18 months on the street, three vaccines, one happy family

Colleen called us last week with good news and a frightening deadline. 

Colleen had once had a pretty traditional life but circumstances beyond her control sent it spiraling. She lost her home and rather than take Cosette, whom she had had since a kitten, on the streets she entrusted her with a friend. She got to visit Cosette but it wasn't the same as being together.

After 18 months on the street, Colleen got "the call"  - she was finally approved for transitional housing. This was great news but she also had to have Cosette's vaccines and flea control updated before they could get into housing together. The window on transitional housing is very tight, with waiting lists of up to 2-3 years long it's critical to respond as soon as housing is available.

We got Colleen signed up as a client. Our Medical Clinic Director made a few calls and got a veterinarian to come in the very next day to do vaccines. Colleen, her cat-sitting friend, and Cosette came in, Cosette got her vaccinations. Everyone (except Cosette, who was being very stoic) had tears of happiness.

Helping people get into housing with their pets is one of the greatest joys of working at the PAW Team. Colleen refused to relinquish Cosette to a shelter when she lost her home. She's very fortunate that she has such a good friend that could take care of the cat while Colleen was homeless. She would have refused housing if she couldn't bring Cosette with her. Thanks to the PAW Team - and our awesome volunteer vet Dr. Cris - she didn't have to. 

Engineering Community Change

This week we welcomed 12 folks from Hewlett Packard to help us set up our new clinic. The buzz of a dozen Type A engineers working all together was incredible! They cleaned, painted, scanned files, strengthened the ADA ramp and helped make our new home a bit brighter and safer.

Each year Hewlett Packard encourages its new employees to engage in a community organization. We're honored they've chosen PAW Team two years in a row and shared their energy and expertise with us. 

Thanks, HP!

Evicting the elderly and their cat - from tragedy to triumph

TT the Cat.jpg

Last week I got a call from Rebecca, the Executive Director of Rose Haven, a day shelter for women and victims of domestic violence. Rose Haven is one of our Partner Agencies, organizations we work closely with to help provide veterinary care for pets of their clients. We've worked with Rose Haven for a long time and helped a lot of women take care of their pets. But this call was different.

Two sisters, both in their 70s, were evicted from their home a couple of weeks previously. During the 95+ degree heat wave the ladies took the few possessions they could carry and their seven year-old cat, TT and lived in their car, moving from space to space. They suffered more than the loss of their home and their dignity, they were faced with losing TT. Although Rose Haven had succeeded in getting the ladies a voucher for housing in two weeks, until then they would have to stay in a hotel that didn't accept pets. Everywhere they called required that they surrender TT and be parted from her forever. 

Then Rebecca called the PAW Team. She told me the story of their eviction, and how TT was the primary concern for the ladies. "They said they'd rather live on the street than give her up". But Rose Haven doesn't take pets. At the moment TT as sleeping happily in Rebecca's office, no doubt happy to be out of the scorching heat, but she needed to find the cat a foster home NOW, as in before the end of the day. Oh, and the cat wasn't used to any other animals. This wasn't getting any easier.  We see just about everything here, and get hundreds of calls with genuinely heart-breaking stories every week, but this one got to me. It's hard enough to be evicted and on the streets but in your 70s? I promised I'd do whatever I could and get back to her.

I hung up the phone. "This is so not okay" I muttered. Our office manager, Maria, and one of our fantastic volunteers, Carly, looked up. I related the story. "We need to find a foster home for a week or two." Foster homes are extremely hard to find, particularly on no notice. "Does anyone know of someone with a spare bedroom for the cat?"

"I've got one" Carly offered quietly. "I've got my own pets but I think we could keep them separate." I grabbed the phone and called Rebecca. I connected Carly and Rebecca and immediately the PAW Team wheels started turning.

Today Carly came in to volunteer with us for her usual shift. "They're back together!" she said happily. "It took less time than I thought. TT was a great cat. And the ladies are so sweet. Everyone's back together now."

PAW Team isn't an adoption agency, nor a foster care facility, but we do have the best, most compassionate volunteers  anywhere. Through our Partner Agency Network we make connections with people in great need, helping keep people and pets together during the most difficult times of their lives. Thanks, Carly, for helping out in this extraordinary situation. You've help make the lives of two elderly sisters, and the love of their live, TT the cat, better. PAW Team. We do the impossible every day.

