The Evanston Animal Shelter’s first gala since 2019 raised about $30,000 Saturday evening to pay for medical care and the day-to-day needs of the dogs and cats at the shelter.

Vicky Pasenko, standing at left, and Natalie Bomke, at podium, drum up support for the auction at the Nov. 5 animal shelter fundraiser. Credit: Wendi Kromash

The event at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation included a cocktail reception, dinner, host bar and raffle, plus a live and silent auction. The emcee for the event, Natalie Bomke of Fox 32 News, adopted her cat from a shelter in California and was inspired to help Evanston’s shelter after covering a story last year about the “ice cream” cats. 

About 100 people attended the Tails About Town Gala, including many of the shelter’s volunteers, as well as their friends and family, plus a number of veterinary hospital partners and their staff members. Executive Director Vicky Pasenko greeted people as they made their way into the main reception area filled with a display of silent auction items. 

Although renderings of the new shelter were on display, raising funds for the new $6.3 million shelter was not the reason for the gala. As Pasenko told the crowd in a short speech right before dinner, veterinary care is the shelter’s largest annual expense.

Pasenko described several situations staffers have dealt with at the shelter, each one a horrific tale of the damage humans can inflict on helpless living creatures. But thankfully, due to the shelter’s involvement and the animals receiving immediate veterinary care, these were success stories. The animals have better health, they are being loved and in – or will be going to soon – their forever homes.

“We can’t lose sight of the immediate need for funds to provide medical care and the day to day needs of our animals and to sustain our community support programs,” Pasenko said. “Our pet food program continues to help local families who struggle to feed their pets. Our senior safety net program provides a safety valve for individuals 62 and older whose pets need veterinary care that they just can’t afford. … Our custodial program is the cornerstone of our support programs, because very few shelters in this area provide this service.

“Imagine if you experienced an extended hospital stay, or you were the victim of domestic violence, or you lost your home to foreclosure or even a house fire and the only place that offered temporary housing did not allow you to bring your pet. Rather than be faced with the loss of your four-legged child, we take care of your pet and return them to you free of charge when you’re able to return to your home or to a safe place.” 

Pasenko mentioned in her remarks that within a few weeks the cats and dogs would be relocated to separate, temporary quarters. Once the current shelter building is empty, demolition can begin.

The new shelter will be built on the current site. According to Pasenko, if things work out according to plan, they could be planning an opening ceremony this time next year.

Emma Dolan is a volunteer and on the shelter’s board. Currently her assignment is working as an adoption counselor. “So much of my work is about people,” Dolan said. “As a counselor, I listen to people forced to give up pets they love. It’s always heart-wrenching … but on the happy side, I can tell in five or 10 minutes of a person meeting a dog that that’s ‘their animal.’ There’s this bubbling sense of excitement that just builds and builds and builds. … It’s this sense of, ‘This is my dog and I’ve accepted him as he is and I can’t wait to take him home.’ That is just such a joyful thing.” 

Emma Dolan, from left, Emma Galt Smith and Becky Zwolinski at the gala. Credit: Wendi Kromash

Dolan said she never intended to get as involved as she did, but “I got so caught up with the level of compassion and commitment from the other volunteers that I wanted to be part of it.” She also said that much of this compassion and commitment originates with Pasenko, the primary champion for a municipal shelter.

“Vicky dreamed what it could be and without her leadership and level of love and sincere care the shelter would not be what it is today,” Dolan said.

After dinner, there was a paddle raise and live auction.

Charles Smith, from left, Jerri Garl, gala committee co-chair Emma Garl Smith and Javier Thompson at the gala. Credit: Wendi Kromash

Emma Garl Smith, one of the gala committee co-chairs, was at the event with her husband and parents. Her father, Charles Smith, was bursting with parental pride as he described how Emma has always loved animals and started doing volunteer work for the organization that preceded the shelter when she was still in her teens.

“I think it’s important to have the shelter, this kind of presence in the community,” he said. “It says a lot about Evanston that they support this. I’m very proud of my daughter for being involved.”

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

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