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PAWS Across Pittsburgh FindS Pets Their Forever Homes

Nearly every weekend, Jackie Armour and other volunteers are busy picking up dogs from overcrowded shelters in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and the Greater Pittsburgh area. “Typically, we get 15 to 20 dogs every weekend,” Armour said.

Armour is the president and co-founder of PAWS Across Pittsburgh, a nonprofit dedicated to rescuing, rehabbing and rehoming unwanted, abandoned or neglected cats and dogs. The all-volunteer organization was created in April 2016 by Armour and a friend who were volunteering at a national pet rescue organization. “We wanted to do more at a local level and be hands-on where we could meet every foster and have a real say,” she said. While the other founder has moved on, Armour is still involved in the overall day-to-day operations of PAWS, despite having a family and a full-time job as a nurse.

PAWS rescues animals from shelters, owner surrenders, local animal control and the streets. They are unique in that there is no physical shelter; each rescued animal goes to a foster home where they are cared for until PAWS places them in a forever home.

Because of the sheer number of rescue pets, there are a lot of volunteers needed. Armour said they have between 50-75 very active foster homes with additional foster homes who volunteer occasionally. “We have fosters who will take a couple of dogs a year, or some take senior dogs or only small dogs. We also have some fosters who will only take a certain breed,” she said. There are also volunteers who assist in additional aspects of the nonprofit, including scheduling foster homes, overseeing adoptions and fundraising.

Rescued animals are held by fosters for at least two weeks to ensure they are medically able to be adopted. “We want to make sure that you get to adopt a healthy pet, plus we get to know them and can make a better match for the forever homes. We may find out that a dog doesn’t like kids or they chase cats. Another dog may have a lot of energy and need someone able to devote more time to them,” Armour said, “We want the pets to thrive and live out the rest of their lives with their adoptive family.”

Interested adoptive families complete an application process including an in-home review, either in person or virtually. When a family is matched with a pet, PAWS delivers the pets to the home and provides basic vaccines, supplies, dog food, crate and when applicable, medications. They work with a rescue vet who oversees medical care and use several health care providers depending on foster locations and where the rescue takes place.

PAWS also has a few unique specialty programs. The Short-term Animal Foster Emergency (SAFE) program assists those who just need temporary housing for their pets. “This could be for someone going into a hospital or who is temporarily displaced from their own home,” Armour said. The program was created, according to Armour, to prevent people from being forced to surrender loved pets due to a temporary situation. The overall goal of PAWS is to have the pet return home within 60 days.

The Lifetime Of Veterinarian Support (LOVS) arm of PAWS places senior and special needs pets. “Older pets may come with health issues, so we want to be able to assist with medical costs for an aging pet by covering the veterinarian bills for the lifetime of that pet,” Armour explained. LOVS also assists with animals with medical needs such a diabetes and other illnesses. “We try to take the financial piece out of the equation of finding a good home,” she said.

A newer specialty program is PAWS’ Senior Pets for Seniors, where senior pets are matched with senior folks wishing to adopt. “When we have a pet who was with a senior and then has to be rehomed, who better than a senior to take them?” Armour said. PAWS tries to make a match that is similar to the home that the pet was used to. Once placed, PAWS assists with extras, such as food, supplies and assisting with medical costs.

All of these services require funding, and this is where the fundraising team comes into play. PAWS hosts at least one fundraiser a month, with several ongoing campaigns. They also depend on individual and corporate donations as well as grants. PAWS often works with schools and other organizations looking for a nonprofit partner. “If someone wants to do a donation drive, we can provide a wish list and we can visit a school or meeting with our pets. We love it when the community rallies for us,” she said.

Despite the never-ending work, time and energy, Armour said it is well worth it. “We have rescued nearly 6,000 pets to date. I sort of fell into rescue, but the need is so great, we need to keep going. And it is so very rewarding,” she said.

PAWS Across Pittsburgh is always looking for volunteers and donations. For more information visit or contact

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