What makes a rescue like Paws Across Pittsburgh so successful at saving so many animals? A strong, compassionate, and dedicated leader! Here is my interview with Jackie Armour, the president and founder of Paws Across Pittsburgh. She, and an army of dedicated volunteers, made Paws Across Pittsburgh the absolute best rescue in the Pittsburgh area!
How did you originally get involved in rescue?
I originally started following some rescue pages on Facebook, then eventually picked one to raise money for. I slowly got more and more involved with that rescue. I volunteered, then fostered, then took on some other responsibilities. I eventually became a board member for that rescue. What gave you the idea to start your own rescue?
Myself and another volunteer, Jessi, both worked with the same rescue which was statewide. We had some different ideas on how we would run a rescue and really wanted our group to be local to Pittsburgh. By keeping the rescue local, we could have a more hands-on approach. Keeping the operations local would enable us to meet every dog that came through rescue, meet and train volunteers, have in-person meetings, and be more involved with the communities that our dogs are being placed into. We love seeing so many of our Alumni’s families come to fundraisers, and many end up volunteering with us after they adopt! How did you come up with the name?
We tossed around a few names but decided that we wanted the name to reflect our area. We knew Pittsburgh needed to be in the name and, of course, we needed to stay true to our city’s colors! Go Black and Gold!
Is the rescue your full-time job?
Well, although it is a full-time job, it’s 100% volunteer, so there is no pay. I am a Registered Nurse and work full time as a hospice nurse. How do you have time to run such a large successful rescue and have a full-time job?
Sometimes it can be incredibly challenging and time consuming. There are a ton of things that go on behind the scenes. Luckily, as time has gone on and PAP has grown, we have acquired many wonderful fosters and volunteers. The other Board members and many of the very dedicated fosters and volunteers have taken on different roles within the organization. Honestly, I could not do it without their help. Does your family help you with the rescue?
Yes, my boyfriend Gary, helps a lot and my teenage son, well....let's say he helps occasionally!
How many animals do you have?
When I started rescue, we had 2 dogs. Currently we have 8 dogs and a cat.
How many are foster fails?
That would be 6 foster fails! How do you determine which fosters you end up keeping?
Different ones stay for different reasons. We have kept some because they fit into our house so easily and are truly a perfect fit to our home. We have also kept some because they were not adoptable for different reasons. All 8 get along wonderfully and we love each and every one of them! What is involved in running a rescue, is it as easy as bringing in homeless animals and posting them on facebook?
So much goes on behind the scenes of rescue. We take multiple calls daily and receive hundreds of emails weekly with a multitude of requests. We have to be responsible with intake and make sure that are finances are stable to bring dogs into rescue. We have to plan for the worst, and hope for the best. Legally, there are many regulations for a rescue. Certain vetting and paperwork is required to bring a dog in, transports must be arranged, fosters need to be found, supplies need to be gathered or purchased. Rescue fall under the Dept of Ag and we need to follow specific guidelines. We are inspected at a minimum twice yearly by the dog warden and need to be compliant with the regulations to continue to function. Once we have dogs in the rescue, all vetting needs to be completed, fosters need to get to know the dog and what type of home will best for them, then the animals are posted for adoption. Applications are run, contracts are completed and then we follow up with the adopters for the first year to check up and offer support. How many volunteers do you currently have?
We currently have around 100 active volunteers. Are there different ways to help as volunteers?
Yes! We have volunteers that only foster, some that don’t foster but help with events and fundraising, and some that help with running applications, the website, and other behind the scene activities needed to keep the rescue running. We have many that do a little of everything.
Do you choose what animals the volunteer fosters take in?
No, fosters choose the dogs and cats they foster. Everyone has different situations and preferences so they choose the animal that would best suit their foster home. We have fosters that only take little dogs, some that only take big dogs, some prefer puppies, others prefer older dogs. We also have people that only take cats, that only take dogs, and some foster either.
The most common phrase I hear is, “I could never foster, I would keep all of them!” What is your response to that?
Although it can be tough initially to send your foster to their forever home, without you as their foster, they really have no chance. Fostering truly does save lives. The first adoption is always the toughest, it gets easier after that. Once you see them thrive and find the forever home, it all comes together. Then it is much easier to continue to foster! Where do all the animals come from in the rescue?
