Texas A&M Stevenson Center Adapts, Continues Providing Quality Care For Residents

Story by Madeline Patton

Sierra Key walks two dogs in a stroller
Second-year veterinary student Sierra Key walks Stevenson Center residents Chen and Twinkie

The Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) is a unique piece of the college’s outreach and service efforts.

The center provides the physical, emotional, and medical care and companionship for pets whose owners are no longer able to care for them prior to entering a retirement home, being hospitalized, or predeceasing their pet.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, many of the CVM’s programs and activities were temporarily stopped; however, the Stevenson Center has carried on thanks to the dedicated staff and students who continue to dedicate their lives to caring for these animals.

As part of their job at the Stevenson Center, veterinary students live and work there day and night. A benefit of having students live on-site is that they are able to provide 24-hour care and companionship for the animal residents.

Second-year veterinary student Sierra Key has worked for the center since 2015, her freshman year as an animal science major at Texas A&M. For two years, she was a daytime worker, but in 2017, she was asked to move in.

“I gradually got into the resident position and haven’t looked back,” Key said. “I’ve learned so much from this job, living with all of these different animals, being able to take care of the geriatric animals, and just seeing them all the way through. You don’t get that kind of experience in practice.”

Two canine residents that came to the center from the same home, Chen and Twinkie, have especially taken to Key and have become her study buddies, keeping her company while she does her online veterinary school courses.

“Chen and Twinkie sleep in my room with me,” Key said. “They got here when I moved in to become a resident, and now they’re with me all of the time; they’re my babies.”

In the midst of COVID-19, the students’ daily schedules and responsibilities have not changed. They are responsible for the animals from 5 p.m., when the center’s staff members leave for the night, to 8 a.m. the next day, plus all day on weekends and holidays. When she is not on shift, Key says she works on her classes, treating it like a normal day.

Chen the dog on a bed covered in textbooks
Stevenson Center resident Chen helps Key study for her veterinary classes.

“Social distancing is a big rule here,” Key said. “I think that’s probably the hardest thing, just because we all want to be together and love on all of the animals at the same time. We each select a couple pets and take turns, basically. But it all works out.”

When COVID-19 started to progress throughout the state and then to Brazos County, Texas A&M University and the CVM took measures to protect faculty, staff, students, and the community, at large. The Stevenson Center has taken protective measures, as well, to not only protect those working, but, also, the animals that reside at the center.

“We have limited hours for the day staff because they had to make sure they are respecting social distancing and making sure nobody else comes in,” Key said. “We’re not doing tours at this time, and we’re not having anybody come in and do maintenance work. We’re not allowed to have visitors or friends over right now, which is totally understandable.”

Ellie Greenbaum, the associate director of the Stevenson Center, and Dr. Henry L. “Sonny” Presnal, director of the Stevenson Center, continue administration of the Center from home while their full-time employees continue caring for the pets and the center during the week.

“During the pandemic, the Stevenson Center has delayed all tours and has limited anyone from entering the center other than our employees,” Greenbaum said.

“There are four devoted veterinary students who live at the center and are caring for the pets every evening and weekend as they always do,” she said.  “All of our employees are exceptional and are committed to fulfilling our mission of providing the best in care to our resident pets. Since the nature of our business is essential, the center is carrying on business as usual thanks to our one-of-a-kind staff.”

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Texas A&M Foundation Honors Presnal with Partner in Philanthropy Award

Dean Eleanor M. Green and Dr. Sonny Presnal with his award
Dean Eleanor M. Green and Dr. Sonny Presnal

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS—The Texas A&M Foundation has selected Dr. Henry L. “Sonny” Presnal ’57, longtime director of the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), as a recipient of its 2020 Partner in Philanthropy Award. Presnal received the award for his lifelong devotion to Texas A&M University and the Stevenson Center at a presentation on Feb. 27.

The award was initially established by the Foundation’s Board of Trustees in 2016 as the Partner in Philanthropy Faculty Award to celebrate faculty members who demonstrate dedicated and lasting participation, commitment and creative leadership to philanthropy and Texas A&M University. Recently, the award’s criteria were expanded to honor Texas A&M staff members as well, with the name amended to reflect the new criteria. Presnal is the first non-faculty member to receive the award.

To be selected, Texas A&M faculty or staff must be nominated by a member of the Texas A&M Foundation development staff. Dr. O.J. “Bubba” Woytek ’64, assistant vice president of development and alumni relations for the CVM, nominated Presnal for the award.

