MEDIA RELEASE: Cook County Fails Misguided Plan to Expand Coyote’s Cage, Prompts New Experts to Call for Sanctuary

MEDIA RELEASE: Cook County Fails Misguided Plan to Expand Coyote’s Cage, Prompts New Experts to Call for Sanctuary

NORTHBROOK, Ill. (Dec. 14, 2022)In Defense of Animals and Chicago Alliance for Animals have renewed their call on Cook County to release Rocky the coyote to a sanctuary following its failure to follow through on a promise it made this summer to build him a bigger cage at the River Trail Nature Center in Northbrook. New expert testimony from Project Coyote reveals why coyotes cannot thrive in captivity and urges officials to release Rocky, instead of keeping him as a mascot.

“Rocky was mistaken for a puppy when he was young, but was never released back into the wild,” explains Brittany Michelson, Captive Animals Campaigner for In Defense of Animals. “For several years he has been confined, isolated, and prevented from all aspects of coyote life such as hunting, burrowing, and interacting with his own kind. Enlarging Rocky’s cage will not solve the severe welfare issues caused by captivity, and even so, Cook County has not started the expansion many months after its public announcement. The county should listen to wildlife experts and thousands of members of the public who want Rocky to be sent to the sanctuary waiting to take him in, where he can live a natural life, with plenty of space to roam and the opportunity to engage in true coyote behavior.” 

For nearly a year, advocates have been urging Cook County Commissioners to surrender Rocky the suffering coyote to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, where he will be able to live a natural life with plenty of space to roam and the opportunity to interact with other coyotes if he desires. 

Chicago Alliance for Animals and In Defense of Animals’ campaign to free Rocky has won widespread support, including an endorsement from celebrity Ricky Gervais.

In June, In Defense of Animals launched an action alert calling for Rocky’s relocation to sanctuary which garnered over 23,000 supporters. However, at the end of July the county announced its decision to keep him at the River Trail Nature Center. The county claimed it would expand Rocky’s cage in 2022, yet with just days left in the year, the misguided physical expansion has not been implemented.

The Forest Preserves of Cook County presented its report with a plan to convince the Board of Commissioners to keep Rocky confined alone. Despite obvious enforced solitude and the lack of ability to express basic natural behaviors, the county gathered people affiliated with zoos, aquariums, and other institutions that confine animals in captivity for profit to condone the grim plan to keep Rocky imprisoned. One third-party testimonial was from the head of farmed animal reproduction at the University of Illinois who admitted he is unfamiliar with canids such as coyotes, and clearly lacks adequate knowledge about the needs of wild animals.

After Cook County announced it would keep Rocky at the nature center, but enlarge his cage, over 14,000 In Defense of Animals supporters renewed their call to send Rocky to sanctuary. 

Advocates maintain that even with an enlarged cage, Rocky will continue to suffer from stress and deprivation related to confinement and isolation, with no connection to members of his own species. A larger cage is not the solution to the problem.

“Science tells us coyotes are highly conscious, feeling and thinking beings who constantly explore their surroundings and require novel stimulation and challenges to thrive,” said Francisco J. Santiago-Ávila, Science & Conservation Manager at Project Coyote and The Rewilding Institute. “We also know they are highly social beings, like us, who seek to forge relationships with other coyotes. This science has ethical implications: their wellbeing, like ours, is intimately tied to exercising their autonomy to roam and forge those bonds. Rocky’s current situation in captivity may be one of physical health, but not of wellbeing. Rocky's wellbeing should be prioritized by transferring him to The Wild Animal Sanctuary and allowing him to live a coyote's life, not a mascot’s.”

In Defense of Animals has attempted to engage in direct conversation with the Forest Preserves of Cook County. Letters were sent on Sept. 28 and Oct. 17.

Whilst Rocky suffers in the isolated and constrained space, Carl Vogel, the Director of Communications, claimed in an email to In Defense of Animals on Oct. 13, that the County had already outlined a “set of modifications for the coyote at River Trail Nature Center, including the construction of an open-air enclosure” and that they “have already begun the process to achieve these goals.”

However, it has been two months since this response, and more than four months since the decision was announced to keep Rocky as an isolated captive, albeit in an enlarged cage. Vogel has failed to respond to a follow-up letter sent on Nov. 23. Meanwhile, Rocky continues to suffer alone in his tiny enclosure.

“It is unacceptable that the Cook County Forest Preserve continues to ignore our attempts at further discussion regarding the wellbeing of Rocky the coyote who is confined at the River Trail Nature Center,” said Brittany Michelson, Captive Animals Campaigner for In Defense of Animals. “If the Forest Preserve truly cared about Rocky, then they would agree to meet with us to discuss our questions and concerns. There are many thousands of people across the globe who are very concerned for Rocky’s well-being, yet the governing officials fail to acknowledge these concerns.” 

While the Forest Preserve hasn't followed through on its plans to expand Rocky’s enclosure at the River Trail Nature Center, In Defense of Animals and Chicago Alliance for Animals are renewing their call for the county to release him to sanctuary.

"Our only goal here is to get Rocky to sanctuary as soon as possible,” said Jodie Wiederkehr, founder of Chicago Alliance for Animals. “That is what we have been working toward and will continue to fight for until Rocky is as free as possible at The Wild Animal Sanctuary.”

“Cook County has the power to revise its decision, and rather than spend taxpayer dollars to build a bigger cage, can make the ethical choice to send Rocky to the sanctuary where his needs will be truly met, at no cost to the county,” said Michelson.


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Demonstration + Rocky:

Video: available upon request


In Defense of Animals: Brittany Michelson, [email protected], 928-420-0727
Chicago Alliance for Animals: Jodie Wiederkehr, [email protected], 773-726-0589

In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization based in Marin County, California, with over 250,000 supporters and a 39-year history of fighting for animals, people, and the environment through education and campaigns, as well as hands-on rescue facilities in India, South Korea, and rural Mississippi.

Chicago Alliance for Animals (CAA) is a mostly volunteer, grassroots organization that banned horse carriages in Chicago in 2020, shut down Chicago's puppy mill stores in 2021 and so much more. CAA started the Free Rocky and Free Spur campaigns. 

Project Coyote, a fiscally-sponsored project of Earth Island Institute, is a North American coalition of scientists, educators, conservationists, and community leaders promoting compassionate conservation and coexistence between humans and wildlife through education, science, and advocacy.


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