Local shelter provides free pets to senior citizens

A growing number of studies show the medical and psychological benefits to the elderly of having a companion animal to care for. One clinical research project at New York City’s Brooklyn College, for example, studied heart-attack survivors after their discharge from the hospital. The researchers tracked each patient, taking into account their medical history, lifestyle, family, relationships and other documentable details.

According to co-researcher Dr. Aaron Katcher, “The presence of a pet was the strongest social predictor of survival. … Not just for lonely or depressed people, but everyone — independent of marital status and access to social support from human beings.”

Other studies report similar benefits: Pet owners make 21 percent fewer visits to the doctor and use less medicine; have lower blood pressure and pulse rate; recover faster from surgery and illness; are less likely to feel lonely or depressed; sleep better; are at a lower risk for cardiovascular disease; and get more exercise (this is true even for cat owners!).

Now, thanks to the national Pets for the Elderly program, it’s easier for senior citizens to become pet owners while giving loving homes to animals in shelters. The Asheville Humane Society (72 Lee’s Creek Road) has been participating in the program for about a year; a grant has enabled 55 local people over the age of 60 to adopt pets from the shelter at no charge.

“The grant covers every aspect of adoption,” explains Humane Society staffer Daniel Withrow. “Our normal adoption rate is $70, and that covers having the animal spayed or neutered, giving it all its shots, tests for heartworm and that sort of thing, and a free initial visit with a local veterinarian.

“We have enough funds for five more senior citizens to adopt animals through this program,” notes Withrow. “And in February, we’ll be applying for more funds.”

There’s a follow-up component to the program as well. “About two or three weeks after the adoption, we do call everyone and make sure that the animal is working out or that they don’t have any problems with it,” Withrow explains. “Our adoption counselors have a lot of information on proper pet care, and we provide that information in written form to adopters. … It’s also available to anyone, whether they’ve adopted from us or not.”

He adds: “If people have access to the Internet, all our animals are online. They can look at pictures of the animals and read descriptions of [their personalities].”

For more information, call the Asheville Humane Society (253-6807) or visit their Web site (

Preserving farmland for future generations

Within a short drive of downtown Asheville lie scenes of undisturbed rural splendor. But intense development pressure is rapidly transforming such areas into strip malls and subdivisions. According to the American Farmland Trust, North Carolina ranks second in the nation for the amount of prime farmland converted to urban use. Between 1992 and 1997 alone, the state lost more than 168,000 acres; and in the previous decade (1982-92), almost one-third of North Carolina’s prime farmland was developed, the group reports.

In an effort to help stem that trend, Buncombe County’s Farmland Conservation Easement Program provides an option for local property owners wishing to preserve the rural character of their land.

Farm owners can choose to donate the right to develop their property to a receiving organization, reports David Lee of the Buncombe County Agricultural Advisory Board. Besides “the peace of mind of knowing that their farm is going to stay there and be open land for generations to come,” says Lee, property owners may also be eligible for some tax benefits.

“Generally, when you put the restriction on land that it can’t be developed, then you are potentially reducing the market value of that property. You can’t afford to pay as much for it if you’re just planning on farming it as you can if you’re going to sell it for house sites,” he explains. “So there could be some state and federal tax benefits from making a donation of the developmental rights.”

The program is strictly voluntary, and “We do not take title to the property,” emphasizes Lee. “Instead, it would be very similar to putting restrictions on a subdivision. You’re just putting restrictions on the deed that says [the land] can’t be developed for residential use.”

The precise nature of those restrictions is negotiated with the landowner. For example, he explains, “If [the landowner] had two children, then they could reserve two house sites — one for each child.”

Lee also stresses that there are no restrictions on agricultural use. “The [landowner] could build a barn or an outbuilding, or they can run cattle on it, farm it, cut the timber — anything of that kind can be done. [The easement] is mainly designed to restrict the residential development of that property down the road.”

For property owners, the easiest way to participate in the program would be to transfer the development rights to the Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation District.

It’s also possible to designate a local nonprofit (such as the Farmland Trust of North Carolina or the Southern Appalachian Highland Conservancy) as the receiving organization, notes Lee, but “generally they want a donation of money to help service the overseeing of the property or even … [cover] some attorney fees if they had to sue to enforce the easement with future landowners.”

Although funding is limited, the program does have some money available to cover the basics. “We have some money to pay transfer costs — for the appraisals and some of the title work that has to be done. If the landowner is willing to donate the easement, then we’re willing to pay the expenses so that they don’t have any money out of pocket,” says Lee.

The Buncombe County Farmland Preservation Program is accepting applications for conservation easements until March 1.

Applications are available from the Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation District Office (115 Hilliard Ave., Suite 205) in Asheville or by calling 250-4785.

Hit the slopes

By popular demand, Asheville Parks and Recreation Services is adding extra dates to its Saturday Night Ski/Snowboard Program. Choose from Saturday, Jan. 25 or Saturday, Feb. 8 to hit the slopes at Appalachian Ski Mountain (between Blowing Rock and Boone). On both dates, participants will meet the bus at 2:45 p.m. in the parking lot behind City Hall in downtown Asheville, ski or snowboard from 6-8 p.m., and return by around midnight.

Costs vary depending on the package: for $35, you get a lift ticket and transportation; $45 buys a lift ticket, ski equipment rental, a lesson and transportation; and for $51, participants get a lift ticket, snowboard equipment rental, a lesson and transportation.

To register or for more information, contact Katy Palombi at 254-5561, or visit the Parks & Rec Web site (


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