Calgary seniors are seeing the benefits of a new cat foster program

Shalem Senior Community Living has formed a unique partnership with AARCS

By Leanne Murray | October 17, 2022 |5:00 am

Geranium has been keeping the residents of Shalem company for the past few weeks.

Photo: Submitted

One snuggle with this feline will leave you covered in white hair, but the residents of Shalem Senior Community Living don’t mind.

Geranium is the second cat Shalem has fostered after forming a new partnership with Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS).

Executive director Dorothy de Vuyst says, traditionally, Shalem has had a no-pet policy, but the staff began exploring the idea of allowing animals in recent months.

“It’s so important for residents to be able to have the opportunity to spend time with animals, specifically cats and dogs, just because it’s such a great source of companionship,” de Vuyst says.

Shalem started small in the spring by bringing in some butterflies for the residents to care for. Then they hatched some chicks.

Partnering with AARCS

Fostering a cat was a natural next step, so the team at Shalem reached out to AARCS which, like so many other rescues, has seen a rise in animal surrenders.

Seniors at Shalem fostered their first cat in August and it was adopted after about a month. Then they got Geranium, who now has an adoption application pending.

“It’s just a great way to help AARCS out in preparing Geranium for her forever home and just helps her get a little bit more socialized,” de Vuyst says, adding they will work with AARCS to bring in another cat or two to foster once Geranium is adopted.

Geranium has been a big hit with Shalem residents.

AARCS cat manager Elizabeth Dill says it’s a mutually beneficial partnership.

“This has been a huge success from our perspective, too, and we couldn’t be happier with the outcome so far,” Dill says.

In fact, the cat foster program has been so successful, de Vuyst says they want to continue it indefinitely.

“At Shalem, we really try to establish programs that we know will enhance the well-being of seniors, and that’s not only social programs but spiritual and emotional programs as well, and pets are such a big part of that,” de Vuyst says.

A commitment and sense of purpose

Shalem resident Connie Plenert is a big advocate for the cat foster program and is one of the volunteers who takes care of Geranium in the designated cat room.

“I’m usually in that room every day, just because I want to make sure that she’s happy,” Plenert says, adding it gives her something to do and look forward to.

“It’s a commitment to Shalem, it’s a commitment to the cat, and to me. I’ve got something to do every night. I come from a very busy background… and then all of a sudden that comes to a halt. But you have to find other things to keep you busy.”

Plenert is more than happy to spend time with Geranium, despite the amount of white hair she leaves behind.

“It brings me a little bit of peace,” Plenert says.

“She likes to sit on your lap or she likes to be right here on your left side with her head under your chin… And it’s so comforting. She’s sweet.”

Connie Plenert enjoys spending time with Geranium.

Playful shenanigans

Plenert says Geranium is quite playful in the morning and they even had a game of hide-and-seek one day.

“I walked into the cat room, she wasn’t there and I panicked. Looking all over, there’s no cat. And she was hiding under the sink,” Plenert laughs.

Geranium is kept in a specified room at Shalem and any resident who wants to spend time with her can do so.

“It is by and large a resident-run program. The residents all volunteer to look after her and take care of her. And again, it just provides that sense of being needed and purpose,” de Vuyst says, adding even the residents who claim to not like cats are coming around to the program.

“The joy and purpose seniors feel in caring for the cats and the comfort and companionship they receive benefits our residents in countless ways.”

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Leanne Murray

Leanne is a Calgary Citizen reporter.

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