San Diego

Inspiring San Diego: Woman Makes Career Out of Compassion for Homeless Pet Owners

She has dedicated her days to helping homeless San Diegans care for their pets and keep them out of shelters

Geraldine D'Silva was born in Mumbai, India where her love of animals and heart for the lost and neglected developed at an early age.

"I used to take street puppies and animals off the street and take them to the only local shelter that I knew," D’Silva said.

D’Silva moved to the U.S. 17 years ago and discovered, to her dismay, that even in what’s known as the “land of plenty,” some things weren’t much different from her home in India.

"It was quite a shock to me when I moved away from India in my early 20s and found homeless people and homeless pets and they have the same need,” she said. After seeing the need, D’Silva said she knew she had to help.

In 2011, D’Silva changed her passion into her profession. She was hired with the PAWS organization, which helps countless San Diegans care for and keep their pets.

“I never ever imagined that I would have a job where I was doing something that I loved," D’Silva said.

She helped the volunteer-led group merge with the San Diego Humane Society, expanding its reach in a powerful way. As partners with the Humane Society, PAWS works with homeless San Diegans to care for their pets and keep them out of the shelters.

“We found that homeless people have an even more unique bond with their pets because they're never separated from them," D’Silva said. “They're with their pets 24/7 and we've seen that they're even willing to feed their pets before they feed themselves."

D’Silva works as the organization’s director leading a small team of just three people with a mighty mission. Her team is able to help those who do not have all the resources to care for their pets.

"A lot of these people have no one else,” she said. “They don't have a family member, they don't have friends, and their only companion and reason for waking up every morning is their pet."

PAWS steps in to help pet owners in need in any way they can. In many cases, they provide food, flea medication, emergency boarding or a voucher for veterinary care. So far this year nearly 4,000 pet families have benefitted from PAWS services. D’Silva said PAWS has provided more than 1.5 million pet meals already this year. The organization’s main goal is to keep animals out of the shelters.

PAWS works to help all those they can. However, Geraldine said, “We can't say yes to everybody and so when we have to say no to some and turn them away, it's heartbreaking." The organization hopes they can help those who truly need the help, in order to keep the pets out of the shelters.

PAWS relies on grants, donations and volunteers help offer the services it provides. The organization serves all types of animals; dogs, cats, birds, even reptiles. Once a quarter the organization goes into underserved communities in San Diego with events offering everything from micro-chipping, free spay and neutering, pet supplies and vaccinations. It's an ambitious undertaking for D’Silva’s small team but they are up for the challenge.

From her young life in India, D’Silva recognized the bond between pets and their owners. She’s grateful to be working to preserve this bond through the help PAWS provides.

"It's something that's so hard to explain because it's unconditional love that you feel with your pet and you see it!" she said.

D’Silva’s advice for others: "Bring the passion and compassion that lives in every one of us. If you do that, I think we'd be able to help a lot more people."

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