Animal shelter warms up to tough task
When temperatures plunged to life-threatening lows after a massive weekend snowstorm, Emily Klehm didn’t have the luxury of working from home or calling in sick.
After all, more than 140 furry, four-legged animals depend on her organization to stay alive.
“Somebody has to take care of them,” Klehm said. “I guess that puts us in the category of emergency services.”
Klehm, of Glenwood, is the executive director of the South Suburban Humane Society in Chicago Heights, an organization that provides shelter and cares for more than 5,000 cats and dogs per year.
Since early Monday morning, Klehm has been hard at work making sure the animals stay safe.
Given the extreme temperatures, keeping the animals warm was her first priority. Ahead of the storm, Klehm adjusted the shelter’s thermostat. She bumped it up from 60 degrees to 67 degrees, ensuring a toasty environment while the atmosphere outside was so cold the National Weather Service dubbed the area “ChiBeria.”
Staying indoors was especially hard on the shelter’s dogs, who are used to enjoying 15 minutes of outdoor time a day to stretch their legs and use nature’s rest room, Klehm said. None of the dogs has been allowed outside during the spell of arctic temperatures.
“Our general rule of thumb is a dog in a shelter needs at least 15 minutes of exercise a day for their mental stability,” Klehm said. “In this situation, it’s hard to provide that for them.”
She said it only takes “a matter of minutes” for the dogs’ paw pads to freeze, making any outdoor time dangerous. Instead, she let all the dogs walk around in the “meet and greet” room, the space within the shelter where veterinarians can look at the pets and where families can interact with animals they are considering adopting.
Using the space as a doggie exercise room required her and the shelter’s two other staffers who showed up on Monday to clean and disinfect the room after each dog used it. With the help of her six-person staff, Klehm said taking all the dogs outside and cleaning their kennels on a day with average weather takes her about four hours. The process took about seven hours Monday.
Making things worse, the animal shelter had two drainage pipes burst during the cold snap — one above the kennel ceiling and one inside the cat isolation room, in a building adjacent to the main shelter.
No animals were affected by the burst pipes. A plumber had been notified, and workers spent hours sopping up the water that had spilled on the floor.
Klehm said she had no problem on Monday driving from her home in Glenwood to the shelter. She even considered driving out in the thick of it on Sunday to make sure all of the shelter’s cats and dogs were safe.
“If I could have gotten out of my driveway, I would have because I was freaking out about the animals here,” Klehm said.