News Item | PAWS Chicago

PAWS Chicago's No Kill Model

by Julie Mazzola | May 01, 2011

Transforming Animal Sheltering Across the Country

PAWS Chicago’s No Kill model is spreading across the nation, and even in foreign countries. Since the organization was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2009, showcasing the PAWS Chicago Adoption Center as a new state-of-the-art model in sheltering homeless pets, PAWS regularly receives requests from other animal welfare groups seeking guidance and meetings with executive management. As a result, PAWS Chicago regularly opens its doors to enable shelters around the country to learn about this new model. Visitors include the entire Board of Directors of The Humane Society of Greater Kansas City; a Romanian film-maker and the President of the National Romanian Animal Welfare Society, who came to film the shelter to contrast the clubbing of homeless cats and dogs in their country with PAWS Chicago’s Adoption Center; and a veterinarian from Amorgos, Greece, training to do more for the animals on her island.

With a core mission of considering the animals above all else, PAWS Chicago is breaking the status quo of traditional sheltering. Little has changed in traditional animal sheltering—the model utilized by the majority of animal shelters—since the early 1900’s, with homeless and unwanted pets taken in and the majority killed. (Rather than change their policies and processes, many of these traditional open door shelters are not transparent and are concealing this killing from the public.)

Now, as PAWS Chicago and other progressive No Kill shelters are showing, there is a different way. By sharing the wealth of knowledge and research conducted since PAWS was founded 14 years ago, the organization is accomplishing its goal of transforming the fate of homeless pets in communities across America. When individuals see the model in operation, they understand how each organization in a community fulfilling its proper role can lead to increasing save rates and ultimately a No Kill reality. 

“PAWS Chicago is a true resource for shelters around the country who want to break free from traditional animal sheltering, where so many sweet animals are killed, and work towards building a No Kill community,” said Paula Fasseas, PAWS Chicago Founder and Chair. “Sharing our best practices, facility protocols and business model, and providing support to shelters who want to transform their own organizations, is making a life changing difference in the lives of more and more homeless animals.” 

It is impossible to argue with No Kill results like Chicago has experienced with better than a 69% reduction in the killing annually, from more than 42,000 pets killed in 1997 when PAWS was founded to less than 18,000 last year. If trends continue, Chicago will be a No Kill city in the next three to five years. As a result, the No Kill model is gaining traction within the vast majority of private shelters and government agencies that are still geared towards “cage and kill” methodologies.

PAWS Chicago’s four-prong approach to No Kill combines a targeted and accessible spay/neuter program geared toward low-income communities where the majority of unwanted animals are born; a progressive adoption program that gives an adoption guarantee to the animals taken in; a comprehensive volunteer program, training and utilizing volunteers in every aspect of shelter operations; and lastly, an advanced shelter medicine program in which all sick and injured pets are treated.

Targeted and Accessible Spay/Neuter

At the Lurie Clinic, visiting animal welfare organizations learn about the importance of targeting spay/neuter to low-income families, who would otherwise be unable to afford the costly surgery that prevents litters upon litters from being born. Every morning, people check in their pets with a veterinarian, which is often the only time that these low-income families pets will ever see a vet. As the day progresses, four vet techs begin prepping animals for surgery, while two veterinarians alternate between four surgical tables, optimizing veterinary time. Every day of operation, an average of 84 animals are spayed or neutered at the Lurie Clinic. 

Beyond owned pets, feral (neighborhood) cat trappers need no appointment to bring in ferals to be spayed/neutered, vaccinated and microchipped. These cats will be released back into their community without the capacity to breed litters, and a human caregiver will monitor them, providing food and shelter. The Lurie Clinic spays and neuters more than 17,000 pets each year. 

Now, with the launch of the state-of-the-art GusMobile spay/neuter van (read about it on page 38), PAWS Chicago’s spay/neuter is going into Chicago neighborhoods that are most in need. Up to 65 surgeries will be performed each day of operation.

