What severe weather?!

The following post is by Jen Leary, founder of Red Paw

winter stormI’m a bit of a spas about emergency response, preparedness, and Red Paw, some would say (and they’d be right!). I one hundred percent believe what our tweets say; #24/7 #nosnowdays #noholidays. We are an emergency response organization and if we can’t muddle through during winter storms, during flooding, during a little bit of ice, or on Christmas and New Year’s, who can?!

Now, in my own defense, I was a firefighter for seven years, so I have a sort of intense work ethic. Firefighters, police officers, medics, ER docs and nurses, EMAs, they don’t get to call out of work because of weather; they don’t get snow days, or holidays. Fires and disasters, don’t take holidays or snow days and neither do we!

winter stormWith #snowmageddon2015 fast approaching there has been a lot of discussion and preparation underway for how to best respond in all five SEPA counties, IF we see the 12″ or more of snow being predicted. RP1 has been winterized, our lead responders are on standby, and I broke out my battery powered heated socks (true story)!! It’s a tricky thing this field we are in; we want our vols to be safe, but we also have a job to do. We have other organizations, people in the community, and their pets depending on our services, and we need to be there when we are called upon…and I promise you that we will be!

But, we are all in this together! So here are some tips to keep you safe, me less spazzy, and our responders at home!

winter storm

  • Be sure to heed the warnings and prepare ahead of time.
  • Fill your gas tank
  • Check your emergency kit
  • Grab what you need from the store prior to the storm
  • Cancel any meeting or appointments that aren’t crucial
  • Leave the roads clear for emergency personnel!
  • Don’t park your vehicle on corners; leave room for emergency vehicles to maneuver
  • Also be sure to safely heat your home
  • Don’t heat your house with kerosene heaters or your stove or oven
  • Don’t use candles
  • If you must use space heaters, make sure they are at least 3ft away from anything combustible.
  • If your power goes out, layer up. Do not use generators in your house!
  • Be sure to have working smoke and CO alarms
  • And please check on neighbors
Posted in preparedness, responding | Comments Off on What severe weather?!

The coldest night of the winter!

The following post is by Lori Albright, Red Paw COO and Board President

Around 6pm on January 31, 2014, the Red Paw Emergency line began ringing like crazy.

We received confirmation of a big fire at a pet friendly condominium in the far Northeast where there were more than 60 residents displaced. At the same time, a cat displaced from a gas main break earlier in the day needed transport for emergency vet care at UPenn’s emergency vet hospital (VHUP) and just as we prepared to sit down for a leadership meeting, we all heard helicopters flying over Red Paw headquarters in South Philly! At once, everyone started checking the twitter feeds and Googling “breaking news” to discover that there had been a gas explosion and now a multi-alarm fire on a residential block in South Philadelphia. It seemed that everyone was calling to let us know that they required our assistance all over the city and immediately! We sprang into action; our Board VP started changing out of her dress clothes and layering up, unloading our closet pulling out warm jackets, gloves and boots and then we – Jen (RP Founder), Barb (Board VP) and myself (COO & President of the Board) – each prepared for a long cold night outside! The plan was to send transport for the cat, Barb and Jen would go to the fire in the NE and my plan was to drive over to 18th and Bancroft Streets to check out the scene.

Fire SceneWell, when I pulled up, I was shocked to see that the fire engines were still there, still connected to hydrants, which were dripping water that immediately began to freeze. As I scanned the scene it was actually quite pretty. Everything was frozen and the lights sparkled! Icicles hung from the fire trucks, residents, still evacuating the street, side stepped to avoid the puddles of water now gleaming on top with a layer of ice, making the street a virtual ice rink. People were standing on the street outside a small church on the corner just trying to sneak a peek at the home that had exploded and watch another home, which was now engulfed in flames. I could see the fire fighters struggling to keep the water flowing and the hydrants from freezing up to ensure that the entire block wouldn’t be engulfed in flames.

At the same time, across the street residents filed up the stairs into a small red door, carrying their pets and holding onto each other. Sadly, as an emergency response organization, this was not our first experience with a home explosion. By far, the worst part of an explosion, besides the fact that one minute people are relaxing comfortably in their homes and the next with no real warning they are shaken, knocked to the ground, the entire house is shaking and it’s loud –on top of that, you must make a split-second decision and you have to leave immediately! No time for assessment of damage, no grabbing your favorite family photo or other momentos because the threat is imminent. Especially, in a densely populated and entirely residential area, as there are gas lines underground and many threats, you just have to leave the area. The weather is always a huge factor; for example, in the summer, people can leave their home and block without concern for shoes and jackets, not as worried that the windows are blown out. But that wasn’t the case this January evening, because it was only 12 degrees outside! It was so cold that the firefighters were struggling to open frozen hydrants and even after the gas company turned off the lines, the utility workers couldn’t break the frozen pavement with their tools to cap off gas lines.

As you probably recall, last winter was one of the coldest on record and that particular night, record breaking lows hit the area. It was, in fact, the coldest night of the winter! And, more than 60 homes and 120 residents and their pets had been displaced on this one response alone. Remember we had another huge fire happening in the Northeast.

