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Aldermen’s plan could make it easier for city to be no-kill zone

Chicago would become a “no-kill” city where animals brought to shelters are euthanized only if they are terminally ill, if Aldermen Ray Lopez (15th) and Edward Burke (14th) get their way. | Sun-Times file photo

Chicago animal control officers would carry equipment to determine whether a stray dog has a microchip and take those licensed strays home instead of to the city pound under a plan proposed Monday to make it easier for the city to become a no-kill zone.

Aldermen Ray Lopez (15th) and Edward Burke (14th) want to lighten the load on Chicago’s overburdened animal control army by reducing the number of dogs brought to the David R. Lee Animal Care Shelter, 2741 S. Western.

“If an animal is retrieved 3 miles from its house with a detectable microchip, [Animal Care] will bring the animal immediately to its home as opposed to taking it back to the shelter and waiting for someone to find it there,” Lopez said of the ordinance expected to be introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“We’re hoping to cut down dramatically on the number of animals that are brought back to [Animal Care], saving money and focusing on animals we really need to help,” he said.

Last month, Burke and 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.

On Monday, Lopez acknowledged that the new ordinance is aimed at making it easier and less costly to accomplish that lofty goal by easing the daily burden on Chicago’s Commission on Animal Care and Control.

“One less animal in the shelter definitely reduces the possibility of being euthanized later,” Lopez said.

“We’re trying to reduce the number of dogs and cats that we find on the street and take away an unnecessary step of having to have an owner come from their house who may not even know the dog has escaped a couple blocks away,” he said. “This way, we can just take the dog straight to that person’s home.”

In 2009, the City Council agreed to throw the book at the owners of loud dogs that keep their Chicago neighbors awake at night.

The crackdown was spearheaded by Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), who now serves as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader. It called for fines ranging from $50 to $250 for each offense against the owners of constant yappers.

At the time, O’Connor said he did not expect an avalanche of citations. Rather, the ordinance would give police the legal ammunition they need to resolve dog-related disputes that pit neighbor against neighbor.

“Instead of appealing to people’s good nature, they’ll be able to solve the problem. Just having the capacity to write a citation, people will be more cooperative,” he said.

The ordinance defined “excessive noise” as “continued, repeated or habitual barking, whining, crying, howling, whimpering, crowing or loud noise.”

Fines would be triggered only if the racket “exceeds 10 consecutive minutes” or occurs “intermittently for a significant portion of the day or night” and is “louder than average conversational level at a distance of 100 feet or more.”

On Monday, Lopez and Burke unveiled a stronger version. It would make it a crime to leave a dog out unattended or unrestrained “for any amount of time” or to “stake out any dog, regardless of gender” on private property for more than two consecutive hours.

“It’s been a complaint from a numerous amount of organizations who wanted to see some sort of action,” Lopez said. “The solution is plain and simple: Don’t leave your dogs tethered to a pole in your backyard for any more than two hours at a time. It’s a quality of life issue for an animal in the neighborhood.”

According to animal rights advocates, the city pound killed more than 10,000 animals over the past two years at a cost of $1.1 million.

A no-kill shelter would make putting dogs and cats to sleep a last resort. Dogs and cats would never be put down because a shelter is running out of room.

When the resolution was introduced last month, Lopez brushed aside the possible cost of keeping animals alive at a time when homeowners are bracing for property tax bills reflecting the $588 million increase the Council approved last fall for police and fire pensions and school construction.

“We have a social obligation. And as a city, there’s always going to be a cost with something,” he said then. “We spend about one-third of what most major cities spend on Animal Care and Control. It’s a social issue. We have a lot of people who are dog-friendly, cat-friendly. And if we’re truly serious about protecting our pets and giving them the best opportunity, we need to put our money where our mouth is.”

At the time, Emanuel said he was inclined to support the no-kill philosophy.

“I have a long record . . . and we’ve done some things . . . as it relates to protection of animals. I take that issue very seriously,” he said.

“I want to look at the details of this resolution. But anything that gets us closer to a more humane effort as it relates to dogs particularly — that’s going to be something that’s dear to my heart.”