Dedicated Shelter Director of Waukegan Police Animal Control In Illinois Is Making a Difference

What’s the big message that Susan Elliot, the director of Waukegan (Illinois) animal control, has for reducing the number of unwanted animals? Spay and neuter! She told ShelterMe that’s the biggest need and the most important thing any large city must do. 

But just offering the program isn’t enough. She goes on to say, “… and if you have to do it for free, you do it for free. You have to make it convenient – it’s so sad, but you have to make it so it’s close by – they don’t want to drive anywhere, and it has to be free. And spay and neuter works. It can’t be low cost — it has to be free.” Thanks to the Amanda & Bryan Bickell Foundation and other partner groups, animals in Waukegan are being spayed and neutered for free. In fact, last year the Bickell Foundation paid for over 300 spay and neuters for Waukegan pit bulls. The dogs got vaccinations, microchips, everything. 

This year a group formed a Waukegan coalition to help spay and neuter Waukegan dogs. The group included Players for Pits, WAGS, Blackdog All Breed Rescue, MCP Rescue and Outreach, Fetching Tails Foundation, Live Like Roo Foundation, and NFP. Elliot explained, “They all raised money and then we did a clinic and signed (people) up for rabies spay/neuter/shots, chips, leashes and harnesses – all breeds – some dogs were brought in on shoestring and we give them all brand new stuff — 110 dogs and we are not done. We are still making appointments. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day, but when I got there at 6:30 in the morning, there were people lined up in the park.” They have set up a GoFundMe account for this year’s and future years’ spay/neuter clinics. Donations can be made here. More than 100 dogs have been sterilized so far.

And for proof — albeit on a small scale — that it works, consider this: The city of Waukegan implemented a trap, neuter, release program (TNR) for cats in partnership with Spay and Stay, a Lake County organization that promotes and facilitates TNR. “When I first worked here (in 2004), we had lines of cats in carriers down the halls there were so many cats.” The cat intake in 2004 was over 3,000 cats a year. Now that number is under 400. However, Waukegan and Spay and Stay have requirements for TNR which include a community caretaker to feed the cats and provide shelter for them.

Places that simply release sterilized cats into the community without ensuring that the cats have a caretaker are exposing cats to possible starvation. Cats searching for food and shelter may become nuisances and may be shot or poisoned. Waukegan has helped sterilize over 1,000 cats through the TNR program.

Elliot has worked at Waukegan Police Animal Control for over a decade, and in that time she has seen lots of change. In fact, the change is in large part due to Susan and her dedication to every animal she sees.

Bumble before and after Susan and volunteers got him on transport to rescue in Minnesota.

From the second I was born I wanted to work with animals. I loved dogs — I absolutely love dogs. I love cats, too. I think every animal deserves a second chance if they are adoptable. I love every animal.”

Dog at animal control - licensed rescue only
Dog at animal control – licensed rescue only

From Facebook thread of above dog:

Chubby HIPPO alert……….
Amazing DOG
Beautiful Kinze was adopted from a high kill shelter in Texas. Her owner moved back to Waukegan and could not keep her. I spoke with the shelter they did not want her back and we did not want to send her back. She is current on shots spayed and chip. The owner stated she took her to the dog park all the time and did great with the dogs. We are looking for a licensed rescue ONLY to pull her.
Waukegan Il

It’s that attitude and that love for animals that shines through everything Elliot does and every decision she makes on behalf of the animals in Waukegan, Illinois. Waukegan has a large low-income population, so animal control sees a lot of unwanted animals, a lot of dogs having litters, and a lot of abuse. Yet few animals are euthanized, and those few are euthanized only for severe aggression or medical issues that can’t be resolved.

Elliot and the animals in Waukegan are lucky. She has the support of the mayor, Wayne Motley, and other city officials. Unlike the situation at other animal control facilities, animals are not killed after their stray hold is up. Elliot, with the blessing of city administration, keeps the dogs and cats until they are placed with rescues or returned to owners. Because they are an animal control, they cannot adopt to the public, but every adoptable animal that arrives at Waukegan Animal Control is safe.

Elliot stresses that animals cannot be assessed quickly in a shelter environment. “When an animal comes in, if they are scared or acting stupid, you have to give them time, a few weeks to mellow out.” Other animal control facilities may not  “have the space or the time, s0 if a dog comes in terrified or growling, they euthanize it when the stray hold is up. We don’t do that. I give every animal a chance.”

Elliot cites a recent example of a dog not doing well upon arrival at the facility. “We got in this beautiful black Lab — that morning it came at me in the cage. By three days later, he was your typical happy-go-lucky Lab. If I had judged him by his manner when he came in (that would not have been fair).”

