Only 8 months ago, Jacqueline Johnson, was struggling to keep her Rottweiler, Tinker Bell, and her pit bull mix, Sincere, fed. Johnson, a widow who has become reliant on Social Security and suffers from disease, was at her wits’ end.
“At the end of the month, I kept running out of food,” she said. “They got rice and cereal.”
Relief did come for Johnson, 69, and her two pups.
Johnson is a client of Interfaith Ministries for Great Houston’s Meals on Wheels, an organization that delivers hot meals to 4500 older area residents. Much to her surprise, Johnson was ecstatic to learn that her dogs qualified for the agency’s aniMeals on Wheels program.
Thanks to the program, an agency volunteer arrives at Johnson’s home once a month with a 10 pound bag filled with food for both Tinker Bell and Sincere.
“I didn’t want to give my dogs away. They were like my children, my babies,” Johnson said, recalling a time when her combined bank accounts contained less than $30. “It was unfair to the dogs. I was kind of stuck.”
The pet assistance program is currently in its fifth year and makes monthly deliveries of
stated Denise Atkerson, the volunteer director of Interfaith Ministries.
The Houston program was created as an outgrowth of a national effort by the Meals on Wheels of America organization.
“They discovered that seniors were sharing their food with their pets,” she said. “The seniors are ‘food fragile.’ We want them to eat all their meals … but we know how vitally important their pets are to their companionship, comfort and safety. Some say their pets are the reasons they get up in the morning,” she said.
The program for pet food assistance, however, is currently limited to individuals who are already enrolled in the Meals on Wheels program. People who are older than 60 and suffer from physical conditions that make it difficult to prepare meals are eligible for the adult program.
The aniMeals program relies on 200 volunteers to keep it running, as well as wet and dry pet food drives that are held with groups such as the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Private donations also play a big part in keeping the program alive.
Recently, Cherly Riedl, a donor to the program, arrived at the agency’s headquarters bearing a truckload of dog food.
“I’m known as a good shopper. I’m always alert for bargains, and this is something I can do to help,” said Riedl, a former agency volunteer who owns a cocker spaniel. “I love pets, and I understand the value pets have in life.”
Many people involved in the program rely on their pets for companionship. Johnson is one of those people as she suffers from multiple sclerosis and has to use a wheelchair.
“I feel like I’m running a kindergarten,” she said. “I’m usually home by myself. Dogs are the best companions in the world. No matter what you do, they don’t seem to care. They’re always happy.”