Oak Forest Woman Needs New Van After Saving 400 Animals This Year - Animals Paradise

Oak Forest Woman Needs New Van After Saving 400 Animals This Year

A longtime Oak Forest resident who “picks up and goes” whenever a rescue animal needs transport has lost the van she has used for years.

OAK FOREST, IL — A longtime Oak Forest resident whose heart for animals has taken her all over the state — and even to surrounding ones — to bring rescued animals to safety is in need of a new van to continue her efforts.

Christy VanMerkestyn has used her personal van to pick up and go at the call of a rescue group — many groups across Illinois, in fact — when an animal needs transporting. Dogs, cats, bunnies, guinea pigs, if it’s domestic, she’ll get it where it needs to go. If it needs medical care, or needs the loving home of a foster, there is no distance VanMerkestyn will not go to help an animal — as long as she has her van.

But right now, she doesn’t.

Courtesy of Katie Voss

“Three days ago, she had just finished up a transport,” said Katie Voss, VanMerkestyn’s friend and president of It’s a Pittie Rescue. “Her van made a ‘clunk’ noise, and it never started back up again.”

Now, Voss and others are coming to VanMerkestyn’s rescue with a GoFundMe campaign to help raise the money needed for her to purchase a new van. Rallying around this person and essential link in the rescue chain is the least they can do, Voss implied. In 2022 alone, she’s transported 441 animals.

“She’s amazing,” Voss said. “She just does it for the dogs.”

The transport piece of rescue is critical, and a lot less glamorous and celebrated than something like fostering.

“Transporting for rescues is so important,” Voss said, “and especially with gas prices being what they are, nobody wants to do the transport. Everyone wants to foster, but nobody wants to do the transport.

“She’ll go down to southern Illinois to grab a dog and bring them up to Chicago to get them the help they need.”

VanMerkestyn covers her own gas cost, as well as maintenance on her vehicle and any cleanup (because accidents are bound to happen when you’re transporting scared animals).

“She doesn’t take money, she does it all on their own dime,” Voss said. “She’ll sit at an ER and wait for a dog.

“… Christy will always volunteer.”

VanMerkestyn had trouble asking for help, Voss said, but as someone who relies on the public’s assistance to support her rescue efforts, generating community support comes more naturally to Voss.

“Running a rescue, you get used to asking people for money,” Voss joked of starting the GoFundMe on VanMerkestyn’s behalf.

The 22-year Oak Forest resident’s commitment to rescue transport started years ago, she said, as she helped a Great Dane rescue group. As an owner of Danes herself, she knew how to handle them, and had the full-size conversion van that would fit them.

She then went on to work with Chicago Animal Care and Control, as well.

Courtesy of Katie Voss

From there, word of mouth took over. To date, she’s worked with more than three dozen rescues or shelters, including ones like Chicago Animal Care and Control, Oak Forest Animal Control, Joliet Animal Control, Border Tail Rescues, Just Giants Rescue, Cache Creek, NAWS, Players for Pits and so many more.

“It really snowballed into something fantastic,” VanMerkestyn told Patch. “Any rescue that’s in the area reaches out. I pull from any animal control, any of the shelters. I either bring them into a safe facility, or I bring them to the hospital if that’s what they need, or I bring them right to a foster home.”

It’s hard to estimate how many hours she spends on the road, VanMerkestyn said, but it’s likely more than a full-time job.

“I go to pick up three dogs at the shelter, and I leave with nine,” she said. “I do whatever I can in however many hours.”

She has some limited availability at times due to medical conditions, but otherwise she will up and go when the call comes in.

“I don’t get a day off, because when someone calls, I leave,” she said.

“The animals are therapy to me,” she said. “I don’t like to say no, because I feel like it’s not OK for me to be sitting idle, when I know that one of the animals can die. That’s not OK.

“It doesn’t sit well with me.”

VanMerkestyn has two dogs of her own, some cats, and soon she’ll take in two lizards who are losing their home. She and her husband also have six children.

The inability to hit the road and help animals right now is breaking her, VanMerkestyn said, and Voss knew that. Her services are so needed, and she can’t quite fit as many animals in her Chevy Equinox.

“I would be at one shelter picking up an animal, and my phone would go off, and it’s another rescue asking me to get another one,” VanMerkestyn said.

“I am heartbroken over not having a vehicle right now,” she said. “This is my passion, and I’ll keep doing it for as long as I can.”