Like Coming Home

Yesterday I closed the door at Front Avenue and loaded the last bits of PAW Team stuff into my car. Our new home at 1131 SE Oak Street is right where we need to be, in the heart of the community that supports the homeless. There's no glam here, and we're really tightly packed in but it's the right place to be.

We're now on five, count 'em, five, bus lines. Much better access for people using public transit. We have an indoor Waiting Area with restrooms. No more waiting in a cold, wet parking lot. Granted, the building we're in is an old school house and the restrooms were built for children, but it's still a vast improvement in convenience and dignity for our clients. There's also heat. Right now it's summer and we're plenty warm today but come fall and winter, but it will be definitely be nice to have an office where you don't have to wear gloves and two coats to function.

Coming to the St. Francis Complex is a lot like a homecoming for PAW Team. When PAW Team started, we started on the street corners, helping the pets of people living under bridges. We didn't have a lot but we made a huge impact. Now, 16 years later, we're right back where we need to be, amongst the homeless.

Outside my window there are about 20 shopping carts which hold all the worldly belongings of people. I'm getting to know the residents who live outside here - well, at least I know all the pets' names! There's Zombie, an extremely shy cat who rides atop the shopping cart in a carrier we gave his human. And Zeus and Apollo, two big beautiful pit bulls that live with Robert in his van. Star Rose came in today to register as a client, she just "inherited" a dog from her father who passed away. She's on the streets but she wants to be sure that dog stays in the family where he's known and loved. We set her up with food, a collar and a leash.

One of the the things I love the most about PAW Team is that we have such a direct, immediate and positive impact on pets and people. We don't have a fancy building, and we're really very condensed compared to our old location but we are changing lives every day. Getting a dog on our C-SNIP spay/neuter list, feeding a hungry cat, filling a prescription for a sick pet, giving flea control to a bunch of dogs that are suffering in this heat. Every act counts. 

I invite anyone who would like to make a direct, positive impact to give us a call and come visit us here at 1131 SE Oak Street. Got an hour? Right now we need help unpacking and organizing. Since the move, the phones are more active than ever with clients needing directions; we need folks who can answer phones and give empathy and information.  

But I warn you, volunteering here is addictive. Once you see the impact a little bit of kindness makes, you'll want more. You'll want to get to pet the handsome Zeus and Apollo, and see the look in Robert's eyes when he realizes that you, unlike most people, are treating him as human being. 

PAW Team. We help both pets and people. And we can make you feel pretty wonderful about yourself, too, by volunteering and help those who need it the most.

Cindy Scheel
Executive Director, PAW Team



PAW Team is moving!

It's farewell to Front Street!

We've been in the Front Street location for about three and a half years and we've been able to serve thousands of pets and their people. But this location has had it's challenges. We've listened carefully to our clients and volunteers and are moving to make changes for the better.

Beginning July 1, we will be at 1131 SE Oak Street in Portland, Oregon. Immediately after our June 7th clinic at Front Avenue, we are moving between the Front Avenue location and the Oak Street location. We'll have our first Oak Street Clinic on Sunday August 9, 2015.

Our new digs have a lot going for them! Located in the St. Francis of Assisi complex, we'll be much more accessible to the homeless. Many of our clients already go to the St. Francis Dining Hall for meals. 

Public transit is also a huge plus. A major obstacle for many folks at Front Avenue was the lack of bus service on Sundays. At Oak Street we will be served by five bus lines - #20, #19, #12, #6 and the #70 which goes right to the door!

Better conditions for everyone! We'll have things like heat, hot water, and rest rooms. There also will be an indoor area for clients to wait, rather than have to stay in the parking lot for hours in all kinds of weather.

We'll be starting later, and clinics will be shorter. Clinics will be between noon and four; clients should come no earlier than 11:00 a.m.; volunteer shifts will be much shorter too.

There will be a few challenges at the new location, too. The St. Francis complex is an active parish and all aspects of clinics will take place between services. This means that clients CAN NOT come any earlier than 11:00. So please, do not come early to "get a good place in line" as  we'll ask any who arrive earlier than 11:00 a.m. to wait at least two blocks away so that we can respect the parish services. 

