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Lola, she was a show dog

The following post is by Laura Leigh Highland, Red Paw foster and member of the Red Paw Leadership Committee

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Around this time last year, I had been volunteering with Red Paw for a few months, mostly helping with transports, fostering here and there and doing table events. I had fostered mostly cats, but the occasional dog would come to hang out at my house for a few days. Lola was in a fire with her kitten brother Limp-Limp* (he had a club foot, I called him Jimmy when I had him) who was staying at my house while her owner recovered. Lola was staying at the Pet Hotel but was in need of a foster. I thought it over and decided to give it a try.

From the moment the transport volunteer dropped Lola off at my house we instantly clicked. She fell right into the groove of things and got along great with my dogs, was super lovable and affectionate, and just all around perfect.

As the two months Lola was staying with me passed, I knew saying goodbye to her was going to be super hard. The best thing about fostering for Red Paw is when the animals get reunited with their owners. It is great to see families getting put back together after something terrible happens, but saying goodbye is the worst part of it all. Most of the time you are able to suck it up and do what is right for the animal, but this time I knew it was going to be different – I was in love.

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The plan was to drop Lola off at PAWS to have her spayed and then a transport volunteer would take her home to her family once the surgery was over. That morning we woke up, I had her say goodbye to her foster brother and sister and we were on our way. She is a great passenger in the car; she lays right down or sits and looks out of the windshield like a human. It’s adorable. Now came the hard part, saying goodbye (even replaying all of this in my mind currently has me in tears). I brought Lola into the PAWS waiting room and we were told to have a seat and that someone would be with us soon.

So this was basically it- time for goodbye. Lola and I had a talk. I told her how much I loved her, how great of a dog she was, and how happy she had made me over the past two months. I was a mess. I couldn’t help it. Tears were everywhere, and even the person working behind the desk at PAWS was crying. Goodbyes are the worst.

I said goodbye to Lola and gave her about seven thousand kisses, head scratches, and hugs and left. I had done this before, said goodbye to an animal I loved after fostering it, but this was different. Something did not feel right. That dog had my heart. I went home and snuggled with my two other dogs and tried to get my heart to stop hurting. It was hard to sleep that night. Something was missing…the sound of Lola’s flat faced little snore.

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I do not remember much from the days that followed, I think it was only a day or so, it felt a lot longer. What I do remember is where I was when Red Paw founder Jen Leary called me to tell me that Lola’s owners found out from their landlord that they could not keep her and they needed to put her up for adoption. I remember saying “OK, I’ll go right now. I want my dog back.” I picked up my friend and we headed to West Philadelphia to pick her up within the hour. Lola said goodbye to her family. It was sad and a little awkward, but it was for the best.

Lola was coming home! I couldn’t wait to have her back. I remember petting her and playing with her ears the entire ride home. We were very very happy. In my head at this point everything was still temporary, I was still Lola’s foster, and I was going to find her a home (hopefully a home with a friend or family member so I could still see her all the time). For a month I did what any good foster mom with an animal up for adoption does, marketed the hell out of her. I wrote on Facebook constantly, talked to my friends and family, attended events, and we were even featured on the news! No one contacted us about adopting Lola. It was crazy! “She is adorable!” “So well behaved!” “Great with dogs and kids!” You would think this dog was running for President the way I talked her up.

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Every time we would head out to an adoption event or a potential adopter would inquire about her on Facebook I would get a knot in my stomach. I had to face the facts: Lola did not need a home, she already found one. She was home.

Lola has been in my life almost a year now. She has made me laugh, made me yell, and made me cry. She taught me about fate, that sometimes, things just happen for a reason. As I am writing this she is curled up on my bed with her brother and sister, snoring the snore of a dog who is loved, a dog who is home.

*Limp-Limp was also reunited with his family. When they could not keep him due to the landlord issue he was rehomed to a family member.

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It’s all about the reunions

The following post is by Nicole Lasorda, who fostered Amore, a Pit Bull displaced by a fire in her home in October 2012, and Eleanor, a Husky displaced by a fire in January 2013

Nicole Lasorda

I’ve always loved animals – that’s probably an understatement. Ever since I was a kid, sick, injured, and homeless animals had me on their radar. It was like a beacon on my head that said “FIND ME. I WILL HELP YOU!”

