News Item | PAWS Chicago


by Keri Buscaglia | Nov 01, 2013

They wake before the sun rises, training hard to log the miles while most of us are still in bed. They pound the streets of our neighborhoods, well after dark, because after a long day there’s nothing better than the rhythm of feet striking pavement. They are members of TEAM PAWS, one of the fastest growing charity endurance fundraising teams in the nation, and they are proud to be pushing their bodies, competing around the world in support of PAWS Chicago and its mission to save homeless pets. Chances are you’ve seen them, either on the lakefront, plowing out a solo run, or in a pack, training together, under one name and one cause. The goal? Support PAWS Chicago and change the world for homeless pets by being their advocate, one step and one race at a time.

The signature navy singlet and TEAM PAWS logo is not just an indicator of an extraordinary athlete, but has become a vehicle for creating awareness around pet overpopulation to countless runners and spectators at events around the globe. With each step, stroke and pedal, TEAM PAWS athletes serve as a voice for pets that deserve a second chance at life. They race for change and strive to make a difference in the lives of thousands of pets whose lives depend on their efforts. 

In 2013, the team’s goal was to raise funds to save 2,000 cats and dogs who would otherwise become a tragic statistic by working to raise even more money from its fundraising efforts. 

In addition to its impressive life-saving financial accomplishments, TEAM PAWS has garnered some impressive accolades in the athletic arena as well. It is one of only seven Official Charities in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon and is one of the largest teams in the race. This elite charity status has made the TEAM PAWS navy singlet one of the most highly honored, distinguished and recognizable on the course amongst runners and spectators.

The Secret to Success 

Each January, TEAM PAWS builds its new team with the goal of growing by 25 percent each year – this is growth that translates into more lives saved. When a member joins the team, they pledge to compete in one of the featured races or a race of their choice in the name of TEAM PAWS. They then plan a fundraising strategy based on the events they’ve chosen. 

There are benefits to membership. In addition to the inspiration and camaraderie of TEAM PAWS, runners can take advantage of discounted athletic training, participate in dogfriendly fun runs, dog-friendly bar nights, pre-race PAWSta (Pasta) parties and race day team hospitality tents. 

Who Competes for TEAM PAWS? 

TEAM PAWS members share a united goal of racing to save the lives of homeless pets. They range in age from 16 to 72, and come from all walks of life. The team’s experience ranges from seasoned marathoners to masters who have crossed dozens of finish lines, not just here in Chicago, but as far away as Hong Kong and London. Recently, three Chicagoans raced to save lives in Berlin, Germany! 

Many members of the team are trained PAWS Chicago volunteers, pet foster parents and adopters, while others use running as their way to support the cause. 

The Life-Saving Impact of TEAM PAWS 

Each TEAM PAWS member pledges to raise funds between $500 and $3,000 – all of which totals the ability to fund nearly one-third of the Adoption Center’s annual operating costs. 

In 2013, the total financial support of TEAM PAWS raised the funds needed to save 2,000 cats and dogs. TEAM PAWS is an essential component of PAWS Chicago’s ability to continue its annual growth and save more dogs and cats each year. 

Get Involved 

Set a new goal. Accomplish a milestone. Be inspired. Get involved and save lives. 

PAWS needs your support, whether you are an existing team member, volunteer, fan club supporter, past member of the team or are looking to sponsor or donate to the team. Join TEAM PAWS and be a part of the change to make Chicago a No Kill city.


The “Nine Lives Club” was launched in 2013 to recognize the outstanding efforts of those who raise $3,000 or more, which translates into what it costs to save nine homeless dogs and cats. These signature members are truly motivated by the cause and are identified by their Nine Lives Club royal blue singlets.

