Do Good Thursdays: How PAWS Chicago is Giving Back

At, there are a couple things we really love: neighborhoods (obviously), pets, and people who are making a difference in their community. PAWS Chicago is a Chicagoland nonprofit changing the fate of homeless cats and dogs while creating communities of people dedicated to providing for the pets in their neighborhoods. Just last year, PAWS -- which stands for Pets are Worth Saving — found homes for 5,371 dogs and cats through its Lincoln Park and Highland Park Adoption Centers and performed 16,237 spay and neuter surgeries through its Lurie Clinic and GusMobile Spay/Neuter Van. Staff

In 2017, staff got to volunteer at the Pippen Fasseas Adoption Center in Lincoln Park to learn more about the impact PAWS is making in Chicago neighborhoods and play with some very cute pets. We were so impressed by PAWS’ mission to build no-kill communities and the staff’s passion for helping Chicagoland’s disadvantaged cats and dogs, that we wanted to help spread the word about this life saving organization.

We chatted with Sarah McDonald about rescuing pets (including her own foster puppy turned best friend, Emma), building communities, and transforming Chicago neighborhoods. Sarah started volunteering at an animal shelter when she was eighteen and has been a member of the PAWS community since 2005. She has now been on staff for twelve years and is still just as passionate about protecting animals as the day she started.

“Animal welfare advocates are truly the backbone of our organization,” she explained. Whether serving as volunteers or working as staff members, PAWS Chicago is sustained by people who are committed to turning Chicago into a no kill community.

Courtesy of PAWS

PAWS was founded in 1997 by Paula Fasseas and her daughter to combat the the staggering fact that, in Chicago alone, over 42,000 animals were being killed evey year. It has since grown to become a national leader in the "No Kill" movement and has worked tirelessly to help reduce the number of euthanized cats and dogs by 84%. This has been achieved using PAWS' "No Kill Model," which relies on active community engagement to carry out the "four pillars:"

  1. Free spay/neuter and outreach in under-resourced communities
  2. Robust and visible adoption programs
  3. Case-management approach to shelter medicine
  4. A broad volunteer base.

PAWS has found so much success with this model, that it is now Chicagoland’s largest No Kill shelter and is currently at operational capacity at their Medical Center, the only facility in the city that can treat and rehabilitate a large volume of sick, injured and behaviorally challenged pets. Determined to create enough space for every cat and dog that requires care, they have launched a campaign for expansion.

But perhaps one of the most notable aspects of PAWS programs is the recognition that not every cat and dog requiring care will make it through the doors of a medical center. Instead of simply serving the animals that come to them, PAWS staff and volunteers have made it their mission to go out into Chicago neighborhoods to provide the community with the care its animals desperately need.

Courtesy of PAWS

PAWS for Life is a community outreach program that focuses on breaking down barriers that prevent owners from providing for their pet’s health and ensuring that pet owners have the opportunity to spay or neuter their pet- thus preventing the overpopulation that often leads to animal euthanasia. This program operates primarily in the Englewood neighborhood, where the PAWS community uses door-to-door outreach to build positive relationships with pet owners. Sarah explains that this practice is making “strides towards a no-kill Chicago, keeping pets in their homes, reducing pet overpopulation, and empowering pet owners with the resources and information they need to make the healthiest decisions for their pets.” 

Sarah says PAWS Chicago chose to focus on this neighborhood because “by directing resources into a limited area with the most need, we are able to create lasting, deep-reaching change within a community.” In 2017 alone, they made over 270 home visits, serving 3,567 pets and 1,826 clients- many of which had never taken their pets to a veterinarian before. The impact of this program is so substantial that PAWS is extending their services to pet owners living in Back of the Yards starting this year.

Beyond the PAWS for Life program, PAWS’ Lurie Spay/Neuter Clinic in Little Village is the “largest high volume, free and low cost spay/neuter clinic in the Midwest,” providing affordable spay and neuter surgeries, vaccinations, blood tests, and microchips for underserved communities. PAWS even takes these services on the road with their GusMobile Spay/Neuter Van, which allows PAWS to meet pet owners in their own neighborhoods. PAWS also maintains a food pantry stocked with pet care supplies for those in need and helps local residents care for community cats by “empowering and supporting our city’s feeders of stray cats, thus transforming them into fully informed, active, registered colony caretakers.”

Gabriella After she was found / Courtesy of PAWS

And while it’s easy to be impressed by the sheer number of rescued and cared-for animals, sometimes it’s one animal’s story that best captures PAWS Chicago’s purpose. A dog named Gabriella was tied to an abandoned building where she had bleach poured in her eyes. Chicago Animal Care & Control contacted PAWS for help, who immediately went to their facility and rushed Gabriella to the PAWS Medical Center for treatment. Unfortunately, it was too late to save Gabriella’s eyes, but it wasn’t too late to save her life. Over the next few weeks, Gabriella learned to navigate her surroundings and regained her strength. Gabriella has now been adopted by a great family -- who subsequently changed her name to Rutabaga — and loves tossing stuffed toys in the air and curling up in your lap for a nice nap. 

If you are interested in volunteering with PAWS Chicago, Sarah assures us “we have a role for absolutely every interest. From dog walkers and cat socializers to event planning, administrative work, clinic support, Shelter Medicine assistants, intake and foster volunteers and more...if you have a skill that you think would benefit homeless pets, we likely can use your help.”

You can volunteer with your friends or co-workers (like we did at!)  for a one-time event or you can commit serving on a consistent schedule. Either way, PAWS is looking for a volunteer base with a “diversity of perspectives, new ideas, and different experiences” because it helps them “remain innovative” as they continue grow as an organization. 

Gabriella with her new family / Courtesy of PAWS
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