At 68, Carol Williams lives in senior citizen housing in Wake Forest, where her only companion is a tuxedo cat named Spring — a 12-year-old who likes Fancy Feast fish meals and ice in her water bowl.
Williams is a breast cancer survivor with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. She can reach the grocery store only by motorized wheelchair, and she buys only what food she can carry back.
Tougher still, the money she gets from Social Security and food stamps sometimes won't feed both Williams and Spring, so in the past, Williams would use her food stamp money on canned tuna for Spring.
"I just love her so much," said Williams. "She's overweight, but I give her what she wants."
Since 2007, Williams has kept Spring in Fancy Feast and litter thanks to AniMeals, a sort of meals-on-wheels program for the four-legged.
AniMeals began when another nonprofit approached the nonprofit SPCA of Wake County with news that many seniors were spending their food money on pets, said Tara Lynn, SPCA spokeswoman.
"Those seniors were willing to go hungry," she said.
The SPCA, in partnership with Resources for Seniors, now aids nearly two dozen pets, all of them the treasured friends of fixed-income and usually homebound seniors.
In 2017, volunteers delivered 11,315 meals — including to Tucker the Wake Forest cat.
"Most of the time, I can get his food," said Darlene Lavieri, a retiree and Tucker's human. "I just need the litter. It's expensive."
These programs are increasingly common nationwide as nonprofits and outreach groups for older adults realize that the elderly needy care for extended fur-covered families. Meals-on-Wheels programs for pets have cropped up in San Francisco, Houston and dozens of other major cities.
In Wake County, the bi-monthly delivery ensures that the seniors will not lose their animals and that the county's overburdened shelters will not take on more mouths to feed, Lynn said. A steady supply of food doesn't just keep animals in good physical shape, she said, it also benefits the mental health of the county's elderly.
"Living by yourself can be really lonely," Lynn said. "This is a constant companion. If you've ever lived by yourself, you understand that love."
▪ Donations for AniMeals are needed. To contribute, go to spcawake.org/feed.
▪ The program is open to members of Resources for Seniors. Call 919-872-7933 or go to resourcesforseniors.com for information.