My first introduction to the rescue world was Christmas in 2015. I had seen some adorable dogs posted on One Tail at a Time’s (OTAT) Facebook page who were sitting at Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC). OTAT was looking for fosters – you only had to foster for two weeks! And that planted the seed in my head. While I have a history of animal allergies, I knew I could tolerate anything for two weeks.
In June of 2016, we were official fosters, and we had picked out a dog who was coming to Chicago from a high kill shelter in Kentucky. While OTAT is very focused on Chicago dogs and the goal of making a no-kill Chicago, they also partner with very high kill rate shelters in the south to give those dogs a chance too. I picked up “Risley,” a little brown mutt who had been found wandering along the road in the middle of nowhere, from the vet and nervously brought him home to start our foster adventure. While I expected the worst (chewing up our condo, accidents inside), Risley was a dream. He was housebroken and somehow knew he could chew the toys we bought for him, but didn’t touch anything that wasn’t his! We met so many people in the neighborhood while out walking him around, took him to local dog friendly events, and even took him to a bike race in Wisconsin. When I got the call from OTAT saying that his neuter surgery was scheduled for the upcoming Wednesday and asking if I could drop him off in the morning, where they would “take him from there” and get him to the adoption center, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I told them that I would be picking him up, and my husband and I would be with him the following week to fill out the adoption paperwork and get our official “Blue Couch” photo.
We renamed him Pliny since he was a stray and had no attachment to his previous name, and as my first dog, he became the greatest joy and the best little friend and companion I could imagine. However I also started thinking about all the dogs out there like him – the homeless or discarded animals that could bring so much love to a new family if given the chance, and the innocent animals who would surely be killed if not for rescues like One Tail. I wanted to give back to One Tail and the rescue community as they had given me the greatest gift, and I wanted to do something to help all those deserving dogs.
I started volunteering at One Tail’s adoption center helping feed and exercise the adoptable dogs who were staying there until they found their forever homes, and also working events and transporting dogs as needed. The rescue community in Chicago is very tight knit, with everyone working so hard for that one goal of saving innocent lives, that I quickly found myself following more rescues and CACC on social media. Getting involved with It’s A Pittie Rescue (IPR), I started learning a lot more about what amazing, wonderful dogs pit bulls were despite all the negative media attention and incorrect stereotypes that bully breeds experience, and have helped work events and transport dogs for them. When local South Loop rescue L.E.A.D. (Love Everything About Dogs) started, I offered to help transport for them too. I always thought about CACC and had heard how they needed volunteers, but I had some negative perceptions as CACC is not a no kill shelter, and I didn’t know if I could mentally and emotionally handle it.
July 1st, OTAT’s Executive Director Heather Owen offered to take a few of us volunteers on a “Behind the Scenes” Tour of CACC, just to learn more about how our city’s open intake animal facility operates. I decided to go as I wanted to learn more about this place that OTAT and other city rescues work with to save dogs. I honestly was preparing for an emotionally draining experience, but it was amazing to see and meet a lot of the dogs and cats that were currently there, and I realized I really wanted to get involved and help out (as did a few of our other volunteers who attended that day). While it is quite the process to apply and be cleared to volunteer (several orientation sessions, meeting the city’s fingerprinting/background check and paperwork requirements, dog handling training, and multiple one on one training sessions with current volunteers), I am now a fully approved volunteer who can work independently with the dogs there to get them outside for exercise, playtime, and training, as well as work with the public to introduce them to adoptable dogs they are interested in and help start their adoption process.
While adopting our Pliny was one of the best things to ever happen to us, getting involved with the Chicago rescue community was a wonderful, eye opening experience. I have met some of the most selfless, dedicated people who are driven to help save and improve the lives of so many deserving dogs. It can be very difficult, draining work, especially for those who have been involved in rescue for a long time and seen some horrific situations, but the reward of knowing a dog is safe and loved, the victory of seeing a terrified, shy dog come out of his shell and blossom into an outgoing, playful pup, or seeing a parvo puppy on the brink of death make a full recovery and find her forever home, is completely worth it.