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Hawks fans' mission: Find homes for abused dogs

By Jack M Silverstein

For RedEye

12:50 PM CDT, May 16, 2013

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If you've ever owned a dog, you know the importance of finding the perfect name. Maybe you picked a family name, the name of a childhood dog or even the name of a city you love.

Dog lovers Bridgid Nolan, 36, and Sue Naiden, 41, had a different source of inspiration: the Blackhawks.

Nolan owns Project Rescue Chicago (1535 N. Dayton St., 312-623-0939), an agency that takes in homeless and abused dogs and finds them homes for adoption. She also runs Unleashed, a doggy daycare at the same location.

She partners with Naiden, whose organization Trio Animal Foundation (516 N. Ogden Ave., 312-909-9680) raises money for the dogs' medical bills. They are friends as well as business partners, and while each had run her organization since 2009, their friendship and shared love of dogs and the Blackhawks converged in late 2011 when they learned about a dog in New York.

"There was a pit bull that was really beat up," said Naiden, of Roscoe Village. "My dog Trio had just passed in the end of November. This dog looked just like her. He was going to be euthanized—he was hit by a car: broken leg, broken hip. It was the cathartic, 'gotta go do it,' you know what I mean?"

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing," said Nolan, of Lincoln Square, about going to New York to adopt. Most of their dogs come from the Animal Welfare League at 6224 S. Wabash Ave.

"We were trying to think of a strong name that represented something that we loved," Naiden said. "We thought of Hossa. It went from there. The next one was 'Shaw.' It was Shaw's first game, and he got in a fight and had a cut on his face, and we had a dog that was slit from ear to ear from its collar, so from that we got Shaw."

From there, the two friends began naming dogs after Blackhawks based on the dogs' looks, injuries and personalities. There was Toews ("super chill—a good leader of the group"), Kaner ("runs in circles and has all these little deke moves"), and recently, Carcillo ("a scrappy little meatball").

Most dogs were given one name—Toews, Kaner, Sharp, Crawford—though Brandon Saad got a full name (since naming a dog "Saad" bums out potential adopters who mistake the dog's name for "Sad") as did Duncan Keith (since naming a dog either "Duncan" or "Keith" misses the point).

Almost the entire roster is represented. And while the Blackhawks dogs make up a small percentage of the dogs Project Rescue Chicago has assisted with Trio, they are among the most popular.

But that's only in Chicago. As Naiden points out, some of their non-Chicago clients are none too happy about adopting a Blackhawks dog.

"I was like, 'People are going to love it and rally around it,' " Naiden said. "Well people from … Michigan and the Detroit area especially don't appreciate a dog named Hossa. So you have to be cautious."

Nolan and Naiden admit, however, they would be the same way.

"[A dog named] Sid Crosby?" Nolan said, laughing. "I don't want that."

Nolan and Naiden have even seen the passion of baseball fans leak into their work, particularly in light of Trio Animal Foundation's fundraiser Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field. "I was just like, 'It's a cool location,'" Naiden said of the ballpark. "It had nothing to do with being a Sox fan or a Cubs fan. But it definitely turns into that when you talk to that. It's very interesting. People are so loyal."

Naiden and Nolan are too. They can regularly be seen wearing Blackhawks gear and try to attend as many games as possible. But while many fans treat sports as escapism, these two women are escaping from the gruesome images of abused dogs. Dogs have arrived with ripped mouths or slit throats, while others have been delivered in garbage bags. Naiden calls attending Hawks games her "saving grace."

"It literally keeps me sane," she said. "There have been times we've gone where we literally haven't talked. You're straight faced. The only time there's any excitement is if they get a goal. Even when they have the video at the beginning and the national anthem, I literally get goose bumps because everything bad goes away. It's the best escape possible. I don't have anywhere else I go."

"It's the one thing we can sort of control when we're faced with so many things that are out of our control," Nolan said. "A couple weeks ago, we were at a game, and we had a dog that was really, really sick. We didn't know what was wrong with her. She was a puppy. We were at the game and the vet was trying to call, but my phone randomly died.

"I checked my voice mail in the morning, and the vet had been trying to call us while we were at the game, because the dog died at the vet. It was just so weird that my phone turned off, because obviously that's not great news. And we were at the one place where you hope not to ever get that kind of news."

"Nowadays with iPhones, it's email, it's texts, it's nonstop," Naiden said. "And you think about it nonstop. I can barely sleep at night thinking about the things I've seen in the shelter. The abuse cases that come in are so horrific. So to be able to go to [Blackhawks games] and escape—I have a very humble living. I don't have much, but that's one thing I will spend my money on."

Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. @readjack.

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