In Spring 2002, I was graciously invited to speak at the annual Humane Education Seminar at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. It was terrific fun, of course, but the thing that stood out most for me was a description by one of the other speakers of an effort in another city (I wanna say it was Denver) by all the local animal shelters to get together to solve that city's animal overpopulation problem. I thought that sounded great. Turning to the then-Executive Director of Chicago's Animal Care and Control, I whispered if she would like to try that in Chicago. She nodded enthusiastically.
Fast forward six months or so. One of the first things I did after founding the Chicago Bar Association's Animal Law Committee that Fall was set up a meeting. With the assistance of Marcia Kramer - longtime friend, animal law colleague, and vice-chair of the new committee - we sent out invites to all of Chicago's major players in the animal shelter arena. We weren't sure what the response would be, but we hoped that since the meeting would be on neutral "turf" (the CBA building) that folks would give it a go.
Happily, just about everyone showed. It was pretty tentative at first; a lot of these individuals had known each other for years but did not see eye-to-eye over the most pressing and emotional issues. Eventually, however, as we began to set up agendas and hold monthly meetings, everyone sorta relaxed and the meeting atmospheres became genuinely congenial. The group named itself "Chicago Animal Welfare Alliance" or CASA for short. ("Casa" also means "home" in Spanish.)
Fast forward about another year. It was great to see all these shelters socializing with each other at our monthly meetings, although I couldn't help but notice that the most fundamental differences between them - down to how to define "no kill" versus "kill" shelter or when an animal is "adoptable" versus "treatable" - remained unresolved. I sat everyone down and - taking a cue from a colleague in New York who was already getting the Maddie's Fund money for her group - told my group that if they wanted me to continue to lead the meetings, we had to set some specific goals with specific timetables in order to qualify for this Holy Grail of animal welfare charities. I let them think it over. They came back to me about ten minutes later, thanked me for my time in organizing the group and I walked back to my office.
I viewed the moment like a child that comes of age and wants to set its own destiny. I was a little sad, perhaps, but also cautiously optimistic that the group felt ready to take charge of itself, which is, after all, a good thing. Every once in a while I would hear something about CASA's efforts. It was great to hear that CASA was still in existence and even better to hear that it was moving towards its goal - making Chicago a no-kill city - and hopefully getting a Maddie's grant to be able to do it up right.
Fast forward the better part of a decade. In Crain's Chicago Business is "Shelters get along like cats and dogs" by Shia Kapos - another article about Chicago's animal shelters. And if it didn't have today's date, I wouldn't be able to tell whether it was written this weekend or back in Fall 2002. This time, I am more than a little sad.