Volunteers of the Month single view | PAWS Chicago

Jessica Altman

What originally drew you to PAWS Chicago? 

I really wanted to have a dog, but my mother was concerned about caring for the pet after I go to college.  We stumbled upon the idea of fostering while doing research on short term ownership.  That took us to PAWS Chicago, and the foster program.  It was a natural fit!!!  We have fostered dogs since 2011.  This September will begin our fifth year.


Do you have a primary focus when you volunteer?

Yes.  Our focus is on fostering.  We now have dog number 51 with us.  Of course this one is the best ever, because each new one is the best ever!


Is there a favorite experience that has stood out during your time as a volunteer at PAWS Chicago?  

We have had some very special dogs.  We fostered a blind dog, one who was really sick, four 36-hour old puppies and their mother, and one who became a television star.


We had a breeder dog who was abandoned because he was born without eyes.  I learned a lot from that experience.  We had to be very careful to put him down exactly in the same place so he would know where he was, and to announce our coming and going, since he couldn't see us.  It was fascinating watching how well he used his other senses, especially touch. 


We also fostered the dog that Hoda Kotb adopted!  We were able to watch the whole adoption process on her “Today Show” special on the adoption.  Wow!


We also had a mommy and her four 36-hour old puppies, and fostered them until the puppies were eight-weeks-old.  The transformation of the puppies was amazing.  During those eight weeks, they opened their eyes, learned to smell, were weaned from mom’s breast and began eating real dog food.  At first they didn't eat the food, they mostly bathed themselves in it...  :-)  


The most touching memory though is when one of our foster puppies died.  She had come to us from a puppy mill with one of her brothers.  They were badly neglected. Thinking they had simple colds, and were malnourished, we brought them home to help nurse them back to health.  We quickly figured out that something was wrong with the girl.  Her health kept declining, while the brother grew.  We brought her back to PAWS, and the vet kept her.  Every day for the next week we called to ask how she was doing, which wasn't well.  She finally passed about a week after we brought her back, and the reason of death was determined to be congenital heart disease.  As sad as it was, it only made us want to help and foster more than ever before.  Since then we have spread awareness about the evils of puppy mills, and fostered, nurtured, loved, and helped dozens more.


We currently have a pregnant dog, who is expected to give birth in about a week!  So, this is (of course) the best ever (just like all the others)!


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

I am currently a Junior in high school.  The fostering program has really helped me decide that I want to become a veterinarian after college – hopefully at PAWS!  :-)  


Why do you volunteer for PAWS Chicago?  

When we first leaned about fostering, we looked at as many different shelters as we could.  PAWS had the most organized and professionally run program.  We were very impressed by the foster coordinators, who really taught us how to foster. Their amazing work with the animals and kindness to us made us comfortable enough to keep taking on more and more complex and needy dogs.  The PAWS staff have even let me go into the clinic and observe the veterinary checkups.  This experience has really helped me decide that I want to be a veterinarian as a career. 


The foster coordinators work hard to make sure we get the perfect dogs to fit in our home and lifestyle.  In the very rare case where a foster just doesn't work out, they immediately help.  We enjoy fostering because not only do we LOVE the dogs, but we know that every dog we take in helps them recover and thrive.


What value has volunteering at PAWS Chicago brought you? 

Personally, I have learned a lot about caring for animals – sick, abused, blind, and injured.  It makes us feel so great knowing were helping them grow and learn to love again.  After being neglected, we may be the first people (sometimes ever!) to show them affection.  Not only do the dogs give us happiness, but knowing we are giving them happiness is an amazing feeling.  We are so excited to meet our current dog’s new babies.  I am planning to make birth certificates for their permanent homes – with time and date of birth, birth names and a space for their forever names, and paw prints!