GENEVA – Most of the duties performed by Kane County Animal Control don’t attract the level of media attention it got this month when Administrator Robert Sauceda led the efforts to move nearly 100 animals from an impounded petting zoo.
The event spurred an outpouring of support that included dozens of volunteers and donations of various supplies, resources and money.
Kane County Board member T.R. Smith, R-Maple Park, said last week he liked that Animal Control set the precedent that it will help all animals and not just cats and dogs, like it had in the past.
This, he said, has “really shown the public what we can do.”
Sauceda agreed that the situation with the petting zoo animals demonstrated what his department is capable of and what its goal and mission is going forward.
“This was a turning point for us,” Sauceda said.
Since joining Animal Control last year – he started as billing manager before the County Board named him interim administrator in November – Sauceda has maintained the department’s main role of preventing rabies while finding more ways to involve the community with his agency and better promote what it does.
“People think we’re just animal control,” he said.
Sauceda said he is seeking County Board approval to change the department’s name to Kane County Animal Care and Control to better reflect its responsibilities, which include running a shelter for animals up for adoption.
Cats and dogs are mainstays at the shelter, but Animal Control also gets other species, including goats, bunnies, snakes and turtles, Sauceda said. In February, he said, police notified Animal Control of a potbellied pig that was dropped off at a meat packing plant. She was rescued last week by a farm in southern Illinois, Sauceda said.
“We try to reach out to the rescues all over the state,” he said. “If they’re state certified, we’ll work with them.”
Each animal under Animal Control’s care starts with a health check, Sauceda said. Only sick, injured and aggressive animals are euthanized, he said. Using those guidelines, he said, the number of animals euthanized decreased from 123 in 2012 to 45 in 2013.
To raise awareness for the shelter, Animal Control will host a dog jog and 5K run on May 17. Proceeds will benefit the pets at the shelter, and teams have the option of raising donations as well.
Animal Control is using Facebook to promote this event as well as the pets available for adoption and the shelters’ needs, Sauceda said. He noted the social media site also serves as place where people can ask Animal Control questions.
“It’s been huge,” he said. “We use it as a resource.”
Sauceda also has launched a volunteer program, which had been stalled by liability issues, he said. The three-tiered program is open to anyone age 18 and older who has passed a background check.
“I’m excited for it,” Sauceda said.
County Board members have publicly commended Sauceda for his work with the impounded petting zoo, but his hiring was not fully supported by the board.
Board Chairman Chris Lauzen’s recommendation to hire Sauceda – a political ally – was met with accusations of cronyism. Lauzen this week said Sauceda’s “intuitive sense of people” and “loyalty to his staff” were among the reasons why he felt confident in recommending him for employment.
Sauceda, the chairman said, has been doing a “wonderful job.”
Before Sauceda joined Animal Control, Lauzen said, the agency had undergone multiple changes in leadership in a few years’ span, and financial problems faced the department, is which intended to be a self-sufficient agency.
Lauzen said Sauceda put a system in place to restore about $200,000 a year in proper collection of fees.
“What Rob is doing is restoring the animal care balance as well as the financial balance,” Lauzen said.
He commended Sauceda and his staff for handling the “tragic” petting zoo situation “without missing a beat” in providing the agency’s day-to-day service. The petting zoo situation also has helped Animal Control build relationships with the farming community, Sauceda said.
Should such a situation happen again, he said, Animal Control has people to call for help.
“We never had that before,” he said. “I see it being very important that we build those relationships and keep them going strong.”