I got the idea while I was walking my dog. Midnight and I were walking in Chapel Hill Park, cutting across the playground on our way to the pond, when a thought came into my mind like a lightning bolt. I stopped walking. Midnight pulled on the leash, looking up at me curiously: what happened?
For decades, I have been passionate about animal rescue. I rescued my first stray cats when I was seventeen years old and discovered a colony of friendly strays in a local industrial park. In college, I snuck my rescue cat, a tripod named Stumpy, into my dorm room. In law school, I fed neighborhood strays (and a few possums) on my back porch. After moving to Atlanta in 2005, I volunteered at the Humane Society and TNR’d the strays in my driveway before starting to foster in earnest for several local rescues. Word got out, and soon strangers were calling me to help with cats and dogs they found in the street. I always said yes.
But my work to rescue animals seemed haphazard – disconnected from a greater strategy. In my day job, as an attorney representing low-income tenants facing eviction and displacement, I saw how families struggled when they were forced to move. The upheaval caused by an involuntary move is massive: my clients often moved into extended-stay motels or homeless shelters or even their cars. They couch-surfed, begged friends and relatives for a few nights in their guest rooms, and otherwise cobbled together a safety net. Then, after a few weeks or months, most of my clients got back on their feet. They signed a new lease, moved into a new home, and started putting the pieces back together.
But I knew that the upheaval of eviction did not affect only humans. Too often, a displaced family is forced to permanently surrender their beloved family pet to a shelter because they cannot bring the pet to the motel or the homeless shelter. When the family did get back on its feet, the pet was long gone. And I knew that Atlanta shelters were bursting at the seams.
That day in the park, the pieces came together in my brain with a jolt that stopped me (and Midnight) in our tracks. What if an organization could provide temporary foster homes to the pets of people facing eviction or other housing loss? We could follow the model of the wonderful Ahimsa House, which provides temporary foster homes to the pets of domestic violence survivors. What if something like that was available for eviction survivors?
I thought of Myra Rasnick, the director of Ahimsa House, whom I had met several years before. I wondered if she’d let me pick her brain about the policies and procedures Ahimsa House, so I could learn from their success.
The next day, in December 2018, I picked up the phone and reached Myra. When I explained why I was calling, she paused. “It’s so funny that you’re asking about this,” she said. “Just a week ago, I heard from several other animal advocates in Atlanta, who are interested in working on this same exact issue.”
That synchronicity was the birth of Paws Between Homes. Very soon, we had our first conference call, and then our first meeting, and we have been growing since then.