Notes About Pets and People Living With HIV
Cesar and Katie
By Jennifer Ludlow
Cesar Garcia has had Katie, a three-year-old Cocker Spaniel, for two years.
"Katie pushes me to stay active," says Cesar. "We sleep, eat, and play together. Having Katie means I don't come home to an empty apartment."
Cesar, who has been HIV-positive for 15 years, suffers from depression. He says Katie makes him laugh sometimes when it's too hard to manage that on his own. Cesar admits that sometimes he goes to the store just to buy Katie treats even when he doesn't need anything for himself. "She knows how to play me very well," he says. Cesar has not had any problems with his landlord over Katie. He just had to pay an extra $200 deposit. Cesar also gets help with food and vet care from PAWS/L.A.
Cesar and a friend originally got Katie from the Humane Society, but he said his friend was mean to Katie. According to Cesar, "I'd rather just have Katie than be with someone that didn't like her."
Leigh and Bessie
By Jennifer Ludlow
Bessie is a large German Shepherd with an even bigger heart.
Bessie and Leigh go everywhere together. Leigh rides in his electric wheelchair and Bessie walks along for exercise. Leigh takes her to his doctor appointments, restaurants, and the store. Leigh says Bessie is very affectionate and loves to kiss.
Leigh says he suffers from depression. The one thing that has kept him going is Bessie.
"She keeps me alive," he says. "She has gotten me through times when I really didn't want to live. But then I would just think about how I could never abandon Bessie because she counts on me as much as I count on her."
Leigh currently lives in a Hollywood apartment, paying $600 in rent when his income is only $700. Leigh would like to find low-income housing or Section 8. However, because he has Bessie he is unable to find an affordable apartment or get into a program because Bessie is not considered a service animal. Bessie is a service dog, Leigh insists. "The service she provides for me is love. That is something very important to my survival."
Richard and Mouse
By Jennifer Ludlow
Six years ago, when Richard Tenney's partner Craig brought home a stray Russian Blue cat that he had found at work, Richard was happy to have a cat in his life again after growing up with cats all his life.
"He just gives me a sense of comfort," says Richard about his cat "Mouse." According to Richard, Mouse isn't the kind of cat that just selfishly takes and never gives back. Mouse brings mice and birds to the back door "as a way of doing his part."
According to Richard cats have a lot of advantages over people. "Mouse is better behaved than most roommates. He often follows me from room to room to be where I am. He'll even huddle against my empty shoe and he is a good source of affection. In a busy life when I don't always have time to be around people, Mouse is there."
But the most important thing that Mouse does for Richard is remind him to take time to take care of himself. "It is easy to start your day with a big agenda and forget about your own well being," he says. "Mouse reminds me to stretch, stay limber and to take time for my own well being. A cat never neglects itself and neither should I!"
Lena, Tom, Little Bird, and a Fish [Yet-to-Be-Named]
By Fiona Kyck
Lena's family includes "Tom," a puppy, "Little Bird," a green parrot, and a yet-to-be-named fish.
She has had pets on and off for most of her life. Tom was bought on the street for $15 and Little Bird was given to her by a friend.
Lena described her relationship with her pets as one of caring and kindness. "I feel sorry for them," she says. "They are so helpless. It's important to help as they rely on you for everything. If they don't have food, they will die. I feed them every day and bathe and clean them."
As a person living alone with few obligations, Lena emphasized that it is important to have something to do. Because of her pets, she says, "I always have something to do. You gotta keep after them, looking after their needs." She bathes and cleans them every day.
"They rely on me for everything," she says. "It's a terrible thing to feel hungry. No one should feel hunger and I look after them the best I can."
Bart Provided Companionship During a Difficult Time
By Flint Ternes
In October 1994 my partner Abraham decided to leave his job. His health had rapidly deteriorated in three months and now he faced life without a regular paycheck and a place to go each morning. I know we call it "work," but Abraham really enjoyed the security and stability of his career. I remember him asking me, "What will I do all day? Who will keep me company?"
After a bout of PCP in December, Abraham regained some strength and was feeling good enough to "run the streets," as he used to call it. He spent time enjoying his new freedom of retirement. A lot of that time was spent with Bart, my dog.
Abraham and Bart became best buds. They went to the dog park, they hiked in Griffith Park, they napped in the chair and went on burrito runs to Huntington Park. Abraham had found a companion to be with while I was at work and Bart found new adventures that I was not able to give him.
The following October, Abraham became bedridden, for the most part. Bart spent all of that time beside the bed, holding what I called his "vigil." Although I can't say for sure that he knew what was going on, he was giving back to Abraham and thanking him for the previous months.
When Abraham became too weak to get around by himself, he would send Bart to get me. Whenever Bart came to me with that look that I really can't describe, I knew it was time to check on Abraham.
When I took Abraham to the hospital in November, I knew that he would not be coming home again. Bart whined and cried as I was getting Abraham ready for the car. Bart seemed to understand as well.
It took Bart months to adjust to the loss of his friend. He still spent hours beside the bed. I'm not sure if he really understood why Abraham was gone or where he was, but it sure would have been nice to explain that in a letter. I think Abraham would have liked to thank Bart for his companionship. No medical miracles happened because of the friendship, but the miracle of unconditional love did.
Bart and I have been together almost 11 years, and we have Francisco in our lives now. I am reminded of how important Bart is to us every time I see them wrestle on the floor or share a burrito. Bart may not ever really understand everything I say, but he does understand love, and how to give it.
This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).
This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.