A cat adoption center is coming to Chicago Avenue in Evanston this spring thanks to Paws and Claws, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming of dogs and cats in Chicagoland.
The center will be a first for Paws and Claws, which has worked since its inception in May 2020 through a foster system without an established home base. According to Founder and Executive Director Ashlynn Boyce, has saved over 900 animals through their approximately 120 foster homes across the northern Chicago area.
“We’ll do whatever we need behaviorally and medically to rehabilitate them,” Boyce said.
There are currently about 100 animals in the group’s foster system.
Boyce has previously worked in animal welfare in endeavors where stray cats are captured, neutered and returned home to prevent increases in stray populations.
The group is majority volunteer run and focuses on cats that are traditionally overlooked such as black cats, undersocialized cats and those that are positive for feline immunodeficiency virus. The animals come from several places but most often are received from municipal shelters that are required to take in the animals that come to them and practice euthanasia when they reach capacity.
“When they’re full and they’re forced to make life or death decisions, we are able to step in and take animals out of their care so they’re not forced to make those tough choices,” Boyce said.
Paws and Claws also works with shelters in southern Illinois where staff levels are low and stray populations are booming because many animals have not been spayed or neutered. Indiana and Michigan shelters work with the nonprofit as well when there is space available. Some animals Paws and Claws have been taken in were rescued from hurricanes in Florida and Louisiana.
While many shelters take in both cats and dogs at the same rate, the crowded, loud spaces aren’t very feline friendly. Boyce said this contributes to two shelter cats being euthanized for every one shelter dog.
The cats will stay with Paws and Claws until they find their forever home, regardless of how long it takes. The average stay for an animal in their care has been around 40 to 45 days but Boyce hopes the new facility will help cut that down by making the cats more visible to potential owners. She also hopes to triple the yearly number of rescues and take in about 1,000 a year.
The facility will be geared toward making the cats more comfortable than they would be in a traditional shelter where they’re often kept in cages alongside barking dogs, increasing their anxiety and slowing the healing process. There will be open play rooms for adoptees to meet a wide range of cats and space for the cats to explore without having to be housed in cages.
Once the animals are looked over by a veterinarian, they will go to a foster home to decompress and quarantine for a few weeks before being adopted.
“The sheltering system was built as dog catchers and dog wardens hundreds of years ago. It’s a system that wasn’t built for cats,” Boyce said. “They really just don’t thrive in the shelter.”
Paws and Claws began just as the COVID-19 pandemic reached a fever pitch and most of America was quarantined at home. This led to a surge in pet adoptions with more people working from home than ever before with some shelters becoming empty for the first time ever. Since then, shelters have gone back to the status quo as adoptions slowed.
“Animal shelters are full again. A lot of them are euthanizing for space and for time. They’re understaffed. They’re overworked,” Boyce said. “There’s a lot of struggles and it mostly ties back to housing and the fact that a lot of people are struggling right now.”
Every day the group gets calls from people having to make the difficult choice between keeping their pets and losing their housing or ending up on the streets with their animals. Boyce said when she started working in animal welfare she never expected to work so closely with people.
With the new facility, adoptions will be more streamlined than before. Boyce said during the pandemic, meet and greets for adoptable animals tended to be difficult. Some even took place in front of foster homes with adoptive families meeting their potential new family member in their car.
Adoptable cats are listed on the website, and applications are available online. Once the center is open, adoptees will be able to make appointments to come in and meet cats available for adoption. Currently, all adoptions are done via the phone through a matchmaking process that Boyce said has worked very well.
“We’re very proud of the way we match our adopters with animals,” Boyce said. “Adoptions are really successful with us”
Boyce attributes this to the post adoption support available to adopters and said they often keep in touch with the group and give updates on the cats. Some have even sent holiday cards featuring their furry friends.
Construction for the Paws and Claws Good Apple Adoption Center at 829 Chicago Avenue will begin the day after Christmas and expected to be completed in April 2023. The building is being sponsored by media company Good Apple, which made a large donation for the project.
“The Paws and Claws Cat Adoption Center wouldn’t be possible without our partnership with Good Apple, a highly-specialized media and measurement agency dedicated to developing impactful paid media strategies for brands that care to make a difference,” Boyce said.
Even with the donation, there is still about half a million in expected costs for the renovation and ongoing costs. The group is fundraising and has collected just over $151,000 according to their website.
For those looking to help and can afford to, Boyce said donations are always welcome at the group’s website. Once the center opens, there will be volunteer opportunities. Those able and willing to open their homes up to foster can sign up online.
“There’s so many ways (to help). We really can use anyone’s help,” said Boyce. “I’m confident that if someone wants to help out, we can find a way that will work for them to get involved.”