The presence of a pet can be a source of comfort and companionship for elderly residents or disabled adults, who may otherwise feel isolated and alone due to limited mobility.
But it can be a challenge for these homebound individuals to provide a ready food supply for their animals.
Enter AniMeals, a supplemental pet feeding program that aims to help elderly residents keep their pets.
AniMeals is an extension of a Meals on Wheels food delivery service being administered through Spectrum Generations, the Central Maine Area Agency on Aging that supports connections to elder health programming, resources and services.
For the past eight years, Spectrum Generations’ Cohen Center nutrition coordinator, Lynda Johnson, has headed AniMeals. Seniors in Kennebec, Lincoln, Knox, Sagadahoc, Somerset and Waldo counties are served via some of the organization’s seven community centers.
Last year, Johnson said, “Spectrum’s Meals on Wheels program supplied more than 200,500 meals to nearly 1,700 residents, delivering five meals per week to the homebound who can not prepare meals for themselves.”
“The problem was that many of these folks were sharing their own food with their pets, because they either could not afford to buy pet food or they had no way to get to it because they are no longer able to drive and cannot get to a store.”
Johnson said the AniMeals program, which is based on a similar model offered in other states, has been very successful since its inception in the midcoast and central Maine.
“We have gotten a lot of community support for this program,” said Johnson. “All of our inventory comes from businesses like the Tractor Supply store, Hometown Veterinarians of Fairfield, Shaw’s Supermarket of Waterville and Pine Tree Veterinary of Augusta who donate the food to feed the animals. Pine Tree faithfully donates 150 pounds of cat food to us each month — without being asked.”
Grants, including from Banfield Charitable Trust, also help keep the program going.
The trust recently awarded $3,700 to Spectrum Generations, to be divided between its AniMeal programs at the Cohen Center in Hallowell, the Muskie Center in Waterville and the Southern Midcoast Center in Topsham.
The money will be used to buy pet food or cover direct expenses for pet food distribution efforts.
“Such donations have allowed many seniors to be able to keep and care for their beloved pets, that they may otherwise have to surrender,” said Johnson. “And that would be shame because, in many cases, these pets are the only sense of family that some of these people have.”
Currently, more than 125 pets benefit from the AniMeals program.
Two other Spectrum facilities — the Coastal Community Center in Damariscotta and the Waldo Community Center in Belfast — are just beginning to offer their own AniMeal programs.
Each week, Spectrum volunteers like Dottie Carter, from Options for Supported Living in Whitefield, apportion the donated pet food into individual ziplock bags and label them according to individual pet owners’ requests.
They are then delivered along with Meals on Wheels items each week.
In times past, some of the funds also have been used to help defray the cost of an unexpected veterinary appointment.
And each year area churches and other nonprofit groups donate pet supplies, like shampoo, brushes and toys, that also are passed on to seniors for their pets.
Contributions of money or unopened dry pet food to benefit the AniMeals Program are always welcomed.
Johnson also is offering her services to help other agencies start their own AniMeals programs.
Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at: