Happy Pets Make Happy Seniors

Dene Walt and her cat Annie are grateful for the donation of food from Meals on Wheels.

Dene Walt and her cat Annie are grateful for the donation of food from Meals on Wheels.

Story & Photography by Derek Beistad

Over the past three years, Mid-Cumberland Meals-on-Wheels (MCMW) has been donating pet food – along with their regular meals – to senior citizens who are homebound. Pets are often the best friends of their owners. These relationships can greatly affect the health of seniors. Mrs. Annie, a homebound senior receiving these donations explained, “if it comes to me or them [her three dogs] going hungry, it will be me.” She goes on to say that, “they are my life. They are my reason for living.”

Mrs. Annie is just one example of how many seniors feel; in fact, seniors with pets require 21% less doctor visits than seniors without pets. Keeping the pets healthy and well-fed is important in keeping their owners happy and healthy as well. This whole adventure began roughly three years ago when MCMW noticed that some of the seniors they were serving had been giving their food to their pets instead of eating it themselves.

This realization prompted the start of the pet food donations. Mars Petcare took on the challenge and has donated 75,000 pounds of pet food to MCMW; the food was then delivered to homebound seniors with pets in the greater Nashville area. In addition to the 75,000 pounds donated by Mars Petcare, several other sources have made donations. MCMW services 13 counties, 12 of which receive the pet food deliveries by the volunteers.

Once the donations have been made, volunteers take time out of their days to personally deliver the food to the seniors and pets in need. In addition to providing their pets with food, this allows seniors to make new friends and to socialize with the volunteers. Debbie Willis of MCMW is grateful to Mars Petcare for providing the much-needed pet food, and helping so many seniors.

The appreciation and true happiness can be felt on every visit. The seniors are immensely happy to see the volunteers arriving with the pet food. The pets are extremely friendly, and as all pets are, excited to receive more food. The homebound pet owners are truly thankful for what MCMW is doing. It makes them happy to see their best friends fed and healthy.

Meals on Wheels volunteers Spencer and Karen Graves

Meals on Wheels volunteers Spencer and Karen Graves

Sharon McDaniel, the Community Engagement Manager at MCMW, recalled what one senior told her about their program. The elderly woman told Sharon, “the only reason I got through chemotherapy was my little dog. She was such a great companion and would sit in my lap during the weeks of chemotherapy when I felt so terrible. She took care of me.” Sharon then went on to explain that, “loneliness is the number one reason seniors start to decline… by providing pet food, we are helping seniors more easily keep their beloved companion(s).”

A pet provides seniors with emotional and social interaction that helps improve their overall health and well-being. Sharon explains further, “when you feel healthy emotionally, you often feel better physically too.” The fewer doctor visits experienced by seniors with pets shows that pets truly do have a huge impact on seniors’ lives.

Debbie Willis and Karen and Spencer Graves help deliver food with MCMW. If you would like to donate pet food or volunteer, please contact Debbie Willis at (615) 895-1870. Donated pet food must be in unopened bags or containers. For more information on Mid-Cumberland Meals-on-Wheels please visit www.mc-mealsonwheels.com.