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With a standing ovation, Council approves new director for troubled city pound

Animal Care and Control shelter,

Chicago's Animal Care and Control shelter. | Sun-Times file photo

With a standing ovation and praise from a dog-loving alderman, the City Council on Wednesday confirmed Kelley Gandurski as the $130,008-a-year executive director of Chicago’s chronically-troubled Animal Care and Control shelter.

Gandurski replaces Susan Russell, who was fired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel last summer 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 served as deputy and general counsel under Russell and has been the acting executive director since June 30, when Russell was fired. Prior to that, she served as supervising senior counsel in the city’s Law Department.

“The efforts that we’ve seen over the past several months thanks to her leadership at Animal Care and Control have been astounding, bringing us ever closer to the philosophy of being a no-kill city,” said dog-loving Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), who spent years railing about conditions at the city pound.

“We’ve seen an increase in live outcomes while also seeing an increase in the amount of animals taken to the city’s only open-enrollment shelter,” Lopez added. “Euthanasia is down. Volunteerism is up. And enthusiasm — not only at the shelter, but throughout all 50 wards in the city—is at, what I believe to be at a record-high. And none of that would be possible without [the] appointment of Kelley as director.”

With Gandurski and her family seated in the VIP box reserved for city department heads, Emanuel talked about the “two critical missions” of the Commission on Animal Care and Control.

“One is ensuring the safety of our residents. But most importantly, ensuring the safety of our pets,” the mayor said.

“As somebody who grew up with a lot of dogs in our household, they’re more than just a pet. They end up being a member of your family. That’s why you have a special mission in making sure the department upholds the values of the city and ensures that a member of the family is taken care of.”

Since Gandurski grabbed control of the regulatory leash, Emanuel said, “There’s a calmness, a focus and a purpose to that mission. And that shows the kind of quality that you personally bring. It’s not just doing the job. It’s something personal to you.”

A news release distributed by the mayor’s office after the City Council vote claimed a host of improvements under Gandurski’s watch.

Dog adoptions and rescue transfers are each up by over 300, compared to the same period last year. According to the city, 372 dogs and 400 cats were adopted. Another 1,414 dogs and 1,187 cats were transferred to rescue groups. And 493 dogs and 57 cats were returned to their owners.

In August, Animal Care and Control moved to relieve overcrowding at the city pound by using mobile microchip scanners to scan lost pets and return them to their owners without processing them through the shelter, 2741 S. Western Ave.

The 60 microchip scanners were donated by the Animal Farm Foundation and 10 more given by Best Friends Animal Society.

The mayor’s office also credited Gandurski with: securing private funding for “medicinal heartworm treatment” for shelter dogs; coordinating a multi-department effort to “rescue more than 50 animals” from the home an elderly resident; and creating a so-called “TLC Cat Team” to provide “more individualized care” to cats, including “in-kennel enrichment” during their shelter stays.