Puppies and Kitties and Bunnies, Oh My! Help the Pet Pony Express and Clear Chicagoland Shelters

Parvo Prevention Project puppy at July 7 vaccination event (photo by Karin McKie) Local shelters have been in the news lately as they are in desperate need of animal fosters, due to overcrowding, economic uncertainty and because kitten season runs a long stretch from April to November. Adopting a pet can bring you and the pet a lifetime of joy and fantastic memories. Owning and caring for a pet can help with everything from stress levels, blood pressure and heart issues to helping kids learn responsibility and compassion for their fellow beings. On August 18, local groups are participating in the national Clear the Shelters initiative. NBC and Telemundo are sponsoring the annual event, and will air a special about animal adoption, hosted by Jane Lynch on August 24 Here’s a look at some more under-the-radar groups doing heroic work to save companion animals during tough times. Give as much or as little time and money as you can, from a volunteer walk a week, posting rescue opportunities on social media, to fostering and adoption.  Also sign the petition to reinstate animal advocate Susan Russell! Some Third Coast review staff pet rescue stories at the end highlight more deserving area shelters.

Groups You Should Get Familiar With (And How to Help Them)

NITT: “People need to leave kittens until they’re mush babies,” says John Chiurato of the Northern Illinois Transport Team (NITT), a volunteer cat transfer network, a modern-day Pony Express for felines. “Well-meaning folks will bring seemingly abandoned kittens to the city’s pound, Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC), thinking they’re helping. But the mama cat was probably out hunting, and, if they’re bottle babies, newborns needing to be fed every 2-3 hours, they’ll be euthanized because there’s not enough staff for that kind of constant care,” he adds. Chiurato is NITT’s founder, database and logistics contact, the “point A to point B guy,” but he shares what he’s learned from vets and vet techs. “Monitor the outside cat area instead. Leave out food for mom. Once the kittens are 6-8 weeks old, when they can eat soft food, or mush, and are weaned from their mother, then they can be safely removed.” “Also try to capture mom humanely for a TNR, a trap/neuter/return to where they live,” he says. TNR cats are identified by the tips of one of their ears being snipped off, and TNR traps can be borrowed from most rescue groups. Volunteer Tish Sneed and NITT founder John Chiurato (photo courtesy NITT) Retired parole agent Chiurato lives about 100 miles southwest of Chicago. He created NITT in April 2014 as a rescue relay group, a cat Kindertransport to control the chaos at that time. He noticed that there were many offers to foster but insufficient resources to get a cat to the needed location, a time-critical element. The day after a cat was posted for adoption, he’d see that it was “no longer available,” meaning it had been euthanized, so he wanted to step up and improve the process to save more lives. His first NITT rescue was Squints: Squints, NITT's first CACC rescue cat (photo courtesy NITT) Chiurato also saw that there were very few groups focusing solely on cats, as well as other small mammals and birds. “If it fits in a carrier, NITT will move it,” Chiurato says. The CACC Cat Transfer Team posts info about “death row kitties,” and then roughly 145 “Homeward Bound”-approved rescue groups can place a 72-hour, do not euthanize “hold” on the animal(s). Then NITT jumps into action connecting these holds with driver(s) willing to pick up the animals, the “pull” and/or “transport” to a foster, creating a kind of feline Underground Railroad. By this time, foster folks have already been secured to keep the cats for days, weeks or months until they are adopted out or kept by the rescuer, affectionately termed a “foster fail.” While under foster care, the animals are also vetted, chipped, rehabilitated and socialized as needed. Currently, only Chiurato and one other NITT administrator post daily photos and info on their Facebook page hoping to catch the attention of rescue groups and drivers to schedule pick-ups and hand-offs before the animal is killed, usually by 7 p.m. for adult cats and 10 p.m. for kittens. This all-volunteer network generally fills transport requests within 24 hours of receiving them. CRISP In 2016, the Chicagoland Rescue Intervention & Support Program (CRISP) also formed to reduce euthanasia, educate pet owners and keep animals out of CACC, which is an open admission