We are tightening our focus to our core mission to help the pets of the homeless. At our new location you'll see people living on the streets, with all their belongings in shopping carts. It will be a welcoming place for the homeless and to ensure that our resources go to those in greatest need we are raising our financial qualification standards

The biggest change is going to be that we will only be able to serve about 40 pets for the first few clinics as we get used to our new space. As we adjust to our  new location some pets may not be able to be seen at every clinic. We expect that we'll be back to our normal numbers after a couple of months.

We are also adding in Week Day Clinics. Over the past year we've been testing this format with great success. Vets and techs can volunteer for these week day clinics any time on any week day. We carefully select the cases to be seen, essentially on a triage basis. Time-sensitive cases such as booster shots, or medical issues that can't wait for the next clinic are the first priority. This is a key change in our service model and is one that we believe will engage more of the veterinary community and make our regular clinics go as smoothly as possible.

All in all, the move to Oak Street is going to be a tremendous plus for our clients, our volunteers and the homeless community!

If you would like to help with this "farewell to Front Street" and help us pack, move boxes, paint, clean or otherwise get into our new digs, 

Questions? Email us at servicequestions

"I live in Lake Oswego"

If you're from around here, you would know that Lake Oswego is a very expensive city in which to live. And if you've ever been to the PAW Team offices or visited on clinic day, it's not a phrase you'd except to hear from someone who is a PAW Team client.

In fact, when I asked Eric for his address, and he told me he was couch surfing but that for right now "I live in Lake Oswego" my eyebrows went up a bit. Here's his story - it's one of compassion, hard decisions, trust and a dog.

Eric was on the streets, and while he didn't come out and say it, was likely involved in a gang. Then he ran into someone who was giving away a puppy. He took the puppy and something very strange and wonderful happened - it kissed him.

"Yeah. My heart changed right there. I knew I had to do something else" he told me. As the puppy grew, so did Eric's conviction to change. He got off the streets, and through a random contact his puppy, now a rambunctious three months old, created at a dog park, another remarkable thing happened - he made a friend. 

It's this friend he's couch surfing with right now. He opened his heart and his home to Eric and his dog, and told them about PAW Team. After a three-hour long oddysee on the bus he finally made it to PAW Team. He was crestfallen to find out the clinics were early on Sundays, as bus service in Lake Oswego doesn't start until after 9:00 a.m. there. But the dog needed his shots and to be neutered. He was determined to make it somehow. I asked if he could find a ride, if his friend could take him, or if he could perhaps check Craig's List for a ride.

"Well, maybe not Craig's List" I corrected myself. "That could be kind of scary". It was Eric's turn to lift an eyebrow at me. "Usually I'm the scary one" he said. We both smiled. It was hard to imagine this kind and gentle guy as scary. He was dressed as many other twenty-somethings, with a baseball cap, a jacket emblazoned with his favorite sport team, and old running shoes. After a few minutes of discussing options he decided to ask his host if he'd take them to the clinic this Sunday.

"You know, I never knew what a difference it would make, having a dog". But once I got him, I just knew I needed to do something better for him. And I never knew what a difference living in a place away from the violence of the streets made. Now, I got a dog and I got a friend. But I only have that friend because of my dog. I owe him a lot".

Eric's trying incredibly hard to change his life and he has made huge strides. He's the kind of person who will give up anything for his pet, in this case, he completely turned his life around after just one puppy kiss. When Eric leaves his friend's house, he'll find a place that allows pets, he wouldn't have it any other way. It won't matter what city he will live in, as long as he's got his dog.


Belly Dancing creates vaccines

Wondering what belly dancing creating vaccines is all about?

It's a magical recipe that is equal parts talent, love of animals and creativity. Enter Carol Love, 78 years young, who loves animals. She is also one of the foremost belly dancers in the NW and for the past several years has put on a belly dancing extravaganza with her troupe, Dancers NW, to benefit the PAW Team.

She takes her love of animals and adds her talent, mixes it up into a fun afternoon for all the family. All the proceeds from the event go to the PAW Team where we turn them into vaccines to help keep animals healthy.

This year's event is going to be extra fun. At the beautiful Kenton Friendship Masonic Lodge - 8131 North Denver Avenue, Portland OR  97217, the afternoon begins at 12:30 with a light lunch, followed by the show which starts at 1:30. After the show dessert will be served. The show runs until 5:00 p.m. You can come for all or part of the festivities. Lunch and dessert are just $5; the show is $5 and tickets are available at the door. $10 for a whole afternoon of fun and food - and helping the pets at the same time! 

