Are you a cat person or a dog person? Do you support seniors or do you support pets? I am a dog person to the core but that hasn’t stopped me from also becoming the porch cat lady of my cul-de-sac. Likewise, supporting seniors and pets does not have to be mutually exclusive—something organizations like 400 Paws and A HOPE remind us of.
Many homebound seniors rely on their pets to keep them company and fill their homes with love in order to combat isolation. This may become a dilemma for food-insecure seniors. Meals on Wheels America reported that many seniors were sharing their meals with their pets - an unhealthy diet for the clients and their companions. Council on Aging identified Meals on Wheels clients locally that were sacrificing other necessary areas of their budgets to feed their best friends. Within a month of each other, pet organizations 400 Paws in Escambia County and A HOPE in Santa Rosa County independently reached out to COA to help our seniors feed their pets.
400 Paws is a nonprofit organization in Escambia County with a pet food pantry that grants funds to local pet groups. The Mathis family at 400 Paws noticed that there weren’t many seniors coming to their monthly community pantry days and reached out to COA staff to learn how they could help homebound seniors. With staff looking for ways to serve our client’s pets, this was a perfectly timed match! 400 Paws provides food assistance to 18 pets and makes sure that 16 seniors can eat up knowing there are no empty bellies under the table.
In Santa Rosa County, A HOPE brings in some friends to fill our furry friends’ bowls. In a similar fashion to 400 Paws, A HOPE looked around their community pantry days and saw a younger crowd. With a few bags of food leftover one month, they called Council on Aging to see how they could get it to a few seniors. Within a few weeks, A HOPE had put together a dozen packages of food, toys, treats, and even a few doggy dresses for our precious friends—bags personally addressed to each pet and decorated by little hands.
This delivery sparked a wait list of volunteers to sponsor the pets each month. Council on Aging spoke with A HOPE staff about passionate surge of supporters.
“These donors all feel the same way we do about these seniors and their pets”, Paige Cary said. “That is their family; they shouldn’t have to make a decision between them eating or feeding their pets.”
A full year’s calendar quickly filled up with various groups taking each month and having their clients, employees, etc. pick a pet to sponsor and spoil through the Bowl Fillers program. Groups ranged from civic groups, churches, the YMCA, and even a yoga studio! Laura Posey, outreach coordinator at A HOPE, recently took charge of the Bowl Filler program at A HOPE. “I enjoy the collaborating and the community working together to help know that we are serving our seniors and our animals,’’ Posey said. “I drop the food off knowing it’s going into homes where people really need it.”
Her first month was a challenge, as the group signed up to sponsor that month had unexpected circumstances and had to pull out last minute. Within 30 minutes of this news, volunteers were there with pet food! “It touches your heart when you see volunteers to jump in so quickly to meet a need that comes up so abruptly like that,” Posey said. “When there is a need so close to people’s hearts they just jump in and form a community through their donation.”
There are many great needs in our community. It can be overwhelming to decide who and where you want to help. Friends like 400 Paws and A HOPE show us that you don’t have to decide—you can connect your two favorite causes and may just find a paw-fect solution for both. You can be a cat AND dog person while you change the lives of seniors AND their pets!
Interested in receiving pet food assistance from a pantry in your county?
400 Paws, 1111 Creighton Road (Escambia residents): Third and fourth Saturday each month from 1-3 pm at A HOPE, 5755 Washington Street in Milton: Second Sunday each month 1-3 pm at the Paw Pad
Council on Aging of West Florida is compliant with the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance Standards for Charity Accountability. Learn more at www.bbb.org.