There are no six-pack abs or sultry poses to be found in Project Hope Animal Rescue’s 2024 firefighter calendar, but the “aw” factor is huge.
Every month features photos of local firefighters holding adorable puppies available for adoption from the Gilberts-based nonprofit no-kill shelter.
“It started out as a joke,” said Stacy Pyrek, founder of Project Hope. “We said, ‘Oh, let’s do a sexy fireman calendar.’ But it didn’t turn out that way.”
With a little help from the Rutland Dundee Fire Protection District and the East Dundee, Carpentersville and Sleepy Hollow fire departments, the calendar ended up capturing images of firefighters cuddling tiny dogs.
“The firemen and firewomen were super,” Pyrek said. “We had such a fun time. Everyone was laughing, and the puppies were getting so much attention. … What’s better than being able to snuggle with a bunch of little puppies?”
One department enjoyed the experience so much that they’re considering fostering a dog at the firehouse, she said.
Cindy Kennedy took the photos and laid out the calendar, which costs $20 for one, $35 for two and $50 for three.
They can be purchased at Pyrek’s pet supply store, Four Legs Pets at 133 E. Higgins Road in Gilberts, as well as online at projecthopearf.org/events/order-your-2024-puppyfirefighter-calendar and at local participating fire departments.
The Project Hope foundation printed 100 copies and has sold about half so far, Pyrek said.
Pyrek opened Project Hope in 2018, and typically house about 50 puppies brought in from kill shelters, many of which are located in southern states.
“There are just so many animals out there that need homes and end up in shelters and get euthanized for pretty much no reason,” she said.
This week Pyrek traveled to three shelters in Arkansas that often provide dogs to her in the hope they’ll be adopted from her shelter. There are far more puppies available in the south, she said, because dogs are often left to run freely and pet owners don’t spay or neuter their pets, she said.
“People don’t know what to do with the puppies and dump them on the side of the road,” Pyrek said. “It’s never-ending. We work so hard to get these animals and place them. You feel you are accomplishing something, but as soon as you get one out, another comes in the next day.”
This week she brought back a terrier mix named Mango and Mango’s four-week-old puppy from her Arkansas trip.
“We don’t know what mix the puppy is but she’s super cute,” she said.
She tries to find foster homes for puppies, and sometimes boards dogs that are difficult to place.
“We’re constantly looking for foster homes and volunteers,” she said.
Since Illinois passed the Humane Pet Store Law in 2021, which prohibits the retail sale of dogs or cats, more people are interested in adopting, Pyrek said.
“I think people are more and more into adopting and understand how it really does save a life,” she said.
It’s also less expensive. The foundation’s adoption fee is $500 and includes all shots as well as spaying and neutering. A breeder would charge $1,500 or more just for the dog, she said.
Project Hope holds adoption events every month and schedules special events, like yoga with puppies, the next session of which is this Saturday. A certified yoga instructor leads the 45-minute class, with the $35 fee going to support the shelter.
“It’s the best of both worlds. Puppies and yoga,” Pyrek said. “It’s so much fun. We’re getting tons and tons of interest in our puppy yoga.
“It’s more puppy than yoga, let’s face it,” she said. “It’s super cute.”
Gloria Casas is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.