The co-founder of PAWS New England juggles her rescue work with a demanding medical residency
By Wendy Wollenberg
Just talking to Kelly Parker, one of the co-founders of PAWS New England, it’s hard not to get caught up in her energy and passion for all facets of her busy life. From her three rescue dogs, to her current medical residency in the obstetrics and gynecology field, to her work with the five-year-old organization, Parker is, as PAWS volunteer Kelly Donato puts it, “an amazing superwoman.”
Parker helped start PAWS New England after researching urgent adoption cases on the Petfinder message boards after she and her husband experienced difficulty in adopting a dog. She came across several posts from a Tennessee woman, Traci Wood, who had been posting photos of dogs in the Tipton County Animal Shelter in Brighton, TN and contacting various rescue agencies for assistance. Parker saw all of Wood’s posts, asked how she could help, and PAWS New England was born. “We started PAWS New England in 2006, the same year as I began medical school, which sounds crazy,” Parker says. The organization is now comprised of 30 active volunteers and has saved the lives of more than 3,500 dogs. The group currently has more than 120 adoptable dogs in its system.
PAWS New England rescues dogs from high-kill shelters such as Tipton County Animal Shelter, which has an 85 percent kill rate, to provide veterinary care and rehabilitation. Many of their cases involve puppy mills and hoarding situations that leave a large number of animals in need of emergency care. Once the dogs have received health and temperament testing, they are placed in foster homes and eventually adopted. The organization also helps educate the community about spay/neuter programs to combat the pet overpopulation problem. Their mission: Save lives, one dog at a time.
Parker is responsible for PAWS New England’s executive work, including overall operations, grant writing, and fundraising. One of her most recent fundraising challenges came after floods in May 2010 left the group’s dog sanctuary in rural Lakeland, TN under six feet of water. Forty-three dogs were saved from the flooding thanks to the brave actions of volunteers, but the sanctuary was destroyed and needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. Costs totaled $60,000, including relocation fees, veterinary bills, and construction. Thankfully, all of the dogs are now in foster care or have been adopted, and Parker has been able to turn her attention to rebuilding the sanctuary to continue its vital rescue work.
Parker’s story becomes personal when she talks about her own three rescue dogs. She and her husband adopted Suki, a Border Collie mix, and Zoey, a Pit Bull mix, in 2006. They added to their furry family in December 2010 with the arrival of Carma, a Border Collie mix who was one of the only dogs from the more than 50 to be rescued from an irresponsible breeding facility that left her clinging to life. “My husband and I initially were going to foster Carma to be adopted,” Parker explains. “But we just couldn’t let her go, and now my three dogs all love each other.” You can read more about Carma’s compelling story on Parker’s blog, CarmasCourage.wordpress.com.
When asked how she juggles her 80-hour-a-week medical residency and her work with PAWS, Parker doesn’t hesitate. “I work with amazing, dedicated people every day, many of whom easily work 30 hours a week for free,” she states. “That’s how I do it.”
To learn more, visit PawsNewEngland.com.