Glenn Felner is an accomplished man.
The Glencoe resident and retired insurance executive has an extensive philanthropic resume. He is an honorary consul general to Rwanda and a trustee of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. Most recently, he received France’s highest award—the French Legion of Honour.
Felner is a World War II veteran who landed at Normandy six months after the D-Day invasion, catching the final days of the Battle of the Bulge with the 69th Infantry Division. Fighting across Belgium and Germany, he earned a Bronze Star Medal and was part of the advanced troops liberating the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
An impressive life by any measure. He will tell you, however, that his life has gone to the dogs. It was a dog named Duke who helped Felner cope with the loss of his wife, Ayleene. Shortly before Ayleene died, she helped pick Duke out from an Arizona shelter. Years later, Glenn and his companion, Bonnie Davis, found Duke his own canine companion when they adopted a dog named Patch from PAWS Chicago.
“I had studiously avoided going to animal shelters all my life because once I made eye contact—that was it,” admits Felner.
After his first visit to PAWS, Felner knew he found a shelter he wanted to help. “I was very much impressed with it. They did not have dogs in small cages,” he notes, adding that the dogs’ spaces have large windows.
PAWS Chicago, a no-kill shelter, was founded in 1997 by Paula Fasseas and her daughter Alexis. The organization takes the animals most in need from area shelters, nurses them back to health, and then finds them new homes. PAWS has made a dramatic difference in the lives of animals throughout the region. In Chicago alone, the euthanasia rate of animals has dropped from 42,561 in 1997 to 9,817 in 2014.
If the euthanasia number isn’t striking enough, consider this: PAWS is also responsible for more than 18,000 spay/neuter surgeries and nearly 6,000 adoptions in 2014 alone.
“We like to help the underdogs,” says Fasseas, who serves as chairman of the board for PAWS Chicago. “We’ll take animals we find to have good dispositions. Often times they are sick, injured, or abused. We’ll heal them and by the time they get to the adoption center, people have no idea what those animals went through.”
Felner was so impressed by PAWS’ mission that he donated $1 million dollars to the cause. “Their spectacular concern for animals and the treatment they give is unheard of,” he declares. “They’re not just herding animals into cages in the back. They make life as normal as they can for the animals.”
Why such a large donation?
“One million sounded like a good round number,” replies Felner, explaining the money will be paid out over a period of years. When asked why he is donating now rather than through an estate plan, he explains, “Why wait? I wanted to do it while I was alive so I can see the results.”
Felner’s contribution is making a sizable impact on PAWS, which opened a North Shore adoption center named in Felner’s honor at the Highland Park Petco in late 2014. “We’re very grateful to Petco for donating the space,” she says. “This is so wonderful for PAWS Chicago,” says Fasseas, noting Felner’s donation is spent directly on the operation of the North Shore adoption center. “It’s open seven days a week,” Fasseas remarks.
The North Shore seemed a logical fit for a satellite location. “You know, a good 40–50 percent of our board is from the North Shore, so it’s a natural proclivity for us,” observes Fasseas. “They are dedicated to the cause and helped us grow.”
The lush, and often large, yards of North Shore neighborhoods enable people to adopt larger dogs. “That’s the great thing about the North Shore. Normally, people go to breeders. But the response has been so wonderful. People are so excited, they’re sending their friends and neighbors.”
What’s next for PAWS? Fasseas would like to be able to triple the size of the space designated for medical care. It’s that part of PAWS’ mission that makes such a big difference.
Looking for a holiday gift for a loved one? PAWS might just have who you are looking for at the Glenn L. Felner Adoption Center.
The Glenn L. Felner Adoption Center is located inside Petco at 1616 Deerfield Road in Highland Park, 224-707-1190, pawschicago.org.