Several years ago, drivers with Meals on Wheels of Durham began noticing that some of their elderly clients were sharing the meals delivered to their homes with their pets.
They either couldn’t get out to buy pet food or couldn’t afford it, and the agency worried that by caring for their pets, some people might not be getting enough to eat.
So now, along with a daily hot dinner, Meals on Wheels volunteers deliver dog and cat food to their clients who need it.
“We’re bringing food to people who are essentially homebound, and they are essentially alone,” said Gale Adland, the agency’s executive director. “Their pets have been their companions for years.”
This effort to provide pet food gets a big boost this time of year from two area animal hospitals that sell raffle tickets, collect donations and take pictures of pets with Santa Claus to raise money. Falconbridge Animal Hospital in Durham and Village Veterinary Hospital in Chapel Hill raised more than $1,900 last year, enough to buy six months worth of dog and cat food for Durham Meals on Wheels.
The main mission of Meals on Wheels is to deliver a hot dinner and a friendly visit to people who might not otherwise get them. But volunteers also learn of their clients’ other needs, and the agencies provide extras such as scarves and sweaters when it’s cold, electric fans when it’s hot or help applying for food stamps or heating assistance.
“That’s an added benefit of being a meals on wheels participant,” said Alan Winstead, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Wake County. “You have someone come into your house five days a week. We hope that we can be a resource for them.”
The Wake program benefits from a holiday food drive by the Banfield Pet Hospital, a national company with animal clinics in PetSmart stores. Bins at the stores are filled with donated dog and cat food, treats and toys that go to Meals on Wheels clients who need them.
Falconbridge began its holiday fundraiser four years ago to ensure that both the seniors and their pets were getting a healthy, balanced diet, said Ellen Vogel, the practice manager.
Sharing food “was a detriment to the people,” Vogel said. “But also human food is not the best thing for pets.”
Adland said about 150 of the nearly 340 Meals on Wheels clients in Durham have pets. Those dogs and cats are important for people who are struggling to remain independent, she said.
“This is a quality of life issue for the people who have pets,” Adland said. “They’ve aged with the pets. Very few of them have puppies or kittens.”
Edith Efird shares an apartment in the JFK Towers in Durham with her 7-year-old chihuahua mix named Tia. On Wednesday, volunteer Brigitte Schrickx brought dog food and a small Christmas ornament along with her dinner.
Efird, 78, says she can’t afford to buy dog food anymore. She has arthritis and other health problems and has to pay people out of her Social Security income to do tasks she used to do for herself, such as laundry and cleaning her apartment.
But she can’t bear the thought of living without Tia, who sleeps next to her every night and lets her know when someone is at the door.
“She makes me happy,” Efird said. “She’s so warm and having her near me, something alive to touch, to know that something’s alive and breathing near me. ... It’s amazing what an animal will do for you.”