CHICAGO – In the middle of a crowded, Christmas shopping-infested mall in downtown Chicago, volunteers for the organization New Leash on Life display two of their shelter dogs, Omni and Monty. As busy shoppers walk by, many stop for a few quick seconds to pet the animals and talk sweetly to them. Some shoppers even stay to hear what the dogs are all about, but most concede and walk away. It is here, at one of New Leash on Life’s many adoption events throughout the year, that Omni and Monty are hoping to be adopted.
Due to the struggling economy and many home foreclosures, numerous dogs throughout the city have been left behind, becoming homeless or sent to Chicago Animal Care and Control.
According to volunteer communications director for New Leash on Life, Mackenzie Smith, due to the economy, it’s been difficult trying to get the dogs into homes.
“It’s tougher having people want to adopt,” said Smith. “I think it’s an obstacle a lot of shelters are facing right now. Just trying to find people out there [willing to adopt].”
According to the Commissioner of Chicago Animal Care and Control Cherie Travis, approximately 8,500 dogs will be impounded in Chicago this year- around 3,000 of these dogs will be euthanized.
However, according to Travis, the number of dogs euthanized per year has decreased throughout the past years due to many successful no-kill shelters such as New Leash on Life and other services available in the city.
“We pick up and receive stray and homeless animals everyday,” Travis said. “Fortunately, our impound numbers are going down each year due to the availability of low-cost spay/neuter services at clinics.”
Created in Los Angeles in 1995, New Leash on Life was started by Bobby and Kelly Dorafshar due to the deteriorating shelters throughout the city. They wanted to create a new kind of shelter, where all of the proceeds went to the only dogs and their needs.
However, it was in 2005 that several people from Chicago Canine Rescue decided to branch off and start their own smaller, no-kill dog shelter. To start, they had to find a pre-existing dog shelter to open their own branch in Chicago. After hearing about what the Dorafshars were doing in Los Angeles with New Leash on Life, the group decided to open a Chicago branch. They contacted the Dorafshars, and the rest is history.
The Chicago branch of New Leash on Life decided to keep all of the same values held by the Los Angeles branch. The grassroots aspect of the Los Angeles New Leash on Life was what first attracted the members of the Chicago Canine Rescue. And being a 100 percent volunteer organization was one aspect of New Leash on Life that made it different from other shelters.
According to Smith, New Leash on Life is different from other no-kill shelters throughout Chicago because it’s not technically a shelter at all.
New Leash on Life does not own its own shelter to house their dogs. Most of the dogs they acquire stay with a family in foster care or they stay at a boarding facility paid for by New Leash on Life. This system is to help acclimate dogs to humans and get them ready for in-house living.
“[New Leash on Life] tries to get all of the dogs in foster homes,” Smith said. “It’s a great fostering program.”
New Leash on Life also tries to take in the dogs from Chicago Animal Care and Control that would most likely not be taken by other shelters in the city. Many of New Leash on Life’s dogs are pit bulls, elderly dogs, dogs that have had puppies and dogs with medical conditions.
Since the creation of the Chicago branch of New Leash on Life, it has been their mission to get as many dogs as possible from Chicago Animal Care and Control to help decrease the euthanization of adoptable dogs in the city, which has become a topic of controversy in the past few months.
Although there are many healthy dogs being euthanized, Smith said she believes Chicago Animal Care and Control is doing its part by letting many no-kill shelters take the dogs from the pound. However, Smith also said it may be difficult to fully stop euthanizing these adoptable dogs.
“It may take a while,” said Smith, “unless someone came in and started implementing that program. I’d like to see it happen within the next 10 years.”
Despite everything, New Leash on Life tries it’s best to help these homeless and sometimes abused and unhealthy dogs try to find homes as soon as possible. One way New Leash on Life does this, is by the foster-to-adopt program.
The foster-to-adopt program lets a family foster a dog for two to three weeks before deciding to officially adopt. This program also pays for all of the dog’s expenses; the dog’s food, any medical expenses and New Leash on Life will even pay for a dog walker. It has proven to be a sufficient program throughout the years according to Smith.
“Our main goal is to get all of [the dogs] in foster homes so they can be in the home environment,” said Smith. “It’s also a good way to get to know the dog.”
New Leash on Life has been 100 percent volunteer-based since its start in 2005. Its numerous volunteers hold all of New Leash on Life’s events. Every Saturday throughout the year an adoption event is held at one of New Leash on Life’s many dog-friendly businesses, such as Three Dog Bakery in Wrigleyville and PETCO in Lakeview. New Leash on Life also holds a raffle at the end of every year hoping to do another intake of proceeds for the dogs.
Volunteer Dan Schwartz, who has been involved with New Leash on Life from the start, is a frequent volunteer at many of New Leash on Life’s adoption events. Schwartz credits his volunteering to his love for dogs and the small grass roots that New Leash on Life has.
“I really feel like I’m contributing when I volunteer here,” said Schwartz. “Everything is for the dogs.”