MEDIA RELEASE: Massive Delay in Coyote Cage Expansion Breeds Misery in Illinois

MEDIA RELEASE: Massive Delay in Coyote Cage Expansion Breeds Misery in Illinois

NORTHBROOK, Ill. (May 23, 2023)In Defense of Animals is calling for answers as to why, after nearly one year, the expansion of Rocky the coyote’s cage at the River Trail Nature Center has yet to be completed. Rocky remains alone in a tiny cage, despite thousands calling for his freedom and a sanctuary willing to take him. 

The Forest Preserve has been under tremendous public pressure to free Rocky. More than 24,000 concerned members of the public and compassionate comedian Ricky Gervais have joined In Defense of Animals and Chicago Alliance for Animals in calling for Rocky to be relocated to a sanctuary. But in July 2022, the Preserve announced it would not relocate him to sanctuary, but would instead expand his cage to be 10 times the size of his current enclosure, or around 2,500 square feet. 

Despite this promise, Rocky is still languishing in his old cage. 

“It’s outrageous that Rocky is still suffering almost a year after Cook County officials decided to expand his tiny cage instead of sending him to a wildlife sanctuary,” said Brittany Michelson, Captive Animals Campaigner at In Defense of Animals. “He has been moved back and forth during a piece-meal construction that is still incomplete. Coyotes need to roam large, natural habitats with their own kind, and Rocky deserves that. Cook County has already selfishly refused to do the right thing by failing to relocate him to sanctuary,  and now it’s failing to improve his stressful living situation or provide a clear explanation about why. There has to be some accountability here.” 

In March, Rocky’s 260 square foot cage was suddenly empty without explanation. Upon inquiry, the nature center explained Rocky had been moved out of the cage so that construction could begin. Weeks later, Rocky appeared back in his tiny cage, yet construction has not been completed. 

A larger fenced area next to Rocky’s cage is dotted with orange cones. An employee at the River Trail Nature Center told a concerned animal advocate that construction happens intermittently, and they don’t know when it will be completed. 

Cook County’s board of supervisors, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, and the River Trail Nature Center have failed to answer questions about the construction. Carl Vogel, Director of Communications at the Forest Preserves of Cook County, blamed delays on wet weather and having trouble finding a construction company. 

“The Forest Preserve lacks transparency,” said Cook County resident Campsie Grothendieck. “There was no real explanation as to where the coyote was moved and under what conditions he was living for weeks. And then he was put back in his old cage. Why and for how long? The Forest Preserve is not making this animal's well-being a priority. The ethical thing is not to build him a bigger cage anyways. It is to give him the freedom he deserves at a wild animal sanctuary. But at the very least, they owe it to Rocky to finish the cage expansion very soon.” 

“Even if the River Trail Nature Center had immediately delivered on its promise of a 2,500 square foot enclosure, it still cannot provide what a coyote needs. These animals run up to 40 mph in the wild, dig underground dens, and socialize with other coyotes. Rocky is deprived of all of this, and more, at the nature center in Northbrook,” added Brittany Michelson.

Rocky was found as a pup in Tennessee and socialized like a dog, who he was mistaken for. He has been stuck alone for nearly five years in a tiny, barren cage with only an empty plastic doghouse devoid of straw or bedding for shelter. 

The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colo., has offered a forever home for Rocky. There, coyote experts would provide him the option to socialize by slowly and carefully introducing him to other coyotes. He would also have underground dens to burrow in and lots of space to roam and run, instead of pace as he does at the nature center.

In June 2022, In Defense of Animals launched an action alert calling for Rocky’s relocation to sanctuary which garnered over 24,000 supporters. 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 him to sanctuary. 

Advocates maintain that Cook County is doing Rocky an immense disservice by first refusing to allow him to go to sanctuary, and now by not expanding the cage in a timely manner while he still sits in 260 square feet. The only real solution is for Rocky to go to sanctuary, as even with an enlarged cage he will continue to suffer from stress and deprivation related to confinement and isolation, with no connection to members of his own species. But if the county adamantly refuses, then they must at the very least, finish the expansion and stop delaying. 


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All documentation, photos and information available upon request.




Demonstration + Rocky: https://bit.lyRockyDemos



Brittany Michelson, Captive Animals Campaign Specialist, 928-420-0727,

In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization based in Marin County, California, with over 250,000 supporters and a 40-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, California, and rural Mississippi.


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