Gone astray: Behind the numbers of Chicago animal euthanization

By Jessica Villagomez
Medill Reports

Chicago is not a good place to be a stray cat. According to a Freedom of Information Act request, Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC) euthanized 1,007 animals from June 1, 2017 to September 30, 2017. The euthanizations, the act of putting an animal down, came at a time when Chicago animal welfare organizations had committed to accepting animals displaced by Hurricane Harvey in Houston this past summer.

Of the 1,007 animals, the most euthanizations happened to domestic short-haired cats, with 278 euthanized. Another 105 of the euthanized animals were pit bulls, 94 were raccoons and 94 were bats. Raccoons, according to Illinois Wildlife regulations, must be released onto the property they were trapped on or euthanized. Bats are typically euthanized because they potentially carry the rabies virus.

Euthanizations were classified in seven different categories including: Confiscate, Dispo Required — disposal requests for already deceased animals, Euthanasia required, Owner Surrender, Return, Stray and Wildlife.

Strays accounted for the bulk of euthanizations, with 368 strays euthanized in the time period studied. Domestic short-haired cats made up 219 of the strays. “Required Euthanasia” accounted for 283 cases, and 216 of the cases were wildlife animals. Wildlife animals include: bats, deer, finches, opossums, rabbits, raccoons, sea birds, skunks, song birds and squirrels, according to the CACC website.

The CACC conducted anywhere from 1 to 20 animal euthanizations per day, with August 2, 2017 marking the largest number at 20.

Cynthia Bathurst, executive director and co-founder of Safe Humane Chicago, said that the summer season is one of the busiest times for CACC because animals are more likely to be outside.

“When the shelter is completely full and they don’t have the capacity to take every animal that comes in, in that case it’s what they call a capacity of care issue,” Bathurst explained. This means that the shelter has to choose animals to be euthanized that have been there the longest and are least likely to be adopted, or ones that have a medical or behavioral issue the shelter is not equipped to deal with.

Animals are euthanized for a variety of reasons. Animals classified as euthanasia requests or sometimes, owner surrender, are animals brought into CACC by owners to be euthanized. Euthanization costs $10 at CACC, according to their website.

Euthanizations are often done for medical reasons that CACC can not adequately treat, she said.
“If there is an animal that is a public safety risk…as a result of bites or other kinds of behavior that makes them unsafe to put in the public domain, that’s another reason” for euthanization, Bathurst said.

Investigations conducted by the city about animal endangerment can also result in euthanization. If an animal is deemed too dangerous to be put in a new home or to be out in public, they may be euthanized, Bathurst said. Of the 20 confiscations from owners, all were dog breeds.

CACC is located on the Lower West Side near McKinley Park at 2741 S. Western Ave. Along with euthanization, the agency does dog registration, lost pet and stray animal management and pet adoption, according to the City of Chicago website. The agency is responsible for handling allegations of animal cruelty and abuse, bite incidents, strays, wildlife reports and unwanted animals surrendered by owners.

David Dinger, vice president of operations at The Anti-Cruelty Society, has worked in animal shelter operations for more than 30 years and said CACC’s capacity to care for animals may be limited compared to private shelters.

“Private animal shelters run the gamut,” he said. “There are certainly a lot of small organizations that operate only out of foster homes, there are a number of medium- to large-size organizations that take in animals from a variety of sources.”

Shelters vary by what they are licensed to do and what animals they can take. The Anti-Cruelty Society, he said, is self-classified as an open doors shelter, meaning that they will accept any animal brought to them. No kill shelters often limit and set standards for animals they accept to ensure they are adoptable.

Since CACC can not turn away animals, they have historically been overburdened by the number of animals in their facilities.

“They have found great success over the last several years in frankly, not concentrating on adoptions because their location is not conducive to a lot of foot traffic,” Dinger said. “But rather [they operate] by partnering up with organizations all across the city and even outside the community in
order to take animals from them that organizations feel they can provide placement for.”

Partnerships with shelters often help animals find homes in the city.

In the summer of 2017, animals displaced from Houston by Hurricane Harvey ended up in Chicago shelters and many were adopted. But this influx meant local animals had a lower chance of being adopted.

“[Animals from Houston] actually went to some of our awesome area shelters but as a result towards the end of the summer, that’s when you can see the number of animals at animal control go up because Chicago animals weren’t being adopted or rescued by the locals who were then understandably helping the hurricane victims,” Bathurst said. “It definitely had an impact.”

Dinger noted that systems are in place for other cities to accept displaced animals and it is common practice to accept animals to aid hurricane relief efforts, regardless of the impact on Chicago animals in shelters.

Though animal euthanasia may appear to be widespread, Bathurst said that animal lovers should not despair. Animals were once euthanized at higher rates at CACC, and partnerships have reduced the practice. Even so, sometimes, CACC has to be the bad guy.

“That number of animals is beyond sad but there’s going to be some percentage that are going to happen anyway because of illness, old age and under-socialized and poorly trained dogs,” Bathurst said.

Photo at top: Cats are some of the most euthanized animals in Chicago. (Andy Miccone/Flickr Creative Commons)