Found to have AIDS in 1985, Bill Enos doesn't get out much since his health began to slow him down this year. It's been a year in which he lost his job as a dishwasher and now stretches a Social Security check to its limits.
He had to sell most of his belongings and move into a smaller place in Sun Valley. And then, his friends stopped calling, stopped dropping by.
"These are my friends now," says Enos, 28, petting a Himalayan kitten sleeping on his lap and Dusty, a cocker spaniel, at his side. "And Doug is a friend, a good friend. I look forward to his visits."
Doug Heaney, 30, is a volunteer with Pets Are Wonderful Support, or PAWS LA, a nonprofit group that assists people with AIDS in taking care of their pets. Heaney also is sick with AIDS but well enough to drive to Enos' home every two weeks to drop off pet food, take Dusty out for some exercise and play with the kitten and the kitten's parents, Poison and Mary Beth.
Since last August when Heaney started his regular visits, he's become well-acquainted with Enos and his furry friends. Heaney knows that Mary Beth likes to hide behind the television, that Poison loves to have his head rubbed and that Dusty's right ear is sensitive.
"Part of the reason I want to help is because I love animals," says Heaney, owner of two cats, Spike and Isabel. "And because when the doctor first told me that I had AIDS, I was also told that I had to get rid of the cats because of my health. But there was no way I could do that. That would have been terrible and stressful for me. My pets are important to me."
In all, PAWS assists more than 500 people with AIDS. The volunteers help care for 760 pets, including dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, snakes and one pig.
Besides dog-walking and home visits, PAWS volunteers take pets to veterinarians--several who provide free services--for checkups. The group also tries to find temporary and permanent homes for pets when their owners can no longer care for them.
Nadia Sutton co-founded PAWS five years ago after a friend hospitalized with AIDS returned home to find his cats had been given away.
"He was heartbroken," she says. "It's great to get the wonderful hospital care and medication, but what people need is quality of life and love. If you're sick with AIDS you can do all the doctors in the world, but if you don't have quality of life, why stick around? And the animal is the last remaining bastion of unconditional love."
Heaney, a former restaurant manager, agrees.
"PAWS helps persons with AIDS keep their dignity and power," he says. "Too many lose their homes, their jobs, their friends. PAWS has passion for persons with AIDS and their animals."
Without this help, says Enos, his pets would have to go to the animal shelter.
"Every morning that I get up I'm sick," he says. "Sometimes my head hurts so bad I have to massage it. Sometimes it's my bones, they are so sore that I can't move. I know my limits and I know that I can't go anywhere.
"Ever since people found out I was HIV they all vanished. Everyone except for my pets. If it wasn't for these little guys--my cats and Dusty--I wouldn't have a reason to get out of bed every day."
For information, to make donations or to volunteer, call (213) 876-7297.