do you have a pet? Are you a generous person who enjoys helping others? Do you need service or volunteer hours for work, school or church? Looking for a relaxing place to go after class in the morning or afternoon? Do you want to be part of something meaningful that benefits both people and their pets in a place where cats are cats too?
I had the privilege of finding and working with one of Chicago’s smaller and lesser known gems. Touched By An Animal is an organization for the elderly, disabled, homeless and others who want to maintain their connection with their pets.
As I entered the little blue house on Berwyn Avenue, I was surprised and comforted at the same time. Upon opening the door and being greeted by the General Manager, Melanee Schoendorff, nearly a dozen cats rushed to the door to greet me. All these precious and adorable little animals wanted to be my friends. I was amazed at how this spacious old Victorian house is home to a no-kill animal rescue and social services organization.
“A lot of people come to Touched By An Animal without anyone else to help them,” said Marijon Binder, the founder and president I interviewed by phone. Binder originally had no intention of starting a nonprofit, and she saw a significant need in the local community. In the early 1980s, the Bowmanville neighborhood was mostly made up of older adults, their only family being their pets, such as dogs, cats, and birds.
Binder regularly invited these people to her home for coffee and a chat. They discussed their health issues, loneliness, isolation and suggested that some move into assisted living to take better care of themselves. These people said, “No! How can I? My pet is not allowed to accompany me. I can’t bear to leave my beloved pet behind.
Almost immediately, a light bulb went on in Binder’s mind. She thought she could help these people take care of their animals. She slowly started taking in more cats, kittens, a dog and a few birds. These animals were found in the neighborhood or belonged to his friends. She incorporated and grew her organization into an all-Chicagoland nonprofit.
Touched By An Animal is a unique organization as they house a cat in their home indefinitely for their clients. For example, if a person is ill, hospitalized, enters a nursing home, has a housing crisis or cannot afford to care for their animal, the organization will temporarily board their cat. When the situation of the person changes, he regains custody of his animal.
However, suppose the person dies or cannot regain custody. In this case, the organization will find a new home for the animal, or if the animal is not adoptable, it will have a home for life.
The organization is small compared to other similar organizations in Chicago. The organization has a strong impact on people and their pets with only about ten part-time and contract employees.
Many of the organization’s activities and its mission are carried out by more than 100 volunteers, some more regular than others. The home is open to volunteers, adopters and visitors from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days a week.
Binder asks that due to COVID-19 protocols, people call first before visiting. All volunteers must first complete paperwork about their skills and how they can help. Volunteer duties include fundraising, preparing for special events, transporting cats to and from the vet, cleaning the rescue center, or the simpler things like socializing cats and spending time with their cats. friendly felines. The organization welcomes people of all ages, backgrounds and circumstances.
The organization has a capacity of approximately 80 cats and kittens. But due to the increase and the overcrowding problem in Chicago, the rescue is now over capacity with nearly 100 cats and kittens. About 30% of felines are resident cats. They are not adoptable due to their special needs. But their forever home is Touched by an Animal, a place of love with very caring staff and volunteers.
One of the disabled cats with special needs, in particular, immediately caught my attention when I saw the animal limping. Cathie, volunteer and board treasurer, explained that this cat named May was found about three years ago starving in an abandoned building in downtown Chicago.
She was seriously injured and burned, her left leg being broken. On top of that, May was almost ready to give birth. Fortunately, the firefighters found her and brought her to Touched By An Animal for emergency veterinary care, rehabilitation, and lots of love and care.
Her two adorable little tuxedo kittens were born about a week later, and healthy, forever homes have been found for both. May, on the other hand, had serious trust issues. She was adopted twice but came back to the rescue because she refused to eat. May has become a resident cat and will live her whole life in the rescue receiving the love and care needed to thrive.
“All of God’s living creatures, including people and animals, deserve to be treated with kindness. We want to be kind to people and their animals. I don’t like when people say oh, I like animals but I don’t care about people. We care about people and their animals. That’s my philosophy,” Binder said.
One of their core values is gratitude. I myself have felt gratitude for my work with the organization, and since 2019 I have been writing their grants and being their graphic designer. I truly see the love, stewardship and gratitude for everyone involved in the organization.
Those interested in additional information about the organization can visit their website, call their main number, or email Melanee Schoendorff, the Executive Director at: [email protected]
Touched by an animal