Having grown up with a gigantic dog (Great Pyrenees), a few cats, some bunnies, birds, and even a squirrel at one point (that’s another story), I’d always loved having a houseful of pets. As I got older and realized that animal hoarding really wasn’t an option (it’s just my two diva cats and me for now), I looked for ways to help with animal organizations; just over a year ago, I stumbled across Red Paw.

Thinking that I couldn’t handle fostering (Why? Because I’d end up adopting every one of them and becoming a hoarder – see above), I decided to help out with transports. That worked out great – picking up a pet and returning it to its family (my favorite!) or cuddling a dog that’d been at a kennel before I took it to a foster.

Amore leaves

Then the call came out that Amore needed a foster home. Amore, a very spoiled Pit Bull from a North Philly fire, hadn’t been doing well in a kennel. She didn’t get along with other dogs so Red Paw was having trouble finding someone able to take her. After thinking about it, I decided to give it a try. I figured this was a safe one – she’d saved her dad’s life and he called every day to check on her; there was no way he was giving her up, so no danger in my keeping her.

Amore was THE BEST – a total cuddler, well behaved, didn’t bark excessively. I was even able to take her to work with me, where – no surprise – everyone fell in love! Three weeks later, I had to take her home…and I cried like a baby. But when I met her dad, saw how happy she was to see him and how happy he was to see her, the tears went away. I realized I could do this!

My second foster wasn’t through Red Paw. A friend called and asked me to take her mom’s Teacup Yorkie while she was in the hospital and I agreed. He was much easier to give back (maybe because I’m a big-dog person?).

Then came the Red Paw call to foster Eleanor – an extremely hyper five-month-old Husky. Her family had had a small house fire and needed someone to take her for about a week while they cleaned up. Eleanore Snow 3Let’s just say, I’d forgotten what life was like with a puppy. The first night, I actually called Red Paw and said, “I can’t do this.” Then I rethought it and realized I didn’t want her in a kennel. Plus, it was going to snow the next day – a Husky in the snow? Iditarod here I come!

It took a day or two to get into the groove of things, but Eleanor turned out to be a blast! She loved to go hiking (me, too!); we took five-mile walks each morning; and oh the fun in the snow! She was so dirty from our outdoor escapades, I had to bathe her before she went back to her family. I was sad to see her go, but I was happy to be able to get some uninterrupted sleep.

So, what does this all amount to? I know that I’m not cut out to do long-term fostering (see hoarding again), but I’m happy that I can help a family who’s lost so much take solace in the fact that their best friend is being loved and cared for while they recover. The happiness on the family’s (and furball’s) face at the reunion is enough to make me want keep doing it.

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Relief in a time of stress

The following post is by Danelle Stoppel, Mental Health Volunteer for the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter

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Several weeks ago, on a cold night at 2 AM, a family of nine lost their home to an electrical fire in West Philadelphia. When the American Red Cross arrived on the scene, the owner of the house was in her car making hotel arrangements with her insurance company. The family was not home during the fire, and at the last moment she had decided to take her dog, Excel, with her to a family event. She was highly emotional and spoke at length about her house and all the work that had been destroyed by the fire.

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While she provided details about the events of the evening, the owner gently stroked Excel, who was cuddled up on the front seat. When she was informed that the hotel would not allow pets, she became very upset and began to cry. She was then offered the services of Red Paw Emergency Relief Team. When Jen arrived, the owner asked many questions about how her dog would be cared for until she was able to provide him with another home. When Excel was gently placed in Red Paw’s vehicle, she cried and kissed him goodbye. I have witnessed this many times over the past year as Red Paw provides gentle, caring support to families with pets during disaster responses in Philadelphia.

Pets are family.

