Meals on Wheels grants aim to help seniors keep their pets

Senior Services North Fulton was awarded a $2,500 grant from Meals On Wheels America Loves Pets to take care of 74 pets for senior clients. They also rely on donations of food, supplies and services to keep older adults and their pets together. PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Berrios.
Senior Services North Fulton was awarded a $2,500 grant from Meals On Wheels America Loves Pets to take care of 74 pets for senior clients. They also rely on donations of food, supplies and services to keep older adults and their pets together. PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Berrios.

Older adults with pets are less likely to get depressed or sick, and they say it keeps them from being lonely.

These are reasons enough for the program that provides home-delivered meals to millions of impoverished seniors to make sure the family dog has a meal, too.

Dropping off a bag of dog food or cat litter keeps seniors and their pets together, and it’s another way to help older adults remain independent and healthy, says Doyle Delph, Meals on Wheels America manager for member services.

This year, Meals on Wheels America awarded $300,000 to 193 Meals on Wheels programs through its Meals on Wheels Loves Pets initiative. The money will be used to support existing pet programs or start new ones. Several programs in metro Atlanta and throughout the state will receive grants of up to $2,500.

The money can be used not only for pet food, but also supplies, veterinary care, temporary boarding and even gas for deliveries.

And while Meals on Wheels is bracing for possible federal budget cuts, its pets initiative will not be affected, Delph said.

The program was established several years ago by Banfield Pet Hospital, with Meals on Wheels America taking over the charitable trust a couple of years ago. There's enough funding to keep grants flowing for several years, and leaders are always searching for additional donors and financial partners, Delph said.

“This is a program that is growing, and we want to help grow it,” Delph said.

Taking care of a pet is expensive, and keeping up with the feeding, grooming and veterinary care can be a burden for an aging adult. When resources are limited, seniors might opt to feed the pet rather than themselves.

“Most wouldn’t be able to keep their pets without someone bringing them the needed supplies on a regular basis,” Delph said.

And while the grant money helps, it won’t be nearly enough to meet the need. Delph said most programs will supplement it with in-kind donations and fundraisers.

Senior Services North Fulton will use its $2,500 grant for the care of 74 pets, mostly dogs and cats, but also two turtles and a gecko. A good portion of it will be used to purchase cat litter.

The nonprofit receives dog food donations from the Atlanta Humane Society and VCA Roswell Animal Hospital. The veterinary hospital also offers discounted services and low-cost shots for seniors' pets. And the pet program gets regular unsolicited donations from people who just stop by to drop off treats or an extra bag of dog food they picked up at the grocery store.

“Without this, these seniors would have to give up their pets because of the cost, and just the sheer weight of the pet food,” said Michelle Williams, volunteer program manager for Senior Services North Fulton.

Williams oversees the pet program and has been tapped to serve on the National Advisory Council for Meals on Wheels Loves Pets where she will collaborate with other managers across the country for innovative ways to expand the program.

Jason Tucker, director of meal services for Meals on Wheels Atlanta, has also been appointed to the council. The metro Atlanta program has received the top grant award for the past several years for its pet food delivery service.

In Alpharetta, volunteers meet the first Friday of every month at the Senior Services North Fulton office to sort a month’s worth of pet food and deliver it to clients. Donations are always welcome, particularly cat litter, Milk Bone dog treats of all sizes, and for cats, even the finicky ones won’t turn up their nose at Fancy Feast Medleys canned food.

The North Fulton pet program is open to anyone 60 and older living in the district whose financial or physical needs prevent them from taking care of their pet. Call senior services at 770-993-1906 for an evaluation.

Meals on Wheels Loves Pets

Grants of up to $2,500 per year help support Meals on Wheels pet programs or start new ones. The money can be used for the following:

• Pet food and treats

• Pet supplies

• Cat litter

• Grooming

• Veterinary care, including spaying and neutering, medications and flea & tick prevention

• Temporary boarding expenses

• Pet food storage

• Gas for volunteers to deliver pet food

Source: Meals on Wheels America