Well, that was close. Too close.
On the same day that a beloved animal disaster rescue program was set to shut down, the Philadelphia Fire Department finally stepped in and announced it will integrate the services provided by Red Paw Emergency Relief into its daily operations.
I still don’t get what took so long to make that no-brainer of a decision. As I said in my column last week, it’s a program that demonstratively works — saving thousands of animals since it was founded by Jen Leary, a Philly firefighter, in 2011. The nonprofit could have easily been folded into existing emergency services long before Red Paw was forced to cut back its hours and announced in August it could no longer function as a standalone program, mostly because of staffing issues.
So the foot-dragging was, well, curious. Same with the one-sentence response from Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel, delivered in an email by a department spokesperson when I asked to talk to him about the future of the program.
I mean, I hear I’m downright delightful when you get to know me, Commish.
But let’s not dwell, because despite some clown talking smack about bad things happening in Philly, a very good thing happened this week.
“In the face of a global pandemic, unprecedented economic and budget constraints, hurricanes, historical flooding, it would have been so easy to say, ‘No, we’re gonna cut this, we just can’t do it,’” Red Paw chief operating officer Lori Albright said at a news conference at Fire Department headquarters Thursday. “But because all our partners saw the value in this, we’re doing something that no other city is doing.”
So, here’s how it’s going to work: Over the next month, Red Paw will be training about 24 members of the Fire Department’s Community Action Teams, or CATs, on best practices to assist city residents with pets during a fire.
Red Paw had planned to end its services this month, but until everything is up and running, it will continue its work during the day, and on an on-call basis at night.
“I am pleased that Red Paw will continue to be one of our critical partners in serving all of our residents, businesses, and visitors 24/7, 365 [days a year],” said Thiel.
He’s not the only one. News that the service would continue in Philly was celebrated by many who have experienced firsthand how vital it is.
“Yes, thank God. OMG, I’m so happy,” Antwanette Wyche said when I texted her with the good news.
Wyche’s family home in North Philly was destroyed in a fire last month. She and her family were safe, but for a while some of her animals, which include three dogs, a kitten, two turtles, and a snake, were unaccounted for.
Firefighters were able to rescue two of the dogs and the turtles, but another dog ran off, and she feared that her kitten and snake were lost.
Hours later, someone from Red Paw was helping her find her missing pets, including a 3-year-old pit bull, Bubby, who had been picked up and brought to a shelter. Red Paw also gave them pet supplies and paid for the animal deposit at the hotel — services Red Paw hopes to continue to offer through its existing foundation, which also raises funds for critical care.
Red Paw’s founder, Leary, wasn’t at the news conference because she was working. But when I reached her later, she was understandably relieved.
“I’m hopeful that everything that was said today will come to fruition, plus some,” she said. “I really hope that once they see that this can work, and that what we’re doing is meaningful to people, that there will be even more buy-in, and that our model can go on to other cities. That’s always been the goal. I’m very hopeful at this moment that those things will happen.”
Same here. But maybe next time, Philly, we don’t wait until the last possible moment to recognize a good thing.