An animal lover from an early age, Paula Fasseas dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. Instead, she studied business administration, honing skills that helped her found PAWS Chicago 25 years ago. Through its no-kill adoption shelters and sliding-scale spay-neuter clinics, the nonprofit leads a movement that has reduced Chicago’s euthanasia rate by 91 percent since 1997.

The PAWS executive chair lives in the Gold Coast with her 4-year-old terrier mix, Mr. B. It’s been a grief-stricken year for Fasseas, who lost her mother, her husband, and her 19-year-old dog, all within six months. “What’s really helping me through this period,” she says, “is the fitness and wellness part of life, keeping busy, and being grateful instead of focusing on the sad parts.”

An alarm clock, a dumbbell, and a cup of coffee
Photography: Getty Images

How do you start your day?

“I’ve always been a morning person. I wake up between 4 and 5 a.m. I need that quiet time. I do intermittent fasting four or five days a week, so I’m having calories within only a six-hour time frame. It’s great for my blood sugar. I’m a big foodie, and I used to wake up thinking about coconut cream pie, but now I don’t have those cravings anymore. So I get up, have my black coffee, and take Mr. B for a walk.”

What’s your exercise routine?

“I do weight training and stretching at home with my trainer, and do three to five miles on my elliptical machine. I also have an inversion table, which stretches your back and your body. I stay on that three to five minutes every day. It strengthens your spine and allows fluid to get into your disks. I always exercised, but I ramped it up after I turned 60. I feel more fit and agile than ever. I could never do splits in high school, but now I can do splits!”

How do pets fit into your wellness philosophy?

“One amazing thing about dogs and cats: They keep you in the present. When you’re playing with an animal, you’re in the moment, laughing with them. I’ve noticed this year, especially during a sad time in my life, being in the present is so much better than thinking about the past or worrying about the future.”