Programs Allow Seniors to Enjoy the Benefits of Pet Ownership Longer
The lavish love and unconditional acceptance that pets bestow on their owners is a gift of great worth to people of any age. However, for the elderly, who often are lonely, the value of canine or feline companionship is incalculable. Studies show that pets enhance physical, emotional, and social health, so pet ownership remains an advantage even after seniors develop conditions that make caring for a dog or cat challenging. Fortunately, programs are available that enable the elderly to keep their cherished pets in their homes longer.
Part 1: Benefits of Pet Ownership
Since dogs need to be walked, dog owners are more likely to meet the recommended daily exercise requirement, which is critically important in slowing the aging process. A 2014 study featured in Preventive Medicine concluded that dog owners were 12 percent more active than those who do not have a dog.
Aside from increasing activity, pets improve physical health in other ways. According to the American Heart Association, research suggests a link between pet ownership and better fitness, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Moreover, a study in the Journal of Community Health Nursing found that pet therapy sessions lead to a lower heart rate.
The emotional health of seniors is often taxed to the limit because they have more than their fair share of problems. These hardships may include losing a spouse, undergoing chemotherapy, or coping with a disability. The comfort derived from all the manifestations of the kind heart of a dog can make a huge difference in weathering life’s hard knocks. In addition, nothing is more relaxing than the sound of a cat’s contented purring.
Pets offer a tremendous emotional benefit through their effect on hormones. Studies show that petting a dog reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and releases the anti-stress hormone oxytocin. Spending time with animals also promotes heightened feelings of security and lessens anxiety, depression, and loneliness, reports the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Caring for a pet fosters increased socialization and involvement with life. Walking a dog in the neighborhood puts seniors in the path of other dog owners who could become friends. Driving to the pet store, vet office, and dog groomer provide opportunities to get out of the house.
Loneliness is a common malady for seniors, as they often have a declining circle of family and friends. The affectionate nature of pets, especially dogs, can be a solace to those who have no one to hug them, and the companionship they afford can diminish feelings of isolation. Furthermore, when seniors come home after being out, instead of facing an empty house, they are greeted with joyous abandon by a canine that is delighted to see them.
A barking dog can be a deterrent to break-ins even if the dog is small. Once the barking starts, any would-be burglars know that the homeowner has been alerted and has likely called the police. If a senior is nervous about staying home alone, having a dog can make them feel safer.
Part 2: Programs that Help Seniors with Pet Care
The debility and reduced income that often accompany aging make it harder for seniors to care for pets. When this happens, instead of giving up a dog or cat that is like a member of the family, the elderly can take advantage of programs that offer an array of assistance. Below are some examples.
Reporter Herald Neighbors reports on Pets Forever, a community program housed in Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. It helps local low-income seniors maintain pet ownership by providing financial support for animal supplies and vet care. The program also sends people to the homes of the elderly to walk dogs, deliver pet food, clean litter boxes, and give rides to the vet. Volunteers who staff the program, consisting of students and community members, make it possible to preserve the human–animal bond. Funding for Pets Forever comes from grants and donations.
Share a Dog
Borrowing a dog is an option for the elderly who adore canine company but can’t afford the upkeep or prefer not to have sole responsibility for a pet. Dog-sharing arrangements permit a senior to walk or care for a dog that belongs to someone who travels or whose schedule affords little time for pet care. The schemes are a win-win situation for all concerned. Instead of a dog languishing home alone while its owner works, it goes to a free version of doggy daycare—the home of a loving senior.
Examples of programs that facilitate dog sharing include Share a Dog and the Canadian company Dogtime Community. Borrow my Doggy, a website that connects local dog owners with borrowers, is currently only in the UK, but it might eventually expand to America. Seniors who don’t live in a community that has such a program could perhaps ask around and find someone who needs help in caring for their pet.
Pet-Friendly Senior Living Communities
Some assisted living and senior living communities allow residents to have pets because they recognize the multifaceted benefits the animals provide. This is a godsend for the elderly who face the heartbreak of having to give up their dog or cat when moving from their home to a facility. Pets of individual owners often become like community pets because they’re enjoyed by all the residents. Other assisted living facilities have official community pets that live on the premises. Some communities that don’t allow resident pets may offer pet therapy, where volunteers bring trained therapy dogs to visit.
Organizations That Assist Seniors with Pets
A few non-profit groups help seniors with pet ownership in various ways. The elderly may adopt a pet from PAWS at a discounted rate, and the staff will help select a pet that matches their lifestyle. Pets for Seniors helps pay vet bills, and the Pets for the Elderly Foundation pays part of pet adoption fees.
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