NEW YORK — Some days Jim sleeps while a stranger opens his door, slips quietly in and takes out his guide dog Will, who barks protectively at his bedside.
But, Jim, a blind man with AIDS, isn't worried about these intruders. In fact, he is relieved that a team of volunteers makes sure Will gets his three daily walks whether Jim sleeps or is well enough to invite the volunteers to stay for tea.
"I just can't trust myself to wake up," Jim said. "And sometimes I just don't have the strength and then he suffers. Will's like my right arm and he's also like a child."
So, he relies on volunteers from POWARS (Pet Owners With AIDS Resource Service) to help him take care of Will, a serious, 10-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, and Chuck, a parrot--companions he considers his family.
"I'd be lost without these two, and without someone from POWARS it would be horrible," Jim said. "They'd be neglected."
POWARS' services seem unusual, but not in the age of AIDS.
Preventing isolation and offering particular personal services is a new face of charity as the century closes.
Around the country other groups offer AIDS sufferers free entertainment, sports tickets or art supplies all in the name of producing a community. Others offer lessons in cooking for one person, laundry services or volunteers for errands and moving.
They also offer dog-walking, litter-box changing, veterinary care, food delivery, foster care for pets of those hospitalized and, eventually, adoption for orphaned pets.
On a recent day in San Francisco a man showed up outside the office of PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support). Cat in hand, the man asked if the group could take care of his pet for a couple of months, until he was financially stable.
Forced by the financial problems that follow AIDS, the man was moving into low-income housing where pets were banned.
"He was just crying and you could tell he just absolutely adored the cat," said one PAWS worker.
"We help pets because pets help people," said Steven Kohn, founder of New York-based POWARS. "Typical comments from clients are 'My dog gives me a reason to live' or 'For a change there's something that needs me.' "
In 1987 San Francisco launched the first pet service program in the United States for AIDS sufferers.
PAWS combined veterinarians, doctors and food bank workers in a campaign to supply pet food and to educate doctors not to tell patients with AIDS they should give up their pets.
In 1988 Kohn, a lab technician, saw a TV news feature on the group and decided to volunteer.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Nadia Sutton, a Russian-born actress, was devastated by the plight of a friend with AIDS, whose cats were given away when he was hospitalized.
She started PAWS-LA--which now has 800 clients, 700 volunteers and 1,200 pets--because of her desire to prevent that kind of separation for people who have already likely lost their health, job, friends, home and financial security.
People from various walks of life heard of the first three and still largest groups, and now 17 organizations are running nationwide in cities including Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, St. Louis and San Diego. Most adopt the acronym PAWS.
Kohn says he has conducted seminars and sent information nationwide and has had queries from the Netherlands and Kenya.
Cats, then dogs, top the ranks, but birds, turtles, ferrets and even snakes can also receive care.
When an owner is hospitalized, cats stay home because "cats like people to be their slaves and come to them," said Sutton. Dogs, who are people-oriented, tend to be put in foster care.