the complicated path for strays in Cook County

A new post on a Wednesday? Yep, things are getting real weird over here. Since the launch of #StrongBitch was Sunday, I wanted to spread things out just a bit. Have you signed up for any of our #StrongBitch classes? Please come and enjoy a workout with puppies and inspiring people (both men and women) in the rescue world! Speaking of the rescue world, on my trip to Los Angeles, I noticed something very different about how they operate vs Chicago. I’m thinking we could benefit greatly from a couple of county shelters.

For those unfamiliar with the geographical aspects of Chicago (geography is hard), the city is entirely contained within Cook County. Cook County is expansive and extends far beyond Chicago city limits. Thus, we have county and city governments working alongside one another. This complicates the rescue world ever so slightly.

Chicago is a mish-mosh (technical term) of rescue work. If a dog gets lost (or found) there’s a convoluted maze the animal goes through. A dog that is lost within city limits and found by Animal Control goes to Chicago Animal Care & Control. If the dog is microchipped, the owners are contacted. Sometimes that microchip info is old and outdated so the dog undergoes a “stray hold” for three days at which time he is not adoptable or able to go to rescue. If nobody claims him, the dog can be sent to one of CACC’s many rescue partners.

Confusing? Trust me, that’s the simple way. Let’s say that the pet is found in one of the 135 municipalities outside Chicago city limits located in Cook County. Each municipality is responsible for its own animal control and housing stray pets. Some suburbs work with local vets to house strays whereas others contract with larger shelters, and Illinois, there are almost 80 shelters where a lost pet can end up.

If the pet is wandering in a forest preserve or unincorporated area, it’s picked up by Cook County Animal and Rabies Control which doesn’t have it’s own physical shelter. CCARC takes strays to Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge. So, if your pet gets lost and is found outside the city of Chicago, you better be ready to visit and call a lot of places. Side note: save the headache, microchip your pets.

Now, what I learned in LA is that they sort of have this process simplified. They have six city shelters and seven county shelters. If you lose a pet, you know (almost) exactly where to go. Not that it’s without its flaws, but it’s a system we don’t have here in Chicago. We could benefit greatly from a centralized location for lost pets found outside of city limits.

Perhaps it’s a pipedream, but I know the county would be better served with a designated shelter for every stray outside Chicago. It would be an easy way to reunite dogs and cats with their owners, rather than have them searching all over and calling multiple shelters and vet clinics. Of course, this is Cook County and we’re talking about government and spending, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

For now, the best we’ve got in terms of a centralized system is Lost Dogs Illinois. For now, it’s a great resource for people who have lost their dog. You can use the website to search local listings and create postings. While it’s not the perfect solution, it’s the best we’ve got right now and it’s doing more good for our residents than the current patchwork system.

I have no interest in politics, but since getting into animal welfare, I’ve had to get involved. If I want to see changes, I’ll have to attend meetings, write letters, and call my local reps. Not that any of it is a guarantee, so perhaps you’ll see me running for office today so that we can make this convoluted maze a simple path and help save even more animals.


Rue – So you want a sweet pupper who knows how to walk on leash properly and take treats so well? Meet  Rue! She’s been at Chicago Canine Rescue for a few months now, and while she might be older, she’s the sweetest lady. I was ready to take her home to chill with me on the couch for eternity. Find all her details here.

Emrick – Perhaps you want someone with a bit more speed, then meet Emrick. This sweet boy has plenty of energy to keep you off the couch. He’s a beautiful shepherd mix that reminds me of my family’s dog. He’s so handsome and loved posing for the camera. If you’d like to make him yours forever, click here.


If you haven’t heard of Pet Your Shirt, get ready. You can put any picture of your pet on a shirt (or tote!) and it’s my new favorite thing. I already got one for Roni, Cheese, and Rawlings, so it was only natural to get one for little Miss Rue. This month, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Chicago Canine Rescue, so go shop!



All photos: Margaret Rajic (psst: she does weddings so book her asap!)

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