Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak about a year ago, animal adoptions across the country have soared, including in Evanston.  In March one family in southeast Evanston decided it was the right time to follow their hearts, the right time to translate their love of animals into an organized support and rescue system for animals in need.

The Boyces, a family of six, founded  Paws and Claws Chicago Animal Rescue; and for 19- year-old Ashlynn Boyce who was just about to graduate from high school, life totally changed.  

“When COVID hit, I pretty quickly reevaluated my plans,” said Ashlynn, who had intended to start college at the University of Wisconsin. “I decided to take a gap year before heading off to Madison for college, and in the spring my family and I made a commitment to devote ourselves to rescuing and taking care of animals who needed homes.  

“We’d always had pets – cats, hermit crabs, guinea pigs, frogs, cats, a dog – but now here we are: We’re running a home not-for-profit animal rescue!”  

Pair These With a Good Home

Nineteen year-old founder of Claws and Paws Rescue, Ashlynn Boyce,  holds Nutmeg and Cinnamon, kitten siblings available ready for a foster or forever home – and come as a twosome. 

Starting years before stepping into the significant role of Founder and functioning manager of Paws and Claws, Ashlynn had a number of formative experiences working with and learning about animals other than her own menagerie at home.

“I started riding [horses] at the Glen Grove Equestrian Center near Harms Woods when I was in elementary school and then worked there until I was about 16.” Her student work assignment let her trade riding lessons for the work she did in the stables.

Other meaningful experiences followed, including being a foster pet owner for several cats needing a temporary home, through the Evanston Animal Shelter. Then, as a veterinarian assistant at the Evanston Animal Hospital, Ashlynn learned more and even had the opportunity to shadow the veterinarian. Those experiences were building blocks to a possible future career as a veterinarian, yet it is hard to not marvel at a 19- year-old who during the pandemic is actively and ably learning the multi-layered business of running a busy animal rescue operation.

A Family Enterprise

The entire family helps with rescues and adoptions.

Paws and Claws (https://www.pawsandclawschicagorescue.org/) is a family enterprise.  Lee Boyce, Ashlynn’s father, has been both the “number-cruncher” and the one who filed the application for the new business’s 5019(c)(3) status.   Arri,  Ashlynn’s 11-year-old brother, has contributed his technological savvy to help set up the business website, pawsandclawschicagorescue.org,  an important ongoing marketing link and bridge for both finding and placing the dogs and cats in need of homes.

Fourteen year-old Kelsie recently stepped up for the demanding job of bottle-feeding newborn kittens, a round-the-clock responsibility that requires a good alarm clock and a very positive attitude about waking up every two hours for feedings.

Sixteen year-old brother Cortlin helps out with odd jobs that keep the operation running, including assembling a file cabinet to hold the medical records of the animal “clients,” loading 1,000 pounds of cat litter into the car, changing light bulbs, and helping with the more complicated website coding.  

Cathy Boyce, Ashlynn’s mother and a working therapist, has rolled up her sleeves and is an all-around Rescue helper. Answering the busy phone, recruiting Board members,  responding to emails, and providing support to fosters and adopters – she is indispensible to this start-up enterprise. 

“I definitely wouldn’t be here doing this without my mom!” Ashlynn said. ”When we have medical emergencies and I am rushing an animal off to the E.R., she manages everything else and we tag team and make medical decisions together.  She always helps in a pinch and I am so grateful for her.”

During any week it is likely that a dozen or more animals rescued from the Chicago area, or from as far away as southern Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, or Louisiana may arrive and within days need to be transferred to some of the dozens of foster homes that work with Paws and Claws until they can be adopted. 

Currently 85% of the recued animals are cats, and all of the rescued animals require core vaccines, neutering, good nutrition, exercise, and socializing  to get them ready for adoption into forever homes.  Ashlynn herself administers the vaccines, which saves, money, time, and reduces the animals’ stress by avoiding a  trip to the animal clinic. 

For the majority of the animals that will need temporary foster environments before a permanent placement, Paws and Claws provides fostering pet owners with supplies, equipment, food, medical care, and ongoing support . 

“We couldn’t do this work without fosters,” said Cathy Boyce.  We are so grateful to our fosters. They provide clean, safe, and loving environments for homeless, abandoned, and sometimes abused animals that need a safe place before we find them a forever home. “ 

During the pandemic, dogs especially have been is great demand.  Shelter Animals Count, a not-for-profit data base that tracks rescues across the country from more than 50 rescue operations, has seen about 26,000 more pet adoptions in 2020 than in 2019, with dog adoptions exceeding those of cats.

Bittersweet Adoptions

 “On our website we featured a chocolate lab pup a few months ago,” Ashlynn, said, “and immediately responses poured in.  The phone kept ringing with people inquiring about that puppy. People interested in the lab were sometimes angry with me when I told them that the dog had already been adopted. “ 

Ashlynn Boyce with a favorite rescued dog, Cleo.  Cleo’s adoption is a happy outcome but leaves a tinge of sadness for her transitional caregiver and provider. 

Paws and Claws has found that kittens fare better if they are paired when placed in a foster home or adopted out.  Kittens feel less stress when changing environments if they have a companion cat, and the pairings are carefully made, taking the personalities of the young cats into consideration.  Because of COVID-19, all adoption proceedings for both dogs and cats have taken place outside.

The Paws and Claws Chicago Rescue website is useful for people considering fostering or adopting, but it is also a bridge for those wanting to volunteer or donate. 

Volunteers are welcomed for various things:  helping with transporting animals, walking the dogs, and assisting with social media and marketing needs.  The website has direct links to both Amazon and Chewy for people who want to supply items on the Paws and Claws Chicago Rescue wish lists.  Recently donors responded so generously to a “Spayathon” event that all 33 kittens needing spaying received sponsorship.

Since the home animal rescue opened in March, 2020, it has rescued 170 cats and dogs and finalized adoptions for 113.  The Boyce family, Ashlynn Boyce included, plans to keep doing the animal recue work started during Chicago’s COVID-19 quarantine. 

Ashlynn may add a part time class or two to her busy life, perhaps enrolling at a local university within a convenient commute time back to Southeast Evanston. 

She says she loves what she does but said about a dog  adoption she recently arranged. “Cleo was by far the hardest goodbye for me.  She was so special and is now doing wonderfully in her forever home.  But I miss her dearly.”

Let Judy Chiss know what other creative things teens are doing. Send an email to editor@evanstonroundtable.com with “for Judy” in the subject line. She looks forward to hearing from you.