Creature Comforts

An animal shelter in Danang promotes animal welfare by teaching kindness and empathy within the local community

Can you tell us the origin of Paws for Compassion Danang?
Paws for Compassion (PAWS) was founded in Danang, Vietnam in 2015 by two animal enthusiasts and educators, Lexie Gray and Domenique Terry, who saw the need for animal education in the region. PAWS was created to inform and educate individuals about the animal cruelty that is taking place within their communities. A program aimed at youth with the intent of informing them about humane animal welfare education. PAWS serves the community by providing safety, medical treatment and rehabilitation to help stray dogs and cats become adoptable.


Lexie and Domenique

What is the most common way you receive animals? Would you also take an animal from an abusive owner?
There is honestly no common way we receive animals at our center. Just about every animal that has passed through our doors has a unique origin story of their own. Sometimes a volunteer or tourist finds a handicapped kitten in a gutter, and other times we rescue doomed animals from dog and cat meat restaurants. We have a few affiliate programs we work with, like “Cu Dong” that shares information with us and finds us serious emergency cases from time to time.

We have never taken an animal from an abusive owner as it is a tricky process to go about, but we have definitely tried to save some animals from terrible home situations. Oftentimes, we see dogs chained up on tiny leads with no room to move and just a meager bowl of rice noodles, so we offer to take the dog for a walk, or we try and help them figure out a better way to train and raise their dogs and cats.

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Fiddler, Male, 3 years old

What do you do with the animals when they are first brought to you?
Straight to quarantine! The new rescue is put in a cage separated from the rest of our rescues where they will stay for 10-14 days. This process is absolutely crucial because we never known what sort of contagious virus, bacteria or parasite is lurking beneath the surface. If they are healthy enough, the new rescue will receive their first vaccine. If not, we will do whatever it takes to nurse them back to health to get them strong enough to be fully vaccinated and ready to play with the other pups and cats. If kittens or pups are healthy they can go straight to a foster home until they are fully vaccinated to come back into our pet population.

How many animals are currently in your care?
It changes weekly and even daily. At the cat facility we have anywhere from 15-20 cats and at the dog facility, around 10 dogs. This is our limit because of issues with space, time and funding. We are lucky to have a helpful community who foster dogs and cats for us as well.

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Winnie, Female, 8 months old

You’ve recently started a video campaign compiling stories from people who have had their pets stolen, what is the goal of this campaign?
This campaign is very important to us because we have heard many firsthand accounts of people losing their family pets to thieves. When we see these thieves in action, transporting a crowded cage of stolen pets across the city, we are always shocked to see how shameless and happy the thieves look, oftentimes smiling ear-to-ear with pride. When we go to restaurants to inquire about missing pets from the community, we see laughing patrons happily snacking on dog meat and drinking beer. Documenting and compiling stories about grieving pet-owners helps to put a humanizing touch on the issues, no longer a statistic but a tragic reality. We will not shut down the dog meat restaurants over night, but bringing the issues into the light and letting people who eat dog and cat meat know exactly where their meal is coming from is an important step to stopping the theft of our companion animals for good. Through these videos we also want to show people that the meat trade thrives off of stolen pets. Pet-owners still leave their animals unsupervised or let their cats go outside; then the unthinkable happens. Video format was chosen because it is the most accessible way to reach the masses.

Education is an important aspect to raising the issue of animal welfare, how are you reaching out to the local community?
We reach out to the community in a variety of different ways. Beginning with the youth, we teach classes to children of all ages about many different topics. Protecting the environment, how to pet and feed dogs and cats, how to recycle, why we should be kind to animals, and much more. We recently began offering free English classes for adults in an effort to attract more young, local people to help grow our community. We offer foster workshops for our affiliate rescue groups and foster parents, and generally make ourselves available to the public to answer a myriad of different questions concerning their animals. We even work with orphanages in the area to give free classes while helping the children foster a passion for animals. We understand that education is the most surefire way to change the future for the better, so we see education as a foundation for everything we do.

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Male and Female, 2 months old

We often see cute puppies being sold on the streets, while it’s tempting to “rescue” them by buying them, why do you recommend against this?
Any animal lover that knows the true nature of these breeding factories knows how tempting it can be to want to rescue every animal they see for sale. We constantly see animals in cages for sale, or worse, being transported to a restaurant for consumption, and we feel so helpless in the moment. We have received hate mail from people for documenting these restaurants and holding cells, accused of not doing enough, but these people do not realize the difficult decisions we face every day. We can’t afford to buy every puppy and kitten we see, no matter how cute it is or how mistreated it is. Saving our resources to fight the bigger issues that plague the companion animals of Vietnam is a more effective strategy for the long term, hopefully saving millions of animals in the future.