Lori Albright at fire sceneBut here, in South Philly, as I met with some of the residents, they began to recount their experience of the explosion. They all heard a loud bang, their walls were shaking, family photos and book shelves were falling and people were yelling for them to “get outside!” One woman told me she had just run out back when she heard someone yelling, “Get out of the house!” and when she tried, there were bricks blocking the door. She and her neighbors, Nick and Argyle, did run without shoes or any protection from the cold! Once we were all inside of the church, I started to make my rounds and check-in with the pet people. The first person I sat down with had a little dog named Chichi and he cuddled in his owners lap; she had no winter coat on but ensured me that Chichi would keep her warm.

Argyle on floorI’ll never forget what happened next! A young man came in and stood in the doorway. I noticed immediately that he didn’t have shoes, only socks, jeans and a t-shirt. He looked around and then he came right up to me and explained that he lived two doors away from the explosion, heard the bang, grabbed his dog and ran to his car because he didn’t know where else to go! And that was where his four year old boxer named Argyle was waiting. He didn’t have his phone or wallet, he couldn’t call anyone, and he didn’t have much gas, so he turned the car off, and because he didn’t have his wallet, he couldn’t drive to get gas or to a friend’s house.

First things first, I told him. First, we got him a sweatshirt. Luckily, I had a leash in the car and then we went to get Argyle. He explained on the way that he had carried Argyle out of the house and to the car, so he didn’t have a leash and Argyle was scared and that he was afraid to have him around the other animals at the comfort center. I reassured him that we could figure out a safe warm place for him, of course Argyle was scared and cold, he was a sixty pound boxer and just didn’t have much body weight or fur to keep him warm. I let his owner open the back door and Argyle was shaking. Nick put the lead around his neck and he jumped out, I walked across the street back to the comfort center trying to think of a plan. We literally walked through freezing puddles and ice for a half block, which seemed like a mile, and Nick still had no shoes!

ArgyleOnce we arrived, I realized that a response vehicle would be best for him, so I put down some blankets and let Nick and Argyle warm up while I tried to figure out a long term plan. Luckily, Julia, a Red Paw volunteer was managing the other pets and I was able to speak with the Inspector from L&I and the OEM coordinator. Best case scenario was that the inspector would go in and grab Nick’s belongings, although that was really asking a lot! Still, what I really wanted the inspector to do was to get NIck his shoes, wallet and cell phone. When I was allowed closer to his home, it was surreal to see that in his frantic state, he left the front door wide open and the TV was still on; the electric was on in some of the homes for about forty minutes and then the street went pitch black. At that point in time, the only person allowed inside the homes was the L&I inspector, so I asked what he could do to help Argyle; I explained that he had nothing! No contact information, no phone numbers, credit cards or access to any bank information, not even his wallet for identification. The Inspector asked me to find out from Nick exactly where his phone and wallet was and he’d do his best to find them. I remember that my fingers hurt so badly from the cold and that my glove was frozen so I couldn’t even write down details. It’s very disorienting when it’s dark and wet and from what the firefighters reported, the side of the house, upstairs, where Nick’s room was, was dripping with water still from when they were trying to wet down the embers to make sure it didn’t catch again. The Inspector went in with a flashlight. I don’t really know if this is protocol but it was awesome! The first time he came out, he reported that he couldn’t find anything upstairs, and asked me to get more details. So I remember trying to run on the ice without slipping, back to Nick and where he drew a picture of his room, diagramed where the bed was and the end table and I gave it to Mike. He went in again and this time he came out with the phone and the wallet! It was awesome, he also grabbed a pair of boots! When I got back to the truck, Nick and Argyle were both curled up under the blankets. I tapped on the window and held up the phone and wallet, (big smile), this meant the world to both Nick and Argyle. Now they could call their family and stay with them for the night in a safe and warm home!

The thought of being abruptly displaced with nothing more than what is on your body is not something that many of us think of often. Argyle was lucky to have someone who loved him so much that without thinking of himself, carried him to safety on a brutally cold night. Nick called me the next day to thank me and explained how important it was for him to save Argyle. He explained that even though it was freezing and he lost most of his belongings that night, he was grateful that we helped keep Argyle with him and kept Argyle safe and warm, and thanked us for going out of our way to make sure they were both kept warm, safe, and cared for and were together!

Posted in responding | Comments Off on The coldest night of the winter!

A home for the holidays

The following post is by Emily Miller, Red Paw Casework Coordinator

Whenever my boyfriend Jim hugs me, our dog Xena gets up and starts barking at us. She’s not comfortable seeing people get so close to each other, because to her it means someone she loves is about to get hurt.

Xena’s previous family, a woman and her 12-year-old son, were murdered by the mother’s boyfriend who then set the house on fire to try and cover up his crimes. The news reported that there had been several incidents of domestic violence prior to the murders, which Xena may have witnessed. Red Paw was initially called to rescue two turtles from this fire, but the subsequent police investigation revealed that the family dog was missing. The day after the fire, Xena was found alone, huddled and afraid, in an abandoned building nearby.

