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Editorial: Improve animal shelter

06-06-09 The Anti-Cruelty Society Animal Shelter 510 N. LaSalle Chicago -  A litter Labrador mix puppies are caged The

06-06-09 The Anti-Cruelty Society Animal Shelter, 510 N. LaSalle, Chicago - A litter of Labrador mix puppies are caged at The Anti-Cruelty Society Animal Shelter Friday in Chicago. They were a part of 40 dogs rescued from a puppy mill in Tennessee and are available for adoption starting Saturday at the Anti-Cruelty Society. John J. Kim ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: June 6, 2013 6:53AM

As if a stray dog’s life were not hard enough, now comes word that cats and dogs don’t always get the most basic humane care at the City of Chicago’s animal shelter.

And nobody’s got a good excuse.

This is one problem City Hall can and should fix in no time — the money to hire adequate staff is actually budgeted — or brace for a flood of calls from animal lovers.

A new audit by city Inspector General Joe Ferguson found that the 300 to 600 animals housed at any given time at the David R. Lee Animal Center, 2741 S. Western, are not always cleaned and fed properly or given timely veterinary exams.

To care for these animals according to minimum national standards is to jump a very low hurdle. Each animal is supposed to get a mere nine minutes of cleaning and six minutes of feeding a day. Yet the Chicago shelter fell 29.5 percent below those minimum standards, according to Ferguson’s report.

Ferguson notes that the budgeted funds are there — almost $5 million for the current fiscal year — but only 56 of the shelter’s 72 full-time budgeted positions were filled at the time of the audit.

Running an animal shelter is never easy. The Chicago shelter handles some 20,000 strays a year and gets more than 60,000 service requests. It is responsible for inspecting animal-related businesses such as animal hospitals, investigating animal cruelty complaints, spaying and neutering dogs and cats, and rounding up unwanted wildlife from garages and attics.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle have talked about merging the city and county’s animal-control departments to save money and do a better job. But in the meantime, Chicago should spend the money and hire the staff.

Fifteen minutes of care a day for a frightened and homeless dog or cat that may not be long for this world — about 40 percent of the shelter’s animals must be euthanized — hardly seems to be asking too much.

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