Law Librarian Kristin Cheney, recipient of the 2005 Spirit of Law Librarianship Award has been recognized nationally for her tireless work on behalf of seniors and pets. Kristin has been selected from over 4,000 nominees as one of ten finalists for the Animal Planet "Hero of the Year" award. Kristin is the founder and Executive Director of the Seniors with Pets Assistance Program (SWP), a non-profit organization that provides vital support to low income seniors with pets by supplying and delivering pet food, litter and other pet-related items (flea products, collars, etc.) to their homes all at no cost. Seniors with Pets also serves as a referral service to low cost spay and neuter programs and vet care, and, subject to available funds, furnishes financial assistance for pet care expenses such as adoption fees, vaccinations and pet deposits. The program has grown over the last eight years and currently serves over 250 seniors and over 700 cats and dogs on a consistent basis. In addition, Seniors with Pets Assistance operates a pet food bank that is open for qualifying seniors on a walk-in basis.
Kristin developed the program due to her passionate belief that seniors like all others should be able to benefit from the friendship and companionship of a pet. She states, "For many of my seniors, their pet is their only family. An individual, particularly a senior, shouldn't have to make the decision between feeding themselves and feeding or otherwise caring for their pet." It is the only service of its kind in the Puget Sound region and serves as a model for similar community-based and volunteer efforts in other areas.
Director of Seattle University Law Library and Professor of Law and Seattle University School of Law as well as the founder and Executive Director of the Seniors With Pets Assistance Program, Kristin essentially runs two enterprises at the same time with equal amounts of dedication and energy. Kristin brings her hands-on management philosophy in running the law library to the administration of the Seniors With Pets Assistance Program as she is involved in all aspects of managing the service. She does a little bit of everything - returning phone calls, making referrals, repackaging and delivering food, negotiating with local vets and landlords, soliciting volunteers and donors, etc. Once or twice a month, you will find her in Costco pushing around a big orange flatbed with 20-30 cases of pet food, loading the food into the SWP van and then unloading it at the food bank.
On the weekends, she makes deliveries to her clients with whom she acts as an advisor and advocate. She uses her legal and library training to informally field questions pertaining to family law, landlord/tenant, social security, criminal law, etc. In doing so, she often provides information on, and referrals to, various local, state and federal agencies. As Kristin explains, "The majority of my clients are not what we think of as the stereotypical senior. As seniors on limited incomes, my clients face a variety of challenges and live in diverse circumstances. I have had occasion to deliver pet food to seniors living in cars, hotels and high crime areas. Many times my clients just need someone to talk to, someone who will listen to their problems."
Because of the program's reputation, Kristin has been extremely successful in partnering with other local service agencies to obtain supplies on a regular basis. For example, the program receives food donations from the Tacoma Pierce County Humane Society, the Emergency Food Network and St. Leo's Food Bank. The local Lady Eagles Auxiliary, a local chiropractor, several local vets and Brownie Troop #880 have all held food donation drives on behalf of SWP. For the last five years, Kristin has collaborated with Meals on Wheels (MOW) to distribute pet food once-a-month at the same time as they deliver meals to seniors. MOW also identifies seniors with pets and refers them to Kristin's organization for assistance.
Kristin has further developed these partnerships into an integrated information referral network for seniors with pets. For example, Kristin works closely with the Peninsula Spay/Neuter Project to promote their services and also partners with Pierce County Animal Welfare, a local group that helps underwrite veterinary bills. Likewise, these organizations routinely refer their clients to Seniors With Pets Assistance for supplies. Under Kristin's direction and vision, this active referral network has become an important resource for seniors to become aware of the range of community resources available to care for their pets.
Kristin's future goals for the program include expanding services to more fully address veterinary care, transportation to veterinary appointments, pet deposits, and adoption fees which will require her to focus her efforts on cultivating potential donors and spend more time fundraising. Already, she has successfully established ongoing charitable donation programs with the Tacoma City Employees and for the past several years, has been the designated charity for the Seattle University School of Law's annual holiday fund raising drive. She also regularly negotiates with local veterinarians to offer senior discounts and/or payment plans to low income seniors with pets.
By using her law library training and experience Kristin sets an example of how law librarians can make a meaningful contribution to a social concern and serve as a role model for the larger community. As founder and Executive Director of the Seniors With Pets Assistance Program, she has made a profound difference in the lives of the many seniors on fixed incomes who have a pet or would like a pet, but who cannot afford the expenses associated with caring for a pet (or several pets).
Hero of the Year Nominees are profiled here. Vote for the Animal Planet Hero of the Year here, through October 6, 2006.