I had already become a full-time volunteer for Red Paw when they got the call to rescue Xena. Recently, I became the Caseworker for Red Paw, the liaison for the owners of displaced pets, but my previous duties included finding foster homes for all of the displaced pets that came to Red Paw. It was my job to place Xena with a temporary foster family until we could find her a new home.

Xena in kennelMost dogs that Red Paw rescues are placed into foster care within a couple of weeks, but Xena was a hard sell. She was always on high alert, had never received any obedience training and she reacted negatively toward some people, especially men. After all she had been through, who could blame her? She likely developed a fear of men from witnessing those abusive episodes against her family. Even though she looked adorable in photos, her behavior scared people away.
Xena stayed at two different boarding facilities over the course of seven months, a very long time for a timid, insecure young dog to wait. During the first few months, she was living at Central Bark, and Red Paw founder Jen Leary visited her every day. Xena was lonely and confused, sleeping in a crate surrounded by lots of other barking dogs, and being cared for by a team of rotating staff members. Through all of this chaos, Xena’s daily visits with Jen were a shining light in a sea of uncertainty.

From the very beginning, Xena attracted tons of attention on Red Paw’s Facebook page. Posts about Xena were immediately flooded with ‘likes’ and supportive comments from people who had never met her, but were following her story. Everyone was rooting for her, hoping she would find a family quickly. I was one of those people. I had never met Xena, but after months of watching her story on social media, while desperately trying to find her a foster home, my heart ached for her every day. I felt so helpless whenever Jen posted a new picture, reminding everyone that she was still waiting to go to a new home. Although the staff at the boarding facilities did the best they could, we knew that being in a stable and loving home would improve her behavior issues, yet these issues were the reason no one wanted to take her in the first place! She was moved from Central Bark to Pawsitively Healthy, where she could get more structure and one on one training, in hopes that she’d be ready when that home did appear!

Since I also have a full-time job, the work I do for Red Paw is “behind the scenes” and I don’t usually get to meet the animals we take in. The first time I met Xena was about four months after she came to Red Paw. She was brought to an adoption event, but she became overwhelmed by all of the people and activity. When Jim and I went to meet Xena, she lunged at him, snarling and nearly pulling Jen, who was holding the leash, off her feet. After that happened, Xena had to leave the event early. We wondered what would happen to this poor girl. She couldn’t stay in a boarding facility indefinitely. If no one would adopt or foster her, what other choice would she have? I pushed these thoughts out of my mind, trying to stay hopeful that everything would work out for Xena.

Xena spent seven long months in boarding facilities before she finally found a foster home. Joe Fiorilli, owner of a damage restoration company (Mold Solutions), learned about Red Paw when he found a cat in a home where he was working that had a fire. Joe was still grieving the loss of his own dog when he heard about Xena’s sad story and offered to foster her. He had experience handling difficult dogs, and Jen was convinced that he would be a great foster for Xena. Xena in dressRed Paw and all of Xena’s followers were beyond thrilled! When I heard the news, I cried with joy and relief. Surely Xena’s behavior would improve in a structured and loving home environment.

As hoped, after only two months in her new foster home, Xena was transformed into a completely different dog. Joe brought her to another adoption event where I met her for the second time. I couldn’t believe this was the same dog who had lunged and snarled at Jim just four months earlier! Xena was sitting in the grass surrounded by people stopping to pet her and take pictures. She seemed confident, not fearful and insecure.

With some hesitation, I reminded Jen that Jim and I had been thinking about adopting a dog. I almost couldn’t believe what I was saying. After so many months of following Xena’s story and trying to find placement for her, this had never even crossed my mind. The night after that adoption event, I went home and talked to Jim. He thought I was insane after her reaction to him the first time they met, but he agreed to see her again.

Emily and XenaJen was overjoyed, but also realistic. Xena had come a long way, but she still had a long journey ahead of her. She would not be an easy dog for us, first-time dog owners. But we knew we would have support from Red Paw and its partners. Jen suggested that if we planned to adopt Xena, training should begin right away with Krista Milito of The Philly Pack.

When Jim and I went to visit Xena, Joe showed us how he had trained her to sit, give her paw, and he could even put a piece of cheese on the ground and she would wait until he gave her permission to eat it! We were impressed, and she won Jim over immediately. I think we both fell in love with her that day.

We officially adopted Xena on June 17, 2014.

It’s been a roller coaster of emotions since we welcomed Xena into our family. Although her behavior improved dramatically with her foster family, she still had a lot to learn. Following Jen’s suggestion, we started working with Krista (her trainer) right away. We quickly realized that we knew almost nothing about owning a dog! We weren’t even aware that we didn’t know how to walk a dog! We thought, like many other people must, that walking a dog consisted of putting a leash on the dog and walking down the street. In reality, this approach usually results in the dog walking the owner! Krista showed us how to communicate with Xena through different types of collars and leash techniques so that Xena knows she’s following us, not the other way around.