Comprehensive Volunteer Program 

Much of PAWS Chicago’s success has been built around an engaged and enthusiastic community, motivated to help save animals’ lives. When PAWS Chicago was founded, the public was not aware that more than 40,000 cats and dogs were being killed each year in both the pound and private traditional shelters in Chicago. Now, more than 7,000 volunteers support PAWS Chicago’s programs and perform 70% of the work at the adoption center.

Progressive No Kill Adoption Program 

At PAWS Chicago, the adoption program guarantees life to the animals in its shelter, as contrasted with traditional “open door” shelters that take in more animals than they can save, killing the excess. Dogs and cats are housed in suites instead of cages, with toys, beds and natural light, helping prevent the behavioral deterioration and illness-causing stress that are commonly found in traditional shelters.

With a location in the heart of vibrant Lincoln Park, in the midst of where Chicagoans live, work and play, the Adoption Center is well integrated into the community, encouraging fostering, volunteering and adoption, resulting in more than 4,000 adoptions annually. Approximately 70% of PAWS Chicago’s new pets come from Animal Care & Control, the city pound, which is the optimal partnership to lead to No Kill success.

Advanced Shelter Medicine Program 

The majority of shelters operate using herd management strategies of the past, where animals are housed in cages that lead to rapid transference of illness amongst the population. As a result, at the first sign of disease, animals are euthanized and those exposed are also killed.

Over the past few years, Maddie’s Fund, a foundation funded by the Duffield family from California to build a No Kill nation, has launched shelter medicine programs across the country. These programs fund veterinary schools to train veterinary students and research shelter medicine with a focus on preventing healthy shelter pets from getting sick and helping the sick pets get well quickly. Maddie’s Fund has granted Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine a six-year grant to work with PAWS Chicago at developing veterinary fellowships, where recent graduates spend one year working in PAWS Chicago’s state-of-the-art facilities. Purdue is also researching infectious disease management, conducting a study on FIV-infected cats at PAWS Chicago and studies on antibiotics that work faster to cure illness.

Historically, dogs with parvovirus and cats with panleukemia and ringworm would be immediately killed. Unfortunately, most shelters still follow these outdated practices. Maddie’s Shelter Medicine programs and No Kill shelters like PAWS Chicago are proving these diseases can be treated with a high survival rate.

The following testimonials are from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Phoenix, Arizona, Washington DC, and Valparaiso, Indiana, all taking new methodologies back to their home states.

Tammy Cozzi, Vice President, The Power of One Good Deed

‘While my primary residence is in Arizona, I spend summers in Chicago and have been a ‘longdistance’ member of PAWS Chicago’s Development Board member for almost five years. 

In Arizona, I am the Vice President of The Power of One Good Deed, a 501c3 non-profit group of professional women that advocates spay/neuter services for companion animals. There were almost 50,000 dogs and cats euthanized last year in Maricopa County and our goal is to dramatically lower that number though education and funding. We are striving to fix the problem at the source by preventing unintended litters. 

I was already familiar with PAWS Chicago and how successful the organization has been, but wanted to learn more about how PAWS Chicago’s message could be used to help animals in Arizona. During my visit, I learned about PAWS Chicago’s model to reducing euthanasia in Chicago – community outreach and a targeted spay/neuter program supported by free/low cost surgeries and adoptions. All work “paw in paw” to accomplish the mission and to get the message to the communities that need it most. 

I have researched the Phoenix area to try and better understand why the euthanasia rate is so high and how the Power of One Good Deed can best direct its efforts, possibly incorporating PAWS Chicago’s ideas. It is my project to develop an educational program similar to PAWS to reach those that need it most. 

Through my research, I have made many good contacts at animal rescue organizations and at Maricopa County Animal Care and Control. Everyone wants to help reduce pet overpopulation and welcomes the opportunity to work together, something I took away from PAWS Chicago.

