Red Paws for Santa Claus

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Leary, pictured above, at the collapse on Daly Street a couple summers ago, ready to rescue.

It’s the holidays, and what can put you more into the giving spirit than cute cats and dogs looking for their forever—or should we say furrever—homes?

Red Paw Emergency Relief Team is a nonprofit organization that provides emergency assistance including emergency transport, shelter, and veterinary care to animals involved in fires and other residential disasters.

Out former firefighter, Jen Leary, founded Red Paw Emergency Relief Team in 2011 after seven years working as a Philadelphia firefighter and nine years as an American Red Cross Disaster Responder. Leary said after years of seeing animals suffer in emergency situations, it was about time to do something about it.

“I went to so many fires and disaster scenes where no one was officially there to take care of the pets that were injured, missing or displaced,” she said. “There were organizations on-scene to provide services to the owners, but not their pets.”

Leary has always had a fond connection with animals and even wanted to be a veterinarian when she was younger. Leary, a proud owner of two dogs, used her background and training in emergency response and her never-ending love for animals to create an organization that effortlessly combined the two.

Leary said Red Paw is unique because it doesn’t serve specifically as an animal rescue or shelter, but instead responds to a greater need in the animal advocacy field.

“We are an emergency response organization that responds specifically to assist pets displaced by residential fires and disasters. We are the only organization in the country that provides this kind of assistance 24/7 free of charge to families in disasters,” she said.

Leary retired from the Philadelphia Fire Department last year in order to take on Red Paw full-time, which allowed her time to do one of her most favorite tasks—search and rescue.

“Doing search and rescue allows me to still be able to put my firefighter training to good use,” she said. “I also love finding the animals (obviously) and bringing them out to their families. After they’ve just lost everything else in the fire or disaster, it’s a great thing to be able to do for them.”

Due to the organization’s unique mission, Red Paw Emergency Relief Team receives calls from all over the country from people looking for assistance or who want to start a Red Paw chapter in their community. Leary said although currently, the organization only responds to emergencies in Southeastern Pennsylvania and sometimes Southern New Jersey, she hopes to see Red Paw expand.

“The plan for Red Paw is to expand regionally, and eventually nationally,” she said. “There is definitely a need.”

Because Red Paw does not charge for their services, the organization relies heavily on monetary donations and its volunteers.

“We are a volunteer based organization, and could not survive without volunteers,” she said.

Foster parents for the animals are also needed. Leary noted that due to it being fire season, the organization is very busy and without a facility, Red Paw Emergency Relief Team also relies on foster parents to take in displaced pets and care for them until their families can recover and bring them home again.

Red Paw’s mission is always to reunite families with their pets; however, sometimes the families cannot care for the animals again. Leary said the organization has many adoptables ready for new homes.

“The goal of Red Paw is always to reunite families after a fire or disaster, unfortunately, the families are not always able to do that because they’ve just lost too much. We then keep the pets in foster homes until we can find them new forever homes,” she said.

For more information on donating, volunteering or other ways to help, visit Red Paw Emergency Relief Team and make sure to “like” their Facebook page and follow the organization on Twitter.

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