Living just off Ninth Avenue with his Chihuahua, Jade, Arnold Johnston, 85, is no longer able to take his 11-year-old pet on daily walks. Johnston, a midtown resident since 1963, might have had to give up his beloved dog, two years ago, had he not found PAWS NY, a small non-profit organization dedicated to helping homebound people care for their pets.
The group “filled a need,” said Johnston, “because the professional dog walkers are just too expensive for ordinary people.”
Founded in 2008 by NYU public administration Masters graduate Rachel Herman, who had originally dreamed of working at the ASPCA, PAWS NY depends on 70 volunteers who donate their time at least once a week, with many more registered to begin helping out soon. It serves New Yorkers who make a maximum gross monthly income of no more than $1,850 and are either elderly, sick or have another physical impairment that prevents them from fully caring for their pets.
PAWS NY sends volunteers to clients’ homes to help feed their pets, walk their dogs and scoop their cats’ litter boxes. While its aim is eventually to serve anyone within the five boroughs, right now it primarily serves Manhattan. A majority of clients were referred by other non-profits, including CityMeals-on-Wheels. So far this year, PAWS NY has helped 55 clients, of whom about 30 are regular clients who get weekly help; the rest are one-time or temporary clients who get help on a per-need basis.
Herman said she got the idea for PAWS NY after finding out that a homeless couple near her local grocery store was willing to give up a bed at a shelter because they did not want to be separated from their pet. From there, she decided to find a way to help other New Yorkers who loved their pets but who struggled day-to-day care for them.
“I think that the relationship with a pet is something that can be overlooked,” said Kathryn McCarthy, a midtown volunteer for PAWS NY since August of this year. McCarthy volunteers by helping a client named Charles Goldstein and his Labrador Retriever, Daisy. “But in the case of most of the clients that PAWS takes in… their well-being almost depends on their relationships with these pets. I think it gives them inspiration to carry on. It makes them happy because a lot of times they are alone.”
Johnston and Jade have has received 550 visits by PAWS volunteers over the last two years, which amounts to 1,100 hours of help, according to Herman. Johnston has nothing but praise for the organization.
“My faith in humanity is restored in the coming generation because [the volunteers at PAWS NY] are all very fine young people,” he said. “They’re polite. They’re very helpful. If I need something, they’re glad to do it. And Jade just loves them.” According to Johnston, Jade likes to do “pirouettes” for his visitors.
PAWS NY volunteers dedicate as much or little time as they can. Ashley Fernandes and Smitha Thomas, both from India originally, volunteer four times a week. “But doing four hours a week is not necessary,” said Thomas. “You can do even one hour a month or something like that. Putting that in still makes a difference. It’s one drop in the ocean. When everyone contributes, something happens.”
PAWS NY also has a pet pantry service where people can donate pet food, which the organization then distributes to clients. For example, in May they received a donation of 3,900 pounds of pet food — but because the organization is still very small and has no permanent headquarters, this service is still in development. PAWS NY has no place to store large donations of food and according to Herman, the only reason she could accept that large of a donation was that Citymeals-on-Wheels provided space in its Brooklyn warehouse for three days, while PAWS NY distributed the food. This wouldn’t ordinarily be the case.
Getting the pet pantry up and running is Herman’s next priority, though, because the high costs of pet food means that many clients cannot afford to care for both themselves and their pets.