“I’ve worked with Sonny for most of my career, and he is an invaluable member of our team and what we do at the CVM,” Woytek said.

Dr. Bubba Woytek, Texas A&M Foundation staff, and Dr. Sonny Presnal“Dr. Presnal is the living embodiment of the Aggie core value of selfless service,” added Tyson Voelkel ’96, president of the Texas A&M Foundation. “We’re talking about a man who has spent the overwhelming majority of his life serving those around him, serving his community, and serving Texas A&M however he could. People like Sonny make this university very special.”

In his 21 years as director of the Stevenson Center, Presnal has played a critical role in building philanthropic relationships for the center as well as for the CVM and Texas A&M University at large. He has also helped build the Stevenson Center’s impressive endowment, which now exceeds $20 million. Woytek added that Presnal was directly and indirectly responsible for approximately $22.5 million in current endowments for the Stevenson Center as well as many more future endowments from the animals enrolled currently to enter the center in the future.

“You won’t find someone more passionate about Texas A&M and his work than Dr. Presnal,” said Otway Denny ’71, chairman of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. “He has seen the university evolve over half a century, and he has remained a believer in its people and its mission the entire time. You couldn’t ask for a better ambassador for the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, and you couldn’t ask for a more deserving recipient of this award.”

In addition to fostering private giving to the Stevenson Center and Texas A&M, Presnal has also established a $50,000 planned gift in his will to create an endowed scholarship for students pursuing a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine who are married and have children. He supports Texas A&M athletics through the 12th Man Foundation and local youths participating in 4-H Club work. Furthermore, he created an endowed Aggie ring scholarship through The Association of Former Students in honor of his late wife, Lou. He plans to direct his $10,000 Partner in Philanthropy monetary award toward that endowment to fund more rings for future Aggies.

Dr. Sonny Presnal speaks after receiving his award“While I’m extremely honored, I don’t consider this award being for me, specifically,” Presnal said. “I look at it as an award for the Stevenson Center program and all of my staff and students for what they have done. Someone has to receive the award, so that’s my role. But we’re all very appreciative of the recognition of the program by the Texas A&M Foundation.”

Born and raised in Bryan-College Station, Presnal earned dual bachelor’s degrees in animal husbandry in 1957 and veterinary science in 1968. Upon returning from his eight years of service in the U.S. Army, he returned to Texas A&M to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree in 1969 before establishing a private practice in Bryan. He was an organizing director and chairman of the board of a local bank from 1981 until 1997.

Presnal became director of the Stevenson Center in 1998. Publicized as a “retirement home for pets,” the Stevenson Center provides physical, emotional, and medical needs for companion animals whose owners are no longer able to provide them with care. There are more than 650 animals enrolled to receive care from the center when their owners can no longer care for them. Additionally, 109 animals have lived out their lives at the center, while there are currently 29 animals living at the center.

As an ambassador for the Stevenson Center, Presnal routinely travels throughout Texas and other states to visit current and potential donors and conduct speaking engagements and presentations on the center’s behalf. When he’s not traveling, he still spends much of his time on weekly phone calls to donors, updating them about developments to the center and staying in touch.

Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center

To learn more about the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center, visit https://vetmed.tamu.edu/stevenson-center/.

Texas A&M Foundation 

The Texas A&M Foundation is a nonprofit organization that aspires to be among the most trusted philanthropies in higher education. It builds a brighter future for Texas A&M University, one relationship at a time. To learn more, visit txamfoundation.com.

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Dunae Reader, Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications, Texas A&M Foundation (txamfoundation.com), (979) 845-7461; dreader@txamfoundation.com; Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

Former Texas A&M Mascot Reveille VIII Dies At Age 12

Reveille VIII
Reveille VIII
COLLEGE STATION, June 25, 2018 – Former Texas A&M University mascot and “First Lady of Aggieland” Reveille VIII, who served from August 2008 until her retirement to Texas A&M’s Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center in May 2015, passed away Monday, June 25. She was 12 years old.

Veterinarians and student caretakers at the Stevenson Center said she fell ill in the early morning of Saturday, June 23, and was taken to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

Dr. Kate Creevy, associate professor of small animal internal medicine, said, “She had a disease that involved her liver, her spleen, and many of her muscles. We could see this was a source of pain for her and not something that we wanted to ask her to fight. A final diagnosis will be determined and reported shortly.”

