CHICAGO — Anyone in the pet rescue or animal welfare communities has sad stories to tell. Adelle Taylor is no different.
She is the founder of Seniors' Pet Assistance Network, an all-volunteer noprofit that helps low-income seniors in the Dallas area hang onto their pets.
"We find they have often outlived all their family or all their friends, or they're estranged from their families," Taylor says. "(Their pets) are their family."
SPAN's goal is to keep the human-pet bond intact by working with veterinarians or donating food. In 2009, it added a pet food pantry.
"We're not a rescue, we don't find homes for pets, we don't offer spay and neuter," Taylor says. "We help with basic veterinary care. Shots, flea and heartworm meds, and clients can apply for the food delivery route."
That tightly focused mission is the rule rather than the exception. Small groups such as SPAN (seniorspets.org) carry much of the load around the country.
"There's not a lot of (national) stuff," points out Dianne McGill, executive director and CEO of Banfield Charitable Trust, a Portland, Ore., nonprofit that helps keep vulnerable populations united with their pets. "There are localized, smaller efforts, but on a national basis I know a couple or three. The (small) ones on the ground around the country, they're very engaged. We as an organization fund grants for other pet charities that focus on programs that keep seniors and pets together."
Two Banfield initiatives are national in scope: Pet Peace of Mind and Meals on Wheels Pet Food Distribution programs. Pet Peace of Mind enables hospice patients to keep pets home in their last days.
"We are hearing amazing stories of having the value of having people with their pets at the end of life," McGill says. "So many hospice patients hang on until they are absolutely certain there's a place for their pet to go to."
The Meals on Wheels program deals with the primary cost of pet ownership: food. McGill says that what usually happens is that rather than surrendering the pets, seniors will go without the things they need so they can keep their pets.
"The tragedy is no one gets what they need," she says. "Seniors go without food or other necessities to pay for the care of their pets. It's not so much surrendering the pets that's a problem, it's seniors going without that's the larger problem."
Banfield partners with the Meals on Wheels Association of America to provide food and/or funding so seniors don't have to share their meals with their pets.
McGill says Banfield (banfieldcharitabletrust.org) is always looking for shelters to help and can be a source of information for those in need.
"Our mission is to fund programs that keep people and their pets together," she says. "If we don't have a program, we will work to facilitate solutions for families. We can't always find the right program, but we will always give it a try."
KEEPING PETS AT HOME
Seniors and their pets can be kept together. Sometimes it takes a little digging, though.
* Check with your local senior center. It may have a pet food distribution program or it may recommend veterinarians that it works with to hold down pet care costs.
* Contact local shelters. Many offer low-cost pet care programs (routine shots, heartworm medicine, etc.) or can connect you with organizations that can help.
* Will your vet negotiate? It's worth asking, says Adelle Taylor of Seniors' Pet Assistance Network. "I have one vet here (who gives) AARP members a 10 percent discount. And I'd be real direct with my clinic: 'I want to take care of my dog but I can't do every test. What can I do to take care of Buster's basic needs?' "
* Studies consistently have shown the health benefits of pet ownership. Purina's Pets for Seniors program works with more than 150 animal welfare organizations nationwide to offer free pet adoption to qualified seniors over 60. More details at petsforpeople.com.
* The California charity 2nd Chance 4 Pets (2ndchance4pets.org) instructs people how to provide for their pet's care after they are gone.