“TEAM PAWS has given me the opportunity to show my love for all animals. I am truly inspired by this amazing organization and knowing that my small contribution makes a difference makes every training step worthwhile!” – Christine Roloff, 25

“I care about the protection of homeless animals and I support the No Kill philosophy that PAWS represents. My inspiration is my rescued Pit Bull, Maxwell. I found him starving, scared and abused on the street more than nine years ago. I don’t want any animal to go through the pain, suffering and abandonment he did.” – Amy Daniel-Moser, 35

“I initially ran in Chicago only, but over the years, have added additional races and locations as my way of spreading the word and bringing awareness outside of the Chicagoland area. Racing gives me an opportunity to inform others of the mission of PAWS Chicago, which makes me want to keep running. I like to think of it as my two legs helping out my fourlegged friends.” – Jeff Welch, 47.

Jeff Welch is running his way around the world, all in support of homeless animals. A runner most of his life, Jeff has completed ten marathons since 2009. He recently donned his “Nine Lives Top Fundraiser” singlet in Germany, running the 40th BMW Berlin Marathon; then, two weeks later, he ran the Bank of America Chicago Marathon and will finish off the season with the ING New York City Marathon. He has also represented TEAM PAWS in the Goofy Challenge (the Disney Marathon), the Vancouver Marathon, and the Ragnar Relay from Madison, WI to Chicago. Jeff is inspired by the outpouring of crowd support he receives from spectators on the course while wearing the TEAM PAWS jersey, both in Chicago and across the globe. During his most recent race in Berlin, he met a runner from Washington D.C. who had adopted his dog from PAWS Chicago. For Jeff, spreading awareness for the No Kill mission with every step is what makes it all worthwhile. In addition to running, Jeff has played a leadership role in growing TEAM PAWS, serving on the TEAM PAWS Committee and being an inspiration and role model to many rookie TEAM PAWS members, both for his running skills and his commitment to homeless animals.

“Running the Mt. Nittany Marathon (in State College, Pennsylvania) was challenging because it was hot, humid and hilly. But when I saw my six-year-old niece ringing her TEAM PAWS cowbell and cheering in her official ‘PAWS Chicago Fan Club’ T-shirt, I was inspired to finish the race.” – Top Fundraiser Ken Gasper, 39

Ken Gasper’s path to running started nearly 13 years ago after his friends made a bet as to whether or not anyone in the group could complete a marathon. With a little encouragement, Ken registered and completed his first marathon. But it was the beginning of something bigger; he immediately knew he could do better and wanted to race again. Ken first became involved with PAWS Chicago in 2007, when he adopted his dog, Lyla G. Since 2008, Ken has run more than 18 marathons and six triathlons with TEAM PAWS, including the New York Marathon, Austin’s Livestrong, and the Big Sur International Marathon. Ken will complete his twentieth marathon just before his 40th birthday.

“My dog, Jersey, was rescued from one of the highest kill shelters in southern Louisiana and I can’t imagine my life without her. So many homeless dogs and cats can be great pets and will eventually enrich their forever homes. Euthanasia is not the answer. I race because I want to support the No Kill mission and continue to educate the public.” Elizabeth Racioppi, 27

“My dog is my best friend and I believe that every pet deserves a loving owner, a warm home and a happy heart. It’s also inspired my children and awakened them to the plight of homeless animals.” Dawn Levine, 42

“Any organization that prevents suffering for animals is a great thing, especially spay/ neuter programs. I am not a resident of Chicago but think TEAM PAWS is a good way to be part of the Chicago community and to raise money for a great cause!” Top Fundraiser Jim Peck, 50

“As a lawyer, I have a passion for animal justice and fair treatment. Every life is precious and pets bring us endless joy, even in the worst of times. Last year, my heart stopped, for an unknown reason, during a half marathon training run and I was unable to complete the Chicago Marathon on behalf of PAWS Chicago. Just one year later, with the support of my partner and pets, I am poised to resume my distance running, stronger than ever. As I cross the finish line, my heart will be filled with the lives we are saving.” Joseph Manicki, 35

“Why I race for TEAM PAWS”

“As an officer with the LAPD for the past 17 years, I have made it my personal mission to save dogs in need of rescue and work with local shelters to find homes for dogs in need. Combining my love of running with the TEAM PAWS mission to save lives is just another way I can do more for these wonderful animals.” Freddie Ackerley, 46

