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Pets and pet owners find help with P.A.W.S.

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-09-10

Helping pet animals in distress is the objective of "Pets Are Worth Saving," otherwise known as P.A.W.S. To date, the organization has helped countless stray animals and abandoned pets here on Okinawa.

The group's president, Laura Winkelbauer, explained that her and other founding members began the organization in May 1998 after they realized many pets were being abandoned when military families left the island to return to the United States. "Sometimes people simply don't want to take the trouble, and other times it's a money issue," said Winkelbauer. "It can become very costly to get your pet off the island if there is no room left on a military flight."

According to Winkelbauer, expensive shipping costs can influence a pet owner's decision on whether to take their animal with them or leave them here, with the hope that someone else will care for it. A large dog can cost as much as $500 to ship back to the United States, and that price escalates when multiple pet ownership is an issue.

In order to help owners find solutions to keep their pets, P.A.W.S. has set up a variety of different programs through private donations and funding by various foundations. The group keeps a detailed file of pet owners wanting to find new homes for their animals, which is used to assist people looking to own a new pet. Volunteers will display photos at Caring Kennels and sometimes set up an adoption information booth at the Kadena PX. The adoption process benefits both pet owner and buyer with very minimal costs involved.

For those who want to keep their pets, but find themselves with the dilemma of not being able to afford to take them back to the U.S., P.A.W.S. has set up a foster pet care service. The program utilizes the organization's international network, and is designed to eventually unite animals with their owners. "We look for sponsors willing to take the pets back with them to the U.S. when they leave," explained Winkelbauer. "The owners then agree to meet the sponsor at the airport to pick up their animal. We take care of all the paper work and logistics."

"If someone tells us that they want to keep their pet, then we'll find a way to get it back there for them," added Winkelbauer. "P.A.W.S. will even provide small loans to help owners take their pets back with them."

Pet education is another primary goal for P.A.W.S. Members hold an annual pet fair, calling upon trainers, veterinarians, and kennels to offer both free advice and information about animal care. Volunteers also hold seminars at schools, teaching children about animals and the responsibilities of owning a pet.

P.A.W.S. will answer any questions an owner may have about their pet, but Winkelbauer stressed that the group's main objective is to help animals. "P.A.W.S. is not an organization to make people feel better about abandoning their pets," she explained. "What we do is tell people how we can help them."

Winkelbauer and other members are now trying to increase their educational programs and training classes. They are also planning on working closely together with other off-base organizations, and the group hopes to start a "no-kill" shelter for abandoned animals in the future.

"I wish that people would think about their decision to get a pet in the first place, like getting a puppy or a kitten for a small child because they think the animal is cute. It's not the child that is going to have to take care of the new pet," she said. "Caring Kennels also has many fantastic dogs and cats, which have been taken care of medically and have been spaded and neutered."

Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor for the pet foster program, or wishing to become a member of P.A.W.S. can contact president Laura Winkelbauer at 646-8723.

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