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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Older Adults Can Adopt Pets for Free from SPCA (Lakeland, Florida)

By Bill Dean, The Ledger

Even Vegas oddsmakers might've been hard-pressed to predict that Murdock, a 14-year-old Himalayan cat, and Snowy, a 2-year-old spitz dog, would've become best friends under the roof of Tricia Lenton's home in Lakeland.

But that's what they've become through Friends in Need, a new program that allows seniors to adopt pets free of charge from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Lakeland.

Seniors Adopt

Tricia Lenton says her dog Snowy and cat Murdock are "wonderful company." "I really am blessed," she says.

"They're wonderful company," Lenton says as Murdock, a silky, gorgeous cat, relaxes on the back of a couch and Snowy bounds around greeting visitors.

"I really am blessed."

A mile away, Rusty, an 8-year-old Yorkshire terrier nestles in the arms of 70-year-old Ernie Kryman, who with his wife Janice, adopted the red-and-black dog through the same program.

"We fell in love with him when we saw him," Kryman says.

And William and Sheila Pharis, who live in South Lakeland, recently adopted Sparky, a 6-year-old spaniel/retriever mix.

"He's a very, very loving dog," says William Pharis.

"And he loves to go for a ride. All you have to do is say the word, and boy he starts yelping and running to the car. He's a very loving little dog."

With a $10,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Lakeland, the Lakeland SPCA created the Friends in Need program to provide free pet adoptions to Lakeland residents who are 55 years or older, have special needs or who live in a facility or group home setting.

The grant allows the SPCA to waive the usual adoption fees, which are $70 per dog and $50 per cat, says Sarah Meltzer, public relations director for the SPCA.

"And that includes spaying or neutering that animal, making sure they've had all their vaccinations and also microchipping that animal, which is usually an extra $25," Meltzer says.

Since receiving the money in April, the SPCA has so far adopted out six pets. The grant will pay for 100 adoptions, and the SPCA has future hopes as well, Meltzer says.

"Our goal is to expand this program to the entire county after the grant is complete, because the need is definitely out there," she says.

Many of those adopting through the Friends in Need program have been pet owners before.

Pharis lost his 9-year-old German shepherd, Rocky, due to a tumor on his kidneys; while the Krymans lost Wiggles, a 6-year-old dachshund, to liver disease.

And seniors have other needs for pets as well, Meltzer says.

"Especially with some of our older adults . . . having a pet is just a life force for them. There's no kids at home; maybe some of their friends have passed on or they're not as active as they used to be, so they don't get out as much."

Reaction from those who have adopted through Friends in Need has been moving, Meltzer says. "We have heard some fantastic stories about how loved they are.

"People say, `Having this pet saved my life. I'm so much happier now; I can't imagine living without them now.' "

That's exactly the way Lenton describes having Snowy and Murdock in her home.

"They're my children now. I want to keep them through their old age," she says.

"I hit the jackpot."

Bill Dean can be reached at bill.dean@theledger.com or 863-802-7527.

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