Chicago Animal Care & Control’s Pet Marketing Fails

Dog with what appears to be a serious eye injury at Chicago ACC, as posted on

Reader Liz sent me a link to this dog’s PetHarbor listing last month and I filed a FOIA request for the dog’s records at Chicago Animal Care and Control. I was concerned about the eye injury but relieved to see notes in the record indicating she received prompt vet treatment. A week later, on July 14, the dog was diagnosed with kennel cough and put on a week’s worth of antibiotics. She was never seen by the vet again.

On August 8, two and a half weeks after the prescribed medication would have been completed, Chicago ACC killed the dog, classifying her as “Ill – minor”. There are no records to support that this dog was ill on August 8. Even if she was, minor illness is not a medically hopeless condition.

Was this PetHarbor listing the only form of online marketing that was done for this dog by Chicago ACC? Because I don’t think many adopters are going to fall in love with this pet based upon this listing. They treated the eye, they treated the kennel cough, then they waited 2 and 1/2 more weeks before killing her and classifying her as a condition unsubstantiated by their records. What chance did this dog have to get adopted during those 2 and 1/2 weeks? What chance did she ever have once Chicago ACC got its hands on her?

Cat named Kenny at Chicago ACC, as posted on PetHarbor,com.

Kenny was another cat whose PetHarbor listing was sent to me by Liz. I FOIA’d his records because, obviously. The good news is that Kenny is not dead, as it would appear in the photo. He has in fact been treated for his initial injuries, apparently recovered and since been neutered and vaccinated. The bad news is that this is still the photo they are using for Kenny on PetHarbor. Is this the only online marketing being done for Kenny? Seriously Chicago ACC, you need to do better.

Kittens in a trash bin at Chicago ACC, as posted on

Blurry kittens in the trash bin were transferred to rescue according to the records from Chicago ACC. (I’m assuming the transfer dates, which appear twice, contain a typo on the year and that these kittens were transferred last year.)

There is a link on Chicago ACC’s webpage for shelter data but it’s broken.  If anyone has recent stats on this facility, please post a comment.  It would be interesting to see how this troubled pound has fared since the former director, who reportedly made significant improvements, was fired in March.  The pound’s PetHarbor listings are depressing, at best and horrifying, at worst.  I don’t know what other types of marketing Chicago ACC does to get pets adopted but hopefully it’s way better than what it manages to put on PetHarbor.

The complete records for the pets in this post can be viewed here.

22 thoughts on “Chicago Animal Care & Control’s Pet Marketing Fails

  1. Unbelievable. Do they not understand the concept of marketing or do they just not care?

    I’m going to have to go with “not care”.

    I simply cannot understand why a shelter would deliberately sabotage their positive outcome numbers like this. Even if you don’t give a rat’s ass about the animals themselves, don’t you want to look good for the press and professional reviews? Why wouldn’t you make the effort to increase adoptions/RTOs with your photos? It’s such a simple thing that can make a big difference in your numbers…yet so many fail to make even the tiny effort to correct it.

    1. I read an interesting discussion yesterday, about a recent case in which United Airlines lost a 10-year-old traveling by herself, and then failed to correct it:

      What had me thinking about the many and manifest failures of city animal control units, pounds, and animal shelters, was this:

      “… the lack of felt accountability that pervades the system. Yes, there are design problems, there are operations problems, but the to me the core lesson is this is a system packed with people who don’t feel responsible for doing the right thing.”

      1. Wow, scary story! But yes, that’s exactly the mentality. The problem is that accountability starts at the top (The Buck Stops Here) and until leadership is willing to deal with their own accountability, no one below them will, either.

      2. Not only that, but in many cases posted about here, those staff and employees who are responsible, self-directed people are actively discouraged, barred, and threatened, and animals are killed to retaliate against them. So not only do we have systems in which few if any don’t feel responsible to do the right thing, they’re willing to sink to cruel and criminal levels to prevent anyone else from doing their jobs for them.

