A grieving woman was the inspiration for a new program that connects pets with senior citizens and disabled people.
The Neighbor to Neighbor Network (NTNN) in Bloomfield, N.J., is a nonprofit organization that helps homebound senior citizens and low-income individuals and families by providing services that are not offered by standard social services programs.
During one of NTNN’s bereavement counseling sessions, an elderly woman said she had recently lost her son. The client mentioned that her son loved cats and how her house was so lonely and empty without him.
NTNN Director Paula Peikes knew that her client, like many of the people she worked with, wanted to have a pet, but they couldn’t afford to care for one. She also knew there were many older cats at the shelter that needed love and nurturing in a home environment — so she contacted the Bloomfield Animal Shelter to see if they could help. And the Pets for Seniors Program was born.
The objective of Pets for Seniors is to provide the means for low-income seniors to care for animal companions. NTNN provides food and cat litter to all participants and covers the cost of any medical care the animals need. Shelter volunteers trim the cats’ nails once a month and pet-sit if the senior needs to be away from home for extended periods of time.
Peikes did find a match for her grieving client: an older cat who had been abused by her previous owner. The shelter was having trouble finding the cat a home because it needed a quiet and calm environment, said Bloomfield Animal Shelter Volunteer Coordinator Stephanie De Santi.
Peikes and the shelter worked together to put a network in place that would allow the client to adopt the cat. Both the cat and the elderly woman are doing well. The cat now has a stable, caring home and the elderly woman found a loving companion, De Santi said.
One way the program benefits seniors is that it renews their sense of purpose. Adopting a pet provides the senior or disabled individual with a companion, De Santi said. Frequently, as people get older, they have to rely on others for help. Having a pet is a nice way for someone who is always a care-receiver to be the caregiver.
Shelter volunteers select pets to present to seniors; they particularly look for older and calmer animals, which are the best fit for seniors. The shelter volunteers are very involved and know which animals are friendly and agreeable, De Santi said. This system also benefits the animals. It gives the older animals a chance to be adopted and for a one-on-one relationship with a caring individual, De Santi said.
Inspired by the success of its first match-making effort, the Pets for Seniors program hosted its first “Meet the Animals” event at the Felicity Towers senior housing complex. About 25 residents attended the event and three cats were adopted.
All in all, [the program is] a great way to give an animal a loving home, said De Santi.