Mr. Williams* is 79 years old and lives in Knox County, Tennessee. Years ago, he retired to care for his wife of 55 years whom was diagnosed with cancer. When she sadly lost her battle to the disease, Mr. Williams was overcome with loneliness and depression. For two years, he lived a life of solitude while seeing a therapist until a friend referred him to Knox PAWS, a program that matches qualifying seniors with homeless, adoptable animals.
According to the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and the National Coalition of Aging, the human-animal bond can help combat loneliness, social isolation and other mental health conditions. A 2011 study found that pet owners are “happier and that pets provide meaningful social support and improve pet owners’ lives.” Loneliness is a common theme among senior citizens like Mr. Williams as they live on their own, away from family and friends and often find themselves without a companion to lean on day in and day out.
Through Knox PAWS, community members 60 years and older and making no more than $1,517.50 a month – 150 percent below the poverty level – are eligible to receive an adoptable pet if they are living alone, isolated and demonstrate a need for companionship. Once the Knox PAWS. volunteers conducts a site visit to ensure the potential pet parent is able to care for a pet in a safe, loving environment, volunteers work to find a pet that best fits their needs.
“Most senior citizens are looking for dogs that are calm and already housebroken,” said Kendra Luketic, Knox PAWS coordinator. “The majority of the dogs that we adopt from local shelters are senior dogs. Not only are we helping seniors, we’re helping senior dogs who typically stay in shelters longer than normal because of their age.”
Knox PAWS. provides continued financial support for pet parents in need by covering any fees associated with veterinary care, vaccinations, medication for flee and heartworm prevention and fees associated with having a pet in apartment complexes. Volunteers also provide transportation for veterinary appointments.
The results are lifechanging.
Having his dog. Maya*, which he adopted through Knox PAWS. has given Mr. Williams a reason to wake up in the morning. He’s more social, and loves taking walks with “his baby.”
“I cannot tell you how many times I’ll do a six-month check-in and the pet parent has said their pet makes them more social or has helped them overcome depression,” said Luketic. “For those who are alone without family or a support system, their pet gives them someone to love unconditionally.”
Throughout pet ownership, the organization is there as a resource. If pet parents are admitted into a hospital, nursing home or passes away, they often worry more about what will happen to their pet. With Knox PAWS., they can rest assure that their pet will be placed in a foster home or boarding facility until their able to place the pet with a new senior pet parent.
In spring 2018, Knox PAWS. was nominated by PetSmart District Leader Chris Bault to receive a PetSmart Charities grant for $5,000.
“We are so fortunate to have a group like Knox PAWS. operating in our area,” said Bault. “The work they do in our community, not only by matching homeless senior pets with senior citizens, but with the continued care they give through vaccinations and microchipping of those pets, made it an easy match for us. Their mission falls directly in line with our values, and is a program that is saving pet lives and changing the lives of so many seniors in our community, as well.”
*Names have been changed to ensure the privacy.