Animals sick and suffering at city Animal Care and Control facility

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation
CHICAGO (WLS) -- The ABC7 I-Team is exposing allegations of animals "behind bars" and suffering at the city pound.

Insiders say basic needs are not being met because the agency is understaffed, underfunded and poorly run.

Some are sick, others neglected and forgotten, according to animal welfare specialists. Every night, hundreds of dogs and cats are locked up "behind bars" at Chicago's official Animal Care and Control facility. Some never go outside.

A rookie alderman is working to change old practices at the city shelter and eventually make Chicago a "no-kill" city.

"It's just really heartbreaking," said Janice Grams, a CACC volunteer.

Pictures obtained by the I-Team show urine, vomit and feces on cage floors of the city's only animal pound, some crates so filthy there is almost nowhere dry to stand.

"Dogs having urine burns on their paws from standing in their own urine for so long," Grams said.

Only the dozen or so dogs deemed "adoptable" housed in this area of the shelter get walked. Hundreds of others are confined to cages by city-paid employees.

"I really, really think a walk and some socialization is part of a basic need. So, because they are not getting that, then no, I don't think the animals are getting their basic needs met," said Heather Owen, One Tail at a Time executive director.

Owen makes weekly trips to the city's pound, removing dogs and finding them homes.

"It's an understaffed, under-resourced place. They don't assess their animals there unless they're going to the adoption floor, so there are hundreds of unassessed animals," Owen said.

The I-Team looked at dozens of kennel cards. Most had very little information.

"Part of our challenge when we go in there... we don't know anything about them," Owen said.

Some volunteers said there appears to be no rationale for why some dogs are put down. A dog named Trouble was euthanized in November.

"Very sweet dog, wagging his tail, no signs of aggression. The next day I found out he was euthanized," Grams said.

The I-Team was told the same was true for Jeb and countless other dogs.

Many dogs that are spared may still get sick with the canine flu that broke out in Chicago last March.

"There's a big outbreak there, dogs are dying because of it," Owen said.

The animal welfare group PAWS says it has spent $300,000 over budget treating sick dogs from the city's shelter.

Nobody from Animal Care and Control or the city would go on-camera but they said they are working with experts to prevent the disease from spreading further.

City pound insiders say policies and procedures are in place, but some say are not followed - something discussed recently at a meeting of the Animal Care Advisory Commission.

At the meeting, Interim Executive Director Ivan Capifali said they have hired a few new people but there are still a number of employee vacancies.

"We are at the mercy of human resources and budget to get those positions filled," Capifali said.

The agency has had its share of issues. Last spring a dog was left in a van after an adoption event and a video released in December 2015 shows a dog that died after being choked.

"Both of them were unfortunate. We take this very seriously, we made changes where changes needed to be made, discipline was handed down," Capifali said.

New 15th Ward Ald. Raymond Lopez recently introduced a resolution to take a hard look at the pound's policies and procedures.

"I want to see how we can address making Chicago a no-kill city," Ald. Lopez said.

How Chicago handles strays and unwanted pets has changed. In 1997, the city used a gas chamber and had one of the highest kill rates in the nation. That year the city killed 93 percent of the cats and dogs in its shelter. Last year, that number was down to 28 percent.

Ald. Lopez says there is still room for improvement.

"We need someone who can motivate and compel the staff, volunteers and other to go above and beyond for those that have no voice," he said.

The city said it hopes to hire an executive director soon. That person will have the challenge of making improvements with only a $5.7 million budget.

Other cities similar in size to Chicago have budgets of nearly $15 million.
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