Photo by Danny Fulgencio.

Lula Gifford has lived in her East Dallas home for decades, but when the 84-year-old was hospitalized for a torn aorta, she says doctors thought she wouldn’t make it. 

“I think they sent me home to die,” she says. 

But she took a picture of her 8-year-old Shih Tzu mix Cooper with her to the hospital, and she says he helped her pull through. 

“I am going home,” she told the staff at the nursing home she was in after the hospital. “Cooper needs me more.”

Returning home presented other problems, though. Gifford has trouble getting around and doesn’t leave the house much. She receives food from Meals on Wheels each day as well. According to a survey of clients, 64 percent of Meals on Wheels recipients share their lunches with their pets. 

Lakewood neighbor Carol Becker was one of the Meals on Wheels volunteers who delivered food and visited with Gifford each month. Knowing how much Gifford cared for Cooper, she noticed that the pup was suffering and losing its hair. She called Meals on Wheels to see if there was anything they could do for Gifford’s pet. She was in luck. 

Recognizing that pet ownership can reduce stress, increase social interaction and alleviate loneliness, Meals on Wheels offers a pet-care program that offers a monthly delivery of everything pet owners need for the month including food, shampoo and treats. 

The program also partners with veterinarians around Dallas to provide medical care and transportation for pets that need treatment. The SPCA and Vickery Place Animal Hospital chipped in to treat a fungal infection Cooper had, and his hair grew back. 

“I was upset about the way he looked,” says Gifford, who couldn’t afford to treat him. “I cried when she told me about the deal for pets.”

Gifford grew up in East Dallas and was raised with her sister at the Juliette Fowler Homes, an orphanage near Woodrow Wilson High School. Her sister was her only close family member throughout her youth, and when she died this winter, Gifford needed social connection more than ever. 

Thanks to Cooper, she has just that. Though he isn’t much of a cuddler, he understands Gifford and sticks by her side all day.  “He is such a monkey; he does the funniest things,” Gifford says. “I will be happy with my boy.”

Dallas County Meals on Wheels
by the numbers:

4,600 meals a day

are delivered on

300 routes 


270 clients with pets 

feeding over 

400 pets 

in the pet care program. 

Source: VNA Meals on Wheels

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