As companions, confidants and even security devices, pets offer special comfort to the elderly. For people on fixed incomes, however, the basic care and even feeding of animals pose financial hardships. About 600 low-income Franklin County residents take part in a pet-care program of the Columbus nonprofit LifeCare Alliance - which administers Meals-on-Wheels and other services, too.
As companions, confidants and even security devices, pets offer special comfort to the elderly.
For people on fixed incomes, however, the basic care and even feeding of animals pose financial hardships.
At the same time, they can’t imagine life without a furry friend.
“I would die before I let her die,” said Warren Gold, who lives in subsidized housing Downtown with Jill, his 12-year-old Jack Russell terrier.
Yet the 63-year-old also knows he couldn’t support the dog on his own.
Along with about 600 other low-income Franklin County residents, Gold takes part in a pet-care program of the Columbus nonprofit LifeCare Alliance — which administers Meals-on-Wheels and other services, too.
The effort, funded primarily by donations from manufacturers (ripped bags or discontinued pet food, for example), also offers free veterinary care and helps provide items such as toys, treats and cat litter.
“We are able to serve anyone who needs it,” said Andrea Denning, vice president for advancement at LifeCare Alliance.
The initiative began six years ago after area volunteers for Meals-on-Wheels noticed that some senior citizens were giving part of their hot entrees to their pets.
That led to a small-scale adoption of AniMeals, mimicking the name and mission of a California initiative that began almost three decades ago.
“Dogs and cats do not need Salisbury steak and sweet-and-sour chicken,” said LifeCare Alliance CEO Chuck Gehring. “We need to do what we can to help their pet as well as get .?.?. (the client) a nutritious meal.”
Today, about 30 volunteers deliver pet food once a month to clients.
“It means the world,” said Kathy Chellis, 67, of German Village, who handles an AniMeals route.
Volunteers stop in briefly, exchanging pleasantries with the senior citizens and perhaps taking a dog for a quick walk.
Bolstered by grant money and in-kind donations, veterinary students from Ohio State University and an independent mobile unit can offer supervised checkups, vaccinations, grooming and even spaying and neutering.Access to such services helped Gold obtain lab tests and medicine for his epileptic dog.
“It’s a really great community-service project for us,” said Dr. Linda Lord, associate dean of student affairs at the OSU veterinary school.
“I’m a firm believer that, for many of these older adults, their animal is what keeps them going.”
The program could always use more volunteers, development coordinator Paul Fralic said, as well as donations.
The greatest needs: cat food and cash, he said.
On a recent morning, a dozen students from the Graham School, a charter school in the Clintonville neighborhood, scooped and sorted contents from a large pallet of pet food into clear gallon-sized bags for easy handling.
At the charity’s West Side warehouse, Chellis loaded her Toyota Camry with kibble and headed out on a typical route.
She delivered a sack of canned cat food to RobertTakacs, whose live-in partner, Mary Smith, has a shy orange cat named Prince.
The feline nestles by the homebound couple’s side as they watch television and complete word puzzles in their North Side apartment.
“He’s a lot of company,” said Takacs, a 64-year-old disabled since adolescence because of a stroke.
Smith, 60, remarked: “I never thought I’d see a day when a cat got Meals-on-Wheels.”
About 260 clients receive only pet food, Denning said. The rest also get occasional vet care for their pets.
LifeCare Alliance is looking to match capable seniors without pets to cats from the Capital Area Humane Society, where felines outnumber dogs by a 6-1 ratio.
“It’s a great fit that’s mutually beneficial,” said Rachel Finney, the shelter’s executive director.
In some circumstances, pets have unknowingly saved owners’ lives.
One client, Gehring recalled, hadn’t cleaned up after his dog. A pet-care volunteer noticed and alerted LifeCare Alliance — triggering a doctor visit revealing that the man had had several small strokes.
Another client, Victoria Lamb, had a stroke in 2010. While recovering in a rehab facility, she pined for Bo, a Siamese mix being cared for by a sibling. She was reunited with her pet when she returned to the apartment where she lives alone.Physically and mentally, she said, she feels better with Bo.
“He needs a lot,” said the 60-year-old, who receives pet food as well as exams and nail- clipping services for Bo.
“But he’s right there when you need him.”
LifeCare help wide-ranging
LifeCare Alliance is a nonprofit organization in central Ohio whose services range from cancer screenings to domestic-violence prevention, plus a food-and-toiletries pantry.
It is best-known for offering Meals-on-Wheels.
Two-thirds of the 15,000 people on the organization’s roster have annual incomes of less than $20,000. A 2007 LifeCare Alliance survey found that 70?percent of Meals-on-Wheels clients see no other adults each week beyond health-care or social workers — the same number of overall respondents who live with at least one animal.
The pet-care program operates exclusively on donations and grants, including those from the Columbus Foundation and the Banfield chain of animal hospitals inside PetSmart outlets.
Assistance must be acquired via LifeCare Alliance, not partner vendors.
For information about volunteering or donating to Senior Pet Care services, call 614-444-6325 or visit www.lifecarealliance.org.