Illinois Animal Shelters Will Ultimately Benefit; The Real Story

Illinois Animal Shelters Will Ultimately Benefit; The Real Story
The heartwarming story of stockings the kitten...Back on his four paws!

Illinois Animal shelters and rescues are overwhelmed as it is. Pet blogging colleagues ChicagoNow.com's Kathy Mordini of Raining Cats & Dogs and Dancing Dog Blogger Mary Haight both did superb jobs of articulated why a bill proposed in Illinois, SB0648,  sponsored by State Senator Andy Manar  (48th district) and House sponsor Wayne Rosenthal (95th District) was not a good idea. I agree.

Sen. Andy Manar

Sen. Andy Manar

However, here's the story behind the story, Manar and Rosenthal's motivations for crafting such a bill are compelling.  I admire Manar, Rosenthal, and now Sara Feigenholtz  (12th district) for their determination, yet willingness to put the bill on hold in order to do the right thing.

When it was announced that the bill (SB0648) might pass, animal lovers on the Internet exploded. Various national animal welfare organizations as well as local shelters. including Tree House Humane Society in Chicago; and countless others around the state and around the country emailed Manar and Rosenthal. Some of those emails unjustly vaulted personal attacks against the public officials.

Just before the flurry of blog posts appeared, and emails were launched, I personally reached out to Rep. Rosenthal. We spoke. And the result of our conversation will surprise many....'Till now, I've not publicly spoken about this. I wasn't going to - but I'm telling the story mostly because I don't want Manar and Rosenthal to be attacked for wanting to do the right thing, as I believe they are.

Rep. Wayne Rosenthal

Rep. Wayne Rosenthal

I began the phone call by explaining to Rep. Rosenthal that the proposed piece of legislation - which would have required animal private shelters and rescues to turn in stray dogs and cats to animal control or law enforcement within 24 hours or face a fine is a bad idea.

I explained this proposed bill is antithetical to progress made in recent years, as rescues and private shelters increasingly take pressure off government animal control agencies. As a result, countless lives have been saved. Cat rescue, in particular, would be affected. Trap, neuter, return (TNR) gives stray kittens and friendly (once-owned) cats a chance to be adopted from others, which often goes well - rather than go to animal control. It's unclear, but likely the way the bill was authored TNR efforts( to trap, neuter and return feral or community cats; spay/neutering these cats, vaccinating for rabies and returning them humanely to live out their lives without continuing to reproduce) could be limited. For shelters like Tree House, the bill would impact their ability to instantly take in sick, injured or abused animals. Also, the way the bill was written could have restricted foster families for quickly taking in animals from places other than animal control.

There was an outcry about SB0648, Haight was among those who led the charge, "In an animal community shocker, an ill-conceived, poorly advised piece of legislation."

Only a pawful knew the story behind the story - why this bill - was conceived in the first place. And you'll be shocked, perhaps, that these public officials actually are on the right track. At least, I believe so.

It's complicated to explain. I will do my best.

A dog in Bunker Hill was either lost or stolen (apparently likely the latter) from a yard in February. Buddy, the Black Labrador, happened to belong to a neighbor of Manar's.  Someone identified the dog via social media which was being held by a "rescue" in nearby Madison County.  Reportedly, the dog was picked up with frostbite, worms, fleas, and severely injured a leg. The "rescue" asked for donations online to pay for medical care, and reportedly raised over $1,200.

When animal care and control officials in Bunker Hill heard about this, they were first reportedly denied when asked to get Buddy back and return him to the rightful owners. According to a veterinary evaluation, aside from arthritis (greatly due to old age), this dog never needed care for an injured leg. Eventually, there was a happy ending, as Buddy was finally returned to his family.

The details aren't as important as the larger picture of what's going on around the country....

Pets are taken in by a so-called rescue or shelter, which may or may not be a legit 5013c non-profit. These pets may be voluntarily relinquished to these places, lost or even stolen by the so-called non-profit animal rescues. Anyone can say anything online - it doesn't mean it's what you really are. Even if it is a legit 501 3-C, can the co-called organization solicit dollars via the Internet for medical care which isn't even needed? Buddy reportedly had ID, yet wasn't returned. Shouldn't that be unlawful?  Maybe shelters and rescues should be more specifically defined as well.

