LAKEVIEW — The sound of barking dogs, a tall fuzzy tower and a neon poster with cat photos tips off that someone at Mighty Maids-Mighty Men, a cleaning service on Sheffield, loves animals.
Talk to owner Joanne Moss and you learn it's more than a love for pets. The 65-year-old woman is dedicated to rescuing animals. She even has a three-bedroom apartment she uses solely to house a rotating cast of up to 12 cats, not including four additional ones with feline leukemia that are kept away from the others.
Moss uses her business as a hub for people looking to adopt, foster or rescue cats and dogs, including ones that local shelters are about to put down.
"Animals give unconditional love and can make someone smile for days," Moss said. "Doesn’t that make you happy?"
Before Moss started the cleaning business, she worked with the city for 18 years doing crisis intervention and regularly saw battered and abused women and children, she said. It wore on her. When she left, she wanted to volunteer but wanted something less emotionally heavy than her former job.
"I needed a kind of relief," she said.
She grew up with a dog and always loved animals. But it was an encounter with alley cats that pushed her to get the apartment to keep animals safe until adoption. She was cutting through an alley in Logan Square in '85 when she saw a a bunch of kittens in someone's back yard.
As it turned out, the owner of the house had been feeding the cats but didn't know what to do with them. Moss called up a vet to get some traps and The Anti-Cruelty Society to find shelters. One thing led to another, and Moss ended up getting the extra apartment that year as a place to introduce potential owners to cats.
"Saint Francis, who is a protector of all animals, starts taking care of you," she said. "He makes sure in the universe that these animals are connected to people and saved."
Now people call her when they see animals in alleys or pets that need to be rescued. She pays for medical bills and knows people who will give discounts on getting a pet fixed. ("I don't want to think about it," she said of the cost of keeping up the animals. "Because then I'll be really upset.")
People who walk by the shop see the neon poster with photos of pets that need homes, and Moss helps connect them. Others view the pets on PetFinder.com, where Moss and four other pet-rescuing friends list cats for adoption.
She herself owns four rowdy dogs that follow her from work to home, four cats at home and four cats at the Mighty Maids-Mighty Men office, 2950 N. Sheffield Ave. — even though she's mildly allergic.
The animals turn the storefront into a neighborhood place for a "pet fix" for college students who miss their animals or families without animals that want their children to pet a dog, she said. Some of those people eventually will foster pets, too, so that the cats have companionship before they're adopted, she said.
"Everybody in the world should help something or someone," Moss said. "Just think of what a better place we'd live in."