Seniors No Longer Have to Decide Between Feeding Themselves and Their Pets

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CICOA receives Meals on Wheels America grant to provide pet food for Indianapolis seniors 

Alan Hall loves his cat Princess so much, it’s not unusual for him to give her some of his own meal, even if it means he goes without. Princess has been Alan’s constant companion for the last six years. They’ve been through a lot together.

The black cat with bright green eyes showed up one day on Alan’s patio. He assumes someone dumped her. A softy when it comes to animals, Alan began setting out food and water. She kept coming back. Alan coaxed the cat inside one cold day with a can of tuna. She ate the tuna, then made herself right at home, snuggling under the blankets on Alan’s air mattress. He decided to call her Princess, and the two have been together ever since.  

She’s been vital to helping Alan get through some tough times, including losing his leg to diabetes and enduring near constant chronic pain. She’ll be there when he begins therapy for a new prosthesis later this winter and when he hopes to walk again by the time tulips come up this spring. 

Seniors struggle to feed their pets

CICOA Aging and In-Home Solutions wants to make sure clients like Alan can care for their furry friends without sacrificing their own needs. That’s why CICOA launched a pilot program last month offering pet food and supplies to low-income, homebound seniors. Alan was the first to receive a pet food delivery.  

The program is funded by a $7,500 grant made possible through a partnership between Meals on Wheels America and PetSmart Charities. The grant allows CICOA to help at least 100 clients this year. Already CICOA has delivered 305 meals for cats and dogs to low-income, homebound seniors. With proof of concept, CICOA hopes to grow the pet program to help even more clients.  

“Care managers have shared heart-breaking stories over the years about how seniors choose feeding their pets over feeding or caring for themselves,” said Chelsea Neulieb, director of CICOA’s Meals & More service, who also oversees the new pet food program.

Pets help seniors enjoy life

Until now, there have been no funds to help pets, even though many research studies have shown how valuable a pet can be for a senior’s wellbeing and quality of life. That’s been true especially during the pandemic when older adults are feeling more isolated than ever.

A study by University of Michigan and AARP found that pets help seniors relieve stress and provide a sense of purpose. According to the survey, 55 percent of older adults ages 50 to 80 have at least one pet. Most pet owners agree that a pet offers physical and mental health benefits. Nearly 9 in 10 owners say their pets help them enjoy life and feel loved, while 8 in 10 say that pets help reduce stress. About two-thirds say their pets help them stay physically active and stick to a routine.  

Because pets are so vital to client wellbeing, CICOA sent a survey to more than 1,400 Indianapolis seniors who receive CICOA’s home-delivered meals to better understand how many needed help for their pets. The response was overwhelming, and the message was clear: Seniors love their pets, but they are struggling to provide food and supplies.

Alan is thankful for the pet food delivery, and so is his faithful companion, Princess.


Seniors on a fixed income can struggle to afford nutritious meals for themselves and have to make a heartbreaking decision to feed themselves or their pet. Donate now to feed hungry seniors and their furry companions.


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