Pets for the Elderly tries to fill the 'isolation gap' during the pandemic

Pets for the Elderly tries to fill the 'isolation gap' during the pandemic

Pat Smith's rescue dog, Brady, shows for her every day.

Before she gives him a meal, she says, "Circles," and dances around and around. Then the mixed-breed pupa sits quietly until she puts down her bowl and says, "Okay."

During the day, Brady zooms in and out of his doggie gate, always inspecting Smith or asking to play ball or go out for a jog. He cuddles in her lap at night while watching TV. When she says, "Time to go to bed," he immediately runs outside to do his business and then rushes to his crate to wait for a bedtime cookie.

“He’s a wonderful companion,” Smith, 71, told TODAY. “He’s very active, but he really is my best buddy. No matter where I go in my house, he follows me. He’s a real comfort to me.”

Smith, a native of Grand Ledge, Michigan, adopted Brady from the local Humane Society two years ago. Since she is over 60 years old, the shelter advised her that she eligible for a $100 discount on Pets for the Elderly, a nationwide non-profit providing grants to participating shelters.

The former middle school math teacher was happy with the news and said it was a helpful initiative. She credits her energetic dog with keeping her “ moving around a lot more, ”and hopes other seniors will consider adopting pets.

“I just think everybody should have a pet,” she said.

 Since its start in 1992, Pets for the Elderly has paid for almost 100,000 'seniors' aged 60 and up from more than 50 shelters in 34 states a percentage of the pet acceptance fee. The group is now alerting shelters to a new option to help cover the costs of routine veterinary care, surgery, pet food, grooming and in-home visits, in which shelter workers check in for senior citizens caring for adopted pets.

Susan Kurowski, 69, Executive Director of Pets for the Elderly, said she hoped that more shelters would apply for grants to help keep pets in the homes of the elderly who love them. The aim is to provide at least one participating shelter in all 50 states by the time the extended service is formally implemented on 1 January 2021.

She said Pets for the Elderly was founded by the late Avrum Katz to help the elderly feel healthier and more connected through pets, and to find shelter for dogs and cats forever in their homes. Studies have demonstrated a variety of health benefits from spending time with dogs, from decreased blood pressure to decreased anxiety and depression.

“Now, especially with COVID, bridging this whole isolation gap with companionship is going to show — when we look back — as being key to so many people’s mental wellness,” she told TODAY. “And you don’t have to live alone to feel isolated.”

Although these advantages extend to the general public, there is an additional advantage that pets bring to older people, Kurowski said.

“Seniors take better care of themselves because somebody’s counting on them,” she said. “They maintain a routine. They take their vitamins and their prescriptions on time because there’s someone relying on them, and that is so important.”

She likes to hear happy adoption storeys from Pets for the Elderly. In one instance, a lonely widower came to a shelter as a volunteer, but ended up adopting a fluffy little dog.

“When he walked into the common area after the adoption with this dog, everybody’s oohing and aahing and he just brightened up and said, ‘I’m going to be a chick magnet,’” she said with a laugh. “I just hope we can keep on and help more and more of these animals and seniors.”