The Chicago Animal Care and Control shelter at 2741 S Western Ave isn't exactly the happiest place in town. More than 5,500 cats and dogs were euthanized there in 2014, which breaks down to about 105 per week. That might seem like a lot of animal deaths, but it pales in comparison to the 17,215 that were put down at the shelter in 2006.
Even with increased efforts to find safe homes for animals and legislation that makes it easier for no-kill shelters to take in strays, arriving at the city pound isn't far from a death sentence for cats and dogs.
The sheer number of animal euthanizations by the city is pretty staggering
In the first half of 2015, 7,333 dogs and cats were impounded by the city shelter, according to data provided by the city. Of those, 1,498 were euthanized. The remainder were either adopted, returned to their owners or transferred to rescue partners. The shelter is required to hold impounded animals that have a locating chip or an identification tag for a minimum of seven days, and a minimum of three days if ownership is unknown. Stray cats and litters of puppies aged four months or younger may be transferred to a rescue partner immediately, but those that remain in the pound longer than a week will generally be euthanized.
The humane method for euthanizing cats and dogs is through lethal injection, but that wasn't always the case. Until recently, putting animals down by way of carbon monoxide gas chamber was a perfectly legal practice in Illinois. In 2009, the state passed a bill that banned that practice and imposes a fine of up to $10,000 for any facility that does so.
The city shelter euthanizes nearly half of the pit bulls it intakes
The stigma placed on pit bulls is well-documented, and the rate at which they're put down by the city doesn't help. During the first half of 2015, the city pound euthanized 49 percent of the pit bulls it took in. That's a slight improvement from the rate of 51 percent and 60 percent over the same periods of 2014 and 2013, respectively.
Ultimately, Chicago's city code allows the executive director of Animal Care and Control to make the call regarding the disposition of any animal whose ownership is unknown. If they determine the animal suffers from severe behavioral issues after three days of impoundment, it can be put down. The city may also euthanize any animal that attacks or harms people or other domestic animals if their owner does not comply with a set a tricky regulations that includes fines and muzzling.
No-kill animal shelters have dramatically reduced the number of euthanizations
Rescue partners, which include organizations like PAWS and Tree House Humane Society, have been the biggest factor in reducing the rate at which animals are euthanized at the city shelter. The expansion of the city's Homeward Bound Animal Placement Program makes it much easier for no-kill shelters to take animals out of the city's possession. The program has been so effective that it's helped increase the live outcomes of animal impoundments from 26 percent in 2006 to 68 percent in 2014.
Tree House Humane Society takes in about 1,000 cats every year, according to its executive director David deFuniak. They're an open admission shelter, which means they take in every cat that's brought their way regardless of illness or injury. "For us, there really isn't a line. We have a focus on sick and injured stray cats," deFuniak said. "There's no limit to what we won't take."
Last March, Tree House announced that it would be opening Chicago's first cat café, allowing visitors to socialize with rescued cats while enjoying a coffee or tea. The organization is still short on cash for the center, but you can make a donation to help them meet their goal.
With organizations like Tree House expanding and an increase in public support, one can expect the rate of live outcomes at the city shelter to continue to increase.
What can you do?
If you're looking to bring a cat or dog into your family, consider heading down to the city shelter on Western Avenue. Many of the animals you'll find there will be just days away from death, and the fee to adopt an animal is generally cheaper than other shelters. You can see a roster of animals that are currently being impounded by the shelter at Pet Harbor's website.
Aside from adopting, shelters across the city (including the one on Western Avenue) offer volunteer opportunities. Considering that nearly every private shelter is a non-profit and the city's budget is pretty strapped for cash, they could use all of the help that they can get.