Reveille’s primary care doctor, clinical associate professor and chief medical officer, Dr. Stacy Eckman, in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences said, “The critical care team and the internal medicine team that cared for her most recently did everything they could to find out what was going on and keep her as comfortable as possible. She was quite the lady. I went by to see her Sunday night in ICU and she was just like she always was—just such a good dog. Even sick, she was regal—she just had that air about her.”

Dr. Eleanor Green, the Carl B. King Dean of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, commended the veterinary team for administering her care.

“We, in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, are profoundly saddened by the passing of Reveille VIII today. We are honored that she lived with us in the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center during her retirement, where she enjoyed relaxing while still able to hear the familiar campus sounds, including those from Kyle Field. We are also gratified to have been able to provide all of her health care needs throughout her life in the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. In the end, after veterinary specialists did all they could for her in her final days, the decision was made to prevent her from suffering. She deserved that after being such a great First Lady of Texas
A&M.”

“I would like to thank the students and staff at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary & Biomedical Sciences and the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center and the Corps of Cadets for providing the former First Lady of Aggieland a life of care and comfort so deserved by one our institution’s finest ambassadors,” Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young said. “Each Reveille for the last 87 years has played an important role in making our university feel like home for students around the world, and Reveille VIII fulfilled that role exceptionally well.”

Reveille VIII will be buried alongside the previous seven Reveilles in Kyle Field Plaza on the north side of the stadium.

“It has been a privilege for the entire staff of the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center to care for Reveille VIII after her retirement,” Stevenson Center associate director Ellie Greenbaum said. “Reveille was truly loved by the center staff, present and past, and has brought immense joy and love into our lives. I speak for everyone at the Stevenson Center when I say that Reveille proudly embodied the Aggie spirit and enriched our lives tremendously.”

Reveille VIII, a collie from Topeka, Kansas, made her debut as Texas A&M’s mascot at Kyle Field during the opening game of the 2008 Aggie football season against Arkansas.

“Reveille VIII is more than just a dog, or even a mascot. She’s a lady, a former student, a loyal companion, and a perfect representation of why Texas A&M is so great,” Ryan Kreider, Reveille’s handler said. “She was truly a part of my family, and I’m forever grateful to have held the honor of serving as her handler.”

“Our family was so blessed to have had the opportunity to spend time with Rev VIII since our arrival here in 2015,” said Dr. Danny Pugh, vice president for student affairs. “We loved having her in our home. She was dignified, distinguished, and I will fondly remember time spent petting her while sitting together on the kitchen floor. Pope Francis is reported to have told a boy that dogs go to heaven and I am certain Rev VIII is there now, with Rev I through VII, and they are leading a host of Aggies closely watching the scoreboard.”

The Reveille tradition began in 1931 when members of Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets hit a small dog on their way back to campus from
Navasota. Pets were not allowed on campus, but the cadets picked up the injured dog and cared for her and hid her away in a dorm room.
Her cover was blown the next morning when “Reveille” was played by a bugler to wake the cadets and she began barking, earning the name
Aggies around the world know her by today. Reveille I was named the university’s official mascot the following football season when she led the band onto Kyle Field. The first Reveille served as mascot for 13 years until her death in 1944.

Reveille II, a Shetland Sheepdog donated by a Texas A&M graduate, made her appearance on campus eight years after Reveille I passed away. Reveille III was the first full-blood Rough Collie, and every Reveille since then has belonged to that breed. The most current Reveille is Reveille IX, who was introduced in May 2015.

Each Reveille mascot since 1960 has been cared for by a Mascot Corporal, a sophomore cadet in Company E-2.

“We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Reveille VIII today. She was a beautiful mascot for our university and represented Texas A&M with grace and charm wherever she went. As with each Reveille, it was an honor for the Corps of Cadets and Company E-2 to take on the responsibility for Reveille VIII’s security and well-being for nearly eight years,” Corps of Cadets Commandant Brigadier General (Ret.) Joe Ramirez said. “She enriched the lives of all the cadets who had the privilege of working with her during her reign as ‘The First Lady of Aggieland’ and always made all of the members of the Corps of Cadets proud to have her among them on the Quad. She will be deeply missed by all of us who had the honor and privilege of knowing her and working with her.”

The Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center was established in 1993 within the veterinary college as a place for pet owners to
send their animals when the owners pass away or are no longer able to care for them. It is staffed by a team of veterinarians, caretakers, and student workers who live on site to ensure 24-hour care and company for residents.

“The Stevenson Center was honored to be asked by Interim President (Mark A.) Hussey to be the retirement home for Reveille VII when she retired in 2015,” said Stevenson Center director Dr. Sonny Presnal said. “Reveille was still seen by visitors to the center and she has always been accessible to the cadets of E-2. Reveille VIII has been a delight to be part of the Stevenson Center family for the past three years.”

UPDATE—Mon, Aug. 6: The funeral service for former Texas A&M mascot Reveille VIII has been set for Thu., Aug. 30, 2018, at 8:30 am at The Zone Plaza at Kyle Field. There will be standing room only surrounding the gravesite. Contact reveilleservice@tamu.edu with questions. For parking information, visit tx.ag/Rev8FuneralParking

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive Director of Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; mpalsa@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)

Small Animal Hospital Receives Donated Aquarium

Stevenson AquariumA new aquarium in the lobby of the Small Animal Hospital, at the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH), has been donated in memory of Madlin Stevenson.

Stevenson—an animal lover, artist, philanthropist, historian, and world traveler, with a generous, gentle soul, quick wit, and boundless energy—is the namesake and a major original supporter of the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center, at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM).

A prominent interior designer who worked for Suniland Furniture Company in Houston, Stevenson also was the original interior designer for the public areas of the Luse Foundation Building, which houses the Stevenson Center. She retired from the profession at the age of 90 after 43 years of service.

Stevenson’s love of animals began at an early age, including a fondness for riding horses, and her passion for animal welfare led her to rescue from sad and cruel conditions most of the pets (including a pony and a llama) that she devoted her life caring for in her La Porte home.

Today, the Stevenson Center is dedicated to providing lifelong care in a homelike atmosphere for animals when their owners can no longer care for them. The center is privately funded by an endowment to which owners contribute prior to each pet beginning residence at the center. The center also fosters educational experiences for professional veterinary students by providing opportunities to care for companion animals.

When Stevenson died at the age of 95 in 2000, her four cats, seven dogs, pony, and llama came to live at the center.

Stevenson Center Gives Pet Owners Peace of Mind

Ribbon cutting for the Stevenson building expansion
From left: Dr. O.J. “Bubba” Woytek; Mattie Stevenson, with Trixie; and Kim Muth, with Mackie; lead the way after the ribbon is cut to open the Stevenson building expansion in 2013.

Many of us consider our pets to be a part of the family, so it can be tough to imagine our pet’s life after we are no longer able to provide them care.

Whether pet owners are seriously ill, hospitalized for an extended period, entering a retirement home, or predecease their pet, the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) can help.

The Stevenson Center is a state-of-the-art program designed to care for pets whose owners are no longer able to provide that care. The staff at the center work hard to ensure both large and small animals, including livestock, birds and other exotics, feel at home by providing for pets’ physical, medical, and emotional needs.

Established in 1993, the Stevenson Center largely was funded through the Luse Foundation and the late Mrs. Madlin Stevenson. An avid animal lover, Madlin said she chose to support the center because, “Animals are especially important to the elderly; this center is dedicated to them and their pets.”

When Madlin passed away in 2000, her niece, Mattie Stevenson, continued donating to the center and has enjoyed watching the “pet utopia” grow. After two expansions, the center is “very impressive,” Mattie said.

Animal residents of the center engage in plenty of playtime, napping, and cuddling with staff and A&M resident veterinary students. But of course, there are a lot of chores to be done to keep the center clean and the animals happy. Mattie noted that the staff and students are caring, dedicated, and professional; they work hard to keep animal residents comfortable.

“You can be confident that the pets you love will have the finest care possible for the rest of their lives,” Mattie said.

Additionally, animals enrolled at the Stevenson Center are in close proximity to the CVM and are guaranteed excellent veterinary care. In fact, before the animals even move into the center, they visit the animal hospital for evaluation and a complete physical. Veterinarians then determine the animal’s medical history and dietary needs and develop personalized health care programs for each pet.

Though we try to prepare for the future, life can be unexpected. That’s why the Stevenson Center welcomes pets with open arms when their owners can no longer care for them.

