Northern Illinois Animal Shelters Rescue Pets Across State Lines

Aug 2, 2018

If you find a cat or dog wandering around your neighborhood, the first thing you should do is check to see if the animal has any identification. Provided you don’t find anything, you should probably take this possible stray to the local humane society.

Tails Executive Director Michelle Groeper takes a shelter dog out for a walk.
Credit Victoria Lunacek/WNIJ

Michelle Groeper is the Executive Director of Tails Humane Society in DeKalb. The facility takes in dogs, cats, and some other small animals from the community. Tails also puts other creatures in foster care so that they can be raised and prepared for adoption, as well as spay/neuter services.

"Basically if you’re small and furry and homeless, we will have a place for you here," she said.

But Groeper says their work isn’t limited to DeKalb County, or even Illinois.

"We partner with some really great shelters in southern Illinois, Memphis Animal Services. There’s one in Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Louisiana who we partner with," she said.

The partnership is important to Tails because there tend to be fewer requirements in the South to spay and neuter animals.

"There are a lot more dogs down there, and a lot of puppies that are at risk for euthanasia, quite honestly," Groeper said. "So we go down there or meet them halfway, and we’ll take in animals, and they go to foster homes for a good couple of weeks, minimum of two weeks, sometimes longer, and then they come here and they’re adopted when they’re ready.”

The Oklahoma partnership is with the Humane Society of Cherokee County, which is near Tahlequah.  Transport Coordinator Alexis Colvard said the relationship came from other partnerships in northern Illinois.

"It was a man named Lou Hayes that was doing transport and he made some connections with Tails, with people that had moved on to other shelters in the Chicago-DeKalb area," she said.

The Oklahoma shelter transports dogs to Tails in DeKalb and PAWS Humane Society in Chicago. It brings the animals north, often to a halfway point, such as Tennessee or St. Louis. Then the Illinois shelters take the dogs into their care. Colvard says Cherokee has partnered with Tails for at least five years, and many canines have already made the trip up north.

A Tails volunteer prepares a dog for a walk.
Credit Victoria Lunacek/WNIJ

“We transported 898 out last year in a total of 17 trips and we’ve already transported out 496 this year in 13 trips," she said.

One thing that makes this possible, according to Colvard, is Tails fostering out animals.

"Thanks to Tails and their foster people that sign up to take care of these dogs, we’re getting more dogs out of here than we could have imagined," she said. "They’re not just limited to moms and puppies. They also take strays, and 'abandoneds' and owner-surrenders that we can’t physically or financially take in down here."

Unfortunately, Michelle Groeper with Tails says felines don’t benefit from a similar system.

A cat is on display and up for adoption in the Tails lobby.
Credit Victoria Lunacek/WNIJ

"Cats are not recognized in most counties. Animal controls are not legally obligated to take in cats, but they must take in every dog, so it is much easier for those dogs to be picked up or taken into animal controls," she said.

Groeper says Tails limits itself to taking in cats in its immediate vicinity due to sheer volume. But other northern Illinois shelters are helping in different ways. 

Stephanie Lauer is Shelter Manager with Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Rockford. She says her shelter takes in cats from other locations, including Winnebago County itself, for fostering. 

"The foster coordinator there will call us and let us know, and usually we pull anywhere from 20-24 cats a month, probably an average over a year of ten a month," she said.

Many of these animals are kittens, and Lauer says finding foster homes is important, since cats need to be at least eight weeks old in Illinois before they can be put up for adoption.

"So if people are bringing kittens in when they’re taking them away from their mothers outside, and they’re only four weeks, someone has to care for those kittens for four weeks or more in order to get those kittens to an age where then can be adopted out," she said.

Once they’re of age, she says promotion is a simple affair.

Kittens awaiting adoption at Tails.
Credit Victoria Lunacek/WNIJ

"Oh yeah, everyone wants a kitten."