Animal Care and Control needs more money to combat urban influx of barn animals, alderman says

Two years ago, Ald. Ray Lopez and Ald. Anthony Napolitano backed an ordinance that would give residents veto power over whether neighbors could have barn animals and other “non-traditional pets.” The ordinance is languishing in committee, and Lopez said the problem has gotten worse.

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Chickens wandering in the parkway just off Cicero Avenue in Portage Park in 2019.

Chickens wandering in the parkway just off Cicero Avenue in Portage Park in 2019, the year two aldermen introduced an ordinance that would give Chicago residents veto power over whether their neighbors can keep barn animals.

Sun-Times file

The City Council’s resident dog lover on Wednesday praised the “remarkable turnaround” at Chicago’s chronically troubled Animal Care and Control shelter, arguing that the pound needs more resources to combat the urban influx of barn animals.

Two years ago, Southwest Side Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) and Northwest Side Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) introduced an ordinance to combat cock-fighting.

It would have banned roosters in Chicago, limited hens to six-per-household and required that neighbors be notified and given veto power before barn animals and other “non-traditional pets” could take up residence in Chicago homes.

The ordinance is languishing in committee, and the problem has only gotten worse, Lopez said.

With Animal Care and Control Executive Director Mamadou Diakhate on the hot seat at Council budget hearings, Lopez argued the $7.1 million-a-year animal control budget “has not caught up to and is not funded” to accommodate “the new realities” in Chicago neighborhoods.

That includes the dramatic “expansion of the non-traditional pet or animal on a city lot in a city neighborhood,” as Lopez referred to it.

alderman-ray-lopez-animal-lover-dogs-ordinances-rooster-ban

Ald. Ray Lopez, at home with his dogs.

Sun-Times file

“You not only famously dealt with alligators a couple of years ago. We’re seeing horses in peoples’ backyards. We’re seeing livestock pigs in peoples’ backyards. We’ve had situations where people have had a hundred roosters and chickens in a garage,” Lopez said.

“This is not the exception anymore. It’s becoming the rule more and more. Those animals, once you seize them, once you’re in control of them, it’s very costly to you. Feeding a pig is not like feeding a dog. One of the things that we need to look at is making sure that you are well-funded to address those animals when we have them. Because we simply cannot assume that a rescue is gonna take them. I remember when those two big pigs were there. It was almost $50-a-day to feed them. Not in your budget.”

Lopez wasn’t the only alderman concerned about exotic pets.

West Side Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) was equally concerned about chickens and other animals better suited “in a rural area.”

“We need to be looking down the road at how we’re addressing wildlife. ... That’s a conversation that probably we need to have. ... Myself, coming from a rural area, I understand it. But people [who] live in the city are not used to chickens clucking and going on early on in the morning, roosters hollering at night, ducks. That’s rural area life. But it’s not the city life,” Mitts said.

“It’s something definitely we need to do. If we don’t do it now, by 10 years from now, it’ll get worser. Things don’t go away. Problems stay there until you do something about it.”

Diakhate told Mitts, “I totally agree with you, alderman. We need to have that conversation.”

He added, “Whenever we get a call about wildlife in living quarters, we will come and remove them. Outside of living quarters, we provide ... information on how to deal with them. We’ll give advice. … Clean your backyard. Remove all the debris to deny them a source of food and hiding area.”

Indicted Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) said the coyote she talked about last year is “still lurking around.” But now, she’s more concerned about snakes.

“I mean the ones that crawl around on the ground. Not the two-legged ones,” Austin said laughing.

Turning serious, Austin asked what Diakhate would to do about snakes.

“Snakes, just like many other wildlife, use debris that’s in peoples backyards and hiding places. … Make those yards clean. Remove the brush and any hiding space. That should work,” he said.

When Austin countered that the snake is in an area where brush and other hiding places are “not easily removed.” Diakhate said, “That looks like the issue that we see in a lot of parts of the city. Places not properly bordered, properly fenced. People don’t take care of it.”

He added: “We can work with the ward superintendent and go after those people and make them be accountable and clean those areas. I will reach out to you and your ward superintendent. Maybe we can work together, identify the owner and make them do the right thing.”

Despite a massive influx of federal relief funds, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed 2022 budget calls for only a slight increase for the Commission on Animal Care and Control. The agency now has 67 authorized employees and a 20% vacancy rate.

Still, Lopez said: “We’ve seen a remarkable turnaround in Animal Care and Control over the last few years, particularly under Mamadou’s direction. … What a change in dealing with what you do there on Western Avenue.”

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