I agree, that the first crack at a bill meant to deal with these issues was very poorly written. The truth is that Rosenthal told me that he agreed too. As people and organizations were furiously shooting nasty emails, and calling their offices, Rosenthal was very obliging. He explained the motivation behind creating the bill and agreed to table the bill until he comes up with something better where unintended consequences aren't as likely to occur. He will enlist the help of longtime animal welfare advocate, Rep. Feigenholtz.

Rep. Sara Feigenholtz

Rep. Sara Feigenholtz

Rosenthal also agreed to hear input from a panel of local experts. He asked me to suggest some, and I have done so.

On May 25, Rosenthal and Feigenholtz appear on my WGN Radio show, Steve Dale's Pet World, 6:35AM CDT - and you can offer input yourself, if you like.

Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

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  • Thank you for this - a lot of us were truly puzzled at the rationale for the bill. But it seemed to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I know there are bad rescues, but if that's the main issue troubling the legislators, there's a better way to address it than to completely disable all the good ones. Engaging with the experts sounds like a good step - one that would have saved time and trouble for everyone.

  • Beth - thing is they actually agree with you...hope you share the post so more people know the intent isn't a bad one....And now they will start from scratch....

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    After reading your article I still don't understand the original motivation of the bill. Also, a bill IS the language of the bill. If the language was wrong, the bill was wrong. "It's the thought that counts" doesn't really cut it when you're talking about legislation.

    If the problem the bill is trying to fix is CACC's recent f-up with PFTH, routing all strays through animal control is not a solution, given that PFTH got almost all of their cats from CACC. More money to city/county animal shelters might help, so they can employ reputable vets and administrators.

    Whatever the intent of this bill was--still unclear to me after reading what you wrote--I'm glad it was tabled.

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    I do not believe animals will ultimately benefit. It appears that animal owners will benefit. Possibly bad owners that would rather their pets die at Animal Control then be nursed to health in a rescue. How did Buddy get frost bite?

  • In reply to Connie Burgan:

    ?? The point is that it's possible Buddy might not have ever had frostbite in the first place, is that it may have been made up. No matter, this isn't solely about Buddy. it's about re-selling animals under false pretenses, it's about shelters and rescues who are 5013C's that shouldn't be.....or saying they are even if they are not.

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    I'm not sure why this is presented as such as mystery. I thought we were all aware of the motivation. And the problem is that someone who had easy access created a massive amount of upheaval by blindly asserting their complaint on the entire state of Illinois. It is simply irresponsible, and it is regrettable that people had to set their other activities aside to rush in a panic to table this bill. I hope the legislators involved learned a lesson about how to take a personal, isolated complaint and try to shove new controls over everyone in an entire state. I would think they took their role more seriously, and respected private animal care efforts more than this. Since when is a disagreement over the care of how an animal should be cared for a big deal? The owners learned of the dog's location AFTER the hold period was up, according to a lawyer I spoke with. Ok, so the limp was created by arthritis. Caring for a dog with arthritis costs money! Ideally, that dog would have expensive neutraceutical supplements and acupressure, acupuncture or cold laser therapy, as anyone with a large, arthritic dog should know. And so does a dog full of parasites and frostbite. This article ticks me off as much as the original bill. I don't even see where there was a problem, other than irresponsible owners complaining because someone else took their dog and was prepared to actually care for it. Again, animals are being viewed as property and objects and their own best interests are being overlooked. If the current regulations were followed: the dog was held for 3 full days and available for collection by the registered owners, and then reverted to be the property of the private group who was prepared to care for it, there was no problem here. Cities and counties kill people's pets every day with less justification than this. Sound like Mr Rosenthal has a nice way with words to convince people that his intentions are grand, but I challenge everyone to think critically and clearly about what really happened, and the realities of neglected and homeless pets on the street every day, and who truly steps up to care for them, in relationship to the "rights" of "owners".

  • It was a personal complaint that began all but not isolated....this sort of thing is happening around the country.

