How Much is That Doggy?

Chauncey, has resided at PAWS in Norwalk

for over a month and is hoping to find a new home.

He is approximately 2 years old.

Picture by kind permission of Lisa DiDonato of PAWS.

Teddy is a lucky dog; a two-year-old American Eskimo, hit by a car driven by his original owner and then brought to the vet to be euthanized. The vet convinced the  owner not to kill Teddy, but to relinquish him to PAWS of Norwalk.

Lisa DiDonato, Volunteer Coordinator at the Pet Animal Welfare Society in Norwalk fell in love with Teddy and adopted him, “(Teddy)  is just the sweetest thing, is just an angel,” DiDonato said.

DiDonato, for the last seven years, took Robert Frost’s proverbial “road less travelled” when she transitioned from Medical Social Welfare to working with abandoned animals at PAWS.

When DiDonato, a native of Long Island, moved to Connecticut hoping to work as a Medical Social Worker, her lack of bilingual credentials brought her in a completely different direction.

“When we moved to Connecticut I just happened to pass PAWS,” DiDonato said, “I emailed them my resume.”

PAWS was looking for a Volunteer Coordinator to schedule and manage all volunteers.The new job required DiDonato to use her people skills as well as her love for animals.

“I do a lot of community outreach. I do humane education with children, go to schools,” DiDonato said, “It was a perfect fit.”

DiDonato credits her mother for giving her a love for animals. Her mother, also a Social Worker, did her PhD dissertation on animal physical therapy.

“I was really involved in using our dog as a therapy dog, and going to different residential homes and jails and getting really interested in that line of work,” DiDonato said.

In her seven years at PAWS of Norwalk DiDonato has seen big changes.

DiDonato said.  “I have seen the organization grow.” From 10 dogs seven years ago, they now can care for 20 dogs and have 120 cats.

The number of people working at PAWS has increased too. “Someone was specifically hired to do fundraising,” DiDonato said.

PAWS does not receive any government funding as it is a not for profit organization. All funds raised are by donations. The society is doing more fundraising than it did seven years ago.

“We’re still going strong with our big fundraisers. We are very lucky in that we have wonderful people out there that do know about us,” DiDonato added.

The society’s biggest fundraiser is Bark in the Park, held this year on September 17 at Cranbury Park in Norwalk from 11am to 3pm. In the past, this event has raised as much as $40,000.

Other organizations and businesses have become involved with fundraising efforts for PAWS. The Bedford street diner donates 10 percent of your bill on Wednesdays when you mention PAWS. Rio Border Cafe Mexican Restaurant in Norwalk will donate a percentage of your bill to the society. The Primping Place Spa in Stamford on Saturday May 7 from 1 pm to 5pm will donate 10 percent of your bill to PAWS.

Another difference DiDonato witnessed while working at PAWS is the effect the recession had on the program and on the people that bring animals in.

“We definitely had a hit with the recession as well as people giving up their pets, because they can no longer afford it,” DiDonato said and added , “We get tons and tons of calls on a daily basis from people getting rid of their pets. Some due to the recession, some just an excuse to be honest.”

Reasons for people wanting to get rid of their pets can vary. From allergies to hitting hard times or buying an animal they can’t afford to keep, “A lot of people think that pets are disposable,” DiDonato said and added, “There are times when we turn (pets) away because we do not physically have the room.”

Buying a puppy from a pet store reinforces pets as a disposable product. DiDonato struggles with the concept of why people buy pets from pet stores. The government she needs to do more to shut down puppy mills, commercial dog breeding farms that place profits above animal welfare.

“I personally feel that (the government) could do a lot more,” DiDonato said.

DiDonato, in the past, volunteered to pick up a Maltese from a puppy mill that was raided. The rescued dog was a mother with no teeth, her tongue hung out of her mouth. The dog, strictly used for breeding, slept in a wire cage with no bedding, exposed at all times to the elements

“That whole area should be illegal,” DiDonato said.

Many pet stores do not pay the same attention to detail as PAWS. With ‘Meet Your Match,’ the PAWS society meets all members of a potential adoptive family, speak to the family’s vet for references, request that the family complete a detailed application form and PAWS adoption counselors screen the paper work for red flags. If the family say that they have an invisible fence or would be upset if the animal urinated on a carpet, the folks at PAWS would not let an animal be adopted.

“We had a dog that was adopted out for ten years; the person brought them back because someone was allergic.” PAWS has a policy of, “if you adopt out and you have to give the dogs up you must bring them back,” DiDonato said.

Pet stores on the other hand ask no questions, do not care what happens when an animal leaves the store and are only interested in making money on dogs bought from puppy mills according to DiDonato.

“A credit card goes through on the day but there is the cost of keeping the pet,” DiDonato said.

“We had a girl, she was in college and she gave up her cockapoo, or whatever breed it was and she was still paying off the dog but she had to bring it to us,” DiDonato said and added, “If you keep buying from these puppy mills, you keep giving them money.”

PAWS rescues and finds homes for about 115 dogs and 435 cats every year. Volunteers are in constant demand and a training period is provided and required.

For more information or to get involved visit the PAWS website at pawsct.org. or contact Volunteer Coordinator Lisa DiDonato at (203) 750-9572 x 120.

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