Sometimes you set about completing one task and then discover something even more exciting and ambitious. And sometimes you get to break some news. This is one of those occasions, on both counts.
It all began when award-winning veterinarian Dr. David Steele — his practice, Advanced Animal Care, has won Best of Mount Pleasant with Mount Pleasant Magazine readers multiple times — was making regular visits to the Somerby assisted living community. A client of Advanced Animal Care had transitioned to Somerby with her dog, Dudley. Dr. Steele began making monthly “house calls” to the community to tend to Dudley’s needs and also check on the emotional well-being of Dudley’s owner. Soon, he ended up meeting and chatting with numerous other residents who owned pets and discovered these senior owners had a number of concerns for their furry family members.
Those questions included things like, would they be able to take them to a veterinarian? Were they still able to take them on walks without fear of falling? Could they see well enough to feed and groom their pets? And another major worry was, what would happen if their pet outlived them?
The experiences at Somerby encouraged Dr. Steele to spend a half or full day each month at the assisted living facility, offering discounted or free services for the pet owners. Inspired, he came up with the idea for a new community service program he calls “Seniors for Seniors.” He considers his own visits to Somerby as the beta test for the program, and this article you’re reading is his first formal announcement.
“We’ll need volunteers to step up,” he said. “I’ll be reaching out to other veterinarians to make regular visits to other assisted living facilities.
“We are seeking a lawyer or lawyers with estate-planning experience to counsel residents on their pets’ care after they have passed on. We are hoping to enlist the services of an occupational therapist to work with pet owners with physical challenges in caring for them. And we will be reaching out to schools, church groups and other youth-oriented organizations to put together teams of young people willing to assist with services, such as dog walking,” he explained.
This isn’t the first time Advanced Animal Care has felt called to give back. Years before, Dr. Steele and his wife and business co-owner, Dr. Leslie Steele, began reaching out to underserved communities in the Lowcountry with a program called East Cooper Pet Relief. They discovered that many people were having problems – financial, physical or emotional – that were putting their relationship with their pets in jeopardy. Solutions included re-homing animals whose owners could no longer care for them, often through foster care and adoptions.
“Leslie and I are blessed,” he added, “to have a practice in a community that understands the benefits of preventive wellness and has the means to support it. We feel an obligation to do what we can to give back to our community, and we hope that other veterinarians in the Lowcountry, as well as interested volunteers, will feel the same and ‘adopt’ assisted living facilities.”
A key element in “Seniors for Seniors” is working to shrink the animal overpopulation among area shelters and rescue groups. Why not try to pair up some seniors in assisted living with senior dogs, who are often the most difficult to place in “forever homes?”
“What can they do with all these animals that need to be rescued?” he asked. “Most of them don’t have the facilities to care for them. On one side of the equation, we have frequently lonely people with time on their hands and a desire for additional purpose in life. On the other side, we have older dogs who need a place to live and someone to feed and care for them until they can be adopted into a new home. It’s a second-chance opportunity for both.”
With an already busy practice, why is Dr. Steele embarking on yet another project that he hopes will continue to flourish?
“Because I believe that every living creature has a soul,” he said, simply. “And I think I just may be more comfortable with furry souls.”
By Bill Farley