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Seniors, disabled get help feeding furry friends

By The Associated Press

This article was published December 25, 2013 at 9:32 a.m.

LOS ANGELES — If Meals on Wheels didn't deliver donated dog food, Sherry Scott of San Diego says her golden retriever Tootie would be eating the pasta, riblets and veggie wraps meant for her. But thanks to partnerships between the program for low-income seniors and pet groups across the country, fewer people and pets are going hungry.

After Meals on Wheels volunteers noticed a growing number of clients giving their food away to their furry friends, they started working with shelters and other pet groups to add free pet food to their meal deliveries. Those programs, relying on donations and volunteers, have continued to grow in popularity as seniors began eating better, staying healthier and worrying less about feeding their pets, one group said.

Meals on Wheels is just one organization serving people who are poor, disabled or elderly, but it has a vast reach. It has teamed up with independently run pet partners in several states, but how many isn't known, said Jenny Bertolette, spokeswoman for Meals on Wheels Association of America in Alexandria, Va.

Partner pet groups will solicit, pick up, pack and get the animal chow to Meals on Wheels or another agency that donates food, volunteers said. Agencies also take pet food to nursing homes, senior centers or community centers.

Those who qualify for Meals on Wheels or similar programs are almost always eligible for a free pet food program.

"Pets are so important to our seniors. They are social workers, depression counselors, a lifeline for a lot of them," said Charles Gehring, CEO of Columbus, Ohio-based LifeCare Alliance, a nonprofit providing meals and other services to low-income seniors.

It is common for low-income seniors or people with disabilities to feed their dogs or cats instead of themselves, Gehring said. The nonprofit started a pet food giveaway program five years ago that serves more than 1,000 animals a month.

LifeCare Alliance launched the program after taking a survey and learning many of the Columbus area's seniors had pets. Most were low income, didn't drive and were isolated. Gehring said 70 percent reported not seeing anyone besides their Meals on Wheels driver each week.

"The pets are so important to them. But people need to eat what we give them. Pets don't need salisbury steak," Gehring said.

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