LINCOLN PARK — A "rescue mission" involving eight vehicles, 18 Chicagoans and nearly 36 sleepless hours could be the difference between life and death for dozens of Oklahoma cats and dogs.
The 76 animals weren't abandoned as a direct result of the massive twister — they were already in the state's pound — but rescuing the animals will free space for traumatized newcomers, and, besides, the transported dogs are in need of love nonetheless, said Sheila Buralli, an adoption associate at PAWS in Lincoln Park.
The new dogs and cats will be available for adoption Monday, after being meticulously cycled through medical treatment, temperament tests, training at K9 University and other procedures designed to offer the future-pets the best chance for survival.
"We didn't go to Oklahoma to gather the nicest, prettiest animals," Buralli said. "We love our animals — this just goes to show the lengths we'll go to to provide them with the best quality of life possible."
After some tests and conditioning to cure a range of injuries and potential diseases, the Oklahoma animals are off to Dog Town or Kitty City — where the air in their rooms is recycled every three minutes, food and water are plentiful and volunteers rub the backs of their ears for hours on end in rooms such as "Sophie's Place," otherwise known as "Oprah's room."
This is a huge change from their prior environments, Buralli said. Due to the regularity of incoming animals, pounds are not known for their luxury accouterments.
Many of the Oklahoma pets would have been euthanized without PAWS' intervention.
"We want to create a no-kill Chicago," Buralli said, "but with that we're also willing to look outside the city boundaries and help others."
According to PAWS, the city's largest no-kill adoption center, Chicago is indeed on its way to that goal. While the city euthanized more than 26,000 animals when PAWS opened in 1997, that number is down 71 percent, to less than 8,000 animals euthanized in 2012.
Success stories are not hard to come by at PAWS, according to Buralli. A paralyzed pitbull named Red is one example. The dog was shot, resulting in spinal injuries, when his owner was robbed at home.
Red required an exhausting list of treatment and therapy, but quickly became a favorite among staff. After spending some time recovering at PAWS, he was eventually adopted in February by a resident of a nearby suburb and is doing just fine, Buralli said.
PAWS is applying the same mission to the Oklahoma animals and hopes some will even end up in what Buralli calls PAWS' "failed foster program" — when foster parents end up adopting their temporary pets for good.
"We take every animal as an individual," Buralli said. "These dogs and cats are the ones left behind."
Those looking to adopt or foster one of the Oklahoma rescues can go online for more information.