By Dermot Connolly
Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) has written a letter to Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Raymond Poe, urging his department to investigate the ongoing “serious questions and concerns about the lack of care and substandard facility conditions at the Animal Welfare League shelter in Chicago Ridge.”
The shelter at 10305 Southwest Highway, which houses hundreds of dogs, cats and other animals at any time, serves Chicago and more than 50 south and southwest suburbs. It has been in the news since last December, when an outbreak of canine flu led to a self-imposed quarantine and suspension of adoptions and surrenders of animals.
About the same time, photos depicting dogs being kept unclean conditions there began circulating on social media. Some of the dogs were shown in cages surrounded by their own blood and waste, and others were housed in cages in a garage with wild pigeons, which would defecate onto the other animals. The pigeon coop has since been removed.
In January, animal-rights activists began holding regular protests on the site, calling for the removal of Linda Estrada as director of the facility and president of the board of directors. Estrada was blamed for the bad management and animal care that they said led to the flu outbreak, and she was removed in May, and replaced by Diane Spyrka, manager of the Animal Welfare League’s other location at 6224 S. Wabash Ave. in Chicago, as interim executive director.
The board of directors said at the time that "The board will announce additional steps to move the Animal Welfare League forward in the near future.” But activists maintain that nothing has really changed, and they are now calling for the removal of the whole board.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture is responsible for overseeing shelters, and AWL officials have said the facility has always passed inspection. But the animal activists maintain that plenty of warning was given before the inspections, giving AWL staff time to clean up problems.
Therefore, Chicago Ridge village officials have gotten involved and conducted their own building, safety and health inspections in recent months. Chicago Ridge Trustee Ed Kowalski, who took the lead on the issue locally, and met with activists and AWL staff in an effort to resolve the situation, has a sheaf of paperwork documenting all the code violations found in those inspections.
Kowalski provided Lipinski with that documentation, which Lipinski referred to in his letter dated Sept. 6.
“Given the vast discrepancies between the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the village of Chicago Ridge reports,” Lipinski told Poe he was enclosing the documentation for his “review and consideration.”
“I strongly believe the Department (of Agriculture) must examine and respond to these findings and consider taking swift, appropriate action in the interest of the animals and general public that AWL serves,” said Lipinski.
He went on to ask Poe a series of questions about how the department inspections are done and how thorough they are.
“I am extremely grateful for Congressman Lipinski’s involvement in this issue. His presence brings a sense of leadership to all. There has been much debate over jurisdiction, and Congressman Lipinski demanding answers hopefully will end that,” Kowalski said.
“Finally, the right things will be done. The congressman has always been a champion for animals and this situation really shows how serious he is,” added Kowalski.
Isaac Sancken, a spokesman for Lipinski, said on Tuesday that the congressman had not yet received a response from Poe’s office.
“We’ve communicated with them about some additional documents. A follow-up call will likely take place in a couple of weeks,” said Sancken.