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Shelters promote Pets for Seniors

February 08, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- A quote attributed to President Harry S Truman referring to the stress of Washington politics said: "If you want a friend in this town, get a dog."

The Nestle Purina Co. thinks everyone, especially the older population, could benefit from Truman's advice.

According to the pet food company, studies show that senior citizens can improve their health, outlook on life, lower their blood pressure and reduce stress if they own a pet.

Putting its money where its mouth is, the Purina company spends more than $300,000 a year donating up to $50 for each dog or cat that participating shelters annually adopt out to those 60 and older. That translates to about 6,000 animals a year.

"We don't tell the shelters which animals to adopt out," said Kim Bailey, spokeswoman for Purina's Pets for Seniors program headquartered in Westchester County, N.Y. "It amounts to a significant savings for senior citizens."

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Participating shelters in the Tri-State area include the Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County on Old Leetown Pike; the Berkeley County Humane Society on Charles Town Road, Martinsburg, W.Va.; Promise Animal League in Falling Waters, W.Va.; and Friends for Life Animal Rescue in Frederick, Md.

"From 200 to 300 shelters are subsidized by the program every year," Bailey said.

The company launched the project in 1984 and participating shelters must sign an annual contract every September, she said.

The cost of adopting dogs and cats varies from shelter to shelter.

Jane Tarner, vice president of the Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County, said that shelter charges $120 to adopt a dog and $80 for a cat. The cost includes spaying and neutering the animals, plus necessary immunizations and tests. The cost is half that for animals 7 years old and older, she said. 

In 2008, the shelter, a no-kill facility, adopted out 124 dogs and 313 cats. The average daily population at the shelter is about 40 dogs and twice as many cats, Tarner said.

This is the first year the Jefferson County facility has enrolled in the Purina program, said Mina Goodrich of Shepherdstown, W.Va., a society board member. The society joined Pets for Seniors because of fears that donations, which support the shelter's operations, might fall because of the current economic condition, she said.

The shelter's annual budget runs about $150,000, Tarner said.

Shari Persad, president of the Berkeley County Humane Society, said the shelter joined the Purina program about 15 years ago. At that time, the company gave the shelter up to $2,500 a year. This year, because of higher costs and an increasing number of animals the shelter takes in, the amount is up to $4,000, she said.

In 2008, the shelter adopted out 1,196 dogs out of the 1,246 it took in. Of the 3,008 cats and kittens it took in last year, 575 were adopted, she said.

In addition, 102 owners reclaimed their pets in 2008, and 326 dogs and cats were sent to rescue groups.

It costs $40 to adopt a dog or cat from the Berkeley County shelter. New owners also receive a $25 certificate toward the cost of spaying or neutering their new pets, Persad said.

The Web site for animal shelter personnel interested in learning about the program is www.petsforseniors.com.

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