The Chronicle had a great article today about PAWS, a neat organization which helps out pet owners in tough circumstances. PAWS was originally founded in 1986, in response to a growing number of pet owners with HIV and AIDS. Many of these people had animal companions who were impacted by their illness, as they were suddenly no longer able to afford to take care of their pets. PAWS recognized that “Pets Are Wonderful Support” and started to find ways to help. The project has now expanded to assist seniors. The article was presumably included to promote Petchitecture, a benefit event at the Westin St. Francis tomorrow for PAWS.
What does PAWS do?
They help pet owners pay medical bills for their animals, provide dog walking services, help out with cat box cleaning, rides to the veterinarian, and offer needed supplies like food, clean water, and litter. They also advocate for their clients, help disabled people get housing with animals, and hold educational seminars. PAWS is an important resource for Bay Area pet owners. Most of these services are provided by volunteers, who willingly give up their time to help people and their animals. (Low income pet owners, by the way, can receive services through the San Francisco SPCA, which has a number of programs to help people with financial difficulties so that they can take care of their pets.)
I think that PAWS offers a great and valuable service. In addition, I hope that the feature article makes people think about the role of animals in their lives. Many people treat animals like disposable commodities, around to entertain and then out of mind when they are no longer fun. But for others, animals are their whole lives. People with serious illnesses often find themselves abandoned by friends and family as their illness drags on, but their animals never leave. Elderly people left alone by the deaths of friends and partners also rely on their animals for attention, love, and a reason to go on living. Many people probably do not consider the important place that animals hold in the hearts of other people, and the article might drive them to consider that.
Many people have deep connections to their animals with are unfathomable to those outside of the situation. Volunteers at PAWS can help people stay with their animals, something which is not always an option for the very sick or very old. They also benefit too—being around animals tends to make people more relaxed, happy, and content with life. It’s a positive way to help two individuals at one stroke: the pets, and their guardians.
It would be awesome to see PAWS spread to more regions. San Francisco is supposed to be one of the most animal friendly cities in the world already, with a great deal of protective legislation to help animals. It makes sense that this organization would thrive here, since so many of us care deeply about our animals. How could we not? We live in a city named after a saint known for his kindness to animals. But I think a lot of communities could benefit from an advocacy organization like PAWS, which can help people understand that even if you don’t think pets are people too, some people really benefit from having their pets around.