Volunteers of the Month single view | PAWS Chicago

Barb Cooke

This is a place that transforms frightened and confused dogs and cats into animals who trust again. The love and respect each and every one of these animals is shown by volunteers and staff is deep and genuine.


What originally drew you to PAWS Chicago?  How long have you been a volunteer/When did you begin volunteering?

I became enamored with PAWS Chicago when Paula and Alexis Fasseas started the organization and had events that brought the issue of saving dogs to the public light. 
Growing up in Northbrook and raising my kids in Deerfield, I never drove into Chicago. Then two years ago I read about PAWS Chicago opening up at the Petco in Highland Park, 20 minutes from our house in Long Grove and minutes away from where we raised our kids for 19 years. I hoped I could volunteer with some larger “Level 2” dogs that were coming to Highland Park, since we happen to own a few dogs just like that.

I started in as an official volunteer in February 2014 at weekend events at Petco, and when the North Shore Adoption Center had a soft opening a year, I would go there on Wednesdays and drive to the Lincoln Park Adoption Center on Tuesdays. 

As I volunteered as a dog handler, I watched the adoption process with awe, and decided I also wanted to train as an adoption counselor, since we had so few adoption counselors in Highland Park. So in November and December 2014, I drove to the Lincoln Park Adoption Center on weekends and shadowed and trained with several incredible and quite funny adoption counselors.  I did my first adoption around Christmas, soon after we officially opened our Adoption Center seven days a week in Highland Park. 

Of course, I am a Team PAWS member as well!


Do you have a primary focus when you volunteer (Kitty City, Dog Town, foster program, 26th St., NSAC, etc.)?

I am an Adoption Counselor a few times a week at both Lincoln Park and North Shore Adoption Centers, and I also do off-site events as well. I love counseling new adopters and making sure they know PAWS is always here to help them in the critical first weeks of bringing home a new pet. To me, watching a dog or cat chosen as a new family member, and seeing the pictures of them in their new forever homes, is the ultimate joy!


Is there one favorite experience or fondest memory/animal story that has stood out or touched your heart during your time as a volunteer at PAWS Chicago?

Recently there was a large younger dog named Kiddo we had at the North Shore Adoption Center who was so frightened of people that she spent almost all the time hiding behind panels when she saw any human being. She got along great paired with other dogs, and would come out for a few minutes with staff and some regular volunteers, but then she’d bolt back behind the green protective panels. We could barely get her to go for a walk. She was especially afraid of men and being outside. 

After four weeks PAWS moved her to Lincoln Park where she was paired with two other dogs in a large suite. The suite, of course, had no place to hide. She was a “staff only” dog for walks, and then they started to take her to training with Jordan. 

Several weeks later I came into the Adoption Center to do adoptions and there, on her window, was the “I’m being considered for adoption” sign. A wonderful family with an older dog who once had shyness issues had met her and, after they signed off with Jordan, I did the adoption. What a true joy to see Kiddo walk out the door to start a new life! Her name is now Louise, and her family sent me pictures that had everyone smiling through tears! I mean, photos of her playing with her dog “brother” Jed, out in a huge field with her mom and nose to nose with her dad. Does it get any better than that?


How does what do you do for a career apply to what you do as a volunteer?

I started out with two degrees in journalism with a specialty in health and science writing. As a freelancer for the Chicago Tribune and Pioneer Press, I wrote features and columns about raising teenagers, then switched to health and fitness, and finally ended up writing about my passion, animal rescue. I freelanced for Chicagoland Tails. I also became certified as an animal massage therapist and starting volunteering at a large no-kill shelter in Grayslake. I’d sit in the runs with frightened dogs and teach them to trust the human hand. 

Ten years ago, with my three kids grown, my husband and I moved from Deerfield to Long Grove, and I starting working part time at an animal clinic in Long Grove. That’s where I’d see client after client start to embrace rescue after having gotten their first dogs from breeders or stores, usually after their college kids came home with a rescued dog.  Of course the dogs ended up being a family dog, and I saw peoples’ attitudes about shelter dogs changing in the North Shore. Other clients “gave it a try” and now can’t stop raving about how their rescue dogs are the best dogs ever! 


