08/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Chicago Native Helps Homeless Dogs, Victims Of The Recession

Kara Severson knows that victims of foreclosure come in all breeds. Breeds of dog, that is. Severson volunteers at a no-kill animal shelter in Chicago where she walks all types of canines who, like their owners, have suddenly found themselves without a home.

Severson's own Shar Pei, Kennedy, has stayed by her side through unemployment and a cross-country journey to move back in with her mother. But the dogs she walks haven't been so lucky.

The shelter keeps a wing for dogs that wear the tag, "I'm here temporarily while my family gets their life on track." Severson told us she began volunteering there when she was in the depths of her own financial struggle.

"To combat my self-pity, I signed up to walk dogs...at PAWS, a no-kill shelter in Chicago. I have seen more and more dogs dropped off by teary-eyed owners who can no longer afford their care. The shelter offers temporary housing to help families keep their pets while suffering economic hardship. As I walk these temporarily homeless dogs, my eyes fill with tears for the dog who's suddenly living in a cage and doesn't know what he did to be ejected from the pack, for the mom who's dropping off her child's 6-month-old puppy because they just lost their home."

Severson lost her own home in California, and she remembers thinking, "Oh my god, I'm flat broke." She did everything she could just to feed her dog.

"I'd walk around the stores because I knew they'd give my dog a treat," she admits of perusing the pooch-friendly clothing boutiques in Santa Monica. The nearby pet store was particularly helpful.

"They would hand me a giant bag [of dog food] tied up and they would say, 'Don't react, don't say thank you, just take it. Just take it,'" she said. "That's really how we got by, just by the goodness of other peoples' hearts."

But late last year, even that was no longer enough and Severson was forced to move with her dog and two kittens back to her mother's home in Chicago, where she slept on the couch, often with Kennedy beside her.

That's when she found PAWS and began volunteering to walk dogs. The story of one dog, especially, touched her heart.

"There was this woman that was in the parking lot, she was holding a Boxer puppy and kind of looking at me with a frown on her face, and usually people are smiling at me because they recognize what I'm doing," she said. Later she saw the woman again, without the dog this time, and inside she saw the dog in a kennel:

I took that Boxer for a really long walk one day, and I was crying. She was six months old then and I was thinking she was probably a Christmas present," she said. "I think of all the happiness and joy that comes with having a puppy and I just cry. And for myself I have tears of gratitude for the loving mother who took me and my dog when I could no longer pay rent...

I was in this position, so I feel like maybe I have a bigger obligation.


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