From Pound to Found

by Gabrielle Balzell

Three local nonprofits dedicated to animal welfare and finding homeless pets their forever families…

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, between five million and seven million companion animals enter shelters in the United States every year. Of these, roughly three to four million are euthanized—nearly 60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats.

In central Illinois, approximately 3,500 dogs and 4,700 cats are turned over to Peoria County Animal Protection Services (PCAPS) each year, and close to 5,000 of these animals meet an early demise. Determined to stop the cycle of abandonment and irresponsibility, a number of nonprofit organizations have dedicated their missions to advocating for homeless animals and helping to connect them with their “forever families.”

Tazewell Animal Protective Society
Founded in 1958, TAPS is a no-kill animal shelter that provides “temporary sanctuary and an opportunity for life by bringing companion animals and loving people together.” In addition to taking in owner surrenders and local strays, TAPS works with animal controls throughout the Midwest to transfer adoptable pets from kill-shelters to its Pekin facility, where at any time, close to 50 dogs and 80 cats find asylum.

Besides providing pets a safe place to stay, TAPS Executive Director Holly Crotty says speaking up on animals’ behalf is crucial to the shelter’s mission. “One of the things I struggle with… is when we bring in animals… and they’re just sitting there with the pleading eyes,” she describes. “Most of them have been through a lot. [They] have either been surrendered from the only home they’ve ever known, or they have been picked up as a stray. They’ve been held in a facility that may not [offer] the best conditions, and somebody they don’t know has… put them in a van and driven them for a couple of hours… And they have no say in any of that. So I think it’s important for those of us who are concerned about animal welfare to be their voice and look out for them.”

Crotty, her staff and a dedicated group of volunteers devote much of their efforts to promoting responsible pet ownership. Having received a grant from the Community Foundation of Central Illinois earlier this year, Crotty is eager to expand awareness of TAPS and its low-cost spay/neuter program, which aids in reducing pet overpopulation by altering close to 360 dogs and cats each year. The TAPS team also gets the word out to the community through four annual fundraisers—Wine & Dine, Tee It Up Fore TAPS, Rockin for TAPS and the Tailwaggers Classic (taking place November 2nd at the Avanti’s Dome in Pekin)—which generate nearly 80 percent of the organization’s funding.

While always in need of cash and in-kind donations, one thing there’s never enough of, Crotty stresses, is space. “When you go into a shelter… and adopt, you’re saving a life,” she explains. “You’re not only saving the life of the animal you’ve adopted, you’re also saving the life of the next animal that gets to take that cage.”

In recent years, TAPS has seen its adoption rates increase dramatically, jumping 56 percent (from 620 to 962 animals) from 2011 to 2012. Crotty hopes 2013 will be another record year, as perceptions about shelter animals continue to change. “I think the biggest misconception people have about shelter pets is that there’s something wrong with them—that good, healthy, adoptable animals don’t end up in shelters—which could not be further from the truth,” she says. “These are fantastic animals who have, for whatever reason, ended up here—whether it’s irresponsible owners, owners that have faced hard times… or they’ve gotten away from their families.”

“When you’re considering a new pet for your family, consider adopting,” Crotty suggests. “Because you truly are saving a life. I really believe that these animals are grateful for their second chance and will pay you back for years with their love and devotion.”

Learn more about TAPS and how to become a volunteer at tapsshelter.org.

Foster Pet Outreach
While some pets get along fine in a shelter setting, others require a more stable environment and the kind of personalized, loving care that can only be found in a home. Originally founded in 1990 under the name A Cause for Paws, today, Foster Pet Outreach (FPO) collaborates with area shelters and animal lovers to match these special pets with qualified foster families until they can find permanent homes.

“We have a wonderful group of supporters in the area,” says Laurie Bushell, FPO president. “Throughout all these years, we’ve been able to really get people that trust and believe in what we do.”

With a membership more than 100 strong, FPO provides foster homes for nearly two dozen animals at any time, while helping to adopt out close to 50 cats and 100 dogs every year. Though many of its foster pets come from local animal controls, the organization also helps find temporary residences for owner surrenders, as well as animals rescued from national disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. When not conducting foster home evaluations and holding adoption events, Bushell and her team stay busy organizing fundraisers, from flea markets and garage sales to dog washes and luncheons, and collaborate with the Peoria Humane Society to educate the public on responsible pet ownership.

Besides donations and volunteers to help with transportation and administrative tasks, what the group truly needs, Bushell says, is more foster pet parents. “We can only… adopt out as many [pets] as we have foster homes to handle,” she explains. After being deemed a suitable household, foster parents need only to provide love and care and the willingness to do what the pet needs to find the perfect home. “When you find the perfect home for that dog or cat, that’s the best feeling in the world.”

For more information on becoming a foster pet parent, visit fosterpetoutreach.org. Meet the adoptable pets of Foster Pet Outreach from noon to 3pm on Saturday, September 7th and Saturday, October 5th at the Peoria Petco!

Peoria Humane Society
Complementing the work of PCAPS and similar groups for more than seven decades, the Peoria Humane Society (PHS) dedicates its efforts “to creating a humane environment for animals and humans,” with a focus “on ending pet overpopulation, cruelty and neglect to animals, and promoting respect and kindness to all through education and public awareness.”

In addition to providing general education and facilitating emergency medical care for the animals at PCAPS, PHS operates several community programs that aim to bring humans and animals closer together—to the benefit of both. Among these are Special Pals Pet Therapy, a human/animal enrichment program connecting registered therapy dogs with youth, the disabled and the elderly through regular visits to hospitals, nursing homes, schools and other facilities.

“There’s such a benefit to having animals paired up with people—that human-animal bond is so strong,” explains PHS Education Coordinator Kitty Yanko. “So many people in these facilities we visit, they’ve had pets their whole life—animals have been a big part of who they are—and now… they’re struggling emotionally and physically. So the animals come in to give them a little hope, give them a little cheer.”

Another PHS program, Paws to Read brings loveable pooches into local libraries and classrooms to pair students up with a canine reading partner. “It’s so much fun!” Yanko exclaims. “It’s an extension of the pet therapy program, because the kids are still benefiting from the interaction with the animals, but it’s also a literacy program because we’re helping the kids get the skills they need for success in reading. It provides them with a nonjudgmental listening partner.”

Additionally, PHS works to eliminate abuse, both to animals and humans, through its violence prevention program, which teaches citizens to recognize key warning signs. “We have found over years of looking at human violence that it relates really closely to animal abuse,” Yanko explains. “The idea is that we’re preventing violence on a lot of levels when we give that information out… The end result, hopefully, is if someone suspects abuse toward an animal, they’ll call it in, because that could prevent abuse toward a person down the road.”

None of these services—as well as PHS’ low-cost spay/neuter program, animal resource libraries, summer programs and more—would be possible without community support. Numerous volunteers and individual and corporate donors help keep the organization afloat, along with money raised from events like the Spayghetti Dinner, HUMANe RACE and Bark in the Park—PHS’ largest fundraiser, generating close to $50,000 annually—which takes place on October 13th this year.

Ultimately, Yanko believes fulfilling PHS’ mission comes down to four core values: respect, kindness, peace and responsibility. “We want people to understand that humans and animals do have to share space. We have to coexist, and it’s our job as humans to oversee care of the animals and provide for them,” she says. “So much of what Peoria Humane Society stands for is affecting animals through people… I feel that if we can give the information to people and help them make a good choice, not only are they going to be better off, so will the animals.” iBi

Learn more about PHS’ services and how to become a volunteer at peoriahs.org.

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