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I am a CNN Hero?!

The following post is by Jen Leary, Founder of Red Paw Emergency Relief Team

South Jersey fireWhen CNN Producer Kathleen Toner called and said, “Hi, I’m calling from CNN Heroes,” my first response was: “OMG, I LOVE CNN and Anderson Cooper!” Yep, I’m a dork! Luckily, the vetting process went on for a few weeks, so we talked many, many times on the phone and via email after that. The entire process was just so cool, you can’t help but be kind of a dork about it. Getting emails from @turner.com, so cool! Hearing, “Hi it’s Kathleen from CNN” on the other end of the phone, cool, and when I added her to my contacts and she would call and “Kathleen CNN” would show up on my phone, way cool!

I have to admit though, it was also a little terrifying. CNN was coming to Philly, to film me, to film Red Paw Headquarters (RPHQ), which is also our home! Lori and I moved to our new address a year ago, and well, it’s been a very busy year for Red Paw, so there hasn’t been a lot of time devoted to home décor. Let me tell you, nothing motivates you to fix up your house like a visit from CNN! It looks awesome now! (Thanks CNN) filmingThe other thing that terrified me about their visit was me having to be on camera. Not so much the being filmed part; I’m ok with talking on camera and I could talk for days about Red Paw so I wasn’t nervous about that, but like I said, it’s been a long, cold, busy winter, and it shows! Luckily, Gerald the camera man can do wonders with lighting and every time I had a piece of hair out of place he’d come over and fix it for me! I sure wish he’d stayed! I could use him every day!

The original plan was for the CNN team (1 producer, 2 assistants, and the cameraman) to come down early on a Tuesday and film until about 10:00 at night and then head home to NYC, but as I talked Kathleen through the day to day workings of Red Paw, the filming schedule got tighter and tighter. From what I understand, they usually only film for one day but in order to fit in everything, they had to stay for two! And they were two crazy, jam packed days. In all honesty, they could have stayed for a week and still not gotten everything! We scheduled reunions, vet visits, foster visits, client visits, transports, etc. sceneThe biggest piece, of course, was getting them out on a response with us. Now, no one ever hopes for a fire or disaster; we certainly don’t as we see the devastation first hand, but if there was ever two days that we really needed one to happen, it was the two days CNN was with us. After all, the entire purpose of the organization is emergency response. We needed CNN to see us in action, on-scene, to see that we are not only an animal rescue organization, so they could then show the world! Well, easier said than done. Up until the week before CNN was here we were getting called ~15 times a week, but then, like clockwork, a few warm days came and our calls, well, not so much. The first day they were here, nothing! The second day, lots of calls for hotel stays and supplies, but no on-scene responses. Let’s just say stress levels were high! The crew was really good about it and they stretched out their stay as long as they could but by late afternoon with rush hour traffic ahead, they had to leave. They had given me a GoPro to keep for a week, so the plan was to grab some on-screen footage for them to use for the piece that way. It would have to do. We said our goodbyes and they drove off. Seriously, not more than 15 minutes later a call came in for a fire near RPHQ and Lori was first on-scene; she spoke with the owners and discovered they had a dog but it was missing, most likely in the basement of the house, they said. I called Kathleen immediately to see how far they had gotten. Luckily they stopped to eat and were still close by. The footage they shot was the footage in the opening scene of the video. They did an amazing job with it!

groupPeople keep asking me, “What is it like to be a CNN Hero?” “Do people recognize you on the street?” “Can you hire staff now?” “Are you famous?” Ummmm, no. Although, I did walk into Penn Vet right after it aired and someone shouted, “OMG, I just saw you on the TV!” Full disclosure, it was my neighbor, who happened to be there with her dog, so I’m not sure that counts?! It is a huge honor, but don’t worry, all this CNN Hero stuff hasn’t gone to my head. I’m still cleaning fire kitten poo, still feeding all the fosters at RPHQ, cleaning floors and cages, and doing the responses, and Lori is still working day and night to find us funding! I’m not sure what I was expecting to happen. I mean going national isn’t too much to expect right? 🙂 I didn’t start Red Paw to become a CNN Hero or for recognition and I wouldn’t even be one without Lori and our volunteers. But being a CNN Hero has given Red Paw serious street cred! We put Philly in the national spotlight for something no other city has and many cities need and want (Thank you CNN!). We have received so many emails from around the country and the world requesting information about Red Paw chapters. I think in the long run this video will be the catalyst for that and this has truly been one of the coolest experiences of my life. Now if we make it into the Top 10 CNN Heroes at the end of the year and I can meet Anderson Cooper, well, I can die happy and all those long, cold, sleepless nights will all be worth it, along with helping all of our displaced pets and reuniting families of course!

Watch our CNN Heroes video here.

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