Mixed opinions on next steps for aging animal shelter

Ethan Ravi, Assistant News Editor

For years, the Evanston Animal Shelter has housed and cared for animals in Evanston that need aid. But in the last few years, plans have been made to demolish the current building and rebuild a new 8,810 square foot facility that would be at 2310 Oakton Street, its current location. These plans, and the $6.3 million price tag, have been readily accepted by some in the Evanston community. However, some residents have raised their eyebrows at the large amount of money that is needed for the shelter. Many of these concerns were raised at the Oct. 10 City Council Meeting.

The current animal shelter is thought by many to have seen better days. It was built in 1987, and since then, has cared for hundreds of rescue cats and dogs. Understandably, its well-used facilities have started to decline, resulting in less comfort for the animals and more struggles for the people trying to help them.

Dr. Catherine Bellamy, who has been a veterinarian for over 20 years in Evanston and worked at the shelter from time to time, described the difficult conditions for the caretakers. In addition to unsafe heating systems that put the animals in danger, Bellamy described the lack of room for proper veterinary work.

“I was working, for the 15 years that I have been there on and off, in a bathroom. It was about a four foot by eight foot space, and we couldn’t even restrain the animals properly,” said Bellamy. “That was unsafe for both the people that work for the animals and the animals themselves, and you couldn’t even take proper care of them because of that.”

These concerns that Bellamy had about the safety of the shelter were confirmed by Vicki Pasenko, executive director of the Evanston Animal Shelter, and co-founder of the Evanston Animal Shelter Association (EASA).

“The current building is dying; it’s beyond its useful life. And it has a myriad of problems that cannot be corrected,” said Pasenko.

Although some people love animals and some don’t, Bellamy explained why all Evanston residents should care for their well-being, with the shelter being the main place where that could happen.

“Taking care of pets is a basic sign of humanity, and we need to give those animals both a better quality of care and a better building. Animals and people in Evanston have a very deep and meaningful bond, I see it every day at work. It’s our responsibility to be the stewards of these pets and to make sure they are safely and humanely cared for.”

While it seems clear that some sort of improvement to the animal shelter is necessary, the high sum of money that the City of Evanston plans to give has caused some dissent within the citizen body. Mike Vasilko, who is very involved with Evanston politics, expressed his worries about the financial commitment the City would have to make to build the shelter.

“You’re pushing forward on the animal shelter that no member of council or public has seen the design of. We don’t know what it looks like, we don’t know what the plan is, and no one really knows what it’s going to cost,” said Vasilko. “There’s a budget, but we know how budgets and Evanston go. It’ll be twice that before it’s all said and done.”

Mary Rosinski, another community member and former City Council candidate, expressed similar apprehension for the proposed budget. She compared it to a new PAWS Chicago shelter that had been renovated (instead of demolished and rebuilt) in the past few years for much less money per square foot and proposed that a similar course of action could be taken with the Evanston Animal Shelter.

“I do believe that we need a new animal shelter, I just don’t believe that we’re being fiscally responsible…Just because something is old, does not mean you don’t work with it,” said Rosinski. She went on to add, “Before you just recklessly spend money on an animal shelter, let’s get the right animal shelter for the right price.”

When spending millions of city funds and hours of valuable time on planning a new, state-of-the-art shelter, questions arise about how responsible that is, amid a nationwide homelessness crisis. Tina Payton voiced her concerns during the public comment portion of the City Council Meeting, after noticing a lack of care when trying to find help for someone who was unhoused. She noticed this man under a viaduct and tried to find help for him. After being turned away from multiple services that were supposed to help in a situation like that, she took the matter to the City Council.

“You’re sitting up here, talking about cats and dogs in a new house, but you won’t accept a homeless man under the viaduct. Get your priorities straight here. This is a disgrace,” exclaimed Payton.


There are a lot of Evanston residents who have recently expressed their worries about spending millions on a new shelter, but this project has been in the works for a while. In 2018, the workers at the Evanston Animal Shelter started the process to apply for a grant from Cook County, and it was accepted. They received $2million as funding for the new facility, but that money came with a few timing and monetary requirements. To meet the fiscal requirements, the overall budget for the project must be $6.3 million. Additionally, to meet the scheduling requirements, the old shelter needs to be demolished sometime around February or March of 2023, and the new one completed before November of 2023. Now, with those deadlines looming, the workers at the EASA are feeling the pressure.

During the Oct. 10 City Council meeting, Pasenko and others who have spent a lot of time preparing and planning for the new shelter expressed annoyance with the City’s lack of willingness to fund the shelter. The lack of commitment from the City Council makes fundraising especially difficult for Pasenko. One million dollars of the $6.3 million budget was supposed to come from fundraising by the EASA, and they still have a long way to go if they want to raise that money.

“People are not going to give us large donations if they don’t think that the city will proceed with building the building,” Pasenko explained. She added that the EASA had cash donations in hand of just under $300,000 and had commitments for an additional $200,000.

At the City Council meeting, Clare Kelly, the first ward alderperson, expressed worries about plans for the new shelter. Her concerns mainly centered around the budget of the new shelter, which she thought was unreasonable in light of the potential upcoming recession. 

“I’m going to talk again about next year; it’s going to be a really hard year,” said Kelly. “I think we need to look at what we really need for next year, and I’m concerned that we’re already talking about demolition and building a sort of state-of-the-art animal shelter that is very expensive per square foot.”

Kelly is not completely against the shelter but thinks that it could be built for much less, similarly to what other community members had said during the public comment portion of the Oct. 10 City Council meeting.

“Keep in mind that we have real serious issues with our humans, and I think we can build a beautiful animal shelter for less than $6 million. I just really implore staff to revisit those costs and to try to bring them down.”

To lessen some of the concerns Kelly brought up, City Engineer Lara Biggs clarified that the actual cost of the shelter will be much less than six point three million dollars.

“The $6.3 million actually includes all the architectural services fees which we spent about $500,000 on so far, its furnishing and equipment, its temporary shelter space. It’s supposed to be a comprehensive package,” explained Biggs. “The actual cost of construction would be considerably less than six point three million dollars.”

In response to the surprise by some at the council meeting when hearing about the budget, Biggs also brought up the point that the city council had voted on a resolution in 2021 that indicated that they were in support of the new shelter. While that resolution technically didn’t approve the spending of the money, Biggs argued that the updated budget shouldn’t come as a surprise, as herself and the EASA had kept the city council updated throughout the planning process.

Councilmember Devon Reid, the eighth ward alderperson, raised the idea of potentially collaborating with the EASA to make their shelter more of a community space for residents in the Eigth Ward. It was received enthusiastically by Pasenko. 

“I’d just love at some point to sit down with Shane and Laura and Vicki and the whole Evanston Animal Shelter team and the Animal Welfare Board if they’re involved with this and think more expansively about how this could serve as maybe a space for the community to inhabit as well,” said Reid.

The focus on the animal shelter during the Oct. 10 City Council meeting ended with a vote on Resolution 107-R-22, which would authorize the city manager to waive standard purchasing process for construction and improvements for the temporary housing of EASA animals. In other words, it would make sure that the animals would have a place to live during the demolition of the old shelter and the construction of the new one. All council members voted in favor of the resolution.

Like many new decisions that involve the budget for Evanston, there are a lot of heated arguments ongoing about how much to spend on the new shelter. But so far, it appears that the necessary steps have been taken to ensure that we see the new shelter sometime around November of 2023.

“This is a very exciting time for the animals of the City of Evanston, and for the people that love those animals,” said Pasenko.