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One in four seniors lives alone and, for many of them, their pet is their closest companion and one of their only sources of consistent comfort.

Seniors with pets nationwide are getting support through Meals on Wheels America’s Meals on Wheels Loves Pets grant program, which is supported by PetSmart Charities.

The program has distributed $601,538 in grants to support senior nutrition program pet services nationwide. Funding will be used to provide Meals on Wheels clients and their pets with food, supplies, grooming and improved access to veterinary care, all of which can often present financial and physical challenges for older adults to manage on their own.

The partnership with PetSmart Charities is part of Meals on Wheels America’s strategic effort to combat social isolation and loneliness among seniors across the country and has helped nearly 17,000 Meals on Wheels clients remain at home to age in place with their beloved pets, according to officials. This year, Meals on Wheels America and PetSmart Charities awarded grants to 79 local Meals on Wheels programs through the Meals on Wheels Loves Pets initiative.

“As an organization dedicated to supporting pets and the people who love them, PetSmart Charities is proud to continue partnering with Meals on Wheels America to help provide essential services to seniors and their pets," said Aimee Gilbreath, president of PetSmart Charities. “We know there is a large population of seniors experiencing financial challenges caused by the pandemic and facing the difficult choice of caring for themselves or their beloved pet. This partnership helps ensure they won't have to make that choice.”

One in four seniors lives alone and, for many of them, their pet is their closest companion, officials noted. According to recent research made possible by PetSmart Charities, nearly 100 percent of Meals on Wheels clients receiving pet services report that their pet brings happiness to their life. Seniors with pets are less likely to exhibit depression, report feelings of loneliness and experience illness, officials added. However, clients with pets often face financial or transportation barriers to securing adequate pet care, and many may forgo their own personal care in order to provide for their pets.

“Having the company of a pet not only makes homebound seniors feel less lonely but also improves their physical and mental well-being, helping them to stay happier, healthier and more independent. Yet, nearly half of the clients receiving pet assistance from Meals on Wheels don’t have anyone else to help them with their pet needs," said Ellie Hollander, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels America. “That’s why we’re so appreciative of our growing partnership with PetSmart Charities—it makes it possible for us to continue to invest Meals on Wheels Loves Pets grants in local Meals on Wheels programs in 31 states to provide critical supplies, care and assistance.”