For several decades, Gloria Lissner has been reaching out to the animals that others have forgotten – Chicago’s abandoned pets. She’s been pulling dogs and cats out of crisis situations and euthanasia rooms in hopes of giving more of the city’s forgotten animals a second chance at a happy ending.
Since 1975, Lissner has been in the trenches trying to make a difference. Now through her Famous Fido Rescue and Adoption Alliance, Lissner is out to do more than just rescue and save lives. She would like to change the way we rescue in Chicago to help the community become a no-kill city.
Moving toward no-kill
“There has been so much emphasis on spaying and neutering animals and that is an important part of the puzzle,” says Lissner. “However, that will only make a small dent in the number of abandoned pets in our community. We’ve reached a crisis point with the sheer number of animals discarded by their families. Until we tackle that, it will continue to spiral out of control.”
Lissner knows too well the heartbreak of animals left behind. She’s spent a lot of time in the open admission shelters and has seen the depressed animals left in the loud, crowded environment after being in a home. She’s saved pets from a death sentence by removing them from euthanasia rooms moments before their time was to run out.
“We really are at a critical point where these animals are concerned. Unfortunately, if rescuers don’t believe that it’s going to get better and don’t work toward creative ways to change the system, it’s not going to stop,” says Lissner. “The adoption movement is strong in Chicago, but we need to educate and be creative and look beyond when people initially take in an animal and focus on the big picture. We also need to work together, all the rescues, to make this a reality.”
Lissner’s group is working to be more visible in the community by sponsoring events in their Andersonville neighborhood. Famous Fido has it’s own swift response network that focuses on helping dogs in crisis by rescuing dogs that are being abused.
“Abandoning your pet at a shelter is not the right thing to do,” says Lissner. “We want to work with people to educate them that they do need to care where their pet goes if they no longer want that dog or cat. If a friend or relative can’t take the pet, we offer to network the dog or cat for them if they will take care of him or her until we find a home. Most of them just don’t want to do that. We will also try to get them help with veterinary needs if that is the issue.”
Lissner’s ultimate goal is to have a building that would be a combination learning and cultural center for animal rescue – on the model of the Old Town School of Folk Music. Along with education programs, dogs would also be transferred from open admission or high kill shelters to this facility.
“This would be a place where we would work with animals to be adopted, not dumped,” adds Lissner. “Pet families could come and learn more about caring for their pet, training and other options that are available. There would be veterinary options, grooming and a little treasure shop for the family pet. This would be a great place to help the animals and bring a new way of thinking to animal rescue.”
Transitioning from homeless to homes
Famous Fido currently works with Fran Berry of Go Fido, Good Fido to assess the behavior of all the dogs they rescue. She works with adopters and fosters for a smooth transition for the dogs. The group also is in the trenches on the city’s Southside, rescuing pit bulls from abusive situations.
“Many of the animals we rescue have been through a lot. Our goal is to place each dog or cat in the right home for them so that the animal doesn’t have to be abandoned or mistreated again,” says Lissner. “Because of that we are very stringent when it comes to connecting the right people with the right pet. Around 75 percent of the people who want a dog from us, won’t get one. These pets are at the mercy of their adopters and people need to stop looking at dogs as property or objects.”
So far this year, Famous Fido has rescued over 150 pets from kill shelters, giving pets that were almost out of time a second chance at a happy ending. Many of the animals rescued by Famous Fido have been abused, may be elderly or sick or have other injuries or issues. Lissner says they do save cats, but the majority of the animals they rescue are dogs because the organization is set up best for dog rescue.
The high cost of rescue
Rescuing at risk animals comes at a high cost. Lissner says that at any given time, the group has around $25,000 in outstanding veterinary bills. Famous Fido holds online auctions every few weeks to help generate funds to pay down the vet bills so they may continue to save more animals.
“Communities have succeeded in becoming no-kill – like Austin and Reno,” says Lissner. “It can be done but we must all work together and have the attitude that we can make a difference or it’s never going to stop. We believe in giving all pets a chance.”
Tomorrow, I’ll focus on some of Famous Fido’s rescues that have been waiting awhile to find a home in my adoption feature. Learn more about the organization online and follow their rescues on Facebook. Also, check out their upcoming community event Andersonville Animal Rescue. We’ll have more details on that event next week.
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Chicago's Famous Fido Rescue and Adoption Alliance is working to solve the city's pet abandonment crisis one pet at a time.