The Portland Animal Welfare Team — commonly known as PAW Team — has come a long way in the past 18 months, thanks to a clear vision and much hard work.
When executive director Cindy Scheel came on board in 2012, PAW Team was functioning, but things were in a state of flux and not yet thriving for the nonprofit. In fact, soon after coming aboard Scheel realized the organization’s structure had some potentially fatal flaws — namely, that it was “serving anyone with a SNAP (food stamps) card,” she says.
No group can sustain indefinitely when all resources are going out with little to none coming in, so one big change made last winter involved creating an eligibility standard designed to restore PAW Team’s original mission and intent: to serve pets of extremely low-income and homeless people.
Part of Scheel’s year-long effort also involved creating a Partner Agency Network, “connecting organizations on two fronts,” she says — those serving people, and those serving animals.
“Social services agencies get to their clients before they’re in an emergency,” Scheel explains, “and 99 percent of those clients had never heard of PAW Team.”
First up: working to change the qualification system PAW Team was using, which Scheel described as “crazy — it was happening live on clinic day.”
“We now work with agencies and train caseworkers in what we do, and we give them referral forms to cover future needs,” says Scheel. “When they see a pet on an intake form they tell the client about PAW Team.” The referral forms also ultimately make things easier for the client.
“Our partner agencies are getting the word about PAW Team out to their clients, and they’re clearing the clients ahead of time. So renal failure doesn’t have to kill an animal — in addition to free vet care, they can get free prescription food and medications.”
“If a client meets the criteria — the pet must be spayed or neutered, the people must be at a certain level of financial need — we can be proactive rather than reactive,” Scheel says, excited to share a couple of very recent examples.
“We had a client, Mike and Boots,” she begins. “He’s a super sweet guy who’s endured a horrible financial situation. He has kids, 12 and 13, who are both autistic, and the coolest family dog.”
The call had come in three days before, on a Friday. Boots had cancer in one foot, and they had been told by their vet that he needed to have surgery or the cancer was going to spread and he would lose his entire foot. PAW Team Clinic Director Kristin “K” Anderson recruited a vet to do the surgery at the Pixie Project, which lends its medical equipment and facility in such cases. But Pixie required a $150 copay.
“He didn’t have it, so I called Animal Aid, and they were so moved by his story they came up with the funds for the surgery,” says Scheel. “The surgery went really well. Boots is missing a few toes, but he’s doing really well. We pulled this off in 48 hours!”
Also on that Friday a call came in on Scheel’s personal line — “the bat phone,” she calls it — from Larry Chusid at The Pongo Fund.
“This person [Chusid had called about] had a serious illness, had lost his job, was disabled for now, and his finances had been compromised through ID theft,” Scheel explained. “He’d been applying for disability benefits, had sold his car, and had given a friend the money to pay his bills. His friend died, and the friend’s family kept the money.”
The man’s 12-year-old Min Pin is diabetic and blind in both eyes, and without his meds would die. The man’s landlord was in the process of evicting the man and his dog. So the man called The Pongo Fund, who called Scheel’s private line.
“We got him the right meds, a month’s worth of insulin, and worked with various to get the man and his dog safely situated.”
“These were two extremely awesome families,” Scheel says, her heart in her voice, “and a year ago we couldn’t have done this. It’s starting.”
“It’s interesting how it’s happening,” she continues. “When I started, we would help anyone, anyone with a food card. We couldn’t afford to do it — that’s just a huge pool of people.”
“Now,” she adds happily, “These people are getting help before crisis — which is costing everyone ten times less. A year in the making. It’s working.”
Kristan Dael is a freelance writer and the alter ego of Jennifer Mccammon. She lives in Portland with her 4-pack, and strives to produce articles that inform, edify, engage and entertain.