A strong case can be made for keeping the elderly united with their pets. I had a dear (now deceased) friend who was forced to move into an assisted living facility and be parted from her beloved Pekingese Zeke. Clearly bereaved from losing not only her home but her pet, my friend’s emotional and physical health deteriorated swiftly, so much so that she was forced to move to an advanced care nursing home. The only good thing was this new nursing home allowed her to keep Zeke. He, in fact, became the “house dog” and enjoyed the run of the whole facility, frequently visiting other residents and beloved by all. My friend Mavis was able to die in her own room with Zeke by her side.

As I wrote in a story in my book “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss,” Zeke was so protective of/worried about leaving his human mama, he would growl (very uncharacteristically for this sweet dog) whenever we tried to get him off the bed to feed him or take him outside. He wouldn’t eat or drink for nearly two days. For Mavis’ part, though in hospice care at the time, she felt she couldn’t “let go” until all the details were taken care of regarding who would adopt Zeke when she died. She made arrangements with her foster daughter to take her dog, and you could feel the weight that had been lifted from Mavis’ shoulders.

Shortly thereafter, when Mavis did finally pass, Zeke immediately became chipper again and willingly leaped down from her bed, eager to eat, drink, and go for walks again. It was as though, once she was freed of her body, Mavis’ spirit was able to reassure Zeke that all was again well and he could stop watching over her.

This, to me, illustrates the depth of the human-animal bond and our ability to communicate with one another even after we’ve left this physical life. Imagine Mavis’ ongoing suffering, and Zeke’s as well, if they’d been forced to be apart at this crucial time of transition.

Mavis and Zeke

I hope someday all senior living centers will accept the benefits of pet ownership vastly outweigh any inconveniences and will allow their residents to remain united with their animal companions. The following article from K9 magazine illustrates my point still further.

—Sid

Pressure Mounts For Older People To Keep Pets

Submitted by Jennifer White on April 23, 2010 

A survey of more than 4,000 members of the public by PFMA, the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, reveals 90% of people think that separation from a pet is traumatic for older people entering residential care or sheltered accommodation.

The TNS research also found 83% agree pets make their owners happier and 54% think pet owners should be able to make the choice about entering care facilities after seeing the accommodation policy.

Pets provide significant benefits to elderly people; those who keep pets when entering care homes enjoy a smoother transition into residential care, as well as significant health benefits, such as a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. Other proven health benefits for older people with pets include: reduced blood pressure and cholesterol; improved recovery from heart attacks and strokes; better social interactions in people with dementia; and fewer GP visits.

Conducted in March 2010, the research helped shape the PFMA’s goal to ensure all leading UK housing providers implement responsible pet policies that enable older people to make an informed choice about their future. This commitment is part of the organisation’s 2020 vision to make a better world with pets, launched to mark its 40th anniversary.

The PFMA is working closely with SCAS (Society for Companion Animal Studies) and MPs taking the issue forward – including Ian Cawsey, Nick Palmer and Nigel Waterson – to strive for fairer treatment of the older pet-owning public.

Ian Cawsey, MP for Brigg and Goole, said: ‘Today we have more than 11 million elderly adults living in Britain, of whom approximately 25% are pet-owners. This figure is estimated to rise to 14 million by 2026 and the majority of these people will eventually require some form of residential care. Unfortunately growing older often involves inevitable heartache and loss but being separated from a pet when entering care facilities should not be part of it. This is why I welcome the PFMA’s 2020 goal to ensure care facilities implement responsible pet policies over the next decade.”

PFMA, Chief Executive, Michael Bellingham, explains: “Having analysed the research and consulted SCAS we are delighted to announce our 2020 ambition to ensure fairer treatment of the older pet-owning public. The importance of pets to people in care facilities cannot be under-estimated. Over the next ten years we want to make a big difference to the lives of older pet owners.”

This latest call to action follows the successful passing of shadow minister for older people, Nigel Waterson’s bill – Care Homes and Sheltered Accommodation (Domestic Pets) Bill -which aims for a more “enlightened and responsible” policy for allowing pet owners in residences to keep their beloved animals.

CASE STUDY: A SUCCESSFUL PET-FRIENDLY HOUSING SCHEME

Wandsworth Borough Council operates a positive pet policy and has been permitting pets in sheltered schemes since 2001. Wandsworth’s executive member for housing Martin D Johnson said: “Pet ownership is an enriching part of many elderly people’s lives. As well as offering companionship, they keep their owners active and are a link to social activities that prevent isolation.
We’ve had pets in our sheltered schemes for nine years without a single significant problem. Our experience proves this type of housing can easily accommodate animals and there is no need to deny elderly people the pleasures and benefits of pet ownership.
We want other housing providers to rethink their attitudes to animals and realise the huge benefits they represent.”

OTHER SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH PROMOTING BENEFITS OF PETS TO OLDER PEOPLE:

Older people who are forced to part with a pet when moving into residential care can suffer feelings of bereavement that are similar to the loss of a family member. Severe reactions can lead to depression, disturbed sleep or eating patterns, and even physical illness (source: McNicholas, J. & Collis, G.M. (1995), ‘The end of a relationship: coping with pet loss.’).

· Pet ownership in older people is also associated with better coping with major life stresses, such as bereavement, which is more common in older people. Pet owners adjust to spousal bereavement better than non-owners (source: McNicholas et al 2005, BMJ).

To find out more, please visit: www.pfma.org.uk

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