Our rescues come from local shelters and animal control, high kill shelters in WV, KY, OH, TX, OK and FL, and of course, local owner surrenders. What is the biggest reason given by people rehoming their animals?
There are many various reasons; health conditions of owner or pet, they’re moving and can't take their pet with them, different behavioral issues that can’t be corrected in their current situation, a new baby in the home, and many other reasons. What is the Short-term Animal Foster Emergency (SAFE) Program and why did you start it?
The program was designed to help people keep their pets. Many times people need to give up their pets because they can't care for them for a couple months. To keep these pets out of the shelters, we hold them temporary for up to 8 weeks and then they go back to the owner. There is no charge for this program. Do you get a lot of requests for temporary fostering?
We have received several, and that is how the program came about. What do you think is the one thing people could do or change that would help homeless animals or lower the numbers?
Spay or neuter their pets.
If someone wants to get involved with Paws Across Pittsburgh, what can they do to help?
There are all kinds of ways to help. Volunteers can help at fundraisers, organize food/toy drives, help run applications, etc. We also always need dog and cat fosters. How many animals has Paws Across Pittsburgh helped so far?
At the time of this interview - 2303 cats and dogs. Does anyone in the rescue receive compensation from the rescue?
We are all volunteer! There are no paid positions. What is money spent on that you take in from adoptions, fundraisers and donations?
Most of our money brought through rescue is spent on vetting. Don’t the adoption fees cover all the expenses?
No....with senior dogs or special needs dogs especially, the adoption fee doesn't even put a dent in expenses. That is why donations and fundraising is so important. What do you spend per year on veterinarian bills?
In 2019, we spent just over $100,000 on vet bills. Don’t veterinarians ever give you free services for the rescues?
We do not get free vetting for the rescues, we pay for all vet care.
I am sure you get lots of applications for some individual animals. How do you choose who gets to adopt one of the rescues in PAP?
We review all the applications and choose the one that we feel would be the absolute best fit for the dog. It is not first come first serve, it's always the best fit. We do everything possible to set the dog and adopter up for success. If someone wants to donate money, how do they do that?
We have several ways people can donate, PayPal email@example.com or Venmo @PawsPGH or they can send checks to 346 Orchard street Springdale, PA 15144 If someone wants to donate supplies, where do they take them?
We have several drop off spots around the Pittsburgh area and we can arrange for a location that is closest to the donor. They can reach out to us through Facebook, through one of our volunteers or through our email address at firstname.lastname@example.org and we work out meeting arrangements. If someone wants to support the rescue by attending fundraisers, how do they know what events you’re holding?
We post on our Facebook page, and they are also listed on our website at www.pawsacrosspittsburgh.com/events.
In what other ways can people help raise money for Paws Across Pittsburgh?
The Facebook birthday donations are a huge help, organizing a fundraiser at your work or school or with family, we have had people do painting fundraisers, selling portraits, different art projects sales, garage sales....we are open for suggestions as well! What other programs do you have under Paws Across Pittsburgh?
We have the SAFE program that we talked about above, the LOVS program and Dolly's Dogs.
The LOVS program is Lifetime of Veterinary Services. This program was designed to help seniors and special needs dogs find forever homes, with some ongoing support from the rescue. The rescue continues to cover certain meds and treatments for the dogs and cats in this program. It is meant to take some of the financial worries away when adopting a senior or special needs pet.
Dolly's Dogs at Paws Across Pittsburgh was designed to help injured or disabled dogs. Some of the dogs that come through this program will get surgery and rehab, making a full recovery. Some come through and will be special needs after vetting/surgeries. All have suffered some injury or have some congenital medical issues. We completely vet these dogs and then search for their forever homes.
The LOVS program and Dolly's Dogs are both extremely costly for the rescue, but these are the dogs that most need our help. Do you ever get discouraged or emotionally exhausted having to deal with so much neglect and suffering of the animals? What keeps you going?
Rescue can be emotionally exhausting. Many times, we are seeing the worst of the worst. Many times, we are very discouraged by the neglect, abuse and suffering. Many times, we feel drained and defeated. Sometimes as hard as we try, we do not get the results that we want. Those are the really hard days. Those are the days that almost break you. But then you save a dog or cat and watch them blossom in your care. You find the perfect home and watch them go with the perfect family. You get updates and they are happy and healthy and in a wonderful, loving home. Those are the days that keep you going. Those are the days that you try to hold onto. Those are the days that let you know that it is all worthwhile.