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Colorado nonprofit seeks to remove barrier for people seeking addiction treatment

PAWsitive Recovery fosters animals for people who are seeking addiction treatment.

DENVER — As tens of millions of Americans battle addiction, a Colorado nonprofit is asking for help.

PAWsitive Recovery aims to make it easier for people struggling with addiction to get the help they need, whether it's going into detox for a few days or moving into a sober living program for several months.

The organization's focus is on removing a barrier that keeps people from getting that help. Finding a safe place for their pets. 

According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 40 million people, ages 12 and older, said they struggled with substance use disorder.

"Not having care for their animals is a huge barrier," Serena Saunders, the nonprofit's CEO and a recovering addict, said. "Many of these people are not going to seek treatment or go into treatment if they don’t have a safe space for their animals to go into."

The entire process is based on applications from both the people looking for temporary homes for their pets and the people willing to foster them. Saunders said they provide all of the supplies, including food, needed to foster the animals.

She also said the program arranges visits for owners to see their pets while getting treatment.

"We’ll go get their animals and take them to the rehabs or wherever they are so they can visit with their animals and stay motivated," Saunders said.

One person who has benefitted from PAWsitive Recovery's help is Scott Bailey. Bailey said his two cats, Chase and Levi, brought him happiness through his battle with depression, losing his house and a 12-year struggle with a meth addiction. But they were also the reason he put off getting help.

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"It was ultimately them that pretty much kept me out of going into recovery," Bailey said. "Because they're my children and they are the only things that have been there for me through my addiction."

With the nonprofit's help, Bailey is now more than 120 days sober.

"He’s able to focus on himself and not have to worry about dogs, cats, what’s going to happen to them – and that to me is massive," Geoffrey Van Zijl, who runs workshops for PAWsitive Recovery, said.


Those workshops are also a staple of PAWsitive Recovery's positive impact. The organization takes shelter animals into rehabilitation facilities to interact with people getting treatment.

"The healing powers of an animal are pretty underrated," Van Zijl said. "I think just being able to pet a dog is good for people."

One of the workshops offered is called "Sit, Stay, Heal." Instructors like Van Zijl help people getting treatment teach shelter dogs basic commands that relate back to recovery.

"We get to give these people a break from recovery, so to speak, you know?" Van Zijl said. "Teach them how to have fun in recovery."

They also offer Downward Dog Yoga and Kitten Meditation.


Applications for both boarding and fostering animals are posted on PAWsitive Recovery's website.

"It's such a huge reward to do this for other people," Saunders said. "It has changed my life for sure."

The organization is also 100 percent donation funded, so Saunders said any amount of money they receive helps them complete their mission. A link for that can also be found on their website.

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