A survey of ill, homebound seniors in Tucson who receive home-delivered meals and need help to feed their pets has led to a $17,500 pilot program that is providing them with supplemental pet food.
The one-year grant is helping 76 homebound seniors feed their pets, said Tamara McKinney, executive director of Mobile Meals of Southern Arizona. The grant is from the Bonnie Kay Fund through the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona and Meals on Wheels America.
Sixty-nine dogs and 57 cats have been receiving supplemental food since July. Program organizers hope that number can increase as more volunteers join the program to pack and deliver the food, among other services, McKinney said.
Pima Alliance for Animal Welfare, or PAAW, Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest and Mobile Meals of Southern Arizona will officially announce the public launch Wednesday. A 5:30 p.m. reception and volunteer recruitment drive is set for that day at the headquarters of Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona, 4300 E. Broadway.
Mobile Meals of Southern Arizona and Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest serve home-delivered meals to a total of 650 homebound seniors and will reach out to more in need, said McKinney. There are an additional 1,000 seniors who receive home-delivered meals in the county that still need to be approached about their pet needs.
The program is also providing scholarships to elders who need help paying for vaccinations, spay and neuter services, and cat litter.
More than 400 seniors who depend on home-delivered meals in Pima County were surveyed by Human Animal Bond, a committee of PAWW, that works to help pets stay with their families, said Marcie Velen, the committee coordinator. The committee received support from the Elder Alliance, a network of organizations supporting quality of life for elders.
Among concerns identified by ill, homebound pet owners was the cost of pet food, veterinary costs and transportation, and pet care if they were to become ill.
Seniors often are on tight budgets, and sometimes share their meals with their pets when they can’t buy enough pet food for the month, organizers say. By delivering supplemental pet food, the agencies hope the seniors and their pets will be able to get the nutrition they each need to live longer and healthier lives together, Velen said.
Sandy Broussard is receiving dry pet food for Piper, her 10-year-old female Maltese/Yorkshire terrier mix. She mixes the supplemental food with the dog food she purchases, knowing it is important for pets to eat nutritious meals and not table food. She explained that she received a form from Mobile Meals of Southern Arizona asking if she was interested in receiving the pet food.
The pet food “definitely helps financially. It is not cheap to have a pet — it is like having a child,” said Broussard, 69, a former Air Force registered nurse who cared for the wounded from Vietnam in the 1970s. She was the head nurse on the orthopedic floor at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Today, she is 100 percent disabled with lupus, renal failure and chronic regional pain syndrome. Broussard began receiving home-delivered meals in 2005 at her east-side home.
Research shows that pets are physically and emotionally good for people, said Velen. She said PAAW works to support pet owners so they can maintain healthy and beneficial relationships with their pets.
Volunteers in the pilot program will also deliver kitty litter and toys. Dog-walking is an optional service, and if volunteers are comfortable with the task, they may help with cleaning up pet waste.
The purchase of bins and plastic bags needed to store and deliver the supplemental pet food to seniors are also paid for by the program, along with volunteer recruitment and background checks, said McKinney.
The bulk of pet food is being provided by Cody’s Friends, a local pet food bank that arranged for donated food. The program covers freight charges for shipping to Tucson.