    This has nothing to do with other homeless pets - I honestly don't know what you are saying here. A pet may have been lost or stolen from a yard (unsure which), then allegedly people were asked to pay for medical care which was never needed (which is sadly not uncommon on the Internet these days). The "rescue" involved reportedly by those I spoke to refused to work with officials from the county where the dog was originally lost or stolen. This all this be allowed? And how do you know these owners were irresponsible. They did leave the dog out in the yard, which I am no fan of in general....but people do that everyday....Whether the dog got our or was actually stolen remains unclear. It's possible the list of medical complaints were made up, except that the dog was arthritic (due to age). And you and I don't know that the owners weren't treating the dog for arthritis. How in the world do you know that, or assume that? I don't know either - but am not assuming. Feel free, though to call in on Sunday morning and talk with the public official.

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    The dog was not stolen. The dog was in the street. Yes they thought the dogs leg was broken. Because it was out in the street with icicles hanging from it on one of the coldest days of the year. He had bald patches of fur from being infested from fleas. His teeth are worn down to nubs from chewing on himself. He had parasites crawling out of his behind. The "owners' have been cited twice, with no follow up, for their dog running at large and no rabies vaccinations. They claim he lived in the garage with the door open for him to come and go as he pleases. None of this information was disclosed. A plea was placed on social media of a dog in the street with icicles hanging off of him and him not being able to walk. This "incident" has been blown way out of proportion. The dog was treated for fleas and parasites and brought up to date on shots he has never received in his life. This rescue has offered to treat him medically for his arthritis and other ailments to the family. But they weren't interested. They had no proof of ownership other than citation received in 2005 and 2007. No follow up on either. It sure is a shame that all of the good work this group does, all of the dogs that cost thousands of dollars to treat, are at risk of being forgotten about. Never did she not want the dog with his family. She wanted him to be kept within a fence to be safe. And his medical needs met. The pushers of this bill are going by small town gossip and half truths.

  • In reply to Betsy Clayton:

    I don't know I've heard another story (not from the proponents of the bill, but from animal control)....No matter, this is really not about one story or incident - what I described has happened over and over around the country.....and should be addressed, would be nice if Illinois was the first....If not, I hope another state steps up.

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    In reply to Steve Dale:

    I guess Animal Control, that you talked to, should be asked, why the dog was allowed to roam free? Why there was no enforcement of the leash laws? And the supposed 1200 in donations? Was for 3 dogs undergoing ortho surgeries. Many times a dog has been found and returned, with help with vetting for owners that cannot afford it. Do all rescues do this? No. And more money comes out of personal pockets then you ever receive in donations. Then Again, going one sided on this, I truly wish you'd of gotten the whole story, instead of from someone that clearly wasn't doing their job in the first place. Regardless the bill does need better wording. And placing the extra burden on understaffed Animal controls with limited space is not the answer.

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    Yes, there is a problem with animal cruelty all over the country.

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    I think the Legal system should be more focused on all the animal cruelty and abuse that is going on then on the rescues and shelters trying to stand up for these animals in need. The Bunker Hill incident where a concerned citizen contacted a local rescue group in order for the dog to get help and that is exactly what the local rescue group did. They helped get this dog off the street and out of harms way. And now they are being punished for doing so. If the so called responsible owner would've had the dog microchipped and vetting records to prove it was their dog there would not have even been an issue. As well as if the local animal control facility would've done their job this dog wouldn't have been running at large. Putting more work and dogs into local animal control facilities is only going to cause euthanasia rates to rise.

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    Thanks very much for the background to this. Obviously the bill needs to be aimed at those rescues not acting in accordance with the law and let the legitimate rescues do the work. There are way too many well meaning people wanting to rescue animals for their cause and doing more harm than good. I do not donate to these organizations using horror stories to get money on social media and people should do more investigation before they do.

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    I don't think the idea is all bad. Most people look for lost pets at the area shelters. Do you know how hard it would be to track your pet down by looking at every rescue group in the area? Heck most people do not even know the names of all the rescue groups in the area. Just change it so that pre approved rescues or fosters only have to notify the shelter ( including photos and doing a microchip scan.) to keep the dog for a set number of days, and release the dog if the owner comes forward within that time frame. Require shelters to keep the dog in the same information loop and databases that it would if it was actually in the shelter. The shelter should also maintain a photo book of all dogs kept offsite, that is presented when someone is looking for a lost pet.

