Would you feed your pet before yourself?

Maria is a senior citizen in Florida. The government maintains that she lives alone. Maria begs to differ. She says she lives with her best friend, who just happens to be a Chihuahua.



One of Maria’s many challenges is getting outside. Her dog is litterbox trained. However, buying pet food isn’t easy for Maria — she has to depend on others to do the shopping. Moreover, she has trouble paying for the food.

“There’s no question that this dog has in so many ways changed Maria’s life, so being able to provide proper pet food for Maria has made an enormous difference,” says Enid Borden, president and CEO of the Meals on Wheels Association of America.

Learn more about the program, how you can help and how to get help if you can’t afford your pet’s food after the jump.

In addition to providing meals for home-bound seniors, Meals on Wheels also supplies pet food to clients during the holiday season in partnership with Banfield Charitable Trust. The program, called Season of Suppers, has delivered over 70,000 pounds of pet food this year alone — and more than 50 tons of food for hungry pets since 2006.

“Thousands of our clients have truly celebrated because of the Banfield program,” says Borden. “[Banfield] didn’t just do this for instant PR value and walk away. Of course, I’m not surprised that they understand the value of the human/animal bond.”

A surprising number of recipients share their Meals on Wheels food with their pets. “These people give up some of their own limited nutrition, and for many, that’s really a problem,” Borden says. Unfortunately, some dogs and cats who share their owner’s meals don’t get appropriate nutrition, or face obesity from eating too much table food. Obesity can lead to health problems for pets, which, tragically, most of their owners can’t afford to treat. This can even lead to a beloved friend being euthanized. [Read more about pet obesity.]

“It’s a vicious cycle, and our goal is to keep that from happening,” says Dianne McGill, executive director and CEO of Banfield Charitable Trust.

There’s a belief among some that pets are a luxury, and therefore low-income people should not get pets. This notion infuriates Borden. “I’ve seen firsthand how having a companion who loves you unconditionally makes such an enormous difference,” she says, the emotion in her voice audible. “It’s also someone else to care for, so you’re not always focused on yourself. I know people who I’m certain wouldn’t be alive and happy today if it wasn’t for their pet.”

Of course, many scientific studies now support Borden’s position. [Read the New York Times article about how pets keep you healthy.]

McGill adds, “Whether you have lots of money or not has nothing to with the bond you share with your pet. In reality, however, financial resources do matter, and our goal is to help.”

Meals On Wheels isn’t the only Banfield Charitable Trust recipient — hundreds of local community organizations working with vulnerable pet owners such as food banks and animal shelters will also distribute the pet food donations. “Without question, the number of families who can use help to pay for pet food is in the rise, and perhaps, where there’s unemployment and several children to feed, as well,” McGill says.

How you can help:
Pet lovers anywhere can also help needy pet owners. Banfield Charitable Trust accepts cash donations. You can also drop off pet food at any of the Banfield clinics across the country through December 31.

If you need help:
For those who seek help feeding their pets, contact your local Meals on Wheels location.

Many food banks for people also offer pet food, so contact your local food bank to ask. Also, some local animal shelters offer pet food to pet parents who qualify. (Search for your local shelter here.)

Steve Dale is the host of the nationally syndicated radio shows Steve Dale’s Pet World and The Pet Minute with Steve Dale. His column, My Pet World (of which this post was originally published), is carried in more than 100 newspapers nationwide and his new column, The CATalyst, just debuted. Steve also serves on the board of directors for the American Humane Association.

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services

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