Why do you volunteer for PAWS Chicago?  What do you enjoy the most about your experiences a volunteer? 

I love doing everything with the dogs, but I especially love being an adoption counselor for both dogs and cats in both locations. As someone who has adopted many dogs from other rescue organizations, I am profoundly aware of the importance, and uniqueness, of the adoption counseling interview and follow-up we do a few days later. Who doesn’t need a helping hand, a bit of advice, when bringing home a new dog or cat? It’s invaluable and a true blessing! To know that PAWS Chicago realized this and developed a system to help adoptions succeed is awesome. Plus how wonderful to get pictures of these cats and dogs in their new homes, snuggled up and being so loved!

I really can’t explain how great it is to see these frightened animals come into the shelter, be well taken cared of, fed and petted and played with, then watching the delight on the face of the adopters as they leave with a new family member.


Do you have any PAWS Chicago alumni pets - or any other pets - at home? 

My husband and I have rescued about 10 dogs in the past 25 years. We always get big dogs, since we like them and they’re the hardest to get adopted. Right now we own Mickey, an 11-year-old Golden, Cody, a 12-year-old yellow Lab mix, Sam, a 7-year-old Shepherd-hound.  

It goes without saying that our next dog will come from PAWS Chicago, of course. I’ve already come THIS CLOSE to bringing another home, but, my famous last words in our house, “My husband will kill me. But…” He says three are enough.  OK, for right now, right?


Have you participated (attended or volunteered) in any PAWS Chicago special events that supports animals (i.e. marathons, Fur Ball, etc.)

This is my fourth year as a Team PAWS Chicago member, and I run the Chicago Marathon as a charity runner. I was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2009 and, while it was caught early and Stage 1, I had to undergo surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. As a long time runner and vegetarian, I ran throughout my entire cancer treatment and never felt pain or fatigue. 

During my second chemo therapy session one of my best friends and an elite runner told me that PAWS Chicago had a team in the marathon.  That so inspired me that nine months after my treatment ended, I ran the 2010 Chicago Marathon for Team PAWS! When I came back to Team PAWS in 2013, Melissa French asked me to help get a Shepherd training program off the ground for new Team PAWS members. So I’ve been a Shepherd for three years and I love it! 


What value has volunteering at PAWS Chicago brought you?  Anything else you'd like to share regarding your experiences as a PAWS Chicago volunteer?
The most incredibly amazing thing at PAWS Chicago is the number of dogs and cats saved each year. But to effectively do that, PAWS has to rely upon hundreds of dedicated volunteers to help open the doors, care for the animals, assist staff, and close up at night. Until you see it, it’s hard to explain the army of Level 1 and new handlers in Dog Town and Kitty City. The mentoring and skills of the Level 2 handlers as they maneuver through crowds of visitors. The dedication and strength of the Level 3 handlers who walk and train the most complex dogs, but also lend a hand to clean up in an instant. The talented, compassionate staff who work at the different offices, at the front desks and behind doors, planning, fundraising, answering calls and endless emails. The door greeters, transport drivers, the staff and volunteers at 26th Street. It takes a village? It takes a family? This is PAWS Chicago, an organization that ignites a passion so intense it’s contagious to anyone who loves animals.

I am so proud to be part of an organization that pulls thousands of animals, many hours away from euthanasia at kill shelters, and into the safety of a clean and loving shelter. This is a place that transforms frightened and confused dogs and cats into animals who trust again. The love and respect each and every one of these animals is shown by volunteers and staff is deep and genuine. At PAWS Chicago, Pets Are Worth Saving, where “every life counts", and the motto is “It’s Good to be Alive!” 

I thank PAWS Chicago for filling my heart to the brim with pride, purpose and joy.