By Laura Mueller
Stephen Jenkinson was driving through Little Village in the winter of 2016 when he saw the Chihuahua on the corner of Central Park and 25th Street. She was hobbling uncomfortably, and blood covered her face. Jenkinson, 53 years old and on disability following an accident a decade earlier, got out of the car to go after her.
“I was trying to chase her down and either get her to her rightful [human] or take her somewhere where they’re not going to just euthanize her,” Jenkinson says. “It took me about 15 minutes to get her in my arms. She was very fast, like she’d been running from people on the street for a couple weeks.”
Jenkinson brought the dog to his home—the basement of an old house in West Lawn. She had fleas and ticks and was so dirty that Jenkinson was shocked to discover after giving her a bath that her fur was actually white.
“I got her clean, dried her off, and I was like, ‘Wow, you’re a beautiful dog!’. I knew right away she needed extra love and extra attention,” Jenkinson says. She didn’t have tags, a collar, or a microchip, so he decided to keep her. He named her Annie.
Jenkinson gathered enough money to bring Annie to a vet, who estimated that she was about 10 years old. Based on the look of her stomach and teats, the vet said she’d most likely had two, maybe three, litters of puppies. He checked her for ear mites, clipped her nails, gave her a few vaccinations, and Jenkinson took her home.
The basement where Jenkinson lives is often very cold, and it was a rough winter for the both of them. He was able to get her a dog bed, which he kept on his own bed so that they could feel each other’s presence during the chilly nights. Often, Jenkinson says, Annie would reach out a paw just to touch him and make sure he was there.
Annie showed signs of abuse and neglect, but with Jenkinson she learned what it meant to be loved. They went for long walks, after which Jenkinson would carry Annie down to the basement so she wouldn’t be afraid of slipping on the steep steps. She ate well and consistently, maybe for the first time in her life.
For Jenkinson, Annie was like a gift from above, bringing him friendship, love, and companionship at a time when he really needed it. “I would talk to her like she was a person, and I didn’t care if people thought I was crazy or was losing my mind,” he says. “I knew she couldn’t understand a lot of what I said, but I talked to her like she did anyway. She had a heart of gold.”
Throughout the winter they found solace and security with each other. And then in April, Jenkinson found a lump on Annie’s stomach.
Jenkinson called a shelter with a low-cost clinic to see what they could do. “I told them I don’t drive. I said I have an animal carrier; she hates it, but I’ll do what I have to do to get her in it, and I’ll take a bus wherever I have to go. Right now all I care about is my dog not being sick.”
The shelter sent someone for Annie, but Jenkinson quickly realized there had been some miscommunication and the man who arrived was there to euthanize her. “I was just trying to get her to a doctor,” Jenkinson says. “I said, ‘Sir, there must be a misunderstanding here. I haven’t given up on her yet.’”
Jenkinson was facing a problem that affects many pet parents with financial difficulties. Veterinary care—especially non-routine care— is incredibly expensive. Diagnostics and treatments often end up costing in the thousands of dollars, leaving struggling pet parents with few options beyond relinquishment or euthanasia.
For a senior dog like Annie with a history of neglect and a troubling growth on her stomach, the outlook didn’t look good, but Jenkinson knew he had to try. He asked whether there were any other options, and the man told him about a group of women with a bus outside of Chicago’s Animal Care and Control (CACC) who might be able to help him out. Jenkinson got Annie into her carrier and headed to the 2700 block of South Western Avenue, where the Chicagoland Rescue Intervention & Support Program (CRISP) was waiting to help him.
CRISP started in May 2016 as a response to the canine influenza epidemic that first hit CACC in the winter of 2015. “The amount of dogs being rescued decreased a lot, and we needed a solution,” says Heather Owen, founder of One Tail at a Time and a founding member of CRISP. “We decided the best thing we could do was keep pets out of the shelter to begin with. So we set up shop right outside the door.”
CRISP is a collaboration between eight local rescue organizations: ALIVE Rescue, Chicago Canine Rescue, Fetching Tails Foundation, Live Like Roo Foundation, Lulu’s Locker Rescue, MCP Rescue, One Tail at a Time, and Players for Pits. Together, and with added support from many other local rescues and shelters, CRISP provides resources that divert animals away from the flu-exposed and stressful cages of CACC, either by keeping them with their families or directly rerouting them to safe shelters or foster homes.
