More than a hundred people turned out for the ninth annual "Bowling for Paws" event in Latham, to benefit the Albany Damien Center.

The event raises much needed funds for the Pets are Wonderful Support (PAWS) for assistance with vet bills, transportation, and more. 

"A lot of the times the pet is the reason people get up in the morning," said Albany Damien Center Executive Director Perry Junjulas.

The program helps more than 140 people living with HIV/AIDS care for their pets, because the pets also help care for them. 

"The PAWS program, which has been around since 2003, ensur[es] the pet owner is doing well by taking their medications, but also [by ensuring] the pets are being well cared for if the pet owner is sick and too ill," Junjulas said.

Junjulas says HIV/AIDS treatment is so advanced now if patients regularly take their medications, the disease can actually become undetectable, and the virus can become so low in the body it cannot be transmitted.

"Back when I was 29, they told me I had three months to live," Junjulas said. "Today we have medications which can help people. But not everybody accesses them. That's why the PAWS program is really an integral part of helping people with their HIV care."

Teams Spectrum News spoke to say there are many reasons to support this event, but one in particular said this is a cause near and dear to their hearts.

"A lot of us are animal lovers as it is. For AIDS and HIV patients suffering, they can continue with their pets, their vet checks and all that kind of stuff are taken care of, I think, hit us all at home," said St. Paul's Episcopal Church Senior Warden Lisa Walker.

The team from St. Paul's Episcopal Chuch in Albany has been attending the event for the past five years, and Walker said they also attend to make sure the HIV/AIDS community knows they support them. 

"We have a committee called the committee on inclusion, and we're part of the Albany diocese; which is very conservative and we are the opposite," Walker said. "We like to let people of all walks of life know they have a home to come to, and a church to come to."

The other important part of the program is the PAWS program ensures no pet end up in a shelter. Pets play a big role in making sure patients take care of themselves, because they have someone else to care for.

"As a person living with AIDS, my dog has always been my refuge and numerous studies show this. [The] dog has gotten me out of bed the days I wasn't feeling well," Junjulas said.

The Damien Center said in 2018 they cared for more than 130 patients' pets, more than 170 pets in all, distributed 16,782 lbs. of pet food and supplies, provided veterinarian care for 116 pets, supported over $7, 200 in vet care bills, and provided foster or in-home care for 18 pets for 412 days.