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?”
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.
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!
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!