By Steve Dale
Maria is a senior citizen in Florida. The government maintains that she lives alone. Maria begs to differ. She says she lives with her best friend, who just happens to be a Chihuahua.
One of Maria's many challenges is getting outside. Her dog is litter box trained. However, buying pet food isn't easy for Maria; she has to depend on others to do the shopping. Moreover, she has trouble paying for the food.
"There's no question that this dog has in so many ways changed Maria's life, so being able to provide proper pet food for Maria has made an enormous difference," says Enid Borden, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels.
In addition to providing meals for homebound seniors, Meals on Wheels also supplies pet food to clients during the holiday season in partnership with Banfield Charitable Trust. The program, called Season of Suppers, has delivered over 70,000 pounds of pet food in five years. In addition, Banfield has raised nearly half a million dollars for Meals on Wheels.
"Thousands of our clients have truly celebrated because of the Banfield program," says Borden. "They (Banfield) didn't just do this for instant PR value and walk away. Of course, I'm not surprised that they understand the value of the human/animal bond."
A surprising number of recipients share their Meals on Wheels food with their pets. "These people give up some of their own limited nutrition, and for many, that's really a problem," Borden says. Unfortunately, some dogs and cats who share their owner's meals don't get appropriate nutrition, or face obesity from eating too much table food. Obesity can lead to health problems for pets, which, tragically, most of their owners can't afford to treat. This can even lead to a beloved friend being euthanized.
"It's a vicious cycle, and our goal is to keep that from happening," says Diane McGill, executive director and CEO of Banfield Charitable Trust.
There's a belief among some that pets are a luxury item, therefore low-income people should not get pets. This notion infuriates Borden. "I've seen firsthand how having a companion who loves you unconditionally makes such an enormous difference," she comments, the emotion in her voice palpable. "It's also someone else to care for, so you're not always focused on yourself. I know people who I'm certain wouldn't be alive and happy today if it wasn't for their pet."
Of course, many scientific studies now support Borden's position.
McGill adds, "Whether you have lots of money or not has nothing to with the bond you share with your pet. In reality, however, financial resources do matter, and our goal is to help."
While Season of Suppers is focused on supplying pet food for Meals on Wheels recipients, the Banfield Charitable Trust also supports other programs that help people in need and their pets. "Without question, the number of families who can use help to pay for pet food is in the rise, and perhaps, where there's unemployment and several children to feed, as well," McGill says.
Pet lovers anywhere can also help needy pet owners. Banfield Charitable Trust accepts cash donations. You can also drop off pet food at any of the Banfield clinics across the country (most are conveniently attached to PETsMART stores). Another option is to simply click "like" on the Pedigree dog food or Royal Canin pet food Facebook pages. For each "like" clicked, the companies will donate a pound of pet food to Seasons of Suppers.
For those who seek help feeding their pets, contact your local Meals on Wheels location.
As the economy continues to stagnate, many shelters for people have created community pet food banks to feed hungry pets. To find out if a shelter in your area has a pet food bank, check this directory of shelters organized by state.
Many food banks for people also offer pet food. Also, some local animal shelters offer pet food pantries for owners who qualify.
©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services
Tags: animal shelters, Banfield Charitable Trust, can't afford to feed pets, Diane McGill, Enid Borden, families in need, feeding pets, Meals on Wheels, Pedigree Dog food, pet food pantry, Royal Canin pet food, Season of Suppers, senior citizens in need, Steve Dale archives