“Our goal was always to keep pets with their families,” Owen says, “but what we didn’t realize was that most of the people surrendering were doing so because they had no other options.” Time after time, people were coming to CRISP in crisis. Beloved pets were being relinquished due to major injuries and illnesses that their caregivers couldn’t afford to provide care for. The need for an organized, intermediary support system was highly evident, and CRISP took on the challenge.
After multiple bus rides, Jenkinson arrived outside of CACC with Annie in her carrier and was greeted by Sarah Lauch, founder of the Live Like Roo Foundation and member of CRISP.
“I start telling my story, and immediately they say, ‘Let’s make sure she gets something to drink,’ and they asked if she’d eaten that day and hooked me up with a little goodie bag. They gave me a leash and a harness to put on her,” Jenkinson says. And then they got down to business.
“They said they were going to send me [to the vet], and that I was going to have to pay a $25 copay but then whatever else happens they’ll cover. I told them I’m on a fixed income, I pay a lot of money in bills, and Sarah said to me, ‘Don’t worry, we got you.’ She was immediately like a friend to me.”
Jenkinson was able to bring Annie to the vet within an hour, where a biopsy confirmed the worst: the lump on Annie’s stomach was cancer. Lauch set up a YouCaring page, and quickly raised over $3,500 for Annie’s care.
“These women made me feel like a completely different person the way they talked to me, the way they knew what to say. I wasn’t shaking inside anymore,” he says. “They dedicate their lives to helping out people like me who can’t afford a $10,000 surgery or even a $5,000 surgery or a $2,000 surgery. They are there to help save lives, and they were like an answer to my prayers.”
Part of the reason CRISP is able to do what they do is because of their collaborative focus. Working together, the organizations are able to accomplish significantly more than they can alone.
“We communicate with each other every single day, all day,” Lauch says. “Though we are only physically there to intake Friday to Sunday, the work is happening all the time.” Our city’s people and animals in need rely on these efforts, she says. “This is a Chicago problem, not a rescue or animal control problem. We all need to take ownership of it.”
CRISP relies on crowdfunding platforms like YouCaring as well as private donations to provide animals with the care they need, no matter how expensive. It allows them to say “yes” whenever they can. Nine out of ten dogs who come to them are able to either stay with their families or find immediate rescue, Owen says.
Jenkinson was overwhelmed by the support that rushed in, both locally and from around the country. But before Annie could receive her surgery, the vet discovered that her cancer had spread. With her age and the extent of the cancer, Annie would need to be put down.
The news was understandably shocking, but it was a different experience for Jenkinson than when the man had come to euthanize Annie in his basement. He knew he had done everything he could for her, and that, thanks to CRISP, if there was a way to save her he would have been able to provide it. Annie was in severe pain, even biting Jenkinson when he tried to wipe blood from her nose, a side effect of the tumor. He could feel her pain as if it was his own, he says, and he knew it was time to let her go. On the first Monday of June, he held her close as the vet delivered her to peace.
Despite losing Annie, Jenkinson is continually grateful for CRISP coming into his life. Throughout his experience, he says, CRISP made him feel at ease. They purchased Uber rides for him to and from the vet so that he and Annie wouldn’t have to take multiple buses, and they provided Annie with food, warm blankets, and even McDonald’s gift cards so Jenkinson could spoil her with cheeseburgers and fries in her final days. And Jenkinson is committed to giving back to the organization that gave him so much.
“Anything these ladies ask of me I am doing,” he says. “I don’t care if they tell me to do ten backflips, even if I can’t do them I’m going to try. That’s how they treated me, and I have to treat them the same way.” Currently he is focused on finding a new, “more positive” home so that he can start fostering for them.
Back outside of CACC, the volunteers at CRISP maintain fully committed to giving every person and animal that comes to their door the same support and friendship they gave to Jenkinson and Annie. Says Lauch, “We, as a society, need to realize we are not all as fortunate and that helping your neighbor goes a long, long way.”
There are two significant ways that you can help CRISP continue to do the great work that they do.
No amount is too small. All funds received go toward crisis intervention, as well as helping rescues provide relinquished animals with whatever the animals need. For information on making a donation, visit CrispChicago.com/donate.
Many of the animals CRISP diverts out of CACC need a place to go. Volunteer as a foster with one of CRISP’s primary rescue groups and offer your home as a warm and loving place for an animal in need.
For more information on CRISP, visit CrispChicago.com.
Tagged Alive Rescue, chicago canine rescue, Chicagoland Rescue Intervention & Support Program (CRISP), Fetching Tails Foundation, Laura Mueller, Live Like Roo Foundation, Lulu’s Locker Rescue, MCP Rescue Outreach, One Tail at a Time, Players for Pits