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Local Hero—“Red Paw” to the rescue

Hero—Jen Leary and friendJen Leary helps animals after disasters
By Brendan Quealy

Philadelphia firefighter and Red Cross emergency responder Jennifer Leary could not believe what she saw when she arrived to the scene of a two-alarm fire. Two people were screaming for help as they carried their injured dogs away from the burning building and no one was helping. Leary rushed to them, guided them to her car and sped off to Penn Veterinary Hospital. Despite her efforts, the two dogs died. “That hit was so close to home, I was with the dog’s [guardian] the whole time once they got out of the building,” recalls Leary. “It became personal. It really stuck with me and I never really forgot it.”

Because no one was there to help those dogs, Leary took it upon herself to make sure pets get care at the scene of an accident or other medical emergencies by creating the Red Paw Emergency Relief Team, “It surprises me that no one has thought to do this before,” admits Leary. “It is such a needed resource. It relieves so much stress on the [guardian] to know that they are being looked after. It really helps with the recovery process.”

Leary describes an incident that happened in late September where a woman was going to leave her German Shepherd in the backyard after a fire and come by a few times a day to check on him.“It can take months to get back into your house after a fire,” explains Leary, who made sure that woman got the help she needed. “Keeping her dog in that situation was just unacceptable.”

While the program is in its early stages, Leary says she has received numerous requests from people throughout the Northeast looking for help. According to Leary, the plan is to start in Philadelphia as a pilot program. “Eventually, once we get some funding we can build on that,” Leary says. “We can go regional and hopefully even national because it is something we can bring to other places once we are established.”

Red Paw has been busy since day one. At just 5 a.m. on the Monday of their first week, they had already responded to a fire that destroyed a house with six Pit Bulls living inside. Leary and her team were able to keep all of the dogs out of the county shelter and even had them spayed and neutered before returning them to their guardians.

Leary has fostered some of the displaced animals herself, despite the fact that she has two dogs, a Pit Bull/Boxer named Theo and a Chow mix named Coda, along with four cats. “We don’t have much space right now, but we’re hoping that will change. Right now a lot of what we are doing is out of my house.”

Although there have been challenges, Leary is confident the Red Paw Emergency Relief Team will be a success. “There have been a lot of bumps along the way,” says Leary. “Funding has been an issue because sometimes when there are no foster homes available we have to pay to board them, so we are always looking for donations.”

The Red Paw Emergency Relief Team is set to become a certified 501(c)3 charity very soon, and Leary knows that the best way for her organization to be successful is through the help of people. “Donate and spread the word,” says Leary.

To learn more, please visit RedPawEmergencyReliefTeam.org.

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