PAWS in the Media item | PAWS Chicago

Oprah Becomes the Voice of Homeless Pets

by Karen O'Shaughnessy | Apr 30, 2008

The millions of homeless pets who die each year in America have a new advocate in their corner, and no one can give these forgotten friends a voice like the queen of daytime herself, Oprah Winfrey.

After losing Sophie, her beloved Cocker Spaniel at the age of 13 on March 10th of this year, Oprah was devastated. “She was a true love in my life,” Oprah said. 

Now, she has become an advocate for pets who are homeless, facing death, or living in inhumane conditions in puppy mills. In April, Oprah highlighted issues facing pets in the United States on three separate shows, including a tour through PAWS Chicago’s cageless No Kill Adoption & Humane Center. 

Oprah dedicated her entire April 4th show to issues pets face in puppy mills and shelters throughout the United States. Oprah Show correspondent Lisa Ling, equipped with hidden cameras, ventured into puppy mills for an investigation into horrific conditions that many of the nation’s puppies are born into each year. In these inhumane breeding grounds, moms are forced into pregnancy their entire lives, never stepping outside their small wire cages. Ling exposed images of the cruel conditions: of dogs who have never set foot on grass and a female Lab who has been forced to have more than 1,000 puppies. The result was a tremendous feat for pet advocates as the country saw the reality of the abusive and “factory-like” breeding operations behind the purebred and “designer” puppies seen in pet shop windows every day. 

Then, the show toured a typical Animal Control shelter that kills an average of 40 homeless pets each day and showed a dog being euthanized—one of an approximated 4 million homeless dogs and cats that will be killed in America this year. Though challenging for viewers to watch, the Oprah Show took a large step forward for homeless pets by exposing what happens behind closed doors in shelters every day, motivating people across America to rescue their future four-legged companions. Without public involvement and commitment to change the status quo, lives with continue to be taken.

This enlightening show elicited the largest response of any Oprah show this season, having a great effect on people across the country and inspiring record-breaking adoptions. Oprah herself was deeply impacted, saying, “I would never, ever adopt another pet now without going to a shelter to do it. I am a changed woman after seeing this show.” She was so inspired that she decided to take further action, this time in her hometown. 

PAWS Chicago was notified that Harpo wanted to film the new state-of-the-art, cageless Adoption Center and hear about the tremendous response from the community that occurred after Oprah’s show on puppy mills aired. Volunteers and the PAWS Chicago team were shocked when Oprah walked in for a surprise visit, saying on camera “I’ve heard all about this place. I’ve heard how great and how cool and how clean it is.” 

Paula Fasseas, PAWS Chicago founder, was caught on camera, shocked as Oprah walked in and picked up adorable shepherd/chow mix puppy, Brianna. 

Fasseas then toured Oprah, Brianna, Harpo’s film crew, and the nation through Dog Town and the rooftop deck where the dogs play. Oprah was delighted, saying, “I’ve never seen anything like this. So the animals aren’t caged at all. They have their own little rooms!” Impressed with the new way of sheltering homeless pets, Oprah presented a check to PAWS Chicago from Target for $10,000, but it did not end there. 

Oprah shocked PAWS Chicago for a second time that day when she so generously announced, “I would love to sponsor a room on behalf of my lovely Sophie,” choosing a beautiful pale yellow dog home. 

Now, adopters and visitors at the PAWS Chicago Adoption & Humane Center will have the opportunity to see Sophie’s Place, the most famous spot in Dog Town. Oprah’s design crews came through and built out the most beautiful tribute to Sophie, with a custom-built dog-house for the room’s homeless guests, a beautiful portrait of Sophie, an iron chandelier, and detailed painting on the walls featuring tufts of grass and a banner above that reads “In honor of my beloved Sophie. ~Oprah”. 

When the segment aired on April 21st, Oprah announced that Brianna still had not found a home. That day, a family had seen the show and went to PAWS Chicago to claim Brianna as their own. On April 28th, Oprah featured Brianna’s story. “There are three boys in the house who say they love her furry face and are excited to have her home,” Oprah said. “I was so happy Brianna got a home.” 

Though Oprah had fallen in love and wanted to take Brianna home for herself, she said she was not quite ready for a new dog in her life. “It will take some time for me to be ready,” she said. “As I said before, the next time I adopt a dog, I’m going to go to a No Kill shelter.” 

With Oprah on-board, a No Kill Chicago and a No Kill nation is much closer to reality.

Oprah Response 

Since PAWS Chicago was featured on the Oprah Show, people across the United States and Canada have contacted PAWS Chicago, asking how to build a similar No Kill organization in their home town. PAWS Chicago has initiated a Building a No Kill Community email list and is preparing a manual entitled, The Building Blocks to a No Kill Community, a step by step guide to take animal-loving individuals through PAWS Chicago’s evolution, with pointers on how to begin and grow. Only ten years ago, PAWS Chicago was founded as a fully volunteer grass roots organization. PAWS Chicago is eager to spread the seeds of No Kill throughout the country.