When several elderly neighbors confided in Marijon Binder, she realized she could fill a void in her community. These conversations grew into a way to serve both her friends and the animals she loves.
"Neighbors would come over and talk," said Binder. "They'd say, 'I'm getting too old to live in my home but I don't want to go into assisted living while my dog or cat is alive, because they don't want pets.' "
Since 1983, Binder has been founder and director of Touched By An Animal, a charitable organization sustained by donations and volunteers. Its mission is simple: "To help people, especially the elderly and those struggling with financial and personal crises, maintain their bond with companion animals in their homes, preserving their families."
When Binder first learned several neighbors needed to go into assisted living or a nursing home, her response was to tell them to bring the dog or cat to her and she'd take care of it. Binder helped another neighbor with severe arthritis who had been feeding stray cats in the neighborhood but was having difficulties continuing to do so.
Binder decided she would try to help people keep their animals with them in their homes, if at all possible. Thus began Touched By An Animal, a home in a Chicago neighborhood that became a haven for cats.
Over the years, volunteers with the organization have gone into homes to help wherever they're needed. While many of its clients are in the North and Northwest suburbs, there are no boundaries for its care.
"I get calls daily requesting help," said Binder, "from social workers who know about us, hospital emergency rooms, hospital social workers, Council for the Jewish Elderly, to name a few."
Touched By An Animal is neither a shelter nor a rescue group. It is a licensed sanctuary for cats whose human companions need time or help in caring for them. Lost and "tossed" cats and kittens are also welcome.
"We treat cats that we care for as our personal pets in our home for their lifetime, unless or until their human companion can reclaim them or a private family chooses to adopt and care for them," Binder said.
The house the cats call home has 70 to 80 residents at any given time. One-third of them are being held for their original owner, to whom they are bonded. One-third of the cats are lifetime residents, because of health issues or advanced age. However, they may be able to be adopted if the right person comes along. And the remaining third are looking for new families to adopt them.
"They are fastidious about taking care of the cats," said Dr. Ashley Rossman, a veterinarian with Glen Oak Dog and Cat Hospital in Glenview. "The home is kept meticulous, constantly being cleaned, with the cats loved and cared for."
"Marijon has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I've ever known," Rossman said. "She takes cats, rejected by everyone, others can't or won't. You can feel and see the love working with her."
Carol, Isabelle and Sissy
A native Chicagoan, Carol Phyllis Larson of Shelbyville, Kentucky, received a call from her friend, Isabelle, in Chicago. Unable to find a job, she had been living in a hotel when she suffered a stroke.
"She could barely talk," Larson recalled. "It was 6:30 a.m., she had been taken to the hospital and her cat, Sissy, was still in the hotel room. She told me to get hold of Marijon Binder so she could come for the cat."
Larson had never heard of Touched By An Animal until then, but she called and a volunteer went to the hotel, recovered Sissy from the room, took her to the vet (standard practice for all incoming cats), paid the vet bills and brought her safely to the haven where she is currently being cared for. Isabelle is recovering in a rehabilitation facility and looking forward to being reunited with Sissy.
"They are lifesavers. They are loving. They are caring," Larson said. "The organization is phenomenal."
Andrea and Jessie
After suffering financial difficulties, Andrea Rosen of Mount Prospect was beside herself when her cat, Jessie, developed bladder stones. Treatment required continued medical care and a special diet for the rest of the cat's life. Where would Rosen find the resources to provide for her beloved cat?
"I thought I'd have to put her down," Rosen recalled. "But I found Touched By An Animal on the Internet and called them."
Binder and her staff provided veterinary and medical assistance as well as the very expensive food Jessie must have to prevent a recurrence of the stones. They have been helping Rosen and Jessie for almost three years and will continue to do so as long as they are needed.
"They are the savior of Jessie and of myself," said Rosen. "Every day, every month it's a blessing. Not only is it assistance, it's love beyond belief."
Juan Pablo and Violet
Last October, a fire in Chicago resident Juan Pablo Rojas' home meant he needed shelter for himself and his kitten, Violet. Finding a place that would care for both of them was difficult. Rojas turned to the Internet. While he had never heard of Touched By An Animal before, after reading about it on the organization's website, he decided to contact Binder.
Rojas didn't know what to expect, but he found answers to his questions. The cats lived in a "regular" house, with all the trappings of a real home. All the cats living there were free-roaming, not caged. Owners could come to visit their cats; in fact, this was encouraged.
"It's a great thing: you can go there and sit with your cat," Rojas said.
After four months, Rojas said things are "back to normal" and Violet has returned to be with him.
"I'd like others to know about Touched By An Animal for whenever an owner has a hardship like I did, or you need a cat to be looked after, they are far better than any shelter," Rojas said. "They are people who care and treat cats like a member of the family."
For more information about Touched By An Animal, visit online at www.touchedbyananimal.org or call (773) 728-6336.