New Program Finds Innovative Way to Pair Cats with Senior Citizens!

ARIZONA – After her husband passed away and the days became a bit long, Donna Pfeif’s doctor gave her an unusual prescription.

The doc said, “Get a cat.”

Sadly, the first cat she adopted became sick – and quite costly – and eventually had to be euthanized.

Pfeif didn’t believe another animal would be possible, but today she is enjoying the funny antics of a 12-year-old feline, whose name is Puddy, as in the famous Looney Tunes’ line, “I tawt I taw a puddy tat.”


Their friendship came by way of a local nonprofit which has begun pairing older cats with older residents.

Hearts That Purr Feline Guardians not only helps to find the matches, but director Jeanmarie Schiller-McGinnis and her volunteers stay in touch regularly — and the organization, ultimately, maintains ownership of the cats.

The nonprofit got started back in 2013, with Schiller-McGinnis taking in older cats which had outlived their owners, or who couldn’t stay home because of their owners’ failing heath. She got the senior foster program up and running a year ago and so far has placed about nine cats with senior companions.

“It’s not an adoption,” she stated. “They are fostering the cat, but we retain legal ownership.”

Schiller-McGinnis assists with the costs that sometimes prevent people from pursuing pet ownership: veterinary bills, food, ongoing care. Once a foster is set in place, if the person can no longer take care of the cat for any reason, Schiller-McGinnis takes it back.

To Pfeif, that was key.

“I would never have taken in another animal if she weren’t taking on the vet bills,” she stated. “I couldn’t afford it.”

The program has been underway for a bit less than a year, and Schiller-McGinnis is looking for more volunteers to help her realize her vision. Eventually, she hopes to rescue even more older cats from local shelters.

Shari Ronstadt said Hearts That Purr dramatically changed her mother’s very life. Kay Fitzgerald, who is 93, lives at Villa Maria Assisted Living and, a couple months back, lost her longtime cat, Tillie.

“I saw her outlook, her energy, her demeanor, everything start to slide,” she stated. “She told me she hated to go back to her apartment because there’d be nobody to greet her at the door.”

Fitzgerald was quite reluctant to get a new cat, but knowing she’d have help and support sealed it. She has been fostering Eddie, who is now 10 and hails from Yuma.

“She is absolutely crazy about Eddie,” Ronstadt stated. “She thinks he’s the smartest cat.”

Just earlier this week, Fitzgerald fell and is now hospitalized at Tucson Medical Center. Eddie, for the time being, is back with Schiller-McGinnis.

Ronstadt explained that her mother can’t wait to get home to Eddie, that caring for him gives her a sense of purpose and a reason to live.

Fitzgerald’s doctor, Tucson geriatrician Elise Reinhard, stated she’s recommended a number of her patients get in touch with Schiller-McGinnis.

“Hearts That Purr go out of their way to make it easy,” she noted. “You’re not completely taking on the responsibility of caring for a pet.”

Reinhard went on to add that she asks every new patient if they have pets or grandchildren, and if they feel lonely in their day-to-day life. “I ask, ‘What keeps you going and what is important to you?’ ” she said.

“I think staying socially, mentally, physically active is so important for so many reasons,” she stated. “It’s so easy for people to become more isolated as they age, to lose those social connections.”

Often, she say, animals are a good fit for someone who wants nothing more than companionship. Exercising and caring for a dog may fit for some, she noted, while others are better suited to life with a cat.

“Cats like quiet environments and, while they need attention, they need minimal care and minimal activities,” she concluded. “For some, cats are ideal.”