Good Cause: Families keep pets with help from nonprofits

Get involved Spay Illinois Low-cost pet vaccine clinics: Fourth Monday of every month, 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Bark A Lounge, 657 S. Route 59, Aurora. No appointment required. Spay Illinois also offers low-cost spay/neuter clinics. Call to find the nearest clinic (includes a Lisle location). For more information about either clinic or Spay Illinois or to make a donation, call 877-475-7729 or www.spayillinois.org To donate to the Kendall County Food Pantry, visit www.kendallcountyfoodpantry.org Just Animals Low-cost pet wellness clinics: Second Saturday of each month, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., city of Aurora Animal Control, 600 S. River St. Services are available by appointment only and can be arranged by calling Just Animals at 815-830-6568. Agency representatives will call back and confirm. Learn more by calling Aurora Animal Control at 630-256-3630. For more information on or to donate to Just Animals, visit www.justanimals.org

Owning and keeping a pet healthy isn’t cheap ­— although the rewards of having a four-legged member of a family far outweigh the costs. Yet for some families, without financial help, they could not keep their pets.

Lombard’s Kim Pennacchio knows this well. As a single mom working two jobs, with two teenage boys and three dogs at home, without organizations like Spay Illinois, she couldn’t make it work. The nonprofit opened the Pet Well Clinic, 2765 Maple Ave., Lisle, less than a year ago, hoping to serve more of the population.

“My four-legged kids are as important to me as the two-legged ones,” she said. “Even for two-income families, vaccines can be very expensive.”

Spay Illinois chose Lisle for its primary location mostly because it determined its target areas, based on demographics and income, to be Kankakee and Kendall counties. Lisle, which is close to expressways, makes it easy to transport pets for clients and the organization.

“Our location is based on the need of reaching more people,” said Spay Illinois founder Kathi Daniels.

And while Spay Illinois still offers clinics at various locations throughout the area, it can more easily meet the needs of pets and their families with consistent staffing. It was difficult to meet demand when they used private veterinarian practices. The Lisle location has one full-time and four part-time veterinarians.

Mary Anne Ryan, the pet food coordinator at the Kendall County Food Pantry, partners with Daniels and Spay Illinois to ensure families receive support.

Her volunteer job at the food pantry is to secure enough pet food and other items, such as cat litter, to the clients they serve. In a given month, Ryan will give out enough food for 200 dogs and cats.

The first two Thursdays of the month, Ryan can be found at the food pantry handing out pet food. The rest of the month is spent gathering enough to food to continually keep the pets fed for the months to come. Some of her regular donors include the Walmart in Plano and Go Dog Go and Petco in Oswego.

“Over five years, I’ve built a donation base,” she said.

It doesn’t stop with food though. Ryan also makes sure her clients know about Spay Illinois and that they can get their pets vaccinated. She finds funding and grants to hand out spay and neuter coupons to the food pantry clients. A recent $2,000 donation allowed her to hand 80 certificates for $25 each for spay and neuter surgeries. Although she just started giving out the coupons, the word from Daniels is that people are setting up appointments for their pets.

“This is exactly where I want to be going,” Ryan said. “I want zero population growth as far as my clients’ pets.”

While it might sound daunting, the constant cycle of making sure so many animals get the food their guardians can’t afford makes her happy. “I love what I’m doing,” Ryan said. “When I have clients tell me how grateful they are, I get thank you notes and verbal thanks.”

They also give her Christmas gifts, ones she knows they can’t afford.

One client gave Ryan wine, and while she knew it was a struggle for the client to purchase the bottle, it’s those small rewards that make the volunteer position worth it.

Pennacchio said she used to laugh when she heard Bob Barker remind the audience at the end of “The Price is Right” to spay and neuter their pets. But now she truly understands the importance, especially with the help she has received.

“I think so much of the organization that I donate my time once or twice a month,” she said.

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