'I never expected to have anybody help me': Local program supports seniors with pets in Calgary

The Continued Companionship Program is meant to assist senior citizens with pets who may not have access to the right support systems.

Program provides medical assistance for pets without breaking the bank

A photo taken outside the Calgary Humane Society.
The Calgary Humane Society and and the Calgary Seniors' Resource Society have started a program for seniors with pets in a bid to assist those in need. (Jo Horwood/CBC)

For Wanda Ross, things felt uncertain after her veterinarian moved to a different location.

The 70-year-old Calgarian knew she needed to get help for her sick cat, Roxy, who is a little over 15 years old.

Luckily, Ross stumbled upon the Calgary Humane Society while trying to find helpful resources for a friend and was introduced to an initiative called the Continued Companionship Program.

"This is a great organization to get someone to help them because, I mean, I'm [a] very healthy person and I can do everything mostly by myself. But to go to the vet, my vet moved, so it's $40 … each way for a taxi and I just don't have that kind of money," Ross said.

Thankfully, Ross isn't alone —  the program has allowed her to seek medical assistance for Roxy without breaking the bank.

The Continued Companionship Program is an initiative that was launched by the Calgary Humane Society and the Calgary Seniors' Resource Society in late 2023.

It's meant to assist senior citizens in need who may not have access to the right support system, according to Sally Johnston, Director of Community Services at the Calgary Humane Society.

"It's our program here designed for vulnerable seniors," she said in an interview with CBC Radio's The Homestretch.

"Those seniors who might be living on a very fixed income, they may or may not necessarily have those social supports in place that would help them, but they otherwise have or have a need for pets in their life that we really want to maintain and create that connection opportunity for."

LISTEN | Sally Johnston talks about the program:

The Calgary Humane Society has launched a program to support vulnerable seniors with pets, in partnership with the Calgary Seniors Resources Society.

So how does the program assist those in need? It provides access to vet care, for one, and focuses on things like arranging vaccinations, exams, spays, neuters, and emergency medical care for pets.

It also offers end-of-life services when required.

"If it's time to say goodbye, we want to make sure that the owner can stay with their pet to have that process and have a memorial item afterwards," Johnston said.

She added that they try to keep pet adoption fees as affordable as possible for seniors. Those interested are also encouraged to volunteer and connect with like-minded peers.

Well-rounded care

The Continued Companionship Program aims to provide "well-rounded, supportive care," according to Johnston, who said that they even take things like "special diets" into consideration while providing support to all kinds of pets, including cats, dogs, rabbits, and more.

A brown and white puppy sits on a mans shoulder looking backward to the camera.
The Continued Companionship Program aims to provide support to seniors with all kinds of pets, including cats, dogs, rabbits, and more. (Calgary Humane Society/Twitter)

"If the animal's on a prescription diet, we want to include that too because it's so important to make sure that the care that we're providing is as holistic in nature as we can possibly make it to be."

The program has been highly impactful for seniors like Ross, who find companionship and love through their pets.

"I had a call from a family member of a senior the other day that was looking to get connected with a senior animal for their senior grandmother, which I thought was really awesome," Johnston said.

"And it was exciting to be able to say we've got programs in place to help support them with that. So there are seniors out there looking for that connection with pets, be that through adoption or even fostering."

Easy accessibility

The program, which is funded through donations from members of the public, is easy to access — seniors in need can reach out to the Calgary Humane Society and ask for assistance. 

"All they have to do is just give us a call and we will have a conversation with them. There's a lot of resources and options within the program that will suit that individual," Johnston said before citing an example.

"If your pet needs to go to the vet and paying for that means you're sacrificing your rent that month or your grocery bill that month, then we're here to take care of that," she said.

"It really just boils down to having conversations with these seniors who might need that little bit of extra help for their pet."

Meanwhile, Ross is grateful that she has help and is "overwhelmed by the amount of help" she has received so far.

"I never expected to have anybody help me. I'm always the person that's helping everybody else," she said.

"And this is basically a first time that somebody is actually helping me … I'm just really thrilled."


Boshika Gupta

CBC Calgary digital journalist

Boshika Gupta is a journalist with extensive experience covering several beats such as public policy, food, culture, mental health, wellness and education. Contact her on

With files from The Homestretch