by Carol Higgins Taylor
Eastern Area Agency on Aging
One of the things we hate to see here at Eastern Area Agency on Aging is bare shelves in the storage unit where we keep pet food for the Furry Friends Food Bank. But that is what we are seeing now. The demand for this supplemental pet food is very high and we are having trouble keeping up with it.
“Things are tough for this program, no doubt about it,” said Rob Crone, director of nutrition. “As quickly as the supplies come in, they go out again and that leaves people who don’t get the help they need. It’s heartbreaking to turn away a senior who is just trying to feed their pet.”
EAAA has been offering the Furry Friends Food Bank program for about seven years as part of the nutrition program. When it came to our attention from Meals on Wheels delivery drivers that some of the clients were sharing their home delivered meals with their animals because they could not afford pet food, we knew something had to be done to protect the senior and the pet, neither of which was getting adequate nutrition. The program’s goal is to ensure seniors have at least one well-balanced meal a day, not half a meal because the cat or dog got half.
Yet, we, as pet owners and lovers ourselves, understand the choices that need to be made for a hungry pet. The Furry Friends Food Bank has saved the day. There is no funding for this program. It subsists solely on donations of pet food and money and private grants. Yet the benefit to seniors is extraordinary. The joy that a companion animal brings to a senior cannot be measured in dollars and cents.
“We’re dedicated to preserving the special bond between seniors and their pets by providing food and basic animal care supplies, at very minimal cost, to those who need it,” said Crone. “We do have to charge $1 each time a person gets food or supplies from us to help keep the program running. Clearly it’s not enough to be sustainable but we’re trying and these people are already low-income.”
Crone never wants to hear of seniors having to give up their animals because they couldn’t afford to keep them.
“Animals provide comfort, companionship and unconditional love,” he said. “And they actually make a person feel needed and useful. Pets can give seniors a sense of purpose.”
Studies have found that that pet owners visit their doctors less often, use less medication, recover faster from surgery and illness, tend to deal better with stressful situations, and are less likely to feel lonely. The need for social contact and support is often not met for older individuals who may have lost friends and family members. Pets fill that void.
We are sending a plea out to the community to help us right now with pet food. Seeing an empty shelf is hard to take, not only for us but for the seniors and adults with disabilities who call needing assistance.
“It’s difficult for some people to ask for help,” said Crone. “Economic times are hard on everyone but for seniors living on a fixed income, the rising costs of necessities can be devastating. We want to take at least one worry off their minds and at least fill the cat or dog dish.” It’s important to note that this program is purely supplemental.
“We are never sure what type of food or how much will be available so people should not count on the deliveries as a sole source of pet food,” said Crone.
If you’d like to make a desperately needed donation to the Furry Friends Food Bank or would just like more information, call Eastern Area Agency on Aging or go to eaaa.org.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. For information, call 941-2865, 800-432-7812, or go to eaaa.org.