“After volunteering at PAWS Chicago’s Adoption Center for two years, I decided it was time to combine both my passions: running and helping animals.” Aleksandra Bush, 21

“Fundraising and running for a charity makes completing a race that much bigger of an accomplishment. Plus the crowd support for TEAM PAWS is an amazing energy boost!” Kristina Jurgensen, 31

“My own pets (two cats and two dogs) have brought me so much joy and have gotten me through difficult times. I am excited to be able to raise money for such a good cause and participate in this 26.2 mile party!” Amanda Runnion, 30

“All cats and dogs deserve a loving home and all homes should experience the love and joy pets can provide.” Robin Brazy, 35

“My rescue dog, Luna, loves to run. We began training together, slowly going further with each run. Not long after, I decided to run the Chicago Marathon for a charity and TEAM PAWS was a great way to honor my faithful running partner. I continue to be amazed at the work that PAWS Chicago does to help animals all over the country, and am proud to say I am personally helping a few of those cats and dogs.” Kendra Frigo, 41



Michelle Stoffel, an all-star college swimmer, marathoner and triathlon champion is also a member of TEAM PAWS. She first got her start when she visited the city and signed on to run in the PAWS Chicago Run for Their Lives 8K four years ago. Since that first race, Stoffel has moved to Chicago and continues to use endurance events as a platform to raise awareness for saving homeless pets. She recently extended her commitment to PAWS by becoming a volunteer at the Adoption Center. “I started volunteering for PAWS because I know every volunteer effort counts,” she said. “I have been inspired by other members of the team who go the extra mile to volunteer.” 

Michelle has used racing in endurance events as a platform to raise awareness for saving homeless pets and giving them a second chance at life. To date, she has complete in four half-marathons, two full marathons and four triathlons (three of which she placed first in her age group).The highest honor of racing came when Stoffel was invited to compete in the USATriathlon Age Group National Championship this summer. Like most TEAM PAWS athletes, Stoffel’s inspiration is her rescue dog, Chopper, a five-year-old Pit Bill/Boxer mis she rescued while living in Iowa. “If it wasn’t for Chopper, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said. “Because of him, I realized how important this cause is and, through it, I have taught myself dedication, friendship and that hard work will always win. It has become a part of every aspect of my life.” Chopper is always by Michelle’s side and is her biggest fan. He has been seen delivering her post-race flowers, giving celebratory kisses and often sporting a TEAM PAWS tri top or singlet at her races. Her victories and elite status in the triathlon community is helping Michelle make waves of change and raise awareness for homeless pets in Chicago.

“In every race, there is that moment that you have to dig deeper, push it beyond your limits. It hurts, but nothing is close to the pain of the homeless dog’s heart that isn’t loved, that sits in a kennel feeling lost and confused.”


BEST BUDS Michele & Laura

“Knowing that TEAM PAWS fundraising saves so many lives gives me great joy. I had no idea that I would get so much more than I give.” Michele McIntire, 45

“As a volunteer, I get to see the animals who were strays, given up, abandoned or abused, and am amazed by how resilient they are and how much love they have to give. It makes me want to do everything I can for them. To be a part of that is priceless.” Laura Slivka, 28

After spending years together on TEAM PAWS and volunteering at the PAWS Chicago Adoption Center, Michele and Laura describe their relationship as “an unexpected friendship between a big hearted grumpy blonde and slightly older peppy brunette.” 

The duo joined TEAM PAWS as a way to make their races more meaningful and to pay forward the love they receive from their rescue dogs, Jet, Wrigley and Dex. Both women, who were named PAWS Chicago ‘Volunteers of the Year’ in 2012, were part of the rescue missions to Moore, Okla. following a devastating tornado. The encouragement exchanged during their journey is the glue that holds their friendship together. That, and something they saw on a T-shirt in the rubble: “Be Moore, Do Moore, Give Moore.” The phrase has become their life’s mantra and is exactly what they do for PAWS Chicago and TEAM PAWS.

