Dog’s Best Friend

Animal House Shelter Founder and President Lesley Irwin and Her Team Are Ready to Help More Dogs and Cats Find Forever Homes through Rescue and Adoption


story by lisa stamos | Photo by Linda M. Barrett

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Animal House Shelter Founder and President Lesley Irwin and Her Team Are Ready to Help More Dogs and Cats Find Forever Homes through Rescue and Adoption

About Animal House Shelter

On any given day, the team at Animal House Shelter in Huntley, Illinois, receives 300 requests to save animals, mostly dogs, and about 25% cats. There’s great difficulty in knowing that they can only save about 50 animals a week, and that it is conditional for them to take puppies and kittens—there has to be a foster home lined up first, before they take them in, so that the animal’s weak immune systems are not in a community population setting, and therefore are not compromised. Fostered puppies or kittens stay on average in a home for 2-4 weeks. About 30% of the families who foster the animals end up adopting them.

Inquiries come from across the country regarding adoptable animals, volunteering, fostering, relinquishing a pet, and companies wanting to partner. Calls to take in rescued animals arrive from Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Southern Illinois. May of the dogs and cats are homeless or abandoned, and about 5% of the rescue calls are for pregnant animals, newly born litters, or new litters without a mother.

Calls from adopters come in from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, California, and Alaska. Animal House Shelter is not a “walk-through” shelter. “We require that potential adopters fill out an application to begin so that we can learn as much about them, their family, and their home as possible,” Irwin said. “We check past and present veterinary references to ensure the animals have been cared for.” The shelter staff partners with Animal Care Clinic, which performs surgeries and offers veterinary services. Wonder Lake Animal Hospital also performs surgeries. There are regional partners including Best Friends, Humane Society of the United States, Chicago Animal Control, Illinois Animal Rescue, and rural partners in many states. The organization recently rescued dogs from a dog meat farm in South Korea, with help from Humane Society International.

The need is great and does not seem to slow down. But with Animal House Shelter and its extended network and “family” of volunteers and supporters, there is significant impact. The shelter’s goal of a new, expanded, and strategically-designed shelter—to be built next to the current one—will offer greater help to the operation, community outreach, in-facility education for students, and will result in a lot of happy, wagging tails.

Animal House Shelter’s Director of Development, Ashley Feck, oversees fundraising and development for the shelter. Her focus includes increasing funding, partnerships, sponsors, donors, volunteers, fosters, adopters, media opportunities, and opportunities to save animals, making as broad of an impact as possible, both nationally and internationally.

“My day-to-day goals are to advance and develop the shelter in every way I can, including funding, partnerships, sponsors, donors, volunteers, fosters, adopters, media, and opportunities to save animals making as broad of an impact as possible,” Feck said. “Of the animals that get sent to me every single day that we cannot save,” she continued. “I want to save them all. There is no time to waste in any day of the week, month, or year. Every day that I am not doing all that I can to expand the shelter’s resources are moments that may mean the life or death of an animal in need. Watching the animals go home every day to forever families is the daily reminder that the work that we do is making a difference in the lives of these animals and the people who rescue them.”

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Dash for the Dogs 2019

Each spring, Animal House Shelter hosts its Dash for the Dogs fundraiser at Barrington’s Citizens Park. On May 19, a large crowd lined up behind the race’s start-finish line, many with dogs by their side. People of all ages participated in either of two events—first, a 5K Run or Walk, and then some opted for the 1 Mile Family Fun Walk after the 5K.

Animal House Shelter has a variety or fun events all year long with something for everyone. There are opportunities to volunteer, sponsor, and participate. Proceeds help support the shelter. Learn more at

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Greatest Needs for Support

  • Financial support for the new facility and ongoing operations.
  • Material donations for building the new shelter. Anyone that can provide material donations makes one less expense that the staff need to raise for expansion.
  • Volunteers to help with all aspects of daily operations including answering phones, data entry, walking dogs, help with laundry, vet transport, etc.
  • The shelter staff goes through a huge amount of canned cat and dog food, canned chicken, paper towels, bleach, laundry detergent, dish soap, and blankets.

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A Letter from Lesley Irwin

The Story of Animal House Shelter and Its Ambitious Future

I grew up in Barrington and graduated from Barrington High School in 1993. I then continued my education at the University of Illinois in Champaign with a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences.

On a summer break when I was home from college, I received a frantic phone call from a friend from high school, that she had just seen a dog thrown out of a moving car on Lake Cook Road in Barrington. The dog was terrified, emaciated, and all cut up from being thrown from the car. I ended up adopting that dog after I got her treated for injuries at a local vet, and she spent my senior year of college with me. I had always thought my college degree would lead me on to graduate school for veterinary medicine. Once I took in Kiley, I started researching opening my own rescue, completed the 501c3 paperwork, and got started by helping other nonprofit, no-kill rescues.

I started the shelter when I was 25 years old in Barrington, moved to Huntley in 2005 in order to have more space as we were growing rapidly, and in 18 years we have now rescued, rehabilitated physically and mentally, and placed in loving homes over 48,000 homeless dogs and cats.

My mom was my biggest inspiration in my love of all animals as a child. While growing up, I always had at least five dogs, 10 rescue horses, two pot-bellied pigs, and cats.

The numbers are staggering—of the perfectly adoptable purebred and mixed breed dogs and cats that end up at high-kill facilities every day and most of the time only have one-to-three days before they are euthanized due to lack of space—unless they are rescued by a no-kill shelter like Animal House.

We receive over 300 urgent requests every day and can only take in 45-50 animals per week right now. With the building expansion we will be able to double the number, leading to 5,000-6,000 rescued per year.

We utilize eight different local veterinary clinics in an effort to keep up with up with neutering all of the animals we rescue, heart worm treatments, specialty surgeries, and emergencies, and we desperately need our own vet clinic to save us the time and expenses involved in traveling to so many different clinics twice a day.

We have Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Eagle Scouts, Brownies, school groups, and children donating in lieu of gifts for their birthdays visiting the shelter every single day, and the children’s education room will give us the much-needed space to accommodate those children who we do not currently have. We hope to properly educate them on the humane treatment of animals and why no-kill shelters like Animal House exist—and need to thrive—in order to save the tens of thousands of animals that are euthanized every year.

The training facility will help us to train the newly rescued animals their basics, like walking properly on a leash, in order to get adopted more quickly. The harder cases, such as those animals that have been abused and neglected, will need this space to help us rehabilitate them. We will also utilize the training facility for training classes with adopted dogs that either need basic training on manners, or more intense training with behavioral issues.

We rely solely on private donations and need the community’s help in order to continue saving the lives of homeless dogs and cats by donating towards this much needed building expansion. It is our duty to help right the wrongs by society for these defenseless, domesticated animals.

To contact Lesley Irwin, founder and president of Animal House Shelter, call 847-961-5541 or email


The proposed new shelter facility.