Sunday, September 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Chillin' Wit' Jennifer Leary, founder, Red Paw Emergency Relief Team

Jennifer Leary, a former fire fighter who now runs Red Paw Emergency Relief Team, the city´s only emergency service for pets involved in residential fires, chills with Coco, a puppy rescued from the tragic Gesner Street fire. (Dan Geringer Photo/Daily News Staff)
Jennifer Leary, a former fire fighter who now runs Red Paw Emergency Relief Team, the city's only emergency service for pets involved in residential fires, chills with Coco, a puppy rescued from the tragic Gesner Street fire. (Dan Geringer Photo/Daily News Staff)

JENNIFER LEARY, a former Philadelphia firefighter who runs Red Paw Emergency Relief Team - the city's only 24/7 "Red Cross for animals," as she describes it - wants to hang out in her South Philly home yesterday, caring for rescued cats waiting to be reunited with their displaced families . . . but fate has other plans.

In the morning, her all-volunteer Red Paw team searches for and rescues Milo, a young tabby cat, from a rowhouse fire on Elbridge Street, in Oxford Circle.

Leary no sooner settles Milo down in her home and feeds him, when she gets a call about a cat needing rescue from a fire in Hunting Park, followed by a call about a dog made homeless by a fire on Hazelhurst Street, in Wynnefield.

"There's no relaxing," Leary says. "It's crazy."

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  • When things settle down for a few minutes, Leary walks to Central Bark Doggy Day Care, on Wharton Street near 25th, to play with Coco, a kiss-crazy pit bull/Lab puppy whom she rescued from Gesner Street, in Southwest Philadelphia, after the tragic fire that consumed eight homes and killed four children on the block.

    Leary's Red Paw team works with firefighters and with the Red Cross as the city's only round-the-clock responders to the needs of pets displaced by fires, providing everything from foster care to veterinary care - all free.

    Leary, a firefighter from 2007 until January, started the nonprofit Red Paw in 2011.

    "When you go to enough disaster scenes," she says, "you see that rescued pets put a burden on the emergency responders, who are dealing with so many other things, and on the owners, who have lost everything."

    Coco the puppy, licking Leary's face as if it's covered in kibble, relieves her of the stress of a three-fire yesterday.

    As she reaches her block on the walk home, a neighborhood kid points to a cardboard box with three newborn kittens inside.

    Leary sighs. Her alleged day off is not over yet.

    - Dan Geringer

     


    Chillin' Wit' is a regular Monday feature of the Daily News that spotlights a name in the news away from the job.

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