Their story starts in Virginia, and their best chapters are happening in suburban Chicago, thanks to a unique partnership between a car dealer and a local humane society.
In a world often characterized by numbers, statistics and impersonal transactions, too few moments remind us of the beauty in connecting with individual names and stories. This rings true for Kevin Keefe, owner of Brilliance Honda in Crystal Lake and Brilliance Subaru in Elgin.
For the past two years, Keefe has worked alongside Elgin’s Anderson Humane to help more than 600 rescue dogs find their forever home by shedding a light on their harrowing stories.
Established in 1966, Anderson Humane has cemented itself as the leading animal welfare organization in the greater Elgin area. The shelter provides services including low-cost spaying and neutering; in-home pet care assistance to seniors, veterans and others; and training classes and resources for pet owners. Each year, the group’s shelters in South Elgin, Bloomingdale, North Aurora and Algonquin contribute to more than 4,000 pet adoptions.
Among those numbers are more than 150 beagles who’ve found a forever home thanks to a nationwide effort. At a reunion event this past August, the beagles and their new owners came together to celebrate the success.
The dogs’ Chicago story begins in July 2022 when Anderson Humane joined an effort to rescue roughly 4,000 beagles from the Envigo breeding and research facility in Cumberland, Va.
The rescue operation was authorized by a federal judge after U.S. Department of Agriculture officials discovered several regulatory violations at the site. What they found was poor health, injuries, undernourishment and even deaths among the beagles.
As leaders at Anderson Humane prepared to bring some of these animals to the suburbs, they reached out to Keefe and his sales manager, Jim DaLuga, with a request.
“We called our friends at Brilliance Subaru, Kevin and Jim, and we said, ‘We don’t have enough vans. Can you help?’ They said, ‘Not only will we help, but we will also outfit our van for air conditioning, and we will come with you,’” Dean Daubert, CEO and president of Anderson Humane, recalled at the August beagle reunion.
So, Keefe strapped an air conditioner atop one of his dealership’s parts trucks and hit the road. Conditions were so bad at the Virginia facility that Keefe brought along Vicks VapoRub to block out the overwhelming smell of the maltreated animals.
On that first trip, Keefe, DaLuga and Anderson team members successfully rescued 91 beagles.
One week and another 4,000 miles later, they brought home another 75 beagles.
The animals received care and medical treatment in Elgin before they found loving homes. One year later, their journey continues in a new community of loving, adoptive families.
The Envigo Beagle Reunion, From Number to Name event this Aug. 26 reunited Anderson Humane and more than 100 adopted beagles and their owners at Brilliance Subaru in Elgin. The event commemorated the first anniversary of their pets’ rescue from the Virginia testing facility.
It was an occasion for families to share their tales of life with four-legged family members at the “survivor stage.” Beagle owners chatted about their rescues and showed off the six-digit code the Virginia facility had tattooed on the inside of the beagles’ ears. Food trucks provided free burgers, fries and gyros, courtesy of Keefe.
Daubert, of Anderson Humane, embraced the occasion with a beagle-themed Hawaiian shirt.
“I am so impressed with how all of these beagles are doing here today,” Daubert told the crowd. “What a wonderful turnout to see all of the beagles that we worked so hard to bring back from Virginia.”
While the adoption reunion marked a special occasion for the crew at Brilliance Subaru, it wasn’t their first experience hosting rescued animals.
A partnership between Anderson Humane and Brilliance Subaru sprouted during the spring of 2021, as the world grappled with the uncertainties brought about by the effect of COVID and related mitigations. Lauri Cavin, one of Keefe’s sales managers, proposed partnering with Anderson Humane to bring rescue dogs into the retail environment.
“I said no at first, but Lauri did it anyway and I’m so glad she did,” says Keefe, recalling how the dogs’ presence at the dealership brought a new enthusiasm into the workplace. “I could not believe the response from the team members, in the organization and among the customers. Everybody just lit up.”
The initiative didn’t stop there. Keefe’s daughter Kelly, who serves as director of marketing and advertising at Brilliance Subaru, soon introduced the Rescue Dog of the Day concept. The idea is that the dealership brings in a rescue dog from Anderson Humane every Tuesday and Friday, plays with it in their designated dog park and markets it to prospective adopters.
“The first dog that we brought in was adopted by a service customer at the end of the day,” says Keefe. “If we can help a service customer adopt a dog, that is a truly amazing connection.”
A few months later, Keefe packed up volunteers into one of the dealership’s parts trucks and set off to rescue more than 130 dogs.
“Oklahoma has this huge problem of no spay and neutering, so there’s dogs all over the place,” says Keefe. “There are a couple of shelters down there that are overrun with amazing animals, so we brought those back and highlighted them so that everyone knew their story.”
The effort culminated in a monumental adoption event in June 2021 where Anderson Humane adopted out 156 animals in about 11 hours.
With the relationship cemented, Keefe and Brilliance Subaru have extended their dedication to the “Dog Tales” series on NBC Chicago, where reporters shine a spotlight on the efforts of organizations like Anderson Humane and their hordes of dedicated, passionate volunteers.
“We help with transport, but they do all the stuff to get the animal ready for adoption – and that journey is hard, long, tedious and heartbreaking,” says Keefe. “The behind-the-scenes folks, they’re not there for the money or recognition. They’re there for the rescue animals, and that’s what it’s all about.”
From a business perspective, Keefe believes giving back is essential for individuals and small businesses like his, especially in today’s stressful and challenging environment. Volunteering and acts of kindness, such as those exhibited by the Brilliance Subaru team, offer a way to bring positivity and unity into our lives, Keefe says.
“Volunteering and giving back are some of the things that help put a different tone in the air,” he says. “We saw that at the Beagles Reunion event. The response from the owners had us blown away.”
Adoption events have started to become a semi-annual tradition at Brilliance Subaru. The next occasion, the October Mega Adoption Event, is the second of its kind this year and the fourth to date. In preparation for the event, which runs Oct. 14 and 15 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Keefe plans to once again pack up volunteers in a Brilliance Subaru van and deliver a fresh collection of animals who need a loving home.
The adoption event is an opportunity to highlight the stories of these animals, their origins and the struggles they’ve overcome. And, the work is addictive, says Keefe, who’s raising two rescue dogs at home. He’s been captivated by the journey, rescuing animals from challenging circumstances to loving homes.
“I always say rescue goes both ways,” says Keefe. “The amount of rescuing these animals is doing is just as much as the rescuing the owners are doing for the animals. When a dog gets adopted, we celebrate, because that connection is something we can’t get enough of.”