By Christie Long
The positive effects of pet ownership on our health and well-being are many.
People with pets have lower blood pressure, visit the doctor less and handle stress better than non-pet owners. With healthcare costs spiraling out of control and Americans in general becoming unhealthier every year, pet ownership may provide an innovative way to help us stay healthier longer.
It’s worth it to try to keep pets and their aging or disabled owners together. For some people, pets are the only family they have. The loss of this relationship can be devastating. When simple tasks like taking the dog for a walk or cleaning out a litter box become challenging, it behooves the community to lend a hand. From this simple concept, Pets Forever was born.
Pets Forever is the brainchild of Dr. Lori Kogan of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biological Sciences at Colorado State University. The charter of Pets Forever is to keep the elderly and disabled of Larimer County with their pets and increase pet ownership within that group of citizens. The organization recognizes the mutually beneficial nature of these relationships and provides services to that end. There is no other organization like it in the country.
Pets Forever offers in-home pet care to low-income, elderly and disabled folks. The organization is staffed by volunteers, most of whom are students at CSU, but draws on the entire community for help. CSU students get school credit for participation. Most student volunteers come from the pre-veterinary program or are training for disciplines such as social work, occupational therapy or counseling. All volunteers attend a one-hour weekly meeting to share experiences, listen to community guest speakers and plan for coverage of cases. Volunteers commit at least five hours of service per week and typically stay with the same case for its duration.
Those applying for Pets Forever help are screened over the phone and need to be able to document their status as low-income. Recipients must be at least 60 years old. Those disabled can qualify if they have problems such as multiple sclerosis, debilitating arthritis or psychiatric issues that keep them from working.
In addition to walking dogs, volunteers clean litter boxes, pick up food supplies, clear yards of pet waste, administer medications and bathe and brush pets. While some needs are relatively short term – like the dog owner who breaks an ankle and lives on the third floor – others are longer term. Pets Forever offers limited assistance in basic veterinary care through the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital and community veterinarians, but the program is unable to provide veterinary care for non-clients.
Volunteers often establish long-term relationships with the people they help. For some recipients, these are some of the only relationships they have. For students, the experience tends to be educational on more than one level, as many have never known the impoverished or aged.
Pets Forever needs monetary donations as well as volunteers. Community veterinarians can help by providing services. Visit petsforever.colostate.edu to learn more.
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted advisor to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their 5-year-old son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.