PAWS Chicago News item | PAWS Chicago

Saving the Most Vulnerable

by Kaitlin Allen | Nov 01, 2014

Fostering saves lives.

It was a Thursday afternoon in July when we received the phone call. An epidemic of feline panluekopenia, an incredibly contagious and often deadly virus that attacks a cat’s gastrointestinal tract similar to parvovirus for dogs, was sweeping through the population of cats and kittens at the city pound. Traditional shelter management means euthanasia for entire banks of both the sick and those who were healthy but had been exposed to illness. 

A photo was snapped on a cell phone and forwarded on. Tumbling kittens, round eyes and soft limbs – all of them, slotted for death. PAWS mobilized, sending staff and volunteers down to the pound to take in as many cats and kittens as we could help. Foster families were notified of the incoming influx of felines, and asked to open their homes to the animals that did not need medical supervision. 

In addition to the pound outbreak, PAWS Chicago began seeing outbreaks in its own population, with most cats coming to PAWS from the pound. It reached a crisis point when 19 cats and kittens were undergoing major treatment at the same time. The volume and medical need surpassed PAWS Chicago’s well-equipped and well-staffed Medical Center. In order to dedicate the time and resources to saving these helpless animals, additional supplies and personnel were needed. The veterinary team made a wish list of medication, intravenous therapy machines, incubators and pumps to treat a large volume of critical felines. 

Through an urgent Facebook post reaching out to the PAWS Chicago community, we showcased our wish list and asked for financial donations to purchase the needed equipment. Additionally, we made a plea for foster families to open their homes to cats and kittens who were in recovery mode in order to free up space for the most sick cases. The response showed the best of human nature as individuals responded with compassion and generosity. In all, 44 cats and kittens were treated and PAWS Chicago was able to save a remarkable 73 percent from this virulent disease. 

I tell this story because it illustrates so vividly that saving lives is a community effort. The PAWS Shelter Medicine program cannot successfully exist in a bubble – it needs the support of families who can foster the pets when our Medical Center is at capacity, volunteers who provide animals with care and attention as they recover and donors who provide the funds for medicine, veterinarians, and medical equipment. We were able to respond as a community to the summer panleuk epidemic. We know that there will very likely be another crisis for the unprotected homeless animals of Chicago but, with the community’s support, we know that we will be able to help.


Kolby Jack (PAWS name Darius) is happy and healthy and loving live in his new home. According to his adopter Amanda, “Kolby Jack is super playful and loves to chase the laser pointer around the house. If he isn’t getting enough cuddles, he likes to face plant into our palms, demanding more. We are so thankful he was such a strong boy and pulled through so that we could give him a loving home.”

How you can help:

Become a foster
Fosters provide temporary homes for pets who need the love and nurturing of a home while they wait for adoption, are recovering from illness or injury, or just need a break from the Adoption Center. When emergency situations call for PAWS to rescue more pets than our facilities have room for, foster families provide the extra life-saving space we need. 

Make a Donation to PAWS Shelter Medicine program
Our Shelter Medicine program is in need of financial donations for life-saving supplies of medicine, medical equipment like fluid pumps, oxygen cage doors, heating pads and syringe pumps and veterinarian services. Your donation of any size truly makes a difference and goes 100 percent toward the care of the animals. 

Become a volunteer at the PAWS Chicago Medical Center
Volunteers at the Medical Center work directly with the sick and injured animals. Duties include socializing and walking pets who are under veterinary care, helping assist animals waking up from anesthesia, and assisting Veterinary Technicians. 

Treating the most deadly diseases

As the only animal shelter in the city of Chicago equipped with a comprehensive Shelter Medicine program, including specially trained veterinarians and specially designed isolation facilities to treat contagious illnesses like panluekopenia, PAWS Chicago is truly the only hope for many sick homeless dogs and cats. 

Traditional shelters operate under a system of herd management, where sick cats and dogs and the pets housed in direct proximity are killed before they can contaminate the rest of the shelter population. Pets with injuries or those who are deemed too young (litters or others not yet eight weeks) or too old (often only at six years of age) are classified as “unadoptable” and killed because they require too much time, care and resources to be ready for adoption.

At PAWS Chicago, our No Kill model means treating every treatable pet! By using a case management approach to veterinary medicine and shelter management, every single pet is evaluated as an individual and given the nurturing, treatment and rehabilitation needed. Euthanasia is only reserved for pets irremediably suffering, in which medical treatment cannot alleviate their condition, or for dangerous dogs, as determined by behavior experts, who pose a threat to the public.