Meals on Wheels delivers for pets

A woman sits in her recliner, looking out the window at the San Francisco streets. She watches the world go by. This, and the television, are her only link to the outside world. She remembers the days when she used to dance, take long walks, work for hours in the kitchen. But now she has to use a walker just to go to the bedroom.

Her cat jumps into her lap and rubs her hand with its head. What would she do without the loyal companionship of her cat? She leans down and gives the orange tabby a kiss on the nose.

Homebound senior citizens

There are thousands of homebound seniors in San Francisco, many of them with pets. Animals give seniors a new lease on life, someone to take care of. Studies show that seniors with pets are less likely to be depressed and are better able to tolerate living alone.

Meals on Wheels PetPals program

Ten years ago a San Francisco nonprofit, Meals on Wheels, which delivers two hot meals a day to homebound seniors, developed a new program called PetPals. Many of the clients they served were sharing the delivered food with their pets. It was obvious these seniors couldn't go shopping themselves and many of them couldn't afford to buy pet food.

According to Sima Dahi, Meals on Wheels Chief Executive Officer, the organization approached everyone they could think of for donations of pet food. As a pet owner who adores animals, Sima, her employees and volunteers wanted to make sure all of their clients were taken care of, and that included their furry and feathered roommates.

For years PetPals survived on sporadic donations of dog, cat and bird food but with a wave of luck in 2002, the program received all the kibble and seed it could handle. The PetCo Foundation now donates all food for Meals on Wheels PetPal clients, including holiday baskets for pets on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The program currently has 62 clients. Twelve volunteers deliver approximately 866 pounds of pet food and 960 pounds of cat litter every month.

Meals on Wheels volunteers

Volunteers for the program tend to become more than just a delivery person. As they become involved in the senior's life they start giving more of themselves, by washing dogs or taking a cat to the vet.

"It's really interesting to hear the stories of the people I'm delivering the food to," says Kody Hilton, a PetPal volunteer. "You can tell how much they love their animals and how important it is to have them in their lives. As people get older their contact with others starts to decrease and animals become a great source of enjoyment, companionship and support."

Sima says the organization is proud of what they do. They spend a lot of time looking at each client as an individual with unique needs, which includes the needs of a beloved pet. "We make sure these seniors can live in their own home as long as possible with dignity. And, they shouldn't have to give up a pet because they are homebound."

Consider a donation to help pets in need.