“Since none of us knows the future,” Mattie said, “we love knowing that should something happen to us while our pets are still alive, there will always be a wonderful place on the campus of Texas A&M University waiting to welcome them home.”

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If you or a loved one are interested in learning more about the Stevenson Center, visit http://vetmed.tamu.edu/stevenson-centerfor more information.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu

Peace of Mind For Pet Owners

Texas A&M; Supporters Found Love, Compassion at Stevenson Center

Although it’s never pleasant to make final arrangements for the end of one’s life, perhaps the toughest aspect of such planning is realizing there will be those left behind that still require care. Wills are made, endowments are established, guardians are appointed-but what if those who remain are not children or spouses, but cherished pets that have been loyal companions?

Steve and Kaye Horn with their dogs, Winston, Buffett, and Diego

 

The Horns
Steve and Kaye Horn with their dogs, Winston, Buffett, and Diego

Kaye and Steve Horn of Houston have peace of mind knowing that their daughter, Marcella, and their three other “children,” Winston, Buffett, and Diego-officially dogs, but also beloved members of the family, will be cared for in the event of their passing.

If something happens to the Horns, their pets will live out their days at Texas A&M;’s Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center, the privately funded, state-of-the-art animal care program that provides personalized, compassionate care in an environment that is very similar to the homes the animals must leave.

“I remember we were about to have our wills done. We have only one daughter, Marcella, and she was still a little girl then. We’ve always had at least three dogs, and we’ve had as many as four. We’re what’s known as ‘dog crazy,’ because they are like members of our family. It troubled me to think that we could be on a trip and be in a plane crash or whatever happens, and we have this little girl who would be left with four dogs to take care of-which is a lot for a little person!” said Kaye.

Marcella would live with her godmother, Mary Sue, in Omaha, Nebraska, but no one seemed to know what would happen with “the pups.” “Mary Sue doesn’t care for dogs,” Kaye said, since she had been bitten in the face as a girl. “She tolerates our dogs, but she doesn’t like them.”

One day the Horns read about the Stevenson Center in Texas Aggie Magazine, a Texas A&M; University former students publication, and were charmed and impressed when they visited the center. “We actually dropped in unannounced on [Aggie football] game day several years ago and banged on the door,” Kaye continued. “A vet student came to let us in. The dogs and cats were all very happy, and no one knew we were coming. That tells you something.”

“The most appealing [thing to me] was that the animals live in a home, a very nice brick home, similar to where they live with us. I love the fact that the veterinary students live with them at night, because a lot of the animals there are elderly, and they need special care.”

That special care is important to the Horns, because some of their animals have needs that might not be respected in a less caring setting. “We take very good care of our pets,” Kaye said. “It makes me feel guilty sometimes, because Winston gets allergy shots every week. I mean, he gets better medical care then most humans. My pets are members of our family and we have to take good care of them.”

Kaye was drawn to the obvious love the students and staff at the Stevenson Center have for their four-legged friends, noting that whenever a pet does die, they post a notice in the magazine or other publication, expressing their grief. “They’re genuinely sad the pet has passed away because they get attached just like we get attached to any pet that we love,” Kaye said. “That’s what I like about Stevenson: they do care about who lives there.”

She noted the center is far enough away from the busiest part of College Station that the animals have land on which to run, that the whole facility is extremely clean, and all the food is kept separately, catering to the specific needs of each kind of animal and each individual pet.

Kaye is relieved she doesn’t have to rely on loved ones to continue her pets’ care. In some cases, those inheriting an estate may not be as dedicated to animals as the deceased owners. “It can be a burden just to say, ‘Oh, you’re my best friend…here, take care of my kitty cats.’ It’s better to go ahead and provide for them to go to Stevenson Center, because, as I tell my friends, it’s just a problem solved, and you don’t have to worry about it.”

Kaye Horn with Buffett

 

Paying it back, forward

Kaye Horn with Buffett
Kaye Horn with Buffett

The Horns were both academically excellent students. Steve is a 1979 summa cum laude petroleum engineering graduate from Texas A&M; and Kaye received her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Texas Christian University. Even though she is not an Aggie graduate, Kaye has a great love of Aggie traditions, and they share a special affinity for Aggie football.

“We both went to college on scholarship,” Kaye said. “I think now we’re paying it back, but also paying it forward. Anything we give to the Texas A&M; Foundation helps all classes of Texans get an education.”