      3. Which is why it comes down to leadership. If the person at the top allows bullshit like this to go on day after day, then the worst part of human nature will rule.

      1. I’m trying to be positive, heh. And frankly, I’m still on a high from finding out Kenny wasn’t dead in that box when they took his picture. It’s the little things…

      2. I hear ya. The photo definitely does not look good. Why on earth wouldn’t they retake it? “We’re too busy to make the cat not look dead”?

  2. The photos for Chicago Animal Care & Control that are posted on are really pretty horrible/awful. They look like quick photos taken and posted there by CACC staff, but I\’m not sure who takes/posts those. However, as Brandy mentioned above, there are many volunteers that do a much better job of marketing the animals — on a few Facebook pages (the link Brandy provided as well as!/cacc.cats and!/pages/CACC-Adoptable-Pets/230547733723430) and also (search as Chicago A.C.C.). CACC also does some off-site adoptions, and a professional photographer, Sheri Berliner, regularly visits CACC to photograph animals and posts them on her website. So, there is good marketing being done, but it could be much much better. CACC definitely kills for space reasons, and the new director is not fully supportive of No Kill, from what I can determine. CACC needs new, progressive leadership that believes in the No Kill Equation, and the Chicago animal-loving community need to push for it. A lot more needs to be done in this city. Thank goodness for amazing volunteers, rescue organizations, and independent No Kill shelters in the Chicago area that save lives and help pull injured, senior, ill animals from CACC as well as adorable adoptables. But it’s not enough, obviously, since too many animals are still being killed at CACC. CACC needs better leadership.

  3. I used to volunteer there back in 2004/2005. The animals were covered in feces all the time. People looking to adopt used to walk in the dog area and would immediately put their shirts over their face because they couldn’t stand the stench. The cleaners-who were union- used to come in only once a day. So if an animal defecated after the cleaning crew left, they would have to sit in their own feces and urine until the next day. The ED resigned after complaints from volunteers. She went on to work for another department for the City of Chicago.

  4. Wow just awful! Cat in a box..cats in trash bins..aye aye aye. Seems like we have yet another MAS on our hands!

  5. I volunteer regularly at Chicago-ACC and this is really irresponsible “reporting” if you can call it that. Pet Harbor is not an online marketing website. It is a website that allows people to see every dog at the shelter incase their pet is lost or for rescues incase they want to rescue one of the animals there. Chicago ACC does have a link to adoptable animals on pet harbor, and does have a facebook page run by some of the volunteers for adoptable animals.

    The rest of your article is filled with unsubstantiated statements that you pass off as fact, but are little more than baseless accusations and shoddy inferences. The first dog you see, you say “she was never seen by a vet again.” Please explain to us all how you know that? Maybe there was no record that the animal was seen again by a vet, because the two vets that work there don’t have time to constantly update the computer system, instead they are ya know… actually TREATING ANIMALS!!!

    Have you ever worked or volunteered at an open admission facility? I think ACC brings in like 20,000 animals a year. They don’t create the problem, irresponsible citizens do. Do you think there are tons of people banging down doors to adopt adult cats and pit bulls, regardless of the pet harbor picture? No. There is clearly an over population of pets in Chicago and all of the undesirable ones get left at Chicago Animal Care and Control while all the other “rescues” can claim no kill and say they are supporting the City by only taking the most desirable pets. The fact is rescues are allowed to come to CACC 365 days a year to pull animals. The first dog was there for 31 days and no one wanted to adopt or rescue him. Is that CACC’s fault? NO!

    “Was this PetHarbor listing the only form of online marketing that was done for this dog by Chicago ACC?” I think your little post makes a huge assumption that Pet Harbor is intended for “online marketing” of adoptable animals. I don’t think it is. I think Pet Harbor is so citizens who have lost their pets can search through it to see if their pet has been found or for rescues to try and save a lost pet. Most rescues only try and rescue animals with injuries. So it might actually incentivize a rescue to have come rescued that dog with the injured eye.

