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Animal advocates howl over Emanuel’s ouster of Animal Care chief

Cherie Travis leads group employees holding rescued dogs March 9 2012 Animal Care Control 2741 S. Western Ave. Chicago. |

Cherie Travis leads a group of employees holding rescued dogs March 9, 2012, at Animal Care and Control, 2741 S. Western Ave., in Chicago. | File photo by John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 31, 2012 4:21PM

Animal rights advocates are yelping about Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s surprise ouster of Chicago’s director of Animal Care and Control — and warning that the change could result in more dogs and cats being euthanized.

Hannah Arbizzani, director of the Illinois Animal Welfare Networkers, said ousted chief Cherie Travis pioneered a host of programs that increased animal transfers to adoption agencies by 67 percent, decreased the number of dogs and cats euthanized by 50 percent and dramatically improved the treatment of 500 animals in the city’s custody.

Travis is also credited with building a puppy playground at the city pound, using non-violent jail inmates to clean dog kennels, feed and water dogs and saving scores of “court case dogs” confiscated by police while holding vaccine clinics for the public and adoption events at Chicago Wolves games.

“Without Cherie Travis, these programs are not gonna continue and that, ultimately will result in more dogs and cats being euthanized,” Arbizzani said.

“This is a travesty. Removing her when there’s no explanation as to why is just not acceptable when she’s done so much. We want an answer. We can’t understand why he would fire somebody who has saved the city money and saved lives. There’s some other reason this guy wanted her out of the way.”

Travis is an adjunct professor of animal law at DePaul University who has served as director of Animal are and Control since November, 2009. She was replaced by Sandra Alfred, an 11-year veteran of the department who has twice served as acting director.

Andrea Kim, an animal advocate and rescuer, said she is “suspicious” of Emanuel’s motives.

“Why was this done? What are his plans for Animal Care and Control? Will he continue the programs Cherie started? We want Chicago to be completely no-kill. We don’t want any euthanasia.”

Cari Meyers, founder and president of the Puppy Mill Project, branded the change from Travis to Alfred “Back to the Future.”

She added, “They want to take the city in a new direction? Well, rescuers and shelter organizations need to know what that direction is. Why the drastic change? Cherie had a lot of stuff going on that has saved a lot of animals. I need to know that’s the direction we’re gonna continue to take and that we’re not gonna take ten steps backwards.”

Asked earlier this week why Travis was shown the door, Emanuel was cagey to say the least.

“It was time for a change and time for different leadership and that’s what I’ve asked for and that’s what we have,” he said.

The mayor was asked whether he was planning to merge the city’s Animal Care and Control office with Cook County’s.

“I look forward to Sandra’s reforms and what type of changes she’s gonna bring to that office. If that’s ever in the recommendation, we’ll talk about it,” he said.

“If, in fact, Sandra comes back and [County Board] President [Toni] Preckwinkle looks at her operation with similar function, and we say there’s a better way to do it, we’ll do that. But, we’re not there yet.”

In 2010, Inspector General Joe Ferguson cleared the decks of a four-year-old case that saw two Animal Care supervisors fired and six others face disciplinary action for mistakenly euthanizing four dogs and administering “euthanasia narcotics without appropriate or legally required supervision.”

That’s the mess that Travis inherited.

Then-Mayor Richard M. Daley responded by attempting to privatize the cleaning and feeding of animals at the city pound. The city’s “request for proposals” attracted no responses.

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