Homebound seniors connect with animals through ‘pet connect’ pilot

The Humane Rescue Alliance connected homebound seniors with a variety of animals ranging from puppies, cats, birds and even a chicken on Friday over a Zoom call.

It’s part of a pilot program called “Senior Pet Connect,” designed to promote emotional wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know this last year has been really tough for all of us, it’s really reinforced the important role that animals have,” Dani Rizzo, HRA digital director, said during the call. “They really serve as a life line.”

Rizzo said animals offer a form of socialization for so many people who have been lonely and isolated over the last year.

HRA has partnered with the D.C. Department of Aging to identify homebound seniors who could benefit from the virtual program.

For roughly 30 minutes in its pilot call, HRA staff members previewed foster animals and told stories while seniors listened and watched.

One HRA staff member talked about her chicken.

“Ruth knows her name, she’ll come to me sometimes,” Katie said. “It’s hard to catch her but she’ll come over to me when I call her name. I usually do it by bribing her with her most favorite treat in the world, which is sunflowers seeds.”

Anthony talked about his parrot, Casey.

“My macaw is very vocal, about two years old, we’ve been together since October,” he said. “Casey doesn’t have a vocabulary yet and likes kale, blueberries and cashews.”

Lisa is fostering kittens who will be up for adoption next week. Their names are Pickle and Buttercup and are three months old.

“I fed them with a bottle and then weened them on to kitten food. They’ll be ready for adoption next week.”

While it’s not HRA’s goal to have the pets adopted by the seniors, it is their intention to give seniors a chance to enjoy them through virtual interaction. The organization hopes to offer in-person opportunities when the pandemic is better under control.

Glynis Kazanjian

Glynis Kazanjian has been a freelance writer covering Maryland politics and government on the local, state and federal for the last 11 years. Her work is published in Maryland Matters, the Baltimore Post Examiner, Bethesda Beat and Md. Reporter. She has also worked as a true crime researcher.

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