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Animal adoptions on rise as donations dwindle at Lake County animal shelters

Feline lead Tim Medeiros of Spring Grove holds a kitten, already adopted, in the Kitten Room at the Save-A-Pet adoption center in Grayslake.
Feline lead Tim Medeiros of Spring Grove holds a kitten, already adopted, in the Kitten Room at the Save-A-Pet adoption center in Grayslake.

GRAYSLAKE – As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Debbie Vecchio thought of Gurgi, the 12-year-old Schnauzer mix she regularly walked as a volunteer with Save-A-Pet. 

Like other shelters throughout the country, the Grayslake-based animal rescue had to limit volunteer activity and close its shelter facility to the public.

But Gurgi and other animals like him still would need care.

“I took the little old guy home,” said Vecchio, a retiree from Lake Zurich who’d never fostered an animal before. After staying with Vecchio for about six weeks, Gurgi found a permanent home. 

“It was a little hard to give him up, but he went to a nice family where he’s enjoying himself,” she said. “I got an email from them the other day saying he’s acting like a puppy.”

Vecchio wasn’t the only person willing to foster animals during this era of self-quarantining. More than 70 of Save-A-Pet’s cats and dogs went to foster homes during the pandemic, and many of them have been adopted by their fosters, said Deb Rabine, development coordinator for Save-A-Pet (

Along with Gurgi, Kemp – a rat terrier who’d been at the shelter for 12 years – found a home.

“Since the stay-at-home order was issued, we saw a dramatic increase in people willing to foster, as many had the time available to do so,” Rabine said.

That’s the good news. But some organizations have been forced to limit staff and volunteers and cap the number of animals they can take in during this time.

Previously working with more than 300 volunteers, Save-A-Pet staggered the shifts of staff members to ensure the facility remained clean and the animals cared for and socialized during the pandemic, Rabine said.

And despite the growing number of families willing to foster and even adopt, donations from individuals and through fundraising events have dwindled. 

Uncertain future

A foster-based organization in Lake County with about 30 volunteers, Animal Education & Rescue at had to cancel two of its biggest fundraisers this summer because of the pandemic.

“That’s thousands of dollars of projected income we’re not going to have now,” said Sandy Kamen Wisniewski, founder and director of the animal humane society. “It’s definitely been a concern, and we’ve had to find other creative ways to raise money, to really think outside the box, and it’s been challenging.”

Save-A-Pet turned its June 27 Tails ‘N Treats Run and Fun Walk into a virtual race, Rabine said, but she’s not sure how many will participate. Participants typically don’t sign up until right before the event, she said. 

“With all the uncertainty that is prevalent now, we do not know how or if we can make up some of the lost revenue in the latter half of the year,” Rabine said.  

Financial issues aren’t the only concern. How these adoptions eventually play out remains to be seen. 

Many are emotional during this time, Kamen Wisniewski said, and lifestyles have changed as families stay home. People are home from work, and parents are trying to find things to keep children occupied. A new pet makes sense, she said.

“Everyone is saying this is a good time to adopt, but will it continue to be a good time when they all go back to work? That’s the big question,” she said. 

Like most organizations, Animal Education & Rescue has a thorough screening process for families willing to adopt. Still, she worries families might end up wanting to return animals once “normal life” returns. She also worries her organization might end up taking in animals returned after being bought or adopted by other organizations without a thorough screening process.

‘So much goodness and compassion’

For now, however, those involved with rescuing and caring for animals remain heartened by the number of pets being taken in by families.The animals are providing comfort and companionship and easing anxiety during this pandemic, they say.

Animal Education & Rescue has seen a record number of adoptions of dogs, cats and even rabbits, Wisniewski said. 

The organization took in nine rabbits about a month ago and found homes for all of them within a week. Typically, Wisniewski said, that would take a year. And all of the group’s fostered dogs have been adopted, she said.

“We haven’t had a dog in our organization for about a month and a half,” she said. “That’s unheard of. I started this in 2003. We have never not had dogs.”

Similarly, when the call went out for help at Save-A-Pet, fosters and adopters came forward in record numbers, as noted in one of Save-A-Pet’s Facebook posts. “So much goodness and compassion have come from a tumultuous time in our lives,” the post said.

The organization offers a permanent foster program for older animals with health issues. Save-A-Pet covers the cost of the animal’s health care, while the animal lives with a family. That’s how Vecchio was able to take home Gurgi, who suffered from cancer and dental disease.

“They’re marvelous,” Vecchio said of Save-A-Pet. “They’re so focused on the care and well-being of the animals … I can’t sing their praises enough.”

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