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Paula Fasseas holding a dog and smiling
PAWS Chicago founder Paula Fasseas, ’96 (XP-65)

As the coronavirus swept through Chicago this spring, Paula Fasseas, ’96 (XP-65), focused her concern on a population near to her heart: pets.

People who are sick, overwhelmed, or struggling financially often have trouble caring for their pets. So Fasseas, the founder and executive chair of PAWS Chicago, an animal shelter with locations throughout Illinois, jumped into action.

First, she launched a temporary foster program to provide homes for the dogs and cats of anyone affected by COVID-19, including frontline workers and patients.

“We’ve had a lot of calls,” Fasseas says. “A lot are fearful that they may get the virus and wouldn’t be able to take care of their pet.”

PAWS is still getting the word out about the program, but the organization has already connected several animals with temporary homes thanks to the initiative.


PAWS volunteers with masks and gowns
PAWS Chicago staff and volunteers have stepped up to help pet owners in need during the coronavirus pandemic.

At the same time, Fasseas turned her organization into a virtual adoption center to continue uniting homeless pets with new families and also sent hundreds of animals into foster care so PAWS could continue saving at-risk animals during the crisis. Today, prospective pet owners apply to PAWS online and meet their potential pets outdoors before taking them home. And PAWS is supporting current pet owners who need a little help providing for them by delivering pet food directly to communities in need.

This isn’t the first time Fasseas has stepped up to help during an emergency. In fact, PAWS has always offered temporary care for pet owners who can’t take care of their animals due to house fires and other crises.

“We’ve had programs that worked with different women’s shelters to arrange housing for pets until their owners were ready to take them back,” says Fasseas, speaking from Arizona, where she’s camped out with her elderly dogs and her extended family until the pandemic passes.

Thanks to Fasseas’s quick thinking and an army of volunteers, PAWS’ adoption numbers during the pandemic have fallen by just over 20 percent. PAWS, which typically adopts out about 6,000 animals each year, has made a name for itself as the largest no-kill shelter in Chicago—and one of the largest no-kill shelters in the country.

Fasseas credits Booth for her ability to adapt so quickly to changing circumstances.

“The training that you get with an MBA prepares you to leverage your resources, react to changes, and shift your processes quickly so you can adapt to your new environment,” she says. 

In the past, the animal welfare profession typically attracted leaders who had a passion for animals but lacked a business focus.

“People say, ‘You talk a lot about numbers,’” Fasseas says. “We say, ‘Numbers are lives saved.’”


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