An expose in the Philadelphia Daily News called “House of Horrors” helped usher in a new era. Heads rolled and fresh blood was brought in to clean up the mess.
The new Board knew that in order to elevate animal control to something other than a giant trash bin, it was crucial to organize life-saving efforts. The idea for PAWS was born.
It didn’t really grow until Melissa Levy came along. In 2005, Levy was a PR professional with no background in animal welfare. She was just a lady who wanted a dog.
To her surprise, she had trouble finding an adoption event.
“It was next to impossible,” says Levy. “I searched, I made phone calls, I looked everywhere, thinking every weekend there was someplace we could meet adoptable dogs short of going to the shelter, but there were none to speak of.”
Levy finally found one and went. There, she locked eyes with Rosie, a black lab mix.
“She changed my life,” says Levy. “Rosie brought so much joy and love into my life and I knew that the odds were not good for animals [in Philly] at that time … I wanted to figure out what I could do to help.”
In 2006, she started to volunteer at the shelter where she learned about the vision for PAWS.
“It wasn’t really organized,” says Levy. “There weren’t any formal programs in place.”
Soon Levy was volunteering more hours than she was working for money. “Almost immediately, I knew I wanted to dedicate myself to it,” says Levy. She became the Director of Development of PAWS in April, 2007.
By the new year, PAWS opened an adoption center in Old City. It was an immediate success, not only bumping up the number of animals saved, but in spreading the word.
“When I would tell people that 30,000 animals a year come pouring into the animal shelter, [people] would look at me like I had two heads,” says Levy. “When I would say the majority of them were being killed due to lack of homes, we would start to make inroads. The only way to help is by getting involved, by spreading the word, fostering and volunteering. The adoption center really gave us an opportunity to tell the story on a much wider scale.”
Then at the end of 2008, the city unexpectedly—and controversially—yanked the contract from PACCA, the city agency established solely to perform that function, and awarded it to PSPCA. The move forced PACCA, the parent organization of PAWS, to disband.
“There was no question PAWS would continue to do its work and work with the adoption center as its home base, but we were really starting from scratch,” recalls Levy.
Instead of collapsing though, PAWS just kept expanding. In 2010, the Spay/Neuter & Wellness Clinic on Grays Ferry opened. It’s a 6200 sq. ft. space made possible by fundraising and creative salvaging of equipment from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The clinic provides pet owners with low-cost spay and neutering—helping to literally nip the problem of too many homeless animals in the bud—and veterinary care.
“We provide basic vet care for pets whose owners couldn’t otherwise afford it,” says Levy. The clinic also provides services for other rescue organizations.
Today, PAWS boasts 22 employees and a network of more than 2,000 volunteers and foster parents—but can use even more. They’re always accepting donations of money and supplies.
And of course, they need foster parents. Every animal you can get out of a cage makes room for another one that is at risk of being euthanized.
For me, all is well on the kitten front. Sometimes I go in the room and read until I’m covered with purring kittens trying to suckle on my face. I’m calling the boy, who likes to sit in my pocket, Barnaby. I named the tiny girl Annie, as in little orphan Annie. I’m not settled on a name for her big sister yet.
Naming is tricky business. It makes you attached. In a month or so, when they weigh at least three pounds each, they’ll be ready for permanent homes and I’ll have to say good-bye. But that’s OK.
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