Writer's note: Thank you for sharing and calling on this bill. We'd like to thank Representative Sara Feigenholtz for going to bat for the animals and Representative Rosenthaul for working to table this legislation. See updated story here.
If you’re involved in animal rescue, you know there is a huge pet overpopulation problem. There are too many pets in need homes and not enough adopters to give these dogs and cats a second chance. No place is this more apparent than your local animal control. This is where abused animals get refuge, strays come in, where families leave pets when they run out of options and where pets no longer wanted get left behind.
At so many animal controls, it’s a land of heartbreak where second chances are not as prevalent as people on the street suspect. Animal control is where the clock runs too fast for pets needing a second chance. If an Illinois politician gets his way, the clock will be ticking even faster and more pets will be facing the death penalty because animal controls are about to get more crowded under a proposed Illinois animal control bill.
Illinois Senate Bill 648 is a misguided piece of legislation that is working it’s way through various committees in Springfield and is now in the Agriculture Committee. What the proposed Illinois animal control bill will do is take the years of hard work done by rescues to take some of the burden off animal controls that has been saving lives and will dump the whole abandoned pet population back in the land of the overpopulated.
Strays and animal control
Sections of the proposed Illinois animal control bill have shifted as it has worked its way around Springfield. But the more questionable aspects of Illinois Senate BIll 648 are still in play. One section of the legislation will require animal shelters to turn in stray dogs and cats to animal controls or law enforcement within 24 hours or face a fine. While this is a bad idea in general for cats and dogs, on the cat side it will set back rescue advances many years and cost thousands of lives.
Throughout the Chicago-area, non-profit shelters and rescues have been taking some of the burden off animal controls through Trap-Neuter-Return programs. These programs focus on community stray and feral cats and take responsibility for the future of these cats instead of adding to the burden at animal controls.
Strays and ferals are trapped – spayed or neutered – and then the feral cats are returned to managed colonies where they serve as a deterrent to the rodent population in many neighborhoods. Strays are then taken in by shelters and rescues. Those groups work to find the cats and kittens new homes without sending them through animal control and adding to the overpopulation there.
Since 2007, Cook County has had an ordinance on the books aimed a managing feral cat colonies in the county. From 2007 to 2012, non-profit, privately funded groups have spayed or neutered nearly 17,500 cats and kittens. There are over 1,000 managed cat colonies caring for over 7,000 cats in the county and one group – Tree House Humane Society manages 333 colonies and over 2,000 cats in the program.
In Lake County, Fat Cat Rescue and Spay and Stay have tackled the stray and feral cat issue helping keep the numbers down at Waukegan and North Chicago Animal Controls and in other communities. Many other small groups have done the same tackling the stray cat situation in their communities one trap at a time.
If the stray pet provision stays in the proposed Illinois animal control bill, these efforts would come to a screeching halt. All strays would go straight to animal controls instead and these animals would be added to the group of many cats and dogs needing to be networked to rescue if they want to survive. That brings us to the next provision of Illinois Senate Bill 648.
Who will rescue from animal controls?
The past several years, dedicated volunteers have worked hard to network dogs and cats out of animal controls to rescues and non-profits. In Dupage County, Friends of Dupage County Animal Care and Control networked so well that it hit zero euthanasia for space last year for both cats and dogs. Animal control workers at Waukegan and North Chicago have done the same thing.
At Chicago Animal Care and Control, thousands of animals still die each year, but the numbers would be much higher without volunteers on the cat and dog transfer teams. They network the dogs, cats and rabbits to approved shelters and rescues and those groups will pull pets from animal controls and adopt them out.
Senate Bill 648 would put a stop to that. According to the most recent version posted online, animal control facilities would be prohibited from releasing any animal to individuals representing animal shelters unless that person represents not-for-profit, out-of-state organizations and the animal is being transferred out of Illinois.
That would mean that Illinois’ own dedicated animal rescue workers would be cut out of the picture in their own state. There’s been some outcry over the legislation and national groups like Best Friends and Alley Cat Allies have started petitions to rally support. Now, it’s time for our own animal rescue community to start calling lawmakers and the news media to get the word out on how much the proposed Illinois animal control bill will hurt animal rescue within the state.
Reach out to Senator Andy Manar in Springfield at 217-782-0228 or 618-635-2583 and respectfully let him know how his Illinois Senate Bill 648 will harm rescue efforts statewide. Look up other members of the Senate here and House here. Or call Governor Quinn at 312-814-2121 to express your views. But whatever you do, don’t wait for this to continue to play out in Springfield until it’s too late to save lives.
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