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INDIANAPOLIS — During the pandemic, the cost of nearly everything has gone up from food to medications, gas and even pet food. 

The rising cost of living has led to difficult decisions for folks across the board, but especially for homebound seniors and the disabled, who in some cases, live alone. 

The Central Indiana Council on Aging, or CICOA, launched a new program, offering pet food and supplies, free of charge, to low income, homebound senior citizens so they can keep their furry companions and live comfortably.

The CICOA’s Aging and In-Home Solutions program, Meals & More, is a grant partnership with Meals On Wheels and PetSmart Charities. It has helped provide and deliver pet food to 100 individuals since it launched the service in December.

“We see this as a significant opportunity for seniors to be able to not have to worry about feeding themselves or picking up prescriptions… they can say my pet food is already taken care of because CICOA has delivered me this week, or the next two weeks meals for my pet,” President & CEO of CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions Tauhric Brown said.

“It’s extremely important. We know that many of our older adults – they don’t have anyone… the adult kids have left the state, many of their friends have passed away and so what they find themselves is in their environments completely alone. Having that furry friend; whether it’s the barking kind or the meowing kind, really does help that social isolation, depression, anxiety. It helps a multitude of situations.”

Alan Hall, who lives in the Crestwood Village assisted living neighborhood along Madison Avenue, was the first to benefit from the new $7,500 grant program. He, and his cat Princess, have never been happier. 

“She’s black with beautiful green eyes, right and she just acted like a princess, very ladylike and how a princess would be,” Hall said. “I say to everybody… she’s a godsend. God sent me to her when I needed her most.”

Hall remembers one cold winter night several years ago when he first met Princess as a stray cat on his stoop. He enticed her out of the cold with some of his own food, a can of tuna fish, and the pair has been together ever since. 

“You know, I couldn’t have made it without her. I’d already be… I don’t know what I’d have done,” Hall said. “She is my companion, my protector, really a great friend.”

Hall lost his leg to diabetes. He lost his wife to a heart attack. His adult children have since moved out of state. He lives alone. 

“I’ve got great kids. I don’t worry about them at all. My son, he’s serving the United States Army in Fort Camel Kentucky,” Hall said. “He’s getting ready to make Sergeant too. Proud of him. Proud of all of them.”

For as proud as Hall is, he is still alone at home. Getting around in a wheelchair by himself he says can be tough. Getting through daily life is sometimes tougher.

“It’s just Alan here,” Brown said. “But having Princess to talk to, you know? To feed, to pet, just to really spend time with – helps him. She helps him immensely.”

However, feeding and caring for a pet, can be a challenge for low-income seniors. It’s a challenge Hall doesn’t shy away from. 

“Dry food, kitty litter, keeping her healthy, it all adds up,” Hall said. “If I had only 35 cents and needed to eat, she’d eat first. I can fend for myself, animals can’t. They need help. Shelters need help.”

Hall and Brown alike hope this new program can help alleviate the stress placed on central Indiana animal shelters too, like Indy Humane, by making adoption a much more practical possibility for seniors looking for a companion of their own.

“To be able to provide pet food to seniors so that they don’t have to make a decision to fill their prescription this month or feed themselves this month… rather, feeding their pets, that could help tip the scales,” Brown said. “Having this kind of safety net program available, is very, very important for the sustainability of keeping that senior in their own environment for as long as possible.”

That is essentially the CICOA’s mission. CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions is the largest area agency on aging in Indiana. They cover Marion and the seven donut counties and work to find ways to allow older adults, and people with disabilities, to remain in their own home versus being displaced and relocated to a different environment.

Hall, for one, says it has helped him.

“It helped me out, saved some money, cause I spend quite a bit on her as far as her food and making sure she’s taken care of and happy.”

Hall plans to begin physical therapy for a new prosthetic leg in the coming weeks. He hopes to walk again, with the help of Princess, by spring. 

You can sign up for this program with the CICOA or reach out to help the nonprofit reach even more Hoosier seniors by donating to the cause on their website

“Central Indiana, I’m calling on you,” Brown said. “Because it does take a village to really help continue to expand these kinds of programs that we know make an impact.”