Even though I am familiar with PAWS Chicago, I feel like an “educated ambassador” who can pass on the organization’s great mission. I am proud to be a small part of PAWS Chicago’s goal to creating a No Kill community.

Britt Gage, SNAP Board Member

Approximately 18 months ago, my husband and I were discussing the animal welfare issues facing our home state of Minnesota. Minnesota was euthanizing companion animals in shelters at an estimated rate of over 90,000/year state wide, and over 20,000/year in the Twin Cities alone. We were trying to figure out how we could help, and PAWS Chicago came to mind.

We had been made aware of how PAWS Chicago had taken the initiative to help change outcomes for the companion animals of Chicago and when we looked more closely, we began to understand that PAWS Chicago had made the most significant and concrete difference in the Midwest toward changing the outcome for homeless animals, and had done it primarily through low-cost spay and neuter. We decided that we needed more information and met with Paula and Alexis Fasseas to learn about their amazing accomplishments. It was a tremendous experience.

Not long after visiting PAWS Chicago and the Lurie Spay/Neuter Clinic, I was introduced to Dr. Kim Culbertson, a Minnesota vet who was working as a primary veterinarian at Minnesota’s largest shelter where she saw thousands of animals die each year for no preventable reason other than capacity. She wanted to use her experience and expertise to lower euthanasia rates by providing high quality low cost spay and neuter services to the companion animals of low income individuals.

It was a truly fortuitous time for Dr. Kim and me to meet. Hearing her plan and goals, and having just seen what could be accomplished, Dr. Kim, my husband, myself, and a few other brave souls decided to move forward with Dr. Kim’s plan to create Minnesota Spay/Neuter Assistance Program (MN SNAP), the state’s first mobile surgical spay/neuter operation serving both owned and stray animals. Throughout those days, PAWS Chicago was both a source of inspiration and information.

We have really looked up to PAWS Chicago and have been honored that they have helped guide us with their experiences and knowledge. Speaking with the leadership team, the volunteers, and others involved in the organization, helped pave a path for success in our state. In fact, in November 2009 we had our first Angel Dinner where we discussed the issues Minnesota was facing as well as our plan to improve the situation. At the event, our first Angels stepped-up and gave generously and by April 20, we were on the road with our spay/neuter vehicle!

In our first year, we were able to perform more than 5,500 spay/neuter surgeries. And as the first mobile unit to service the state, we were one of only two groups able to offer low-cost, high quality spay/neuter to the owned animals of the low-income community. We are aiming for more than 10,000 surgeries in 2011 and are in the process of searching for a stationary clinic before the end of the year. In addition, MN SNAP is also working closely with Minneapolis Animal Care and Control to reduce the number of pet deaths in Minneapolis as and help those people and pets in desperate need of help throughout the city. 

We are grateful to PAWS Chicago for sharing so much about their programs and services that help Chicago’s animals. We look forward to developing a long-lasting collaboration with their knowledge and compassionate staff so that we may continue to expand upon and improve the services that we provide to our communities.

John Anthony, Blackburn Senior Principal, Blackburn Architects PC

As the architects who are designing the new home for the Washington Humane Society, it was recommended that my project manager, Dan Blair, and I first visit several sheltering facilities around the country, including PAWS Chicago’s Adoption Center.

I was very impressed with the layout – the entry/lobby and the openness to the cat suites, the natural light and the visibility from the street. It all worked together exceptionally well. Though I have seen some very unique details and design features in all the shelters I visited, PAWS Chicago’s facility may be the best overall.

We are currently in early site studies with our facility but we intend to integrate learning’s from our visit into our project. I would hope we could bring to our project a similar feel upon entering the entry lobby, including the central two-story space with the abundance of natural light, and views of the cat areas from both the lobby and street.

PAWS Chicago has done an amazing job creating such an inviting and comfortable Adoption Center. Seeing the facility and the information provided will be extremely beneficial in our efforts to create a new facility for the Washington Humane Society.