Pets from tornado-ravaged town find fresh start in Chicago
BY JON SEIDEL Staff Reporter email@example.com May 27, 2013 3:36PM
Maggie Zalewski, with one of the twenty-five cats from Oklahoma City, displaced from shelters because of the massive tornado, arrived at PAWS Chicago Adoption center, Monday, May 27, 2013. | John H. White~Sun-Times
Updated: June 29, 2013 6:27AM
Lori Gentile began to cry when she saw the parade of dogs and cats — including the newest member of the Gentile family — scampering down the sidewalk into PAWS Chicago’s Lincoln Park adoption center Monday.
That’s where little Lettie, a 1-year-old dachshund mix, and 75 other animals neared the end of a long journey. Lettie’s will end in Michigan — at the home of Jim and Lori Gentile — but it began in Oklahoma after last week’s devastating tornado.
Sixteen PAWS Chicago volunteers drove to Oklahoma over the weekend to pick up 51 dogs and 25 cats from a shelter to make room for other pets displaced by the storm. They rescued animals at risk of being euthanized, said Rochelle Michalek, executive director of PAWS Chicago.
The pets arrived in Chicago early Sunday morning, and several that didn’t need medical attention were available for adoption Monday.
“We know Chicago is such a wonderful, wonderful animal community, and we have such a great support base with our volunteers and our donors, we decided to reach out and see if we could help,” Michalek said.
The PAWS volunteers said they didn’t know quite what to expect during the long drive west. After they arrived at the Oklahoma shelter, Michalek said, a woman who lost everything in the tornado showed up to drop off six of her pets.
One of her dogs, a 3-year-old spaniel/golden retriever mix named Bethany, made the trip to Chicago and caught the attention of Tom and Ellie Bolin of Rogers Park. The couple’s last golden retriever, Chloe, died in December.
“We have a big home and a yard,” Ellie Bolin said, “and our other dog we took to the beach all the time. So hopefully [Bethany] will be liking it and going as well.”
The animals made the trip to Chicago in vans driven by the PAWS volunteers. Their trip to Oklahoma may have been long and uncertain, but the volunteers smiled when asked about the trip home with the animals. Courtney Schultz laughed about her 13-hour ride home with 25 cats in the back of her “Catmobile.”
“We were all just so excited and on such an adrenaline rush,” Schultz said.
The vans officially arrived shortly before 11 a.m. at PAWS Chicago. Jim and Lori Gentile, who were in town visiting their son and his fiancee, were fifth in line outside to adopt.
They watched Lettie and the other animals as they were led into the adoption center. An hour and a half later, Lettie was in Lori’s arms.
Lori told Jim she felt like she won the lottery. Jim disagreed.
“This is better,” he said.