Coyotes and other wildlife roaming Chicago neighborhoods proved a topic of concern among aldermen during a City Council hearing on the Commission on Animal Care and Control on Monday.
The city’s animal care and control department has responded to 2,001 calls for coyotes and 1,039 calls related to raccoons, possums and skunks, acting Executive Director Mamadou Diakhate told aldermen on Monday.
Ald. Carrie Austin (34) said her far South Side ward has “quite a few cats, but now we’re getting coyotes.”
The coyotes she’s seen have been roaming around “midday into the evening” and she noted one “wanted to eat my dog.”
The agency sends officers to investigate any time they get a call about a coyote, Diakhate said. Responding officers will attempt to scare the coyote away or tranquilize or move the animal if it presents a threat.
“As much as we don’t want them around us, they don’t want us around them either,” Diakhate said. He also suggested Austin or anyone else with a small dog lift it up “to make the dog look bigger.”
Austin was not satisfied with the suggestion. “This coyote, you never know when this thing is going to jump out of the bushes,” she said.
Ald. Michael Scott (24) said the fresh-water source in Douglass Park in his ward attracts coyotes and raccoons, and requested the city get a “better grasp” on the animals.
“Sometimes they do branch out and there’s a senior building that’s not very far from Douglass Park. Last winter they were kind of going over to the building and I had a lot of concerned seniors there,” Scott said.
Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11) noted “we’ve had some coyotes down in my ward as well.”
The city’s coyote response affects how quickly officers can respond to stray dog calls, another cause for concern among aldermen.
Animal control currently takes 17 to 18 days to respond to a stray dog. Diakhate pointed to the urgency of coyote calls that “need to be serviced first” before officers can respond to the call of a stray animal, which is one of the lower priority calls.
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) said he is “concerned” that the budget “doesn’t address this growing trend of farm animals and other livestock that we keep seeing appearing inside the City of Chicago’s boundaries.” Farm animals include pigs, goats, horses, “things that cost us way more” to care for than what the city budgets, he said.
Lopez asked what Diakhate has planned to ensure “taxpayers aren’t being unduly overburdened with food bills” that could cost hundreds of dollars daily.
The proposed 2021 budget doesn’t help “resolve that issue with farm animals,” Diakhate said.
However, one way to help fix the problem would be “strong legislation when it comes down to farm animals” that includes high license fees and fines.
Diakhate also gave aldermen an update on Nunu, the horse that belongs to the “Dreadhead Cowboy,” and was injured after its owner rode the horse on the Dan Ryan Expressway in September.
“Nunu is improving, [and] doing better,” Diakhate said. The horse faces “no risk” of being euthanized at this time, he said.
In addition to responding to calls for wild animals, the commission is responsible for sheltering animals and pet placement. The commission’s budget is proposed nearly flat around $7.6 million, and it stands to lose three full-time equivalent positions.
The commission “is positioned to take in around 10,000 animals” for all of 2020, and next year plans to increase its spay and neuter capacity by 10 percent and “establish a Pet Food Bank to keep pets and their humans together and to help reduce the shelter population” with Friends of Chicago Animal Care and Control.
The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities
The 2021 budget for The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities is proposed to remain relatively flat at $7.6 million, and one building inspector position could be added to the office’s roles.
Rachel Arfa, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, answered aldermen’s questions in a budget hearing on Monday as the first deaf commissioner of the office.
The office currently has one building inspector and adding a second “will allow MOPD to track and ensure all construction is built according to approved plans, provide hands on technical assistance in each of our wards and to businesses,” Arfa told aldermen on Monday.
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) asked if the two building inspector positions in the proposed 2021 budget would be enough to keep up with call volumes.
“That is something that continues to be evaluated,” Arfa said.
Some aldermen, including Carrie Austin (34) and Stephanie Coleman (16), thought the office was not prepared at the Monday budget hearing.
Coleman noted a vacancy in a deputy commissioner role in the office and asked that Arfa’s staff be better prepared moving forward. “Your success is our success,” Coleman said after recognizing Arfa’s “commitment” and “dedication.”
Arfa also said captioning, interpreters and the virtual meetings involved in this year’s city budget outreach meant people didn’t have to travel downtown to participate.
“That’s something we could really look at, how we approach city services to make it so the most amount of people can participate,” Arfa said.
The office is planning to cut a “program coordinator” position and add a sign language interpreter.
Department of Administrative Hearings
The department that oversees hearings for city ordinance violations has seen a sharp decline in the number of cases filed and hearings conducted this year due to coronavirus pandemic health and safety limitations, Administrative Hearings Director Patricia Jackowiak told aldermen on Monday.
By Dec. 31, 2019, the department had conducted 565,989 hearings and 440,571 cases were filed. But by Sept. 30 of this year, 244,050 hearings occurred, and 168,269 cases were filed.
From September 2019 to September 2020 the department saw a 36 percent decrease in hearings and a 49 percent decrease in cases filed, according to Jackowiak. “We’re starting to get back up to some of the numbers we were in 2019,” she said.
“This is a unique year and obviously the volume is down for good reason, in the interest of public health and safety,” said Ald. Brendan Reilly (42). “I’ll reserve my regular grilling for next year’s budget.”
An order issued March 16 continued “all matters for a minimum of 60 days and until further order of court,” Jackowiak said, adding it “specified that no adverse action would be taken
in any case.”
Jackowiak said that motions now can be filed online and conferences with city attorneys for pre-trial settlements are now conducted over email. The department on July 9 began in-person hearings for some cases that had been continued from March 16 and beyond.
The administrative hearings department is working with the city’s Department of Assets, Information and Services “to establish the capability to conduct remote hearings,” Jackowiak told aldermen on Monday.
The department would see a 7 percent decrease from its 2020 budget, leaving funding at $7.7 million under the proposed 2021 budget. The department also stands to lose three full-time equivalent positions, leaving 38 staff in the department.