WEST CHESTER (November 12, 2019) – Henry’s Helping Paws, an initiative started by state Senator Andy Dinniman to keep senior citizens and their pets together in their homes, expanded to the West Chester Area Senior Center this week.

The program provides free dog, cat, and pet food to homebound senior citizens and those struggling to afford the costs of feeding their pet animals. Already, it serves seniors in need by providing free food for their pets through the at Phoenixville and Coatesville Area Senior Centers.

“Today, as we remember my old friend Henry, this program continues to grow and succeed in its mission – keeping people and their pets together in their homes,” said Dinniman. “And now, we can also say that the pets of our homebound senior citizens and those in need are not only getting the nutrition they deserve, but the veterinary care they need, too.”

Dinniman, who launched the initiative in 2016, was joined by senior center officials, local veterinarians, and representatives of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Foundation (PVF) in making the announcement. Named for Dinniman’s late poodle, Henry, the program is a collaboration between PVF, Meals on Wheels of Chester County, and local senior centers. Dinniman said he came up with the idea when he learned from Meals on Wheels volunteers that local homebound seniors were sharing their food with their pets.

“It was pretty natural to start with Meals on Wheels, and with the senior centers, actually being able to go up and give the food to them,” said Dr. Tom Garg of Hope Veterinary Specialists in Malvern, who helped organize and launch the program.

In addition to delivering pet food to homebound seniors through Meals on Wheels of Chester County, Henry’s Helping Paws also recently expanded to offer veterinary care to the pets of the seniors, spearheaded by Garg and Dr. Jim Orsini, co-chair of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Foundation.

“Once we had the food taken care of, we realized that some sort of primary care was also essential.  As part of that, we have a voucher program where veterinarians accept the vouchers and give the animals the care they need,” Orsini said.

Since its inception, Henry’s Helping Paws has helped dozens of seniors afford the costs of feeding and caring for their pets, preventing shelter surrenders in the process. Meanwhile, studies have shown that having a pet can significantly benefit a senior’s physical and psychological health.

According to new data from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging, nearly 90 percent of older pet owners said their animals helped them enjoy life and feel loved; roughly 80 percent said their pets reduced stress, and almost three-quarters said their furry friends provided a sense of purpose.

In addition, 64 percent of pet owners — and 78 percent of dog owners — said their pets helped them stay physically active. Sixty percent also said their pets helped them cope with physical and emotional health issues.

However, about 20 percent of the respondents also reported financial strains as a drawback to pet ownership – which is why Henry’s Cupboard is so important.