Orphans of the Storm has a long history of humane service to the community - since 1928. Starting with the vision of famous dancer Irene Castle in the 1930's and 1940's, followed by the leadership of animal welfare activist Thelma Zwirner in the 1970's and 1980's, and continuing today with Thelma's son, current volunteer President Richard Zwirner, Orphans of the Storm has been serving most of the animal control facilities and municipalities in Lake and northern Cook Counties, Illinois. For literally hundreds of thousands of unwanted, Orphans has been the refuge of last resort for the deserving dogs and cats from all over Northeast Illinois.
Irene Castle and her first husband Vernon became famous around the world as fashion and dance trendsetters before and during the First World War. They were later portrayed in the 1939 Ginger Rogers-Fred Astaire movie, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. In 1928, with the help of her third husband, Major Frederick McLaughlin (founder of the Chicago Blackhawks), Irene was able to build the original Orphans of the Storm animal shelter. Founding Orphans of the Storm with the mission that needy animals deserve a place to find loving homes, Irene lent her name and support to the shelter until her death in 1969. At that time, the shelter's board searched for a successor in order to avoid closure. Luckily for generations of adopted dogs and cats, Thelma Zwirner stepped forward to fill the role. More about Irene Castle.
Thelma Zwirner had a long history of animal welfare work. A life long dog lover, she started during the depression raising German Shepards to help her family make ends meet and in the process became aware of the scope of the problem of unwanted dogs and cats in interurban areas. She lobbied for humane legislation in the 1940's and 1950's in her native New York State and founded and ran a clearing house for the recovery of lost pets. She became active in animal shelter work and ultimately became President of the Westchester County Humane Society in the north suburbs of New York City. She continued her work with Kay's Animal Shelter in Arlington Heights, Illinois throughout the 1960's. Thelma Zwirner agreed to lead Orphans of the Storm after she was contacted following the death of Irene Castle in 1969.
A strong leader and dedicated visionary for the welfare of the animals entrusted to Orphans care, Thelma Zwirner oversaw the expansion of the shelter from maintaining 46 dogs indoors only, to maintaining 190 dogs with indoor and outdoor combined runs. By the time of her death in 1994, Orphans had become one of the largest animal shelters in the country, and had built on the vision that no needy animal would ever be turned away. Thelma's son Richard then assumed the leadership after having served for 25 years on its board of directors. More about Thelma Zwirner.
Richard Zwirner has built on Orphans' founding mission in his years as President by helping to shape Orphans of the Storm for the future. With the large numbers of area households with two working adults, Richard has emphasized cat adoptions and saw to expansion of the facilities to include our separate building dedicated to cats. In this building is our well-respected adult cat room where approximately 200 cats live together freely awaiting adoptive homes. Today, Orphans has more than 300 cats to choose from for adoption. Richard's experience with Orphans coupled with his business background has enabled him to expand and strengthen Orphans' position as a leading institution for stray and abandoned animals in Northeast Illinois.
In recent years, Orphans has begun to increase its visibility in order to stimulate adoptions and to increase fundraising in the area through expanded mailings, created an on-line presence, strengthened Orphans' identity generally, and managed increased local media coverage for the shelter. Richard has overseen heavy investments in the facility and grounds, and attempted to keep the running costs of Orphans of the Storm low. With goals for the future such as increasing adoptions further, expanding Orphans' educational role about the animal overpopulation problem, and creating a capital campaign for the facilities, Richard Zwirner has positioned Orphans of the Storm for a strong future of service to the stray, abandoned, abused and neglected dogs and cats of Northeastern Illinois and the communities they serve. More about Richard Zwirner and Orphans' Future.
We hope that you too can become a part of Orphans of the Storm's future. Orphans of the Storm has had a long and caring history, and has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of animals and their adoptive owners all over Northeast Illinois and beyond. We welcome your support, thank you. Here's how you can help.