Recently, Xena had the incredible opportunity to audition for a live show by Cesar Millan. The producers of the show asked Krista if she could provide dogs with behavior issues for Cesar to demonstrate some of his training techniques live on stage, and she asked us to bring Xena. Jim and XenaAfter meeting Cesar personally and watching him work with Xena, we were informed that she was too well behaved for the show! Of course we were disappointed that she wouldn’t be on stage, but we were honored to know that Xena was too well-behaved for Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer!

That’s not to say that Xena is a perfect angel now. She still misbehaves and pushes her boundaries, and it’s honestly terrifying when she starts the deep-throated snarling that we know could quickly escalate. Sometimes it’s too much for me to handle, and I let myself break down and cry from the frustration. But Xena is always there to lick away my salty tears and rest her head in my lap, looking up at me with her big brown eyes and waiting patiently for me to feel better. Every night she curls up in our laps with droopy eyelids as she drifts off to sleep. She has learned to trust men when properly introduced, and she’s even become a regular dinner guest at my parents’ house, who keep inviting us all back!

As long as we keep practicing the positive reinforcement and training techniques that we are learning from Krista, I have no doubt that Xena will continue to flourish. It was a horrific tragedy that brought Xena to us, and our hearts go out to the family and friends of the victims. We know that Xena’s previous owners loved her very much. She is so affectionate, eager to please, and extremely intelligent. We’ve had Xena for only five months now, and already I cannot imagine life without her. Jim and I are looking forward to our first holiday, and many, many more years with our little “Xena Bean.”

Posted in adopting | Comments Off on A home for the holidays

Kramer’s story

The following post is by Hazel Donnelly

On January 30, 2014, I had just finished teaching and my husband, Jim, arrived to pick me up from work. It was extremely cold that day, and I remember that we were about five minutes away from home when his cell phone rang. After he said “hello” there was a very long pause. When I turned to look at him, I immediately knew that something was wrong. My husband who is a former Philadelphia Police Detective is usually EXTREMELY calm and never gets rattled.

Fire SceneBut, on this particular day I saw fear in his eyes as he said, “Wait! Say this again!” and handed me the phone. I was afraid to touch the phone as I was terrified of what I might hear. Jim quickly made a right turn as I put the phone to my ear and asked what was going on. It was my neighbor, Kathleen, and she was screaming, “There is a fire in the development! There are fire trucks, police and helicopters everywhere! ”

Upon hearing these words, I could not imagine which building was burning since the development is quite large with a plethora of luxury apartments, town homes and condominiums. I knew it could not have been the building in which I resided because we just had a small fire in the attic when lightening struck in September of 2013, causing several residents to relocate temporarily.

At this point, I was close enough to home that I could see the helicopters and asked what was on fire. My heart sank when Kathleen said, “Our building.” Still, I remained fairly calm as I asked, which unit? Her reply, made me immediately start screaming as she said, “Hazel, get here as fast as you can, our entire building is on fire.” I don’t recall hearing another word from her end, I only remember screaming at the top of my lungs, “PLEASE, tell your husband to kick my door in and get my cat”. Kathleen’s response was, “Honey, we can’t, the flames are shooting through the roof and we are forbidden to be anywhere near the building”. I started crying like a baby and screaming for my cat, Kramer, my beautiful eighteen year old Maine Coon. Having no biological children of my own, Kramer is really almost like a baby to me. He sits on my lap, greets me at the door, and yes, he sleeps in the bedroom with us almost every night. On occasion, you will even see him sitting in the shopping cart as we peruse the aisles of the local PetSmart.

I just could not believe what I was hearing…another fire in our building, and this sounded very serious. Moments later, my husband and I pulled into the development. For safety reasons, we could not get close to the building, yet I could see that the fire appeared to be confined to the other end of the building. Still this was no consolation and I wept openly until I was approached by a fireman who asked if I was ok. I pointed to the window of my condo, which was the end unit on the Holding Kramer 2top floor and whimpered, ” Do you think my cat survived?” He looked at the building, gave me an encouraging smile and said, “You know… based on the location of the fire, your unit may have very minimal or no damage at all”. I struggled to get the words out between the tears, and said, “I don’t care what is damaged, I only want to know if you think an animal could survive in an environment with so much smoke.” At this point, he looked at my hands, which were trembling and said, “I will do everything in my power to try and get your cat.” He then directed me to go to the development’s clubhouse where all of my neighbors were waiting.

By the time I arrived at the Clubhouse, there was total chaos. Some people were crying, some talking and others were speechless with blank stares. As I looked around I noticed that a table had been set up by the Red Cross and another local group. They were serving soup and beverages. My first thought was, “This is what it must feel like to be homeless.” Actually, we were homeless at that point, so we started making calls to our insurance company with the hopes of finding a place to stay for the evening.

I had never heard of Red Paw until a fireman called for all unit owners who had pets in the building. A number of us stood and tearfully walked to meet with him, expecting to hear the worst. Instead, he smiled and said, “We have volunteers here who are going to go into the building and search for your pets.” He then introduced us to two women who warmly embraced us and gathered information about our animals and collected our keys. For, the first time that night you could see glimmers of hope in the eyes of everyone.

