IRVING PARK — An Irving Park animal rescue is raising money to help a teenage girl find housing so she can keep her pitbull, Prince.
The 18-year-old, who asked to remain anonymous due to safety concerns, called Famous Fido, 3124 W. Irving Park Road, about a month ago, trying to give up Prince because she doesn’t have anywhere to live with him, she said.
“I’ve been trying to take care of him to the best of my ability,” the teenager said. “Prince brings a lot of joy to my life. I think we were meant for each other, me and him. I got him at a time in my life when I was extremely depressed and felt like I had nothing to live for. Before I had him, I was always hoping I could share my love with something.”
Gloria Lissner, Famous Fido’s founder, agreed to temporarily take care of Prince but promised to help the teenager find affordable housing and raise money so they can reunite.
“It’s very depressing to see this because she loves her dog so much, and her dog loves her,” Lissner said. “It’s a very scary thing to be out on the streets as a young girl who hasn’t even graduated high school yet. She needs support.”
People can donate money to support the teenager and her dog by calling Famous Fido at 773-907-0305 and specifying they want their donation to go toward Prince and his owner. Lissner hopes to raise about $2,500 for the pair.
The 18-year-old got Prince for her birthday about two years ago from her mom’s friend, who could no longer take care of the dog. The pair immediately bonded.
Prince is shy and skittish, but he never “really acted scared of me,” the teenager said. Even though she was told Prince likes to run away, the dog has never left her side — even when he would slip his harness, she said.
But the 18-year-old’s family lost their home shortly after she adopted Prince. The teen and her dog suddenly found themselves on their own, separated from the rest of the family.
“He’s the only thing that’s stuck near me when everything else fell apart,” the teen said. “He didn’t leave my side. I think he always knew that he was meant to be my pet. I always make sure he’s good before I’m good.”
Since leaving him at the shelter, the teen has visited him almost daily, she said.
“When I see him, he starts whimpering because he really misses me,” she said. “I think he wants to be back with me full time. He gets really, really excited to see me, like he’s never seen me before.”
Famous Fido receives 25-60 calls each day from people who want to “give away their animals as fast as possible” because they’ve experienced some kind of crisis, Lissner said.
Whenever someone calls Famous Fido to relinquish their pet, Lissner tries to help the person find ways to keep their animal instead because most shelters are overcrowded. Famous Fido has more than 100 cats and about 26 dogs available for adoption, Lissner said.
In the past five years, there’s been an influx of calls as more people have struggled to keep their pets due to financial concerns, Lissner said.
“In our current time, living expenses and buying food for the people and animals in your family can be very expensive, and people just don’t have the money,” Lissner said.
In some cases, Lissner helps the person fundraise or provides them with money from the shelter’s general fund.
“I can’t help everybody who calls, but we try to help people who can’t help themselves,” Lissner said. “I try to help people who are responsible but have had terrible things happen to them. There are tons of people and animals like this who are just slipping through the cracks.”
Famous Fido has helped a few other dog owners keep their pets after they fell on hard times — like Henry Koral, who almost had to relinquish his three rescued pitbulls, Wiggles, Loki and Thor.
Each of his dogs had been returned to kill shelters multiple times, so Koral took them in to save their lives, he said.
Koral and his dogs lost their home in a 2018 Little Village fire that killed 10 children. The entire apartment complex was shut down following the fire.
“I wasn’t expecting the kinds of problems we had,” Koral said. “I thought my apartment was fine, but when it caught fire, we were in trouble.”
Koral struggled to find housing because many apartment buildings don’t allow pitbulls. He called Famous Fido to give up his pets, but Lissner raised $15,000 for Koral and helped him secure affordable housing so they could stay together.
“I was stunned she did that for us,” Koral said. “I feel that once you’ve got your dogs, they’re your family. You can’t just give them up.”
Returning dogs to shelters is hard for people who lose their pets, but it’s also difficult for the animals who find themselves in overcrowded shelters, Lissner and Koral said.
“People stopped adopting dogs as much after COVID, and if you bring a dog to a shelter now, its chances are not good, especially if it’s a pitbull,” Koral said. “People are intimidated by pitbulls, and lots of landlords won’t take pitbulls, so it’s difficult to rent.”
Some pets spend one to three years in cages awaiting adoptions, Lissner said. Pets who are separated from their owners also tend to develop behavioral problems that make them less desirable, Lissner said.
“How would you like it if you were left somewhere and nobody came back for you?” Lissner said. “Some of them can get to be snappy and bitey, and then people don’t want to deal with that. We have a lot of animals like that, but they get along with us fine because we don’t do anything they don’t like.”
Lissner, 72, has been rescuing animals for more than 50 years. She and her husband stay at Famous Fido 24/7 to make sure the pets are safe and taken care of, Lissner said.
“I just deeply love the animals and care about their needs,” Lissner said. “There’s way too many of them who never get a good home. It’s not right that they all just sit here waiting and nobody comes for them.”
It costs more than $40,000 a month to take care of the pets at Famous Fido, Lissner said. The organization is always accepting donations online.
Famous Fido is hosting a “howliday” bazaar and bake sale Dec. 9, with baked goods and locally crafted items. They’re still looking for people to provide baked goods and other items, Lissner said.
Tickets can be bouht online for the shelter’s annual gala Jan. 20 at Loyola University, 1032 W. Sheridan Road. There will be food, drinks and speeches from animal advocates.
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