By Loren Watson
News Staff Writer
Sudbury - Nancy McElwaine considers Shay Ney Ney, a Lab-Shepherd mix who recently joined her family, a hero.
Three years ago, when McElwaine first met Shay, the middle-aged dog was painfully thin. Her owners, poor to start with, had been financially devastated by the illness of one of its members.
The father of the family, whose name McElwaine did not release, was dying of AIDS. And though the family couldn't afford to keep Shay, he and the honey-colored shorthair were so devoted to each other, it seemed cruel to separate them.
That is where McElwaine and her Boston-based organizaiton, Phinney's Friends, stepped in. A
program administered through the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals,
Phinney's Friends helps people with AIDS keep their pets.
McElwaine hooked up with Shay's owner and started to help take care of the dog. She would come
by and play with Shay, bring her donated food and take her to the MSPCA for needed veterinary
Not long after she started working with the family, Shay's owner asked McElwaine whether she would
be willing to adopt the dog when he died. McElwaine, who felt a special bond with Shay, agreed.
Two years later, the owner died.
"Financially, emotionally, medically, this disease devastated people," McElwaine said. Often she
encounters people who have lost jobs, housing, support from relatives, almost everything. The only
bond they have left is with their pet, and sometimes, despite their own illness, they start sharing
their own food.
"They could give up other things in their life, but they were losing so much," McElwaine said. "But
the one constant will be the unconditional love they got from a pet who could see them in every
moment of their life and still bring them joy."
Shay's family had been feeding the dog from their table. They could not afford veterinary care for
her, much less toys or a bed, McElwaine said.
"Shay was, in my opinion, kind of a hero through this whole thing...she was devoted to her owner.
...When I first met her, she was painfully thin. The (family was) doing the very best they could by
Phinney's Friends, which will celebrate its fifth anniversary in May, was founded in memory of
William "Bill" Phinney, a 26-year MSPCA law-enforcement office and animal lover who died from
complications of AIDS in 1995.
Funded entirely through donations, volunteers provide pet care, including spending time with the
animals, dog-walking, feeding, light grooming and litter-box cleaning. They can also educate pet
owners on the safe ownership of pets when their immune systems have become compromised.
Based on need, Phinney's Friends can provide financial assistance for veterinary care, including
vaccinations, heartworm testing and prevention, flea control, grooming and other preventative care.
They also donate pet food based on need.
If clients have to go into the hospital, volunteers can also provide foster care for pets.
"We can make sure an animal has a safe and loving home for as little as five weeks or as long as
five months," she said. The point is to preserve that essential bond between an owner and their pet.
Phinney's Friends also provides long-term planning to help owners n finding a new home for pets in
the event they survive their owner.
They explore the options of placing the animals with relatives, friends or other people who might be
able to provide a loving environment, McElwaine said. The organization has found a loving home
for all of the animals who have needed one after an owner has died, she said.
Phinney's Friends has 60 volunteers and two staff people, including McElwaine, and a clientele of
160 owners and 325 pets. But she said the group is always looking for volunteers, especially people
able to provide a temporary home to a pet whose owner has had to go into the hospital.
Recently, the pet supply store, Especially for Pets has launched a fund-raiser to raise donations for
With locations in Sudbury, Wayland, Acton and Newton, the store is providing nail-clipping and
grinding services for free, hoping people will donate a few dollars to help the organization.
"We couldn't exist a day without our volunteers and without people like Especially for Pets," said
McElwaine, who recently visited the Sudbury store with Shay in tow.
Each of the stores is raising about $250 for the cause.
"We think it's better for the animal and better for the person" if they can stay together with help, said
Sudbury store manager Erny Isabelle. "You never want to see an animal lose its owner, or an owner
lose his pet."
Sunday, February 18, 2001