Keeping Families Together

Keeping pets in their loving homes and making shelter surrender a last resort is crucial, not just to reducing pet homelessness, but to the wellbeing of our community as a whole.

The precious bond that people share with their pets improves mental and physical health, strengthens social connections, and so much more. It deserves to be protected, regardless of a pet owner’s resources or socio-economic status, which is why PAWS created its family of Safety Net support programs.

PAWS believes in serving “both ends of the leash” – providing assistance to pet owners so that they can keep their cherished companions. Whether they are in search of veterinary care, food, supplies, transportation, training, temporary housing, or other guidance, pet owners can turn to PAWS during difficult times, and we will make every effort to provide the support they need. When surrendering is the only option, PAWS may (space and other circumstances permitting) be able to offer safety while our matchmaking team works to find their pet a new home.

Here is a look at the services we offer:


Affordable Veterinary Care

Shelter intake is closely tied to lack of access to affordable veterinary care. Large swaths of Philadelphia are veterinary “deserts,” and even for many people who live near veterinary hospitals, care can be unaffordable. To fill this enormous gap, PAWS operates two low-cost veterinary clinics, one in the Grays Ferry section and one in the Northeast. Our caring team of veterinarians and technicians provide spay/neuter surgery, annual wellness care (including vaccines, flea/tick prevention, etc.), as well as exams and treatments for a wide variety of common illnesses, ailments, and injuries. Our clinics welcome community members and provide high-quality, affordable care, with the goal of keeping beloved pets healthy and in their homes. Often, basic care can mean the difference between life and death by preventing shelter surrender, or it can prevent an easily treatable medical issue from getting worse and becoming harder and more expensive to treat over time. Thanks to generous supporters, assistance is available for pet owners who cannot afford the cost of care. We aim to never turn a pet owner away due to inability to pay.

To read more about affordable veterinary care at PAWS, click here.

To schedule an appointment or get more details about our services, click here.


Charlie’s owner was under extreme emotional and financial stress after becoming a new mother. She loves Charlie dearly, but she had to delay seeking veterinary care for his worsening skin condition because of her economic situation, and she didn’t know where she could turn.

Thanks to grant funding to assist low-income owners in keeping their pets, PAWS was able to treat Charlie at no cost to his owner. She is deeply grateful for the support, which made it possible not only for her to keep Charlie as part of her growing family, but for him to finally get the relief he needed.

Pet Food Pantry

PAWS created its pet food pantry program in 2020, during the early months of the COVID-19 crisis, to support caring pet owners who found themselves having to choose between feeding themselves or their pets. In response to the overwhelming need, we have steadily expanded the program each year. We partner with dozens of social service organizations, adding pet food to their human food pantry efforts and providing home deliveries to homebound clients. PAWS also hosts dedicated pet food pantry events throughout the year in collaboration with community organizations and fellow animal welfare organizations. To date, PAWS has distributed hundreds of thousands of pounds of pet food and litter to support over 10,000 households. Doing so not only enables us to meet their pets’ immediate nutritional needs, but also to learn what other issues they may be facing in trying to care for and keep their pets, and offer those services as well. It is an opportunity to develop relationships with community members, and to become a trusted resource they can turn to – and refer neighbors, friends, and family – when new needs arise.

If you need pet food or supplies, please let us know by filling out this form, and a member of our team will be in touch with you as quickly as possible.


Kayla lost her job in October 2021 and was immediately worried about how she would continue to take care of the six cats and four dogs that she and her sister have between them. Kayla is also a community cat caretaker and provides shelter and food for two outdoor cat colonies. She posted on a community cat Facebook page and was told about an upcoming PAWS food pantry event. Now that she knows we can be a resource for her, she attends our events whenever she needs extra support. Even working part time, getting food and supplies from the pantries is the only thing that has enabled her and her sister to continue to feed and care for all of the loved pets in their home, as well as for the community cats who depend on her.

