Salt Lake City couple takes PALS program into their own hands

Story and slideshow by STACEY WORSTER

Spend time looking at adoptable pets and meet PALS volunteers Carol and Eric Hochstadt.

The Placing Animals with Loving Seniors (PALS) program managed by The Humane Society of Utah benefits both the owner and animal.

Meghan Zach, a volunteer at the Humane Society, said, “It is very beneficial to both the animal and the owner when the owner is in need of a companion and something to worry about, and the animal gets a new loving owner.”

The Humane Society of Utah, located at 4242 South and 300 West, offers low-price deals to people age 65 and older who are looking for a new addition to their life. The adoption fee is waived when they adopt a dog or cat that is at least 8 years old.

“It gives the seniors something to focus on, a reason to get out of the house,” Zach said.

“A lot of the younger dogs are far too energetic for an older adult to take in,” she said in the foyer of the Humane Society. “That is why we strongly push the older dogs for the seniors to adopt.”

Zach said that when an older adult walks in the door, the adoption counselor on duty always asks about their future plans as a pet owner and arrangements that are in place if an emergency were to occur.

“Unfortunately,” she said, “animals are mostly viewed as property so a lot of people are asked if they have a plan if something unexpected were to happen.”

Zach said helping people pick out their new addition is one of her favorite things to do while volunteering.

“It is different helping seniors pick out their new pet because they have decades of experience,” she said. “It is so fun so hear their stories, they love telling them as well.”

Zach is unsure how many older adults adopt pets at the Humane Society of Utah.

“We don’t keep numbers of who buys what dog,” she said. “I usually do at least two or three senior adoptions a week, and I am just one of six adoption counselors so I am sure the other counselors help seniors as well.”

The Humane Society uses word-of-mouth and advertising to spread the word about the PALS program.

“We have two volunteers that go to the senior living centers, we have the PALS program listed on our website and in newspapers,” Zach said. “Every year the advertising to seniors increases, we are just trying to help them find a friend and companion.”

Eric and Carol Hochstadt have taken the PALS program into their own hands.

“We have been volunteering for The Humane Society of Utah since September of 2009,” Eric said. “After retiring we felt that we could do something more to help the dogs in the shelter, this is when we came across the PALS program.”

The couple has spearheaded the program since October 2013. “Making seniors aware of this opportunity is our hope and desire,” Carol said.

Eric said, “We think our work is effective, and the program is progressing if there is awareness.”

So far, the couple only have anecdotal evidence of the program’s success. They hope counselors will begin noting whether an adoption is through the PALS program so they can gather quantitative data.

“Seniors are smart enough to know that there are plenty of costs that go along with owning an animal,” Carol said.

“Just because they get an animal for small cost or free of charge does not mean it won’t be an expensive purchase,” she said.

The Hochstadts said they are passionate about making older adults mindful of all the options that are available to them.

“Even if they don’t go and adopt an animal, it is interaction for them. As long as we’re helping them, we want to be there,” Eric said.

Carol added, “If seniors decide that owning a pet is not the best idea, they can still come to the Humane Society and walk the dogs. It can give them a sense of responsibility and self-worth.”

Walking a dog can help people strike up conversations with strangers. This is another benefit for an older adult who owns an animal.

“It is very important to have interactions if you want to stay sharp throughout aging,” Carol said. “Having a pet opens up that line of communication. Think of the walks you have gone on and recognized someone’s animal and a conversation started because of the pet.”

The biggest addition to the PALS program is the monthly and sometimes weekly visits the Hochstadts make to different Salt Lake City senior centers.

“We have checked out many different senior centers around the Salt Lake City area. Most of them told us we could not bring animals in,” Carol said. “This defeated our purpose of coming in because having animals there is the whole goal and best advertisement we could have.”

However, Tenth East Senior Center allowed Eric and Carol to bring in animals during their visits.

“The person we talked to at the Tenth East Senior Center was obviously a dog lover and wanted to encourage seniors to adopt a pet,” Carol said.

Because this center allowed the Hochstadts to bring in animals from the Humane Society, they decided to recontact the directors of the other senior centers in the area.

“We told them that Tenth East was allowing us to bring in dogs, and it is a county facility,” Carol said. “They didn’t know what to say so they agreed to let us bring in dogs, but they had to be small dogs, and we have to bring potty pads.”

The couple’s persistence paid off.

“It was great, an employee from a senior center that was adamant about us leaving animals outside the door changed her mind,” Carol said. The employee told her, “If you’d like to come once a month, you should.”

The employees who work at the senior centers give the Hochstadts a call and let them know when there are going to be a lot of people in the building.

“We usually arrive around a quarter to eleven. People seem to be there before lunchtime,” Carol said. “Then we end up talking for awhile and leave around 12:30 p.m.”

The Millcreek Recreation Center put up a table for the Hochstadts to set up their display and talk about the PALS program.

“We sat right next to a fireplace. It was very inviting for people to come and visit,” she said. “It was great because they would tell us their stories about their pets. Even if they aren’t particularly interested in adopting a pet, they are able to tell their stories.”

Many aspects of the PALS program are altered to impress aging adults, but giving people the option to take home a pet can be comforting — as long as it’s a good match.

Carol said a family adopted a puppy for their aging mother, and one week later returned it.

“They came back to the Humane Society and adopted a 10-year-old dog and she loved it. Perfect temperament,” Carol said.

The Hochstadts have found that pet owners find it comforting to care for an older animal.

“Just as they shouldn’t be put out to pasture and considered not valuable because of their age, the older animals that are turned in to the shelter shouldn’t be ignored and considered unadoptable,” Carol said.

The couple said this volunteer job is incredibly rewarding.

“People we have helped adopt a pet still thank us every time they see us,” Eric said. “They say they cannot imagine life without their companion.”