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Death of dog at city pound fuels demand for ‘culture change’

Animal Care and Control shelter,

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

A deep-pockets donor and a rookie alderman on Tuesday demanded a “culture change” at Chicago’s Commission on Animal Care and Control after the death of a pit bull at a city pound that, its executive director warned, is “full to the brim.”

Devyn, a female pit bull, was admitted to the David R. Lee Animal Care Shelter, 2741 S. Western, on July 10 after a veterinary exam that noted only that the dog had dirty ears and a scratch on one ear. An antibiotic and pain medication were prescribed.

By July 22, the dog had developed a “kennel cough, non-fatal.” Eight days later, Devyn was examined again and had developed “loose stool, some blood present,” the veterinary report said.

On Aug. 4, Devyn was found dead in her cage — just as volunteers had been finalizing the dog’s transfer to a rescue society specializing in pit bulls.

The latest in a string of unexplained deaths of dogs in the city’s custody infuriated Chicago Wolves Board Chairman Don Levin, a dog lover who is one of Animal Care and Control’s biggest benefactors.

“This is the kind of job that steals your soul. It’s like being in a war zone. You’re seeing terrible things all the time. Some people just become immune to the misery they see and function without concern for animals around them. They expect bad things to happen,” said Levin, whose $1 million donation paved the way for a long-awaited overhaul of the city pound.

“There’s no reason why a dog or any animal should not get their medicine. Yet, there seems to be a lot of pills left on the ground. If I understand it, this dog was sick. Antibiotics were not administered. A lot of people in management are upset.”

Levin was asked to prescribe a remedy for a chronically-troubled, $4.3 million-a-year agency with 62 employees and a revolving door at the top.

“They need to have people who know how to do their job — how to give a dog a pill and watch them eat it. They have a lot of dogs and too few people . . . This new [Executive Director Susan Russell] who just came in is a volunteer who cares about animals. But she doesn’t have a background in shelter management. She’s learning on the fly,” Levin said.

“Maybe if they rotate people so they’re not dealing with this every day. The ideal position would be to privatize and have people there who really want to be there — not people put there to retire from a city job. But the problem with privatization is there’s not enough money provided by the city for somebody to come in and do it.”

Russell denied that Devyn’s death was either “unexplained” or the fault of her inundated staff.

“Devyn’s death was not a mystery. Devyn had an ear wound when she entered the city shelter on July 9 as a stray. She became sick with kennel cough on July 12 and began treatment. Her health continued to decline, and she had bloody diarrhea,” Russell was quoted as saying in an emailed statement.

“Due to the aforementioned health issues, Devyn was not a candidate for adoption. She was available for rescue for 11 days. CACC’s transfer team was informed on August 2 that Devyn’s health was deteriorating and that she would need to be transferred by August 3 and taken straight to a veterinarian. A rescue stepped up on August 3, but Devyn had already passed away. CACC suspects the cause of death was pneumonia.”

Russell said she shares the alderman’s goal of saving more lives. She noted that the euthanasia rate for July was down 40 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) was so furious about Devyn’s death he demanded a management overhaul, even though Russell has been on the job as executive director for just two months.

“We need to get leadership in there that is genuinely concerned and willing to work for the humane treatment of animals. Not just concerned about cranking out space and processing the next animal. We can’t claim to be moving toward a no-kill city if we’re not providing humane treatment for animals we have,” Lopez said.

Earlier this year, Lopez introduced a resolution calling for Chicago to become a “no-kill” city where animals brought to shelters are euthanized only if they are terminally ill. He also proposed that animal control officers carry equipment to check stray dogs for microchips and take those licensed strays home instead of to the city pound.

On Tuesday, Lopez argued that Devyn’s death underscores the urgent need to implement a no-kill policy.

“As long as we have euthanization as an option, our employees will not be as concerned about the safety and well-being of animals as they should be. Unless there’s a cultural shift in that building, we’re gonna end up seeing more of the same when it comes to how these animals are treated,” he said.

“When the director writes in a Facebook post that they’re ‘filled to the brim,’ it worries me because the appropriate attention required and the correct medical care needed is not necessarily being given.”