Matching seniors with pets

Dr. Illina Berton with Miles, who is ready for adoption. Photo by Joan Cronk

In 2010, the staff at East Main Animal Hospital in Puyallup, in an effort to unite rescued pets with loving homes, formed Sunny Sky’s Animal Rescue.

Sunny Sky’s is the non-profit arm of East Main Animal Hospital and under that umbrella, a senior pet adoption program will commence around the first of the year.

Volunteer Linnaea Pagni Mittelstadt said this is a program that Dr. Illina Berton, owner of East Main Animal Hospital, has wanted to get going for a long time. “Now that they have the non profit status,” said Mittelstadt, “we are anxious to get it going.”

Often senior pets are the last ones to be adopted and so the goal of the new program is to link those pets with senior citizens.

Many seniors don’t want to own a large dog or a rambunctious puppy, so matching pets with seniors who have common lifestyles and energy levels makes perfect sense.

Mittelstadt helped get the 501(c)3 status. “I have some grant writing experience and this status is a whole different ballgame,” she said, adding that now the group can apply for some grant funding and will be able to accept donations that are tax-free.

Mittelstadt describes Dr. Berton as a Mother Teresa. “She would take all the animals in if she could squash them into that building,” she said.
East Main Animal Hospital is a friendly, busy place with cats wandering throughout and a gate in front of the door to keep them safely inside.  Realizing the importance of pets to senior citizens, the hospital offers a 10 percent discount to seniors who are 60 and over.

Dr. Berton’s goal is to eventually waive any adoption fees annual vaccination fees, as well as provide some food and services for seniors adopting pets. “A lofty goal,” said Mittelstadt.

Saying that these adoptions would be a good match, Dr. Berton added that the hospital gets a lot of small pets from a shelter in California that has a high kill rate, and these smaller animals could be a good fit for senior citizens.

The hospital is currently applying for a grant with the Dugan Foundation that will provide some funds to use as a base so the Hospital can offer follow-up care.

“Older animals often require more medical care and if seniors are on a limited income, that can be a problem,” said Berton.
Manager of Multi Care Celebrate Seniority Elizabeth Nelson agrees with Berton and said that her group would be happy to work with the adoption program and help introduce seniors to the advantages of adopting an older pet.

“We are on the cusp right now,” she said, “but we have talked about ways we can partner together.”

One of the ideas being tossed around is an opportunity for seniors from Multi Care Celebrate Seniority to help walk dogs, thus freeing up volunteers at the hospital for other duties.

Nelson said she knows how owning a pet can benefit the senior population and how the companionship and opportunity for more exercise can extend lives of both the pets and their owners, by raising their spirits and keeping active.