HIGHLAND PARK – PAWS in Highland Park will soon be named the PAWS Chicago Glenn L. Felner North Shore Adoption Center thanks to a $1 million donation by the life insurance and estate protection specialist from Glencoe — who also happens to love animals.
“I’ve always been a dog lover. I used to pick up stray dogs and give them a bath and people would actually claim them. I’ve stayed away from going to any of the shelters for fear of coming home with 20 or 30 dogs at one time,” said Felner.
Last year Felner and his “lady friend” Bonnie Davis visited the Chicago PAWS and were immediately taken with the organization. “I liked that the pets are in little rooms like condos with windows and pictures on the wall,” said Felner.
One of the puppies had a circle of black fur around his eye, and Felner said he “teared up” when he saw him. The next day they brought their chocolate Labrador Retriever Duke over to meet the Pyrenees and terrier hunting dog, and they got along well. Patch started out as a lap dog, and at 15 months he weighs 80 pounds. Duke is 10 years old. Felner said the dogs are inseparable.
Duke is a trained service dog who has worked with Alzheimer’s patients in nursing homes.
Many years ago, Felner’s wife of 60 years, Ayleene, found Duke in a Labrador rescue in Arizona. “We were staying at our second home in Scottsdale, and my wife went into the hospital and never came out,” he said. “Ayleene said that she knew Duke would take care of me, and he has.”
One and a half years later, Felner met Bonnie, and they’ve been together for three years. The pair share a love of animals and a zest for life.
Felner is on the board of an Asian health insurance company where he and Bonnie travel three times a year. “I’ve always had an inquisitive spirit. I’ll be 90 next June, and I’m about 90% retired from my life insurance planning business,” said Felner.
Felner served 20 years as Honorary Consul General to the Republic of Rwanda, and he’s still serving on the International Board of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund where he saw mountain gorillas — without bars.
He remembered his last trip to Africa about nine years ago: “You’re only allowed to visit the gorillas for one hour each day. You are told to kneel down, grunt and never make contact with a gorilla. A mother breast feeding her baby charged our guide who fell to the ground. She just punched him on the shoulder, and he was OK.”
There are only about 480 mountain gorillas left in Africa; Sigourney Weaver, who portrayed Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Midst, is the Honorary Chairman of the Board.
Felner has always been interested in preserving wildlife, and he also donates to an elephant fund in Tennessee that rescues mistreated circus elephants.
He used to pilot his own airplane, and is a World War II hero. He fought in the final days of the Battle of the Bulge, earned a Bronze Star Medal for capturing 32 Germans, and helped liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp.
With all of his accomplishments, Felner takes great pride in his contribution to PAWS.
PAWS Chicago (Pets Are Worth Saving) is a national model in “No Kill” animal sheltering, committed to bringing an end to the killing of homeless cats and dogs, according to a press release, which also stated that the organization has helped reduce the number of homeless pets killed in the city by 77% since its founding in 1997.
Felner fondly remembered one of his most beloved dogs: “Years ago a wild dog jumped our fence, and bit my sister and cousin, but was very tender with me. We called her Foxy, and I helped her deliver six puppies. I gave one puppy to my daughter and the mailman wouldn’t deliver to her or anyone else on the block. I took the puppy back, and (years later) he died in my arms.”
Felner said that he wanted to donate money to PAWS while he is still alive, so he could see his contribution going to good use. When he and PAWS Founder and Chair Paula Fasseas had dinner, “It sealed any doubts that I had in my mind.”
The PAWS North Shore satellite adoption center opened inside the Highland Park Petco in December 2014. It was responsible for 76 adoptions in its first month of operation and is on track to adopt out 500 dogs and cats in 2015.
A celebration for the naming of the PAWS Chicago Glenn L. Felner North Shore Adoption Center will take place on Thursday September 10. When asked how he felt about the upcoming event, Felner quipped, “My friends all say that they’d like to come back as my dog.”