It all began in 2009 with a trip to a local animal shelter in Philadelphia. Ava Gutierrez, then 9 years old, and sister Lexie, then 12, expressed dismay at the conditions of the dogs and cats housed there and their grim prognosis if forever homes were not found. They concocted ways to raise money for animals in need, but sparked a lot more than that through their actions, launching a movement named after the younger girl.
“We were really challenged by our children to make a difference,” says Claudia Gutierrez, their mother.
Thus the Philadelphia-based Operation Ava was born. Together, the family began this animal rescue and quickly nurtured it to become one of Pennsylvania’s largest private rescue organizations. To date, nearly 4,000 animals have been saved from the streets and other animal shelters, and adopted out to loving homes.
What sets this group apart is not just how it began, but how it continues to survive and thrive. It’s not just a rescue, but a trifecta of successful businesses. In fact, it is basically self-sustained. The rescue flourishes thanks to partnerships with a veterinary clinic named The Pet Mechanics, as well as a pet supply store, The Pet Shop, both of which are located on the first floor of the rescue’s building. Proceeds from the partnerships help fund the medical care, housing, and treatment of animals awaiting adoption upstairs in Operation Ava’s Save-A-Life Center. On any given day, about 75 pets are housed there, and they benefit from the vet care offered at The Pet Mechanic clinic.
See a behind the scenes tour from another teen who volunteered with Operation Ava:
“We wanted to create something that (generated) revenue and wasn’t donor-based,” says Claudia Gutierrez about the rescue, which features rooms, not cages, and a huge 8,800-square-foot backyard. “We are really dedicated to the quality of our animal (care). They are treated like our own. You walk into Operation Ava, and you feel good.”
Another hallmark of this group is its focus on participation from all those interested – especially children. Community education for school-age children is essential, because teaching the next generation about pet overpopulation, homelessness, abuse, and neglect can help break the cycle, Claudia Gutierrez says. The group also partners with local schools and youth organizations to provide educational opportunities for kids to learn about these issues.
“We want everyone to take ownership of the problem, from children on up,” she says. “One of the cornerstones of Operation Ava is that kids are involved.”
After all, that’s how the whole rescue got started, because of two children.
“Lexis and Ava looked at us and said, ‘You guys can make a difference. Will you?’” Claudia Gutierrez says. “And we said yes.”
The efforts of Operation Ava to aid and rescue dogs has inspired Freekibble.com, a website dedicated to providing nutritious food to shelter animals, to donate 5,000 meals of Halo Spot’s Stew to Operation Ava.
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