Organization Information:

Name: Serena Saunders

Title: Executive Director

Organization: PAWsitive Recovery

Tell me about your history with substance use and recovery.

I started drinking at age 12 to cope with a father with substance abuse and anger issues and a mother who used methamphetamine. In my twenties, I used drugs and alcohol to mask the deep pain I felt from my childhood and ended up in an abusive relationship. As a single mom at 27, I moved back to California to run our family business. Still having to deal with my toxic father, I drank, and a three-year custody battle fueled my excuses to drink. During that time, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer but still drinking. In 2017, I left the business and my partnership with my father. Having lost everything, I fell into a terrifying downward spiral of isolation, job hopping, alcohol abuse and depression.

In 2021 after four years of a lawsuit and a death sentence from my doctors, I enrolled in an outpatient program called Tangen Counseling where I was diagnosed with PTSD and severe depression. I have made significant improvements with the help of my therapists. I have also become involved with the Phoenix and Colorado Artists in Recovery. Both groups have been extremely important to my recovery.

What led you to start PAWsitive Recovery?

My passion is dogs. I work in the veterinary field and do dog rescue. Dogs are the most important things in my life because every human I have ever loved has either left or given up on me. My dogs never have.

How did you come up with the idea?

I didn’t actually. It was my amazing therapist. I was sitting in a session and I was talking about my next career move. I said “I really wish I could just combine the two things I love most, dogs and recovery and do that.” She said “Well, why can’t you?” And the idea was born.

What does PAWsitive Recovery do?

We know that animals can help us heal by providing companionship and love. PAWsitive Recovery believes that the human-animal bond is crucial to healing and growth so we provide an assortment of ways to incorporate animals into the recovery process.

We first and foremost provide people in treatment with temporary housing for their beloved pets, both cats and dogs. Very few treatment centers, sober living houses or domestic violence shelters allow pets. There are so many challenges people face in recovery. Losing a pet on the path to recovery should never be one of them. We also provide aid to women coming out of situations of violent domestic abuse.

Keeping animals united with their owners after treatment takes some of the burdens off shelters and makes it easier for people to enter treatment and get the help they need. PAWsitive Recovery cares for animals when their humans are incapable of doing so with the goal of reuniting them later.
PAWsitive Recovery partners with Soul Dog rescue in Fort Lupton. We work with people in treatment and the court system to offer people an opportunity to work with animals at the shelter. This can be an excellent way to perform community service and give back to the animals.

And for those in treatment and recovery, with the help of Soul Dog, we offer pet visits, animal-assisted therapy and several workshops which provide people an opportunity to get out, exercise, practice mindfulness and art, and socialize with abused and neglected animals.

What areas do you serve and is there a cost?

The entire state of Colorado. We love donations but no one is ever turned away for their inability to pay. We provide supplies and food if there is a need while the animal is in our care.

How has creating PAWsitive Recovery helped your recovery?

Helping people in recovery AND their animals is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Giving back gives me purpose and PAWsitive Recovery fills my life with so much joy and purpose that the idea of going back to my old life is unconceivable. If I have helped one person on their path to becoming a better person and PAWrent, and STAY SOBER, it will all be worth it.

There will be many people interested in getting involved. Where can they get more information?

We need fosters. PAWsitive Recovery is searching for individuals in long-term recovery or anyone who loves animals that wants to give back to the recovery community. If you are interested in fostering, please e-mail me at, and we will send you an application. The process is simple! We do a home check to make sure it is safe, meet any house dogs, and have you answer a simple questionnaire so we can best match you with a foster!

What are your future plans?

First and foremost, I hope to expand our foster network so we can accept more pets into the program. I would also really like to gain momentum and grow our workshops. I believe that animal assisted therapy and these classes would be a great way for sober living and treatment facilities to have fun and explore a creative approach to treatment. What better way to recover than with the healing power of animals? Long term goals include a boarding facility and kennels. Longer term goals include expansion to other cities.

Please contact me if you have any questions and/or if you want to get involved. We need you.

Jean Unger, CeDAR Connect Alumni Contributor