Jefferson Award winner, April 2016: Erin Didion - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Jefferson Award winner, April 2016: Erin Didion

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FORT ATKINSON (WKOW) -- Erin Didion's passion to help animals has grown to have an enormous impact, not only on the dogs she saves, but the families that adopt them.

She's helped rescue hundreds of dogs from the streets of Texas and brought them to Wisconsin to find forever homes.

"It's an amazing feeling to know you're making a difference," she says. "It's a small dent when you look at what's going on in Houston. They've got hundreds of thousands of strays and unwanted animals there."

Those animals are left for dead and even if they end up in shelters, they could be euthanized within days.

"Their shelters on average now are receiving 80 dogs a day. Their capacity is 200 dogs."

To help with that problem, Erin started Paddy's Paws in Fort Atkinson in January of 2015.

She teamed up with Wisconsin native Larissa Gavin, who runs the rescue Lola's Lucky Day in Houston.

After the dogs are saved from the streets, they're treated by a vet in Texas.

Erin documents their journey, every step of the way, and matches them with a family in Wisconsin.

"I probably spend 8-12 hours a day just monitoring our emails and checking applications and making phone calls. Sometimes someone will apply for a particular breed or size or experience and we do the matchmaking. We'll actually send out that profile to our Houston team and say, 'Who do you have that matches this?"

Paddy's Paws volunteer Jacki Witkowski says, "She literally knows every single thing about every single dog so that she can make sure that each family interested finds the specific qualities they're looking for and making sure they're gonna be the perfect fit."

"We're doing transports every two weeks and we've got a waiting list of 104 people ready and waiting for a dog with another 50-100 applications pending," says Erin.

25-30 dogs are brought back each trip, another group was brought back Sunday.

So far, more than 500 have been saved.

"It is almost overwhelming and unbelievable and I wish I could have everyone from Houston sitting here and all our volunteers because it took a village to make it this way," says Erin.

Paddy's Paws has grown exponentially and now has 40-50 volunteers helping with home visits, fundraisers and transports.

"The passion that they have, it just surrounds you. You can't help but care and want to do something to help," says Jacki.

Erin also takes the dogs into local schools to educate the kids on animal health and responsible pet ownership.

"We're able to work with the kids and get them involved and help empower them to make a difference too, because they are the future of this."

A future that's now bright for the dogs and their new families.

"To introduce them to their new family member for the first time,  after all they've seen is just videos and pictures and read about them, it's just such a magical experience."

It's all a balancing act for Erin. She also owns Paddy Coughlin's Irish Pub in Fort Atkinson and fosters many of the dogs that come through. 

"She's amazing. I don't know how she finds all the time in the day that she does to run a business, to have a life of her own and to help save all of the dogs that she does," says Jacki.

Paddy's Paws is always in need of volunteers and 100% of the donations go directly toward helping the dogs.

It can often cost thousands of dollars to treat them back to health.

For more information on Paddy's Paws or how you can help, click here. 

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