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    PS My comment above is especially true if the lost pet is owned by an elderly person.

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    The number one place that a lost pet owner looks for his/her pet is animal control. There is no state wide database for lost animals (remember animals do not recognize city, or county boundaires or a Good Samaritan might take the animal out of the area to a rescue, vet clinic or animal control facility that they know of and then the animal is out of the area where the animal went missing). Many of the facilities, vet clinics, police depts, etc. do not post pictures on a facebook page or website. Fees are punitive and staff will not negotiate the fees. Many families live pay check to pay check AND their love their animal just as much as all of us do but can't afford the hundreds of dollars to get their anmal out. BUT after the hold period the ACO will adopt out the animal at much lower fee. Where is the common sense? Get the animal back to the animal's rightful owner. Many facilities will not do field redemptions or free ride home which means if the animal is microchipped, has an ID tag or county license, the animal is returned to owner and not brought to the facility. What a great way to generate good will and positive press for an ACO faciilty. It is time to really look at the system. Animals are falling through the cracks. As the Director of Lost Dogs Illinois, I see this everyday. As Mitch Schneider, former Director of Washoe County Animal Services, says, By getting a lost pet home, it creates less stress for the owner, owner's pet, staff and volunteers of the facility and animals in the faciilty and also saves taxpayers money. Before any bills are written, the legislature needs to do their homework. There are organizations in the US that have over 50% return to owner rates and some even have 75% RTO for dogs. Even some faciites have over 10% RTO's rates for cats. It is time for change but the right change.

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    In reply to Susan Taney:

    Robbie: Most states have a law that states that if you are able to pick up an animal, that means it is socialized and that you are obligated to report it as "found". If rescues refuse to do this - then they should be sued individually until they comply. Making a broad law t cover ALL animals, even those SUFFERING AND ILL is wrong. It is also animal abuse. You people ASSUME that animal control likes animals. They don't. They hate animals. Animals, to them, are the enemy and the criminals. Put an ad on craigslist in the pet section if you lost an animal. Do the same thing if you found an animal. Use Kijiji, use the online parts of the newspaper, that is free for lost and found pets - which makes this animal-hating legislation completely worthless. The only reason this law is here is because the idiots who wrote it think their constituents are stupid enough to think it is a good idea so they will vote for those asshats again. Unfortunately, most people who have pets are just about that stupid..

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    It makes no difference whatsoever the reasoning for the bill - it will still mean the deaths of hundreds of thousands of animals -- and YOU should know that. You have already admitted it will hurt TNR efforts. Most people don't know this, but if you take an injured animal to "animal control' they will either kill it, or let it suffer all night long, or even longer. Name one animal control outfight that has EVER taken an injured or sick animal immediately to a vet for treatment. Just one will do. In other news, you should be ashamed of yourself for siding with these idiots who hate animals. You are lower than dog poop. You are making excuses for them, and real animal advocates aren't buying it. There are laws that govern how "found" animals are to be handled in almost every state in the Union - I am willing to bet that if you put forth some effort you will find that IL has those, too - which makes this idiotic legislation completely unnecessary and contrary.

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    In reply to Michelle Adams:

    Excellent point. The people I spoke with today in both Senator Manar's office and in Represenative Rosenthal's office both accused me of stereotyping animal control as not being animal advocates. Silly me.

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    It's a shame that a tag and collar or a chip could have prevented this. Mandatory chips would be a much better piece of legislation. This was a simple civil lawsuit that was blown into a taxpayer funded favor to a senator's neighbor. There is more to this story than is written in this article and I encourage everyone to do their own research, as I have done. As of the date of this post, the legislation is tabled, but still very much alive. There is still so very much wrong with this proposed legislation, that incidentally according to Senator Manar's office, was written with the help of "a couple of animal controls". It needs to be completely thrown out and start over. This is a civil matter between two parties and animal control should not be invited.

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