Advocates demand national search for new Animal Care chief
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Animal rights advocates are demanding that Mayor Rahm Emanuel conduct a nationwide search for Chicago’s next director of Animal Care and Control after the revolving door spun again at the troubled agency.
Sandra Alfred retired last week while attention was focused on City Council approval of Emanuel’s plan to raise property taxes by $588 million for police and fire pensions and school construction and impose a first-ever garbage collection fee of $9.50 a month.
Alfred was replaced, at least temporarily, by her top deputy, Ivan Capifali. The Better Government Association has reported that Capifali has no previous experience in animal rescue and welfare, and a history of disciplinary suspensions at the city’s now-defunct Department of Environment. He was handed a $20,000 pay raise and appointed to the No. 2 job in April 2012.
The leadership vacuum at $1.6 million-a-year agency that operates the David R. Lee Animal Center, 2741 S. Western, was exacerbated by the fact that the job of supervising veterinarian has been vacant for more than two years.
In an emailed statement, Adam Collins, a spokesman for the mayor, wrote: “After 27 years in public service Sandra decided to retire, and we thank her for her service to the city. We are in the process of conducting a search to find her replacement and in the meantime Ivan Capifali, the deputy director, will manage the agency’s day-to-day operations.
“The vacant veterinarian position has been filled several times in the past few years, and ACC is again working to fill that role. There are two other full time veterinarian positions that are currently filled at ACC,” the statement said.
On Monday, the Chicago Rescue Roundtable sent a letter to Emanuel demanding a nationwide search for Alfred’s replacement.
“Serious concerns continue to be raised by the public and those in the animal rescue and welfare community regarding various aspects of CACC’s operations, including steadily high euthanasia rates, especially for dogs. However, with the departure of the department’s current executive director, you have a huge opportunity to change Chicago Animal Care and Control for the better,” the letter states.
“We ask that the city conduct a national search for a suitable executive director — one with significant animal sheltering, welfare and related experience,” the letter says. “We further ask that candidates be reviewed and a recommendation for hiring be made by a suitable third party — the board of the Commission on Animal Care and Control — and that their candidate be appointed as the new executive director.”
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Heather Owen, executive director of One Tail at a Time, a nonprofit dog rescue, said Alfred’s abrupt retirement exacerbates what has been a leadership vacuum at a “mismanaged” agency much maligned for the quality of care it administers to dogs and cats.
“We have a rampant flu outbreak causing an increase in dog euthanasia that’s becoming very burdensome to nonprofit rescue groups that assist in rescuing dogs from there. We need someone who knows what they’re doing,” Owen said Tuesday.
“Other shelters have been successful in limiting the spread of illness. Chicago has never been able to do that. Any time we rescue a dog from there, we have to set aside a large amount of money, usually more than $1,000 because most of the animals who come from there are sick,” she said. “They don’t have a successful protocol for limiting diseases spread in the shelter. They don’t have a successful isolation protocol for animals that are sick. That’s a leadership problem. We need a director experineced in animal control and government so they can come up with policies and strategies and find a way to get them implemented.”
Susan Taney, president of Lost Dogs Illinois, said “animals need to have a voice” in how the city pound is run and a only nationwide search can give them that voice.
“They need to increase their return-to-owner rate with dogs. It’s under 30 percent. They took in 60,000 animals in three years and only adopted out 4,000. They have no desire to develop adoption programs while many others have viable adoption programs. They’re not hiring the right people,” Taney said.
Taney noted that the city pound is getting an $8.4 million overhaul 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.
“You can sit there and have the best facility in the world. If you don’t have the right management, it doesn’t make a difference. The problems are going to be there,” she said.
Sarah Lauch said she quit six months ago after spending 3 1/2 years as an Animal Care and Control volunteer.
“The public isn’t aware of what’s going on there. They hide a lot of it and shut down people who want to talk about it,” Lauch said.
“What they care about right now is intake. People dropping off dogs. Dogs coming from the street. Strays. More than the outcome and saving the dogs, which is really a shame,” Lauch said. “A high-kill shelter should care more about dogs going out the door. They need somebody who’s worked in a big city like New York or Los Angeles and has experience dealing with the public and volunteers who can help you. Now, they turn a blind eye to people who can help them. It’s really, really sad.”
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.
Two years ago, 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 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.
Prior to the $2 million donation, Wolves owner Donald Levin publicly demanded sweeping reforms at the city pound “so I can continue to give” donations. He was responding to a BGA 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.