Two Saline County Department of Senior Services programs, one that began in August 2020 and another that hopes to arrive soon, examine the importance of pets and animals in the lives of seniors in the community.
The first is the Meals on Wheels Healthcare and Food for Pets program, which began delivering food and providing services in April 2021 and is currently helping 60 pets from 43 pet owners.
Senior Services quickly realized something needed to be done when it discovered a particular problem with its Meals on Wheels (MOW) program, with some customers sharing delivered food with their pets.
Rosie Walters, the senior services manager, said volunteers delivering meals brought this to her attention.
“It made sense,” Walters said, of why MOW customers were sharing their food. “What are they going to do? They’re housebound, don’t (necessarily) have friends or family to help them (get pet food).”
Walters said that not only did this mean that their pets received food that did not necessarily meet the animal’s needs, but it also meant that customers who relied on this service did not eat all the food that was given to them. provided.
This pet program, one of only five in the country, has also benefited the community by getting more eligible people to join MOW.
“People went to Meals on Wheels just so they could (get) the pet program,” Walters said. “We probably added 19 (new customers).”
The program began with funding from sources such as the Greater Salina Community Foundation and expanded after Meals on Wheels America offered Saline County Senior Services a $20,000 grant to expand the program and create community partners.
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Partners in the community and beyond
The center works in partnership with a few different organizations and groups for this service. One of these two is the Atherton Veterinary Clinic in Abilene.
“They provide all pet food at their expense,” Walters said. “It’s good, quality food too… You have different people who need (for example) diabetic food or low fiber food for their pets.”
These different types of specialty foods are only available at veterinary offices. Walters therefore said that this partnership was crucial for the program.
Another partner is the Friends of Salina Animal Sanctuary. Walters said this organization helps support the program by providing pet owners in the program with limited health services.
“They will pick up the animal, take it to the shelter to have it trimmed or vaccinated, and bring it back to the owner when finished,” Walters said.
A new convivial and guest show at the Senior Center
Another way Senior Services is looking to help their clients is with a new companion Walters brought to the Senior Center, Agnes.
An Aussiedoodle, Agnes is just over four months old and is being trained to act as something of a therapy dog at the center.
“I did dog school with her and she passed it,” Walters said. “We’re getting ready to start first year tomorrow night.”
Walters said the purpose of having a dog on site at the center is that many seniors may feel disconnected, especially when they come to the senior center.
“(They may feel) like they’re forced to come here and they don’t know how to socialize and connect with other people,” she said. “A dog connects people.”
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Walters, who loves pets and is Agnes’ official owner, said she got the idea from a friend who works at a seniors’ residence who has her own therapy dog.
“I’ve seen the way people are going to flock to this dog,” Walters said. “It’s a way for her to bring people together, who are not focused on each other, but focused on the dog.”
Agnes is young and has a lot to learn, but Walters says she is already getting used to being at the senior center.
“I’ll take it wherever I go (here),” Walters said. “I’m not going to leave her downstairs yet, but (she’ll get there).”
One of the services at the center for the elderly is lunch from Monday to Friday each week and it is something that will require Agnès to practice before she gets there, especially because there is food available and that people like to give dogs attention and food.
“They would feed her too, no matter what I did or said to them,” Walters said. “She has to learn not to accept (food) from anyone there.”