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Philadelphia-Area Emergency Relief Team Focuses on Assisting Household Pets

By Kelly Gallagher

No one wants to imagine a fire, flood, or another disaster damaging their home. Luckily, if the unthinkable does occur, residents have a variety of emergency assistance services at their disposal thanks to non-profit organizations such as the American Red Cross. But unfortunately, these services don't cover the whole family. All too often, household pets are left without shelter or veterinary care in the wake of tragedy.

But that's not the case in Philadelphia. Thanks to Red Paw Emergency Relief Team, animals across the city and surrounding counties have access to care in the event of home-damaging storms, gas leaks, floods, fires, building collapses, and other disasters.

Red Paw was founded in 2011 and was formally added to Philadelphia's emergency response plan in 2014. The organization was born out of a demonstrated need observed by its founder, Jen Leary- a Philadelphia fire fighter and emergency responder who, on far too many occasions, saw animals left without any options after tragedy struck.

"There was no one on scene to assist if animals were injured, or needed a warm place to go," says Leary. "We are filling a void in the emergency response arena. We are keeping families together. Before Red Paw, the owners would have had to surrender or abandon their pets after a horrible event. Now they have someone to take them in and care for them until the family can rebuild and recover."

In 2014 alone, Red Paw responded to 371 calls throughout the city of Philadelphia and nearby counties, assisting 855 cats, dogs, turtles, birds, rabbits, and fish. Red Paw provides foster boarding, emergency transport, shelter, and veterinary care. The organization also strives to educate the public on fire prevention and emergency preparedness, especially as it applies to pets.

When asked why there is a specific need for an emergency response system for pets, Leary can point to facts and figures- she mentions that there is an average of five to seven fires a day in Philadelphia, and that more than 60 percent of American households contain at least two pets- but her Red Paw success stories hit closer to the heart.

"We were called a couple weeks ago when a house had completely collapsed," Leary recalls. "The owner luckily survived and was assisted out of the rubble by the fire department, but his animals were still in the rubble. They needed our help to get the animals out safely. One dog was stuck on the roof, and the cat was walking in and out of the rubble. We were able to ease the dog and safely bring him down, and we were also able to scoop up the cat."

Red Paw welcomes volunteers to assist with the organization's operations. Those interested in volunteering can help fill a variety of roles, including emergency dispatcher, transport personnel, events/street team member, dog playmate, foster or adopted family, and more.

Although Red Paw's reach is currently limited to the greater Philadelphia area, Leary has big dreams for the organization's future. The long-term plan, she says, is to take Red Paw national. "This is a service every area needs. We are working with lawyers and consultants to figure out the best way to go about it."

Fires and other disasters are an unfortunate fact of life, and many people don't put much thought into what they might do for themselves in an emergency- let alone think about a safety net for pets. Thankfully, in Philadelphia, this dedicated team of emergency services personnel is stepping in to help those who can't help themselves.

For more information, check out the Red Paw website.

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About The Author

Kelly Gallagher studied creative writing at SUNY Oswego and Vermont College of Fine...

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