Organizers of a pilot program helping older adults adopt and care for pets are ready for it to grow and expand so more people can enjoy its benefits. The Older Adult Pet Adoption Program (OAPA) has already helped six Harvey County households call a dog or a cat a part of their family. Now, more adopters are needed.

“We’re well aware of the research that’s out there, for any age, about the value of having a pet. It lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, and it brings a lot of joy and meaning to someone’s life,” said Mary Carman, PhD, a licensed psychologist with Prairie View.

“Older adults, in particular, can benefit from owning a pet. The companionship reduces depression and loneliness, and knowing there is someone depending on you adds meaning to many people's lives,” Carman continued. “Yet many older adults who want to have a pet are worried that if they adopt one, there might not be anyone to love it and care for it as much as they do if they have to go into the hospital for several weeks or should precede the pet in death.”

OAPA was formed to overcome this concern and enable more older adults to adopt pets.

The program makes the guarantee to the adopters that if something happens to them and there is no one designated to care for the pet, the volunteer will make sure the pet will be cared for and will be adopted by someone who will love and care for them. Carman added, if the adopter has to go to the hospital for a short period of time, then the volunteer will make sure the pet is cared for until its owner comes home.

OAPA is currently open to anyone age 60 and older living in Harvey County who adopts a pet from the Caring Hands Humane Society. The adopter is assigned a volunteer who will visit their home every week for several weeks in order to bond with the pet in case anything happens to the owner. The program is free of charge. There are no fees attached to adopting the pet, thanks to Purina’s Pets for Seniors Program.

OAPA is a joint effort between Prairie View, Caring Hands Humane Society, the Harvey County Department on Aging and Wichita State University’s Regional Institute on Aging.

“It really addresses the issues many older adults have when wanting an animal. I’ve not seen anything quite like this program anywhere else in the country,” said Kevin Stubbs, executive director of Caring Hands Humane Society. “It’s helping animals find homes and helping fill empty homes. It’s a win-win.”

To learn more about the program or to become a volunteer, you can contact either Prairie View at 284-6400 or Caring Hands Humane Society at 283-0839.