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Jasper, Female, 1 year old

How many volunteers do you currently have? How can someone become a volunteer at PAWS and what areas are most needed?
Paws for Compassion wouldn’t run daily without our volunteers! We have around 30 consistent volunteers who commit to 3 hours a week for a minimum of 2 months. Coordinating all of these wonderful helpers is a job itself. So we are very lucky to have a Volunteer Coordinator. To become a volunteer at PAWS, you can message us on our Facebook page, and our wonderful Volunteer Coordinator will reach out to anyone who wants to help in any way. Most of our volunteer labor consists of feeding the animals, cleaning the facilities, walking the dogs, and doing therapy to rehabilitate the handicapped animals, but we have some other areas people can help with, too. We have worked with photographers, videographers, social media consultants, marketers, grant writers, teachers and veterinarians, so there are many different ways to pitch in and help!

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What is the screening process for potential adopters? How do you ensure the person will not adopt to sell later? What traits do you look for in adopting families or persons?
It’s about a week-long process. First, they will meet the dogs or cats to see who would be the best fit for them. They will then go home to think about it, because adopting is a big step to take for people. If they have made up their minds and decide to adopt, they fill out our adoption forms and we meet with them again to gauge their interest. We like to visit their home to see if it is suitable for an animal to live in, and try to get a good understanding of what sort of home we are sending the animals off to. We usually look for people that have had pets before, or even people that already have a pet they love and take care of. As animal lovers and pet-owners, sometimes we just get a gut feeling about potential adopters that cannot be explained.

What happens when the adoption doesn’t work out?
We have had a few adoptions not work out properly. Sometimes there is an unforeseen health issue, or a family recognizes that they might not have the time to raise a pet. We try to do our best and help relocate the animals to a new home, with the animal’s best interests in mind.

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Prince, Male, 2 years old

What happens to the ones who are older and/or not seen as ‘cute’ enough to adopt. Does PAWS become their forever home?
This is always the case with any shelter anywhere in the world. Cute, adorable puppies and kittens will be claimed minutes after their picture goes up on our page, but some of our older or handicapped animals have been with us for over a year. We never lose hope that someone might come along and adopt them, but we understand that if no one does, they are essentially our pets. We recently had a very old, grumpy dog get adopted so anything is possible!

Where does PAWS get its funding to continue its rescue work?
For the first year, we fully funded ourselves to start PAWS, pay for our rescues’ food and medicine, and rent a facility to house them all. We did this out of pocket with our teaching salaries. In 2017, we began to raise more money through fundraising, slowly developing a knack for finding funding in unique ways. Currently, we are in talks with organizations to secure grant money to better improve the scope of our programs. PAWS makes money from teaching educational classes at schools, boarding and babysitting peoples’ pets, and holding fundraiser events each month as well.

What do you wish more people knew about PAWS and how can they best help the animals there?
More than anything, we want people to know how much work goes into what we do. We are by no means trained experts, and we are learning bit by bit each day. We spend almost all of our free time and a lot of our money on PAWS, but we love what we do and we are thankful to have support from the community. People can help set a good example by treating their own pets well, and trying to help others that may not know how to properly care for a living creature.

Tell us some of your favorite adoption stories.
There are way too many to choose from, but Weiley comes to mind as an awesome success story. He was rescued at a veterinary hospital in the city, and abandoned by his family after he was bitten by a snake and left for dead. He had a nasty abscess on his torso, and was completely paralyzed from the neck down. Every day we fed him and worked with him to do therapy and get him moving. After four months, he was running, awkwardly, through the yard chasing the other dogs and barking at our squeaky wheelbarrow. He might look tough but this lovable Rottweiler was destined to be part of a loving family home, and sure enough, we found a family to take him out in the countryside. We delivered him to the family house and we were immediately greeted with huge smiles and excited, waving children.

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Bear, Male, 1 year old

It is a tough job, but when we see stuff like this it makes it all worthwhile. Our old Scotch man (12 years old) just recently had a very happy ending. It is very common for dogs to be abandoned when they are ‘too old.’ Sadly, they are pushed to the streets when they need us the most. When we rescued Scotch he was suffering from severe mange, was emaciated and covered in parasites. So traumatized, Scotch didn’t like to be touched and avoided all human affection until he was adopted 8 months after being rescued. All he needed was a loving family who he could trust again and have a second chance to be their loyal companion

Visit pawsforcompassion.org/get-involved to find out ways to get involved. All cats and dogs pictured are available for adoption, email pawsforcompassion.vn@gmail.com for more details.

Images Provided by Paws for Compassion Danang

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