A year ago, Springfield was underwater.
Not entirely – let’s not be dramatic – but there was certainly a great deal of flooding. I was new to PAWS, the baby of the group – as I still am – and still I felt the sheer hopelessness other homeless advocates felt. I was sitting in my studio apartment, watching the rain fall, as reports from just down the street drifted in. Tents gone. Belongings soaked. People freezing in the cold rain.
Catastrophe. Blocks away.
We responded the best we could. We rallied to warm those suffering from the chill. To launder soaked clothes. To rebuild.
That’s when I met Clover.
Clover is a Chihuahua / Terrier mix, spunky despite being nearly eight years old. She’s tiny, but she doesn’t know that – and you dare not tell her. When I met her, I hardly knew she was there – she was nestled in her mama’s hoodie, only to pop her head through the collar when called. Despite her stature she was convinced she was a little guard dog, willing to snap at anyone who got too close to Mama without permission.
And somehow – some way – I was fortunate enough to become one of this little dog’s friends.
A year ago, I sat on the floor with this little angel day after day, snuggling her like her Mama would. I fed her by hand, because it was what she was used to. I carried her when she demanded. And a year ago after giving her mama a few days to rebuild, I took her home. To a house, no. But home.
Eight months ago, I was pulling on boots at midnight and throwing blankets in the car with haste, grateful that for once my nocturnal tendencies were good for something other than justifying my caffeine addiction. I met up with a fellow night-owl, and we went on a call we weren’t really meant to go on in the first place.
We don’t do emergency vetting. We just can’t, as much as that breaks our hearts. But that night a dog had been hit by a car, and the dog’s owner was disabled. They weren’t asking us for vetting – just a ride. So we gave them one. As we loaded the dog – gentle as possible – we were told “the house, money – nothing matters but this dog.”
We could tell it was meant.
We were honored to be trusted with such a treasure.
Eight months ago, we left the emergency vet at two o’clock in the morning, the sweet dog sore but set to mend, her leg in a cast complete with an orange traffic cone to prevent future mishap. Though we had needed no payment, the woman repaid us in stories – tales of as many grand adventures as would fit in the two hours. And despite the exhaustion and the effort, I couldn’t help but to feel I got more out of the bargain than she had.
Six months ago, I celebrated the one year anniversary of my first community event with PAWS. I attended the same Bare Minerals “Paws for the Cause” event at the local mall I had attended a year before, this time amidst friends instead of strangers. Those who had once been solely my superiors, guides to my volunteer efforts, were now my friends.
And I was grateful.
PAWS has become a large part of my life. I am a student, working toward a goal of becoming a veterinarian – but PAWS has shaped my journey. I have learned things I would never have learned without PAWS, and grown in ways I could not have imagined.
Six months ago, I felt as though in this organization, I was home. And I still do.
But a month ago, we had to make a hard decision.
Outreach is a major part of the PAWS program – it has been since I started. But we’ve moved locations, since I began. We’ve grown. We’ve worked in new programs that we have not had previously. And all of that’s great.
But it’s cold. Too cold. And the organization in which I am home – the organization that helps so many – is homeless itself.
PAWS is boots-on-the-ground. It moves where we move. It lives in the hearts and souls of volunteers, board members – but it has not set location of its own. We work from our homes, our cars, on the streets – anywhere we can.
But this year, we had to halt Outreach til the weather is stable. It was too cold to give vaccinations, too cold for volunteers to work to fill out forms with clients, the weather too temperamental to properly prepare what our friends would need in the coming days.
A month ago, we stopped Outreach – but we started looking for a home.
12 months, eight months, six months – one.
And now we’re down to two. Not months, not weeks, but days. Two days left in the year before we start all over again.
In 2016, PAWS saw 4,000lbs – that’s two tons – of food distributed, 50 animals fitted with coats, 30 rabies shots, 17 spay and neuter surgeries, 66 animals vaccinated against Parvo and other serious diseases. What 2017 brings has yet to be seen. We want to be better. Get bigger. Reach further. To find our home.
To do that, we need you.
PAWS is 100% donation-based and volunteer-run. Without help from our community – from you – we would never be able to do what we do.
PAWS can always use donations of food, collars, leashes, toys, and other items we distribute regularly. We accept donations of items for silent auctions and other fundraising efforts. And we can always use monetary donations to buy any of the previously mentioned. We have an Amazon Wishlist, a PayPal, and an account with Community Foundation of the Ozarks, all from which we accept donations.
We can always use volunteers. They are the heart and soul of our organization. To join us, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you are too far away to volunteer, or unable to donate, that’s fine – we understand. You can make a difference, too, just by sharing this post and others like it. Help us reach your friends, your family, and beyond. The more people we reach, the more support we can receive. You never know where one share will lead. I’ve talked to friends about PAWS based on shares, and I’ve spoken to people across the world. It all starts with you.
This has been my very first full year with PAWS. I’ve met a tiny guard dog and gained in her a lifelong friend. I’ve made midnight rescue runs. I’ve met incredible dogs (and cats), come to know incredible people, and gained wonderful stories – many of which I hope to share with you.
And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
However you can help, wherever you are, whatever you do – I hope you’ll spend the next year with us.
– A. M.