NEW YORK - Every day, Oliver Twist, an 8-month-old Boston terrier, gets picked up from his Forest Hills, Queens, apartment for an hour-long walk. But the women who alternate walking him aren't typical dog walkers, they're volunteers.
"If you're a senior citizen, a cancer patient or physically disabled and you own a dog we take your dog out for free," Corrine Conover said.
Two years ago she started Paw It Forward with her dog Sunny in honor of her sister who died of cancer.
"Sunny and I did 50 miles a week on foot going to lots of restaurants, Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts, introducing ourselves and what we were about, and then it became word of mouth," she said.
Paw It Forward has since become a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with nearly 70 volunteers and clients across six neighborhoods: four in New York City and one in Stamford, Connecticut, and one in Stowe, Vermont.
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Linda Belickis, mom time Oliver Twist, first heard about Paw it Forward when she encountered one of their volunteer walkers last year. When she found out she'd have to have foot surgery that would leave her unable to walk for months, she reached out to Conover.
"When it came time I had to have the surgery I called her and I asked her if I would be a candidate for some help and she said yes, and it's been great," Belickis said. "It saved me a lot of anxiety about what I was going to do with Oliver."
And it's saved her a lot of money. Conover estimates she saves her clients as much as $600 a month, which can go to medical or other expenses.
Volunteers like Laura Meyerson see the benefits up close.
"There's a lot of health expenses and every bit counts and the fact that they're going through some kind of sickness, it's very traumatic and to have the animal there is very therapeutic," Meyerson said.
Conover now runs the organization full time, boarding dogs at her home as a source of income. Knowing she's helping others hold onto their pets during stressful times makes it all worthwhile.
"We don't want them to have to give up their dog or have to worry about their exercise, we'll take care of the exercise and just let you be their companion," she said.
Conover says she intends to continue growing the organization. She's heard from people in at least fifteen other communities interested in starting their own chapters.
For more information, visit Paw It Forward NY