By Katie Karpowicz
If not for the Red Door Animal Shelter in Rogers Park, Huey the cat’s future may not have been so bright.
Since its start in 1998, the Red Door Animal Shelter has been dedicated to giving homeless animals in Chicago, like Huey, a different kind of shelter experience.
Huey was severely abused as a kitten and, as a result, suffers neurological damage. The cat has no control over his hind legs, tail and bladder.
Huey was brought to Red Door as a kitten. He has lived at the shelter ever since. Red Door employees estimate that the cat is now between 8 and 10 years old. The extra care that he requires makes it hard to find a home for Huey said employees at Red Door.
Red Door, 2410 W. Lunt St., earned its name from a red door’s symbol as a safe haven, a term that has been used since the Middle Ages.
It is a privately funded, no-kill animal shelter, meaning no animal that comes under its care is put down. Animals live in the shelter until they have a home, a process that can take days, weeks or years like in Huey’s case.
Red Door is one of only five no-kill animal shelters in the country that also provides care for rabbits in addition to dogs and cats.
Liz Sharp, who has adopted multiple animals from Red Door and now volunteers several days a week, was adamant about the shelter’s rabbit program.
“They are the best rabbit people in the Chicagoland area,” she said.
Marcia Coburn, the president of Red Door, said that dogs, cats, and rabbits are the three most popular pets in the U.S. She expressed her concern for the lack of rabbit shelters throughout the country.
“Rabbits are overlooked,” she said. “They really need somebody looking out for them.”
Red Door acquires its animals from “everywhere.” She recounted taking calls from community members about strays, finding abandoned animals on the shelter’s doorstep, acquiring animals at high risk for being put down from traditional shelters, and taking pets from owners who couldn’t care for them.
Last February, the shelter received a call concerning a stray rabbit.
“We actually went out and corralled it,” said Coburn. After a five-day search, the rabbit was captured and brought to the shelter.
Employees at Red Door said that at any given time the shelter has an average of 18 rabbits in the shelter and 15 in foster care; 35 to 40 cats in the shelter and 10 in foster care; and two to three dogs in foster care.
While dogs, cats and rabbits account for most of the animals that come under the care of Red Door Animal Shelter, Manager Matt Gannon said that the shelter has also cared for ducks, chickens, roosters, guinea pigs and hamsters.
Red Door started in 1998 with a small system of foster homes for homeless animals. In 2000, an adoption center opened in Rogers Park, spanning two storefronts. In 2003, the shelter acquired the adjacent storefront and expanded to three storefronts.
The cats and rabbits that reside in the shelter are treated to a relatively cage-less atmosphere. The cats are grouped into designated rooms based on their personalities and ages and can to roam freely during office hours. The rabbits are also assigned a room and each animal is given an exercise pen to occupy.
“We try to make it as home-like as possible,” says Coburn.
Unfortunately, the shelter is currently unable to house dogs. Coburn says, “we’re under residential apartments, so the landlord doesn’t really want us keeping dogs in the shelter.”
While Coburn’s position as president of Red Door Animal Shelter is an unpaid committee position, Gannon and other paid employee’s salaries and maintenance costs are all funded by private grants and donations.
Red Door is a non-profit organization and relies heavily on private donations and volunteer workers.
Volunteers come from all over the city. Toni Greetis, vice president and volunteer coordinator, said that many volunteers come in from the surrounding neighborhoods, but also from as far as the south side of the city and the suburbs.
Aside from several small grants the shelter has received over the years—$500 to $2,000—and small adoption fees to cover the animals’ medical expenses, Coburn said the public contributes most of the money to the organization.
In addition to always being accepting of regular donations, Red Door hosts several fundraising events throughout the year, including a walk in June, the “Spring to Life” raffle in the spring, a wine tasting in January, and a Winter Bazaar at which vendors sell gifts and homemade baked goods.
“There’s definitely a lot of support from the community,” Gannon said. “[Red Door] is pretty well known within the area.”
The majority of donors are located in the Rogers Park and Chicago area, but Coburn said that the rarity of Red Door’s no-kill rabbit program has drawn donations from as far as West Virginia and California.
Red Door’s unsteady financial situation prevents administrators from making plans to expand.
“A lot of it is based on funding,” Gannon said “There’s only so much you can do”
To date, Coburn estimates that the Red Door Animal Shelter has served more than 1,000 cats, more than 1,000 rabbits and about 650 dogs.
Even with so much success, Red Door administrators said that their work is never done. There are still countless animals like Huey that need a home and someone to care for them.
Red Door administrators are still hopeful that they’ll be able to find a permanent home for Huey, but, until then, they are glad to provide the cat with shelter. Because of Huey’s extraordinary story, Coburn said that the shelter considers the cat its “mascot.”
“Unfortunately there are more animals that need homes than there is space,” Gannon said. “It can definitely be frustrating working in an animal shelter, but on the other hand it can be very rewarding.”
When asked what is the most rewarding part of the job, Gannon replied, “Knowing that [the animals] are safe here and well taken care of.”
For more information on Red Door Animal Shelter, visit www.reddoorshelter.org.