    The point of pet harbor is to get a picture of every animal at the shelter up online as soon as possible. That’s why all of the photos of every animal that comes in are put in there, regardless of condition. If I lost my dog and his eye was injured I would still want a photo of the dogs face so I could recognize him. The photos that appear on pet harbor are those taken by a CACC employee at the front desk at the time of impoundment. Again, 20,000 animals a year. This is a high volume shelter. Most times the animals don’t want to be there and are not cooperative when they first arrive to take pictures. I don’t know what kind of fantasy world you live in where you think there is extra staff or volunteers on hand to take vanity shots of the 20,000 animals at the shelter. But in a city with a 600 million dollar budget DEFICIT, can you really the City really justify hiring additional help to take pretty pictures when you have hundreds of murders in the streets annually (including kids), rampant drug dealing and teachers who refuse to go to work to teach our kids? You must not live in Chicago at all. You have no idea what you’re talking about.

    The second cat is called Kenny. Those of us who actually volunteer at CACC will know him from the cat adoption room, where he currently is and has been for weeks. If anyone wants Kenny instead of writing stupid blogs about Kenny, please visit CACC 365 days a year. They are open for adoptions! How do you know Kenny wasn’t sleeping in his picture?
    “There is a link on Chicago ACC’s webpage for shelter data but it’s broken. If anyone has recent stats on this facility, please post a comment.”

    Since you said in your blog you got all the information on these cats through FOIA, why the hell didn’t you just FOIA the stats of the shelter if you have a problem? If they refuse to give you their stats, that is a story worth writing. But it sounds like you didn’t even try. Instead you wrote a half assed blog with inflammatory language intended to shock your readers who don’t have a full understanding of what it is like to volunteer at a open admission facility where there are like 50-60 actual employees and maybe 30 semi-regular volunteers for a near 24 hour operation in one of the largest cities in the U.S.

    Why don’t you FOIA their budget and see how grossly understaffed and overworked everyone is there? Do you have a real job or is ruining the hard work of myself, other volunteers and the people at CACC that actually care all you have going on in your life?

    If anyone of you would like to volunteer at CACC you should fill out a volunteer application. One is available on their website and that link is clearly not broken.

    1. If the only photo that ever hits the web is the Pet Harbor photo, then yes, that’s the only marketing that animal gets.

      And I just looked through Friends of Chicago Animal Care and Control’s PetFinder listings and Kenny is not there. So the photo of him looking dead in a box is all that anyone searching online will ever see. Again, less than wonderful marketing.

      I know you feel overwhelmed and put upon by “the irresponsible public”, but you have to remember that lots of hard working people who have space in their lives for a pet and are actively looking will be using online resources. That includes Pet Harbor and Petfinder. Which is why it’s vitally necessary that those photos and descriptions are current, complete, and not disturbing to look at. Marketing will bring more people into the shelter looking to adopt over and above anything else you can do.

      If your goal is to get animals out alive, you MUST focus on marketing them effectively. Putting up photos like the injured dog will actually work to drive people away from your shelter and possibly turn them from the idea of adopting at all. I applaud the effort to get a photo up quickly for an owner to try to find their lost pet, but leaving a photo up of an animal that now looks better is inexcusable. Because again, that’s the ONLY photo that people will see and it works against you.

      1. Well said mikken, I’d be terrified to go into this shelter with photos like that….


    1. Chicago Resident – but if they never put another “marketing” photo up of an animal, then yes, that is all the marketing they get. Don’t they deserve better?

  7. CACC is a city shelter with limited funds and time for the hundreds of animals that go through each day. I assume they think it’s better to get a bad photo of an animal up than none at all to increase the chances of a potential adopter or another rescue seeing it and adopting the animal.

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