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DeKalb animal welfare groups face financial challenges

DeKALB – Violet has come a long way from being abandoned in the woods to sniffing around Tom Van Winkle’s office in DeKalb. 

Van Winkle decided to foster Violet after an operation to remove her swollen, damaged eyes; he eventually adopted her. The original owners of the 11-year-old English cocker spaniel used her for breeding puppies and left her in the woods to fend for herself. Her eyes had to be removed to save her life.

She was found in a forest preserve in River Forest, a Chicago suburb, and taken into care by the Animal Care League in Cook County. Now she’s under the care of Van Winkle, the new associate executive director of TAILS Humane Society in DeKalb.  

“She and I have become very bonded and she does a good job finding her way around the house,” Van Winkle said. 

Violet is just one of many household animals that are rescued and cared for by animal welfare organizations across the nation. In DeKalb County, both TAILS Humane Society and DeKalb County Animal Shelter are committed to caring for hundreds of animals they receive.

TAILS Humane Society takes in 2,500 animals a year. The DeKalb County Animal Shelter will receive more than 300 cats and dogs a year. 

Both organizations face challenges in managing all the dogs, cats and smaller animals that come their way. Neither one receives any government funding, relying on donations, income from services they offer and grants to keep the operations running. 

The DeKalb County Animal Shelter struggles every day to finance the operation, said Roberta Shoaf, the shelter’s director. It spends between $200,000 to $250,000 each year in revenue and is susceptible to economic downturns. 

“Whenever the economy is bad, donations decrease along with everything else,” Shoaf said.

And its capacity is limited. Shoaf said the shelter is running out of room for cats, of which they have 120. They also struggle trying to get older animals adopted.  

The TAILS Humane Society doesn’t go over capacity because they are a limited admission intake facility. Executive director Beth Drake said the policy is meant to prevent the need to euthanize animals to create more space. 

About 60 percent of the animals TAILS receives are dogs and 40 percent are cats, she said. The rest are small animals such as hamsters and rabbits. The staff of 31 people ensure living spaces are clean and animals are healthy. 

Although the organization does face challenges to raise the roughly $1 million in revenue it needs each year, it also faces the challenge of trying to get others to understand the importance of adopting animals rather than breeding them. 

“The number of animals coming into the shelters exceeds the ones getting adopted,” Drake said. 

The whole county and even neighboring counties are served by the TAILS. Animals that arrive at its facility can come from other people, local animal control departments and rural areas outside the state. Drake said the rural areas of Oklahoma suffer from an pet overpopulation problem.  

Van Winkle said hundreds of dogs that come to the TAILS share stories similar to Violet’s. He said the organization does a tremendous job of saving animals that are sick. Among the staff who treat the animals is a full-time veterinarian, clinic manager and two assistants. 

Since Violet has come under the care of Van Winkle and his family, she’s been doing wonderfully, he said. 

“She’s beefed up a little bit,” Van Winkle said. “We’ve overspoiled her.”

How to help

• To support the TAILS Humane Society, visit their website at

• To support the DeKalb County Animal Shelter, visit their website at

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