Losing his wife of 60 years was painful for Norman Renneckar. Her death in 2002 left a hole inRenneckar's life he thought he never could fill.
Retired from the railroads sincethe mid-1970s, Renneckar, 91, of Norwalk spent his golden years in the loving company of his wife,Harriet Simmons.
But live long enough, and friends and family pass away. Renneckar has now outlived his wife and all three of his brothers. His son and daughter live too far away to see frequently.
One long-time friend, however, helps Renneckar beat the blues -- Allie, a black alley cat.
And Huron County SeniorEnrichment Services now helpsRenneckar and others keep their animal companions in kibble.
Starting last month, the agency's Bone Appetit program serves needy seniors in the area by providing a bag of dog or cat food each month.
Allie showed up at Renneckar's back door one day a decade ago and became his pal, snuggle buddy and source of amusement.
"She's my companion. I'm living here alone, and it's good to have something alive in the house,"Renneckar said. "She filled in."
Allie doesn't ask Renneckar for much. Some petting here. Some belly rubbing there. A little snuggling now and again.
But Allie does have some expectations when it comes to her meals.
"She is expensive to feed," Renneckar said. "She won't eat the cheap stuff. She wants Fancy Feast."
Catering to Allie's picky eating habits doesn't always come easy.
Renneckar lives on a fixed income from his pension with the railroad. He also has some savings, which helps balance his budget.
But bills add up and Renneckar has to live within his means.
Senior Enrichment Services Home-Delivered Meal Program already brought Renneckar donation-based meals five days a week, and now cat food comes once a month.
Renneckar calls the program a "big help" in his life because Allie loves food and he loves not having to pay for it all.
A bag was delivered on Wednesday morning. Catching its scent, the cat jumped up onto the couch and started nuzzling the bag.
Lucinda Smith, executive director of Senior Enrichment Services, said the Bone Appetite program is paid for using a grant from an animal advocacy group. Smith said she wanted to help seniors face one fewer tough financial decision.
"I knew some are low-income and may be struggling given the way the economy is," Smith said. "I didn't want them to have to decide whether to feed their dog before they fed themselves."
The program serves about 22 seniors.
Pets can play a major role in the lives of seniors. A furry little companion can lessen feelings of loneliness and sadness, and keep seniors active. Walking the dog is exercise and taking care of a cat involves a certain amount of exertion.
"They are like their kids and family, especially for women and men who have lost their spouse," Smith said. "A pet kind of takes their place because they are the only ones left in the house with you."
Want to donate to Bone Appetite?
Or mail donations to 310 Shady Lane Drive, Norwalk, OH 44857