THERE ARE SO many non-profit pet organizations in this part of the world that it borders on ridiculous. There are boutique rescues all over Oregon, dedicated specifically to greyhounds, dachshunds, huskies, pit bulls, etc.—if a breed exists, there's a niche for it in the Pacific Northwest's network of charitable animal efforts. The overwhelming majority of energy and resources are directed at rescuing animals from bad situations and/or finding them happy forever homes, which is certainly necessary. But once ownership is established, there are far fewer entities at work to look after animals whose humans find themselves needing a hand in caring for them. That's where folks like the PAW (Portland Animal Wellness) Team come in.
Anyone who's spent even a smidgeon of time in Portland's urban core knows the city has a very visible homelessness problem. Dig deeper and you enter the maelstrom of conflict over Portland's affordable housing crisis—a problem that's spiraling out at a far faster rate than solutions. Social services agencies across the board are straining to meet increased need, and finding something as essential as shelter can make an already competitive endeavor incredibly difficult when you have an animal with you.
Nonetheless, a huge number of Portland's homeless have companion animals—whether it's a dog for protection, a cat for comfort, or a pet iguana who's been with you since better times. Maybe it's tempting to judge, and to wonder why someone would keep an animal they can't afford to care for, but PAW offers a more constructive, and kinder, approach than suggesting the severance of mutually beneficial animal/human bonds.
With a tiny staff of part-timers and a small force of volunteers, PAW Team offers monthly clinics that provide all manner of medical services to animals whose owners demonstrate need. The financial screening process is rigorous, meant to target those who'll benefit the most. Most of PAW's clients are either living on the streets, on friends' couches, or in their cars. Their animals provide love and stress relief that can be particularly healing to those suffering from conditions like PTSD, and many of the people who come through PAW Team's doors profess that their animal's welfare takes precedence over their own. The animals eat first. Still, life on the streets can be as hard on critters as it is for people, and going without even routine care like flea prevention can lead to serious health problems.
PAW Team's volunteer veterinarians handle everything from ear mites to neutering, and PAW can even help out when an animal needs more involved care like an operation. Though their new headquarters in the St. Francis of Assisi Complex (PAW's not religiously affiliated, but you have to appreciate the appropriateness of their location in a place named for the patron saint of animals) can't host surgeries on-site, they work with a network of agencies and facilities to coordinate a time, place, and surgeon to get it done at no- or low-cost. This makes it one of the rare organizations making a positive impact on the welfare of both animals and humans.
As rapid changes in Portland lead to an increase in displacement, PAW Team faces a rising tide of need. Executive Director Cindy Scheel relays a story from earlier this summer, of two elderly sisters who were evicted from their longtime home by a landlord who wanted to be able to charge more for rent. The women ended up living out of their car during the first big heat wave—along with their cat, who they were not willing to part with in order to get into a homeless shelter. Though somewhat out of their usual purview, PAW was able to coordinate foster care for their pet until they could find their way into housing that accepts cats, ensuring the health and safety of the animal as well as the women.
With tales like these multiplying around us, PAW Team needs all the help it can get, not least in spreading the word. While most non-profits coordinate referrals among themselves, it's an added strain for PAW to market itself to the city's population at large—in a city that loves its pets, PAW Team's work should be getting the attention it deserves, and a chance to benefit from Portland's many fun-loving fundraising efforts.
Perhaps the next time you're looking for a worthwhile cause to donate to or volunteer for, or a beneficiary for an upcoming event, or you're wondering what to do with your pet's leftover medications, you'll remember PAW Team. They, and especially their clients, won't forget you either.
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Love the One You're With
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Creepin' On Dogs
Portland's Pet of the Year 2015
Four Paws On The Street
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