CHICAGO–Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel on March 21, 2012 abruptly appointed two-time Chicago Animal Care & Control acting director Sandra Alfred to replace incumbent executive director Cherie Travis, effective immediately.
Travis, appointed by previous mayor Richard Daley, had headed Chicago Animal Care & Control since November 2009. Alfred had been deputy director of Chicago Animal Care & Control since 2001, after spending 12 years with the Chicago Department of Health. Emanuel, formerly chief of staff for U.S. President Barack Obama, praised Alfred as “a champion for animal rights and advocate for animal care,” who “knows every facet of the department and is a natural choice to lead the department’s efforts.” Emanuel did not explain why the change was made. “We simply decided to go in another direction with the leadership,” mayor’s office spokesperson Sarah Hamilton told media.
Travis’ administration was target of an August 2010 exposé by Marcella Raymond of WGN-TV for allegedly allowing kennels to become overcrowded and filthy. Part of the issue involved Travis’ efforts to admit volunteers to work within the Chicago Animal Care & Control shelter without infringing on the duties of unionized city staff.
Nationally known as an advocate for pit bulls, Travis came under criticism from fellow Chicago pit bull advocate Steve Dale, a WGN-TV program host and blogger, and American Humane Association board member. “This change will save animal lives,” Dale posted.
“I am devastated by the news,” Travis told Facebook friends on March 24, 2012. “I gave my heart and soul to transforming the department. In the past two years,” Travis said, “we’ve set records for reducing euthanasia and increasing transfers. More than 7,000 animals were transferred last year–36% of intake.” Travis said the animals went to “200-plus transfer organizations.” But the transfer program and several of the participant organizations were attacked at length in an anonymous but footnoted and documented March 2012 Blogspot report on “Pit Bull Attacks and Dogfighting in Illinois” as a purported way for Chicago to “transfer its problem with rampant dogfighting and predatory pit bulls to communities all across the country.”
Also in March 2012, Mick Swasko of the online periodical Redeye Chicago published city dog bite data showing that pit bulls now account for nearly 40% of all reported bites. “According to the most recent data from the Chicago City Clerk’s office, pit bulls or mixes account for about 4.5 percent of the 37,546 dogs registered dogs in the city,” Swasko wrote.
Earlier, Travis caught online flak for allegedly favoring pit bulls over people put at risk by their behavior after the January 19, 2010 fatal mauling of Johnny Wilson, 56, by one or more of his daughter’s four adult pit bulls, one of whom had puppies, and after the January 3, 2012 mauling of jogger Joseph Finley, 62, by two pit bulls who had escaped from their home and were shot by police at the scene. Finley survived in critical condition.
Travis, formerly associate director of the DePaul University Center for Animal Law, was among several attorneys who in 2001 sued McDonald’s Corporation for advertising that its French fries were cooked in “100% vegetable oil,” when the oil actually included beef tallow. Travis was among the coplaintiffs who challenged the 2003 settlement of the case for $10 million, distributed among charities benefiting vegetarians, Hindus, Sikhs, and children’s health, and/or promoting Jewish dietary law.
In 2006 Travis obtained public records from the preceding five years which revealed that of 3,282 complaints made to the Illinois Department of Agriculture Bureau of Animal Welfare, which oversees shelters, animal control agencies, pet stores, and kennels, only three cases resulted in license revocation hearings– and no licenses were actually revoked.
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