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St. Charles pet store works with overcrowded shelter to save dogs, cats

Vanessa Campbell plays with Thatcher, a rescue dog, at Critters Pet Shop in St. Charles. Thatcher is available for adoption at the store.
Vanessa Campbell plays with Thatcher, a rescue dog, at Critters Pet Shop in St. Charles. Thatcher is available for adoption at the store.

ST. CHARLES – Moo Moo is an energetic Jack Russell terrier mix. Siegfried is a loving lhasa apso mix. And Thatcher, a miniature pincher mix, likes to people watch.

They’re some of the newest additions to the see-through kennels at Critters Pet Shop in St. Charles. While they’re no ordinary pet shop dogs, owner Caroline Janczak said customers probably wouldn’t know the difference.

“The three dogs, they are very sweet,” she said. “They seek out human contact. They love people.”

What makes Moo Moo, Siegfried and Thatcher different from other dogs at the shop is they come from a shelter where animals are euthanized if they’re not adopted. Janczak said the three dogs seem to have once lived with families that were no longer able to care for them.

“They were clearly loved,” she said.

The dogs were joined by two shelter cats that are for sale at Critters Pet Shop. They’re part of an initiative that Janczak and her husband, Mark, hope to expand.

Caroline Janczak said she and her husband have sold a handful of shelter pets in the past, but it wasn’t until they met Michelle Alexander that they decided to take it to the next level.

Alexander worked with Kendall County Animal Shelter and Aurora Animal Control to place pets at Critters Pet Shop. She was inspired to reach out to pet store owners after seeing overpopulation in animal shelters.

She said her Yorkville home is a licensed pet shelter, and she kept receiving photos of animals that would be euthanized if no one wanted them. The volume of photos she received broke her heart.

“I would cry when I’d get these pictures of animals,” she said. “You don’t know what to do.”

Seeing few options for the pets living in crowded shelters, Alexander said giving them a presence at a pet shop would help them find families. She thought the initiative would thrive at a mom and pop store, so she reached out to Critters Pet Shop, which is near her St. Charles workplace.

The Janczaks said they went to the shelters and handpicked the pets they wanted to sell, just like they would with a breeder. Dog trainer Vanessa Campbell has been working with the dogs and assessing their personalities to make sure they end up with the right families – all the shelter pets are potty-trained, spayed or neutered and have up-to-date shots, and some know tricks.

Caroline Janczak said the challenge for pet stores to sell shelter dogs is that sometimes shelters are hesitant to work with them. Because Critters Pet Shop has been around for 25 years, shelters may be more comfortable working with it, and she knew of two stores in Naperville and Wilmette that are doing the same thing.

“I believe it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “I think [pet overpopulation] has really become an issue with the economy. Sadly, a lot of families are being displaced. You don’t really think about it, but so do their pets.”

Alexander said millions of pets are unnecessarily euthanized each year, and the more animals that are removed from shelters, the fewer resources taxpayer-funded county shelters have to spend on caring for them.

“It’s really a win-win for everybody,” Caroline Janczak said. “... You don’t have to have a fancy purebred dog to have a wonderful dog.”

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