformative changes and implementing new policies” Lopez said Thursday.

Those changes “produced positive live outcomes for the animals despite having record increases in animals surrendered or captured,” he added. “Kelley was a hands-on leader who embraced a multi-level strategy for volunteers as well as matching them with animals they could control based on their abilities. She was willing to work with new partners, such as Sheriff Tom Dart, implementing programs connecting inmates with dogs that otherwise would have been euthanized.”

Two years ago, Gandurski was chosen to replace Susan Russell, who was fired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel after being accused of “warehousing” dogs in conditions that, the mayor’s office claimed, made dangerous dogs even more dangerous.

Russell categorically denied the charge. Her supporters rallied behind her and denounced the surprise firing.

Gandurski had served as deputy and general counsel under Russell and was named acting executive director after Russell was fired. Prior to that, she served as supervising senior counsel in the city’s Law Department.

The quality of care and hiring at the city pound has been a constant source of controversy over the years.

In 2013, 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 the staff that did the feeding and cleaning had a 30% vacancy rate.