The Next Step to a No Kill Chicago PAWS for Life Englewood door-to-door outreach
by Megan Lee | Jul 13, 2015
Smith loves his cats. His affection for them is obvious – when he rubs them between the ears, cradles them in his arms, and fills their bowl with a generous amount of food.
It’s just the four of them, in a one-room basement apartment in Englewood, one of the most under-served neighborhoods in Chicago. Buddy, a black-and-white shorthair, was born right in the basement. The second cat, Hop-Along, was a stray who couldn’t stay away from the comfort of Smith’s warm apartment. And Mama, a small, friendly calico tabby, was left behind when another tenant in the building moved out.
Together, they’re a tight-knit family. But Smith also lives on a tight budget: “I just can’t afford three cats,” he said.
A new PAWS Chicago program launched late last year in Englewood, PAWS for Life, is giving Smith and other pet owners in the neighborhood the resources and support they need for their animals.
Designed to reach deep into the city’s under-served communities, PAWS for Life is proactive animal welfare: helping support people in caring for their pets, said Laurie Maxwell, PAWS for Life Outreach Manager.
In Englewood, 49 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, with a 47 percent high school graduation rate and a per capita income of just over $11,000 per year. More than 25,000 cats and dogs live in the three-square-mile neighborhood, but only an estimated five percent of animals have been sterilized in neighborhoods like Englewood, leading to extreme overpopulation and high stray rates.
“It’s just an uneven playing field when it comes to information and services in these neighborhoods,” Maxwell said. “We want to keep these animals in their homes, and to try to make the situation a little bit better.” Maxwell joined PAWS late last year
after working for seven years to coordinate similar outreach programs. Combining her master’s degree in social work from the University of Chicago along with her extensive animal welfare experience, Maxwell is working not just to reach people with pets, but to build lasting relationships within the Englewood community.
“You have to understand the human circumstance to understand the pet circumstance,” Maxwell said. “This way, we can help them all at once.”
As part of the program, Maxwell and volunteers canvass door-to-door, block-by-block, meeting people and pets where they live. They offer information and no-cost services, including spay/neuter services, medical care, food, litter, vaccines and training. Even transportation to and from veterinary appointments is arranged at no cost to the pet owners. If a pet cannot remain in a home, PAWS will admit the animal to its adoption program.
So far, PAWS for Life canvassing is focused on Englewood, but PAWS aims to extend the program to other under- served neighborhoods.
The door-to-door community outreach aspect of PAWS for Life is only half of the program. Another contingent of PAWS workers and volunteers focus on people who bring their pets to the city pound, or Chicago Animal Care & Control (CACC).
PAWS representatives are stationed inside the city pound, at the front desk, ready to provide information and resources to people who come to CACC planning to give up their pets. Because many pets are being relinquished due to lack of resources for food, training or medical care, PAWS representatives are there to talk with pet owners and offer support at the time of critical need.
Already, the CACC outreach part of the program has helped keep more than 19 percent of pets from being relinquished to the pound.
This outreach has helped people like DeMarcus, who brought his dog to the city pound. As Outreach Advocate Kris Badillo spoke with DeMarcus, it was evident how much he cared for the puppy. But he couldn’t afford a crate, which was essential for training.
Kris provided DeMarcus with a crate and supported him with additional information about free spay/neuter, vaccines and basic training that PAWS Chicago could provide. Because of this program, another dog was kept from entering the city pound.
The work PAWS is doing in Englewood and at CACC is changing lives, said Billie Shropshire, a resident of Englewood who has received services through PAWS for Life.
Shropshire and her daughter, Ravin Baldwin, took in a young cat, Black Girl, and her four kittens. Although they initially planned to surrender the kittens, they fell in love and kept the whole brood.
“Laurie is like a daughter to me now. I love this girl,” Shropshire said.
The program has allowed PAWS to reach what Maxwell calls “the last frontier of pet owners.”
Those pet owners – like Smith, who Maxwell approached as he walked by while she was canvassing in the neighborhood – deserve the same love from animals as people in neighborhoods with more resources, and can offer pets loving homes in return.
“We were put on this earth to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves. I’m happy to do that,” Smith said.
Learn more about your pet, PAWS Chicago news and the No Kill movement in PAWS Chicago Magazine.