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DeeDee’s story

The following post is by Mary Kury, who has fostered several Red Paw animals for us and adopted DeeDee, a Pit Bull displaced by a fire in November 2011

In December 2011, I was one of the certified veterinary technicians taking care of an isolated patient in the clinic – a young Pit Bull mix – rescued from a 2 alarm fire in West Philly a couple weeks prior. She was a sad, thin dog suffering the after effects of smoke inhalation and pneumonia….each set of treatments found her curled up in her cage in a little ball, or stretched out and struggling to breathe. Once you’d crouch down to start her treatments, she would look up with nervous eyes and a furrowed brow…but was always willing to come out of her cage as long as you’d let her crawl into your lap for a snuggle. It was heartbreaking – to have to medicate her so she could take calm breaths without gasping or panicking, trying to tempt her to eat when she knew she just couldn’t breathe and eat at the same time, nebulizing and coupaging her to break up the congestion in her lungs, along with all the round-the-clock IV treatments – fluids, antibiotics and pain meds.

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I glanced at her ‘owner,’ RED PAW EMERGENCY RELIEF TEAM, and had no idea who that was. Onto the internet to search….and what an education I received!! I have been a volunteer for so many years with various organizations – animals, humans, religion – but was never impacted by such as mission as Red Paw’s. I simply wanted to know more, and when I read that this poor little Pittie who was fighting SO hard to live was putting a significant drain on the all-volunteer group’s resources, I picked up the phone and made a call to RP founder Jen Leary, saying that I was interested in fostering the dog. I am a horse and cat owner…hadn’t lived with a dog since high school, and the best place for DeeDee was a home without any dogs. It was a 30 second decision that changed my life!

mary and deedee

DeeDee was a lot of work – medications, tempting her to eat, etc., every four hours, but all gratification! She didn’t know what stairs were, nor did she have the strength to climb up a set for almost two weeks, and our daily walks started off 1-2 houses at a time, but somehow in the first month SHE helped ME keep off holiday calories!  For almost three months she remained on medications, unable to ‘pass’ her chest radiographs…but I knew she was healing, gaining weight, and spreading joy every shift she accompanied me to work. I was rewarded towards the end of that period by receiving the news she had been surrendered to Red Paw and I might be able to adopt her…it remains one of the best phone calls Jen and I have ever had. I cannot thank her enough for the time, dedication and patience she displays to both animals and humans.

Because of Jen Leary’s vision and hard work she saved the life of an ordinary dog who continues to do extraordinary things – DeeDee is a blood donor, a loyal companion, and a true ambassador for her mixed breed – giving kisses to anyone who asks – and even those who don’t!  I am proud to say, “I failed as a dog foster!”

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Desmal’s story

The following post is by Al Chernoff, a member of Rescue Ink and a Red Paw foster and volunteer. It was originally published on Life With Cats.

The best thing in life for Desmal, a sweet cat, was surviving and escaping a house fire.

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I am a “cat guy” right now living with my 8 rescues. I’m also one of the guys from Rescue Ink. They seem to call me “Alley Cat.” About a year ago I received a call from a local group, Red Paw Emergency Relief Team, the Red Cross of animal rescue in Philadelphia. They had rescued a cat from a house fire; she escaped the fire and after an hour or so running and hiding out on the street a firefighter grabbed her. I offered to foster until she could go back home.

Red Paw dropped her off to my house. I checked her out and she had fleas and ear mites, she was very underweight and filthy, and her face was burned from the fire. I had Red Paw call the Red Cross Shelter for more information. She had been adopted 10 years earlier and never saw a veterinarian. In addition to her neglect issues, Desmal also tested positive for FIV. My girlfriend Shelli, who manages a local cage free cat shelter called Kitty Cottage, helped me and we treated Desmal for her fleas, worms, and ear mites along with a really big, dead insect that was found inside her ear.

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Desmal took to living in a back room in my house and she started gaining weight. At the vet’s office it was determined that her teeth were in terrible condition and she needed several removed. With a ChipIn, we were able to raise most of the money for her extensive dental work.

Red Paw contacted the family to find out when she could go home. I was pretty worried about her, as I became attached during these couple months and knew she was pretty neglected. The family informed Red Paw to just “put her down, we don’t want her anyway.”

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Well, Desmal was not put down and she has a home…with us! She lives in my family room area with Katie, who has heart disease, and the two cats have become pals. Desmal purrs all day long and is truly a happy, lucky kitty.

