State of Illinois
The (510 ILCS 5/) Animal Control Act legalizes Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) throughout the State of Illinois. Individual municipalities may not forbid the practice of TNR.
The IL-ACA makes an important distinction between owners of pets and feral cat caretakers:
Sec. 2.16. Owner. “Owner” means any person having a right of property in an animal, or who keeps or harbors an animal, or who has it in his care, or acts as its custodian, or who knowingly permits a dog to remain on any premises occupied by him or her. “Owner” does not include a feral cat caretaker participating in a trap, spay/neuter, vaccinate for rabies, and return program. (Source: P.A. 101-295, eff. 8-9-19.)
By stating that feral cat caretakers are not owners, they are therefore not subject to the same laws that govern owned pets, such as keeping pets on your own property and being liable should your pet bite someone.
(510 ILCS 5/35)
Sec. 35. Liability.
(a) Any municipality, political subdivision, or State university or community college allowing feral cat colonies and trap, sterilize, vaccinate for rabies, and return programs to help control cat overpopulation shall be immune from criminal liability and shall not be civilly liable, except for willful and wanton misconduct, for damages that may result from a feral cat. Any municipality or political subdivision allowing dog parks shall be immune from criminal liability and shall not be civilly liable, except for willful and wanton misconduct, for damages that may result from occurrences in the dog park.
(b) Any veterinarian, animal shelter, or animal control facility who in good faith contacts the registered owner, agent, or caretaker of a microchipped animal shall be immune from criminal liability and shall not, as a result of his or her acts or omissions, except for willful and wanton misconduct, be liable for civil damages.
(c) Any veterinarian who sterilizes feral cats and any feral cat caretaker who traps cats for a trap, sterilize, vaccinate for rabies, and return program shall be immune from criminal liability and shall not, as a result of his or her acts or omissions, except for willful and wanton misconduct, be liable for civil damages.
(d) Any animal shelter or animal control facility worker who microchips an animal shall be immune from criminal liability and shall not, as a result of his or her acts or omissions, except for willful and wanton misconduct, be liable for civil damages.
(Source: P.A. 101-295, eff. 8-9-19.)
In January 2019 the Illinois General Assembly made two important modifications to the IL-ACA:
(1) Funds are now available for Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) of feral cats in some counties:
Sec. 3.5. County animal population fund use limitation. Funds placed in the county animal population control fund may only be used to (1) spay, neuter, vaccinate, or sterilize adopted dogs or cats; (2) spay, neuter, or vaccinate dogs or cats owned by low income county residents who are eligible for the Food Stamp Program or Social Security Disability Benefits Program; or (3) spay, neuter, and vaccinate feral cats in programs recognized by the county or a municipality. This Section does not apply to a county with 3,000,000 or more inhabitants.
(2) Feral cats do not require a second rabies vaccine:
Sec. 8 Rabies inoculation (b) . . . Every cat that is a companion animal shall have a second rabies vaccination within one year of the first. Terms of subsequent vaccine administration and duration of immunity must be in compliance with USDA licenses of vaccines used. This subsection (b) does not apply to feral cats; however, if a feral cat is presented to a licensed veterinarian for sterilization, the feral cat shall be inoculated against rabies.. . .
We are very lucky in Cook County, IL to have an ordinance allowing people to feed, shelter and care for free-roaming cats. Caretakers must register with a sponsoring humane organization and agree to adhere to the provisions of the ordinance, including trapping and sterilizing all cats that come to feed.
If you are feeding cats, even just one cat, we highly recommend that you read the 2007 Cook County Managed Care of Feral Cats ordinance and register as a Feral Cat Colony Caretaker. Registration is anonymous. Sponsors do not share personal data with any city, town or Cook County. If a neighbor inquires about your registration status, Sponsors are not able to give out your information without your permission. If you are feeding or sheltering cats and have not registered, you can receive a warning citation or be fined. Citations are typically complaint-driven. All it can take is one neighbor to call and complain.
Registering protects both cats and Caretakers. If you are registered and receive a warning or fine, your Sponsor can intervene to explain your rights to your local municipality. Caretakers living in any city or town in Cook County are protected by this ordinance regardless of what local municipal code states. If you are being told to “stop feeding cats” or have received a warning or citation, contact your Sponsor immediately.
Cats in Action is proud to be a Sponsor of the Cook County Ordinance. If you live in Cook County and would like to apply for sponsorship, fill out the Cats in Action Feral Cat Colony Caretaker Application and email it back to firstname.lastname@example.org along with a Colony Tracking Log.
Each year Sponsors report aggregate numbers to Cook County Animal & Rabies Control to demonstrate the continued success of the program.
- Sponsors report by zip code:
Total number of cats in registered colonies
- Number of cats in registered colonies that are spayed/neutered, microchipped and vaccinated against rabies
- Number of cats and kittens removed
In 2013, the village of Bridgeview IL attempted to ban the practice of trap-neuter-return (TNR). Cook County took Bridgeview to court to defend the ordinance, and prevailed. Bridgeview appealed, and the case went up to the Supreme Court of IL where again Cook County prevailed. In Cook County v. Village of Bridgeview, the judge ruled:
“The issues of animal control, overpopulation, and the control of rabies are more effectively addressed at the county level. We believe this is a sound approach given the fact that feral cats freely roam across neighboring municipalities and that home rule municipalities cannot legislate outside their geographical borders. Counties have greater geographical reach and thus can more comprehensively and effectively address feral cat control than local municipalities.”
Unfortunately, we occasionally hear of code enforcement officers, police, animal control or streets & sanitation personnel warning caretakers to stop feeding cats. In most cases, these authorities are simply unaware of the Cook County ordinance. In rare cases, however, individuals in positions of power have willfully ignored the ordinance and bullied caretakers. If you have received a warning or citation and/or have been told to stop feeding cats, step 1 is registering with a Sponsor. Step 2 is making your Sponsor aware of the situation, so they can advocate for you and the cats you care for.