SSW Student Heather Rose Volunteers at the PAWS program helping out pet owners living with HIV/AIDS

Pets can bring a lot of happiness to their owners during rough times, especially for pet owners who are living with HIV and AIDS. But many are too sick to care for their animals. That’s where the PAWS program comes in. PAWS, “Pets Are Wonderful Support,” is organized through the Albany Damien Center.

ALBANY, N.Y. – Cosmo is an energetic Jack Russell, but he’s blind, so sometimes he needs a little help with foreign objects. He doesn’t see Heather Rose, but he knows she’ll be there.

“Come on Cosmo!” Rose said, holding his leash.

Like clockwork, Rose comes here to take him for walks because his owner, Joe, simply cannot.

“He actually has AIDS and he’s very sick,” said Rose.

Far too sick, Joe told us, to even be interviewed.

“He’s unable to get out as much as he could before and I know misses that interaction with his dog,” said Rose.

Rose is a volunteer with a program called Pets Are Wonderful Support, or PAWS. It’s run by the Albany Damien Center, a resource center for those living with HIV and AIDS. It was back in January when she first met Joe.

“He was so grateful,” said Rose. “He sat me down for an hour and he showed me pictures of his dogs when they were younger.”

That’s when Rose told him she’d be back.

“He was kind of taken aback,” said Rose. “He said no one has ever done that for me. No one has ever come every week, every Wednesday, every Saturday to walk my dog. About 20 minutes, we don’t go too far, he’s a little boy.”

Volunteering this way, she says, is a walk in the park.

“It’s great satisfaction to know that I can help someone in my community,” said Rose.
And for Joe, it’s good for both body and soul.

“There have been studies that have indicated that having a pet is healthful for you as well,” said Diane Metz, the PAWS Program Coordinator. “It lowers blood pressure and assists in other medical issues. So it’s important to have support so people can have their pets but also be safe and healthy with them as well.”

To get involved with the program you don’t have to walk a dog, you don’t even to like dogs. Instead you can host what’s called a “pawty.”

“We’re asking in the month of June that folks who would be having a party anyway or have a special party that they ask their attendees to come and give a donation for PAWS,” said Metz.
All to make dates like this one possible.

“And he always asks me how Cosmo did on his walk, what happened,” said Rose.
And Rose happily fills Joe in. After all, she’s become quite attached.

“Yes I have, I really have,” said Rose.

Even Cosmo sees that.”