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Firefighter Uses Skills to Rescue Animals
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PHILADELPHIA - As reported in Woman's Day, On a cold morning in 2015, first responder Jen Leary arrived on the scene of a house fire in West Philadelphia. While firefighters rushed to rescue anyone still inside the building and contain the fast-moving fire, Jen had something else on her mind: the residents’ pets.

Jen is the founder of Red Paw Emergency Relief Team, the country’s first emergency-response group dedicated to rescuing animals in residential disasters. That morning, wearing traditional firefighter gear emblazoned with the organization’s signature red-paw logo, she rescued a greyhound mix named Milo from an upstairs bedroom. After a tip from a neighbor, she went back in to save three cats. By the end of the morning, Jen and another Red Paw volunteer had rescued several more pets. The idea for Red Paw came from Jen’s experience as a Philadelphia firefighter. During her shifts, she often had to leave pets behind during residential disasters. “The firefighters and medics, the Red Cross, and the Salvation Army are there for the people,” says Jen, who grew up with pets and now owns a dog and four cats. “But no one was focusing on the pets.”

In 2011, Jen set out to change that. She assembled a team of trained firefighters and dispatchers who work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in 12-hour shifts. The group includes a mix of full-time and part-time employees and volunteers.

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When a residential emergency such as a fire, gas leak, or building collapse occurs, the Philadelphia Fire Department sends a text message to a Red Paw dispatcher. On the scene, Red Paw responders conduct search and rescue operations for pets and transport any injured animals to a veterinary hospital. In 2018, Red Paw first responders rescued nearly 1,000 pets, including cats, dogs, turtles, rabbits, and even tarantulas. Says Jen: “Residents can rest assured that if there’s a fire, their pets will be in good hands.”  

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