Updated: Jul 20, 2018
The latest from our Northwest Side Hero Project--highlighting stories about local heroes, as nominated by their neighbors, doing great things on the Northwest Side of Chicago.
John Garrido was the first local hero nominated SEVERAL times by Northwest Siders, and after meeting him over coffee at Perkolator, I now understand why. His day job is with the Chicago Police Department, as Daytime Field Lieutenant for the 16th District. But his side gig as founder, chief rescuer, and animal advocate for the Garrido Stray Rescue Foundation is just as admirable and awe inspiring. He is a true local hero; humble, passionate, and inspirational.
John was born in Bridgeport and moved around a bit as a young adult, traveling a lot in his early work with Cinnabon before landing here on the north side in 1991. He traded in his nickname of “Cinnabon John” for a police officer’s badge, working on the west and south sides of the city in narcotics and violent crimes. He was promoted to Detective, then Sergeant, then Lieutenant and as he worked his way up the ladder, he worked his way closer to home. During this time, he met and married wife Anna in 1998, an animal lover.
“Anna had a springer spaniel and I couldn’t be in the same room for 5 minutes. I’d be sneezing, red eyes, asthmatic.”
Anna considered a new home for her pup, but couldn’t say goodbye. John turned to drastic measures.
“Five years of weekly shots in each arm.”
His allergies subsided over time and John and Anna added more dogs to the family, always rescue. Spurred by their personal experience with their pets, the couple became very involved in local animal welfare.
“We started fundraising for PAWS Chicago, throwing cookouts at our house, and it gave us the opportunity to meet the founders.”
In 2014, John and Anna took a trip to Belize and brought back an unusual souvenir.
“We were walking along a beach in San Pedro and a stray Doberman started following us.”
They tried to take the dog to a local vet, but it was closed. They took him to a local store, fed him, and brought him back to their hotel—all the while posting the chronicles of “Pedro” the dog on Facebook. They ended up at the local humane society and tracked down the owner, only to discover he didn’t want the dog. Thankfully by this time, John and Anna did.
“A friend back in Chicago started a Go Fund Me and within 24 hours raised $2,500. Because of the season, we couldn’t fly him home commercially.”
Pedro took a small army to bring home to Chicago. John together with a small team of animal advocates and John’s 70 year-old dad chartered a boat and drove through the backroads of Mexico to bring Pedro home. Travel through drug country was dangerous and to be avoided at night.
“We were robbed by armed men who appeared to be police officers; hard to tell for sure.”
It was not a walk on the beach.
“We met so many nice people along the way, but Mexico is a very different place outside of the resorts.”
They eventually brought Pedro home, and the dog now has over 3 thousand followers on social media.
But John is a hero to more than just Pedro. Inspired by the support, he and his wife started a grassroots effort to reunite stray animals with their owners around Chicago using his personal Facebook network and other community group pages. The reach became viral and soon they were helping 2-3 dogs a week.
“Animal control is overloaded, not to mention far south. Owners don’t know to look there.”
John’s stray animal network is hyper local and responsive.
“We can often find the owner within an hour.”
But he couldn’t do it alone. Portage Park and Niles Animal Hospitals provide medical care to animals in need and the Dog House of LCL, provides boarding and grooming help. PAWS Chicago and South Suburban Humane Society help place dogs. Then there are the countless friends and fans of John’s who share, tweet, and post photos and descriptions to their friend networks and even foster animals temporarily until they find a forever home.
“It’s community policing at it’s finest.”
Before this interview, I did not know John Garrido outside of his public persona. Now, a few months after initially meeting him for coffee, I can personally attest to his dedication to helping others--including my family. Without hesitation, he agreed to help Eamon, my 7-year old son, with a school project on neighborhood heroes. John patiently endured a phone interview with my 2nd grader, repeating himself multiple times in the process as Eamon struggled to keep up with his note taking. John also expertly matched our family with two former Garrido strays, Lucy and Ethel, bringing a whole new element of love into our home.
Others may have nominated him as a Northwest Side Hero, but he is a hero in my book as well. Whether visiting schools to talk to young people, protecting the community through his police work, or hosting free-chip clinics for Chicago’s pets, John is a perfect example of public servant. He inherited this sense of service from his parents, his strongest role models. John takes after Cher and John, Sr. in many ways, most notably in his desire to fix things.
“I just can’t say no.”
Nora Kerr is the founder of Memoir for Me, specializing in preserving the stories that matter.