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From 0 to 1,500: The Adopt-A-Dog story

For years, Chicago Wolves chairman Don Levin had been passionate about helping animals — particularly dogs. He invested considerable time and money to help organizations such as Chicago’s Animal Care and Control.

Then, in 2001, while trying to figure out how to convince more people to save these worthy but homeless dogs, he had an epiphany: Instead of waiting for people to come to the dogs, he and CACC should bring the dogs to the people. And thus the Chicago Wolves’ Adopt-A-Dog program, presented by Premier Veterinary Group, was born.

Starting with the 2001-02 season, Levin and CACC started transporting dogs to Allstate Arena one Saturday night each month in hopes Wolves fans would fall in love with deserving dogs and provide them with forever homes.

“I had never seen any program like this,” Levin said. “But we said, ‘Let’s see if it works.’ And our fans took to it right away. It’s been this way since the very beginning.”

Turns out there have been plenty of people who come for the hockey, but can’t bear to leave without adding a new member to their family. And some of them love their adopted dog so much, they come back for more.

That was the case Saturday, Feb. 1, when the Adopt-A-Dog program celebrated its 1,500th adoption. Wolves season-ticket holders Jason and Kara Needham of Hammond, Indiana, visited the South Lobby in hopes of finding a kind soul to join Rocky, a 9-year-old Staffordshire terrier they found at Adopt-A-Dog in 2013, and 4-year-old Maynard, a French Bulldog rescue.

“Rocky is a phenomenal dog,” Kara said. “We’re hoping the new dog will come and follow his lead, but give Maynard somebody to play with.”

Once they got to meet Cadbury, a 2-year-old bulldog mix who was “just chilling” in her cage, it was all over.

“They brought her out and she was loving on us,” Kara said. “She was kissing faces…”

Levin met with the Needhams shortly after they completed the program’s 1,500th adoption.

“It’s exciting,” Levin said. “They’re nice people. I really do appreciate what they’ve done.”

Levin knows how the multiple adoptees feel. At his home currently, he has five dogs who melted his heart on Adopt-A-Dog Night. His son, Robert, has another. And a couple times each season, Levin takes home dogs who seem particularly in need of help and nurses them back to health.

“I keep them for as long as I need to keep them,” Levin said. “Then we find homes for them. (Wolves senior vice president) Courtney Mahoney puts on the full-court press and we find homes.”

Levin didn’t set any adoption goals when he, CACC and Mahoney implemented the Adopt-A-Dog program nearly 20 years ago — and he’s not going to start now.

“I didn’t have a number,” he said. “Just as many as we could. I’m still the same way.”