DOWNTOWN — The deadline is quickly approaching for 10 dogs who, Animal Care and Control volunteers were told with just a day’s notice, will be put down at 7 p.m. Friday.
Volunteers used to have days or even weeks to try to find homes or foster families for the dogs at Animal Control before they were euthanized, but that’s changed and there have been more animals killed in recent weeks, volunteers told Block Club Chicago. Most recently, they said they were told in a Thursday night email the group of 10 dogs would be euthanized on Friday.
“A lot of them are just friendly, nice dogs,” said one volunteer. “They have no issues at all, but they’re being killed. It’s not because [Animal Control is] out of space.”
The volunteers have a laundry list of other complaints, and some are now considering quitting their work at Animal Care and Control in protest.
Three volunteers who spoke with Block Club Chicago asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized by Animal Control to speak to reporters.
The changes started when Kelley Gandurski was named the acting executive director of Animal Care and Control in early July, volunteers said. Gandurski replaced Susan Russell, who was ousted in a hotly debated move that led to at least one protest.
But Gandurski, speaking on Friday, said volunteers were told for weeks that construction is coming, meaning space will be limited and they need to “network the dogs as much as possible.” Gandurski described the department’s shelter as “bursting at the seams” before an adoption event meant 200 dogs and cats were transferred out last weekend.
“We don’t have empty kennel space,” Gandurski said. “Some people might see a kennel that’s empty, but that doesn’t mean we have a plethora of capacity. We really don’t.”
Records from the department show it euthanized fewer dogs this July and August compared to the same period last year. Gandurski said since she took over, the shelter has taken in more dogs and experienced more “live outcomes” than over the same period last year.
“We’ve done more with less, in a way,” Gandurski said.
And Gandurski was praised by Mayor Rahm Emanuel when he officially appointed her to head the department on Wednesday, with the mayor noting in a news release that the department has adopted out 480 pets under her leadership, including 242 dogs.
But the unhappy volunteers said Animal Care and Control has taken major steps back since Gandurski took over and said the uptick in dogs being put down started in September.
Some dogs are killed even when the shelter has space, the animals don’t have behavioral problems or volunteers think they could have found homes for the pets, volunteers said. They also said there’s less communication and collaboration with helpers and the level of care for the animals has dropped.
“They have ample space, so why euthanize? Why not give dogs a chance?” one volunteer said. “I just don’t understand the archaic way in which they deal with this problem.”
The helpers have also been left frustrated and heartbroken when dogs are euthanized with little or no warning for volunteers, who, in the past, would be given more notice to try to find another space for the dogs.
Some dogs are killed without volunteers ever being notified they’re going to be put down, a helper said. One volunteer said she paid out of her own pocket to advertise a dog up for adoption online and found an owner only to be told the dog had already been killed.
“In a way it’s disrespectful to the work the volunteers do because it puts them up against the clock when the fact is there’s space there,” said one volunteer who’s helped at Animal Care and Control for more than a year. “Everyone is upset.”
Gandurski said the department considers a variety of things — including the overall health of the dog, mentally and physically — when determining what to do with a dog, and that it isn’t giving volunteers less notice if it does decide to put down an animal.
“It’s just that when we’re saying the dogs are really urgent, we really mean it,” she said.
A dog scheduled to be put down Friday:
Frustrated and heartbroken over the “big change” to Animal Care and Control in recent months, at least 10 volunteers are now considering stopping their work there, one helper said.
“We’re looking for respect, No. 1,” that volunteer said. “We’re looking for a collaborative relationship like we had before. … Right now we don’t have either of those.”
Gandurski said she’s heard concerns from some volunteers and plans to meet with them in coming weeks. She’s encouraged them to stop by her office, speak with her via email and conference calls and organize meetings with her, she said. But she said volunteers might “feel helpless” and said working in a shelter where dogs are euthanized is an “emotionally charged situation.”
“I understand the volunteers are seeing these dogs every day … and it’s really hard when a dog does get euthanized,” Gandurski said. “It’s really, really difficult for the volunteer. But it’s difficult for the staff, too, and we don’t like to do it. We treat it as a last resort.”
One volunteer estimated there are less than 50 people who actively help at the shelter. Volunteers take dogs for walks and play with them, take videos and photos of the dogs to try to help them find homes and run social media pages where they let people know about dogs that need owners. Some have even spent their own money advertising dogs in urgent need of a home online, a volunteer said.
The same volunteer said they’ve asked the department to bring in more helpers, but that hasn’t happened — meaning some dogs don’t get walked for days or weeks at a time.
Some of the volunteers come by three to four times a week or put in hours running social media pages to adopt out the dogs, the helper said.
“There’s a lot of change going on since Susan Russell left. We were really pushing forward and being more progressive,” one volunteer said. “Now I feel like it’s gone back by, I don’t even know, 10 steps back. We’re back to just killing dogs.”
Of the dogs now slated for euthanasia, the same volunteer added, “Who can network 10 dogs in less than 24 hours?”
Gandurski said Animal Control hasn’t had enough volunteers since she started as deputy director in May and she’s trying to build a “more robust” volunteer program. She wants to host a volunteer drive so Animal Control is “flooded” with helpers in the future.
Gandurski hopes those volunteers can help with programs she wants to implement, like creating a dog-walking team and having volunteers do enrichment activities with dogs.
But the current volunteers plan to reach out to Gandurski about their concerns. If there are no changes, a group of them will resign.
“I can’t say [I’ll quit] because ultimately I do it for the animals. If we leave, then who do we have?” said one volunteer. “I’ll probably stay in as long as I can stomach it, but it’s getting kind of harder and harder [with the changes].
“Ultimately, who pays for it? The dogs.”
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