Mission and Values

Our mission

End pet homelessness by making pet ownership a joyful and accessible experience for all.
We accomplish this by rescuing animals from overcrowded shelters, placing them in loving forever homes and providing support and resources to pet owners in need.

Our Values

Compassion for all animals and the people who care for them. We aim to foster a non-judgmental environment to build bridges and relationships with our community to help keep pets out of the shelter and in the homes where they are loved.

Community engagement and participation in all our programs. We aim to empower our community to be the change they want to see and rely on our volunteers to provide daily care in foster homes and our facilities.

Vulnerable populations are a priority for rescue and support. We aim to deliver programs focused on finding the most vulnerable populations of animals including big dogs, senior dogs, sick dogs, parvo puppies, pitbulls and neonate kittens, and delivering solutions to help them live and be loved.

Progress and growth every day. We aim to consistently be on the front lines of progressive policies and programming in the animal welfare community, knowing that change is made by taking risks, challenging the standard and always thinking differently.

Our Story

In 2007 Heather Owen, One Tail at a Time’s Executive Director and Co-Founder, visited Chicago Animal Care and Control for the first time. That year, the city shelter was euthanizing more than 13,000 animals. The visit was an inspiration to become involved in the animal rescue community and be part of the solution. The next year, in 2008, One Tail at a Time was born inside an Albany Park apartment among five friends.

One Tail at a Time (OTAT) started as a backup plan for dogs that were not getting adopted or rescued by other groups in the area shelters. Over the years we have experienced consistent and steady growth: we are among the top transfer partners for dogs at Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC) and for cats at several open intake shelters in Indiana, we have a robust transport program in which dogs are rescued from high-kill shelters in southern states, and we are even able to pull dogs from a rescue partner in Tulum, Mexico to help them get adopted in the Chicagoland area. Our growth has been, and continues to be, due to the overwhelming support received from our community. Members enable us to take on complex medical cases and continue to grow our annual intake numbers. Volunteers have continued to line up to foster and care for dogs, cats, rabbits, and guinea pigs, to take on leadership roles, and to help build One Tail at a Time into a well-known and respected rescue organization in Chicago and beyond. 

Due to our continuous growth and immensely supportive community of members, volunteers, fosters, adopters, and more, we have evolved into the One Tail at a Time Cooperative! As of 2023, you can find OTAT dogs, cats, rabbits, the occasional guinea pig, and support for thousands of community pets, at one of our SIX locations:

  • Opened in 2015, our Adoption Center is where folks can meet adoptable dogs and even take them home the same day if it’s a good fit! We are able to house up to 8 dogs on site. 
  • Opened in 2018, the Brian & Sheri Qualizza Isolation House was originally created to temporarily house up to dogs coming out of CACC during a canine influenza epidemic, but these days, it’s a comfy, but still temporary, stop-over for up to 10 dogs coming from shelters (most often CACC) before they move to foster homes.
  • Also opened in 2018, the Rudy Stewart Training & Behavior Center has enabled OTAT to support behaviorally complex dogs for as long as they need the support, with not only a physical facility, but two trainers on staff who develop behavior plans for dogs in foster homes too. 
  • Opened in 2020, the Ellis Veterinary Clinic has made a huge impact in the number of animals we are able to support, as well as how many medically challenging cases we can take on. 
  • Opened in 2021, Tortie & Co is our gift shop and cat adoption center! Community members can shop for gifts and meet the free-roaming adoptable cats on site, all while helping to support our mission with 100% of store profits going back to OTAT’s cat & critter program.
  • While we started doing the work to support our community by hosting people and pet pantries, vaccine and microchip clinics, and more long before 2021, that was the year we officially launched our Pet Mutual Aid program and moved the program into a space at the Kimball Arts Center! 
  • We are still the supporting organization behind the Chicagoland Rescue Intervention & Support Program (CRISP) and we’re so happy to have been able to resume in-person outreach at CACC in 2023! We are continuing the important work to either divert surrendered pets directly to rescues in Chicago, or to work with families to keep their beloved pets with them by providing medical or other support.

Financial Information, Intake, & Outcome Statistics