About Us

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About Hand2Paw

How does Hand2Paw work?

What we do

Hand2Paw is a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia that empowers young adults ages 18-21 to volunteer in the city’s animal shelters.

Hand2Paw empowers young adults to take charge of their lives, learn real marketable skills, and pursue fulfilling employment through working with animals.

Hand2Paw’s programs also seek to teach youth in our city to treat animals with respect and kindness.

Finally, Hand2Paw’s youth volunteers provide hundreds of hours of care, training, grooming, and socialization to thousands of Philadelphia’s shelter animals. This ensures that the homeless animals in our city’s shelters remain stimulated, happy, and behaviorally sound as they await their adoptive homes.


History Rachel Cohen Founder of Hand2Paw

Hand2Paw was started as a program in 2009 by a 19 year old Penn student who was shocked to learn of the shared plight facing homeless youth and shelter animals in Philadelphia. She took an activity these homeless teens love – caring for animals – to reach and teach homeless and disadvantaged youth what they need to know to function in the adult world. She called her program Hand2Paw.

Thus far, The Hand2Paw Foundation has helped social service agencies and animal shelters develop programming for hundreds of homeless and disconnected youth in Philadelphia. Some youth have been offered jobs in the animal care industry as a result of their involvement with Hand2Paw. Just as important, Hand2Paw has helped provide additional care, training, socialization, and grooming to thousands of  shelter animals in Philadelphia.

Hand2Paw was the recipient of a grant from DoSomething.org and was the 2011 1st Place Winner of the National Students in Service Awards from Washington Campus Compact and the 2012 Philadelphia 76ers Hometown Heroes Award. Hand2Paw has been featured in USA Today, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Chutzpah Magazine, the Philadelphia Examiner, the Jewish Exponent, The Daily Pennsylvanian, the Penn Gazette and on NBC10, Q102, WHYY and Radio 104.5. We were also proud to receive the Excellence in Outreach Award from Citizens for a No Kill Philadelphia in 2014.

The Hand2Paw Foundation is registered with the IRS as a 501c3 (tax exempt) charitable organization.


Leadership Penny Ellison and Shaq

Penny Ellison assumed the Executive Director position in 2012. Penny is an Adjunct Professor at Penn’s Law School teaching  Animal Law and Ethics and she supervises the Animal Law Project, a student run group that performs pro bono services for nonprofits serving the interests of animals.  Rachel Cohen, Hand2Paw’s founder, was a student in her class and, upon Rachel’s graduation from Penn, Penny assumed leadership of Hand2Paw.  Penny has grown Hand2Paw to serve even more animal shelters and to partnered with more programs that serve youth in need including YouthBuild Philly Charter School, CB Community School (serving youth aging out of foster care) and Valley Youth House.




Rachel is the founder of Hand2Paw and currently serves on the board. She founded Hand2Paw as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, dismayed by the number of youth and animals she saw living on the streets. Rachel worked to build Hand2Paw into a multifaceted organization that provides volunteering and job placement for youth, as well as love and care to shelter animals. She continues to find inspiration from Hand2Paw youth who, despite enduring countless hardships, still arrive at the animal shelter enthusiastic and happy to help. She is the recipient of the Philadelphia 76ers Hometown Heroes Award, 1st Place in the National Students in Service Awards, and a Do Something Grant for her work with Hand2Paw.



Leadership Rachel Cohen, founder of Hand2Paw


Volunteering A Hand2Paw Participant Meets a Newborn Kitten

Hand2Paw designs programs for social service agencies that bring  youth to volunteer at Philadelphia area animal shelters. These youth are assisted by our staff and volunteers who help them train and bathe dogs, care for cats, and perform basic cleaning tasks such as laundry and cleaning kennels. The youth also have the opportunity to learn basic veterinary and animal care skills from staff veterinary technicians and vet students.

Humane Education

Humane Education A Hand2Paw Participant Strokes a Homeless Horse at the PSPCA

Hand2Paw programs educate youth by constantly reinforcing the idea that all animals are to be treated with unconditional respect. We teach our youth to treat animals as individuals with unique personalities and feelings. We teach the importance of providing veterinary care, vaccinations, and spaying and neutering for all animals. Finally, we encourage our participants to go back into their communities and empower their peers to treat animals with kindness and respect.

Reducing Violence in our Community

Reducing Violence in our Community A Hand2Paw Participant Receives Grateful Kisses from a PAWS dog

Hand2Paw teaches kindness for all living creatures. It is our hope that Hand2Paw’s programs teaching youth to treat animals with respect will translate into a reduction in overall violence in our communities.

Therapeutic Experiences

Therapeutic Experiences A Hand2Paw Participant During "Kitten Holding Time"

Hand2Paw gives youth the chance to interact with animals in a therapeutic way, encouraging them to reflect during the time they spend with the animals. Every group session ends with “kitten holding time,” and many youth have reported that this is their favorite part of the program.


Internships A Hand2Paw Participant Works with ACCT Philly dog Pepe teaching him to follow direction on the agility equipment

In partnership with social service providers such as Covenant House PA and Valley Youth House, Hand2Paw provides paid internships for youth who show interest in working with  animals. Youth that demonstrate exemplary compassion towards animals, impressive work ethic, and an interest in working in the animal care industry are offered paid internships during which they learn transferable job skills and the rituals of the professional world. Many of our interns then pursue and achieve permanent employment in an animal shelter or animal related business.

Job Connections

Job Connections A Hand2Paw Participant Works with deaf PAWS dog "Noelle" on Hand Signals

Hand2Paw maintains connections with progressive local businesses that support our mission. Hand2Paw helps interns use these connections to network and apply for paid jobs. We have successfully supported the placement of many of our interns into paid jobs in the animal care industry. An employer who successfully employed a Hand2Paw graduate for over a year states: “He has such a wonderful personality! He is constantly met with adversity, and has had a very difficult time with housing arrangements. Even with all these problems, he continues to work with a smile, and give a hundred percent.”  Wouldn’t you like someone like that working for you?  If you have a business and would be willing to give a Hand2Paw intern a chance at a job, please complete the Contact Us form and we will get back to you right away!