Carol's an inspiration. It's not just that she's a billion times more limber and graceful than I am (she is, by the way) but that her heart is so very large and her mind so very creative. Just talking to her is inspiring. She wants to engage the community in supporting the pets of the homeless and poor and she does so not with preaching or depressing figures on the state of things but with beauty and grace.

Being a recipient of her kindness and generosity is humbling and inspiring. I hope you will join us this Sunday at the Kenton Friendship Lodge. Do a little magic of your own - turn $10 into a great afternoon of fun and oh yes, vaccines.

A Cat Named Bunny and Happy Endings

I was going to blog on our awesome C-SNIP program today but a cat named Bunny caught my attention. 

Why the work we do at PAW Team is so important is very simple to sum up: We keep people and pets together during the most difficult times of their lives. We're there when no one else is.

Pets and people come and go out of PAW Team care - that's actually our goal, to get them healthy so they can be with their people and not need to see a doctor! It's always gratifying to know that a pet is indeed healthy and doesn't need us, but it's doubly so when we find out that the person is doing well enough they don't need our assistance any longer because their lives are back on track.

Today on Facebook a PAW Team client, Patty D., posted this about her cat, Bunny. I couldn't have said it better myself. We're so happy things are going well for both Bunny and Patty!

"In 2012, I took my baby to your clinic in a rainy day. She had a large tumor attached to her right hand. Before you team removed that nasty mass successfully, she was not able to move nor play with her siblings. She always looked sad and in pain. Thanks to your team, the life quality of my baby ( Bunny) has changed totally to prove it I have attached her picture below:"

Something about Jasmine

Late last week a young man came to us to register as a client. His friend drove him nearly 30 miles so he could take care of his cat, Jasmine. I'll call the client "J". 

J had lost his job, he'd lost his apartment, his car, spent his savings and was couch surfing. This kind friend took him in and told him about PAW Team when Jasmine, a lovely marmalade cat, started getting sick. "I don't take people in" she told me. "But J deserves a break and there's something about Jasmine..."

J told me: "I've had her ten years. I rescued her, and I think she was about four then. Until last week, you would have thought she was a kitten. She was always jumping, playing, running around. Then she stopped playing. Then she stopped eating. I knew something was wrong, I knew I had to do something. She's my world. She kept me sane when the world got insane. Please do something for her, she's all I've got".

It's almost two weeks until our March clinic and Jasmine is very frail.  She couldn't wait for the clinic and at our recommendation, J took her to a Banfield hospital where they did a complimentary first exam and made test recommendations and gave him prescriptions for Jasmine. He brought her straight back to PAW Team - he didn't know what else to do.

J was shaking he was so upset. He sat in the lobby for hours cradling his beloved Jasmine and whispering comfort to her. It was clear to all of us that there was, indeed, something special about Jasmine. We've all had pets we've loved but there are some animals that just are different - they wrap themselves around your heart unlike anything else. In my circle of rabbit rescue friends, we call these special creatures "Heart Bunnies". They come along once in a life time. It was clear Jasmine was a Heart Kitty for J. 

"Call K", Maria, our office manager whispered. She doesn't do that - Maria's about as by-the-book as it gets. We don't have medical staff on week days and we don't call people in when they've clearly got things scheduled elsewhere. Maria had lost her own marmalade Heart Kitty a year before. I saw the same look in her eyes that J had. So I called K.

K rearranged her entire day to come in and look at Jasmine. She filled the prescription for appetite stimulants and ordered the tests Jasmine needs for a complete diagnosis. J will pay us back $5 at a time for the tests. Five bucks is all he's got, except for Jasmine, who is priceless.

Then K picked up her phone and made a series of calls imploring PAW Team friendly places to see Jasmine. She got Dr. Becky to agree to see the cat. Oh, we don't do that either - pull vets off of their regular jobs. Becky is a regular PAW Team volunteer and extremely busy in her own practice but she answered the call, looked at Jasmine and confirmed what K had thought - that Jasmine needed to be hospitalized. She took Jasmine in for overnight observation and care, at no charge to J. Oh yeah, they don't do that, either.

That was yesterday. Right now I don't know how this story is going to end. 

