PALS Atlanta volunteer returns to support pets and people living with HIV

When Roy Mead started volunteering with Pets Are Loving Support 30 years ago, it was a war zone against HIV / AIDS.

“Everyone was dying,” he told Project Q Atlanta. “I was coming home from work on a Friday and the first thing I did was go to my answering machine and find out who had died that week. “

PALS was founded in 1990 to provide pet care so people living with HIV can keep their pets. The association also helps pets of terminally ill people and the elderly.

“One of the ways that pets have helped [people with HIV] was to give them comfort and emotional support, especially for the socially excluded, ”Mead said. “The animals helped them survive a little longer and survive with less depression. “

Mead and other volunteers delivered food and pet supplies and brought pets to appointments. But the ravages of the virus have often led volunteers to provide more support.

“HIV used to show itself in people’s eyes, so sometimes they couldn’t see anymore,” Mead said. “Many of our clients suffered from neuropathy and could not walk. Many had AIDS-related dementia because the late-stage virus caused people to have brain fog. “

So volunteers would walk the animals when customers weren’t able to, and sometimes even change customers’ sheets and do their dishes. Clients’ families often disowned them, so they just needed to talk to someone.

“They would call the PALS office,” Mead said. “I would answer the phone and talk to them for 30 minutes or an hour. “

In the woods

Mead could relate to PALS clients. He is gay and was diagnosed with HIV in 1984. His family has denied him.

“Back then, gays were helping gays because no one else would,” he said. “They’re talking about the song ‘We Are Family’. Well, we were the family of all these people who were dying of AIDS.

But all of the death surrounding Mead became too much to bear. He moved with his dogs to an A-frame cabin at the end of a dirt road in Northwest Georgia in 1999. There was no cell phone service or the Internet.

“I needed to move for my sanity,” he said. “I just escaped. I isolated myself up there. I just had to do it. The PTSD got so bad that when my mom passed away, I couldn’t attend her funeral. I couldn’t attend a single other funeral or memorial service.

In 2019, Mead returned to Atlanta and now lives in Morningside. And he returned to volunteering for PALS.

“It was like coming home,” he said.

The rise of antiretroviral drugs and treatment regimens like PrEP and PEP has changed the landscape of HIV treatment and prevention since the early days of the epidemic. But it’s still an epidemic.

Atlanta has the second highest rate of new HIV infections of any city, and Georgia has the highest rate of new HIV infections of any state in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

Work therefore continues at PALS.

PALS needs volunteers

Mead doesn’t do as much of the heavy lifting as he did at PALS.

“I’m 69 and have had HIV for 37 years, so I limit the things I say yes to,” he said.

He volunteers at the PALS monthly immunization clinic and drag queen bingo fundraiser.

Volunteers like Mead are “gems,” according to PALS Executive Director Buck Cooke.

“PALS couldn’t do what we do without the help of our talented and dedicated volunteers,” he said. “In Roy’s case, it’s flattering as an organization that someone comes back to town and wants to take over the volunteer work they did before they moved.

“We invite others to join our ranks of volunteers, so if you would like to help deliver pet food, walk dogs and cats through our monthly vaccination clinics, if you would like to serve on our board of directors. administration or one of our committees, please contact us. with me! ”Cooke added.

PALS’s next drag queen bingo night fundraiser will be held in Lips Atlanta on October 12th. The group also runs low-cost pet vaccination clinics at the Phillip Rush Center annex on the third Sunday of each month. Click here to donate to PALS.

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