Some Pasco County seniors haven't always had a way to feed their pets.
A few years ago, staff from the county's elderly nutrition division noticed that some elderly people who received food through the county's Meals on Wheels program were giving half their meals to their animals because they had no pet food.
Cindy's Pets was started in 2010 to provide a way for low-income seniors to get pet food, and the elderly nutrition division partnered with the Genesis School in New Port Richey to start the program.
It was started in honor of Genesis School head Missy Nurrenbrock's sister, Cindy Allgood, who died at 62. Vicki Fugate, who sits on the board of directors, said Allgood was a pet lover.
The county notifies Cindy's Pets if they find any Meals on Wheels recipients who have pets and need pet food. The nonprofit group now serves 61 seniors and delivers more than 1,200 pounds of food monthly for 123 cats, 64 dogs and 12 birds.
The program received an achievement award from National Association of Counties earlier this month. Four other county programs also were recognized.
Fugate also has been a delivery driver for Cindy's Pets for more than two years. She said the pet food deliveries also serve as a way to check on homebound seniors and make sure they're OK.
"They can't thank us enough," she said. "They give us thank you cards, they knit things for us, they do anything they can."
She said elderly residents who live alone often benefit from having pets. She shared a story about an 88-year-old woman who has conversations with her three pet birds every day. The birds call the woman Grandma, Fugate said.
"You could just see how they could just be so lonely without their pet," she said. "There'd be no one to even talk to."
Suzanne Salichs, the assistant county administrator for public services, agreed. She said the department receives notes of thanks from residents who wouldn't be able to keep their animals without the program.
"They've proven that animals reduce stress, anxiety, blood pressure," she said. "We just knew that companionship is such a critical piece."
She said they surveyed seniors and looked at other programs around the nation to find out what worked.
"It just boomeranged," she said. "It just grew into something much larger than originally envisioned."
For more information about Cindy's Pets, visit www.cindyspets.org.