Two Evanston aldermen recommended severing ties with the animal welfare group that has helped the city run its municipal animal shelter for the past 25 years.
Volunteers from the Community Animal Rescue Effort, or C.A.R.E. were handed a list of requests at a subcommittee meeting last week, and were asked to come up with ideas for improving operations at the Evanston Animal Shelter.
“It would help if you could clarify what the charge of this subcommittee is,” C.A.R.E. volunteer Gail Lovinger-Goldblatt asked before Tuesday’s meeting got started.
“To see if we can continue working together to create the best animal shelter that this community deserves,” Ald. Mark Tendam (6th Ward) said.
C.A.R.E. volunteers were on the defensive as they read off their ideas for improving transparency and record-keeping at the animal shelter.
The animal welfare group’s long-time board president, Linda Gelb, said most of the shelter’s records, including 18 dogs formerly slated for euthanasia now living in foster homes, were kept off-site in a private storage unit or else at Gelb’s home.
“The shelter has no room,” Gelb said.
"Those records belong the city," Ald. Judy Fiske (1st Ward) replied.
The C.A.R.E. subcommittee members were also hard-pressed to answer questions about the number of foster homes in its pool, an area identified by two studies in need of improvement. The group oversees shelter adoptions and manages the care of about 100 unclaimed dogs left at the shelter each year.
Most of the discussion focused on C.A.R.E.’s adoption program and behavioral evaluations administered by volunteers.
“One of the comments I get from people who adopt from C.A.R.E. is that they’re uncomfortable using your trainers, they’re turned off,” Fiske said. “They’re not given a choice of which trainers to use. At some point your participation in the adoption needs to end. There seems to be so much control over the entire adoption process.”
Concerned volunteers, as well as two independent studies, have recommended that C.A.R.E. discontinue evaluating dogs' temperament until the board's hand-picked volunteer evaluators -- including Gelb -- could demonstrate that the tests were being performed according to industry standards.
At one point, Fiske told Lovinger-Goldblatt to “tone it down” during questioning of C.A.R.E.’s behavioral evaluations and euthanasia rate in the three years leading up to 2013. Almost half of shelter’s dogs were recommended for euthanasia.
“This need to go back to 2012 and to keep going over and over it doesn’t seem to be a valuable part of going forward,” Lovinger-Goldblatt said.
Fiske said that euthanasia rates have drastically decreased due in large part to the city's animal warden pulling dogs recommended by C.A.R.E. for euthanasia and placing them with recuse groups.
“I’m one of many, many people in Evanston that up to the point where I became involved, I just trusted that C.A.R.E. was doing what it was supposed to be doing. I also think the animal warden had a lot to do and she was taking recommendations,” Fiske said. “I just need to be assured that if we are to continue our relationship we’re not going back to 2010, 2011 or 2012.”
At the end of the evening, both aldermen told C.A.R.E. they didn’t think a continued partnership with the city was possible.
“For me the bottom line is I don’t see a willingness by C.A.R.E. to change,” Tendam said. “I think you’ve not only demonized dogs that you don’t see as adoptable, you demonized the people who are making this work and helping the city. You don’t give me reason to believe any partnership is possible.”
Tandem then motioned to sever ties with the group and to forge ahead finding a new partner and/or explore different shelter models.
“I find it interesting because we thought were addressing a lot of concerns. C.A.R.E. has taken a major hit and I’m not sure how volunteers involved have been demonized,” Lovinger-Goldblatt said. “We came to you in good faith with a recommendation of things we were willing to change. I don’t think our changes were listened to.”
The subcommittee, including Fiske and Tendam, voted 5-2 to end the shelter’s relationship with C.A.R.E.
The animal welfare group’s leadership -- Gelb and Lovinger-Goldblatt -- cast the dissenting votes. One of their representatives had to leave the meeting early.
“I think the decision was made before we got here,” Gelb said afterward.
Alisa Kaplan, one of the volunteers that often found herself at odds with C.A.R.E.’s leadership and who brought the shelter’s high euthanasia rate to city officials’ attention, said she was sorry it turned out the way it did.
"But I don’t think there was any possibility of meaningful change within the organization,” she said.
The subcommittee’s recommendation will go back to the Human Services Committee on March 3, before being kicked up for a full vote by the Evanston City Council.