April is National Volunteer Month.

April 10th-16th is National Volunteer Week. Philadelphia OEM Thanks Red Paw Emergency Relief Team

April 10, 2016

by Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management Public Affairs @PhilaOEM

A city block of green grass, outlined by aluminum fencing, sits across the shuttered West Philadelphia High School at 48th and Walnut.

Some in the neighborhood remember the lot as the Windermere Court Apartments. Those who do recall the Windermere think of the 5-alarm fire that destroyed it in 2011.

160 Philadelphia firefighters responded to the January 10, 2011 fire. Among them was Jennifer Leary. After being on the force for seven years, Leary, whose dream was to become a firefighter, felt herself being pulled in a new direction.

It was at the Windermere fire that Jen Leary saw animals being taken out of the apartments in laundry baskets. Taken to a shelter without crates or emergency care.

The West Philly fire followed another emergency where Leary witnessed a need for animal care during emergencies. A two alarm fire in Center City led to the death of two dogs and a cat. She responded to the fire as a volunteer with the Red Cross. Leary rushed the wounded animals to Penn Veterinary Hospital, but it was too late. It was here that she saw there was no procedure in place to help animals injured in an emergency.

These incidents affected Leary, who said, “There was no one there to take care of pets. The fire department or Red Cross would leave and there was no real resolve for the family for what to do with the animals. It planted a seed that there was a void in the emergency response cycle.”

After battling the Windermere fire, Leary returned home that day to a deluge of messages on her phone and social media. The apartment complex was a pet friendly building. There was no one there to help the pets. This prompted Leary to go to city officials and the Red Cross with her idea to help affected animals.


Philadelphia is a city of firsts, which appropriately includes Ben Franklin’s founding of the nation’s first fire company. Jen Leary made the decision to found the first organization that solely focused on care of animals during and after emergencies.

After years of working to establish the organization as a viable first-responder group, the Red Paw Emergency Relief Team was added to the City’s Emergency Response Plan in 2013. As a nonprofit, they work with the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management, the Philadelphia Fire Department, and the American Red Cross, along with public and private disaster relief organizations. Red Paw’s role is to provide emergency assistance, which includes; transport, shelter, search and rescue, and vet care to animals involved in emergencies.

Being part of the emergency response fabric in Philadelphia is something that Leary is proud of, that is in her blood, and something she sees as a huge benefit to the public.

“The emergency response field in Philadelphia, all agencies, paid or volunteer, we have such a great relationship, we have such great comradery.”, says Leary. “Everyone knows each other and looks out for each other, and it shows when we are at a response. It’s such an asset that Philadelphia and it’s residents have and can depend on.”


Leary’s Red Paw grew from noticing a need to growing a network: what started as a thought expanded to a legion of volunteers. Over 500 people now give their time to Red Paw, everything from grant writing, fundraising, fostering and emergency response. Opportunity at Red Paw goes far beyond the public face of the group, which is emergency response in the field.

Franklin Frake, who donates 20-30 hours of his time every week, plays the role of foster family among other things. He and his wife care for animals while people get back on their feet after an emergency. Frake sees his time spent validated during reunions of pets and their owners. He looks at Red Paw as being another level of care, saying, “Red Paw, we look at ourselves as first-responders, as that bridge that helps those who are going through an emergency. We share our experiences of what their next steps should be, a social service agency.”

As with any non-profit, finding creative ways of funding is imperative to keep the volunteer organization afloat and able to perform the help needed by the public. Lori Albright serves this purpose, as president of the board, COO, and grant writer. She also finds herself involved in procuring pet supplies and going to emergencies during the 50 plus hours-a-week she puts in.

Albright says it was tough on her family in the beginning, given the time she put into Red Paw. But as her family saw the service she was providing to people during their worst time, they understood why.

“At the Naudain Street explosion in 2014, I was sitting with 2 people that just lost everything. Sitting there, hugging them and knowing that those people need your support at that moment. Those are the moments I remember.” , explained Albright. “We’ve made friends from emergency responses, people that were affected by tragedy. We still keep in touch. That, for me, keeps me going.”


There is always a need for more people that can help in every facet of Red Paw’s team . Red Paw responds to 800 emergencies a year, and growing. With that growth the need for volunteers and donations grows.

There are volunteer opportunities that go far beyond the initial emergency response. Jen Leary calls the Grant Writer position the most valuable and most time consuming. She jokes that she keeps Lori Albright “chained to her desk”.

Volunteer opportunities with Red Paw also include street team members, social media, public relations, and foster families for displaced animals, to name a few.

To volunteer or to donate, visit Red Paw’s website or email redpawvolunteers@gmail.com. Follow Red Paw on Twitter @redpawrelief.