By B.J. Coleman
Home for the holidays — can any phrase warm the heart as much? But what about those families who are in such financial distress at year’s end that they contemplate surrendering their pets into animal shelters? PAWS San Diego was created to overcome such hardships and keep companion animals in the families they belong with.
The nonprofit provides assistance to needy San Diego pet families throughout the year, focusing on homes headed by seniors or chronically ill and disabled persons. The organization, with five paid staffers, relies on a larger team of over 200 volunteers. The PAWS tagline is “helping people keep their pets.”
The organization had its start in 1994 at founder Nancy Lubin’s dining room table in North County. It intended to serve San Diegans diagnosed with AIDS by providing at-home assistance in order to keep pets together with their patient-owners for the health and companionship benefits that animals convey to the humans in their company. Re-organizations, mergers and personnel changes during the intervening 21 years brought PAWS to its home suite of offices in central San Diego, and into new collaborations with allied organizations.
PAWS currently serves over 500 clients in accordance with its original mission, supporting families in their homes with more than 650 pets on 34 delivery routes in the monthly Wellness service, which assists with pet care and veterinary care. Each route serves seven to 10 clients, and during the first half of each month, pet owners enrolled in the service phone in details of their needs for food, treats, litter, and flea medications. The ordered items are assembled into paw-printed delivery bags, with any further special instructions for the delivery drivers on each route. Additional assistance is offered as needed with dog walking and transportation to veterinary offices. The cost per client averages about a dollar a day.
The pets supported are split about half-and-half between dogs and cats, explains Geraldine D’Silva, executive director at PAWS San Diego. Animals in the service also include birds, rabbits, guinea pigs and other small pets. A bearded dragon that had been in the Wellness program recently passed away.
On Sept. 1, PAWS merged with the San Diego Humane Society. Integration of the two organizations’ activities and missions are ongoing, with fully seamless coordination expected by early 2015. PAWS is now considered a program within the local humane society, and its program expansions, facilitated by the merger, are slated to include more outreach and assistance to military veterans, to homeless San Diegans, and to victims of domestic violence who have fled abusive situations with their pet animals.
“This allows us to become bigger and better and stronger,” D’Silva said of the merger.
D’Silva credited the humane society’s added resources for enabling such far-reaching objectives as identifying “problem” zip codes in low-income areas, out of which more animals than average are surrendered into shelters. D’Silva envisions offering PAWS services to more people in these areas to help them keep their pets. Kelli Schry, public relations manager for the newly enlarged group, agrees that the collaboration furthers the Humane Society’s goal of “getting to zero” in numbers of animals that are lost to euthanasia for lack of homes. The progressive vision involves efforts to keep pets in their current family homes and to reduce the numbers housed in shelters.
The PAWS Pantry service, launched in November 2012, distributes free pet food to more than 1,500 low-income San Diego pet families, focusing on cooperation with human services organizations and certified animal welfare groups. Individuals in need can also pick up supplemental pet food at multiple sites around San Diego County. Pantry supplies are provided at the PAWS office in Grantville and through the Food Bank, the LGBT Center, Feeding America, and Jewish Family Services. Other pickup sites include an Oceanside campus location and the humane society’s newly merger-acquired Escondido site and its central facilities on Gaines Street.
Although the PAWS emphasis is on qualified low-income pet families, the pantry is flexible toward walk-in clients in crisis or such sudden financial hardship as unexpected unemployment.
“We will give out a bag of food,” D’Silva said. “We don’t turn anyone away.”
Major corporate-linked sponsors have recently included the Petco Foundation and the Rescue Bank. Food and cat litter have been donated by Petco, Walmart and Target. PAWS also receives support from generous individual donors. Schools and individual children have put on food drives and fundraising campaigns to benefit the organization.
PAWS San Diego is located at 6160 Fairmount Ave., Suite I in Grantville, and can be reached at 619-297-7297. More information on the organization’s available services can be found at pawssandiego.org.
—Contact B.J. Coleman at email@example.com.