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Green proposes doubling Animal Care budget to make Chicago no-kill city

Animal Care and Control shelter,

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

Mayoral challenger Ja’Mal Green on Monday proposed doubling the $6.4 million-a-year budget of the Commission on Animal Care and Control to enlarge the city pound and finally make Chicago a “no-kill” city where animals are euthanized only if terminally ill.

To bankroll the expansion, Green proposed incentives for the widely ignored dog license and following the lead of Zurich and other European cities by creating a $10 “behavioral test” for dogs before licenses are issued.

To reduce what he called the city’s “alarming” rate of killing animals, Green also proposed a “pets for vets” program to turn dogs held in the city pound into service and emotional support animals for veterans and disabled Chicagoans.

“My dog was mauled by four pit bulls last year. They were dog fighting in the neighborhood and, next thing you know, they jumped over my grandmother’s fence and mauled my dog to death,” Green said.

“We need to find new creative ways to make sure these dogs are registered and not just running loose and attacking people or other animals, which is where that behavioral test would come in. We have an outrageous number of dog bites. … The test will … make sure that the dog is behaving properly. The money would go back to the pound for these programs that I’m talking about.”

In 2012, then-City Clerk Susana Mendoza’s carrot-and-stick appeal to Chicago owners of unlicensed dogs more than doubled registration.

Mendoza succeeded where her predecessors failed by offering free rabies vaccines at citywide events and by holding an online dog registration contest with prizes donated by local businesses.

But those carrots were supposed to be followed by a stick: $30 to $200 tickets for dog owners who have thumbed their noses at the city’s mandatory dog license for decades without consequence.

Instead, the city’s Commission on Animal Care and Control dropped the ball either because it was inundated and understaffed or because Mayor Rahm Emanuel changed executive directors just when a ticket blitz was supposed to begin, including stings at dog parks and beaches.

When the threatened hammer never came down, dog owners apparently got lethargic; reducing dog licenses to a new low of just over 18,000 dog licenses in 2017. That’s even though Chicago’s dog population has been pegged at more than 650,000.

On Monday, Green suggested giving dog owners incentives to get their pets licensed, perhaps by partnering with PAWS and offering a month’s supply of dog food.

A no-kill shelter would make euthanizing dogs and cats a last resort. Animals would never be put to sleep just because the city pound is running out of room.

Advocates insist no-kill policies are both humane and financially responsible, particularly in conjunction with programs that boost pet adoptions.

Dog-loving Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) said he’s all for making Chicago a no-kill city. He proposed a similar ordinance last fall, only to have it languish in a City Council committee.

But Lopez said the notion that the city pound is killing more animals under newly-appointed executive director Kelley Gandurski is a falsehood being “spread on Facebook” by allies of her ousted predecessor, Susan Russell.

From June 30 through Sept. 21, 2018, the city actually euthanized 43 fewer animals than it did during the same period a year ago, the alderman said.

“There has been no change in policy. Only in the fact that Kelley is putting more pressure on partnering organizations to get these dogs out of the shelter as quickly as possible,” Lopez said.

“Under Russell, organizations got used to letting animals stay at CACC until they got around to finding a home for an animal they were interested in. Now, the pressure is on them to get the animals out and not simply let taxpayers foot the bill while waiting to find the right home.”

Lopez branded the proposed behavioral test for licensed dogs a “temperament tax,” adding, “that is not the answer to reducing the pet population at” the city pound.

Russell was fired as the city’s $130,008-a-year executive director of Animal Care and Control for allegedly “warehousing” dogs in chronically overcrowded conditions that made dangerous dogs more dangerous.

Sources said Russell’s fate was sealed by her underlying philosophy that every dog, even those deemed dangerous, could be rehabilitated. Russell denied the charge and said she was blind-sided by the firing.

Mayoral spokesperson Julienn Kaviar backed up Lopez on the decline in euthanized animals.

“The assertion that animal euthanasia has increased since Kelley Gandurski assumed the role of Acting Executive Director of Chicago Animal Care and Control on June 30 is patently false,” Kaviar said in a statement that confirmed 43 fewer animals have been euthanized than during the same timeframe as last year, “while animal intake has increased by 383” in the same period.

Gandurski could not be reached for comment.