Proposed Illinois bill would put rescue pets at risk

If enacted, the proposed legislation would most likely result in more euthanized animals and fewer lost pets being reunited with their families.

Pet overpopulation is a serious problem in all corners of the country, the state of Illinois included. Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Rockford, Ill., is one of the many private shelters and rescues that currently operates in the Land of Lincoln. Every year, the group takes in hundreds of homeless animals and places them in loving homes.

Noah’s Ark adoption counselor Marcia Brice tells their organization takes in many animals who would have otherwise packed the limited number of cages at local animal control facilities.

“By us taking in strays we do relieve some pressure from animal control since they are overcrowded a lot,” Brice explains.

And one of the nearest animal control facilities they work with, Winnebago County Animal Services, has benefited firsthand from private rescue organizations like Noah’s Ark.

“We work together with a lot of groups now to try to get animals to their homes,” Winnebago County Animal Services adoption coordinator Donna Apgar says.

But one piece of proposed legislation might have changed all of that. Sponsored by State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and Rep. Wayne Rosenthal (R-Morrisonville), Illinois Senate Bill 648 would have made it mandatory for any animal brought in to a private rescue to be transferred to an animal control facility within 24 hours or risk facing a steep fine.

After a strong outcry from the public and from animal rescue workers alike, SB 648 has been tabled; but it hasn’t been thrown out, meaning it could still make its way to a vote at a later session this year.

The story behind the creation of SB 648 is certainly an awful one, explains pet expert and radio host Steve Dale. Elderly Labrador Retriever Buddy went missing from his Bunker Hill, Ill. home back in February. Buddy was reportedly picked up by an area “rescue” suffering from fleas, worms, frostbite, and a severe injury to one of his legs. The “rescue” solicited donations online and apparently raised a more than $1,200 profit off of Buddy. Meanwhile, when animal control officers in Bunker Hill tried to contact the group to return Buddy to his rightful owner, the officers were reportedly denied. And apparently Buddy’s health issues were grossly exaggerated; a veterinary exam revealed that the only condition Buddy suffered from is arthritis, and likely due to his age.

Buddy was eventually returned to his family, but the situation made quite the impression on the family’s neighbor, State Senator Manar.

Though the intent is likely to provide a more centralized location for owners of missing pets to search for their animal and to ensure that animals are not being taken in by phony “rescues” out to merely make a profit off of pets, the worry is that animal control facilities would be even further inundated with dogs and cats should this measure eventually be adopted by the state. With only a limited amount of space and resources at animal controls’ disposal, opponents of SB 648 worry that euthanasia rates would skyrocket at animal control shelters throughout the state.

Easing the burden on larger local shelters is inherent in the mission of Heather’s Foster Dogs (HFD), a small foster-based rescue in Chicago’s south suburbs and one of the private animal rescue organizations who would be affected by the proposed measure. HFD believes, should the bill be reintroduced in its current state, it would drastically affect the homeless pets in their community.

“Most animal controls are very small and overwhelmed as it is, and it is the rescues and the shelters that help alleviate the strain on their resources and help increase the numbers of pets that can be saved,” says HFD Board Secretary Laura Sonnek. “Without the help of private rescues, euthanasia rates would increase exponentially.”

The rescue also believes it could make it even more challenging for pet owners to reunite with their four-legged friends.

“And what about smaller communities that do not have a local animal control facility nearby? Then what? Families will have less of a shot at reuniting with their lost pets because they might have to travel long distances to get to the right facility,” Sonnek continues. “They might not know where to look, and they might not be able to find their pet before the stray hold runs out.”

Another vital program that could suffer should the bill be reintroduced as-is would be Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) efforts largely spearheaded by nonprofit organizations in the state, according to Kathy Mordini of Raining Cats & Dogs. Because these organizations handle the humane capture, sterilization, and ultimate return or adoption of stray and feral cats, these groups make an impact on ballooning feline populations in their communities while also lessening the burden on animal control. Groups like Tree House Humane Society, Fat Cat Rescue, and Spay and Stay are just a few of the nonprofits who make TNR a part of their mission. But should SB 648 be adopted, Mordini explains, “these efforts would come to a screeching halt,” and all stray and feral cats would instead have to be carted off to animal control.

It appears that Senator Manar and Representative Rosenthal are open to revising SB 648, and they are enlisting the help of Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), a legislator and animal advocate, to do so. Rosenthal and Feigenholtz plan to appear together to discuss SB 648 and animal issues on Steve Dale’s WGN Radio show, “Steve Dale’s Pet World,” this Sunday, May 25 at 6:35 a.m. CDT.

Sources: Raining Cats & Dogs,,, Steve Dale’s Pet World Blog