Moments later, Jen Leary walked through the door, looked at her team and said, “Let’s Go.” Off they went and within minutes returned with cats, dogs, fish, and a bird. Every pet owner in that room cried when they were reunited. They recovered EVERY animal that was in the building.

Holding Kramer 1We were all so happy to have our animals that no one was thinking clearly about where they would stay. After all, most of us would probably be housed in a local hotel, which may or may not be pet friendly. Luckily, the team of Red Paw volunteers had this covered, too. They explained that they would take care of our pets until we could find a pet friendly environment. Upon hearing their offer, my husband and I quickly completed the paperwork and took out our wallets to ask about the boarding fee. We were quickly told to put our wallets away and that our cat Kramer would be staying with them at no charge. My frightening nightmare was now turning into a dream filled with love and hope. When I offered to pay money for food, that too was declined. I remember crying and saying thank you over and over again. What an incredibly caring group of human beings they were. Even before they left, I asked one last time what I could do to repay them for their kindness and generosity. I will never forget the reply of one of the Red Paw volunteers. She hugged me and said, “Your smile is all we need. Take care of yourself and your family while we take care of Kramer.”

Certainly, I will never forget the fire that caused my husband and I to relocate six times in a period of eight months. But, most important of all, I will NEVER EVER forget Jen Leary and her amazing team of volunteers. There are simply no words to express how much Red Paw is loved and appreciated.

In Loving Memory of Kramer, who passed away Wednesday, November 19th, 2014, at the age of 19.

Posted in recognition, responding | Comments Off on Kramer’s story

I love fall

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

Pumpkin Spice LatteI love the fall; It’s my favorite time of year! Hoodies become appropriate to wear again, Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back, football season begins, pumpkins are everywhere, and fall foliage! I could go on and on, but my favorite part of the fall is opening my windows after months of air conditioning and feeling the fresh fall breeze, and although open flames make me nervous:) I love the smell of properly maintained and supervised fireplaces- that are thoroughly extinguished and disposed of in an airtight, metal container, away from houses and anything flammable- coming through! As I’m writing this, it’s 12:30 in the morning and I’m awake (obviously), the windows are open (because it’s fall), and I’m listening to the chirp, chirp, chirp of a smoke alarm whose batteries need to be changed!! Anyone who knows me, knows this sound puts me on high alert! It’s coming from somewhere in the neighborhood, I just can’t figure out where, or else I’d be over there reminding them what the chirping means (and probably handing them fresh batteries!), not writing this blog!

That brings me to my other favorite thing about the fall, October, and Fire Safety Month! The time of year where Twitter blows up with #firesafetymonth hashtags and tips, fire departments open their doors for station tours and fall fire safety fairs, Red Paw Visitand just like the Twitter feeds, our email blows up with requests for presentations to schools, seminars, community events and demos. Everyone in the fire service and emergency response field doing what they can to get their fire safety message out and keep their communities safe and fire free in the coming months!

It’s a large undertaking, but we all have to do our part to keep our family, friends, pets and neighbors safe this season! I’m going to start by finding that chirping smoke alarm! Here are a few things you can do this fall to prepare your family & friends for fire season:

  • Discuss your family’s fire escape plan & practice with ALL members, including pets.
  • Be sure you have working smoke alarms on every floor of your home, including attics and basements.
  • Make sure your neighbors have working smoke alarms as well!
  • Replace old smoke alarms with new 10yr Lithium powered alarms.
  • Be sure to replace old extension cords, and make sure they aren’t running under rugs or furniture.
  • Clear pathways to exits.
  • Recycle old newspapers, magazines, and anything flammable that hasn’t been used since last season.
  • Have an electrician come out and check your wiring.
  • Have a professional come out to check your furnace.
  • Have your chimney cleaned before using it for the first time this season.

For more info about upcoming Fire Prevention Month events and more Fire Safety tips, check out our website:, follow us on Twitter: @RedPawRelief and follow hashtag:#firepreventionmonth.


Posted in preparedness | Comments Off on I love fall

Celebrate fire safety

Dog on Fourth of JulyAround this time every year the City of Philadelphia and folks all across the county prepare for the Fourth of July. Fireworks and firecrackers can be heard for days leading up to the big event; the smell of people BBQing & grilling takes over neighborhoods from morning till night.

The Fourth is especially a big deal here in Philly, “the Nation’s Birthplace.” KittenFour years ago, the week of the Fourth, on Monday morning, June 26th, 2012, around 1:00am to be precise, Red Paw was called by the Red Cross to respond to a house fire in “South Philly” for six kittens displaced by a fire! When we got there we were told the momma cat ran off and that sadly, one of the kittens had died in the fire. We searched for the mom for several days, with no luck. The cause of the fire, we were told, was fire crackers/fireworks being shot up into the air in the neighborhood. And last year during the fourth of July we responded to several fires that put a dog and a cat in the hospital for the holiday weekend!

The NFPA reports that two out of five fires reported on the Fourth of July are started by fireworks, more than by any other cause. The good news is you can enjoy your holiday and the fireworks with just a few of their simple safety tips:

Proceed with caution!

