Local ‘PAW-liday Pen Pals' Helped Brighten the Season

The kind-hearted program, created by the Helen Woodward Animal Center, "united cuddly critters with solitary seniors" through letters, photos, and cards.

Helen Woodward Animal Center

What to Know

  • Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe
  • The program is part of the center's Pet Encounter Therapy
  • Letters and cards from pets were sent to hospitals and senior care facilities

A wonderful pen pal is a person to cherish, to feel total gratitude for, and haunting your mailbox when you know a note or card is due to be delivered is entirely understandable.

But what if that wonderful pen pal wasn't a person at all?

What if the letter-sender actually had four paws, and a face full of whiskers, and a pair of soft and floppy ears?

Such pen pals are bringing sweetness and joy to local seniors this season, thanks to the Helen Woodward Animal Center's Pet Encounter Therapy program.

Knowing the difficult year that many people have had, and wanting to reach out and connect in a kind-hearted way, the Rancho Santa Fe bastion of beasties created the "Pen Pal Program" in the summer of 2020, which united "cuddly critters with solitary seniors" through letters, greeting cards, and photos.

The cards and letters were sent to several seniors living at local assisted living and skilled nursing facilities.

But before the notes were penned, some research was done into the recipients' hobbies and interests and favorite animals. Each senior in the program was then matched to a specific pet, their furry and festive "pen pal," creating a closer connection.

Helen Woodward Animal Center

Then the human letter-senders went to work, assisting their pets in penning uplifting missives to the seniors.

But when the holidays drew closer, staffers at the center wanted to go even further with the cheer-bringing effort.

So every senior in the program was slated to receive ten Christmas and Hanukkah cards from ten pets in the region, all to deliver happiness over the holidays.

The letter bundles will be presented to local seniors on Christmas Day. And, you bet: Each card is filled with the furry joy-bringer's own personality, unique message, and colorful character.

"There is absolutely nothing like the love of an animal," said Robin Cohen, manager of the Pet Encounter Therapy program. 

"As pet-owners we see the openness they exhibit in making new friends and the thrill our pets experience in the smallest things. This energy immediately came out in the letters the pet-owners were helping their pets write and the seniors received the benefit of these happy, loving notes filled with pictures of the pets. 

"The feedback was so incredible, I wanted to step it up for the holidays."

For more on the Helen Woodward Animal Center's Pet Encounter Therapy program, click. Want to volunteer? You can.

Contact Us