For years when residents made donations to the Evanston Animal Shelter, they believed their contributions were helping the city's municipal animal shelter. Instead, donors were told to make out new checks payable to the C.A.R.E., the animal welfare group that helps the city run it.
Two aldermen have since recommended that the city end their 27-year partnership with Community Animal Rescue Effort, or C.A.R.E., following a subcommittee meeting on Tuesday to discuss concerns about the group’s management of the shelter.
In addition to its reported mishandling of canine behavioral evaluations, the animal welfare group has had to address other concerns, including C.A.R.E.’s micromanagement of the adoption process, lack of preventative care for "failed" dogs and alienation of volunteers.
'Lack of Delineation'
While the organization has not been accused of mismanaging funds or any wrongdoing, documents and public comments made during meetings with City Council members about donations have raised questions about C.A.R.E.’s possible misrepresentation of its relationship with the Evanston Animal Shelter.
Ald. Judy Fiske addressed the lack of delineation between C.A.R.E and the Evanston Animal Shelter on Tuesday.
“I think there are people donating to C.A.R.E. over the years who thought they were donating to the Evanston Animal Shelter,” Fiske said. “Part of our job on the City Council is to have fiduciary responsibility over how city monies are spent, but we also have a responsibility to our citizens that they are giving money to something they understand. There’s sort of a mess here."
Founded in 1987 as the Friends of the Evanston Animal Shelter, the organization changed its name to Community Animal Rescue Effort/Friends of the Evanston Animal Shelter in 1990.
For the past 27 years, C.A.R.E. has worked with the Evanston Police Department to manage the care of the 200 or so stray cats and dogs brought to the shelter annually, of which 150 are eventually claimed by their owners. The remaining animals are adopted out to new homes.
The city’s animal wardens manage the shelter during the day, and the city pays for adult dog and cat food, and kitty litter, plus miscellaneous items, such as paper towels and bathroom supplies. Veterinary care, spaying and neutering, immunizations and special food for puppies, kittens, and animals with dietary restrictions, are paid for with funds raised by the volunteer group.
'We Have Hit A Road Bump'
According to the organization’s latest available tax return, C.A.R.E. claimed assets of $1,297,717 at the end of 2012, an increase of $115,248 from 2011.
The 2012 tax return also notes that C.A.R.E. spent $81,837 on program services, marketing and fundraising.
In 2007, C.A.R.E. board members claim they set aside $450,000 for a shelter expansion, to be matched by the city as part of the group’s “We Don’t Need A Mansion, Just An Expansion” building campaign. When the economy started going south, the city put the expansion on hold.
Minutes from the C.A.R.E. board meeting of Aug. 25, 2013 acquired by Patch, reference “all money except for $29,402” to be transferred from the building fund to the non-profit organization’s operating fund. The minutes further note that, “All board members approved this transfer. No opposition.”
C.A.R.E.’s long-time board president, Linda Gelb, confirmed the transfer of funds after concerned volunteers started raising questions about the animal welfare group’s high canine euthanasia rate due to purported faulty behavioral evaluations.
“[The $29,402] was the actual amount raised selling t-shirts and from collection cans for the expansion,” Gelb explained. “We put aside money into an account for a building fund, but we couldn’t nail down the city on an expansion.”
Another C.A.R.E. board member, Gail Lovinger-Goldblatt, further acknowledged that the organization’s auditor reviewed C.A.R.E.’s funds and determined that $29,402 was all the needed to remain in the building fund.
“We have hit a road bump here and its hasn’t been pleasant for anybody,” Lovinger-Goldblatt told the subcommittee. “The question that we are looking at is can we get through and past this road bump? Can we find a way to go on? For many people, C.A.R.E. is the Evanston Animal Shelter and the Evanston Animal Shelter is C.A.R.E. It doesn’t mean that C.A.R.E. doesn’t have other money ready to invest [in an expansion]. You need to back off of that.”'Changing Bylaws
C.A.R.E. has also been accused of scrubbing its website and collection cans of any mention of the Evanston Animal Shelter. In October 2013, the board voted to change its bylaws, dropping “Friends of the Evanston Animal Shelter” from its name to “Community Animal Rescue Effort Inc.”
Citing that the "Friends of the Evanston Animal Shelter" was obsolete and hadn't been used in 25 years, while some volunteers protested that the proposed amendment would affect how C.A.R.E. uses its funds and would change the relationship of C.A.R.E. to the City of Evanston
The change is noted in meeting minutes from Oct. 27, 2013 and on the Illinois Secretary of State’s website.
During Tuesday’s subcommittee meeting, Lovinger-Goldblatt denied that the organization had dropped references to the Evanston Animal Shelter from the community collection cans.
Photos of the collection cans -- stuffed with dollar bills and change -- show the cans with and without the “Evanston Animal Shelter” name placed at businesses around the community.
C.A.R.E. has not yet officially been handed its walking papers. The proposed measure to sever ties with C.A.R.E. still needs to go back to the Human Services Committee for more discussion, and then to the Evanston City Council for a full vote.
The question remains what will happen to the $1.3 million should the city and C.A.R.E. part ways.
“That’s a big question,” City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said after Tuesday’s meeting. “If there’s over a million dollars in their accounts, the City Council is going to have to determine if they wish to have any audits done of their books. I think it’s going to become a significant issue.”
This story has been updated.