She loves to play with her toys, every meal time she runs one full lap around the family room as fast as she can before she gets to her food bowl, and she is just a joyful, loving, lucky kitty.

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Finding Tabitha

The following post is by Kat Kendon, Red Paw’s Philadelphia Coordinator

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You learn quickly as an emergency responder that there’s only one way to arrive on the scene – prepared. I’ve arrived to find owners holding their pets with no collars, leashes, or carriers; responded for a displaced cat but left with four; and waded through a pitch-black flooded basement searching for newly born kittens. One recent response put preparedness to the test.

A client lost her home to a fire but knew her cat was still in the building. I arrived on the scene just as it was beginning to snow. Luckily, or so I thought, the cat was in the bedroom and should’ve been fairly easy to grab. I found the clients keeping warm in a neighbor’s home, and she offered the first surprise – her cat, who was pregnant, sounded like she was having kittens right before they lost their home. Gulp. One cat had suddenly turned into an unknown number, and momma cats just love to hide their kittens. I went back to the truck – thank goodness I had the bigger carrier with me. I grabbed my flashlight and headed in with the Red Cross responder.

tabitha

As soon as we opened the door I knew this one wouldn’t be simple – the house was completely destroyed. The walls in every room were completely coated in soot. The ceiling was crumbling, leaving soaking clumps of plaster and lath all over the floor. The stairs were the worst off – the crumbled walls made them into more of a hill than stairs. The inside of the first floor was pitch black, so climbing the stairs was like climbing an icy mountain. At midnight. With no moon. Sneakers would have been treacherous – but my heavy duty responder boots were up for the challenge.

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Climbing up to the second floor, I quickly realized that “in the bedroom” was a loose idea. At least the restoration companies hadn’t arrived on scene yet, so there was a bit of light coming through the holes where the windows had been. All of the windows in every room were shattered, glass was everywhere, and the doors were off their hinges. Getting down on hands and knees to look under furniture seemed crazy, but I had heavy leather gloves to protect myself from all the broken glass.

Vision can only take you so far – cats can get into the deepest and darkest corners. Sweeping the flashlight around the room, I was straining my ears for little kitten meows. I heard nothing other than water dripping through the soaked building. I started to think that I might end up finding kittens who hadn’t made it through the intense smoke of the fire…but I kept looking. The Red Cross responder guarded the top of the stairs in case I ended up flushing a scared cat out during my search.

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By the time I got to the third room, my optimism was starting to flag. I hadn’t even seen a sign of the cat or her litter – no paw prints in the soot, and no meows. But just when I was thinking it was time to make a new plan, I noticed a mirror leaning up against the wall, and behind it…a little bit of tail? I pulled the mirror back to find a frightened cat, and incredibly, still pregnant! I scooped her up and quickly got her to Red Paw headquarters, apparently just in the nick of time, where she went into labor within her first day in Red Paw care.

Both RP1 and my truck are fully stocked for all types of responses – when Red Paw arrives on a scene, we rarely find exactly what we had planned for. Tabitha, Elaine, Rory, Bagheera, Pif, and Firefly are one surprise that we arrived prepared for!

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Red Paw’s first response

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

Red Paw’s first response: It was 5:30 in the morning, and we’d only been up and running for less than six hours when the phone rang. The American Red Cross was on the other line! The Bridge (their 24 hour emergency call center) staff person says, “Good morning Jen, we have a fire for you. Six Pit Bulls were displaced in North Philly. You can help right?”

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Excited and slightly panicked, I said yes, jumped out of bed and ran to the computer. First things first. Put out a call through One Call Now (a tool used to send one message to multiple phones at the same time) to all of the rescues, facilities and volunteers who had agreed, during the planning process, to help us with emergency response when we started. Well, OCN was down, and I couldn’t get a call to go out! So it’s 5:30 in the morning, the Red Cross has just called to use our services for the first time, there are six displaced Pit Bulls, and I can’t get a message to my resources for help! Slight panic had turned into full blown panic!

