ROSCOE VILLAGE — With their fair-haired good looks and dazzling smiles, brothers Pico and De Gallo, rescued from the "Middle-of-Nowhere," Texas, should easily find homes among Chicago's dog lovers.
But the siblings are so attached to each other — scarcely found more than 10 feet apart — that the retriever-mix mutts are a package deal. Any prospective owner has to be willing to adopt both, a daunting proposition.
Fortunately for the boys, Alive Rescue in Roscoe Village specializes in such hard-luck cases.
Founded in 2008 by Kristen Gerali, Alive Rescue takes in animals other shelters find too difficult to place: deaf dogs like Una, a pit bull terrier mix; skittish guys like Hansel, a pit bull terrier-boxer mix who's sensitive to touch; or Penny, an aging Lhasa Apso, missing all but one of her teeth.
"When you go to Animal Control here, 80 percent of the dogs are pit bull mixes. It's a major problem the city should address," Gerali said. "It's just the culture right now. A lot of guys are totally against neutering, like you're taking their [dog's] manhood."
To date, Alive Rescue is responsible for 250 pet adoptions, the majority saved from high-kill shelters.
"Our goal is to lower the euthanasia rate in Chicago," Gerali said.
Earlier this year, Alive Rescue, which started as a strictly foster-based operation, opened the Little Barn at 2227 W. Belmont Ave. The building houses the shelter's most adoption-challenged pets. For as long as needed. Terrier mix Dottie has been with the shelter for a year.
"It's not hard to let go," Gerali says of handing over her long-term charges. "I'm so happy when it happens, are you kidding?"
Of the 25 dogs currently on the rescue's rolls, eight are staying at the Little Barn; the cat "suites" are presently vacant.
"We have a place to house them, work with them and rehabilitate them," Gerali said. "It's quiet, everyone's not stressed out."
Trainers help with behavior issues while volunteers make sure the dogs get plenty of exercise, taking them for walks or playing with the pooches in the rescue's backyard, which has been carpeted over with paw-proof artificial turf.
Alive Rescue, a registered nonprofit, survives solely on donations, much of which comes from monthly fundraising events, including the "Shelter Shiver" — a group dip in Lake Michigan every January.
This month, Gerali is gearing up for the Third Annual Ride Alive on Sept. 14, a team cycling scavenger hunt that raised $5,000 for the shelter last year.
Teams start their adventure at the Little Barn and then set off to complete a series of challenges — physical, mental, photo or video — across the city. Gerali was loathe to divulge actual challenge locations but one might be found in a neighborhood that rhymes with Pyde Hark.
"I wish I could do it," Gerali said. "I barely have time to eat lunch."
An average day for Gerali starts at the shelter, where she can be found until 1 p.m. From 2 to 5 p.m., she works at her ex-husband's landscape company, then it's back to the shelter from 6 to 10 p.m.
Mornings when she's not sure how she'll make it through another day, she takes one look at the dogs who greet her.
"I know they would be dead if it wasn't for our rescue," Gerali said. "It's motivation."
Gerali, who always had a least one dog as a child, grew up working summers on her grandmother's Wisconsin farm.
"I would feed chickens and pick up cow poop," she said. "I didn't realize these calves will be veal."
She found her true calling in New Orleans, where she volunteered in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Hundreds of lost animals were brought to the Lamar Dixon Expo Center, where Gerali worked cleaning out crates, and walking and feeding animals.
The experience gave Gerali a new mission in life.
"I was like, 'I'm rescuing dogs for a living,'" she said.
Ultimately she hopes to build a sanctuary for homeless animals, already dubbed "The Ranch," on 20 acres she and her former husband own in southwest Michigan.
Said Gerali: "I've never been so passionate about something in my entire life."
Meet some of Alive Rescue's homeless animals at the organization's next adoption event from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Logan Square Farmers Market, 3111 W. Logan Blvd.