If you’ve ever visited or volunteered at a dog shelter, you’ll have certainly been moved by the number of elderly dogs and cats languishing there, as deserving of a good home as any other pet, but often passed over in favor of a younger model. Some of these senior cats and dogs end up homeless because of people’s sheer callousness and total disregard for the fact that animals are sentient creatures and not objects to be discarded without a second glance. Perhaps they’re no longer fun and playful and therefore become unwanted by their human companions, or they’ve developed a medical condition their owners don’t want to pay for. But sometimes pets end up at the shelter through no fault of their humans. Heartbreaking stories of cats and dogs who lost their elderly companions and their homes in one fell swoop are abundant. Because there is nowhere else for them to go, these animals are left to mourn their long-term companions’ passing confined to a noisy cage in an animal shelter.

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A One-of-a-Kind Charity

Thankfully, there is an organization that helps these pets in need. Based in the UK, the Cinnamon Trust is one of the few charities of its kind, helping owners ensure their pets are cared for after they no longer can. Describing itself as “the only specialist national charity for people in their last years and their much loved, much needed companion animals,” the organization provides a number of services for people who are elderly or terminally ill to ensure their pets don’t suffer.

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These include a 15,000-person strong network of dedicated volunteers who walk dogs for housebound guardians, foster pets while guardians are receiving in-hospital care and perform a number of other vital duties for peopla and pets in need, and two “home from home” sanctuaries where animals whose guardians can no longer care for them are taken in and given the specialist, tailored care they need. Based in Devon and Cornwall, these facilities are made as personal as possible, so that pets can continue to benefit from the quality of life they enjoyed with their caretakers.

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The sanctuaries are not arranged as kennels but as a “lovely free environment” with sofas, chairs, and rugs where animals enjoy the company of other animals and the personalized care of trained staff. Of course this type of solution “is not for all animals” and “cannot be done on a mass scale basis.” Most animals do prefer to live in a home where they can enjoy one-on-one care as part of a loving family. Indeed, the most important service the Cinnamon Trust provides is pairing up elderly or sick guardians with individuals willing to take on lifetime care for their bereaved pets.

It’s difficult enough for an animal to lose their beloved companion without becoming homeless and shelter-bound as well, and suffering from an illness or contemplating the end of one’s life is already daunting without having to worry about the fate of a devoted pet.

How it All Began

Operating for over 30 years, the Cinnamon Trust was founded in 1985 by Averil Jarvis and named after her cherished Corgi, Cinnamon, who died at the ripe old age of 17. The idea for the charity came from Jarvis seeing “a lot of older people who were full of worry about what would happen to their pets when they got frail, ill or became housebound.” When taking her dog for a stroll near Hayle, in Cornwall, Jarvis met a fellow dog guardian and started a conversation that would change countless people and pets’ lives. The lady she spoke to told her how she worried that her pets would be put down after she died, as she had no family to care for them. Jarvis had heard of this concern from several other elderly people and was prompted to set up the Trust. Her objective was not only to find a way to preserve special relationships between owners and pets ­­— and allow people to keep their companions as long as possible — but also to offer bereaved pets the security of sanctuary after their owners passed on.

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How Does it Work?

Pet parents who have suffered a loss of mobility or find themselves unable to properly care for their animals can call on the Trust for help. The organization will do its best to set them up with volunteers who will help care for their pets, allowing elderly and sick people to continue living with their animals as long as possible. For Derek Bundy, the Trust has been a lifesaver. After suffering a heart attack and a major stroke, Bundy pulled through thanks largely to his dog Sky, described as the “love of [his] life” bringing him “immense happiness.” He explains that “without the support of the Cinnamon Trust” and their dependable dog walkers “I would not be able to own a dog and life would be very different.” Moreover, “great friendships are formed between the owner and the volunteer, with volunteers becoming genuinely very fond of the older person” as well as their pet.

One such volunteer is Linda Beddows, who walks Mickey the Jack Russell, whose guardian suffers from arthritis. Her favorite part of helping out with the Cinnamon Trust is “the bond between volunteer and pet guardian as there is regular contact and a mutual trust that both have the dog’s best interest at heart.” Guardians can also contact the Trust to make arrangements for their pets to be taken on after their passing. The organization works hard to ensure animals are paired with the right person who will meet their needs, love them as though they were their own and help them overcome the trauma of losing their human companions.

This wonderful scheme keeps animals — often senior ones with little to no chance of being adopted — out of the shelter system and ensures they are taken in by someone they have met and become familiar with during their owner’s lifetime. It also affords owners the peace of mind of knowing their animal will be well looked after when they pass. Averil Jarvis highlights the serious and sensitive nature of the work the Cinnamon Trust does: “It is important older people are not let down,” therefore “constancy and reliability are key to the service the charity provides.” Aside from providing direct assistance to pets and their guardians, the organization encourages residential care homes to be more animal-friendly and welcome resident’s companion pets as well.

At present, the Trust has 1,430 registered homes it deems pet-friendly and strives to encourage more to allow elderly people to keep their pets with them in their difficult move away from home and into residential care.

Helping Countless People and Animals

The charity helps over 32,000 people and close to 42,000 animals each year. Since its inception, it has provided invaluable assistance to 250,000 people and 300,000 animals in various scenarios. Inevitably, dogs and cats form the bulk of the pets the Trust works with, but it takes in all kinds of animals, including birds, horses, and even rescue squirrels.

Some of the people and pets it has helped so far include Audrey, a blind woman, who was devastated by the death of her old dog, and Penny a beautiful 10-year old black cocker spaniel who became deeply traumatized by her guardian’s passing. After being brought together by the Trust, the two have become inseparable and now go everywhere together. In another heartwarming tale, the charity also connected two perfect strangers over their love for one little cat.

Knowing he did not have long to live, Richard contacted the Cinnamon Trust, concerned for the fate of his eight-year-old cat Mitzi. Lonely, housebound, and reeling from her own cat’s death, Beatrice fit the bill perfectly, promising to take on Mitzi when Richard passed. She and Richard wrote to each other every week until his death, two complete strangers brought together by their devotion to one little cat.

How You Can Help

The Trust is always looking for volunteer helpers and dog walkers, as well as short and long-term fosterers. If you live in the UK and have some free time to offer senior pets and people in need, you can help out by registering as a volunteer. A map shows where volunteers are needed most urgently. Moreover, the charity relies solely on donations.

If you like the sound of the invaluable assistance The Cinnamon Trust provides to owners and their pets, consider making a donation to help them continue their vital work.

Lead image source: /Shutterstock