NEW ORLEANS (AP) " Peggy Eagan, 89, has quite a pedigree.
Her family members are the principals behind the local Leitz-Eagan Funeral Homes and the Eagan Insurance Agency, and her late husband, Frederick Leitz Eagan, was a Louisiana State Senator serving Orleans Parish from 1960 - 1980.
Eagan said her Uptown New Orleans home once housed a menagerie of pets including dogs, cats and a canary. Now, a resident at the Christwood Retirement Community in Covington, Louisiana, Eagan said her independent living apartment is almost purrrfect.
"I'd love the chance to get a cat because it helps the loneliness when life has changed as much as mine has," said Eagan. "If I had a cat, something would be waiting for me at my door when I come home."
Eagan may soon become the caregiver to a senior Calico, Tabby or Tortie, thanks to the Big Sky Ranch CATNIP Foundation's "Seniors For Seniors" cat adoption program.
The Northshore nonprofit just put its paws on a PetSmart Charities $10,750 grant that sweetened the kitty for the fledgling program designed to bring senior cats and senior citizens together forever.
"We are honored to receive this grant from PetSmart Charities," said Big Sky Ranch co-founder Dr. Catherine Wilbert. "This innovative program allows senior citizens the opportunity to have and care for a loving pet. Many of these cats that are up for adoption were previously owned by older citizens, so they're ideal lap cats for anyone, especially older folks who are looking for a companion."
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) unleashed some convincing statistics - animal-assisted therapy (AAT) can effectively reduce loneliness in residents of long-term care facilities, elderly people fostering frisky felines are less depressed and the relative risk for death due to cardiovascular diseases, including a stroke, is significantly lower.
"By the time they come to us, they've lost a lot," said Luanne Kelly Frost, Christwood's staff development manager. "Our residents enjoyed professional lives and lived in multiple homes. Now they find themselves in smaller spaces and can't have the type of pets they used to have. They talk about their old animals all the time. These cats bring a healing factor to our residents and can help with the isolation."
Frost said Christwood senior pet owners are more active and create a daily routine that includes feeding, grooming and walking their animals. She said seniors hold them on their laps, stroke their fur and are more engaged with their surroundings.
"So many of our residents find themselves sliding into that time of life when everything slows down," said Frost. "With this program, an animal comes into their life and it's there to love. Rather than having a medical person or a companion or a stranger come into a resident's room to visit, a cat can jump up and lay in their bed and nudge them to wake up and start their day. It's another heartbeat nearby."
Big Sky Ranch and Retreat co-founders Dr. Wilbert and Sharon Schluter run the all-organic Folsom, Louisiana ranch and farm, dedicated to raising consciousness of the well-being of people, animals and the planet. While the ranch's primary mission is animal rescue and adoption, it also offers seminars, retreats, annual farm camps for kids and events. Proceeds from Big Sky Ranch events enable the continuing rescue, foster and care of domestic pets and rabbits, horses, donkeys and other often neglected and abused farm animals.
Big Sky Ranch's "Seniors For Seniors" pet companion and adoption program is a rare breed. It actively helps cats nearing the end of their nine lives land on their feet by pairing healthy, senior cats, six years and older with appropriate temperaments, with seniors at independent, assisted living and memory care centers. The PetSmart Charities grant will help facilitate the special adoptions with reduced adoption fees and an adoption starter kit, complete with basic supplies designed for senior cat owners with easy-to-use tools to feed and care for new pets.
All senior cats available for this program are fully vetted, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped prior to adoption, Dr. Wilbert said. Some are adopted by senior facilities to be shared among the populace as a working therapy cat.
The grant will also fund Big Sky Ranch's new senior living center for its older cats, allowing the sanctuary to provide a home for these adoptable cats until they find a loving home of their own.
"The ultimate impact of this 'Seniors For Seniors' program will not only save the lives of senior animals, but will make a dramatic difference in the lives, health and overall happiness of seniors," Dr. Wilbert said of her 501c3 pet project. "Our goal is to place at least 15 senior cats the first year and to document, through feedback of caregivers, the many health benefits that studies have shown to be correlated with cat ownership."
Great-grandmother Eagan said she's not too finicky about what she plans to name a new cat. She wants to get to know its personality first.
"Cats are very interesting to live with," said Eagan. "They are soothing and have a good effect on people. Their sweet nature teaches patience, kindness and compassion. They get accustomed to your ways, and you get accustomed to theirs. When they come around, all they want is love. They bring a lot of comfort."