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GALLERY: Puppy power drives Happy Paws Happy Hearts program


“We can learn so much from animals.”

That was the ringing endorsement from Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation (NPCF) chair Jennifer Leslie, who officially launched the Happy Paws Happy Hearts (HPHH) initiative, Explore in Hunter Valley, at Neath on Tuesday 18 April.

With puppies and kittens at the heart of the unique employment pathway program, participants learn employment skills and gain confidence to enter the next phase of their lives.

And, now, thanks to a NPCF grant of $75,000, they’ll nurture those newfound abilities in a custom-built mobile classroom at the Hunter Valley Animal Facility and Rehoming Centre NSW (HVAFARC).

According to data, working age people with disability, between 15 and 64 years, are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than those without a disability.

In response, HPHH developed Explore for those ready to take further steps into volunteering, work or additional study in the animal care industry – and beyond.

Currently operational in Wacol and Toowoomba, in Queensland, figures reveal 66% of the initiative’s alumni have gone on to find employment or pursue more opportunities.

“We are beyond excited to launch Explore in the Hunter Valley,” Happy Paws Happy Hearts chief commercial officer Kellie Ireland said.

“It’s specifically designed for participants who made their way through our programs that are ready for their next challenge… whether that be employment in the animal care industry, further study or other return-to-life pathways.

“Now, due to NPCF’s generous funding, we’re able to roll out our mobile classroom to teach this truly incredible curriculum to local vulnerable youth.

“We can equip them with knowledge and skills to thrive in their desired careers, hand-in-hand with the confidence to know they are valuable and capable of doing so.”

Ms Leslie said Explore was a much-needed support program for at-risk youth in the Hunter.

“The Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation is focused on assisting young people,” she explained.

“And, given 70% of Happy Paws Happy Hearts participants are indeed youngsters, who may have been disengaged from education and employment opportunities, this partnership offers them a safe and educational environment in which they can thrive.

“Through the six-month Explore program, HPHH secures placement and study options for each person, aligning with their individual goals, capability and support needs.

“This allows them to put their knowledge into practice, gain real-world experience they can add to their resumes, and start building connections in their specific field.”

Since launching Explore in Hunter Valley, HPHH has supported four participants on their employment journey.

One of them, Steph, graduated early after securing work in the animal care industry.

Three others currently attend the program twice weekly.

“I’m so proud of Steph for securing her dream job in the animal care industry,” Happy Paws Happy Hearts team leader Nina Waterton said.

“I am also delighted to continue working with our three participants every week – Dylan, Jax and Gabby – for how much they have grown and flourished in such a short time.

“They are genuinely such a wonderful group of people.

“Seeing the real impact Explore has on their lives makes going to work so enjoyable.

“With some of our participants, it’s like night and day; watching them gain confidence and achieve their goals is truly awesome.”

To enquire about Explore in Hunter Valley, reach out to the enrolment team at

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