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Bill seeks to end euthanasia for cats and dogs in Illinois

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(The Center Square) – A state lawmaker is concerned about people taking their pets to the shelter post-pandemic, where workers may have to resort to euthanasia.

Senate Bill 3791 from state Sen. Mike Simmons, D-Chicago, would make it illegal to euthanize dogs and cats in Illinois, which animal shelter groups say could further harm animals and taxpayers.

Lauren Malmberg with the Illinois Animal Control Association said there would be higher costs for everyone. Animal control services provide programs that are funded by taxpayers, but the legislation directly impacts shelters, which means donors might pay more too.

“If you are focused on keeping animals alive, rather than what’s best for as many animals as possible, you could spend a lot of money on one animal that could be used to save others, regardless of how you are funded,” said Malmberg.

Simmons’ bill as drafted specifically says shelters can’t euthanize cats and dogs, but animal control services transfer pets to shelters so the law indirectly impacts animal control facilities across the state.

“If those facilities cannot [euthanized] after July 1, that means they would be full and unable to take more transfers,” said Malmberg.

Malmberg said she’s had a 40-year career in helping animals. When she began, the estimation was 18-20 million dogs and cats being euthanized. But now it’s less than a million. In Illinois, intake data shows a 94% to 96% live-release rate. So less than 10% of dogs and cats entering Illinois shelters are being euthanized.

Malmberg also said getting pets adopted has always been an issue for animal welfare.

“This isn’t new to us,” said Malmberg. “We had an influx of animals before the pandemic and since. This is not a new issue. All across the world people have been working to promote adoption and promote responsible pet care, things like low-cost spay and neuter.”

Simmons told the Center Square he is concerned about people taking their pets to the shelter post-pandemic.

“There are going to be instances where pet parents and caretakers will see the suffering and feel it is most humane to euthanize,” said Simmons. “The legislation does not seek to take away that option. What we are trying to do is for the pets that are well, need a home and there’s no good reason they aren’t being kept alive. We want to make sure we are solving that problem.”

Malmberg said animal control agencies and shelters need to be able to euthanize because it’s a tool.

“It’s an important tool we have to have at our disposal,” said Malmberg. “For animals that come in that are either chronically ill, injured, sick or suffering, super aggressive or mentally suffering because of abuse or improper environment – all of those animals need to be allowed to be euthanized if it’s in their best interest and simply eliminating euthanasia is not doing anybody any favors.”

Simmons claims the law doesn’t seek to take away the option for pet owners to euthanize if the pet is suffering and euthanasia is the most humane option.

The bill reads: “no animal shelter shall be allowed to euthanize any dog, cat, or other domesticated animal returned or found on the street beginning July 1, 2024.”

Malmberg said the group had met with Simmons after the legislation was drafted, but both the Animal Control Association and the Illinois Animal Welfare Federation were not consulted prior to the introduction of the bill.

“I appreciate Senator Simmons’ concern for animals, but this kind of a broad prohibition isn’t going to help and there will be unintended consequences,” said Malmberg.