shelter that cannot turn away any surrendered animals, so when they run out of room, they must euthanize. A rotating team of rescue groups stand outside CACC at 2741 S. Western Avenue and communicate with those entering to see why they are giving up their pets. Expert volunteers offer information about free or low-cost spay and neuter clinics, vet care and animal food banks, if animal health or financial issues are the reason for surrender. Parvo Prevention Project puppy participant (photo by Karin McKie) CRISP also offers proactive measures such as the Parvo Prevention Project for low income owners, held this summer at the southside’s Gage Park to allay lethal outbreaks of the highly contagious dog disease that can attack the GI tract and often cause death. Parvo Prevention Project volunteers in Chicago's Gage Park on July 7 (photo by Karin McKie) Four separate events were held to give free Parvo, rabies, and distemper vaccines and boosters, as well as gratis microchips, collars, leashes and harnesses. The English- and Spanish-speaking PPP teams also scheduled free spay and neuter appointments at the PAWS clinic, which can cost $400-600 at a regular vet. The clinic on July 28 broke records for numbers of families and animals served, concluding a successful series utilizing over 100 volunteers and caring for over 1,000 dogs. ALIVE Alive Rescue has been a leader in founding CRISP and running the Parvo Prevention Project, opening their own “Little Barn” in 2013 at 2227 W. Belmont Avenue in Roscoe Village. Their mission is to move animals from shelters with high euthanasia rates into foster care, or, for a few terminal rescues, into “fospice” hospice care. Many area shelters regularly transport animals from high-kill shelters in southern states, including taking on moms and puppies to clear space for displaced pets in advance of natural disasters like last fall’s Hurricane Harvey. Founded in 2008, Alive provides its fosters with everything from leashes and microchips, to toys, food and poop bags, all under a green sustainability model. Volunteers can sign up at the website, and can share as much or as little time as possible, in many areas including Barn tasks like dog walking and backyard playing; making meals and doing laundry; driving animals and supplies for those without cars; volunteering at community events like food and beer festivals, which in turn make cash donations to the shelter; fundraising and special event planning. Runners can dedicate/donate their race wins to the shelter too. Of course, adoptions of dogs and cats, as well as rabbits are encouraged, in addition to cash and in-kind donations. A Memphis location will be opening soon. CASTLE BLACKPAW: Proper care of feral colonies can help cats who would otherwise not be able to live full lives. Last year Chicagoist featured a personal friend of editor Aaron Cynic, who helps keep a feral cat colony in Bridgeport happy, healthy and protected. Follow her on Instagram to see how the kitties are doing. CACC: In early July, CACC Executive Director Susan Russell was suddenly fired, causing an uproar in the rescue community who appreciated her support of CRISP and similar initiatives that had lowered the euthanasia rate. During her two-year tenure, Russell also renovated the building, grew the volunteer network, and mitigated a serious dog flu outbreak despite underfunding. Russell also increased animals being reunited with their owners, adopted or transferred to other shelters, from 70% placement in 2015, to 83% in 2017. Although the kill rates were down, Russell wanted to keep the public apprised that animals are still put down. “Good practices in sheltering mean that you communicate frequently with your public about your population,” she said. “But you have to be transparent. If you are going to euthanize, then people should know. WHAT YOU CAN DO in addition to “liking” and sharing these organizations on Facebook and Instagram:
  • Sign and share this petition to reinstate Susan Russell at CACC
  • Donate to, volunteer for or foster with ALIVE
  • NITT’s greatest current need is administrators to post on Facebook about holds, pulls and transfers, which can be done from any computer. They always welcome drivers and emergency overnight hosts too. Email John Chiurato at jchiurato@gmail.com or sign up with NITT
  • Use the hashtag #adoptdontshop to encourage adoption rather than puppy mill or backyard breeder purchases. Think about the thousands of adoptable animals that can be saved, as Chiurato does. His foster fail is named Quickalee:
John Chiurato with Quickalee (photo courtesy NITT).  

