Pawsible Inc. is a young nonprofit organization serving the assistance dog industry and community through supporting volunteers raising future assistance dogs.
Pawsible was founded in March 2019 by Vanessa Barker and Cate Law while they were puppy raisers for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind (GDF) and undergraduate students at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD). Barker and Law were also volunteer Area Coordinators for Terps Raising Pups, the UMD chapter of the Guide Dog Foundation. In their leadership position, Barker and Law noticed that some student puppy raisers were struggling to afford basic necessities like dog food or even food for themselves. College student budgets are already tight, but with an additional mouth to feed, some student raisers were fighting to make ends meet. Some struggled to ask for help and many were so overwhelmingly altruistic that they continued puppy raising despite their financial hardships.
In an effort to address these student’s struggles, Barker and Law sought a Do Good mini-grant, a grant of up to $500 given by UMD’s Do Good Institute. The team won a $500 grant in March 2019 used to form Pawsible as a project within Terps Raising Pups. Pawsible opened an application for UMD student raisers in need to apply for financial assistance, also recruiting Pawsible’s founding team members and fellow puppy raisers, Scott Howarth, Destiny Goldsmith, and Jasmine Richman.
Within a month of operating the project, Pawsible’s team quickly realized that the volunteer’s financial need was higher than anticipated.
Local puppy raisers for the Guide Dog Foundation opened their hearts and 20+ bags of dog food and other puppy supplies were donated to Pawsible within our first two months of operation. As the summer of 2019 approached, Pawsible also opened its financial assistance program to any GDF puppy raiser in the DC / Maryland / Virginia area. By the end of 2019, Pawsible had dispersed $1393.84 worth of assistance and helped over 17 puppies and volunteers.
UMD’s Do Good Institute was instrumental in Pawsible’s expansion and organization development. Pawsible won a second grant from Do Good in the 2019 Do Good Challenge Showcase Awards and another grant through Do Good’s mini-grant program. Pawsible’s co-founder Vanessa Barker was also twice a Do Good Fellow, working out of the Do Good Accelerator to expand Pawsible’s programs and to develop Pawsible as an independent organization seeking nonprofit status. The Do Good Institute supported Pawsible yet again in the spring of 2020 with a fundraising-matching grant to support Pawsible’s COVID-19 related efforts.
In the fall of 2019 Pawsible also worked closely with DC-area Guide Dog Foundation representatives, Melissa Harrington and Deana Stone, to help more puppy raisers with the costs of puppy raising.
Pawsible trialed a special assistance program to offset some transportation and puppy-experience costs. Pawsible also opened up financial assistance applications for those in emergency situations and for those who were struggling but not yet in full financial distress. These programs were semi-successful but were ultimately retired when Pawsible began to expand its reach in 2020.
Early in 2020, the Pawsible team saw that volunteer puppy raisers beyond their local group could benefit from financial support, especially college and low-income volunteers who were more impacted by unpredictable circumstances.
Barker and Law began working on plans for expansion and eventual nonprofit status, but the COVID-19 pandemic hit before those plans could be finalized.
In March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States, many Americans lost wages and jobs and were thrown into financial hardship. Additionally, many volunteer puppy raisers had to keep their dogs longer than planned, incurring more expenses in dog food, vet bills, and other supplies. In response to the unprecedented circumstances, Pawsible began reaching out to puppy-raising groups outside the DC-area and the Guide Dog Foundation and began using chapters to expand. Pawsible’s first new chapter was formed with STEP @ Pitt by Nicole Mroz, a volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence and an undergraduate student at Pittsburgh University.
By the end of 2020 Pawsible grew to 13 chapters in nine different states and was supporting volunteer puppy raisers of five assistance dog organizations. This expansion was driven by community outreach and how the pandemic was impacting volunteers’ financial needs. In the fall of 2020 Pawsible also expanded its mission to encompass community and industry support for volunteer puppy raisers and the assistance dog organizations. This was in an effort to provide structured community support to the volunteers, and for Pawsible to further assist the organizations puppy raisers are volunteering for.
In late November 2020, Pawsible Inc. acquired 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, allowing us to further mobilize our community and programmatic efforts. By the end of 2020, Pawsible grew our team of five volunteers to a team of 35 volunteers from all over the nation, most of whom are puppy raisers themselves.
You can learn more about Pawsible and our current projects on our Programs page and on our social media.