Homebound people often face loneliness and isolation, but having a pet or two can provide them companionship and comfort. Nearly 75 percent of the people served by Meals on Wheels of Central Texas live alone, and about 70 percent of those live with pets, according to Heather Allard, program manager for PALS, part of Meals on Wheels Central Texas. While the PALS program was conceived to help homebound seniors care for their pets at home, recently the PALS program partnered with a local dog-boarding business to provide care for the pets when they can’t be home.
The PALS program currently serves 200 seniors and about 400 pets with pet food delivered on a monthly basis by about 175 PALS volunteers. Before PALS, Meals on Wheels clients would often share their delivered meals with their pets, said Allard. “Our clients with pets rely on them for companionship, love, and purpose,” Allard said.
A few years ago, Allard says she noticed that clients were putting off critical surgeries and other medical care because they weren’t sure their pets would be cared for while they were in the hospital. “They’ll sacrifice their own health to make sure their dog is okay,” she said. To help, Allard started organizing temporary foster homes for the pets, usually with PALS volunteers.
But recently, a PALS volunteer stepped up to help in a bigger way. Rebecca Brannian had been delivering pet food and taking pets to veterinarian care for almost two years, when she offered her own business, Austin Dogtown Boarding and Daycare, to board the pets of Marilyn Langley, a Meals on Wheels client. Langley was facing multiple back surgeries that, while promising to improve her quality of life, would also put her in the hospital for a number of days. Langley refused to leave her dogs, Big Boss and Serenity, behind.
Langley, 61, who has been sober for 18 years and moved to Austin without family, said, “I came to Austin to start over, and my dogs are all I have. I don’t want someone to mistreat them. So I do whatever I can to take care of them as long as I can.”
Brannian says she felt compelled to help, but working with Allard and the PALS program made it easy. Before Allard places any pets in foster or boarding care, she and the PALS staff make sure the pet is up to date on its vaccinations and doesn’t suffer from behavioral issues. They also interact with the client, making sure they’re comfortable with their pets’ care but also put limits around how long the pets will be cared for. “This is really for people who don’t have other resources,” like a family member or friend who might care for the pets, said Allard. If the client needs pet care for longer, she helps make other arrangements.
Brannian says caring for the pets is critical to the client’s recovery. “So many of these people don’t have that much family in their lives. I’ve seen both on my deliveries and with the dogs that stay with us, these dogs are their will to live.”
In fact, while in the hospital, Langley says it was her need to be back with her dogs that helped her recover. “Their help was a blessing,” she said, “but I knew I had to go ahead and get moving to take care of my babies.”
PHOTO: Care for Langley’s beloved pet, Serenity and Big Boss, was donated by Austin Dogtown so that she could get the surgery she needed.