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The Dogs in the Back Room

Author: Yvonne Feeney | Date: May 1, 2014

Back in the day, Animal Care and Control (ACC) used to have an inconspicuous room in the back. It was nearly identical to all of the other pavilions, with row after row of homeless dogs. But this room was different. These dogs were not lost, waiting to be found, or surrendered by their owners. They were not available for adoption. They were in a holding pattern. Waiting.

While they waited, they didn’t belong to the city, so they couldn’t be rehomed or even taken outside for a walk. They sat and waited.

These were dogs trapped in the legal system. Anyone familiar with the legal process knows how tedious and time consuming it can be. Scheduling hearings and more hearings is no easy task for anyone. But these dogs didn’t have a voice to say “Hey! I’m in a small cell, locked up with no fresh air from the outdoors, no grass under my feet! Please! Hurry!”

These cases had less to do with the dogs and more to do with their owners. Dogs are considered property, so when an investigation takes place, be it cops searching a home for drugs or guns, to cruelty and neglect, to poor living conditions for an animal, to certain violent felons with an intact dog (which is against the law), these dogs were confiscated as evidence until a verdict is reached in court. How long can that take? Sometimes years.

When I talk about “back in the day,” I’m talking about four years ago.

The average length of time these dogs were impounded was almost a year. As an average, that meant some were sentenced to solitary confinement for over three years. What’s worse, after the cases were heard and they became city property, only 2 percent made it out. All that time in the hole did a number on their psyches.

These voiceless animals were already getting a voice in courtroom with the amazing volunteers of Safe Humane Chicago (previously D.A.W.G. or Dog Advisory Work Group). They took copious notes and let perpetrators and legal counsel alike know that the community was watching: slaps on the wrist for violence towards animals is unacceptable and ineffective, and our communities demanded better.

Someone else deserved better, too. When Safe Humane Chicago (SHC) realized what their furry clients were going through, they knew things had to change. From educating legal counsel about the sentient property involved at the other end of the case to inspiring them to speed up the timeline for getting the dogs relinquished to the city to getting waivers from the court to allow the dogs to have enrichment while housed at ACC, the tables have really turned for these “Court Case Dogs,” a name created by SHC to let everyone know they are so much more than “evidence.”

Thanks to SHC advocacy, these dogs are given a second chance.

The average time a Safe Humane Court Case Dog is impounded is now less than 30 days. Some dogs are allowed to be walked by Court Case Dog Program volunteers before the case ends. Even with all these dogs have been through, they are resilient. After becoming city property, the dogs are behaviorally assessed by a professional behaviorist. Some join in play groups with other dogs; some participate in manners class, a training program done by volunteer handlers to get them on the path to being successful pets. And best of all, 60% are making it out of ACC and into loving homes. Some have gone on to be SHC Ambassador Dogs and even therapy dogs. Isn’t it powerful what a community can do?

If you’d like to know more about Safe Humane Chicago’s programs, or if you’d like to volunteer or donate, click here.


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