By Sachin Mayi, Founder
I started Share-A-Pet as a mission to find those people who are suffering in the world and to serve them.
I found this not to be as easy a task as I had thought.
I had been in search of truth from a very young age. This led me to study religion and spirituality, the places most likely to have deeper answers about life. After my brother Michael almost died in my arms in 1987 from a bicycle accident that left him head injured at the tender age of 17, my life became even more of a mission to find God. My heart shut down from the pain and I went into seclusion. Over the years, I helped to take care of Michael and spent the rest of the time in deep prayer and contemplation. I spent a lot of time hidden in the silent depths of meditation, spending some years meditating more than eight hours a day. Before setting out on my mission to help the world, I spent some time in a spiritual ashram in South India, two years in total. For six months, I went into complete silence, eating only one small meal a day to feel a deeper connection with Michael. My brother hasn’t spoken since his accident and eats liquid food through a tube in his stomach. It was at the end of these two years that my path became clear, to serve those in need. Strangely it would take another five years of intense prayer and searching to figure out what exactly that meant for me.
During those five years I continued to care for my brother as one of his round the clock care-givers. Honestly caring for someone like Michael has been my greatest blessing. Not only is he the sweetest and purest person I have ever met, he also inspired my heart to open and flow, and that is what I was missing. In spite of this daily service to my brother, however, I felt there was more for me to do and kept searching.
We moved to Florida to give Michael access to more year round outdoor activity. And it was in Florida that I started going into nursing homes and seeing if there were people who didn’t have any visitors. There were, and I started to share some love with these lonely people. They appreciated the visits.
On the Christmas of 2001, I got an unexpected gift, a beautiful yellow Labrador puppy. He was already big for his age, and unusually calm. As I thought of naming him, the only idea that came to me was Tenzin, the birth name of the Dalai Lama, whom I met while traveling in North India. Tenzin was the name for my big yellow boy; this would help me see that everything is meant to be.
In 2003 we moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Tenzin had not been to a nursing home, as a matter of fact, we didn’t even know there was such a thing as Pet Therapy. But I looked at him one day and told him that he was not going to have a life of just eating and sleeping and that if he wanted to stay here he was going to have to get a job. So we called a facility to visit and asked if Tenzin could come along. The facility was the Broward Children’s Center in Pompano Beach, Florida. This facility serves severely handicapped children, many had trachs and most were strapped into
their small wheel chairs. When Tenzin arrived, he was a full grown 110 pound lab. He was the perfect height to address the kids, and when he licked their cheeks, they went wild. The therapists said that they had been trying to elicit these kinds of responses from the kids and had never had such wonderful results of getting them to interact with their environment.
Our next facility took us to a nursing home on Sample Road. It was here that we discovered two things: that there was such a thing as pet therapy as this facility had been on a waiting list for two years for pet visits; and we discovered that Tenzin accomplished a connection with the residents in less than a minute which otherwise had taken me more than two weeks of visits to accomplish by myself. The connection was instant. The pieces were coming together. At home we looked up pet therapy on the computer and found that there was no major pet therapy organization serving South Florida, surprising since Florida is a major retirement state. We researched other organizations and found that there were three national organizations. In Texas there was one called Therapet. I wished I thought of that name, but from Therapet I thought of the name Share-A-Pet. I loved it and was beyond thinking that anything was coincidence at this point. It just seemed like it was meant to be. Tenzin and I continued going to the Broward Children’s Center, adopted two other facilities on Sample Road that we continue to visit to this day and started adopting facilities as far north as Boca and as far south as Aventura. We had more grandparents than anyone could deserve and in spite of all the driving each week, we were in heaven. It wasn’t six months before we were ‘officially’ committed to serving those in need with pet therapy and were filing for our corporate 501c3 non-profit status. Our vision was big from the beginning. I was taught; if you are going to dream, dream big. This applied to helping others, I wanted to help in a big way. So the Share-A-Pet vision was on the books and we were full steam ahead. We developed our logo, a person embracing a dog and I invested $800 of my paltry savings to hiring someone to develop our first banner, postcards and newsletter. The banner, which we still use today, depicts a photo of a little west highland terrier named Shivani. I got Shivani as the second Share-A-Pet dog to reach those people who had strokes and couldn’t reach Tenzin from their hospital beds. Shivani became the poster dog and appears on all our postcards.
A year and half later, we got our first article in the Sun-Sentinel. It was during this interview that one of my patients, Beatrice Seimen, was quoted as saying, “Not all angels have wings… some have fur!” This became our tag line. When the word got out, many people contacted us to get involved. Our first orientation meetings contained as many as 27 people and their dogs wanting to share the love. It was wonderful and over-whelming. Tenzin and I worked day and night to get our new teams trained and set up in facilities. I had to give our new teams some of my facilities. Tenzin and I were up to about eight a week by that time. But new volunteers meant admin work and that meant less time for visits. I felt like I was losing some of my newly found grandparents and at the same time I was happy to share my treasure. My passion took me to start Share-A-Pet chapters anywhere I had a friend where I could stay for at least a week. This meant a chapter in New Hampshire where my buddy Mark lived and a chapter in San Francisco where my buddy Neil lived. Later our first recruits, Joan and Bernie Partyka, also opened a branch in New York.
As of August 2010, we are close to certifying our 1,000th volunteer team. When I think of hundreds of volunteers going out every week, sharing the love of their dogs, and reaching as many as forty people each who are otherwise lonely, bored and depressed, it makes my heart rise in waves of happiness and appreciation. I thank God for creating this wonderful and fun opportunity for really serving others. I believe that serving others is the only real way to experience true happiness in life.