Volunteers of the Month single view | PAWS Chicago

Ellie Feldmann

I am able to help these animals on their path to a forever home. For many pups, you can see the difference that a couple of weeks in a home environment makes and know that it will set them up for success when their new adoptive parents take them home.

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

I started fostering dogs/puppies in the fall of 2011.  I was between jobs and after about 3 months of being jobless, I found myself sending a lot of time on my couch and not really doing anything. I knew something needed to change to keep me motivated and a friend suggested getting a dog. They figured it would at least get me out of the house to have to walk the dog. We had dogs growing up but with not having a job, I did not want to commit to adopting a dog. I did not know financial if I would be able to care for a pet and I was also worried that once I did find a job that my schedule would not be appropriate for a dog given that I previous was working 2 jobs from 9-9 every day. With an internet search, I discovered dog "fostering" was available. I did not know this was even a thing to do, and then I learned about PAWS Chicago.

Do you have a primary focus when you volunteer?

My current volunteer time is mainly spent as a foster mom to dogs/puppies.  I am up to 32 foster dogs/puppies.  I also spend time assisting the foster department with various tasks including helping with foster check-ins for bigger events and foster support for new foster parents. Over this past year I have also started volunteering with the PAWS for Life Outreach, mainly with their mobile spay/neuter days.

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?

Each and every foster pup brings new and exciting experiences but I have 3 very favorite memories from the 32 dogs.  The first memory is of my very first foster dog.  She was a beautiful 6 month old Doberman weighing in at 35 pounds.  She was in terrible shape, underweight, sick and scared.  After several illnesses, 6 weeks later she returned to PAWS at 65 pounds, healthy and happy.  She was the sweetest, gentlest dog.  I took her to the soccer fields along the lake and she laid down watching the kids play.  I was told she only lasted a few hours when she arrived at the adoption center.  Daisy taught me a lot about being a foster and having to let go.  She provided a rewarding experience and that initial experience led me to continue this adventure.

My second favorite memory was of a very scared, young Shepherd mix named Fall. When he arrived at my house, he immediate ran under my bed where he stayed for several days (coming out only to eat and use the bathroom.  He eventually come out but still hid in corners around the house.  When I took him outside, he would run behind the bushes, use the bathroom and quickly return to the house.  By the end of the 2 weeks, we were walking around 2 city blocks and he comfortably rested next to me on my sofa.

The finally memory was about 2 years ago.  I ran into a dog at a dog park that looked like one that I had fostered.  When I asked the owner, she confirmed it was the same dog.  I had the blood hound when it was 6 weeks old.  The dog was now 2 years old and a whole lot bigger. The owner was so surprised that I recognized the dog given how much different she looked.  It was just something in the face that looked familiar.  I shared pictures with the owner of the pup when she was in my home at 6 weeks old.  It was so much fun to see her so big and so happy.

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

My career is within the social service field. I am a licensed clinical counselor.  My career has given me the skills to train difficult dogs. Behavior modification for dogs is the same as for people, just different rewards. It gives me the patience to deal with repeatedly having young puppies and all the fun that goes with potty training over and over again. I am also using the empathy and compassion that is essential as a counselor to work with the clients in the PAWS for Life program.

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

I love having puppy energy and cuddles around the house.  I am able to help these animals on their path to a forever home.  For many pups, you can see the difference that a couple of weeks in a home environment makes and know that it will set them up for success when their new adoptive parents take them home.  I feel the foster period really makes a difference for the ultimate success in their forever home. 

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

I have 2 failed fosters (pictured above).  Bella “Bikini” a 4 year old Boston Terrier and Lexie “Crystal” a 4 year old mixed terrier from Oklahoma.

Have you participated in any PAWS Chicago special events that supports animals.

In addition to the above mentioned volunteer work, I have also volunteered for several of the special events including the Fur Ball and Beach Party.

What value has volunteering at PAWS Chicago brought you?  Anything else you'd like to share regarding your experiences as a PAWS Chicago volunteer?   

Now, 4 1/2 years later, I have adopted 2 of the 32 fosters that I have had.  My dogs and I continue to foster but at a much slower rate now.  This has been a major change in my life.  I went from working ridiculous hours without much of a life outside of work to making sure I am home to give love to my dogs and the many foster pups.  I have also taken steps to getting one of my dogs certified as a "therapy dog."  I am also in the process of exploring certification for myself as an animal assisted therapist.  This will be an added specialty to my current counseling license.  It has opened up a whole new world of things I did not know even existed where I can make my career more rich with a new found passion (dogs).