On the Sunshine Coast, The Pets for Life program has been transforming lives for over a decade. The program, run by the Caloundra Community Centre and partners, not only helps elderly pet owners maintain a fulfilling life with their pets, but builds social connections and prevents animals from being surrendered. 

By carefully matching volunteers with pet owners who need help with tasks like dog walking, litter tray maintenance, and administering medication, Pets for Life ensures that pets receive the care they need while their owners enjoy the companionship and support of dedicated volunteers. 

One of the program’s core strengths lies in its emphasis on developing relationships. The matching of volunteers and pet owners has built significant social capital, with many forming meaningful relationships. Over 91% of pet owners affirm that having regular contact with people through Pets for Life has had a positive impact on their overall wellbeing.

Consider the story of one participant who, due to a condition limiting her mobility, struggled to walk her dog. Through the program, she was connected to volunteers who helped care for him and take him for walks. Not only did they provide practical help, but friendships were formed that have become lasting relationships, with the volunteers even being referred to as part of her extended family. “The program has really opened my life up again,” she shared.

Impactful stories like these are at the heart of Pets for Life and trace back to the program’s roots. The initial concept was inspired by a local woman who volunteered at the Sunshine Coast Animal Refuge (SCARS). Witnessing the distress of elderly pet owners forced to surrender their companions, she envisioned a program where community volunteers could step in to provide the necessary care. She joined forces with the manager of the Caloundra Community Centre and a local disability service provider and together, they crafted a sustainable model that would not only support pet owners but also build social connections and create a sense of community. This story embodies the community-led and place-based nature of Neighbourhood Centres. 

Neighbourhood Centres are driven by the needs and aspirations of their local communities, providing tailored programs and services that address specific local issues. The community-led nature of Centres ensures that they are responsive, relevant, and deeply rooted in the places they support. This approach creates a sense of ownership and empowerment among community members, encouraging active participation and collaboration.

Pets for Life is a shining example of the benefits of adopting a community-led approach. By listening to the unique needs of their community and harnessing local resources and volunteers, the Caloundra Community Centre has created a sustainable and impactful program that enhances the wellbeing of both pets and their owners.

Pets for Life is a movement that celebrates the bond between humans and animals, the power of community, and the beauty of intergenerational relationships. It illustrates not only the innovativeness of Neighbourhood Centres, but what can be achieved when people come together with a shared purpose of compassion and care.

Written By: Ally Kodet-Moran
Published: July 2024