I do know that everyone is working outside of every box there is, doing all they can for Jasmine. I imagine J is frantic for his cat. But no matter how this real life story turns out, thanks to Jasmine, J is alive and well despite the world giving him an incredibly bad hand Jasmine has helped him make friends who are helping him as best they can. Jasmine is his life line, his world and his hope.

I meet every client personally. I see first-hand the tragic stories our clients have to deal with. And I see the bond, that incredible, powerful bond of love and trust and life-sustaining hope the animals have with their humans. And sometimes I see a Heart Kitty. And I can't stop thinking about that cat.

Send good thoughts to Jasmine and her J, please.

There's just something about Jasmine.

Top Dog!

We're pleased to once again be recognized by the Spot Magazine "Top Dog" contest for Innovative Programming. But what exactly does that mean? We've changed how people can access our services, and developed a way to ensure that those who need them the most get them in a timely fashion.

PAW Team is the only organization that helps both people and pets. Our core mission is to provide veterinary care for pets of the homeless. We also help people in very low-income situations - and that's part of the challenge we face. How do you ensure that the limited dollars available go to those that truly need them the most? How do you define "greatest need"?

Over the past two and a half years, PAW Team has refined how we qualify people that are not actually living on the streets, and it's working. A little backstory: When the economy crashed in 2009, we saw an enormous number of families and individuals facing extreme financial crises. We responded by opening our safety net to essentially anyone with a Food Stamps card. We helped thousands of animals and their families but that is not a sustainable model. In 2013, we began dialing back to our core mission of helping the homeless.

 We also reached out to human social service agencies that deal with the same core mission folks we do and created the Partner Agency Network. Through this carefully selected network of agencies we have been able to reach the homeless and people in true financial need earlier than ever. When their human services caseworker connects with them, they can complete our Partner Agency Network referral form which is essentially an affidavit that they've already screened them for financial need. With this, the client is automatically accepted as a PAW Team client for up to six months. We are now delivering preventative care instead of dealing with a crisis. This reduces the suffering of the pets, keeping them healthier and happier.

With this system, we are also able to help people. No one gives you a manual on "how to be poor". When people get on the waiting lists for housing they may not be told that in order to take their pets with them the animals have to be current on vaccines, or be altered, or be on parasite control. We provide these and other services, helping families stay together, no matter how many feet they have.

To qualify for PAW Team services, clients must meet two requirements: first is that all pets in the household must be spayed or neutered. The second is there must be a demonstrated financial need. Based roughly on the Federal poverty line, we treat people as households, not numbers. We consider all sources of income and subsidy for everyone living in the home. We look at all the expenses and what kind they are.

For example, if a potential client is within the income level established but is spending their dollars for non-essential services such as entertainment, dining out, cigarettes, etc. we will decline to accept them as a client until they can demonstrate that their pet is a priority for them; we encourage them to consider setting aside some funds just for their pet rather than for non-essential purchases for themselves. They're encouraged to come back in three months when they have had a chance to rearrange their financial priorities to demonstrate their pet is important to them.

On the flip side of the equation, when we meet with a client who might not technically fit into the income levels but is dealing with extraordinary situations, we listen to what is going on in their lives and can take them as clients if needed. As an example, we recently qualified an older woman who lives alone, has income and government subsidies slightly above the poverty line, but has extremely high utility bills due to living in a poorly maintenanced apartment, has large uncovered medical expenses but has a long history of taking her cat to the vet for regular check ups and vaccines. That person has consistently demonstrated that her pet is a priority and she's allocating her limited funds toward essential services such as heat and medicine.

What's so innovative about this is that we treat people like people and not numbers, and expect people to take care of their pets. Novel idea? No. Being able to use this method to help ensure that those who truly do have the greatest need get help for their pets? Yes. Thinking outside the box? Yes. We can do what government agencies cannot because we're not guided exclusively by a hard and fast set of numbers. 

We have also looked at how we can streamline our clinics. By pre-qualifying, people now only have to bring in their certificate of eligibility and photo ID - a lot less hassle than it used to be. We set appointments during the week when bus service is available, and they can do their paperwork one-on-one with a volunteer indoors, instead of on the streets as in the old days. This gives us an opportunity to talk to people in depth about how our clinics work, and answer any questions they may have.

So all told, our program is more innovative in that it identifies people in true need, looks at people's lives as a whole and not just a number, and gives a greater degree of respect and dignity.

Thanks, Spot Magazine, for recognizing the changes we've made to help those who need it the most.