A divided Human Services Committee voted 4-2 to overrule a recommendation by the animal shelter subcommittee on March 3. Despite a recommendation that C.A.R.E. cease operations at the shelter by April 30, 2014, the organization will be given the opportunity to review and consider a new agreement prepared by City staff setting forth the City’s “vision of what we want our shelter to be,” said Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, who proposed the measure.
As a result, the subcommittee’s recommendations did not advance beyond the Human Services Committee to the full City Council despite the fact that both the subcommittee and the Police Department, whose animal warden works closely with the shelter, called the relationship between C.A.R.E. and the City broken beyond repair.
At issue is the Shelter’s “kill rate,” the percentage of dogs euthanized by the City rather than adopted or transferred to another animal welfare agency. The kill rate has risen as high as 46 percent recently, based entirely on a decisions made by C.A.R.E.’s animal evaluators, the “highest rate in the Chicago area,” said Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward. Evaluators determine whether a dog can be adopted based upon its health and its perceived adaptability to humans and children.
The dispute began when a group of C.A.R.E. volunteers challenged the decision to euthanize “the lucky 18,” dogs they felt could be adopted. The volunteers, completely on their own, managed to find homes for those animals before the City’s animal warden could kill them. One such dog, Claude (now “Flip”), was adopted by Ald. Fiske.
Concern about shelter adoption polices centered on dogs only. The cat side was not implicated at all, and Ald. Fiske specifically acknowledged that by all accounts the cat side of C.A.R.E. does great work.
Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, who served on the subcommittee along with Ald. Fiske, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, three persons from C.A.R.E.’s board and three concerned C.A.R.E. volunteers, wrote the subcommittee’s report. According to the report, the subcommittee voted 5-2, with one abstention, to sever ties with C.A.R.E..
The reasoning, according to the report: “Among other issues, the majority of the subcommittee believed that C.A.R.E. was unwilling to adjust its animal-evaluation procedures to achieve the goal of broadening options for animal placement. This goal would ensure that the greatest number of animals received at the shelter are placed with individuals [or] families, or transferred to foster families or rescue organizations.”
Police Chief Richard Eddington agreed, saying, “The whole system has been built upon this: Someone has to evaluate the dog. ... C.A.R.E. is the ‘adoption guys.’ They determine whether a dog can be adopted. ... We were the dogcatchers. For us to run a separate adoption agency would not have made sense [under the City’s agreement with C.A.R.E.].”
He continued, saying the Police Department was ready to take over the shelter because of “C.A.R.E.’s unwillingness to modify its evaluation process – [their] unwillingness to deviate from the current path. ... I don’t know that the relationship [between C.A.R.E. and the City] is reparable.”
The full Human Services committee, while acknowledging the subcommittee’s work, was unwilling to recommend ending the City’s 25-year relationship with C.A.R.E. At the March 3 meeting, Ald. Grover said, “It is precipitous to terminate a relationship with C.A.R.E.”
Time and again, their concerns focused on the make-up of the C.A.R.E. board of directors and leadership. “C.A.R.E.’s board of directors is getting in its own way,” said Ald. Grover. They have “handicapped themselves” and need “new leadership,” she added. “The board needs to look within itself.”
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, agreed. “I’m not sure if getting rid of C.A.R.E. is the right decision. I am concerned about the board,” he said. He said he would be willing to put his own dog through the adoptability evaluation “to see how the process works.”
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, focused on the animal warden, who until recently carried out the euthanasia procedures based upon C.A.R.E.’s evaluation. “We have control over this,” she said. “We can make changes. We can do whatever we want.”
The committee members also expressed concern over C.A.R.E.’s dedication and commitment to Evanston. “I don’t hear the passion to stay and work with Evanston,” said Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward. “Maybe it’s not there. If it’s not there, then we need to hear it.”
Linda Gelb, who said she has been president of C.A.R.E.’s board of directors for 23 years, said the board has been “rebranding C.A.R.E. for the past three years.” They have removed any reference to Evanston from their website and seek to focus on North Shore communities beyond the City, she said. They are investigating locations outside of Evanston as well, she said.
“We don’t have a clear vision of what the City wants at this point,” she added.
A clear vision, according to the Ald. Grover motion, is coming. Another issue, that of funds raised by C.A.R.E. specifically for a new Evanston animal shelter, must be addressed at some point as well. A subcommittee recommendation is that the City audit C.A.R.E.’s records.
Per the subcommittee report: “The organization has assets over $1 million. We believe that much of this money was raised to support specifically the Evanston Animal Shelter and animal welfare in the City of Evanston. We are concerned by actions in recent months by the C.A.R.E. Board of Directors to distance the organization from service to animals in Evanston and distance itself in name from Evanston.” The audit recommendation was not acted upon Monday night.
The Human Services Committee voted to direct City staff to prepare a draft agreement for C.A.R.E. to review, but added a “fast track” timeframe. The agreement will be ready for review and comment prior to a special Human Services Committee set for March 31. Any tweaks and changes will be added to the agreement at that point, for final passage at the April Committee meeting on April 7.
It is not clear how long C.A.R.E. will be given to reach a decision.
A proposal by Ald. Fiske that the agreement go out as a “request for proposal” to all interested animal welfare agencies offering them the opportunity to take over Evanston operations gained no traction. C.A.R.E. will be the first and only organization reviewing the agreement.