While you expect excellence at any VCA Animal Hospital, Dawn Berry, hospital manager at VCA Lafayette Animal Hospital in Lafayette, Indiana, takes that care above and far beyond with her utmost dedication to seniors and homebound animal owners. Realizing a need to provide pet food to her local senior population, she launched a special program called AniMeals with Meals on Wheels Greater Lafayette.

People Food Going to Pets Instead

Dawn has worked at VCA Lafayette since she was just 15 years old and she’s served many roles at the animal hospital, a world she loves. Today, she’s celebrating 36 years of improving the health of animals—and people—with a dedication that’s truly awesome!

While Dawn regularly coordinates home visits for pet vaccinations for those who can’t make it into the hospital and pet transport for appointments (provided by Dawn herself)—when her Meals on Wheels volunteer friends shared that many of their clients sacrificed their own nutrition to feed their animals, Dawn knew she had to help. And that she could help.

“I contacted Wayne Howe, who serves as the program coordinator at Meals on Wheels Greater Lafayette, and together we developed a plan to deliver free pet food during regular meal deliveries in order for both humans and pets to have sufficient food,” explains Dawn. 

Meals on Wheels Totally Onboard

Wayne shares that many Meals on Wheels consumers don’t have family members living nearby to help them care for their pets. “We know the importance of pet socialization and interaction among the elderly populations. We also want to keep consumers and pets together because they’re both healthier together.”

In 2015, Wayne’s boss returned from a Meals on Wheels America national conference where this idea was also shared. Then, the Banfield Charitable Trust gave the program $2,500 as seed money. “At this point, our volunteers mentioned that they were friends with Dawn Berry at VCA, which is how we got connected to Dawn, who was very excited about the program and getting involved.”

At first, Meals on Wheels asked the community for donations, and pet food poured in after an article was written about the program launch. “Dawn said three-quarters of the food received she wouldn’t feed to any pets,” explains Wayne. “That’s when Dawn decided to contact the Hill’s Pet Nutrition company. We wanted this to be a high-quality program and the quality of the pet food was very important to us.”

“You could see the improvement in the dogs and cats after getting quality pet food,” says Dawn. “Dogs were rejuvenated and acting better, and cats were getting tricky again!”

Dawn says Hill’s Pet Nutrition was excited to help and offered discounts on the food so they could give the pets the quality pet food they deserve. 

They also tried to offer free cat litter, but that was just too hard to manage. “So, we stayed with food deliveries,” states Wayne. “At first, we discovered that some people signed up for Meals on Wheels for free pet food! So, we made a rule that you had to be in the Meals on Wheels program a month before the pet food deliveries would begin.”

AniMeals Rejuvenated Pets in the Program

Wayne and Dawn both state that the program is working well—serving 21 consumers and 28 pets—all dogs and cats. They raise funds through bake sales (they raised $1,200 at the last one), and craft and jewelry sales, and there’s a donation jar on the counter at VCA. Also, people donate special gifts in large amounts, like one client giving $400 to cover pet food costs. To their knowledge, AniMeals is unique: delivering high-quality dog and cat food along with discounted vet services provided by VCA.

Dawn says the pets do so much better with quality foods and it was reinforced to everyone as they watched the animals improve before their eyes. “You could see the improvement in the dogs and cats after getting quality pet food,” says Dawn. “Animal coats look better and they have more energy. Dogs were rejuvenated and acting better, and cats were getting tricky again!”

Additional Services to Improve Animal Lives

Wayne says none of this could have happened without Dawn. “She’s so dedicated, going above and beyond. She picks up pets from our consumers’ homes and brings them to VCA for care and drives them back home. She even pet sits for some of them. Dawn took in a pet when one of our consumers had to go to a nursing home. She now brings the pet to visit the owner in the nursing home. So much dedication and love she shows. She’s one of a kind.”

Dawn started offering to transport patients' pets herself when she noticed a trend of elderly clients not bringing their pets in for wellness visits due to mobility issues. Some of these clients have been with VCA Lafayette for 40-plus years. 

Dawn also established a program where she and a vet will make home visits to vaccinate pets. Wayne and Dawn are also working through details to offer flea-and-heartworm prevention medications through AniMeals for a year, which Wayne says is another way to improve lives.

"Our goal through these efforts is to keep pets with their owners and keep the pets healthy," concludes Dawn. “I love it! It’s my favorite part of the job as hospital manager. I just hope someone will be there for me!

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