When Neal Jennings and his wife, Anne (photographed at right), moved to Vi at Grayhawk in 2013, they were already very invested in the community. Their investment, in the form of volunteer hours and out-of-pocket costs, arrived via Pets on Wheels of Scottsdale, an organization that brings pets and their owners for visits to Scottsdale, Arizona, seniors who don't have pets of their own.
Jennings founded the not-for-profit organization with Anne in 1990, soon after they moved to Scottsdale. The main focus for Pets on Wheels' is their pet-visitation therapy program that now serves 22 locations in Scottsdale.
"Studies show that pet visits provide warmth and affection for everyone involved, as well as many health benefits -- mental stimulation for Alzheimer's patients, reduction in blood pressure, distraction from depression, lessening of tension and stress," Jennings said. "The visits are also a bright spot in the day."
The organization grew out of Jennings' lifelong love of animals, his passion for the healing power of the bond we share with our pets, and his connection to another Pets on Wheels organization in Maryland.
Explains Jennings, "I was always interested in pets, since childhood. I was especially good at training dogs, so I competed with my dogs in American Kennel Club competitions to earn obedience awards. We were very successful in AKC, so I began to wonder what can I do with them now?"
"We lived in Maryland, where I was on the board of an organization called Pets on Wheels, Howard County and helped with fund-raising. I put on demonstrations that I developed with my dogs. I started with the American Kennel Club obedience exercises and adapted them for entertainment. Where an AKC exercise would have a dog jump over a barrier to retrieve an object, I'd have them jump over a child from the audience. I did these shows to raise funds for Pets on Wheels organizations in Howard County and in Baltimore for many years."
"When we moved to Arizona, in 1990, I told the people in Maryland that I wanted to start an organization here. We share the name, Pets on Wheels, but are a separate organization. All the Pets on Wheels are separate, though we do exchange ideas and newsletters."
Jennings started Pets on Wheels of Scottsdale by visiting one nursing home in Scottsdale with his two poodles. Today, nearly 100 volunteers and their pets -- mostly dogs and a few laid-back cats, says Jennings -- visit seniors for an hour each week. Pets on Wheels operates entirely by volunteers, with the exception of a part-time Volunteer Coordinator. "Scottsdale has a great senior center, and they have provided us with a small office. We obtain grants and seek donations to cover operating costs as well as the cost of our part-time staff person, who does a great job coordinating our volunteers."
"All of our volunteers receive training in handling their pets, and all pets in the program are certified by veterinarians, who check their overall health as well as evaluate their temperaments," notes Jennings. The volunteers also undergo background checks. "Anne, my wife, has been integral to the success of Pets on Wheels. She served as secretary of the board, and was responsible for the background checks of all prospective volunteers."
The Jennings, and Pets on Wheels, began their many years of service at Vi soon after Vi at Grayhawk opened in 1999. (Pets on Wheels volunteers also visit the care center at Vi at Silverstone.) Since then, the award-winning program has made more than 3200 visits to the care center at Grayhawk, and more than 250 this year alone. Jennings, a civil engineer by profession, breaks down the numbers: "We've devoted 11 and a half percent of our organization's resources to Vi." More details on the program and many photos of the volunteers and their pets may be seen athttp://www.petsonwheelsscottsdale.com.
At the end of last year, Jennings retired as president of Pets on Wheels, handing over the reins to current President and CEO Ronald T. Lonie. "I thought I'd spend a year or two getting it set up, and then hand it over to someone else, but I spent the last 22 years running it," says Jennings. "Now, 22 years later, I've found someone great to take my place."
The Jennings are still involved in Pets on Wheels, and are settling into their new home at Vi. "At Pets on Wheels, we visited every senior community in Scottsdale, so when we decided it was time to move, we knew we wanted to move to Grayhawk. We love the simplicity of things here. It's very friendly here. We are enjoying it."