Keeping Families Together

TVMF PALS Program Provides Free Veterinary Care to Homebound Texans

Over its 40-year history, one purpose that remains unchanged about the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation (TVMF) is its mission to improve the health and welfare of animals in Texas. TVMF has strived to accomplish this mission in many ways, but never has our mission been so impactful since the inception of the TVMF PALS (Pets Assisting the Lives of Seniors) program.

Since 2012, the TVMF PALS partnership program has provided veterinary care completely free of charge to the pets of Meals on Wheels clients. The program began in Austin with Meals on Wheels Central Texas PALS, one volunteer veterinarian and 40 clients and since has successfully been replicated and expanded into Bryan/College Station, Dallas, Houston and Abilene. For the animals enrolled in this program, the benefit is clear; many of the animals in the TVMF PALS program have never been to the veterinarian and desperately need routine care, such as vaccines and parasite control. Other companion animals served through the program may need more extensive care, such as dental surgeries or tumor removals. The services these pets receive through the TVMF PALS program ensure they will live longer, healthier lives, which in turn means preserving the human-animal bond.

Keeping these companion animals healthy is not just good medicine for the animals. In fact, it is profoundly impactful for their human owners as well. For many Meals on Wheels clients, their pets are their primary companions. These pets serve an important role for their humans, providing them with constant love and companionship. But the benefits of having a pet are not just emotional. Happiness, companionship and feeling needed all reinforce the human-animal bond, which has several proven health benefits. Studies have found that owning a pet can decrease stress, lower blood pressure, improve immunity and even decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke.

For some TVMF PALS clients, their pets serve as powerful motivators by providing them with a reason to keep fighting, even when the odds are against them.

When Lula Gifford, an 84-year-old East Dallas resident and Visiting Nurse Association of Texas (VNA) Meals on Wheels client, was hospitalized for a torn aorta, her doctors didn’t think she would make it. “I think they sent me home to die,” she said.

Lula took a picture of her 8-year-old Shih Tzu mix Cooper with her to the hospital, and she believes he helped her pull through. “I am going home,” she told the staff at the nursing home she was in after the hospital. “Cooper needs me more.”

Her determination to get home to Cooper helped her through her recovery, but returning home wasn’t easy. Lula had trouble getting around and was unable to leave the house. When she noticed that Cooper was losing his hair, she was upset that she wouldn’t be able to take him to the veterinarian or afford treatment.

Through the TVMF PALS program, Cooper received veterinary care through program partner Vickery Place Animal Hospital for a fungal infection and his hair grew back. Cooper is well again and back by Lula’s side, providing her with much needed love and companionship. He understands her and sticks by her side all day. “He is such a monkey; he does the funniest things,” Lula said. “I will be happy with my boy.”

As the TVMF PALS program expands, veterinarians across the state have found that the benefits gleaned from the program extend beyond the pets and their owners.

“Volunteering my time as a veterinarian for the TVMF PALS program is the most rewarding aspect of the services I provide,” TVMF President Chad Harris, DVM, said. “I get to help animals that would otherwise go without veterinary care. Because of this, I’ve been able to improve their quality of life, which in turn, improves the quality of life of their owners. In my mind, helping with the TVMF PALS program aligns with the Veterinarian’s Oath that we took upon graduation.”

Through this partnership with Meals on Wheels, TVMF is connecting veterinarians to their local communities and improving the lives of pets, their owners and the many volunteers who make this program possible.

When TVMF asked Thomas Palvino, DVM, of Austin Vet Hospital to be a partner in the program in 2013, there was no hesitation on his part.

“Let’s face it: Veterinarians today are asked and have to figure out who we extend charity to and where to draw the line, and what separates TVMF from other organizations is that you are serving people that not only lack the financial means but don’t have the ability to get in the car and bring their pet to the veterinarian,” Dr. Palvino said. “No matter what you do, you should look to give back, and we happen to be in a profession where that is really easy because what we do is help the bond that is between people and their pets. If I can help that pet be healthier and help that bond, then it’s great. It makes us feel good, it makes the staff feel good, and hopefully it helps these clients as well.”

The list of PALS clients includes long-time Dallas residents Doris and Horatio Smith, who always have been careful to maintain the health of their little dog, Buddy. However, as they struggled to make ends meet on a fixed income, providing for all of Buddy’s needs grew more and more difficult. The Smiths started receiving a monthly delivery of pet food through VNA Meals on Wheels two years ago. When VNA announced its new partnership with TVMF to provide veterinary care to pets in the Meals on Wheels program, the Smiths made sure they were one of the first clients on the list.

Buddy had his first veterinarian visit with Dr. Jennifer Lavender at Metro Paws Animal Hospital in December 2016. When Buddy returned home after the appointment, both Mr. and Mrs. Smith were so glad to see him and appreciative of the veterinary care he had received. Mrs. Smith commented to the pet transport volunteer that Mr. Smith usually presents a tough exterior, but in this case, he melted when Buddy came home.

Examples like this illustrate why TVMF staff and volunteer veterinarians continue to be inspired by the impact this program has on homebound seniors and their pets.

“The positive impact that the TVMF PALS partnership has had on Meal on Wheels Central Texas clients and their pets is hard to put into words,” said Heather Allard, PALS Program Manager for Meals on Wheels Central Texas. “It provides a level of veterinary care that the vast majority of our clients could never afford or access on their own. Beyond lifting the financial burden, it lifts the emotional burden, the constant worry that our elderly and disabled clients have when they know their pets need care they cannot provide. That value is immeasurable. It cannot be counted, but it can be seen in the joyful eyes and smiles of our clients every time we bring a pet home from their check-up.”

By keeping these pets healthy, TVMF is improving the quality of life for seniors and their pets, keeping families intact and helping to preserve the human-animal bond. Every day, this program brings hope to others and makes a tangible difference in lives of homebound seniors across Texas.

TVMF would like to thank all of our partners, supporters and volunteers who make this program possible.

Austin Partners
Meals on Wheels Central Texas
VCA Tanglewood Animal Hospital
Austin Vet Care
North Austin Animal Hospital
Austin Vet Hospital
AM/PM Animal Hospital
Lago Vista Animal Clinic
Elgin Family Vet Center
VCA Lakeline Animal Hospital
VCA Hometown Animal Hospital
VCA Ben White Animal Hospital
HousePaws Austin
Vet Around Town
South Park Animal Hospital

Bryan/College Station Partners
Brazos Valley Community Action Programs Meals on Wheels Program
Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Small Animal Hospital

Dallas Partners
The Visiting Nurse Association of Texas
Metro Paws Oak Cliff
Holt Veterinary Clinic
Rutherford Veterinary Hospital
Animal Clinic of Grand Prairie
Vickery Place Animal Hospital
White Rock Animal Hospital
Valley View Pet Health Center

Houston Partners
Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston aniMeals
Washington Heights Veterinary Clinic
Meyerland Animal Clinic

Abilene Partners
Meals on Wheels Plus, Inc
Big Country Veterinary Clinic

Corporate Partners
Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health
The Pet Loss Center