Andrew Jones risked his life for the two puppies that he’s reluctantly giving up for adoption. While sleeping in their North Philly home one night in late July, Jones’ wife, 23-year-old Eva, woke up to the chaos of her six dogs barking.
Eva, three months pregnant, shook her husband. “Something’s burning,” she said. Jones ran down the stairs from the third floor to the second, to his brother Lawrence’s bedroom. A candle left burning in a plastic bottle set the radio on fire. The men panicked. A bucket of water thrown on the now-electrical fire made it worse. Flames leapt to the couch and roared toward the staircase.
Two of the Jones’ six dogs were outside, another two were on the second floor, but the puppies were still upstairs. Jones ran up the stairs to the third floor to get them.
“I couldn’t see them [through the smoke] so I had to reach around. I finally got a hold of them,” he recalls. “I was trying to get out, but I couldn’t see anything.”
He considered the window, then dashed down the steps and got the whole family out of the house.
The Fire Department arrived within minutes, but the damage was done. The fire had crawled up the stairs, burning the couple’s bedroom and the nursery. “The baby’s room is all black,” Jones says.
Though Eva remains stoic while describing the flames, it’s when talking about how a new organization called Red Paw Emergency Relief Team saved her dogs that she breaks down. “Without them I don’t know where our dogs would be,” she says, crying.
Anna Jensky of Central Bark dog daycare winds past an indoor playground to a room in the back. When she opens the door, six dogs—pit bulls—go bananas, barking and jumping with joy inside their crates at the sight of Eva. She introduces her brood. “This is Boi Boi, Phat Phat, Bishop, Kilo, and that little one is A.J. and the other puppy is Taz,” says Eva. As she points out each dog, her face lights up. That big smile’s been hard to come by lately. After the fire, the Joneses spent the three-week maximum at the Red Cross House in West Philly. The family’s been struggling to find new housing ever since.
Even with the help of the Red Cross, the couple say it seems almost impossible to find a house that will accept the dogs. “A lot of people were going to give us the opportunity, but … they say pits are bad dogs,” says Eva. “They’re not bad dogs. It depends how your raise them.”
In the last few days, feeling defeated, they reluctantly decided to put the two puppies up for adoption.
“We got attached to them. So it’s kind of hard for me,” says Andrew Jones. “But I know I can’t really take all these dogs.”
The Joneses are the first clients of Red Paw, a volunteer organization that launched July 25. If the Jones’ house burned just a day earlier—their house went up the first night Red Paw was active—they probably would have had to give up all the dogs. And the dogs likely would have shared the fate of most pit bulls that end up at the local shelter—euthanization.
Wendy Marano, spokesperson for the PSPCA, confirms that the Animal Care and Control Team (ACCT), Philly’s animal shelter, can only hold temporarily homeless animals five days. “There’s a little bit of flexibility if we have room, [but] that’s a big if because so many animals come in to the shelter,” says Marano.
Red Paw works in conjunction with the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania and bills themselves as “Red Cross for Animals.” Jen Leary, founder of Red Paw, is a Philadelphia firefighter, Red Cross emergency responder and coordinator of the local chapter of County Animal Response Team (CART), a statewide program established and funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Katrina.
Red Paw aims to do what most local activists thought CART was supposed to do: assist in recovering pets after disasters. But after the fiasco following the five-alarm blaze that destroyed Windermere Court, a 90-unit apartment complex at 48th and Walnut streets back in January, CART’s limitations became clear.
CART could not, for example, have helped the Joneses.
Except for surreptitious action taken by renegade cat activists, Windermere residents’ cats were left to starve, die and disappear in the condemned building.
“[The idea for Red Paw] has been in my head for years, but after the Windermere situation, I went to … the Red Cross and was like, ‘Look, this is getting ridiculous.’”
An analysis of the aftermath of Windermere reported by PW at the time revealed that though CARTs were successful in surrounding counties, Philly’s program, tethered to the Office of Emergency Management, was still really only operating on paper. Later, Samantha Phillips, assistant management director of OEM and overseer of Philadelphia CART, clarified that (unlike CARTs in surrounding counties), even if it were up and running, Philly’s CART would only deploy in the event of a disaster the level of Hurricane Katrina, or a disaster resulting in 50 or more pets needing assistance.