QUAD CITIES — The pandemic has reminded us that having a pet can be important for one’s mental and physical health. It has also revealed that the financial burden of pet ownership is harder for many.
The Project of the Quad Cities is tackling this challenge with a fundraising campaign for its Pet Wellness Program. This nonprofit organization, which advocates for health equity and provides health services to people living with HIV and sexually-transmitted diseases, aims to help more of its clients consider adopting a pet by helping with the basic costs.
The financial costs of owning a pet are actually part of The Project’s needs assessment for all new clients, says Tyler Mitchell, The Project’s marketing director. It’s something case managers look at along with housing or transportation.
“We encourage them, especially during COVID-19 and having to stay home more, that if they feel like a pet is going to be beneficial to their mental wellbeing and their physical wellbeing, we want to support them in that if we can,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell offered the example of someone living with HIV, who may be thinking of adopting a pet during the COVID pandemic. The Project’s Pet Wellness program is there to help with things like adoption fees and basic supplies, he said.
The benefits of having a pet are many, says the Centers for Disease Control. “(Pets) can increase opportunities to exercise, get outside, and socialize. Regular walking or playing with pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels.” says the CDC. “Pets can help manage loneliness and depression by giving us companionship.”
Mitchell says The Project has noticed a greater need among its clients for the Pet Wellness program since the pandemic started. He also pointed out that many people living with HIV may have compromised immune systems and be more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection, so staying home may be a necessity.
Others may have had to leave their jobs to protect their health, he said, or may have been laid off by their employers who are also struggling.
“The unemployment assistance that has been coming through is shaky at best, and often not sufficient for all of their needs, so absolutely we’ve had to fill in more gaps for our clients. But that’s exactly what we’re here to do,” he said. “If having a pet with them is going to make staying home a more positive and healthy experience, then we certainly want to encourage and support that.”
Many of those already participating in the Pet Wellness Program say they “alleviate a lot of anxiety and uncertainty in the world” by having a pet around, Mitchell said.
“There’s a natural comfort in having that animal there, to be able to look at them and know that they’re always going to be there and always going to support you,” he said. “That’s something that is definitely very valuable to our clients, to know that they have that unconditional love there in a pet.”
Mitchell emphasized that The Project welcomes and appreciates even the smallest of donations, understanding that times are tight for everyone. “We are just so grateful for whatever support we can possibly receive. We’re grateful to everyone who’s given, and everyone who may give in the future. for this important program.”