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Here's How Chicago Shelters Save Dogs, Cats (And Why They Need Your Help)

By Kelly Bauer | March 16, 2017 5:15am
 PAWS Chicago gets help from donors and foster families when it needs to care for animals with special medical needs.
PAWS Chicago gets help from donors and foster families when it needs to care for animals with special medical needs.
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Courtesy PAWS Chicago

CHICAGO — Odelita's black fur is missing in patches, replaced by red and yellow wounds from burns.

Roxy, a lab mix puppy, had mange so bad she had open sores and bald patches across her body. She cried at night.

Then there's Abbott and Costello, two pitbull pups with Parvo, a contagious and potentially fatal virus.

The pets all have something in common: They've been taken in by shelters — PAWS Chicago for Roxy, Abbott and Costello; and Felines & Canines for Odelita — that are working hard to help the animals heal and find them permanent homes.

It's time-consuming, expensive and, at times, emotionally draining work. Treating Odelita's injuries, which a vet said appeared to have been intentionally inflicted, will cost an estimated $2,000, said Abby Smith, executive director of Felines & Canines.

“We don’t ever turn anybody down because we don’t have the money right away,” Smith said. “We’ll take them and figure out the money later, honestly.”

Roxy, a puppy, came to PAWS Chicago with demodex mange that left her with bald patches and open sores (left). The no-kill shelter and foster families have helped her heal (right). [Courtesy PAWS Chicago]

How They Do It

Smith said Felines & Canines in Edgewater cares for 15-20 animals with special medical needs like Odelita's every year. PAWS has its own medical center where cats and dogs are treated or medically assessed, and it's currently serving about 130 pets but can house up to 170, said Stacy Price, director of animal operations at PAWS Chicago.

Pets come to PAWS with parasites, dog flu, respiratory infections and skin issues like Roxy's or Parvo like Abbott and Costello, Price said. They're usually strays or come from Chicago Animal Care and Control.

And Canines & Felines is no stranger to medical cases like Odelita's. It's been called on to help several badly burned cats, including Sprout — who gained citywide attention but didn't make it — in July.

Felines & Canines pays for the care with donations from its supporters.

Odelita the kitten had a badly burned back (left) and leg (right). [Courtesy Felines & Canines]

“I do see that there seems to be a trend of horrific abuse that’s happening,” Smith said. “I don’t know if we’re just seeing more of it because of social media or if there’s just an upswing in these things happening.

"It's hard and, honestly, we cry a fair share. But it's nice to see ... the successes. For every idiot that does this, there's a million people who love animals as much as we do."

Roxy from PAWS has been on a long list of medications, including painkillers, antibiotics and antihistamines. Abbott and Costello are hooked up to IVs. PAWS pays for their care — and the care of many other animals with special medical needs — through donations, covering the costs even when the pets are taken in by foster families.

"We’re one of the only facilities that has the ability to say, 'Come on in and we’ll take care of you,'" Price said.

PAWS Chicago is treating Abbott and Costello for Parvo, a potentially fatal virus. [Courtesy PAWS]

How To Help

Abbott and Costello have stayed with PAWS — Parvo's "very contagious" and "really difficult" because of how fragile puppies are — but the shelter tries to find foster homes for other pets in need.

Roxy has been in foster homes where her temporary owners have ensured the lab takes a long list of medications and is bathed with medicated shampoo. Her hair is growing back and she's playing with her foster family.

Foster owners like Roxy's save multiple lives because fostering a pet creates space at the shelter for another animal in need, Price said.

Foster families are particularly needed at PAWS Chicago now: The shelter has been coping with a rise of canine influenza since spring 2015, Price said. The flu is so contagious infected animals must be kept away from others for 30 days.

That means PAWS needs homes where owners don't already have dogs, Price said.

"That's been a major challenge," Price said. "Most people who really love animals and want to help rescues already have pets in the home."

It's also been an opportunity for PAWS and its supporters, Price said: The shelter has had to change how it reaches people so it could find foster homes without pets, and animal lovers have been able to use fostering to help an animal even if they're not sure they're ready for full-time pets.

PAWS Chicago has information about fostering available online. You can also see what animals are up for adoption online.

Felines & Canines doesn't foster animals, but Smith said supporters can help by visiting animals like Odelita and spending time with them when the shelter is open 12:30-6 p.m. You can see what pets are up for adoption online or donate to the shelter online.