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PAWS Tinley Park still a month away from reopening after fire

Three weeks after a fire forced PAWS Tinley Park to evacuate all of the animals housed at its facility, officials at the south suburban animal shelter said it will be approximately another month before the dislocated pets can return to their renovated shelter, though pet adoptions are still available thanks to some help from the community.

The fire, which started in the facility’s laundry room, damaged walls and ceilings throughout the building, with most of the damage coming from smoke, according to Terri Buckley, PAWS Tinley Park president.

“Every room has to be washed — floors and ceiling — then painted. Every drop-ceiling tile has to be removed and replaced due to smoke damage, and our entire ventilation system has to be cleaned out,” Buckley said. “Then the electric has to be checked. We need to make sure it’s safe and nothing burned in there.”

Buckley said in addition to cleaning up and repairing damage, PAWS is using the temporary closure as an opportunity to replace old tile flooring throughout the building.

“It’s not the best thing for a shelter, plus it’s very worn,” she said. “So while the animals and workers are all out of the building, we have epoxy flooring going in. It’s sort of like you would see in a garage with an extra layer of epoxy on top to protect from nails and urine. It’s very easy to clean up.”

Buckley said insurance will not pay for the new flooring, but the shelter will foot the bill for the overdue update. As for the total cost of renovation and repairs, she said it is hard to estimate because they are still “working with the insurance company,” but she believes most of the recovery work will be covered.

In the meantime, all of the animals have been placed in foster households, and many required medical treatment after the fire.

“Midwest Animal Hospital has been magnificent with us and our animals,” Buckley said.

The Orland Park business has provided not only medical care for the animals, according to Buckley, but they are also hosting “meet and greets” — in-person sessions where prospective adopters can spend time with a pet once their application has been approved.

PAWS volunteer Linda Baio, who maintains the shelter’s adoption database on PetFinder, expressed gratitude for the help from Midwest Animal Hospital.

“I think the important thing was no one and no animal was hurt. It made it a lot easier to accept what happened,” Baio said. “There were a few animals who took a little longer to recover, but they’re all better now. Midwest Animal Hospital has been just amazing. They sent out emergency doctors and staff to transport animals to the hospital. They spent hours shampooing the animals and giving them baths.”

Baio said eight of the 100 animals being fostered have been adopted since the fire, and she hopes people will adopt more.

“You just have to visit our website, look through the available cats and dogs, and then fill out an online application. That’s how to get started,” Baio said.

Baio said because volunteers have been displaced along with animals, they are all working from home, and that means some things take longer now. She asked potential adopters to be patient during the process.

According to Buckley, many of the animals went home with shelter volunteers like Baio.

“Most people who volunteer already have animals, and they just added the fosters to their households. But it’s not like you’re fostering for a weekend–you’re looking at a month or two,” Buckley said. “We have one volunteer who took six cats. Another is fostering three Collie mix puppies who are seven months old.”

Both Baio and Buckley said the showing of care and assistance from the community — and beyond — have been crucial in seeing PAWS Tinley Park through this difficult passage.

“We received donations from about 30 states,” Buckley said. “Miranda Lambert’s MuttNation Foundation sent us $20,000. Someone stepped forward to pay medical bills to Midwest (Animal Hospital). The sense of community and love and outpouring of concern from the community has been overwhelming. It’s just wonderful. We’re going to be okay. In fact, we’re going to be able to open even better than we were before.”

Buckley said there will be a grand reopening once the renovations are completed and the animals and staff have returned to the facility, and everyone will be welcome to come celebrate.

Angela Denk is a freelance reporter for The Daily Southtown.

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