FIANCÉES Daniela Hernandez, 26 & Lionel Garcia, 34

“TEAM PAWS means more to us than just running a race. It is about uniting a community with a cause that we truly believe in, and working toward a goal that we know we can one day achieve making Chicago a No Kill city.”

Daniela and Lionel found more than inspiration, they found true love when they met through their sisters who first joined TEAM PAWS. They plan marry in Disney World in between competing in the Dopey Challenge: a half marathon and a full marathon back-to-back.

MARRIED Julie Morrisey, 31 & Travis Morrisey, 31

“There’s a great saying we repeat a lot to each other… ‘Running changes everything.’ Running for TEAM PAWS is no different. It’s not only changed our lives for the better, but also the lives of homeless animals.”

Julie and Travis Morrissey’s commitment to TEAM PAWS, as well as their dedication to helping save the lives of homeless pets at the PAWS Chicago Adoption Center, has made them invaluable assets to the 2013 team.

FAMILY Barbara & Jon

“I get to share this passion with my son. This summer, I would do my long runs along the Des Plaines River Trail in the suburbs while Jon would run along the city’s lake path. Post-run, we would text each other all of the details. It has been so much fun to read his reactions to accomplishing 18, 19, and 20 mile training runs.” Barbara Cooke, 61

“I am running for Team PAWS with my mom. She is my motivation and inspiration for running, not to mention my love for dogs comes largely from growing up in her household.” Jon Cooke, 31


SAN FRANCISCO, CA - San Francisco Marathon, Tim Peddycord / MADISON, WI > Chicago, IL - Ragnar Relay / BOSTON, MA - Boston Marathon, Jeff Fine / BERLIN, GERMANY - 40th BMW Berlin Marathon, Eric Bruce / Jerusalem, israel - Louis Hanna / China - The Great Wall Marathon, Brian Foy / rome, italy - Rome Marathon, Lisa Keller / Washington, D.C. - Marine Corps Marathon, Carrie Haubrich / Chicago, IL - Midway Fly Away 5K, Corey Marchetti / Anaheim, California Disneyland Half Marathon, Rae Goodman


TEAM PAWS Shepherds are special alumni members who act as mentors to the newest team members, forming their own pack of support. They facilitate the sharing of the full team experience, providing guidance on training and nutrition, helping with fundraising and building lifelong friendships.

“Being a TEAM PAWS Shepherd allows me the chance to share my previous experiences and motivate my fellow teammates who are new to the team. As a recently new Chicagoan, it is my way to pay it forward and ensure a strong team of active and involved animal-loving endurance athletes.” - Vince Coraci | two-year TEAM PAWS Marathoner | Dog Town Volunteer

“Being a Shepherd lets me share my love of animals and running with others. PAWS Chicago does so much to help these animals, I’m honored to help support them and spread the message to as many people as possible that ‘pets are worth saving!” - Mike Cora | five-year TEAM PAWS Marathoner | PAWS Chicago Professional Board Member

“Being the Top Dog of the Shepherds program has meant so much to me because it blossomed in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined. Not only have other Shepherds been wonderful, enthusiastic resources for their “packs,” but it’s been a great surprise to see packs planning activities with each other as well. Being an athlete for TEAM PAWS is rewarding on its own, but the Shepherds program has been a tremendous way for athletes to have an even more enriching experience and has allowed us to utilize the amazing energy of the team in a positive way.” - Beth Morris | four-year TEAM PAWS Marathoner | PAWS Chicago Volunteer

“Being a Shepherd means that I get the opportunity to help new runners be part of something that I’ve loved so much for the past five years. When I first joined TEAM PAWS in 2009, it was a logical fit: I love running and love helping animals, so why not do something that combines the two? By becoming a Shepherd, I get to help others reach their goals of both completing and succeeding in a marathon, and raising money for such an important cause. I also get to be part of a community of people who love running and animals as much as I do! Being a Shepherd this year has made the already very rewarding experience of running for TEAM PAWS, even better!” - Mindy Bohmer | five-year TEAM PAWS Marathoner