PAWS Chicago’s No Kill model is spreading across the nation, and even in foreign countries.
By Julie Mazzola
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.)
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.
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, 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.
Over the next year, PAWS Chicago will formalize its learning center into No Kill Academy, where individuals can learn comprehensive solutions to pet homelessness, incorporating information on programs—spay/ neuter clinic, mobile spay/neuter, adoption and volunteers— facilities, shelter medicine, and a pragmatic, business approach to leveraging limited resources.