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Alternative Spring Breaks: Chicago

Working with animals at PAWS Adoption Center

Boston University Alternative Spring Break ASB, PAWS Chicago

Alternative Spring Break volunteer, Natalie Sanfratello, poses with her furry friend Tweet from the PAWS Chicago no-kill animal shelter. Photos by Nikki Yetke (CGS'13)

Nearly 400 students volunteered in this year’s BU Community Service Center Alternative Spring Breaks program. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, ASB paired students with 37 organizations around the country involved in environmental, affordable housing and homelessness, children’s services, and animal welfare efforts. All week long, we are bringing you first-person accounts of some of those trips.

On Saturday, March 10, at 10 a.m., our ASB group of 8 students, 2 coordinators, and a chaperone piled into an 11-passenger van and set off on a 17-hour drive to Chicago, where we would spend a week volunteering at PAWS Chicago, the Midwest’s largest no-kill animal shelter. Fueled by plenty of soda, coffee, and Red Bull, we drove straight through the night, stopping only for food, gas, and a quick photo op at Niagara Falls. Along the way, we affectionately christened our van “Mildred.”

On Sunday morning, we arrived at Epiphany United Church of Christ, our home base for the week. We were greeted by our friendly host and site contact, Pastor Kevin, who gave us a quick tour of the church and our living accommodations before recommending we head over to the Lincoln Restaurant, known both for its Lincoln memorabilia and its breakfast fare. After eating, we were eager to explore the city and check out some of the major attractions.

Our first stop was Millennium Park, where we saw Anish Kapoor’s massive 110-ton mirrored sculpture Cloud Gate, known to locals as “The Bean.” Next, we headed to the Willis Tower’s Skydeck, where we took advantage of the 360 degree view to take some photos, then drove along the beach down by the scenic Navy Pier. After almost two days of travel and very little sleep, our group was ready to rest and gear up for the week of service that lay ahead of us, so we headed back to Epiphany United Church.

For the next five days, we split our time at PAWS Chicago’s Pippen Fasseas Adoption Center on the north side of Chicago and its Laurie Spay/Neuter Clinic on the south side. Our week began with a tour of the center, followed by some orientation classes to get us ready for the work we would be doing. After a full day of training and education from the professional staff at PAWS, we were certified as Level One Volunteers, and on Tuesday, we split up between the adoption center’s two locations, arriving at 9 a.m. to begin our work with the animals.

As Level One Volunteers, we were mainly responsible for cleaning rooms, filling food and water bowls, and taking the dogs out for walks before PAWS opened for adoptions at noon. Once the front doors opened and potential adopters began arriving to see the animals, we were on hand to answer visitors’ questions and help find homes for the dogs and cats we were taking care of.

Boston University Alternative Spring Break ASB, PAWS Chicago

Visiting "The Bean" in Millenium Park.

Over the course of the week, dozens of new animals were brought into the shelter. Their ages ranged from a couple of months to more than three years. I grew close to one animal in particular, a two-year-old Australian Cattle mix named Camet. Unlike many of the animals at PAWS, Camet was calm and relaxed when meeting new people. At our very first encounter, he greeted me with an outstretched paw as I sat down to pet him. When I got up to leave, he stood in front of the doorway to keep me from going. After spending a week with this warm and loving dog, it was tough to have to say good-bye.

Throughout the week, one of the themes that seemed to resonate in all of our group discussions was the successful impact PAWS was making in its fight against animal cruelty. During our ASB education night, we learned about PAWS’ impressive adoption rates (4,500 projected for 2012) and euthanasia prevention statistics (the number of homeless dogs and cats killed each year in the city has dropped more than 50 percent since the organization’s founding in 1997. But even more impressive than the numbers and statistics was the care and compassion the PAWS staff showed its animals.

One of the highlights of our week came when a Boxer mix named Jumper was adopted. He had become a favorite of many PAWS volunteers, and it was awesome to see him matched up with a prospective family just minutes before we left the center on our last day.

As Mildred pulled back into the Fuller lot on Comm Ave on Sunday, I realized our group had returned with more than we left with (no, we did not bring any dogs or cats back). Along with all the extra trail mix, pretzels, and Starbursts, our group of 11 had camera phones full of photos and unforgettable memories of being able to make an impact in an area of real importance. A big thanks to PAWS Chicago and BU ASB for making the trip an awesome experience that we won’t soon forget.

Benjamin Chodosh can be reached at bchodosh@bu.edu.


One Comment on Alternative Spring Breaks: Chicago

  • ababbitt on 03.21.2012 at 10:57 pm

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane! I did the PAWS trip a few years ago, and it’s great to hear this program is still going strong. I remember all to well wanting to fill that 11 passenger van with some furry souvenirs to take back home…

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