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Will County Responds to National Animal Welfare Crisis
Matthew Libs

Will County Responds to National Animal Welfare Crisis

New department name reflects change in direction for county animal services

Responding to a national animal welfare crisis, Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant has announced a series of ordinance changes that aim to expand the role of the county’s animal services. The changes include renaming the county’s animal welfare department to “Will County Animal Protection Services Department” to better reflect their enhanced mission. 

“These changes are the first step of a progressive new direction for animal services in Will County,” said County Executive Bertino-Tarrant. “This proactive approach will empower us to provide more support for animals and pet owners throughout the county. With a dedicated team and an expanded mission, our Animal Protection Services Department will continue working hard to protect the welfare of animals.” 

Several ordinance changes were approved in January to modernize how the county protects animals, serves the public, and provides resources to pet owners. A significant change is that the Animal Protection Services Department, previously named Will County Animal Control, will be establishing an adoption program for the first time in the organization’s history. These changes follow a nationwide increase in animal shelter populations, including at the department.

Nationwide, in 2023 approximately 6.5 million dogs and cats entered shelters or rescues according to Shelter Animals Count (www.shelteranimalscount.org), a national animal sheltering database. The number of dogs entering shelters or rescues in 2023 increased by more than 3 percent compared to 2022, and by more than 10 percent compared to 2021 intake numbers. To compound the issues, in 2023 dog adoptions were 5 percent lower than in 2019.

Since January 2021 there have been 900,000 animals entering and lingering in shelters, still waiting to be adopted. The national crisis and capacity issues have been felt locally as well.

“Our intake of animals increased 51% from 2022 to 2023,” said Will County Animal Protection Services Administrator Anna Payton “More stray animals and higher populations in animal shelters is sadly a current nationwide trend. Increasing our resources and services to our community is paramount. We help animals by serving people and that is our focus for 2024 and beyond. Will County is taking the necessary steps to establish itself as a leader in animal welfare in the state.”  

These changes reflect the first updates to Will County’s animal care and control ordinances since 2006. State’s Attorney James Glasgow and his office worked with the department to ensure that the new ordinances would bring the department in line with current state statutes and better meet the needs of the community. 

"County Executive Bertino-Tarrant and I agree that we have a responsibility to protect our companion animals, and I thank her for going above and beyond by vastly improving the critical services the County provides to defenseless animals," said Glasgow. "She has been an incredible partner with my office in understanding the importance of working hand-in-hand with the three passionate Assistant State's Attorneys that support the Animal Protection Enforcement Division and are available around the clock to work with the newly-named Animal Protection Services Department. Furthermore, she immediately realized the importance of taking the time to find a highly respected animal welfare expert like Anna Payton to take the County's animal protection services to another level."

Glasgow wrote Illinois’ first-ever animal torture bill 25 years ago, which included a mandatory psychiatric evaluation of the offender since those who abuse animals are also more likely to abuse other human beings. In 2012, he established the Paws for Kids pet therapy program at the Children's Advocacy Center, which uses forfeiture funds to provide police K9s to law enforcement agencies throughout Will County. Additionally, in 2019 Glasgow established The League of Extraordinary Canines and Friends, a countywide initiative bringing together people who care about the humane treatment of animals to work together in addressing the issue of animal cruelty and neglect. He was also named one of America’s Top Ten Animal Defenders in 2020 by the Animal Legal Defense Fund for his commitment to animals and his work in creating the League.

"Just as animals help protect and serve us, animals are deserving of protection," said Glasgow. "The County Executive's leadership in renaming the department and revising our county ordinances reflects Will County's recognition of the critically important mission of animal protection and welfare."

Along with allowing the Animal Protection Services Department to begin adoption services, the ordinance changes also empower the department to incentivize microchipping for dogs and cats. The department will now be able to offer free microchips to pets owned by senior citizens (60 and older), military personnel, and veterans.

Other notable changes include strengthening Will County’s animal protection laws, including harsher penalties for animal cruelty violations, better protections for animals in inclement weather, and rules about tethering dogs. 

The department is expected to launch their adoption program by the end of March. As part of the expanded mission to serve pet owners, the department will also publicize resources and services for pet owners throughout the year, including microchipping and vaccines and mobile clinics.   

“This is an exciting journey and I look forward to sharing more information with residents about our expanded services,” added Administrator Payton.

To learn more and stay up-to-date with Will County Animal Protection Services, visit www.willcounty.gov/AnimalServices.

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