Luckily, I had a few personal numbers in my phone of people who had said they were in from the beginning and wanted to help! So I started dialing. First up was Portia, from Central Bark Doggy Day Care, who immediately said, “Yes, we have room, bring them here.” Next up was a volunteer who I had worked with through Philly County Animal Response Team, and he was up and willing to meet me on scene.

As I rolled up to the fire dwelling the fire department vehicles were gone, and the first thing I saw was the Red Cross responder on-scene. This immediately made me feel better! I walked up to the owners and stated that I was from Red Paw and explained, “We are like the Red Cross for Animals, we are going to keep your dogs for you while you recover from the fire.” Next were some questions: “Are the dogs friendly with people? Are they friendly with other dogs? Are they spayed, neutered, and vaccinated?”

It turned out that two of the dogs had gotten into a fight during the fire due to fear and stress of what was happening and needed to be kept separate and probably needed some medical attention. None of them were s/n or vaccinated but they were normally friendly with people. Two of the dogs were just little puppies so that made things a bit easier, but the other four were big Pitties! One by one we got them situated in my car and the volunteer’s vehicle, and off to Central Bark we went.

The reason I say “normally friendly” is that animals, like people, all respond differently during disasters. They all deal with stress differently, like people. Some cope just fine, while others do not.

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These guys spread the entire spectrum: the puppies, AJ and Taz, not phased at all; Phat Phat, the momma, was pretty good as well; Bishop, BoiBoi, and Kilo were very stressed out to the point that we almost couldn’t get them out of the vehicles and into their crates at CB! The thing about working with dogs, especially in stressful situations, is that you need to be patient, which is hard to do when it’s now 7:45 in the morning and you are about to be late for work! Luckily, the staff at CB was able to ease the stress and get everyone into their crates without issue. Once everyone was settled in, off to work I went. I checked in with the owners to assure them that everyone was ok. I also checked in with Central Bark throughout the day.

As the day went on, Bishop, who was involved in the fight with BoiBoi, was in obviously more and more pain from bites to the face, and getting more and more stressed. Portia tried, as best she could, to clean up the wounds, but we decided later that evening, when I went back to CB after work, to try OCN again to put out a call out for vets who had agreed to help us. A vet and vet tech answered the call and came over to Central Bark to assist. This was easier said than done. Now Bishop was seriously stressed and afraid, which made him dangerous. After several attempts to work through it with him we decided it was best to have the owner involved in handling him. The next day an appointment was made for the owner to meet us at CB to assist with transport of Bishop to the vet and back. Bishop was a different dog with his owner and was very polite and gentle. He got all fixed up and went back to CB with his family. Once he was feeling better he was a charmer! He was, as were all of them, very affectionate and sweet!

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Bishop, BoiBoi, Kilo, Phat Phat, AJ, and Taz spent the next four months at Central Bark, even though we say that we will only give clients 30-60 days of care for their animals. Our goal, however, is to reunite families, so we worked with them daily to keep them involved in their animals’ care and assist them in taking back their pets. They obviously loved these dogs but they were overwhelmed! Six Pit Bulls, six dogs of any breed, are a lot of work! We educated them on s/n and vaccinations, and we got all but Boi Boi spayed and neutered. We also worked with them on adopting out AJ and Taz, the puppies, and both went to amazingly loving homes. And most importantly, we kept the other four together and reunited them with their family!

This first response was a snowball effect that has not stopped! I planned for six months, used my emergency response experience, my animal response experience, and pulled from the knowledge of other rescues, animal handlers, emergency response organizations and vets to make sure I addressed all issues before we began. There isn’t a day that goes by, now, four years later, that something doesn’t come up that I never planned for!!

To say this has been a learning experience would be an understatement! I set out to start an emergency response organization for pets, and Red Paw is first and for most that, but we turned out to be an animal rescue, an animal welfare organization and an adoption center as well! This has been, by far, the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and I was a Philadelphia Fire Fighter for seven years! But it’s also the most rewarding and exciting thing as well! Red Paw provides a much-needed resource in the community, proven by how busy we have been! Fires and disasters will never not happen and people will always have pets. The people have the Fire Department and the American Red Cross and now the pets have Red Paw!

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