PAWS NY: Helping People by Helping Pets

April 19, 2019 Rachel Herman

Mr. J was 91 when he passed away last year, leaving behind 17-year-old Jade, the dog that had been his best friend and constant companion for nearly two decades.  Mr. J adopted Jade in 2001, three years after his wife had died. Jade was just five months old, and Mr. J was 74.

Almost 10 years later, at the age of 83, Mr. J found himself in need of help and came to my organization, Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS NY).  His health and mobility were declining, and he was desperate to find help caring for Jade so that the two could remain together as a family. We built a team of volunteers who visited daily to ensure that Jade received the walks and exercise he needed.  Over the years, our volunteers became like family to Mr. J, celebrating birthdays and other milestones.

In the eight years that followed our initial meeting, our organization provided nearly 4,000 visits to ensure that Mr. J and Jade would not be separated.  In addition, we provided financial assistance with veterinary care, helped to facilitate emergency care for Jade during Mr. J’s hospitalizations, donated pet food, and so much more.  When Mr. J passed away recently, his team of volunteers came together to honor him in extraordinary ways, and our organization helped to make sure that Jade, now 17, was placed in a loving home. PAWS NY exists to support people and pets like Mr. J and Jade, who would otherwise have no place to turn for this level of support.

The idea for PAWS NY first began in the winter of 2008 while I was in graduate school.  On my walk to class, I noticed a homeless couple and their dog sitting outside of a local grocery store.  As an animal lover, I felt empathy for this family, knowing that they likely were giving up a warm bed at night in order to remain together, since homeless shelters don’t allow pets.  It was heartbreaking to think about, and despite the occasional change or pet food I donated, I didn’t feel like my contributions were truly making a difference.

I began to think about what our pets mean to us and about the people who may benefit from the companionship of a pet but who may also be struggling with the care of that animal due to barriers that come from age, disability, or illness.  I thought about how difficult it must be to love your pet, but over time, begin to face obstacles that prevent you from taking care of him in the same way you once had. How heartbreaking would it be to love your pet like family but to feel like you might need to give him up because you can no longer do simple things like take him outside for a walk or bend down to clean the litterbox?

I did some research and could not identify any existing organization in New York City that was exclusively dedicated to providing the resources needed to help vulnerable New York City residents to remain with their pets.  It was then that I decided I wanted to harness my passion and degree to make a difference, and so with the help of many extraordinary people (like my supportive husband, JR!), I set out to create PAWS NY. 

Our mission at PAWS NY is to keep people and their pets together through thick and thin. We strive to improve the quality of life for New Yorkers and pets in need, with a focus on helping those who are struggling to care for their pets due to health and financial obstacles, with a particular emphasis on seniors. With the help of generous partners and an incredible network of volunteers, we ensure that our clients and their pets are not forced to separate simply due to age, disability, or illness.  Our core program is our Housecall Program, through which volunteers visit clients in their homes and help with dog walking, cat care, and other ongoing pet care that our clients struggle to provide on their own.  Our volunteers will conduct more than 20,000 visits this year alone.  Many of these volunteers first get involved because of their love of animals, but what keeps them coming back each and every week is often the strong bond they form with their human client. While these relationships are not the reason PAWS NY exists, they are a beautiful byproduct of what we do and are the backbone of our success.

In addition to providing support through our community of volunteers, we also donate pet food through our Pet Pantry, cover the cost of veterinary care through our Veterinary Care Program, and provide foster care for pets when their guardians are hospitalized or facing other medical crises.

November 11th, 2019 will mark ten years since our first volunteer made their first visit to help a client and pet in need.  This last decade has been full of hard work and planning, and the success we have achieved is due to the incredible commitment of volunteers and staff who dedicate so much of themselves to ensuring that we can provide the highest level of care to the people and pets we serve.  Since our founding, we have provided nearly 90,000 visits and volunteers have donated 70,000 hours of their time to help 650 people and their 900 pets remain together as a family. None of this would have been possible without our incredible volunteers who so generously give their time.  

When speaking of Jade, Mr. J once told us, “he’s the greatest anti-depressant you could imagine.  He means everything to my life.”  

It is this important relationship between human and pet that I set out to protect ten years ago and our organization continues to protect each and every day.  We’re a small organization with ambitious goals. As we look toward the future, there are still thousands more in need of our help. We plan to spend the next ten years working just as hard to ensure that we can continue to increase the number of people and pets our programs serve.  With the help of friends, volunteers, and supporters like you, we are confident we can succeed.

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