Furry therapy: Program pairs pets with elderly

Published 6:38 am Friday, December 6, 2013

A black Dachshund named Buddy ran around Wayne Martin’s apartment with a bone in his mouth, furiously wagging his tale.

The 72-year-old Niles man watched from his wheel chair as Buddy attempted, unsuccessfully, to jump on a large black couch next to him.

Martin, who suffers from cerebral palsy, laughed and talked glowingly about his new friend.

“He’s a nice little guy. He gives me kisses on the face — oh yeah he loves to do that,” Martin said.

Martin received Buddy three months ago through a new program called Senior Sitters for Critters, which is offered through the Niles-based, non-profit animal rescue organization Fur-Ever Fosters.

The program gives small animals to people like Martin, who, because of age or disability, could not otherwise take care of one.

Clare DeHaan, who started the program earlier this year, said the animals live with their “sitters” full time, while volunteers come over to do the things the owners cannot, like walk the dog.

“We do whatever it takes to keep the animal in the home,” said DeHaan.“I know how my animals make me feel when I am blue. I figured if they could do that for me they could do it for others too.”

Martin said he had a dog when he was younger, but he hasn’t had the ability to take care of one on his own for the past 30 years until now.

“I’m very happy with Buddy,” he said. “I’ve got a companion who keeps me company and makes things fun around here.”

DeHaan said she hasplaced five dogs or cats with owners in the Niles area through Senior Sitters for Critters.

She hopes the program takes off.

“There are so many old and unwanted animals in shelters right now that need a home,” DeHaan said. “It is a win-win situation for both parties because the recipient is in need of companionship and the animal would otherwise be euthanized due to age and the owner no longer wanting them.”

To learn more about the program, call DeHaan at (269) 425-2757 or visit the website fureverfosters.org.