There’s one consistent source of company in Gladys Melbourne’s life: her gorgeous orange cat Gabby.
Like many other elderly, Melbourne is largely homebound. She lives in a one-bedroom apartment in a downtown senior housing facility and relies on meals from Meals on Wheels and from the facility she lives in.
Meals on Wheels brings her three meals a week, and as something new they also bring food for Gabby.
“We discovered last year that many of our seniors share their meals with their pets, because they can’t afford pet food,” said Allison Adams, care manager for Meals on Wheels.
As Adams explains it, pets become very important to people who are homebound or otherwise isolated.
“It’s like the one thing they have, that’s always there,” said Adams, while driving to take Melbourne some cat food. “Some people may not understand that a pet is that important to someone, but I wasn’t surprised when we discovered our clients were sharing their own meals with their dogs and cats.”
In Melbourne’s little apartment, cat toys sit in a pile on her bed and food dishes are lined up against the wall.
“Come here, Gabby girl, come here, baby,” Melbourne coaxes, trying to get the reluctant feline to make an appearance from behind the bed. “I’ve had her for nine years. She really likes the cat tuna. I try to get her a can or two of that when I go to the store.”
Melbourne gets to the store once or twice a week with the help of her caregiver. Adams said many Meals on Wheels clients rarely leave their homes.
“Mostly, they are afraid of falling or other bad things happening,” Adams said. “Sometimes we are their only contact to the outside world.”
Right now, Meals on Wheels delivers pet food to 83 cats and 65 dogs.
“A person usually only has one dog, but may have more than one cat,” Adams said. “We always run out of cat food before we run out of dog food.”
The pet food comes from donations.
“Sometimes a veterinary office will do a food drive for us,” Adams said. “And we get donations from Urban Canine and from Banfield Pet Hospital.”
The pet food is bagged up and sent out twice a month, on the first and third Saturdays.
“That’s an extra day we can check on them, so that has worked out really well so far,” Adams said.
Many social services organizations and nonprofit organizations try to help pet owners with hungry cats and dogs, but there is no official pet food bank in Spokane.
Occasionally, pet food shows up in Second Harvest Food Bank’s food drives.
“It’s nothing we solicit; we focus on people food,” said Rod Weiber, with Second Harvest. “When we get pet food, we distribute it to the neighborhood food banks and to SpokAnimal C.A.R.E. and other organizations like that.”
Weiber said neighborhood food banks appreciate the donations, because it’s one other way they can help their clients.
SpokAnimal has for years had a pet food work exchange program where volunteers, after passing a background check, work for cat or dog food. One hour of volunteer time is enough to earn food for a cat or a dog.
Volunteering is not an option for Melbourne who can’t get around on her own anymore. She said she’s lived alone for the past 25 years and moved downtown about a year ago.
“It’s nice to have her,” Melbourne said about Gabby. “She watches the door. She can tell if someone is coming. And she sleeps with me on the couch sometimes. She’s mama’s baby.”