There are people who talk about doing great things, and people who do great things. Most look at a problem and say, “Someone should do something about that.” very few roll up their sleeves, dig in, and become part of the solution.
Heather Owen, Sarah Brewster, and Kristen Gerali, the founders of the Chicago Community Pet Coalition (CCPC), are three women who jumped in head first and starting “doing.” In addition to the new joint venture of CCPC, each one runs her own rescue organization in Chicago and works a “day job” on top of it all. Their limitless energy, ideas, and passion are at the heart of all they do, fueling their mission to keep people and their pets together.
At its core, CCPC is a grassroots effort focused on decreasing the number of pets given up due to financial hardship as well as bettering the health and well- being of companion animals. Working in animal rescue means seeing firsthand the pain that people are in when they are no longer able to care for the animal properly and must face the difficult decision to relinquish their pet. CCPC wants to be there to help before the family needs to give up their pet, whether due to financial struggles, relationship complications, lack of education, or other reasons.
After years of being in the trenches of rescue and adoption, these astute leaders in animal welfare understand that it is more cost effective, humane, and efficient to keep dogs in their homes rather than cycling them through the shelter system. one of their most successful projects is Community Pet Days—held in the Logan Square and Humboldt Park neighborhoods—where they provide services such as microchipping and vaccinations, as well as supply flea and tick medication, spay/neuter vouchers, collars, leashes, harnesses, food, and other items to families who have difficulty caring for their pets. Their next Community Pet Day is scheduled for october.
They also know that most people don’t want to give up their pets, but feel like they’ve run out of options. By teaching people how to live with a pet responsibly and providing them with the resources to care for their pets in the best way possible, CCPC hopes to prevent unwanted litters, sick animals, and, ultimately, a lot of heartbreak when lost pets can’t be found or pets have to be given up.
Meet the women who make it all happen:
Heather Owen: “One Tail at a Time started Community Pet Days and a veterinary assistance program for the public about two years ago. We found that supporting our community and keeping pets out of shelters to begin with was just as important as rescuing/ adopting dogs. ALIVE and New Leash on Life are groups that hold very similar values as us, and when they approached us about joining forces to create the CCPC, we knew it was going to be something really special.”
Kristen Gerali: “We need to get the backyard breeding under control. There are so many people breeding Pit Bulls, and because of this, animal control is overflowing. So many dogs are losing their lives; it’s almost impossible to keep up. I can go into animal control on any given day and rescue two to three dogs, and while I am there another six dogs are turned in.”
Heather Owen: “People surrendering their pets to shelters aren’t evil. Sure, there are some individuals who abuse, neglect, or don’t care about their pets, but the statistics show that pets are typically given up due to lack of resources. Pet-friendly housing, affordable veterinary care, and resource deserts all need to be addressed if we’re going to decrease shelter intake. Once we realize this and cut the “us vs. them” attitude, we’re going to be able to help so many more animals and their families.”
Sarah Brewster: “As a sociologist, I know that in order to create any systematic and sustainable societal change, we need not only to be focusing on fixing the consequences of disparity and oppression, but also to be working to eliminate the roots of these consequences. We live in a world of economic disparity, where many people are not able to afford the financial costs of pet ownership. Yet, having a pet is often one of the most rewarding and loving relationships in our lives, and people shouldn’t be denied that because of financial hardship.”
Heather Owen: “What CCPC is doing is really progressive and quite ground breaking in the animal welfare community. We modeled our program after a few other successful programs, but for the most part we are among the first to be providing free services like this in the community.”
Kristen Gerali: “My volunteers make me proud. There are nights I come home and look back on the day and think about how many people it took just to get through that one day. I am amazed at and so proud of our volunteers.”
Sarah Brewster: “The rescue community in Chicago is vast, but there is often little collaboration between rescue groups. The creation of the CCPC has encouraged rescues to work together to create change in our community. This collaboration goes past just the Community Pet Days. I have noticed a huge increase in support across rescues since the creation of CCPC. We are expanding our scope as a rescue community to focus on the macro- level issues that are impacting our communities, and I am so excited about the possibilities that await us.”
Kristen Gerali: “I love it when one of our long-term residents gets adopted. There is nothing better. Most of our long-term residents have been with us through a long rehabilitation process, so seeing them finally go into a forever home is the most rewarding part of my job.”
Heather Owen: “Without fail, after every event we get a call letting us know that one of our chipped dogs got loose and was reunited with their family thanks to the microchip. Big picture changes and big dreams are good, but we’re in an urgent state here, so direct results are what we’re looking for. Those dogs went home thanks to our event—that’s all we could ask for.”
Sarah Brewster: “More affordable housing for people with pets (especially bully breed dogs).”
Heather Owen: “More low-cost veterinary services. It’s so, so hard to find affordable veterinary care. I’m lucky enough to have a stable income, and it can be a struggle for me when I have unexpected vet bills. I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone facing hardship. If we had low-cost options for individuals facing financial hardship, I’m certain more people would keep their pets and not turn them into shelters.”
The Chicago Community Pet Coalition is a 100% volunteer organization that depends heavily on community sponsors and individual donors. Here’s what your donation means:
$100 = spay or neuter surgery for one dog $50 = rabies and distemper/parvo vaccines for 5 dogs
$25 = new martingale collar, leash, and gentle leader harness for one dog
$10 = microchip with registration for one dog
For more information visit CommunityPetCoalition.org or email ChicagoCommunityPetCoalition@gmail.com