Pets matched with seniors provide friendship, vitality
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Monty, a more-than-cute Jack Russell terrier, didn't exactly save Joan Bourell's life, but he sure made it better. Since getting the dog last spring, the 77-year-old Colorado Springs, Colo., woman has lost 32 pounds and ...
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Monty, a more-than-cute Jack Russell terrier, didn't exactly save Joan Bourell's life, but he sure made it better. Since getting the dog last spring, the 77-year-old Colorado Springs, Colo., woman has lost 32 pounds and her diabetes has stabilized, thanks to the six daily walks she takes around her apartment complex with Monty.
And, she says, "I'm not lonely anymore."
The arrangement is made even sweeter by the fact that Bourell - a retired drapery seamstress who lives on Social Security - doesn't have to pay for most of Monty's upkeep. She got Monty compliments of the new Senior Citizens Pet Companionship Program, which is administered by the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, in Colorado.
The program not only gives free pets to qualifying low-income seniors 60 and older, it provides a subsidy of $400 per dog or $300 per cat each year of the pet's life. The money comes from a special donation fund and covers health care and food for the pets.
The subsidies aren't usually enough to cover the entire cost of pet ownership, but for many low-income seniors, it can make the difference between having a pet or not.
"I could not have afforded to get him and keep him if it wasn't for the program," Bourell says.
The program was started with funding from Buz and Sue Rieger. Buz Rieger, a retired banker and college economics teacher, says he knows how pets can keep a person going. His wife's sister was lonely after her pet died, and when they got her another, she perked up. And at 77, he still hikes with his Labrador retrievers, even though he's has had two hip replacements and back surgery.
The Riegers' donation will cover the care of 18 animals over three years, but the Humane Society hopes to get more donations to cover 60 animals for their lifetimes.
"With help, this program could even grow to provide 100 pets a month to seniors," Buz Rieger says. "That would be 1,200 animals a year. That's a lot of loving homes and happy seniors."
The seniors are shown mostly older, well-trained and sometimes more-sedentary dogs or cats that fit in better with their lifestyles. Once the seniors get their pet, they have to demonstrate that it's getting its vaccinations and twice-a-year health exams. If their pet dies, they can get another one under the program. If the owner dies, the subsidy is transferred to a family member. If the survivors don't want the pet, it's returned to the shelter.
"It's not only great for senior owners but also for older pets that deserve a good home," says program director Jeanette Pohl.
The benefits to the owner accrue physically, mentally and emotionally.
(For more information about the program, e-mail email@example.com .)