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Nonprofit helps seniors keep their pets in challenging times

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Carmen Lugo cannot imagine being cooped up during the COVID-19 quarantine without her best friend. 

“She’s turned out to be the best little dog. She does everything but talk,” Lugo said. 

Bunny was a “ball of fluff” puppy when she arrived Easter morning 2013. Lugo and her white poodle terrier mix have been inseparable ever since.

Carmen Lugo has been able to keep her dog Bunny with the help of Therapet Eldercare of El Paso, which provides senior citizens with financial help for pet food and veterinary care. (Photo courtesy of Carmen Lugo)

“Don’t ever underestimate the power of a pet. They make you think. They make you move. They give you a lot of love,” said the 75-year-old retired hairdresser. 

The benefits of companion animals are well documented. Pets are especially important these days for older Americans isolated at home to avoid coming in contact with the coronavirus. Some are cut off from friends and relatives in town. Others have family living far away. Lugo’s two daughters are out of state. 

The nearby senior citizen center where she visits with friends and has lunch is closed. Lugo has had to limit her walks with Bunny to the gated garden courtyard at their complex.

“When I get to feeling lonely because we’re by ourselves, it’s like she knows. And she’ll come and she’ll sit with me and I just pet her and love on her. And the mood will go away,” Lugo said in a phone interview.

While Texas and other states reopen little by little, people over 65 are still advised to stay home and away from most other people. 

“That is your best buddy right now,” Ruth Harris said with a chuckle.  She runs Therapet Eldercare of El Paso, a small non-profit organization that is a big help for Lugo and 60 other senior citizens. The organization pays for pet food and veterinary care for those who otherwise could not afford to have a companion animal.

“Our clients just love their animals. We have one, she’d gone through cancer and she said she didn’t think she would have made it without her two little buddies,” Harris said.  

Those two little buddies are dogs. 

Bunny romps through the grass while outside with Carmen Lugo. (Photo courtesy of Carmen Lugo)

The organization relies on donations and Harris is worried about finances during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. “I’m even scared to look at our accounts quite frankly,” she said.

In the senior citizen apartment complex where Lugo lives, five other women with dogs depend on the Therapet Eldercare of El Paso and Lugo encounters others in need.

“It so happened that a few times that I have been at Walmart or someplace and I run into seniors that have pets and they tell me they have to sometimes make a decision as to whether to buy food for themselves or food for the dog,” Lugo said.

She tells them help is available for those who need it. She’s grateful to Therapet Eldercare of El Paso for covering the cost of Bunny’s food, medication and veterinary care. 

“It helps a great, great deal” she said. 

To support Therapet, send a check to Therapet Eldercare of El Paso, P.O. Box 13697, El Paso, TX 79913.

Cover photo: Bunny cuddles up to Carmen Lugo during a walk in the courtyard of their senior housing complex. (Photo courtesy of Carmen Lugo)

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Angela Kocherga

Angela Kocherga is multimedia editor for El Paso Matters. She has dedicated her career as a journalist to reporting stories on both sides of the border for readers, viewers and public radio listeners. She previously served as Mexico City and Border Bureau Chief for a group of television stations. She is currently News Director and correspondent for El Paso's public radio station KTEP 88.5 fm.

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