After stonewalling for a year and a half, the Emanuel administration recently released video of a gruesome incident in which a “pit bull-type” dog named Spike died after being choked by one or more city animal care workers who were trying to bring it under control at the taxpayer-funded pound.
The footage came from a surveillance camera at the Animal Care and Control facility at 27th and Western, and was only released after the Better Government Association sued City Hall to turn it over.
The video shows several people standing around the dog as it’s “surrendered” by the owner on March 15, 2014, including two ACC workers using “catch poles” – rods with a noose-like cord on one end that’s looped around an animal’s neck to gain control and prevent bites.
The video (with no audio) shows the dog thrashing, then going quiet, lying motionless on the ground after one or more of the poles apparently cut off the animal’s airflow. A few seconds later, the video shows the dying animal being dragged down the hall by the neck.
City records obtained by the BGA under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act indicate the two ACC workers “struggled with the dog until the dog eventually collapsed,” and a supervisor “came into the unloading area and informed the Officers to ‘Let him breathe.’”
While one of the ACC workers indicated “his pole was loose,” the other employee “proceeded to drag the dog by his neck down the hallway and into the Euthanasia Room then proceeded to use the control pole to lift the dog by the neck into the cage,” the city records show.
An ACC spokesman said the dog’s owner “brought the aggressive dog” to the pound “for the purposes of surrendering ownership rights to the animal.”
After the choking incident, “a veterinarian examined the dog and confirmed he was alive,” the spokesman said. “However, the dog died within 30 minutes prior to the scheduled euthanasia. When a dog is surrendered by its owner due to its aggressive nature, euthanasia is considered part of the surrender process.”
Nobody was fired over the incident, but several workers were disciplined, including the employee who dragged the animal.
That worker was initially given a 29-day suspension, but that punishment “was later reduced to a 20-day suspension as part of a grievance settlement brought by the affected employee,” according to the ACC spokesman.
City officials determined that the worker “failed to provide humane care to the animal during impoundment and failed to report the incident immediately,” the spokesman said.
That worker, who the BGA is not naming, was reached on his cell phone and told a reporter “it’s not easy going after a vicious dog, believe me.... You’re not in my shoes.”
He said Spike was very aggressive outside the camera’s eye. “The video does not even show we were fighting with the dog ... big time,” he said.
That being said, the employee said, “I’m not perfect ... it was an unfortunate accident.”
The BGA sought the video under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act in May 2014, and the city responded a month later with paper records – but a refusal to turn over the footage, claiming among other things that releasing the video “could subject those ACC employees and their families to the possibility of physical harm” by “animal rights extremists.”
The BGA sued in June 2014, arguing the video “will allow the public to understand the full scope of the misconduct” at the pound.
The city turned over the video just before Christmas this year – as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office put out a press release saying an “expansive” search is underway, with the help of animal welfare groups, to replace ACC Executive Director Sandra Alfred, who retired earlier this year.
The pound has seen a number of serious problems in recent years aside from the Spike incident, including lackluster responses to neglect calls.
Also last year, a dog named Chance was accidentally euthanized while being readied for adoption or fostering.
Earlier this year, the BGA reported that a dog was accidentally left in an ACC van for five nights with little or no food and water following an adoption event.
After Spike’s death, ACC “reviewed and strengthened its animal handling protocols and provided additional training on animal handling” to employees, the ACC spokesman said.