  • Leave fireworks to the professionals. Do not use consumer fireworks.
  • The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to attend a public display conducted by trained professionals.
  • After the fireworks display, children should never pick up fireworks that may be left over, as they may still be active.

As the week leading up to the Fourth went on, so did our fire responses. On Wednesday, June 28th, 2012, we were called by the Red Cross again. They had gotten a call for a cat that was in a house fire, this time in “Southwest Philly” and abandoned in the burnt out building by the owner. A good Samaritan named AJ, rescued her from the home and had her in his car, with the air running, for 3 hours while he was at work! After speaking with him and hearing his concerns for her health, he drove the cat to Red Paw HQ, where the kittens from Monday’s response were staying.

Luckily, the cat was not injured but had obviously just given birth. Not putting two and two together right away, or ever thinking it would be possible, we joked about how we now had a mom with no kittens, and kittens with no mom!

As we talked out all the details further we realized that the area where the kittens were rescued from is sometimes referred to as “Southwest Philly” and Mama Cat and Kittensthat the new cat fit the description of the missing momma. We quickly called the owner to see if her missing cat had been wearing a flea collar, and she had! And it was green! After confirming white paws and a white strip on her nose, we knew it had to be true! (Watch as this displaced feline family is reunited after 3 days apart:

While we love taking in little tiny, fuzzy, cute #firekittens, we’d prefer to not have to respond to fires, and to not see families go through the devastation, especially for things like fireworks and grilling accidents that can easily be avoided! So please take a moment to look over these NFPA Grilling Safety tips, and this year as you are jamming out, listening to Jay-Z on the Parkway, celebrating the Fourth of July, please also celebrate fire safety!

Grilling Safety Tips:

  • Propane and charcoal BBQ grills should only be used outdoors.
  • The grill should be placed well away from the home, deck railings and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
  • Keep children and pets away from the grill area.
  • Keep your grill clean by removing grease or fat buildup from the grills and in trays below the grill.
  • Never leave your grill unattended.

Charcoal grills

  • There are several ways to get the charcoal ready to use. Charcoal chimney starters allow you to start the charcoal using newspaper as a fuel.
  • If you use a starter fluid, use only charcoal starter fluid. Never add charcoal fluid or any other flammable liquids to the fire.
  • Keep charcoal fluid out of the reach of children and away from heat sources.
  • There are also electric charcoal starters, which do not use fire. Be sure to use an extension cord for outdoor use.
  • When you are finished grilling, let the coals completely cool before disposing in a metal container.

Propane grills

  • Check the gas tank hose for leaks before using it for the first time each year. Apply a light soap and water solution to the hose. A propane leak will release bubbles. If your grill has a gas leak, by smell or the soapy bubble test, and there is no flame, turn off the gas tank and grill. If the leak stops, get the grill serviced by a professional before using it again. If the leak does not stop, call the fire department. If you smell gas while cooking, immediately get away from the grill and call the fire department. Do not move the grill.


Posted in history, preparedness, responding | Comments Off on Celebrate fire safety

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, 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.

Posted in recognition, responding, volunteering | Comments Off on I am a CNN Hero?!

National Volunteer Week

Response vehicleIt’s hard to believe that Red Paw is coming up on its three year anniversary already. Time flies when you’re having fun! Honestly, there are days when it feels like it’s been a lifetime! Those were during fire season. With April finally here and the warmer weather trying to stick around, things are starting to level out (notice I did not say the “s” word). This past winter we were the busiest we’ve been since we started responding on July 25th, 2011. Our responders averaged 3 calls a day, in 2 states and 8 counties, and assisted close to 200 animals!! All of this was during ice storms and snow storms and one of the coldest winters in a decade. This is crazy considering we are still an ALL-volunteer organization.

But now that Spring has sprung we move from response mode to events/outreach mode! Adoption events, tabling events, and preparedness presentations fill the events page on our website, all over Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey! Our volunteers will be out again, as usual, but this time they will be collecting donations, handing out fire safety info, Estherselling Red Paw swag and pushing our adoptables!

Some might say it’s impossible to have an all-volunteer emergency response organization, and I’d say they are right, but, luckily we have some of the most dedicated and highly skilled volunteers there are! Yes, due to the high volume of calls and high demand for expansion Red Paw will need to bring on staff in the near future, but our volunteers have already laid the ground work for what’s to come, they continue to do the hard work, and they are our boots on the ground! The rest will be cake! Happy National Volunteer Week to all of our dedicated volunteers and thank you!

To volunteer or foster please go to

Posted in history, volunteering | Comments Off on National Volunteer Week

Ode to Spotty Cat

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

IMG_7202Although he was reunited with his owners over a month ago, whenever I look at my kitchen chair, I think of Spotty (Cat) Cow. Some would wonder, why would a chair remind me of a cat?? Well, it’s due to the fact I was sitting in that chair the morning I took a call from Red Paw founder Jen Leary, telling me that a feline who was involved in a house fire several days prior had run out of the burning home, gone missing and then showed up at the University of Pennsylvania Emergency Veterinary Hospital after being hit by a car. Thankfully, all the cards lined up in Spotty’s favor; a good samaritan brought him in following the accident and since the staff at PennVet follow the Red Paw Emergency Relief Team Facebook page, they had read about Spotty’s story and knew he had been missing. The tech said she smelled smoke on him, knew he had been hit by the car in the same area as the fire and called Jen immediately!