Temporary Housing: Safety Net Foster Program

PAWS’ Safety Net Foster Program provides temporary housing for pets whose owners are going through times of transition. When we launched the program in April 2022, it had long been a goal to fulfill the many requests we received for short-term pet housing. For pet owners who only need a few weeks or months to get resettled or tend to difficult life circumstances, foster homes can provide peace of mind, keep animals out of shelters, and enable joyous reunions to occur.

Our first participants were cats named Simba and Smokey, whose owner was experiencing homelessness and living in her car. After only six weeks, she settled into an apartment and tearfully reunited with her beloved cats. Since then, we have supported more than 100 families by providing temporary care for more than 130 cats and dogs, and more than half have resulted in reunions. When reunions prove impossible, pets are matched with adoptive homes where they will be equally cherished and loved.

The need for temporary foster care is great, and our ability to help depends on how many willing foster homes we have standing by. If you can open your home to a pet in need, please join us by signing up to foster. You will make a tremendous impact on a family, offering relief and hope during a stressful time.

If you need temporary foster care for your pets, we will do our best to help. Please fill out this form for cats, or this form for dogs, and a member of our team will respond as quickly as possible.


Nazareth and Ribblet

For Nazareth and her cat, Ribblet, temporary foster care was lifechanging. Nazareth adopted Ribblet from PAWS in 2020, and he became her beloved pandemic companion. A year later, on the brink of losing her home, Nazareth thought her only option was to part with Ribblet forever. She was heartbroken when she contacted us to return him, and then was overjoyed to discover we could offer an alternative. Our team found a foster family for Ribblet, and just two months later, Nazareth was resettled and ready to bring Ribblet home. When they were finally together again, the smile on Nazareth’s face said it all.

Triage, Referrals, Behavioral Counseling, and Support

PAWS’ pet owner support services are led by our Dog Program Manager, Spike Dougherty, and our Cat Resource Manager, Alley Cagnazzi. Among their other responsibilities, these compassionate leaders review the inquiries we receive, respond to surrender requests, and identify pet owners’ specific needs. Whenever possible, they offer guidance and resources, connecting pet owners with available services – both at PAWS and through partner organizations – in hopes of making pet retention possible. In some cases, a referral may be in order, either to our medical team for veterinary care, or to our pantry program for food or litter. In others, it may be helpful to offer one-on-one training sessions or behavioral counseling, or to provide related supplies. As our understanding of pet owners’ needs continues to grow, so does our scope of services, resources, and community partnerships. While we unfortunately cannot respond to every request for support we receive, our goal is to make the safety net for pet owners strong and expansive, so that shelters become a true last resort and every pet in our community who is wanted by their family can remain part of it.

If you need support or are considering surrendering your pet, PAWS may be able to help. Please fill out this form for cats, or this form for dogs, and a member of our team will respond as quickly as possible.

Background: Poverty, Race, and Access to Resources

In Philadelphia, nearly 400,000 residents cope with the daily challenges that result from poverty, and many thousands more struggle to make ends meet. The inherent instability of living without access to adequate resources disproportionately affects communities of color: Black and Hispanic residents are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than white residents.

The pervasive and systemic forces of racism and poverty make essential services of all kinds – including veterinary care and pet services – unavailable to many Philadelphians. Housing instability – due to a lack of affordable and pet-friendly housing, rising rents and related costs, barriers to homeownership, and other factors – is by far the most prevalent issue facing the pet owners who contact us for support.

Understanding shelter surrender in this context, rather than as a choice among many viable options, challenges us as a community to invest in creating equity and access to resources so that people and pets can stay together. In many cases, pet surrender, shelter euthanasia, and the anguish they bring could be prevented with adequate and effective support.

Thank you to The Landenberger Family Foundation

PAWS is deeply grateful for The Landenberger Family Foundation’s generous support of our Safety Net efforts!

In 2023, the foundation led our “Paw it Forward” campaign with a matching challenge gift of $25,000. Thanks to their support, Philly’s pets are remaining healthy and happy with the families who cherish them through PAWS’ affordable veterinary care, safety net foster program, pet food pantry, and more.

To learn more about The Landenberger Family Foundation please visit their partner page here.