SEP 30, 2021
Aldermen push for better marketing of adoptable pets through city’s animal control agency
Mamadou Diakhate, executive director of Chicago Animal Care and Control (second from left), answers questions during a budget hearing Wednesday.
Chicago Animal Care and Control brought in more than 8,400 animals and transferred or adopted out more than 5,400 in the first eight months of the 2021, officials said Wednesday. Department employees also provide medical care for animals and run pet vaccination and microchip programs — all without city dollars dedicated to marketing their services.
That didn’t sit well with some aldermen who used a Wednesday budget hearing with the department to press city officials to add a line item to the department’s budget so it can increase public awareness of its adoptable animals through a marketing strategy.
Mamadou Diakhate, executive director of Chicago Animal Care and Control, told aldermen on Wednesday that his department through Aug. 31 of this year had 8,488 animals come through its doors. The animals included more than 3,600 dogs, 3,700 cats and more than 1,000 “other animals” including chickens, rabbits, pigs, goats and sheep, Diakhate said.
Diakhate reported that during that same time period, 471 animals had been adopted, and the remainder of the more the 5,400 were transferred to partner agencies "to start their new lives."
Ald. Walter Burnett (27) said he was surprised that Animal Care and Control does not have a line item in its budget dedicated to marketing.
Currently, Chicago Animal care and Control relies on flyers and newsletters to get the word out about adoptable pets, Diakhate said. Additionally, Diakhate told aldermen his department knows “how to use social media very well."
Chicago Animal Care and Control’s Instagram account includes regularly updated photos of adoptable cats and dogs. The account also highlights employees’ work to ensure wild animals like ducks are removed from hazardous situations and relocated to their natural habitats.
“Personally, I think you all should have a marketing budget and I think you all should market more trying to put those animals up for adoption,” Burnett said.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) agreed with Burnett’s evaluation. “My concern is that you all have an important role and a big part of it, in being successful...is through marketing and communications,” he said.
Reilly noted the department’s advertising budget is set at $2,000 but that the department lacks a public relations position.
“That's problematic to me, because this department, more than most, I think will rely upon earned media, public relations and cheap marketing campaigns,” Reilly said. “It's great that you have activists and volunteers and people willing to roll up their sleeves and help, but there typically needs to be a centralized person who can focus those efforts in a meaningful way.”
Reilly suggested the agency amend its 2022 budget proposal to add a public relations employee position “because it will really stretch the dollar,” and begin building up a marketing budget for initiatives including public service announcements to run on TV stations.
Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11) also pressed Diakhate on whether he has enough employees working in his department.
"It's our responsibility to give you the resources to do your job, and I feel like this is not enough," Thompson said.
Diakhate told Thompson the 80 full-time equivalent positions in next year’s budget, including three new positions, is enough, adding, "but if you give me more, I'll take it.”
Agency officials told aldermen they currently have 13 vacant positions heading into next year.
Thompson also asked about a fear that people would be abandoning the pets they acquired for companionship during the pandemic, but Diakhate said the city has not seen that phenomenon set in.
"So far the good news is that we haven’t seen it,” he said. “We stay prepared just in case something happens."
As a potential new revenue source for Chicago Animal Care and Control, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) suggested Diakhate look into charging people to use some dog-friendly areas that could be directly managed by the agency.
“It seems that if we could find some available spaces in two, three parts of the city, that funding source, which might not be a whole lot, could come back to you,” Waguespack said.
Diakhate said his agency “can definitely look into it.”
Existing dog-friendly areas in the city generally fall under the Chicago Park District’s jurisdiction, so it “would be probably their call, or their policy to do it,” Diakhate said, adding his agency would support “whatever they want to do.”
Ald. Tom Tunney (44) also pushed for more dog-friendly areas, saying they are in high demand in his ward. Tunney suggested the park district and Animal Care and Control discuss potential plans to expand the network of dog parks.
"Everyone wants a dog park, but not near their home or their condominium building,” Tunney said.
Meetings & Agendas