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(WAND) - Governor JB Pritzker has signed a bill making changes to the Illinois pet foster and trap/neuter/return programs.

Senate Bill 61, sponsored by Senator Linda Holmes, and supported in the House by Representative Stephanie Kifowit, was spearheaded and supported by Best Friends Animal Society and The Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Best Friends recently released a national dataset of pet shelter deaths and a new community lifesaving dashboard tool. The data shows that more than 17,000 dogs and cats were killed in Illinois shelters last year.

Before this bill, Illinois was the only state that had what animal advocates called, "burdensome regulations," (a permit and fee) for every pet foster care home. 

Due to this, nonprofits or animal control shelters were paying over $2,500 in permit fees for foster homes.

Senate Bill 61 eliminates permits and fees for foster care homes but does make the licensee formally affiliated with the foster home by written agreement responsible for animals in the foster care home. It also allows foster homes to have four foster animals or two litters under eight weeks of age.

"This group of animal welfare measures brings several rescue and shelter issues up to date for Illinois," Sen. Holmes said. "So many pets find their forever homes through these facilities and fostering arrangements. This legislation can serve to increase the potential for that to happen while providing the Department of Agriculture with more resources to oversee these programs and facilities."

"This bill Re-affirms Illinois commitment to foster homes for their mission to find loving homes for abandoned animals, Rep. Kifowit said. "We worked hard to remove barriers from an old system that didn't work and embraced the system today of caring and loving people, who open their homes to animals in order to give them a second chance at life."

The fees for Dept. of Agriculture Animal Welfare Act licensees had not been raised since 1971. SB 61 increases the renewal fee from $25 to $100 for all licensees.

The bill also clarifies elements of Trap/Neuter/Return programs, which are already allowed by Illinois law.  The bill defines the term "return" to make clear that return-to-field, or barn or working cat relocation programs are allowed. The cats must be sterilized and vaccinated for rabies prior to return.

This legislation also makes sure there is limited liability for universities or community colleges that allow such programs for pest control.

The bill requires dogs and cats that are being adopted to be sterilized and micro-chipped unless they are released to an owner or foster home.