Editorial: To help stop the killing of pets, we must go to bat for Chicago’s abandoned animals


Over the past quarter-century, the Chicago area has become a beacon of hope for the humane treatment of animals, saving unwanted pets from across Illinois, and other states as well. Pets caught up in disasters such as hurricanes often have found an adopted family and a better life in Chicago.
Today, the city’s reputation for taking care of its dogs and cats is being tested by the one-two punch of buyer’s remorse among pandemic-era pet owners and rising prices for everything from food and veterinary care to pet-friendly housing. The result is a sickening increase in euthanasia rates, as surrendered pets and strays overwhelm the available shelter space.
This is not just a Chicago issue. As the Axios news outlet reported recently, euthanasia rates at U.S. shelters reached a three-year high in the first half of this year, with the number of dogs being killed up 37% from the year-ago period. Denver, Detroit and many other cities are struggling to cope, and in some places, shelters are turning away animals, or killing them upon intake.
From January through June, 51,000 dogs were reported as killed at shelters nationwide, and no doubt additional killings went unreported.
In Chicago, Animal Care and Control said the intake of dogs and cats rose 8% in the first half of the year, leading to 450 more animals being killed (or dying in custody) through late August than in the same months last year. Many of those were friendly, healthy animals that richly deserved a continuing shot at life.
For Chicago, this heartbreaking situation is reversing hard-fought progress. Since the 1990s, the city’s population of unwanted animals has been in decline, thanks to the growth of privately funded animal welfare organizations such as PAWS Chicago and The Anti-Cruelty Society (along with others), as well as upgraded city and suburban services, including spay and neuter programs that curb overpopulation in the first place.
As Chicagoan Patrick Hecker wrote in a Sept. 4 commentary, Chicago has the highest density of dogs per square mile of any major urban area in the U.S.
Yes, we realize not everyone likes dogs. Some pet owners are irresponsible, and some animals make troublesome neighbors. But the benefits they offer to their owners are well-documented. In his commentary, Hecker makes a sensible case for better integrating pets into our urban ecosystem.
Still, viewed broadly, Chicago’s progress in this area has been astonishing in a city once better known for bashing heads in its slaughterhouses than treating animals humanely. Credit goes to big-hearted individuals who stepped up with generous donations of time and treasure, as well as a city bureaucracy that has managed to make operational improvements over the years.
Now, however, that successful public-private partnership is under real pressure.
Lockdowns from the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of remote working inspired many Americans to stock up on pets. Those cute puppies and kittens have turned into adults that require time, effort and money to properly care for.
Some new owners had no idea how to train their pets, leading to behavioral issues that require retraining. Workers ordered back to offices are being faced with the dilemma of arranging day care for their pets or ghosting them for entire workdays. And some owners were unrealistic about how much pet ownership would eat into the household budget.
Inflation is making matters worse. The cost of pets and related products shot up 7.8% in the 12 months ending in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s more than double the 3.2% inflation rate for consumer goods and services overall. Meantime, the cost of rent and owned properties increased across the country as well, making pet-friendly housing less affordable.
The result is greater demand for shelter space. Chicago Animal Care and Control is seeing an average of 35 animals coming into its facilities daily, according to spokesman Armando Tejeda. A fee-waived adoption event is scheduled for this coming Saturday, he said, but what if someone can’t adopt or foster a pet?
All of us can help by spreading the word, Tejeda said. “We are asking for everyone to assist us in encouraging potential adopters to look first at shelter pets,” he explained. “We are also asking the public, if they find a lost pet, to please first check with their neighbors to see if anyone knows where that pet might live and post them on neighborhood social media pages.” Reuniting the animals with their families without bringing the pet to a city facility helps take the pressure off Animal Care and Control.
Beyond those practical steps, support can come in many forms, including financial donations. As Tejeda said, “We need our community more than ever.”
Chicago is treating its pets better than in decades past. Let’s rise to the occasion and keep that proud achievement going.
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