Red Paw Emergency Relief, the organization that has saved thousands of pets from Philadelphia homes destroyed by fires, floods, and explosions, will not shut down as previously planned, but instead will train a team of Philadelphia firefighters to take over its services, Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel announced Thursday.

“As someone who donates to Red Paw every month from my own paycheck, I am very aware of the unique asset this organization has been to the city of Philadelphia,” Thiel said at a news conference. “And I’m pleased that Red Paw will continue to be one of our critical partners.”

Red Paw, founded by Philadelphia firefighter Jennifer Leary in 2011, announced in August that it would shut down on Oct. 1 after its model as an outside organization collaborating with the city proved unsustainable. The nonprofit, which operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, providing emergency pet services to homeowners affected by disaster, has also been experiencing staffing shortages due to the pandemic and was excluded from a dire city budget.

Now, Red Paw plans to become a foundation to provide food and supplies, pay for pet-friendly hotel fees, and raise funds for critical care for residents' pets who have been displaced by disasters.

Over the next month, the organization will provide training, supplies, and other support to the Fire Department’s Community Action Team, a team of firefighters who have traditionally assisted residents displaced by fires. These members will take over Red Paw’s role by caring for city residents' pets in disasters.

The Fire Department is not receiving any additional funding for this initiative, said Kathy Matheson, a spokesperson for the department, but Red Paw has donated leads and carriers to help the team get started. The services will be a group effort amongthe Fire Department, Office of Emergency Management, and Red Cross.

Red Paw's Lori Albright talks about the transition plans with the Philadelphia Fire Department.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Red Paw's Lori Albright talks about the transition plans with the Philadelphia Fire Department.

“We are doing something that no other city is doing,” said Lori Albright, who volunteers as Red Paw’s chief operating officer. “The services that we provide will not go anywhere.”

Since its founding, Red Paw has saved more than 8,000 pets — cats, dogs, iguanas, birds, snakes — from disaster. The program had operated relatively inexpensively by training firefighters how to search for and handle pets. Red Paw would then provide a staffer on site with carriers to hold the pets and later reunite them with their family, as well as provide food and supplies and cover pet hotel fees through donations.