As she listed his known injuries at that time, a feeling of dread came over me, as I knew already what I was likely to answer when and if she asked ‘what should we do?’ IMG_9094Skull fractures, broken jaw, dental extractions, eye injury….aside from the cost of all these issues, I knew this poor cat was going to need to endure multiple procedures, painful recoveries and a lot of aftercare. His owners had other pets, one cat still missing (who miraculously Red Paw found in the burnt out, destroyed building a few days later completely fine!), health issues of their own… was a lot to take in. My personal opinion was humane euthanasia was likely the best option for him. There were two items I hadn’t yet considered….the first being the overwhelming support from social media and Red Paw’s ability to fundraise, and second, the black and white cat’s will to live!! During Jen’s second call with an update, she told me how Spotty’s owner had to climb onto her porch roof from the second floor window to escape the fire and that at one point she had grabbed Spotty to take him out the window with her, but she lost her balance and had to put him down to steady herself and he ran back into the apt. Somehow he made it down the stairs and ran out past the firefighters as they were going in! Jen told me how guilty his owner felt and how she’d do anything to make it up to him! At this point I said “I’ll foster him.” It was almost two years since I’d first said those words to her and Red Paw and I’ve never regretted them for a moment.

IMG_9100I picked Spotty up from Penn after his initial treatment of several tooth extractions, his jaw wired and his left eye sutured closed – that was to prevent a blood clot from forming in the socket and displacing the eyeball. I am a certified veterinary technician, so I was prepared for what his face would look like – it was one only a ‘foster’ mom could love….but I wasn’t prepared for the pitiful yowl that grabbed my heart. Again, I doubted and thought, what have we done? It amazes me to this day that with all the medications I had to get in him, the force feedings that didn’t work well enough (he refused to let me get enough nourishment in and in the best interests of healing, eventually a feeding tube was placed), cleaning the surgery sites, etc. that this amazing cat scratched me just once….and it was likely a mistake he even did that!

The only frustrating thing this wonderful cat did over the many weeks of recovery was his refusal to eat!! Even after his jaw healed, sutures removed, more teeth taken out, his alignment checked and he was offered every flavor/brand/form of cat food out there – he refused them all. It’s a good thing I have other felines happy to eat his leftovers!

IMG_1220As the weeks went by, I started to stress about the length of time the tube was in place. We tried appetite stimulants known to work on other cats, but he was just that stubborn! Ironically, the same stubbornness that I admired so much as he willed himself to live was now haunting me, as he would sniff and avert his head at fresh food and simply curl up in bed wait to be fed through the tube. As Christmas approached (his accident took place right before Halloween) we had another appointment at PennVet and I asked his brilliant, caring vet, Dr. Lisa Fink if I could attempt a ‘tough love’ strategy and cut back the amount and frequency of his feedings….although I knew it was standard in similar cases, I was filled with anxiety. Everyone on Facebook was asking the same question “How is Spotty, is he eating?” When I finally coaxed him to eat a crunchy cat treat, my video had hundreds of ‘likes’! I cried the next day when he refused those same treats….and several days later, cried for joy when I woke up to a half-eaten dish of Halo! It was the Christmas miracle we were all hoping for! About a week later, as Jen looked on, Dr. Fink cut those final sutures and pulled out that tube. Spotty hasn’t stopped eating Halo since and the scale shows the results, as does his shiny fur growing back in all the places where he was shaved for catheters and surgical procedures.

IMG_1221As a foster, I have found closure in reuniting the animals with their owners, and it was with mixed emotions I drove Spotty home that January day. I knew his owners loved him so much, but he meant so much to so many that the pressure was on for me to convey how much everyone contributed to his recovery and how much I loved him and would miss him. I shouldn’t have given that a second thought…..Ruth was THE most appreciative Red Paw client I’d met, told us she prayed for him, his supporters, for Jen and his caregivers! She even thanked Red Paw first before reconsidering and saying ‘No, God first, then Red Paw’! In the video, I appear as if I don’t want to hand him over, but it was because she was so emotional, I didn’t want her to be overwhelmed by her now slightly ‘pudgy’ beloved cat!

In hindsight, I could kick myself for thinking the odds stacked against this cat were too great, if I’d only met him first…..and well, if it weren’t for all the unbelievable Red Paw supporters, this story wouldn’t have ended happily ever after! I thank everyone who donated to Spotty Cow and all the other animals – please know every penny was/is worth it!

Posted in fostering | Comments Off on Ode to Spotty Cat

Every day is Preparedness month

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

fire dogI am a bit of a preparedness freak, or maybe even a bit of buzz kill, depending on who you ask! I’m the one who goes and gives out In Case of Fire window clings and first aid kits as birthday presents and stocking stuffers, the one who goes out to a movie with friends and instructs them on where the emergency exits are, informs them which one we’ll be using if need be, and will only allow them to sit in the aisle seats, closer to the emergency exits!