Elliot went on to say, “Unfortunately, some places have no choice because one of the reasons our intake isn’t as big as it was before is because we have all the spay and neuter programs and TNR programs.”

animal-controlLast year, Waukegan Animal Control only euthanized four dogs who were human aggressive. For four months they worked with the dogs, having a dog trainer and a behaviorist work with them. After all that time and work, the dogs were not considered safe to be adopted out to the public. Elliot said, “You can’t put that (dog) out in the public. Out of thousands of dogs, that’s not a bad number.”

Many of the dogs that are confiscated or found as strays are pit bulls. Yet Elliot manages to save all adoptable dogs. When asked how she does thatDog waiting for rescue, she explained, “I have 10 or 15 rescue groups I’m personally involved with. It’s harder to get rescue for the pit bulls.” Elliot worries about the upcoming election. “One of the reasons we’ve been so successful is we have a mayor who demands that the animals be given a second chance. And that’s huge in a city. He and his wife are the biggest supporters of Waukegan Police Animal Control. If you have a mayor and all your people in administration who support animal control, then there’s no problem.”

Motley supports Elliot’s efforts on behalf of animals. His wife is also supportive. She won some money recently and built a huge play area for the dogs at animal control. “It’s huge. It was after he was elected. They truly care.” If a mayor who doesn’t support animals wins the upcoming election, Elliot’s efforts may be stymied.

For example, while Chicago Animal Care and Control finally has a caring director, the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, does not appear to care about animals. He should be supporting efforts to make Chicago a humane city where the animals — just like people — are treated with kindness and dignity and each life is valued.

Note: Many photos courtesy of FotoJenic.


Pamela Kramer

​Animal lover and rescuer. Lives with 4 cats, 4 dogs, 1 bird, 2 frogs and usually one foster animal (and very understanding husband). Reviews books (especially about animals) and educates children about compassion toward animals. Former household animals include rabbits, rats, and other assorted creatures. Also writes at


  1. Stephanie levernier says:

    Susan is amazing, she cares for each and every animal like they were her own

  2. Judy Franklin says:

    I have heard only good things about Ms. Elliot for several years now; I enjoyed the article until you injected politics and scare tactics into the mix.

    I have no idea how Lisa May feels about animal welfare vs animal rights, but I do have my disagreements with Mr. Motley, who leans toward the latter. It was his policy that enabled the Garza/Bass dog theft under color of law debacle that left the City on the hook for an undisclosed settlement, a police officer fired, and a ton of adverse publicity. It was under his watch that the draconian differential licensing fees (matching Lake County’s draconian fees of $50/yr per dog or cat) were enacted, further penalizing Waukegan citizens for being poor. Speaking with Ms. May could have been enlightening.

    A beef with both Lake County and Waukegan: why offer only one year rabies shots at your so-called low cost clinics? With the differential license fees, a three year shot would make licensing out of reach for many. And as many of us know, the one year shot and the three year shot are virtually identical save for labeling. Why put the dogs through unnecessary and potentially dangerous vaccinations solely to ensure your revenue stream, at the cost of animal health. (My husband’s cousin almost lost his sheltie last month to a (rabies) vaccine reaction.)

    In closing, Ms. Elliot is doing a great job, obviously genuinely cares about her charges, and should be commended; Waukegan and Lake County Health Department, not so much. Citizens should not have an adversarial relationship with Animal Control or with their City leaders. Licensing should not be punitive in nature, and should provide a tangible benefit to owners and their animals. Don’t price the poor out of animal ownership. And don’t put the health of animals at risk unnecessarily. That’s animal welfare.

  3. JC GARCIA says:

    We need to support encourage donate to WAGS and places like this I personally know that my donation can make a difference as long as people like Susan are around please find in your heart to donate till it hurts so these pets are treated with respect all living beings deserve a chance especially those who cannot speak to us but grab our hearts with their eyes

  4. Jen says:

    Susan is a badass! Her and her team are so committed to the welfare of the beautiful souls that come through those doors. I Thank you WAC!

  5. Colleen says:

    Well deserved recognition. Susan Elliot is an incredible lady . I foster for several different groups , we all love Susan and her love and care for the animal of Waukegan
    We don’t say it enough- thank you Susan , you make a difference

  6. Lisa Marea says:

    Years ago, I had the privelage of working somewhere else with Susan, she dreamt of this type of job for years. Finally, she got a positon in Wkgn. She put her heart and soul into the position and has made a tremendous difference. Congratulations to you Susan, I am so very proud of everything you have accomplished. You are an amazing woman.

  7. Brenda Warner says:

    I’ve known Susan for several years. I’m so happy to see this recognition for her, Waukegan Animal Control and all the rescue groups that work so hard to save these dogs and support this cause! The hard work and dedication has made a huge difference! Well deserved recognition! You all are amazing! Thank you for your big hearts and all you do!

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