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Elderly and their pets – how do they get by?

August 16, 2011

Five years ago, when my dogs didn’t mind me enough to be allowed off leash, I used to take them to a grassy lot two blocks away from home, in Cambridge, Mass. There, we always passed by a very thin, frail old man walking his senior pug. They looked very happy going through their daily routine together.

Every time I saw them, I couldn’t help smiling. Pets are wonderful, and it might be especially comforting to share life with a beloved critter after the kids are gone, after many human friends are gone.

Natividad and her cat, Pinto, are part of Phinney's Friends. They get annual vet checks, pet food, litter, nail trims and lots of love from our volunteers.

But I also asked myself what kind of help this man had if he got sick. Would there be anyone to call a dog sitter, feed or foster his dog? I also imagined how many people in my neighborhood were getting old and frail, and didn’t know what would happen to their pets if anything happened to them.

So I went online to try to do something about it. I found Phinney’s Friends, at that time an MSPCA program in Boston that helped people with HIV and AIDS keep their pets. It was not exactly what I was looking for — I wanted to help anyone in dire straits — but it was a good start. I could help a person and a pet with one act of kindness, which sounded quite efficient. And at the first meeting I attended, I got the wonderful news that the program was embracing the elderly.

At the MSPCA, I met wonderful animal-loving volunteers and people in need of a hand. I even became friends with a lady I visit regularly — Mercedes and her gorgeous fluffy brown cat Garcia.

Then, two years ago, MSPCA had to shut down the volunteer program and, along with other volunteers, I jumped into the task of founding an organization that would keep on providing services to the dozens of people and pets in the program. We named it Phinney’s Friends, just like the MSPCA program. We raised funds. We recruited volunteers. And the nonprofit has been growing ever since, helping not only HIV positive and elderly, but anyone who is low-income and needs help taking care of a pet.

It’s hard to survive in a world full of good causes. And we are now in great need of volunteers. But we keep going, probably because the rewards of being kind and useful to others overcome the great difficulties we go through on a daily basis.

I still wonder what happened to the old man and his pug. I haven’t seen them for years — ever since my dogs were able to walk properly at the park, where they now swim and run freely. I regret I missed the opportunity to offer him help or friendship. But every time I visit people who need help from Phinney’s Friends, I see in their gratitude a spark of the old man, smiling back at me.

– Daniela Caride

Daniela Caride is a Phinney’s Friends Board Member. She’s a journalist with almost 20 years of experience who shares her life with 3 dogs, 4 cats and her husband. She runs The Daily Tail and freelances for other media outlets, such as Boston.comThe Bay State Banner and various blogs. This story has been originally published in the blog Pet News & Views

If you liked this story, please forward it to your animal-loving friends to spread the word about Phinney’s Friends!

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