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The PAWS That Refreshes

March 2000

The first thing you notice when you walk into the PAWS/L.A. office in West Hollywood is the insurmountable kindness of the staff.

When I visited PAWS/L.A. in January, I was greeted with smiles, handshakes and the aroma of fresh coffee. Then I noticed the cans: cases and cases of high-quality pet food. I am told that usually there is an animal or two roaming the halls, but since they are still organizing after their move in October, they have kept the pets away.

Meet the Staff

President and founder Nadia Sutton took me around the office to meet the rest of the staff much like a woman would introduce me to her closest friends. And when I later spoke with her in her office, she showed me pictures of her cat McDuff and listened with interest as I babbled about my own two cats. I learned two things about Nadia Sutton: She loves animals and she loves people.

Ten years ago, Nadia Sutton's close friend who had AIDS was forced to let go of his two cats. His mood darkened and he said that he lost his main reason to live. Nadia not only helped her friend keep his pets, she started an organization that is currently the largest of the 26 centers nationwide which helps people with HIV/AIDS keep their animal companions.

"When I started (PAWS) 10 years ago," Sutton says, "people were dying. Now people are living. You can take all the medication in the world, but if your heart is broken, how can you survive?"

Easing Pet Stressors

Among the many stresses for pet owners living with HIV/AIDS is the necessity of giving up a pet during extended hospital stays, along with the expense and sheer physical effort of pet care. PAWS/L.A. is dedicated to easing those challenges and raising the clients' quality of life through the care of their pets.

The principle of PAWS is to make sure people and their animals are treated like individuals, not numbers. So the organization goes above and beyond providing vaccinations and pet food.

If you are an HIV-positive L.A. County resident with low-income status, PAWS can help with your dog, cat, or bird. Providing pet food is the main form of help. But the PAWS/L.A. warehouse also stocks leashes, pet carriers, flea care products and other necessities.

Keeping Pets Healthy

Veterinary care is another primary function. Treating a pet can get expensive, especially when emergency care takes you by surprise. PAWS/L.A. can help with routine and emergency care for your pet.

To help with the problem overpopulation among animals in Los Angeles, PAWS/L.A. will only provide for those with pets that are spayed or neutered. If that is yet to be done, they can help find these services for you. If you are homebound, volunteers can deliver pet food, come by to clean litter boxes or walk dogs, and provide transportation for the pet to veterinarians or groomers.

Pet-Sitting Services

The third form of aid from PAWS/L.A. is foster care. If you have to be away for an extended time, PAWS/L.A. has volunteers who can take care of your pet in their home. Because the goal of PAWS/L.A. is to increase quality of life for their clients, they will do their best to find a foster home or handle volunteer visits for any reason which moves toward this goal: hospital visits, drug rehabilitation, job training, etc.

PAWS can also help when you and your animal companion are moving to a new home. Every pet owner knows the difficulty of finding an apartment that allows pets. PAWS can help you find an apartment as well as help with pet security deposits for those who have qualified for Section 8 housing.

PAWS continues to move forward with plans for a vaccination clinic as well as quickly moving toward a Pet Pal Program, which will match PAWS/L.A. volunteers with clients and their pets.

Pets provide companionship and unconditional love. And PAWS/L.A. is here to make sure the gifts of a pet stay where they belong: home.

PAWS/L.A. is in need of volunteers. If you want to volunteer or donate, call (323) 876-PAWS (7297) or contact them by e-mail at

PAWS/L.A., 7315 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood 90046-6615.

This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).

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This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.