Coronavirus Updates

Two years after her Booth graduation, Paula Fasseas, ’96 (XP-65), and her daughter, Alexis, drove 26 dogs and cats from the city impoundment facility to Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, managing to get all of them adopted that day.

Chicago had a massive stray pet problem, and Fasseas and Alexis had recently learned that the previous year, 42,000 dogs and cats were euthanized in shelters citywide.

“I have such a passion for animals, and they are truly voiceless,” notes Fasseas. “At the time, the national model for shelters wasn’t based on transparency, and there was much needless killing. We set out to solve the problem with research and data.”

That event was the first of several the mother and daughter called Angels with Tails. They received permission from the city to take animals out of Chicago Animal Care and Control for the first time ever to retailers that had agreed to showcase them in their storefronts. Fasseas and Alexis distributed materials spreading awareness about the city’s high kill rate. In response, hundreds of residents, workers, and shoppers showed support. Many media outlets covered the events.

The organization Fasseas founded the prior year, PAWS Chicago, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2022. Since opening, PAWS has implemented groundbreaking measures that have reduced the number of homeless pets killed in the city by 91 percent. The nonprofit has saved 98 percent of animals brought into its own shelters and facilitated 75,000 adoptions.

Now, Chicago’s public shelter saves 84 percent of unwanted pets, says Fasseas. “We raised the bar.”

Unspayed and unneutered cats can be a huge issue, with the proliferation of feral kittens who will then need to find homes. She began a citywide public education campaign and identified areas of the city that needed high-volume spay/neuter surgeries most urgently due to an overpopulation of stray pets. She opened her first cat-adoption center inside the Clark and Fullerton branch of North Community Bank, which she founded with her husband, Peter Fasseas, in 1978. (The bank group has since been acquired and renamed Byline Banks.)

Initially, PAWS operated with a small staff and volunteers, and Fasseas fundraised to support a fledgling spay/neuter program. Continuing to work full-time at the bank in development, she too was a PAWS volunteer.

Paula Fasseas smiling and holding a small brown and white dog

By fundraising with major donors and continuing to organize attention-grabbing public events that put homeless pets in downtown storefronts, Fasseas successfully established an operationally efficient organization that could execute spay/neuter surgeries and adoptions at scale. PAWS staff have performed nearly 300,000 free and low-cost spay/neuter surgeries since the organization’s founding.

“At Booth, you really look at how to address and solve problems, rather than accepting the status quo,” says Fasseas. “You learn that there are many creative ways of finding and executing solutions.”

The organization’s cageless Lincoln Park Adoption Center finds homes for 5,000 pets annually, using technology to match pets with the right families. And the new PAWS Chicago Medical Center, a 30,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in Little Village opened in 2021, is the nation’s largest and most advanced hospital for homeless pets, providing services to over 25,000 pets annually—including those in need of extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation that other shelters can’t provide.

Ribbon cutting ceremony for PAWS Chicago Medical Center

PAWS also operates community outreach programs and provides free services to address pet overpopulation and resource inequity on the South Side. “We’re addressing and working on all the problems animal owners face: poverty, resources, education,” says Fasseas.

As a result of the organization’s hard work, Fasseas says, many community members have worked with PAWS to leave planned gifts when they pass away. These donations are put into the nonprofit’s sustainability fund to ensure the continuation of lifesaving spay/neuter and adoption programs into the future.

Her Booth financial and operational knowledge helped her strategize and plan for growth. As a result, the organization was one of the few shelters able to continue spaying and neutering at its normal level during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I always had good business instincts, but Booth gave me the foundation to see the opportunity to solve what many considered an intractable civic problem,” Fasseas says. “Building PAWS involved my heart, soul, and passion: helping animals. It was exciting and challenging. And I was able to do that with my Booth degree.”