My friends and family know this about me and accept it or at the very least humor me! Let’s take my sister for example; she travels for work quite a bit, so I frequently remind her about preparedness tips for travel. For example, when she’s driving, I always remind her to check her “go bag” and first aid kit that I know she has in her trunk because I’m her sister and bought them for her!:) I remind her to check that nothing has expired or gone bad. I remind her to charge her back up phone battery and to keep her phone charging while driving. I remind her to keep a blanket and extra set of clothing and shoes in the trunk, especially while driving in the winter. When she is flying, I remind her (although she may use another word!) to book her flight early enough in advance that she can request to sit in the emergency exit aisle on the plane. On the one hand, yes, in the event of a fire you’ll have to stay on the plane and help people exit, but, on the other, you won’t be trapped in the middle of the plane, surrounded by combustibles with no way out!

loriAlso, I make sure to tell all of my family members that when they book a hotel to do it far enough in advance that they can request to stay below the 7th floor of the hotel. Fire department ladder trucks can’t reach any higher than the 7th floor! Also, never stay on the smoking floor of a hotel; why would you put yourself in added risk by sleeping with an ignition source and flammables during your stay? And remember to always count the number of doors from your hotel room to the emergency exits on your floor; if there is a fire and you need to evacuate but can’t see due to smoke, you’ll know how many doors there are from your room to safety. And of course, keep your travel “go-kit” with all of your important papers and things on the night stand ready to go in an emergency!

Another thing I like to do is a quick preparedness check when I’m at a friend’s home. They don’t even think twice anymore when I start poking around closets for their pet preparedness kits and cat carriers, or when I start unplugging the lamps they are not using or the phone charger that is plugged in with no phone attached. These things use electricity even when they are not on and electricity can cause fires! theo

I also like to look around and make sure they have working smoke alarms on every floor, and scold them if they do not. Then, while pretending to get myself something to drink, I’ll take a look on their fridge to see if there is a list of emergency numbers, then I might check out the view from a window trying to see if they have bars on them that aren’t quick release or locks on their doors that only open with a key. If they do, my head starts to spin around!! Of course, it’s all out of love and concern but this might account for why my dinner party invitations have started to dwindle!

codaTo be fair, I do this in my own home too, but times ten! When we’re cooking dinner, first, before I use the oven or stove top, I’ll take a quick peek to make sure there are no towels (or cats or dogs) in close proximity to the stove and that all pot handles are turned in. Everything, and I mean everything, that is non-essential is unplugged. A coffee-maker plugged in overnight with a timer is essential! The washer, the dryer, the microwave, the hair dryer, fans, chargers, printers, computers, etc…they only get plugged in while in use and they are never left plugged in unsupervised. Why tempt fate! We are also not allowed to use extension cords in our home, which, if you’ve ever lived in a house in South Philly, is no easy task! Electrical sockets are few and far between. We have several power strips with surge protectors that we plug in and use when needed and then we unplug them when they are not in use. And, there are cat carriers in every room of the house and dog leashes at both front and back doors!

Remember when I said I’m a bit of a preparedness freak? Here is the freak part. Full disclosure: we live in a two-story row house but we sleep on the first floor. I could lie and say that since we run Red Paw out of our house that it has to be this way. And that we use the rooms upstairs as our emergency shelter rooms for our displaced cats, which is true, and that there have been several occasions where the “bedroom,” the “office,” and the middle room have all been occupied by Red Paw guests. Which again, is true. And that as you can imagine, this leaves very little room for us, let alone for our own animals, so, for the sake of Red Paw, we sleep downstairs…that would be a lie and everyone would call me out on it anyway! We sleep downstairs because there are two accessible exits and so that we and our pets can escape easily, just in case of fire.

catAn effective family fire escape plan has to identify two ways out. We had an escape ladder in our 2nd floor bedroom closet and we bought harnesses for the dogs and talked about a plan for the cats, which would be to use pillow cases, but the reality of the situation is, on a good day, with no fire, no time limit, no dark smoke, no loud noises and no fire, getting down an escape ladder is iffy, at best, and getting two dogs and five cats into harnesses and pillow cases and then getting them down an escape ladder with you is pretty much impossible! So, I did what I had to do; I moved our bed and our go kits downstairs. We have a back door into the yard, and of course, a front door leading outside. Now, we have two ways out! Is it crazy? Maybe. But I don’t care. I know my family will be able to get out in the middle of the night if there is a fire in our home. We have working smoke alarms on every floor. Our go-kits and our pets ready to go. We keep all doors to bedrooms and the basement closed and we practice our fire escape plan with the entire family, yes, including our pets. You’d be surprised how quickly they catch on after you test the smoke alarm if you usher them outside and give them a treat!

Yes, it’s Preparedness Month, but as I like to say, “preparedness never takes a day off” or “preparedness doesn’t take holidays,” so in our household every day is preparedness day and every month is preparedness month!!

For more info on Fire Safety Information and Pet Preparedness go to our website at

Posted in preparedness | Comments Off on Every day is Preparedness month