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Paula Fasseas loves her PAWS

PaulFasseas with Judith Blazer who donated $1 milli2011 PAWS Chicago event.

Paula Fasseas with Judith Blazer, who donated $1 million at the 2011 PAWS Chicago event.

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Updated: December 7, 2012 6:13AM

Like many people, I always look forward to the holidays as a time to really enjoy family and friends. For me, the holiday season will officially start this Friday, when more than 700 supporters of the non-profit I founded 15 years ago — PAWS Chicago — will gather at the Drake for our annual Fur Ball.

And by fur, we don’t mean the kind some women wear over a gown; we mean that our guests, who will be in glamorous black tie, are encouraged to bring their pets (and many take the dress code to heart, attiring their dogs in fabulous outfits befitting a gala like mini-tuxedos). The pups and their owners parade the red carpet, enjoy delicious food — including a special doggy buffet with items like pureed carrots in crystal goblets — visit a pet “spa” with fresh grass, massages and paw-d-cures, and dance the night away. The best part: It’s all to transform the lives of homeless dogs and cats that would otherwise end up a tragic statistic.

I first learned about pet homelessness and the massive killing of pets in the mid-’90s when my teenage daughter began pleading for us to take in more animals from the traditional “open door” shelter where she was volunteering. I couldn’t believe that there were so many animals coming into shelters, and was even more shocked that our societal solution was to kill them. As our house reached its four-legged capacity, my daughter begged for us to do more. She said, “Mom, if you love animals, you have to help them.”

I began touring Chicago shelters and our city pound and became aware of how many sweet and loving animals were never even seen before their time was up and their lives were brought to a premature end. We started PAWS Chicago with a “shopping” event on Michigan Avenue and Oak Street to bring attention to the wonderful animals in need of homes, and have spent the past 15 years bringing forth solutions to end the killing.

Free or low-cost spay/neuter services offered at our Lurie Clinic and GusMobile spay/neuter van are aimed at low-income families who could not otherwise afford to fix their pets. This prevents unwanted dogs and cats from being born, cast aside and ultimately killed in shelters.

We encounter heartbreaking stories every day: Animals like Zara, an adorable eight-week-old Yorkshire-Terrier mix puppy, who was recently dropped her off at the city pound, where her owners asked for her to be euthanized. Without PAWS Chicago, her life could have been extinguished before it really even began. Today, she is a playful and loving girl and her big brown eyes follow you around (and she’s still looking for a family).

Kit, a gray and white kitten, was found wandering the streets of Chicago alone. When we brought him in, he tried to scare us off with his little baby hisses. But as his trust grew, he would spend hours in volunteers’ arms purring.

We go to the city pound every day and take in as many animals as we have the resources to save. The hardest part is that we never stop thinking about those who are still left behind. When we first started PAWS Chicago, we saved fewer than 200 animals per year. In 2012, we will save 5,200 pets’ lives. Thanks to our supporters and dedicated volunteers, we will continue to grow so that we can take in every homeless pet in need.

We hope you will join us at this year’s Fur Ball and celebrate our love of animals. Together, we will reach our goal of a No Kill Chicago.

Paula Fasseas has donated her fee for writing this column to PAWS Chicago, which she founded. Tickets to the Fur Ball are $400 ($250 for people aged 35 and under) and pets are $100;

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