Community Animal Rescue Effort volunteers reinvent organization with support from loyal partners

Julia Jacobs, Assistant City Editor

Like the animals it works to help, the Community Animal Rescue Effort does not yet have a home. In the year after the City Council voted to terminate CARE’s relationship with Evanston Animal Shelter, CARE has rebuilt itself as an independent foster home based organization without four walls in which to operate.

But CARE did not leave the shelter last spring empty-handed. Along with a sum of money the volunteers had raised as part of the shelter, CARE brought with it corporate sponsors that continue to support the non-profit in its newest form.

Last month, more than 10 of CARE’s volunteers were presented a check for $10,327 from Evanston Subaru through the company’s holiday sales event.

Rob Paddor, the owner of the Skokie dealership, has been a partner of CARE’s for five years and agreed to stick with them when volunteers approached him last spring to tell him about the growing rift with the city, said Kari Kennedy, fundraising coordinator for CARE.

“After going to him and discussing what was going on, he really let us know that he was in our corner and that he was going to continue to do whatever he could to help us continue our mission,” Kennedy told The Daily.

During Subaru’s “Share the Love” event, which ran from Nov. 20 to Jan. 2, Subaru donated $250 to a selected charity for each new car sold. Evanston Subaru customers chose between four national charities and two local charities, including CARE, which received $7,291 from last year’s fundraiser.

In addition to the annual holiday sales event and a summer dog wash hosted at the dealership, Paddor has worked with CARE to help find its “forever home,” Kennedy said. As CARE volunteers search north Chicago and the North Shore suburbs for a space to turn into a shelter, Paddor has helped the organization navigate unfamiliar territory, including writing letters of recommendation to supplement CARE’s applications to municipalities, Kennedy said.

“We’re proud and happy to be a partner of CARE,” Paddor told The Daily.

Whole Foods Market and Mary Summerville of Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty, who has been donating to CARE for 20 years, have also stuck with the organization after it splintered from the city, Kennedy said.

Last April, City Council decided to end its relationship with CARE after months of heated debate over concerns such as its past canine euthanasia rate of 45 percent. After CARE was voted out, the controversy continued when the organization left with more than $500,000 it raised for the purpose of renovating the shelter.

But the day after the May 9 deadline to leave the shelter, CARE had its largest adoption event of the year called “Strut for Strays,” a dog-walk event in Evanston’s Ladd Arboretum. CARE also continued to receive calls from people looking to give up their animals or people who had found, for instance, a box of kittens under a porch, Kennedy said.

“Right off the bat we just had to keep going,” she said. “We couldn’t slow down and we couldn’t stop, and that was never our intention to close up shop because we believe in the good work that we do.”

CARE’s solution to their lack of a physical space in which to host potential adopters was to ramp up their community events, Kennedy said. Around 100 active volunteers from the organization showcase adoptable animals at local venues two to three times per week, interviewing potential adopters on the spot and scheduling future “meet-and-greets” with families and their current pets. CARE has established relationships with local pet stores, such as Thee Fish Bowl in south Evanston, that allow them to host these events on a regular basis, Kennedy added.

Although the organization works closely with some Evanston stores, CARE’s ties with the city itself have been cleanly cut. This year’s “Strut for Strays” will not be held in Evanston but in a Morton Grove forest preserve.

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the city has had no contact with CARE since last May when the organization rejected his request to discuss the money they left the shelter with — which he says is in excess of one million dollars.

“I have no idea what they do, I have no idea what money is being raised,” Bobkiewicz told The Daily. “It’s curious as to what they’re doing with the money raised and why people continue to donate to them when it’s unclear as to what that money’s going towards.”

Kennedy said that the money CARE raises funds animals’ medical needs after they are adopted, like vaccines and microchipping, as well as all the food and resources the animals might need in foster care. The $10,327 from Evanston Subaru will go to those needs as well as help refit the organization’s future space to operate as an animal shelter, she said.

“The last thing CARE needs is more money, since they walked off with over $1 million that belonged to the Evanston shelter,” Karen Straus, a former CARE volunteer and current volunteer at the Evanston Animal Shelter, said in an email to The Daily.

CARE volunteer Karey Uhler said that CARE was justified in keeping the money.

“The way that the money was raised, it was raised for our operating funds,” said Uhler, a CARE volunteer since 2008. “We’re volunteers part of a private non-profit organization. We raised that money.”

Following CARE’s negative publicity in the past year, the organization is working hard to gain exposure in the community through frequent adoption events and word-of-mouth from new pet owners it has paired with the “loves of their lives,” Uhler said.

“I just would love to see the animosity go away,” she said. “No matter what, we’re another organization in the North Shore helping animals find a home. And I think that should be the biggest concern.”

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