Forest Hills woman looks to ‘Paw it Forward’ with free dog walks for seniors and those with illnesses

Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS

Forest Hills’ Corinne Conover knows how important dogs can be to seniors and those suffering from illness.

Her life is dedicated to aiding those with autism as well as Asperger’s syndrome, but lately she has dedicated her time to an unexpected demand.

Walking dogs for the sick and elderly in her community is one she has decided to dedicate the time she does not spend with clients, saving the people who need help money they could be spending on healthcare.

But in the eight months since she began what is now known as “Paw It Forward,” members of the community have swarmed her rank looking to help out, but there is one problem: with over 50, she has more volunteers than dogs that need walking.

“The volunteers are willing and able and ready to go, but we have less dogs than we have volunteers,” Conover said. “The overwhelming response I got from the community boards with people who really wanted to step up and volunteer, I had no idea. I thought it was just going to be me and my little rescue dog helping a few people in the neighborhood.”

Quillnilla Shtatlender, 78, lives off Yellowstone Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard, and at her age finds it difficult to give her dog Rumi the attention he needs while her daughter Olga is away.

The cancer patients Conover works with vary in age with the youngest being a 27-year-old Hodgkins lymphoma patient and one of the older being a senior citizen who suffers from brain cancer.

But Conover keeps the names and conditions of the people she helps confidential since many do not wish to make their conditions known to their neighbors.

“The senior citizens love it for the companionship because they’ll invite us in and they’ll want to talk and hang out for a little bit before we take out their dog, so there’s a connection there with the person too and not just their dog,” Conover said.

Conover takes her own dog, 12-year-old yorkie-poodle Sonny, on every walk with her, each of which can last between one and two hours.

Conover with her own dog Sonny (l.) and Rumi who belongs to Guillnilla Shtatlender from Forest Hills.

To prevent there being a “revolving door” of strangers through her client’s homes, Conover prefers to assign one to two volunteers to each person she helps. This familiarity creates a healthy relationship between the two parties.

Conover has meetings planned with a lawyer to establish Paw It Forward as an official nonprofit organization, and in mid-May, date pending, she will have a fundraiser to finance a website.

She has lived in the community for about eight years, where she met her husband six years ago, since moving to Queens from Long Island.

Conover plans to keep driving the organization forward with more dogs and more volunteers, but warns those interested in getting involved that working her clients is a commitment.

The Forest Hills resident has also teamed up with Forest Park Barking Lot Vice President Esta-Joy Sydell at events to promote her program.

If you’re interested in the program, Conover can be reached at 516-554-1268 or by email at CorinneConover[@]aol.com with the subject line “Paw It Forward.”