Founded by a Philadelphia firefighter nine years ago, Red Paw Emergency Relief has saved nearly 8,000 dogs, cats, iguanas, snakes, guinea pigs, ferrets, and spiders from homes ravaged by fires, floods, and explosions.

On Wednesday, the organization announced that it’s shutting down.

It’s not for a lack of need or public support, said Lori Albright, who volunteers as the organization’s chief operating officer. She cited ongoing problems in gaining access to disaster scenes. Red Paw’s leadership concluded that its model of an outside organization collaborating with the city just didn’t work.

“We cannot be out here on an island,” she said. The decision was sealed this year by the high volume of calls combined with staffing shortages due to the pandemic and a dire city budget plan that again does not address animal rescues.

Albright said it’s now up to the city to prioritize this work — which she said would be inexpensive and mostly a matter of training.

“What has hindered us is not being integrated into city services,” she said. “This model could be integrated very easily into first response. We have been pushing that for many years, at City Council and through various administrations, and it just seems like it’s too far out of the box for people to grasp.”

It is with a heavy heart and conflicted emotions that we announce some changes taking place with Red Paw. After...

Posted by Red Paw Emergency Relief Team on Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Jennifer Leary, who is still a full-time firefighter, founded the organization after she was haunted by the outcome of a five-alarm fire in January 2011 at the Windermere Court Apartments in West Philadelphia.

“Cats were trapped in the building during all those bitter, freezing-cold nights in January,” she told the Daily News then. “There was no emergency-response organization to help them or to give a voice to their owners, who were shut out of the sealed-off building because of liability issues.”

Red Paw will continue collaborating with the Red Cross over the next few months to support protocols it developed to make sure pet owners rescued from disasters have pet supplies and access to shelter where their pets are permitted.

Jennifer Leary tries to coax a stray kitten, with a plastic lid around its neck, from a house, in an undated file photograph.
ROBERT MORAN / Staff
Jennifer Leary tries to coax a stray kitten, with a plastic lid around its neck, from a house, in an undated file photograph.

When asked how the Fire Department will fill the gap, Commissioner Adam Thiel said; “Red Paw has been a great partner, and we are sorry to see this development; due to our increased workload from COVID-19 and multiple disaster responses, we have not been able to assess the impact of these changes.”

One thing Albright is sure of is that there would be public support.

“Every once in a while, you see one of those videos that goes viral, a firefighter carrying a dog out of a fire,” she said. “People think it’s the coolest, greatest thing ever, but then it’s like, ‘How can we do that?’ It’s really not that complicated.”