I want to bring to your attention a program for low-income or disabled seniors: Meals on Wheels for Pets. Many people who are struggling to feed themselves also struggle to care for their pets, sometimes the only companionship they have.
We know that the human-animal bond can be very strong. During Hurricane Katrina, many people would not leave their homes because they couldn’t take their pets with them. They opted to face a very dangerous situation so as not to abandon their pets. Situations like these continue, so much so that when historic floods hit my part of Colorado last year, the National Guard made a point of evacuating people with their pets. They realized it was the only way that many people would leave.
But what would you do if you could not afford pet food? In the past, many people were left with only one option — taking their pets to the local animal shelter. However, these facilities are overrun and often must euthanize healthy animals. According to the Humane Society of the United States, three to four million dogs and cats are euthanized each year.
In recent years, workers from Meals on Wheels have begun to notice that their clients were giving some or all of their food to their pets. This can result in the person not getting the proper nutrition he or she needs and may be dangerous for the pets as well.
Owners are often unaware that some human foods can be toxic to pets. Grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, chocolate, avocados, and macadamia nuts are just some of the foods that can be deadly to animals. Fatty foods (like some cuts of meats and bacon grease) can cause problems ranging from mild digestive tract upset to very serious cases of pancreatitis. Bones are especially dangerous to dogs in that some types (like chicken or turkey bones) can splinter, potentially causing serious damage to the mouth, esophagus, or intestinal tract. Bones can also cause gastrointestinal obstructions. Digestive tract upset may occur when dogs eat a variety of different foods as they tend to do better on a consistent diet.
Over the past 15 years or so, several animal groups have partnered with the Meals On Wheels Association of America (MOWAA) to provide pet food in addition to feeding seniors. In 2006, MOWAA established a program called “We All Love Our Pets” (WALOP), a national initiative to help provide high quality meals for both seniors and their pets. People who qualify for Meals on Wheels will likely qualify to receive pet food as well.
Most of the pet food comes from donation bins in pet stores and markets. Organizations and individuals can also give money to Meals on Wheels. There is never enough food in these programs, and donations are always welcome. Other sources for pet food for low income owners include pet food banks and pantries, which are found in almost every major city in the United States.
Additionally, Pets of the Homeless is a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides pet food and veterinary care in communities across the United States and Canada. This group states that 5-10 percent of the 3.5 million homeless people in the U.S. have pets. Feeding their pets is one way to help the homeless.
As the cost of food skyrockets and the average median income remains the same, it gets more difficult to feed ourselves and our pets. These programs help keep owners and pets together during the difficult times when we need each other the most.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Image: Anna Hoychuk / Shutterstock