A dog stands vigil at a Veteran's grave. A US flag is next to him.

Nonprofit Spotlight: Clare’s House

Lori Shonebaum, Clare’s House volunteer, gets a little teary-eyed when she talks about Paco, who recently crossed the rainbow bridge. “Paco was the best dog! He had a snaggle tooth and this big ear that stuck out,” she says. “We watched Paco while his dad, a veteran who’d lost both legs, was in the hospital.” Sadly, Paco’s owner didn’t survive the hospitalization, but by that time everyone in the organization had fallen in love with the little dog. Unsurprisingly, a Clare’s House volunteer adopted Paco. “Every Veteran’s Day, they visited Jefferson Barracks together to honor Paco’s dad.”

Ensuring dogs like Paco remain in a loving home while their owners deal with their own health concerns is what the folks at Clare’s House do. Their mission is to provide compassionate, short-term fostering for family dogs and assistance to pet parents needing a little extra support for their furry companions. The organization offers three services: the Golden Leash Program, the Clare’s House Cares Funds, and Temporary Loving Caregivers (TLC).

A small, fluffy white dog wears a red harness and is holding a paw up to shake.
Piper is one of the dogs Golden Leash volunteers walk.

The Golden Leash Program helps pet owners with health issues that prevent them from exercising their pets outside of the home. The program helps many different dogs and their owners, but Shonebaum says Piper is one of her favorites. Piper’s owner has MS and was unable to walk her very energetic little dog, so Clare’s House volunteers took Piper for daily walks. “Oh, Piper would just get so excited. We’d walk up to take her on her Golden Leash walk, and she was just so happy to see us,” said Shonebaum.

Another service they provide is through their Clare’s House Cares Funds, which is a partnership they have with Circle of Concern Food Pantry. Circle of Concern assists low-income families in the Valley Park community, and Clare’s House helps their pets. Shonebaum explains that this is just one of the ways we can help keep people and their pets together during tough times.

Finally, their TLC program involves temporary fostering for dogs whose owners are struggling with their own health concerns. One of Shonebaum’s favorite stories involves Cocoa, a 19-year-old black Labrador Retriever. “Cocoa was so old she was mostly white instead of black, and her arthritis made it a struggle for her to move.” When Coco’s owner had back surgery and had to be away from home for a few weeks, she knew Coco couldn’t handle spending that length of time in a kennel. Clare’s House volunteers fostered the elderly Lab during that time. “Her foster family had two little nieces who loved snuggling with her!” Coco’s owner recovered from surgery knowing that her furry friend was not only safe and cared for but loved.

A young boy kisses a tan Doodle dog that a woman is holding up to his face.
Fluffy and his family were happy to be reunited after TLC volunteers cared for the dog while the family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House.

Another time TLC came to the rescue was when a young boy from Illinois brought his Make-a-Wish dog Fluffy with him to the Ronald McDonald House while he was being treated in St. Louis. Although the nonprofit home tried to keep Fluffy together with his family, after a few days, they decided the dog’s rambunctious nature was disturbing other residents. Clare’s House volunteers took in the pet, and they paid for veterinarian services like neutering, preventative shots, and checkups while the dog was in their care.

People wishing to help Clare’s House fulfill their mission can help in a few different ways. Pet owners don’t schedule a broken bone or a hospital visit, so they need volunteers to foster and walk dogs. This year they are especially excited about raising funds for their new Operation Dog House. This is an ambitious plan to build a home specifically for fostering dogs. “This house (a.k.a. Clare’s House) was always a plan for us. We’re just now in the process of making it a reality, which is very exciting!” Located on Forest Avenue in Valley Park, the house is set up to host almost a dozen pet dogs, depending on their sizes. “It has a nice big, fenced yard where the dogs can play and lots of cozy spaces inside. There’s a kitchen for meal prep, and it’s just going to be great!”

The St. Louis Community Foundation’s Give STL Day event is an especially good time for people to donate to Clare’s House. “We love Give STL day! We like the gamification, the bonus rounds, and the other fun elements. Plus, it’s just a good way to be with so many other amazing nonprofits on a day when everybody’s thinking about how they can make an impact.”

A woman bends down for a "kiss" from a dog a man holds in his hands.
Paco offers a “pooch smooch” at a Barks n Brews BBQ event.

Supporters of Clare’s House provide necessary support for pet owners and their pets in the St. Louis region. “Everybody can make a difference whether they help us personally at the house, snuggle and love on dogs, or just donate to our cause.” The only thing more rewarding than helping an organization like Clare’s House might be a pooch smooch from one of the pets it’s served!