She noted that, although requirements for admission to Texas A&M; are getting increasingly stringent, students do get accepted, graduate, and pursue careers in veterinary medicine. She also noted the strong and large Aggie alumni base in Houston. “Aggie former students in Houston take care of each other, and so we hope to sponsor more students in the next 20 to 25 years. And we’ll always be involved with the Stevenson Center.”

Easily arranged peace of mind

Kaye found making arrangements with the Stevenson Center extremely stress-free. The Texas A&M; Foundation coordinated and provided the necessary forms to their estate-planning lawyer. The completed forms were attached to their will, providing peace of mind that, no matter who manages the estate, the animals’ care is predetermined. Their attorneys will contact the Stevenson Center, and help the dogs make “a very easy transition.”

The Horns know the quality of their pets’ lives will continue to be top-notch. “The Stevenson Center is like home, and that’s where they deserve to live if something happens to us,” Kaye said.

About the Stevenson Center

The Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center was established by the Texas A&M; College of Veterinary Medicine in 1993 at the suggestion of Dr. E.W. “Ned” Ellett, former head of the Small Animal Clinic at Texas A&M.; Dr. Ellett’s dream was realized due to generous donations from the Luse Foundation and Mrs. Madlin Stevenson. Mrs. Stevenson said she chose to support the center because animals are especially important to the elderly. She died in September 2000, leaving behind four cats, seven dogs, a pony, and a llama, all of which were re-homed at the center.

A Perfect Companion for the Elderly

The power of pet therapy is thought to be stronger than any medication, not only for people going through tough times or in poor health, but also for the elderly as well. Proven to increase mental alertness, build self-esteem, and decrease loneliness, pets can provide a warm and fulfilling relationship that older people-or indeed all of us-desire.

“Pet ownership for older people can be very beneficial by giving them something to love and care for, as well as a companion in the home, especially if they live alone,” said Dr. Sonny Presnal, Director of the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). “I don’t believe there are any appreciable risks, providing that good decisions are made in the choice of a pet for older people.”

Having the responsibility of caring for a pet can be a healthy situation for most elderly people. Sometimes, a pet can be the only reason that he or she feels a need to get up in the morning; it provides them with a sense of purpose. “It gives older pet owners something to care for, which in the case of a dog may mean they are out taking the dog on a walk instead of sitting in the house,” said Presnal. In addition, there are many studies that attribute pet ownership to relieving stress, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and bettering mental health.

Not only do pets help the elderly overcome various health ailments, but also they can significantly decrease their owners’ sense of loneliness. As you probably already know, pets are automatic people magnets and are often a great conversation starter. People love talking about their pets, and others love interacting with the pets they encounter. This can often lead to new friendships and can provide beneficial social interactions that elderly people may not have otherwise had the chance to experience. This, in addition to simply having something to care for, significantly decreases loneliness and accompanying depression.

When choosing a pet, you must take into consideration the limitations of the elderly person’s physical and mental health. “A large, active dog may not be suitable for older people, due to the risk of injury to the owner from an accidental collision that may cause them to fall,” said Presnal. “Fractures from falls can be very dangerous for older people, especially hip fractures.”

A young puppy or kitten may not be a suitable choice either, due to their high maintenance requirements. An older dog or cat that has matured past their ball of energy phase can be a perfect companion. Not only does adopting an older pet benefit their owner, but may save the pet from euthanasia, as often people are (unfortunately) not interested in adopting older animals.

A concern that many elderly people considering pet ownership face is the possibility that they will no longer be able to care for their pet later on. This can happen if their health suddenly decreases, or if the animal becomes in need of extensive veterinary care. “There are many mobile veterinary services available for older persons who may not drive or who otherwise have problems transporting their pets for veterinary care,” said Presnal. There are also programs, such as the Stevenson Center, that provide for the physical, emotional, and medical needs of companion animals when their owners can no longer do so.

The Stevenson Center, which Presnal directs, is a unique program that has veterinary students who live at the center to provide companionship and care for the resident pets at night and on weekends and holidays. “As part of the CVM, the resident pets receive the ultimate in veterinary care at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital,” said Presnal. “We believe the level of care and companionship is unequaled by any other similar program.”

It is proven that animals can help enrich the lives of their owners both physically and emotionally, and this can be especially true for the elderly. The right pet can provide them with a sense of purpose, nonjudgmental acceptance, and companionship that both animals and humans need to stay happy and comfortable.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.