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Dogs are loyal, loving companions, but some live at risk in shelters. In fact, nearly 6,000 dogs were euthanized in the city of Chicago in 2014. While volunteering for several dog rescue organizations, attorney Heather Owen saw a need for more help—so she quit her job to co-found One Tail at a Time.

One Tail at a Time is a no-kill, 501(c)3 all-breed dog rescue that has been committed to lowering euthanasia rates in the greater Chicagoland area for the past seven and a half years. Dogs come from Chicago Animal Care and Control, shelters in the region and throughout Illinois, as well as a partner shelter in Alabama. They focus on at-risk dogs other shelters no longer have room for, no matter what their condition may be. Through the help of many volunteers, One Tail at a Time places the dogs in foster homes so they receive love before finding their forever home.

In late July, One Tail at a Time opened an adoption center, located in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood, which offers a place for people to meet the dogs, and to adopt when they find their match.

“This bond between animals + people makes our community better”: Q+A w/Heather Owen of @onetailatatime

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The Chicago Community Trust sat down with Heather Owen to talk about how she progressed from a part-time to a full-time philanthropist.

Q: What inspires or motivates you to give/do good for others?

A: I think there is definitely a selfish aspect where I feel really good when I do community work; I just feel useful. The bigger broader answer I have is that if we are going to live in a community, we need to help each other. At One Tail at a Time, we try to help these dogs, which we think in turn will help people too. We do this because we feel like there is a bond between animals and people. This bond is what makes our community better, which motivates me to help these dogs.

Q: What is the greatest act of kindness or giving you have witnessed?

A: Our foster families give so much to these dogs, and all of these people offer their homes on a volunteer basis. Some of the dogs we get are in pretty rough shape. We had an old dog that came to us with two torn ACLs and could barely walk. One of our volunteers offered their home to this elderly dog knowing he was going to have a double surgery with a long recovery time. This family built custom ramps for him so he could get up the stairs with no issues. They totally changed their lives for a few months just so this senior dog could recover in the comfort of their home. When someone takes care of a dog with no real expectation for something in return: that’s the coolest thing ever, so selfless.

Q: How has giving changed the way you think about receiving help from others?

A: Most people think about charity as people who “have” and people who “don’t have.” It is actually all about making relationships, and not making it a one-way-street. Giving is a reciprocal relationship that by helping others, you can receive help back.

Q: You are a philanthropist—what advice do you have for others who want to do good?

A: The best thing I ever did was just jumped in. I had done a few things here and there, but at one point I just said that I wanted to be a part of it all. There are different communities for every type of giving in Chicago, and if you submerge yourself in that, you may see that it is where you belong. People who want to be involved. Just do it; you might just get as hooked as I did.