Animal shelter director Vickie Pasenko taking Mary for a walk.

Mary needs a home.

The 12-18-month-old mixed breed is at the Evanston Animal Shelter, after being discovered wandering around in a neighborhood.

Someone had let her go.

And Mary’s story is pretty typical of what the shelter is seeing these days.

“It feels like it’s a flood,” says executive director Vickie Pasenko.

“What we’re seeing,” she adds, ‘is an increase in people who can’t keep an animal due to financial reasons.”

The outmoded shelter is constantly filled to its 14-dog capacity.

Large dogs are harder to place for adoption than are small dogs and puppies.

A recent check showed eight of those dogs were strays, brought in by animal control.

Four had been surrendered — people handing over their pets in person.

And two were simply tied up and abandoned next to the shelter.

‘We get calls from as far away as Aurora” from people looking to give up their dogs, Pasenko says.

“But our priority is Evanston.”

Pasenko notes that during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people who were suddenly forced to stay home decided to get a dog.

But now, with many of those new pet owners going back to work, caring for a dog is no longer so easy.

Or, the pandemic may have led to economic hardship, with people getting laid off. Some may have had to downsize their residences in order to save money. But that meant no room for a dog, particularly a large dog — the kind often seen now at the shelter.

Add those factors together, Pasenko says, and there are now more dogs being found or turned in, but “the demand is down a lot” for potential adoptions.

Evanston has a “no kill” shelter, so Pasenko says they are always asking owners “is there anything we can do to help you keep your pet?”

One such option is a pet food pantry. Another is the “foster pet” program, where an animal is placed temporarily with a family until the original owner can afford to take the dog back, or until a permanent new owner is found.

The Evanston shelter sees about 350 animals a year, including cats.

That number will likely jump significantly if a new, $6 million shelter is built. The plan is currently working its way through the city hall aproval process.

With $2 million for the project coming from Cook County, the Evanston shelter will become more of a regional facility, taking in animals from certain other suburbs which do not have shelters of their own, although Evanston will remain the primary focus.

If you have questions about adopting a pet, or about programs like the pet food pantry or foster pet care, go to

Or, you could just stop by the facility at 2310 Oakton.

Mary will be waiting for you.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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