CHICAGO — Gators aren’t the only creatures wandering around Chicago: Two goats, a horse and more than 100 chickens have also been found on the South Side recently.
That’s a major concern to Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), who, after personally encountering two goats in a resident’s yard last week, is considering a push to more tightly regulate or outright ban certain animals in the city. He’s still in the early stages of thinking through the possible ordinance, he said, but it’s been spurred by concerns animals aren’t being treated right.
“My residents signed up to live in a city, in an urban environment,” said Lopez, who called himself an “animal lover.”
“They did not sign up to live on a farm where the roosters, the goats and the rest of the wildlife are here every day.
“If you’re having animals like this, you have to maintain them.”
But a ban wouldn’t necessarily be welcome by other animal rescuers, said Julie Magnus, cofounder of the Chicago Roo Crew. The Roo Crew rescues abandoned roosters and chickens around the city. Magnus is concerned a ban or tighter regulations might actually hamper the efforts of rescue groups like her own.
In fact, Magnus said rescue groups are often helped by the fact that Chicago doesn’t have bans or strict restrictions on animals like roosters.
There are, she said, “a lot of different perspectives on it.”
‘More Unique Pets’
Though Chance the Snapper is the most high-profile animal to come out of Chicago lately, it’s not just the gator who’s got Lopez’s goat.
In June, more than 100 chickens, many sick or injured, were rescued from a single Englewood garage; authorities have said the birds were being used as part of a cockfighting ring. All of them were taken in by Chicago Animal Care and Control or Chicago-area rescues like the Roo Crew and eventually found homes.
Then, a white pony was spotted in Back of the Yards. Animal Control investigated and found out the pony is from Blue Island, but his owner brings him to the city to visit kids.
Finally, last week, a resident called Lopez’s office to say there were two goats living in the fenced-in backyard of a home in West Englewood. No one had been seen at the property in two to three weeks, Lopez said.
Lopez’s staff went out to investigate. The alderman said the goats were living in an old utility shed and had two buckets of water and what appeared to be the remnants of a bale of hay for food. The goats seemed “very hungry” and there was trash and debris in the yard, Lopez said.
Lopez’s office called the homeowner, who confirmed the goats were hers and were being used to eat the grass and keep down weeds so the owner wouldn’t get ticketed when not around. But the woman became “defensive” and quickly got off the phone, Lopez said.
Chicago Animal Care and Control was called to check up on the animals. They “looked to be in good shape,” said Animal Control spokeswoman Jenny Schlueter, and the goats are still in West Englewood. Schlueter said since the owner isn’t regularly at the property it is “a little bit of a precarious situation.”
The odd animal sightings aren’t just coming from Lopez’s ward: Three alligators — including the famous Chance the Snapper, who was relocated to Florida — have been found in Humboldt Park and Irving Park just in the past month.
In all, there have been five calls for goats and three calls for ponies or horses this year, with calls for animals coming from all over the city, Schlueter said.
Schlueter noted that five to 10 years ago most calls for goats were about the animals being sacrificed. Now, the animals tend to be members of the family.
That’s part of a “trend of people keeping more unique pets,” Schlueter said.
‘Something Has To Be Done’
Though it’s legal to keep animals like chickens and goats in the city, Lopez said the recent incidents made him worry some creatures aren’t getting enough space, aren’t being properly cared for or could trouble residents.
Lopez is also worried non-native species, like the gators, could end up becoming permanent but unwanted residents in the city (though gators could never survive a Chicago winter). He pointed to one example: Wild monk parakeets from Brazil now live throughout the city after a pair of birds, likely pets, were released or escaped here in the ’60s.
“Before we know it we’re gonna have a situation we cannot recover from, similar to the Asian carp in our rivers,” Lopez said.
Lopez said he’s starting work on an ordinance he hopes to introduce in September to address the “ever-increasing amount of wildlife that we’re bringing into this city and not properly handling.” He’s not sure what the ordinance will propose yet, but he said it will cover the ownership and regulation of non-domestic animals, including “farm animals,” in Chicago.
But not everyone is convinced a crackdown is the answer.
Bans or strict regulations won’t stop things like the 114 chickens who were being held in a garage for cockfighting, and people will keep animals regardless of a ban, Magnus said. She’s worried stricter regulations — like a limit law that would put a cap on how many animals someone could have at a property — would instead stop rescuers from being able to take in animals who need safe foster and permanent homes.
Chicago’s lack of a ban on certain creatures “really helps us to be able to pick up the animals,” said Magnus, who has pet rescue chickens of her own at her Bronzeville home.
Instead, Magnus would like to see the city emphasize educating residents and reaching out to them to create a culture that “embraces animal care,” she said.
She’s not opposed to regulations that protect animals, she said; she’s just concerned they could backfire on rescue groups.
“How do you draw that line?” she said. “It’s tricky.”
Magnus said the city’s politicians should look to animal rescuers, who have experience with how to care for and save farm animals, for guidance on those policies.
The proposed ordinance is “very much a work in progress, but something has to be done,” Lopez said.
The alderman said he’ll speak with Animal Control, community groups and others to develop the ordinance. He’s “open to everything,” including a complete ban on certain animals like horses and goats.
“Obviously, farm animals belong on a farm, not in an urban environment like this,” Lopez said. “My concern is we keep seeing a rise and increase in livestock in the city of Chicago being housed in backyards. Areas with 12 square feet are not designed or meant for ponies, pigs, goats.
“And we’ll have to take a deeper look to see what we can do to address this as a city.”
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