Season of Suppers: Helping Pets Helps Seniors in Need

ImageSteve's involved with an intiative by Meals On Wheels with Banfield, the Pet Hospital which hopes to feed thousands of pets belonging to shut ins this holiday season. You can help too...

Steve with Jonathan Lavin, CEO of AgeOptions, the Area Agency on Aging for suburban Cook County and Dr. Brenda Burnham McQuillan, medical director Banfield the Pet Hospital, Illinois talk about Season of Suppers on WGN Radio

      Meals On Wheels makes independent living possible for thousands of senior citizens. Their pets make living worthwhile.

      More than a million nutritionally balanced meals are distributed annually through the volunteer services provided by over 4,500 Meals on Wheels programs around the country.

      This holiday season, Meals On Wheels Association of America has teamed up with Banfield, the Pet Hospital, and have kicked off a campaign called Season of Suppers. The goal is to have pet food delivered along with human food to those thousands of seniors with pets who simply can’t get out to purchase pet food. In fact, the Banfield Charitable Trust (a not for profit) hopes to raise $100,000 and also collect a million pounds of pet food for that purpose.

      “Of course, we don’t have a census of how many of our clients have pets, but I suspect it’s the same per cent as the general population,” says Enid Borden, chief operating officer of Meals on Wheels. If she’s correct, just over 60 per cent of those served by Meals on Wheels live with a companion animal.

      Wanda Clark had been a volunteer driver for Meals On Wheels in Los Angeles for 17 years, some of that time while simultaneously working on her full time job, as Lucille Ball’s personal secretary. She now lives in Disney, OK, where she continues to volunteer for Meals on Wheels. “We simply help people who are down on their luck,” she says. “This idea (to help seniors as well as their pets) is so smart. It’s important for people to be able to keep their pet. Can you imagine? There are people who’s dogs and cats are their only companionship, yet because they can’t provide care any longer they’re forced to give the animal up, how horrible.”

      “Sadly, it’s true,” adds Sandy Campbell, president of the Banfield Charitable Trust. “We heard from Meals on Wheels program directors about instances where people have been forced to give up a life long friend – it’s tragic for the people and tragic for pets.”

Image      The sad reality is that giving up an older cat or dog might mean the end of the road if that animal is relinquished to some shelters. “And the senior citizens who are forced to give up their pets’ faire no better,” says Borden. “For so many of our clients, their pet is their family, their only family. It’s a reason to get up the next morning. You have to brush your cat, or feed the dog – it’s a responsibility to another living thing. For a preponderance of our clients, their only companionship might be a pet. The only conversation they have is with our volunteer and with their pet.”

      For many Meals On Wheels clients, the real issue is economics. They live on extremely limited incomes and can’t afford pet food. “What so many have heard is absolutely true,” says Campbell, from the Banfield’s headquarters in Portland, OR. “Many (Meals on Wheels clients) share their meals with their pet. It’s not a good idea for the people who may not be getting quite enough nutrition as a result. And long-term, this isn’t the best plan for the pet either.”

   Depending on what the pet is fed, the human meal may even be harmful. For example a dog might scarf down a chocolate chip cookie or chocolate brownie, but chocolate may make dogs seriously ill. So now, aside from the pet unnecessarily suffering, a veterinary bill has to be incurred.

      Borden is speaking by phone from the Meals On Wheels offices in Alexandria, VA. She’s a dynamo and speaks quickly, until she decides to talk about her own dog, a Maltese named Riley. Her voice softens. “Riley taught me so much. You see, I never had a pet until around four years ago. After my mother had died, my doctor, who knew that I was grieving, realized that a dog would get me through this. The loss of a parent, of course, is traumatic. I cried, and now had someone to cry to. But I found myself doing less and less crying.”

      Borden stops and laughs, “Well, you see, my doctor’s mother-in-law had died. To honor his mom, my doctor’s husband did something he always wanted to do - he learned to swim. Having a dog is something I always wanted, so I also got Riley to honor my mother. Of course, there are days when it’s snowing and blowing and I’m outside waiting for Riley, well, I wish on those days that I had chosen to take up swimming in a nice indoor heated pool.”

      Borden continues, “What can I say? Riley comes to work with me. I have a bond with Riley I never would have imagined you can have with an animal. I never had a pet; I just didn’t know the intensity of the bond. So, now I understand in a way I never would have previously – and I’m grateful for Banfield’s initiative to make Season of Suppers work.”

      Contribute packaged pet food at any of the nearly 600 Banfield locations nationwide (most often inside PETsMART stores). Or you can contribute cash (or a check) at a Banfied hospital or online at  The website also features a store locator to find the Banfield nearest where you are. You can also learn more at the Meals On Wheels website,