By Christine Bryant
A pet can make even the darkest days brighter.
Just ask Brian, who affectionately calls his three cats, Silver, Amber and Little Stinker.
“My pets cheer me up, give my life more purpose, and give me something to live for,” he says.
Like many, however, the Columbus resident is on a strict budget that can be maxed out each month with the addition of pet food and veterinary expenses.
LifeCare Alliance is working to ensure clients like Brian don’t have to worry about losing their pets due to a lack of funds or access to resources, especially considering the number of benefits owning a pet provides.
“Our clients are generally isolated and the pets are their families,” said Chuck Gehring, CEO of LifeCare Alliance, which provides services like Meals-on-Wheels. “The pet becomes the counselor, social worker and security system, and when you’re home all day, especially now with COVID, the pet is your social network.”
However, purchasing a cost-efficient 50-pound bag of pet food is nearly impossible for most clients, and veterinary bills to maintain a pet’s health can be too costly.
“With many seniors and medically-challenged people, when they are living on Social Security and can’t get out as much, they give up their pets because of the fact that they can’t take care of them,” Gehring said.
Those who don’t want to give up their pets may resort to sharing their food from their Meals on Wheels deliveries.
“When we give food to the people, we need them to eat all of their food,” he says. “That might be the only big meal they get that day.”
In response to this common issue among its clients, LifeCare Alliance created the Senior PetCare program, which provides eligible clients with assistance in taking care of their pets so that clients can remain in their own home. The program is available to clients who live in counties serviced by the Meals-on-Wheels program: Franklin, Madison, Champaign, Logan and Marion.
Volunteers deliver pet food to clients’ homes, as well as assist with transportation for veterinary care.
“This has allowed clients to retain their pets and best friends, and they say it makes all the difference in the world and in their mental state,” Gehring said. “We’ve had clients tell us that their friends are dying because of aging, and this time of year because it’s gray outside, they go into depression.”
In fact, Gehring says 70 percent of the organization’s clients say they see no other adult on a weekly basis other than the volunteers delivering meals to them.
Michelle Jones, communications director for LifeCare Alliance, says the PetCare program provided pet food to more than 800 clients and their 1,100 pets in 2019.
The program relies entirely on donations of funds, pet products and volunteer time. In 2019, volunteers contributed more than 2,100 hours to sort, package and deliver pet food, and several retail vendors and manufacturing facilities throughout central Ohio donate pet food, litter and supplies.
Gehring says Walmart’s distribution center in Grove City has been one of the largest donors, offering broken bags of dog food that workers have taped up but cannot sell to consumers.
While dog food donations are among the most common, the organization often uses donated funds to purchase cat food and pay for veterinary care.
“We also need other things like toys, beds, scratching posts, anything like that,” Gehring said.
There are several volunteer opportunities available for those who want to help. On-site opportunities at the organization’s storage facility, located at 670 Harmon Ave., Columbus, include repackaging the food or performing the delivery routes. Donations can be dropped off at the Harmon Avenue facility as well.
“When donors are buying their own pet food, they can buy a little extra and give it to us,” Gehring said.
Monetary donations can be made online at lifecarealliance.org or sent via check to LifeCare Alliance, Attn: Development, 1699 W. Mound St., Columbus, Ohio 43223. In both cases, individuals can specify that they want their donations to go to the PetCare program.
Gehring says donors can also designate funds to help a specific recipient if they have a neighbor, for example, who utilizes the program. Donations also can be earmarked for a specific county.
For Brian, the PetCare program provides reassurance that his pets’ needs will be met each month so they can stay together as a family.
“The gifts of pet food help me to pay for my other living expenses and groceries,” he said. “This program is very helpful for those who have difficulty getting around. I appreciate the program and I like that my pets are happy, too.”
Editor’s note: Brian’s last name is withheld due to HIPPA policies at LifeCare Alliance.