This quarter YP Impact is focusing on animals and our featured nonprofit is PAWS (Progressive Animal Welfare Society), a Pacific Northwest nonprofit that helps cats, dogs, and wild animals go home and thrive – whether home is the family room or the forest. We recently spoke with Laura Follis, Director of Marketing and Communications at PAWS, a self-proclaimed communications nerd who enjoys writing in all formats. She has a Journalism degree from California Polytechnic State University and certificates in Strategic Communications and Social Media Strategies from the University of Washington.
Alex Rushin: Hi! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the PAWS organization?
Laura Follis: I joined PAWS in 2017 as the Director of Marketing and Communications; overseeing website, social media channels, media relations, publications, special events, messaging, and brand awareness initiatives. I appreciate working in animal welfare because it cuts across economic, political, social, cultural, racial, gender, and even age boundaries. “A love for animals is universal and brings out the best human characteristics in all of us.”
AR: PAWS’ mission includes “rehabilitating injured and orphaned wildlife, sheltering and adopting homeless cats and dogs, and educating people to make a better world for animals and people” - can you tell us a bit about what inspires that mission, and how the work that PAWS does ties into it?
LF: The inspiration for the mission is the recognition of the intrinsic value of animal life. Animals do not have a voice, and therefore it is up to people to speak up for them, protect them, and honor their intrinsic value.
PAWS’ Mission also gives a glimpse at what makes PAWS tick in terms of core beliefs about animals: “PAWS is a champion for animals – rehabilitating injured and orphaned wildlife, sheltering and adopting homeless cats and dogs, and educating people to make a better world for animals and people.”
AR: PAWS offers a large variety of services from domestic companion animal care to wildlife conflict assistance to education. Which of PAWS’ service offerings do people often find the most surprising, and which services surprise you most often via either their administration or outcomes?
LF: Many people come to know PAWS seeking the services of our Companion Animal Shelter—adoption, low-income spay/neuter, and lost and found animal services. They are sometimes surprised to learn of the PAWS Wildlife Center and our work to rehabilitate wild animals unless they have personally brought in an injured wild animal or sought wildlife conflict assistance. Those interacting with the companion animal side can come and go from the Lynnwood campus and not even realize that across the parking lot is a wildlife trauma hospital and rehabilitation facility.
AR: PAWS is the largest wildlife center in Washington, working with 250+ species of wild animals and handling 5,000 adoptions per year. What are some of the challenges and considerations that come from operating at this scale?
LF: Some of the challenges are around staffing and keeping up with the seasonality of our industry. The spring and summer baby seasons are the busiest times for us, especially for the PAWS Wildlife Center, which receives more than 70 percent of the year's intake of wild animals from April through September. To accommodate, we hire seasonal workers in the wildlife center and increase our volunteers.
Speaking of volunteers, we simply couldn't do this work without our dedicated PAWS volunteers. From feeding baby birds at the PAWS Wildlife Center to walking dogs to fostering kittens and making donor thank you calls from home, PAWS volunteers are critical to our work.
AR: PAWS has a campaign to open a wildlife rehabilitation facility in Snohomish County, tell us a little bit about the reasoning behind this and the plans for such a facility?
LF: When PAWS opened in Lynnwood more than 50 years ago, the area surrounding the campus was very rural. As the community around us has grown and changed, it has become more difficult for us to provide rehabilitating wild animals with the space and quiet that is essential to their healing. That’s why we are constructing a new Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Snohomish.
We are just beginning the first phase of construction to build a Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital, which will give our expert animal care team more space and new equipment to examine and treat animals that are brought to PAWS. Thanks to the generous support of some early donors, we have the funds necessary to build this hospital. We are now in the process of raising funds to complete the next phase of construction: wildlife enclosures. These new enclosures will provide flexible, enriching spaces for all kinds of animals, from hummingbirds to black bears. We look forward to engaging our community in our fundraising efforts in the year ahead!
AR: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected PAWS and the animals you work with?
LF: The pandemic has been a challenge for several reasons. One, we've had to reduce the number of staff on campus in Lynnwood and at PAWS Cat City in Seattle. Most of our admin, development, and marketing staff are now working remotely. And, we've had to drastically reduce our volunteers on campus. We're just now calling back volunteers. The reduction in volunteers and the work they do cleaning, feeding, and supporting staff has placed extra strain on our front-line employees.
Two, we haven't been able to hold any in-person fundraisers. Our PAWS Wild Night annual gala and PAWSwalk 5k were both converted to virtual events, which resulted in fewer dollars raised. And, of course, fundraising in general amid global health and economic crises is a challenge for all nonprofits.
AR: How can members of YP Impact contribute to and support the mission and vision of PAWS?
LF: Thank you for asking this important question! There are a number of ways to join the PAWS family. First and foremost, we welcome your donations and we have a variety of ways available to give at www.paws.org/donate. You can help just by shopping by selecting PAWS for your Amazon Smile account and Fred Meyer card. We also welcome your participation in our annual fundraisers — PAWSwalk, May 23 - June 12, and PAWS Wild Night, October 9. For those who want to interact with like-minded animal lovers and share our content, we invite you to follow us on Facebook and Instagram and join PAWS Uplifters, a Facebook group for PAWS community champions.
For those who want to give their time, we suggest you continue monitoring the volunteer section of the PAWS website for individual and group volunteering opportunities. We also have a tool called "Celebrate" for individuals and businesses to hold their own third-party fundraisers. And, of course, we encourage people looking to welcome a dog or cat into their family, to consider adopting from PAWS.
AR: Any parting thoughts for our readers?
LF: We appreciate that the members of YP Impact care about the mission of PAWS and are honored to have been selected as your 2021 Q2 nonprofit partner. Thanks for this opportunity to introduce PAWS to all members of YPCommunities. We're impressed with YP's focus on philanthropy and honored to be included with other chosen nonprofits doing important work in our community. We also hope to have the opportunity to serve your readers at some point — matching them with an animal companion, helping them with a found injured wild animal, welcoming their family members to PAWS youth programs.
Love animals and would like to learn more and PAWS and support their cause? Join YP Impact at Spotlight: PAWS for a Cause on April 28th at 6 pm for a panel discussion featuring PAWS and their partners. And keep your eyes peeled because we will soon be posting a volunteer opportunity, happy hour, and fundraiser for PAWS.