PALS Atlanta volunteer returns to support pets, people with HIV

Add this share
When Roy Mead first started volunteering for Pets Are Loving Support 30 years ago, it was an HIV/AIDS war zone.

“Everybody was dying,” he told Project Q Atlanta. “I would come home from work on a Friday, and the first thing I’d do is go to my answering machine and find out who had died that week.”

PALS was founded in 1990 to provide pet care so that people with HIV could keep their pets. The organization also helps the pets of people with terminal illnesses and the elderly.

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

Mead and other volunteers would deliver pet food and supplies and bring pets to appointments. But the ravages of the virus often led volunteers to provide more support.

“HIV used to manifest itself in people’s eyes, so they sometimes couldn’t see anymore,” Mead said. “A lot of our clients had neuropathy and couldn’t walk. A lot had AIDS dementia because the virus in advanced stages caused people to have brain fog.”

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

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

Into the woods

Mead could relate to PALS clients. He’s gay and was diagnosed with HIV in 1984. His family disowned him.

“Back then, gay people helped gay people because nobody else would,” he said. “They talk about the song ‘We Are Family.’ Well, we were the family of all of these people that were dying of AIDS.”

But all 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 cellphone service and no internet.

“I needed to move for my sanity,” he said. “I just escaped. I isolated up there. I just had to. The PTSD got so bad that when my mother died, I couldn’t go to her funeral. I couldn’t go to another single 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 going home,” he said.

The rise of antiretroviral medications and regimens like PrEP and PEP 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 U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

So the work continues at PALS.

PALS needs volunteers

Mead doesn’t do as much of the strenuous tasks that he used to do 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 PALS’ monthly vaccination clinic and drag queen bingo fundraiser.

Volunteers like Mead are “gems,” according to PALS executive director Buck Cooke.

“PALS could not do what we do without the help of our talented and dedicated volunteers,” he said. “In Roy’s case, it is flattering as an organization that someone moves back to town and wants to resume volunteer work that they did before they moved away.”

“We welcome others to join our volunteer ranks, so if you’d like to help deliver pet food, walk dogs and cats at our monthly vaccine clinics, want to serve on our board of directors or one of our committees, please get in touch with me!” Cooke added.

PALS’s next drag queen bingo night fundraiser is at Lips Atlanta on Oct. 12. The group also hosts low-cost pet vaccine clinics at the Phillip Rush Center Annex on the third Sunday of every month. Click here to make a donation to PALS.

THE LATEST

LGBTQ inmates still in peril as DOJ revives Georgia prisons investigation

The U.S. Department of Justice last month renewed an investigation into whether Georgia prisons protect LGBTQ inmates from sexual abuse by staff and other...

The best LGBTQ things to do in Atlanta this weekend

Your post-Pride rest is over. Atlanta’s queer-allied event planners and showrunners are ready again to show you a good time. Keep scrolling and click on...

X Block Party fills 10th and Piedmont with Pride

Steps from Atlanta’s rainbow crosswalk on Sunday came another local icon– the annual Pride Block Party hosted by X Midtown. This was the event usually...

Autumnal release: 10 big LGBTQ events between Pride and Toy Party

When it comes to events, LGBTQ Atlanta never sleeps. Pride in the rearview mirror doesn't mean a shortage of gay things to do. In addition...

Emory gives lifetime achievement award to Atlanta HIV ‘hero’

The Emory Center for AIDS Research honored Atlanta HIV groundbreaker Melanie Thompson as its first-ever lifetime achievement award recipient. CFAR also established an annual lectureship...
17,446FansLike
7,001FollowersFollow
7,682FollowersFollow

PHOTO GALLERIES