The Shy Cats and Senior Citizens Program was developed by the organisation in late 2017 in response to a large number of adult cats spending extended periods of time in foster homes, and multiple failed adoption attempts.
Co-Founder and Joint Chief Executive Officer of PetRescue Vickie Davy says when the team realised these cats were missing out on adoption time and time again due to their shy nature, they sought out a solution.
“These shy cats are missing out on adoption time and time again, because although they were happy and affectionate toward their foster carers, when a potential adopter came to meet them, they hid,” she explains.
“We knew we needed to attract adopters who could offer a safe, non stressful environment and who have the patience and understanding to let a shy cat bond with them slowly.”
When looking at all the criteria for their ideal candidate, Ms Davy says senior citizens seemed like the “perfect match”.
“Seniors seemed like the perfect match but after doing some research, we found there were two major barriers stopping animal loving seniors from taking on a new pet,” she explains.
“The adoption fee was one of the barriers - with many seniors being on a budget, a high adoption fee was an issue.
“Another concern was if their circumstances changed and they could no longer care for a pet, leaving the pet without a home.
“So, we had a situation where we had needs cats without homes and ideal homes remaining empty so the Shy Cats Program was developed to help break down these barriers and match a cat in need with a person who has the time and patience to befriend a shy cat, and who in turn, can again experience the joy and companionship a pet offers.”
In order to address the issues raised by seniors, the program, which is considered permanent or ‘long term care’, offers the opportunity for seniors to adopt the cats and have the cat, for all intents and purposes, belong to them, while having the life-long safety net in place that if circumstances do change, the original rescue group will take the cat back into their care.
To tackle the financial issues, Ms Davy says all cats come desexed, vaccinated, wormed and microchipped, with a fee of just $25 payable by the senior, with PetRescue contributing $50 as a subsidy to help cover vet costs.
While the program is only just gaining momentum, Ms Davy says there have already been a handful of success stories, with her favourite bein the story of Lilly and angie the cat.
“Lilly doesn’t have internet access, doesn’t drive far and has only owned dogs before,” she explains.
“When the rescue group caring for Angie spoke to Lilly, they thought they were the perfect match and drove Angie to her new home with Lilly.
“After a week hiding under the bed, Angie is now coming out for pats and affection and Lilly says helping Angie has given her a new purpose in life.”
With many known benefits to owning a pet, both physically and emotionally, Ms Davy encourages any seniors interested in the program to get in touch.
“Anyone interested can contact the PetRescue Shy Cats program coordinator, Caren, for a chat and she will help link the senior with cats in need whether that's via the internet, over the phone or in person, depending on what suits the senior,” Ms Davy says.
“As senior people are all different, the program is very flexible - with the goal to help a senior and a cat find each other.
“There are so many wonderful cats that just need a safe place to live, so if you are an animal lover and are missing having a pet of your own or if you like the idea of helping a rescue pet, then my advice is don’t hesitate to get involved.
“If it doesn’t work out or if your circumstances change, the cat will be cared for, with the benefits for the cat and adopter enormous if it works out.”
PetRescue isn’t the only shelter and animal advocacy group running a program aimed at seniors, Victorian-based shelter Animal Aid runs its own seniors program called ‘Seniors for Seniors’ and it is aimed at connecting older animals available for adoption with senior Australians.
The organisation states that “age should never be a barrier for pets looking for a home” and says they too are aware that older people often have fear about taking on a pet for numerous reasons, which is why, like PetRescue the organisation has produced some provisions to support and encourage adoption and pet ownership among senior citizens.
The organisation says they “know that at any age the pets in our care have so much to offer and so much love to give” and that their Seniors for Seniors Program “unites senior pets with senior citizens to keep a pet in their life for as long as they can”.
When an adoption is made as part of the Seniors for Seniors Program, there is a reduction in the adoption fee, as well as a number of other discounts offered, but most importantly, Animal Aid says adopters as part of the program “will receive the gift of companionship and unconditional love!”