When Quigley, a once-sprightly three-year old terrier mix arrived at PAWS medical center two weeks ago, things looked bleak.
The black and white hound was in bad shape. He had a case of heartworm disease, severe pneumonia and intestinal parasites. But PAWS took him anyways.
“Two days ago we didn’t know if he was going to make it,” said Paula Fasseas, the organization’s founder.
But Wednesday, Quigley, who was receiving IV treatment and oxygen therapy, happily wagged his tail at Fasseas.
“It’s so heartwarming, they’re so sweet and innocent, and they can’t help what happened,” she said. “Their owners were fairly irresponsible and they got sick and gave them up.”
PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving) Chicago, an organization working to end pet euthanasia through adoption and treatment, has reopened its Chicago Medical Center after a $9 million renovation, with the hope of saving more cats and dogs from euthanasia.
The center, located at 3516 W. 26th St. in Little Village, has increased the number of animals it can treat and expanded its spay and neuter clinic, which provides the procedures at a low cost to the surrounding communities on the Southwest Side.
At the time of PAWS’ founding in 1997, Chicago Animal Care and Control euthanized about 90% of all animals coming into the agency — tens of thousands of cats and dogs each year, Fasseas said. PAWS, which along with other agencies works with the city to take stray animals, has helped reduce that number by more than 91%, and the facility’s expansion hopes to further the trend.
“We are their voice. They have no voice,” Fasseas said.
The medical center is able to save 98% of the animals it takes in, about one-third of which come from other states with high euthanasia rates.
The new renovations took four years, and the new 30,000-square-foot hospital has tripled the number of isolation and quarantine units, which are used to house sick pets that may be contagious.
“As long as we can get them healthy, we can get them adopted,” Fasseas said.
The state-of-the-art center, funded entirely through donations, includes a dentistry facility, a lab that can do in-house blood work, an ultrasound machine, X-ray equipment, and operating rooms for orthopedic surgeries and tumor removal.
“We don’t get government funding — we subsidize the government,” Fasseas said with a laugh. “When you think of how many animals used to be coming in at Animal Care and Control — they were killing 27,000 and now they’re euthanizing 2,000 — that’s a big savings, and it’s so much more humane.”
The medical center’s focus on homeless pets allows it to take on cases that most other agencies and organizations can’t, Fasseas said. More than 25,000 pets a year go through the facility under various programs, a number that will likely increase dramatically after the renovations.
Many of those animals go through PAWS’ spay and neuter program, which was also expanded. Though the program isn’t as “sexy,” which makes it harder to fundraise for, it’s the most crucial piece in making Chicago a no-kill city for cats and dogs, Fasseas said.
“Once you reduce the volume and the problem, then [for] those that are here, there are resources to help them,” she said.
And it’s working. PAWS performs about 15,000 operations a year, with about 4,000 people on the waiting list to get help for their pets.
Low-income neighborhoods usually have the highest rates of stray animals, which Fasseas attributes to the high cost of spay and neuter procedures. The operation can often cost dog owners up to $1,200, but PAWS charges $195 for most dog owners, and $65 for those living in underserved zip codes.
Areas around the clinic have seen a dramatic reduction in reports of stray animals since PAWS began the program, Fasseas said.
“This is where the need is,” she said, pointing to the long line of South Siders queued down the block outside the center. “There’s nothing like this in Chicago that’s specifically targeting under-resourced communities.”
The facility’s expanded quarantine and isolation facilities feature a medical-grade ventilation system with fresh air flow to prevent disease transmission to between sick animals, which often occurs in other shelters.
“The majority of animals that are killed in shelters came in healthy and got sick in the shelter,” she said.
For PAWS CEO Susanna Homan, the impact of the organization goes beyond cats and dogs.
“We’ve adopted out 70,000 pets over the years — think about how many millions of humans have been touched through the love of an animal and how that’s changed people’s lives,” she said. “Animals just spread love.”