Nonprofit matches shelter animals with seniors

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CLEVELAND — We’ve all heard of the phrase “man’s best friend.”

But one program that started here in Northeast Ohio is taking it to a new level by giving pets and senior citizens a new lease on life.

Pets for the Elderly began in 1992 with two shelters near Cleveland.

It’s grown tremendously over the years and is now a national non-profit, adopting more than 105,000 pets since 2002.

The program pays a large portion of the adoption fee for seniors, matching them with a best friend and giving dogs and cats a forever home.

To say Old Brooklyn resident Jill Casteel and her dog Daisy are inseparable is an understatement.

The 9-month-old pup is like her shadow, following her everywhere she goes.

She lives for countless walks around the neighborhood.

“Some dogs are like that. They just—they’re loyal to their owner,” said Casteel.

Noticing a void at home though, Casteel decided to adopt Daisy after discovering the Pets for the Elderly program online.

Daisy changed her life.

She became a support system and protector.

Shortly after adopting her, Casteel was diagnosed with Stage 3 Lung Cancer, and Daisy has been by her side ever since.

“It’s funny because when I was going through treatment… When I was sleeping, she was sleeping. Dogs know. They just know when you’re going through something,” said Casteel.

Pets for the Elderly aims to bridge the isolation gap by matching seniors 60 and up—and covering a large portion of the adoption fee for those seniors on a fixed income.

Stefanie Merkosky, Development Director of Northeast Ohio SPCA Pet Shelter on Brookpark Road in Parma says it has been incredibly rewarding to see the positive impact on seniors.

“To have that constant unconditional love with you through that whole time has been a saving grace for so many,” said Merkosky.

Officials really noticed the true importance of Pets for the Elderly during the peak COVID-19 pandemic with so many seniors in isolation and social distancing at home.

These animals became their best friends and family members.

“I think that’s one of the greatest things about the connectivity–whether it’s reaching out and talking to a veterinarian or walking your dog,” said Susan Kurowski, Executive Director of Pets for the Elderly Foundation.

As Casteel now starts immunotherapy in her cancer journey, she says Daisy has given her a new purpose in life and continues to help her stay positive.

She also credits her with meeting new friends and encouraging exercise when she feels up to it.

“We’re getting back into it. I’m feeling good. And we’re getting back into it. You’re such a good girl. She is. She’s wonderful!”

Pets for the Elderly officials say the next step in the program is working to include retention services for the pets.

This includes grooming, vet visits and other services, but it’s in the very early planning stages.

If you would like to enroll in the program, click here.

Participating shelters in Northeast Ohio are:

The Northeast Ohio SCPA takes walk-ins and seniors can sign up in person for the program seven days a week.

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