Animal Care, A Deadly Snare

Employee of city animal pound hit with 20-day suspension for alleged dog-choking incident, but other problems persist at taxpayer-funded facility.

An employee of Chicago's problem-plagued Animal Care and Control department has been formally disciplined – with a 20-day unpaid suspension – for his role in an incident in which a dog named Spike was apparently choked to death at a city-run pound, the Better Government Association has learned.

The employee, whose name was not released, was using a "catch pole" – a pole with a noose-like rope at the end – to get the "highly aggressive . . . pit bull-type dog" under control on March 15 at the city pound at 27th and Western when the dog lost consciousness and died, officials said.

The worker was punished for failing to "provide/ensure humane care" and immediately report the incident, according to city spokesman Brad Powers.

The suspension, which could have been as long as 29 days, began May 18.

Another animal control worker already was given a 10-day unpaid suspension and a third employee got three days, said Powers. A fourth worker was verbally reprimanded.

This was the second recent incident in which a dog was accidentally killed at the taxpayer-funded pound. As the BGA and WBBM Newsradio previously reported, a mixed-breed named Chance was slated for adoption or fostering but was accidentally euthanized in April when a worker at Animal Care and Control failed to put the animal's name on a do-not-kill list.

The city pound – ultimately under the control of Mayor Rahm Emanuel – has been the source of numerous problems over the years. It's been known as a dumping ground for patronage workers. And too many employees and managers have acted with a seeming indifference toward the plight of abused, neglected or seized animals, critics say.

Aside from accidental killings, recent complaints have centered on a lack of food and water for dogs, dirty cages and dogs routinely left in cages with leashes – a choking hazard.

In March, WBBM Newsradio reported that Animal Care allowed hundreds of service calls to languish for months – calls about possible inhumane treatment of animals.

City officials have said they're doing the best they can given that roughly 20,000 dogs, cats and other animals pass through the pound each year, including more than 6,000 creatures relinquished by their owners, as was Spike.

Since the dog's death, Animal Care employees have been given additional training in handling aggressive dogs, Powers said.

This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association's Robert Herguth, who can be reached at (312) 821-9030 or rherguth@bettergov.org.