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Red Paw Rescue, disaster relief for pets

Interview with Lori Albright, Red Paw

If a fire, flood, or other emergency were to force you from your home, who will care for your pets? It’s a stark question, but one that many pet owners are forced to confront in a crisis. In Philadelphia, the answer is often the Red Paw Emergency Team. Red Paw is an emergency services, nonprofit organization that works in conjunction with state and local disaster relief organizations to provide emergency aid to animals involved in fires and other residential disasters. 

I recently had the opportunity to interview the organization’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Board President, Lori Albright. Lori has been with the organization since July 2011.

Q: How did you become affiliated with Red Paw, and what are your responsibilities as COO?

A: My partner, Jen Leary, started Red Paw as a pilot program in Philadelphia County. In December 2013, I began to attend Board Meetings and formally became COO and President of the Board in 2014. I am the first and longest tenured Red Paw volunteer.

I balance administrative duties with animal care/response, intake and movement, while being on-call 24/7, 365 days. As the COO, my major responsibilities include directing resources to our emergency response, search and rescue and medical care programs. I communicate the organization's strategy/mission statement to the board, leadership and volunteers and implement appropriate coaching to align personnel with the organization's goals. I also write grants and proposals, as well as coordinate in-kind supply donations, securing sponsorship and maintaining relationships with major donors and community partnerships.

Q: How has Red Paw impacted the areas it serves?

A: Since its inception, Red Paw’s trained responders, transport volunteers and specialty fosters have responded to an average of 700 calls per year, assisting nearly 4,000 animals and more than 2,000 families in the five counties of southeastern Pennsylvania–surrounding and including–Philadelphia, 7 counties in New Jersey, Delaware State, Maryland and NYC. Red Paw has reunited 95% of families affected by fires or other disasters with their beloved pets. When families are unable to reunite with their pets following a fire or disaster, they are adopted into new, loving homes.

Red Paw partners with the Pennsylvania SPCA and Citizen’s for a No-kill Philadelphia (CNKP) at monthly pet pantry's to deliver fire and pet fire safety information, as well as supplies in underserved neighborhoods reaching 400 families with pets each month. Red Paw’s in-kind donation sites, located at partner businesses and vet practices throughout the region and up and down the east coast allow the organization to deliver much needed supplies to foster homes, displaced families and during monthly pet pantry’s. Red Paw’s Street Teams and outreach programs reach more than 50,000 families annually. Red Paw presents fire safety in schools throughout the region to reach an estimated 10,400 students directly each school year.

Q: Tell me about Red Paw’s education initiatives.

A: Red Paw focuses on four interrelated programs: emergency response and rescue; public education and outreach; owner education; and training and education for professionals.

1. Emergency response and rescue. Owned animals displaced by manmade disasters (fires) and other natural disasters, and subsequent veterinary care and sheltering. 
2. Public education and outreach. Specifically, fire prevention and disaster preparedness. Red Paw delivers vital fire safety and pet fire safety materials to underserved residents. It devotes a significant portion of its website to preparedness, including a link to the downloadable Philadelphia Fire Safety App, and an array of resources on pet preparedness, fire safety, and emergency preparedness ranging from excessive heat to severe weather situations. 
3. Owner education. Responsible pet ownership practices including the importance of basic veterinary care, exercise, training and socialization, and responsible pet ownership (humane care, custody, and control). 
4. Professional training and education. Pet disaster response for professionals and first responders. A full array of seminars and classes is listed on the Red Paw website. Recently, we presented at the Penn Vet Emergency and Disaster Relief Symposium. 

Q: Where do the majority of calls to Red Paw originate?

A: Red Paw receives 90% of calls from the Philadelphia Fire Department's Incident Command Center, Dispatch of the American Red Cross, or the City of Philadelphia's Office of Emergency Management. The remaining 10% come from other agencies including the Salvation Army, Pennsylvania and NJ SART and CART’s, local fire departments, and Animal Control, and sometimes directly by clients in need of help. 

Q: Take me through the basic process of what happens when someone calls Red Paw with an emergency.
A: If animals are involved in an incident, Red Paw’s One Call Now system alerts the appropriate members of its volunteer response team, who learn about the needs of the animal(s) and are dispatched.

On the scene, Red Paw's trained response volunteers meet the family or individual, explain waivers, review protocols, and assess the animal(s) who are often: suffering from smoke inhalation, dirty, and may be burned or flea infested. Some animals require immediate transportation to receive emergency veterinary care. Others stay with family members in pet-friendly hotels and our volunteers deliver donated supplies, most dogs go to our partner intake facility at Central Bark Philly and small animals and reptile come to Red Paw HQ, which is our house. The sunroom for reptiles and the entire upstairs is devoted to cats, birds, rabbits and other small animals. 

From there, they go to boarding or foster homes until the family can take them back. 

Q: What would you most want people who aren’t familiar with Red Paw to know about the organization?
A: That our services are unique—no other organization provides the same services at the residential level. Prior to Red Paw, pets often perished because families had no safety net. There were many organizations in place for people, but there were no organizations to advocate, provide search and rescue, cover the cost of emergency and basic vet care, and guide families with companion pets throughout the disaster cycle. That's what we do. Red Paw is an emergency services non-profit organization and we rely on the generosity of the public, family foundations and our partners and sponsors to deliver our services at no cost to our clients. Red Paw simply provides direct response to all residents/clients based on need. 

Editor's note: National Fire Prevention Week in the US is October 9-15, 2016. For a list of pet fire safety tips and a sample fire escape plan, visit Red Paw’s Fire Safety page.

Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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