Millions of Americans have pets and many consider pets members of their family. The unqualified love and loyal companionship that a pet provides can be especially important to retired and homebound senior citizens. Staying at home and the inability to visit friends and family can lead to loneliness and depression. A dog or cat provides round-the-clock company and owners often develop strong bonds with their animal friends.
A growing body of scientific research shows mental and physical health benefits to people with pets. Seniors who adopt pets obtain the benefits, but also incur the costs of caring for their pets. Recognizing the importance of pets in the lives of senior citizens, Banfield Charitable Trust, an Oregon non-profit, provides grants and services that help seniors care for and keep their pets.
John Simmons is the director of senior citizen programs for Pocahontas County.
“I was looking on the Internet one day for grants for senior citizens, in general,” he said. “I came across Banfield Charitable Trust and I took a second look at it and realized it was something for seniors for pet food. I went ahead with it and filled out all the paperwork and submitted the application. Lo and behold, we were granted a $1,600 grant.”
Simmons hopes to establish a relationship with the charity.
“After April 1st of this year, I can re-apply,” he said. “They have up to $2,500 grants available. I’d like to get this set up on a fairly regular basis.”
FasChek grocery store gave Senior Citizens a discount and the grant money bought a ton-and-a-half of good quality pet food. Seniors Citizens drivers started delivering to homebound seniors earlier this month, but all seniors are eligible to receive the free pet food.
“Any senior that has a need for this cat and dog food, that’s what it’s for,” Simmons said. “We’re happy to get it out there. I just want to serve the homebound seniors first.”
The director spoke to Banfield program manager Darlene Schwartz on the phone.
“When I talked to her, she said, ‘we’re just tickled to death that you people in West Virginia are interested in this. That’s what we’re for and we’re happy to get the help out to West Virginia,’” Simmons said.
Banfield also provides low-cost veterinary care for seniors’ pets at animal hospitals across the country.
“At their hospitals, they have reduced rates on spay and neutering,” he said. “They have reduced rates on animal medication and doctors. We could go to Roanoke today and go into that hospital today with reduced rates.”
Incredibly, more than 90 percent of homebound seniors in the Pocahontas County program own at least one dog or cat. Simmons said the statistic shows the importance of pets to local senior citizens.
“With a lot of seniors, that dog or cat is the only company they have,” he said. “They want to take as good of care of their animal as they do themselves. It’s really good companionship. My wife had a cat several years ago that she used to bring down to the continuous care center. She got permission and she brought that big old tomcat down there and those people – it just tickled them to death. That cat was real friendly and he’d just jump up on the bed or anything. It’s a proven fact that animals are good psychologically for older people – for the company.”
Andrew (“Junior”) Taylor, of Wesley Chapel, has three dogs: Jackie, Sweet Pea and Isabel. Jackie never leaves Taylor’s lap when he navigates his wheelchair around the house. Sweet Pea, a Chihuahua, rides comfortably on Taylor’s feet.
Taylor’s companion, Joanne, talked about his dogs.
“They’re good therapy for him,” she said. “We get a lot of enjoyment out of them. I’m sure they love us because you can scold them and they come right back. If anything happened to Junior, Jackie would just die. She would just grieve herself to death.”
Ruby Walker, of Hillsboro, has three York Terriers.
“My dogs are my life right now,” she said. “They sleep with me; they let me know when somebody’s around; they always alert me that somebody’s pulling in the driveway. I get Meals On Wheels – they let me know when they’re here. They let me know what’s going on.”
“I know they love me because they won’t let me out of their sight,” Walker added.
Simmons was happily surprised when a Banfield representative informed him they had another truck load of pet supplies available in the Roanoke area.
“They put out collection boxes in the stores over the holidays,” he said. “They sent me an email that said they have food and toys and everything that people put in those boxes for animals. They have about 400 pounds. I’ll get that in the next few days and we’ll see what we’ve got and we’ll get that out to our folks.”
Banfield operates a program to help hospice patients keep their pets with them during their end-of-life journey. The charity also provides pet advocacy grants to organizations across the country. In honor of their commitment to the country, Banfield has extended its veterinary care assistance to all enlisted military personnel.
The charity’s website at banfieldcharitabletrust.org contains information on available grants and services, as well as information on helping the charity. You can speak to a Banfield representative by calling 503-922-5801. The group can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.