Privatized pets


Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall's latest privatization effort involves three outreach programs of the Department of Aging, which include visits to nursing homes by adult volunteers, pets and children.

More than 300 people volunteer a total of 10,000 hours each year visiting elderly and disabled men and women at the county's nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and adult day-care centers. Also participating in the program -- and providing significant entertainment for the elderly -- are some 190 pets, including dogs, cats, a rabbit and even a pot-bellied pig named Golda. These programs, including the 10-year-old Pets on Wheels, will now be run by the non-profit Life Enrichment/Pets on Wheels Inc.

Even though that organization will receive a $24,290 grant from county government, the public coffers stand to save $20,000 a year through this move.

Privatization of non-essential services has been a goal of government at all levels, and certainly of the Neall administration. As the county tightens its budgetary belt, the government wants to limit its obligations. This privatization move is particularly auspicious because the non-profit corporation taking over the visitation programs already existed as a fund-raising and support group. As the county now transfers its responsibilities to Life Enrichment/Pets on Wheels Inc., there will be no interruption in these programs.

That's reassuring, because anyone who has seen these programs in action can attest to the fact that a visit from a pet or a human being can have profoundly beneficial effects on shut-ins who rarely get visitors. "We had a woman who never talked," recalled Louis Poulson, chairman of the advisory board for the three programs. "We brought this cat in, and she petted it on the head and said, 'That's a lovely cat.' "

Now that these programs have been privatized, however, they will need more community support than before. For one thing, there is no guarantee the county will continue its financial aid in future years. Still, money will be needed to run the organization and for operational expenses such as insurance.

We urge Anne Arundel residents to contribute to these innovative programs. They can mean so much to those in their waning years who no longer are mobile and cannot fully participate in community life.

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