SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – The conversation started between two friends while waiting in a movie ticket line more than a year ago. Deborah Bayles, an advocate for seniors as a geriatric care manager, and Jill Buckley, an advocate for companion animals as an attorney with the ASPCA, got to talking. Wouldn’t it be great, they wondered, if financially strapped homebound seniors could keep their beloved pets healthy and at home?
“For hundreds of seniors in San Luis Obispo County, a beloved dog or cat is their only daily companion,” Bayles says. “We see the unconditional love and comfort these pets provide as cherished family members—often the only family some seniors have left.”
Bayles is founder and CEO of Age Alliance, a private geriatric care management practice in San Luis Obispo. “Overwhelming research has shown that pets are a real health benefit for seniors,” she says. “Elder pet owners have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, have a better sense of security, are more active, experience less depression, and even live longer.”
But many seniors are forced to choose between feeding their pets and feeding themselves.
“They are simply unable to afford pet food,” Buckley says. “Some seniors resort to sharing their meals with their pets. This means both seniors and their pets become malnourished.”
Some seniors must even make the heart-wrenching decision to surrender their animal companions to County Animal Services where they may be euthanized, according to Buckley, who currently serves as Senior Director of Community Initiatives for the ASPCA. “We want to make sure homebound seniors don’t have to sacrifice their own nutrition or the lives of their pets.”
To develop the idea of a free or low-cost senior pet food delivery program, Bayles and Buckley turned to an existing non-profit organization that serves elder clients and already has the infrastructure required to deliver pet food: the Senior Nutrition Program of SLO (SNP). They approached SNP executive director Elias Nimeh with a proposal and he quickly saw the sense of the idea. “It’s incredibly cost-efficient,” Nimeh says. “We already have the trucks and the volunteers. We already have a well-oiled meal delivery system in place.”
Nimeh also discovered a combination of 95 dogs and 65 cats living with elderly clients who already participate in the SNP home-delivery program. “We saw that it would take just a few extra dollars a month to buy and deliver discounted pet food monthly to these pet owners,” he says.
Bayles and Buckley also approached Cory Karpin, executive director of Woods Humane Society, for fundraising and publicity support. Cory’s team, including operations director Serena Martinez and community programs director Steve Kragenbrink, loved the idea of the program and thanks to Kragenbrink the name “Mobile Pet Pantry” was born.
Soon after, Julie Ballo, executive director of The Manse on Marsh (and owner of a border collie named Molly) jumped in to provide $500 in seed money to kickstart the program. “We allow our residents at the Manse to have pets because we know how vital they are,” Ballo says. “We want to make sure our neighbors who can’t afford pet food have the same kind of opportunity to keep their beloved pets. We’re excited to be partners.”
Other partners on the all-volunteer Mobile Pet Pantry team include Robin Shroyer DVM, president of Animals in Need, animal activist Rhonda O’Dell and geriatric care manager Meredith Bates. Additional volunteers are welcome by calling Bayles at (805) 931-6001.
Mobile Pet Pantry requires approximately $3,000 per month to feed the 160 pets currently enrolled, so donations are gratefully accepted. Checks or money orders can be sent to: Senior Nutrition Program of San Luis Obispo County/Mobile Pet Pantry, 180 Johnson Ave., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, or donate through PayPal at www.snpslo.org.