I am writing in response to an article in WEDNESDAY JOURNAL regarding Oak Park's Animal Shelter Task Force and the current village ordinance that requires holding stray animals for 30 days before they are either placed or euthanized ("Should OP delay euthanasia for unadoptable animals?" Feb. 16).
I am not on the task force, however, I have attended most of the meetings and am not aware of any formal recommendations related to this topic or any others involving animal control that have been made to the village board. In fact, the task force has yet to even discuss the first draft of a written proposal. My interest in this process stems from my experiences in the realm of animal welfare.
I am in a unique position in that I have worked at an animal control/shelter facility and also currently volunteer at a local non-profit shelter as well as Oak Park's Animal Control. Every day I spend time in some capacity working towards improving the quality of life for the stray and unwanted animals of our communities. I have worked "in the trenches" and seen some unbelievable acts of cruelty to animals. It is because of these experiences as well as my love for animals that I do not support the current Oak Park ordinance requiring stray animals to be held at Animal Control for 30 days.
Contrary to what has been written, a seven-day hold does not mean that animals are automatically euthanized once the holding period expires. What it does mean is that sooner, rather than later, an adoptable animal will have the opportunity to be transferred to a facility that is equipped to handle evaluations and adoption counseling.
Animal Control is not the same as animal shelter. Animal Control is intended for the purposes of impoundment of animals until they can be returned to their owners, transferred to shelters or, euthanized for aggression and/or health reasons. The reality of life at any animal control facility, which by the way is tax-funded, is that there is never enough staff, money, or volunteers to provide the day to day care required to keep animals physically and mentally healthy for long periods of time (and 30 days in a cage is a long time). Despite even the best care, some of these animals cannot tolerate a life of confinement for even a short period of time.
It is especially important for these adoptable animals that we expedite their stay at Animal Control and work to get them placed with established shelters. If there is not immediate placement possible, Animal Control continues to hold animals as long as they remain adoptable and even if the 7-day hold has passed. Yet, in some cases animals do need to be euthanized, whether due to mistreatment, ill health or simply innate aggression. It is nothing short of cruel though to keep an animal confined for additional time when the final outcome is no different than it would have been after the initial 7-day hold. Though extremely difficult, sometimes the best gift we can give an animal is to provide a humane ending to a tragic life. Just to reiterate, a 7-day hold does not mean every animal is euthanized once that time is up. It is about providing the best possible outcome for each animal in the most prompt manner.
Another topic that has been publicly criticized is temperament evaluation. This is a means in which animal care workers can obtain information about animals who more times than not do not come with a known history. It is not used to screen out old, sick, ugly or a certain breed of dog. Temperament testing can bring to light potential behavior problems before a tragedy occurs as well as bring out qualities in a dog that at first glance may have seemed questionable.
Temperament testing also gives credibility to any facility that uses it as a means of identifying potential problem behaviors as well as appropriately matching dogs to their owners. I personally would not adopt a dog from any animal care facility that did not first temperament evaluate an animal who was going to become a part of my family, play with my children and their friends, and regularly be interacting with other neighborhood dogs. Temperament testing in not infallible but it is the best way known to ensure quality dog adoptions and, when conducted by qualified personnel, can be an extremely valuable tool.
The only truly effective solution to pet overpopulation is responsible pet ownership including having companion animals spayed or neutered. Until this becomes the norm, however, Animal Control and animal shelters will continue to provide the much needed and under-appreciated services they do. It is my hope that with the guidance and hard work of the village task force and the support of a well-informed community that Oak Park can soon be home to an animal control facility it can be proud of.