Sunday, November 10, 2013

Party animals headed to the Paws Chicago Fur Ball

Party animals headed to the Paws Chicago Fur Ball

 - Paula Fasseas holds Minnie Mouse; Dicie is on a leash. Both need homes. - Kendall Karmanian
Paula Fasseas holds Minnie Mouse; Dicie is on a leash. Both need homes.
Kendall Karmanian
Smashing Pumpkins co-founder and frontman Billy Corgan adopted his cats, Sammi and Mr. Thom, from Paws Chicago in 2003. All three are invited to Paws' annual fundraiser, the black-tie Fur Ball, Nov. 15, but only one member of the Corgan household will make the trip to the Drake Hotel. (The cats “don't travel well,” Mr. Corgan says.)
He and 750 other people will join 250 canine and feline guests, as well as 25 shelter dogs looking for permanent homes, at Fur Ball. The presence of animals and high-profile people such as Mr. Corgan and philanthropist Ann Lurie helps Fur Ball net $1.1 million, making it the most lucrative pet-related gala in the city. (By comparison, Anti-Cruelty Society's humans-only It's Raining Cats and Dogs event, held every fall, raises about $200,000). Fur Ball's seven-figure net makes it one of the most successful Chicago-area fundraisers, period.
Pets have been part of the party since Fur Ball began 12 years ago, at the Escada store, then on Michigan Avenue. “Escada approached us. They said they'd seen this done in New York, parties with animals,” says Paula Fasseas, 58, Paws' founder and volunteer CEO. Event designer Tom Kehoe, with Fur Ball since the beginning, outfitted the store with paw prints on the walls and picket fences on the floor. “It was adorable,” Ms. Fasseas says. Fur Ball outgrew the store within two years; it moved to the W Hotel and landed at the Drake six years ago.
The first Fur Ball attracted 200 people and netted $180,000. The event passed the $1 million mark last year and now accounts for about 18 percent of Paws' $6.6 million annual budget. The organization, which runs a no-kill dog and cat shelter, offers spay and neuter services to owners who can't afford them otherwise and encourages adoption rather than buying from a pet store or breeder. It is funded entirely by private donations.
Paws' mission “feels right to me—we've all been to the shelters where you want to cry,” Mr. Corgan says. “There's something beautiful about Chicagoans in their finest, at the Drake, with their animals,” he adds. “It makes you laugh—there's an absurdity about it."

Paws Chicago Fur Ball
When: Nov. 15, 6 p.m.
Where: Drake Hotel, 140 E. Walton Place
How much: $400 and up; $100 per pet with individual ticket, free with $1,000 sponsorship ticket
Dress code: Black tie
Expected attendance: 750
Expected net: $1.1 million
Tickets and more info: 773-843-4887
Social Whirl: See the slide show of this and other events at Submit your own event information
Last year, Mr. Corgan donated a private concert at Madame ZuZu's, his tea house in Highland Park, to the live auction. The concert sold three times for $30,000. This year, he is offering a dinner for 10 at a North Shore estate. Curtis Duffy, chef-owner at Grace in Chicago, will cook, and Mr. Corgan will curate what he calls “Follies-like” music and entertainment. “It will be Great Gatsby meets San Simeon,” Mr. Corgan says.
Ann Lurie, best-known for underwriting a huge chunk of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, has donated $913,200 to Paws since its founding in 1997; she donated seed money for the organization's Lurie Spay/Neuter Clinic, which performed 18,130 free procedures in 2012. Ms. Fasseas, she says, “has put so much time and energy into this cause . . . . She's really done her due diligence.”
It takes some planning to include almost 300 animals at a black-tie event. Paws will tap 200 of its 5,000 volunteers to work Fur Ball. Of those, 100 will prowl the Gold Coast Room and Grand Ballroom during the gala, looking for possible dog and cat fights and overstimulated creatures. Party-weary pets will be whisked off to the “spa,” a section on the mezzanine outfitted with AstroTurf and plastic sheeting, for a nail clipping, massage or down time in a crate.
Cooks at the Drake have created a pet-friendly meal—no onion, chocolate or other substances poisonous to animals—that will be served on a buffet table and marked clearly as pet, not people, food.
The hotel will have its Christmas tree up and decorated. Paws likes the tree so much that its presence is specified in the gala contract but otherwise limits shrubbery. “They did ficus trees one year and the dogs enjoyed the trees a little too much,” says Ann O'Riordan, director of catering and events at the Drake.
The night of the event, Ms. O'Riordan keeps housekeepers on alert to clean up any messes quickly. The day after, the Fur Ball areas are given a deep clean, she says. It sounds worse than it is: “The animals are better-behaved than a lot of our New Year's Eve guests,” she says.

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