By Katrina Kopeck and Katelyn Lorenz
High ceilings and large windows cast light into the open space. The floors are shiny and the air smells fresh. A bookshelf, sofas and a fireplace keep the atmosphere home-like and friendly. To the untrained eye, this feels more like a hotel lobby than a dog shelter.
The PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving) Animal Shelter, formally named Pippen Fasseas Adoption Center is located at 1997 N. Clybourn Avenue. Its location in Lincoln Park provides more incentive for people who are looking to adopt a new cat or dog companion. The facility was strategically placed in Lincoln Park for a reason, too.
“Research shows that people don’t want to adopt because they don’t want to go where the shelters are,” said PAWS volunteer and former pet foster mother Susan Barrish.
“Typically a shelter is run by a city or county government, or a charity like us–they don’t have a lot of money, so they have to go where they can afford the square footage they can retrofit for low-cost, and that’s all industrial areas,” said Barrish, “ACC [Animal Care and Control] is at 27th and Western … think if you live in Highland Park; you’re not going down to the shelter. So, we took that excuse off the table by building in Lincoln Park … we did it on purpose.”
The adoption process at PAWS is simple. Guests at the shelter fill out a survey before going through the facility, which includes information about their lifestyle and adoption preferences. Once someone is ready to adopt, they meet with an adoption counselor where they can ask questions and go over any specific instructions and tips on adapting the animal to its new home. They go through the paperwork and usually take the dog home that day.
The shelter has a website that offers pictures and short descriptions of the dogs which helps to increase adoptions.
“We were just looking at the dogs online,” said prospective adopters Dina Roubal and Michelle Kieffer, who were walking down the hallway lined with rooms the dogs stay in. Tall, glass enclosures are what contain the animals, never cages. This adds appeal to the shelter as well as cuts down on noise.
The cage-free facility prides itself on its no-kill policy. Hanging on the wall of an impeccably clean hallway hangs a poster saying “We believe animals don’t have expiration dates.” In order to call itself a no-kill facility, a shelter must have a 90 percent life rate.
“I’m proud to say over the last several years, we’ve run at over a 98 percent life rate,” Barrish said, “We only euthanize when an animal is so sick… prognosis is so poor that it’s more humane to put them down then to keep them alive.”
Many of the animals PAWS takes into care come from Animal Care and Control. On a regular basis, staff from PAWS goes to the city animal control to pull dogs and cats that they can care for. Paws track record is reputable. In 2008, the shelter had 3,000 adoptions.
“We were crossing out fingers last year because of the economy, we were hoping we would still make 3,000, well we made 3,500, and this year we want to be even higher,” Barrish said.
Animals are given temperament assessments upon their arrival, and are then given hands-on companionship and training. Animals at the shelter remain there for as long as it takes to adopt them out, even if that means a lifetime.
“We are committed to every animal that comes through here,” said staff member Irene Brown, “whether it’s a year from now or 10 years from now, if the people are no longer able to take the animal we’ll always take the animal back.”
Map of animal shelters in Chicago:
PAWS often takes animals in who are not termed “adoptable.” One example of this is Red, a pit bull who was admitted to the shelter last year. Red was living with his owner when his home was broken into. Before the two burglars robbed and beat Red’s owner, they shot him in the back, paralyzing him.
Now Red is a paraplegic. However, that doesn’t stop him from getting around or having a great demeanor. Staff members all pitched in to buy Red a “go-cart” so he could get around more easily using his front legs.
Red is very popular despite his special needs. He needs medication, someone who can carry him and take him to water therapy, which make it a more challenging to find an owner, but as PAWS proclaims, there’s no limit on Red’s stay.
“Red’s with us…and he’ll be with us for as long as it takes,” Barrish said.
Her words were echoed by Brown: “Red came to us from Animal Care and Control … he’s 7-years-old, he’s not a puppy, he’s got this disability that’s going to make it much more challenging, he’s on several medications, things like that, I mean … a dog like that wouldn’t last very long at Animal Control, they would probably make the decision to euthanize him. Here, he’ll be here until he’s adopted.”
PAWS is always in need of volunteers. The shelter is operated on a 90 percent volunteer rate. Volunteers must attend an orientation. There is also a level-system for the way the volunteers are organized. For example, in “Dog Town” at the shelter there are level 1 dogs which are easy to handle, level 2 dogs that require more dog experience and level 3 dogs, which are fearful or anxious and require the most special care.
Sarah Mitchell, a volunteer with the PAWS organization for more than three years expressed the importance of facilities like PAWS. Mitchell said having a shelter in Lincoln Park is important because, “there are plenty out there who need homes and people go and spend thousands of dollars on breeder dogs … they don’t know how to breed, most of the people. The animals end up with bad genes and they’re raised in bad conditions.Having something like this [PAWS shelter] encourages people to adopt … even if they stay here [the dogs] they have the life.”
In addition to adoptive services, PAWS also offers other support resources for owners who face hardships that may affect their animal’s welfare. One resource is the Crisis Care program which provides temporary care to dogs and cats that have lost their homes due to foreclosure or eviction.
“If a family has to get out and go into temporary housing, 99.9 percent of the time, that temporary housing won’t take pets, so they need someplace for their pets to go,” Barrish said. “Instead of putting them into the position where they have to give up their pets, we’ve created a foster program for them. We’ll take the animal in, PAWS assumes responsibility for any medical costs and a volunteer fosters those animals until they’re ready to go back to their family.”
Another program PAWS runs is a food bank. In response to the amount of people calling saying they can’t afford to feed their animals anymore. PAWS offers to provide basics supplies so the owner can keep the animal. “We’re keeping hundreds of animals in their homes that way,” Barrish said, “we are currently feeding 600 dogs and cats every month.”
PAWS is constantly looking for volunteers and always appreciates donations. It’s the only way it keeps running. Barrish said canned cat food, canned dog food and kitty litter are the three big things that are needed. However, they can always use things that don’t really cost money such as old towels and sheets.
For more information on how you can get involved with PAWS or to make a donation visit their website at PAWSchicago.org.