BY MELISSA REINERT
Gia’s journey has been complicated. The 16-year-old kitty at heart, however, is worthy of a happy ending. The shy, but spunky tuxedo just may find happiness for the rest of her life through Ohio Alleycat Resource & Spay/Neuter Clinic’s Pet Adoptions for Loving Seniors (PALS) program.
The PALS program was created 10 years ago to match older adults with older cats, said Ohio Alleycat Resource Grants Manager Mary Casey-Sturk. Through the program, human seniors, age 65 and older, have the opportunity to adopt senior cats, age 7 and older, for a reduced adoption fee of $25.
A Purrfect Match
“Older cats are calmer, gentler, and often make great lap cats,” Casey-Sturk said. “An older cat makes for a great companion and studies show that this companionship has positive physical and mental health benefits for older adults.”
According to Casey-Sturk, it is also beneficial to know that your pet is aging with you, so you don’t need to worry about your pet outliving you by several years and worrying what will happen to them. However, she does urge any pet owner, of any age, to plan for your pet’s well-being just in case something happens to them.
“As someone who personally spends a lot of time with older adults, I have seen first-hand the joy and comfort that a beloved pet can give a person,” Casey-Sturk said. “Cats benefit greatly as well, having someone to love and care for them. When you see it happening, it’s moving.”
Casey-Sturk said the program is especially important because it gives senior cats, who are often overlooked a chance to have a loving home in their final years.
“Older cats can bond with you as if you’ve had them their entire lives,” she said. “As for health issues, there is an unknown with any pet, but cats can live 16-17-even 18 years. For senior adults, there are many benefits to having companionship 24/7, especially during times like the COVID-19 crisis when human interaction is limited. Studies have shown that even petting a cat can lower blood pressure, so there are health benefits too.”
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Cincinnati’s senior adoption program, Pets for People, furthers the mission of strengthening the human-animal bond, and ultimately saving as many lives as possible. “Pets do best in homes, no matter when or how they are despaired,” SPCA Public Information Officer Nyketa Gaffney said. “People deserve to experience what it is like to bond with a loving pet. It is the SPCA Cincinnati’s purpose to make the connection for our community.”
The Pets for People program was established in 2004 and is currently funded by the Josephine Schell Russell Charitable Trust, PNC Bank, Trustee. Though, it has been a longtime initiative. Through this program, adoption fees are waived for seniors 55 or older who do not yet own a companion animal.
“The mission behind the program is to enrich both the lives of the senior pet alongside the adopting senior person,” Gaffney said. “Research has shown how the quality of life improves for people, especially our elders, when they have someone to care for and keep them motivated.”
According to Gaffney, at the conclusion of 2019, SPCA Cincinnati saw 36 animals go through the program. As of June 2020, they have had 7 senior companions go through the program, finding forever homes.
“This program is important because it promotes animal welfare at a critical and special level in our region, leaving no animal behind,” Gaffney said. “Considering the unique times in which we are currently living, this kind of relationship reduces anxiety and brings joy to both the pet and the senior person.”
Helping Them Home
For Beverly Schwieterman, program director for Almost Home’s Senior-to-Senior program is satisfying work.
Almost Home, is an all-volunteer non-profit organization that was founded in 2003. Their mission is to provide homeless collies, shelties and mixes of both breeds a safe haven until they find their forever homes.
Almost Home’s senior adoption program is quite unique, in that adoption fees aren’t only waived but care is forever provided for the dogs at no cost to the “forever foster.”
“Our Senior- to-Senior Foster Program was created to match senior citizens with senior dogs through a permanent senior foster program,” Schwieterman said. “ Many of our older adults cannot afford the care of a dog. Almost Home takes care of all these needs.”
Provided care includes medical expenses, medicines, and food. In exchange, the senior caregiver provides a loving home.
“We believe each will benefit through this project. The companionship, love and care-giving will bring joy into both lives,” she said. “Pet ownership or fostering can open up a whole new world for older adults.”
The glue, holding all of this together are sponsors. Schwieterman said for those who want to help, but now is not the right time for them to adopt, should consider sponsoring one of the dogs in the senior program.
“Our elderly dogs have many of the same problems as elderly people. Managing these problems is not inexpensive,” she said. “We are dedicated to make their lives as good as can be for the rest of their lives; therefore, we pay for whatever medical care is needed. We also pay for grooming, routine vet visits, and orthopedic beds. Sponsorships can be for the Senior- to-Senior program as a whole or for a specific dog. Sponsors help us maintain the high level of care for these precious dogs.”
MELISSA REINERT is a former Cincinnati Enquirer reporter currently serving as communications coordinator for Lord’s Gym Ministries. She’s a pet mom with two two-legged sons and a husband.