Third Coast Rescue Tales:

This is but a small sampling of the amazing rescue animals adopted by those of us here at Third Coast Review. Meet some of our treasured furry friends and get inspired to adopt your own! Ana, the well-travelled, curmudgeonly but sweet 9 year old tabby that Beyond Editor Marielle Shaw belongs to. Rescue pets can come from anywhere. In this case, after the loss of my very first rescue pet (a silver tabby named Markie who I acquired from a Chicago Animal Shelter) my friends, who knew I was devastated by the loss, found themselves in Zion, Ilinois, where some kittens had been found on a construction site. This silly silver tabby was among them, and they took her home to present to me. At first, I wasn't sure if I was ready to allow another pet in my life, having just felt the intense pain of losing my first, but within just a few hours, when she'd used her tiny body to pull herself up on a chair we didn't think she had any chance of climbing to cover herself in delicious cheesecake, I was in love. Ana's been my constant companion since, moving with me from Illinois to New Mexico and back again, living with several sets of roommates and now with several other cats. She's cantankerous, unusual, terrified of the rain and has an overlarge craving for cheese that I understand (but don't often indulge since it upsets kitty tummies) and sweet, sometimes curling up in my arms like a teddy bear when we go to sleep. I didn't know she was coming but I'd never trade a moment with her. --Marielle Shaw.  Zelda and Coltrane, two PAWS adoptees who are livin' the good life with Third Coast staffer and author Jessica Mlinaric. We didn't expect to walk out of PAWS with two kittens, but we noticed these cuties playing together. When their medical records showed that they were brother and sister, we were thrilled to double the fun! Zelda and Coltrane are now two and continue to be the best of friends. Watching them cuddle, wrestle, and prank each other proves that two cats are always better than one!--Jessica Mlinaric Questor the Cat. Photo: Aaron Cynic Questor wasn’t rescued by any organization, but not all rescue cats come from animal welfare groups. Sometimes circumstance introduces you to a fluffy little feline friend. A dear friend of mine’s family found a very pregnant cat skulking around their porch about 15 years ago. They took her in and cared for her for a few days (you can find steps on how to properly care for a pregnant cat here) and she gave birth to a litter of nine kittens. Questor was the last to be born and the runt of the litter. When he brought her to our doorstep, she was no bigger than the palm of my hand. Fifteen years later she’s still as feisty as ever, but managed to grow into a full and majestic cat.--Aaron Cynic Katie, the calico tornado that's got everyone in Antal Bokor/Marielle Shaw's house wrapped around her little white paws. Introducing new cats to a household is often a scary prospect, as it throws off the social balance in a household full of pets and can cause distress to the new arrivals and the older, established pets who are living peacefully. Often this can discourage people to adopt another, but Katie here is one reason why you might think to reconsider. We combined households and kitties early on in our relationship, and while it was difficult and there were scuffles, things settled down. We wanted to get a companion animal for our dad, and Katie here showed up as a giveaway who was procured from a bucket at a local gas station. This little critter, while possibly the most mischievous, attitude-filled kitty in our household, actually managed to somehow bring our household of cats together, and our family too. She's friends with everyone, greeting every person in our household at the door when they get home, and she managed to bring our other pets together more as well, through her own relationships with them making it possible for all our pets to feel comfortable in close quarters. She's rambunctious and an attention hound, but we can't deny the wonderful way she's added to the family. --Antal Bokor and Marielle Shaw These are just a few of the stories we can share about how rescue pets, no matter where they come from, what they look like or what age they are, can help us humans. We hope you'll read about the ongoing efforts to pair these critters with loving homes and be inspired to help in some way, whether that's taking one of these awesome animals into your own home to benefit you both for a very very long time or to get involved with helping save shelter pets or volunteer some time to give them the love they so very much deserve and will give back in spades. Feel free to share your rescue tales (and cat and dog pics) in the comments, as well as any local rescues we might have missed that need a signal boost.  
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Karin McKie

Karin McKie is a Chicago freelance writer, cultural factotum and activism concierge. She jams econo.