Helping People by Helping Animals: An Interview with Rachel Herman
Rachel Herman was kind enough to grant us an interview about her work with the human-animal bond and her organization, PAWS NY.
From the start, Rachel Herman was immersed in a world filled with animals. When she was growing up, her house was always home to a myriad of pets including hamsters, cats, dogs, and fish. Her love for pets eventually blossomed into a desire to pursue a career working with animals. “I love animals, I thought I might as well try and do something with it professionally,” Herman explains.
Herman attended graduate school at NYU to achieve her Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Non-Profit Management with the goal of moving on to work for an animal welfare organization. During her walks to class, Herman would often see a homeless couple and their pet dog outside a local grocery. After realizing that this couple was giving up a warm bed at a local homeless shelter due to wanting to keep their pet, Herman discovered that the human-animal bond was something that needed to be protected. It was during this time that Herman developed the idea of an organization that helped people that were unable to care for their pets.
Pets Are Wonderful Support New York (PAWS NY) is an organization that aids vulnerable residents in NYC by providing animal care to their pets. It is the organization’s mission to keep owners and pets together as long as possible by providing services the owner may not be able to do anymore due to illness, disability, or aging. PAWS NY was founded by Herman in 2009. In the early years, Herman worked at the ASPCA and ran PAWS NY when she could on nights and weekends. In January 2012, PAWS NY received its first grant from one of their sponsors, Amie’s Place Foundation. This allowed Herman to move to PAWS NY full time and begin expanding the organization’s programs.
PAWS NY provides numerous services to its clients. The core program of the organization is the Housecall Program, which provides in-home visits from trained PAWS NY volunteers to help ensure that animals are getting the care they need. PAWS NY is currently doing 171 weekly client visits that include services like dog-walking, litter box maintenance, administration of medication for the animal, animal transportation and other routine pet care needs. Clients in the program are often at risk of losing their pets due to physical or financial obstacles. PAWS NY clients are often homebound seniors, those living with disabilities, and individuals suffering from illness. “These are people whose pet is often like their sole companion and their reason for waking up each and every day, so we feel it is important to do everything we can to make sure they get to stay together with their pets for as long as possible,” says Herman.
Herman recognizes the importance of human-animal bond in her work with PAWS NY. Clients often come to PAWS NY frantic and afraid of losing their pets because their pets play such an important role in their lives. One client the organization has been working with suffers from dementia and often is very disconnected from others. However, the volunteers that come to aid his pets notice that the client becomes much more lucid while communicating in the presence of his animals. “I personally consider PAWS to a human welfare organization and not an animal welfare organization because what we are doing has such a positive impact on the lives of our human clients,” says Herman.
Helping care for pets has even allowed for stronger human to human relationships to be formed. When developing the organization, Herman had no idea of the relationships that would form between the clients and the PAWS NY volunteers. PAWS NY has created unpredicted benefits for its clients as many of them have established strong friendships with PAWS NY volunteers. The pets have found a way to bring people together while being cared for by the PAWS NY volunteer staff.
Other Programs and Future Plans
PAWS NY offers a multitude of other programs for those already qualified for their Housecall Program. With a $10,000 grant from Banfield Charitable Trust, PAWS NY has been able to start a Veterinary Care Program. By partnering with area vets, the organization provides basic wellness exams as well as emergency care for the animals.
Many clients worry about what will happen to their animals if they are no longer there to support them. PAWS NY has created the Emergency Foster Care Program to help clients feel more assured that their pets will be taken care of. PAWS NY provides in-home care in the absence of the client or even place the dog into foster care in emergency situations. “We’ve seen that clients won’t go to the hospital if they need to because they don’t have anyone to take care of their animals. Or they go to the hospital and they are so stressed out about what will happen to their animals that they are not going to get better. This program is a way for us to tell our clients, ‘Don’t worry, we will take care of your animals,’” says Herman.
PAWS NY also created a Pet Pantry after realizing the need for food and supply donations. Oftentimes, they see their clients buying pet supplies with money that is needed for medication, food, rent or other expenses. PAWS NY has even seen cases in which clients are feeding pets their own food. By conducting annual food drives, PAWS NY is able to distribute pet food and pet supplies to their clients to help reduce the financial burden they face.
PAWS NY plans to keep expanding their programs further. Strengthening their current services is their main goal for the immediate future. “We really want to expand it and grow it so that we can help more people and more pets stay together. Building a successful core is really our priority right now,” says Herman. In 2014, PAWS NY is hoping to help more than 110 people and their 180 pets through all of their programs.
Getting people to understand the power of the human-animal bond is also a goal at PAWS NY. The organization recognizes the need for visual education when it comes to seeing the benefits of the human-animal bond and believes videos of interactions between their clients and their pets would help people understand the need to nurture the bond.
Herman also expressed her excitement about new opportunities in the human-animal bond discipline, “It’s just such an incredible field to be in and really exciting too because I think we’re sort of just gaining momentum. The field itself is becoming more well-known and the research is starting to get out there, people are starting to understand that pets are not just our furry family members at home but there are actually these incredible benefits that we receive from having them in our lives.”