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Rules Of Retirement Homes Change To Accommodate Pet Parents

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Back in 2009, research at Canada’s Vanier Institute made it official; from among the many health benefits associated with pet ownership, it’s been proven to also reduce the loneliness experienced by residents in long-term care communities.

But it’s not just about loneliness. According to senior living referral service, A Place for Mom, pets also help reduce boredom and feelings of hopelessness, instilling a sense of purpose due to the need to be accountable for the welfare of another living being. The pet provides a sense of obligation and duty, acts as a social catalyst, and gives the elderly owner someone to talk to and confide in. (Oh, the secrets my crew could tell!)

Related: Retirement Communities That Embrace Pets Becomes A Growing Trend

Whether the pet is an existing cherished family member, community pet, or visiting therapy animal, the positive impact they have on not only able-bodied retirees, but long term care patients with dementia is recognized by health care officials throughout the world.

So why don’t more facilities welcome this approach to senior well-being? In the U.S., publicly run residences fall under the same rules as the housing authority, meaning as long as the pet is socialized and well-mannered, he’s in. But in Canada and many privately run facilities throughout North America, this can be the exception to the rule, versus the rule. Challenges associated with the overall care of the pet along with territorial issues are often cited and can mean the end of an important friendship, when the senior moves into care.

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Thankfully, pet assisted therapy programs offer up volunteers that help incorporate the fur-kids into the pet-parents new living arrangements. Volunteers can assist with feeding, walking, bathing, and other pet-related activities when residents are no longer able to carry out these responsibilities.

When searching for the right retirement residence, the trick is to not just “roll over” when told no to pets. Add “must love dogs” to the top of your loved one’s checklist and pursue facilities that welcome four legged companions. Check out work-around solutions (use Google to search your area for programs) to find out what type of support services are and do your homework when it comes to understanding what is expected of you.

For those residences that do permit family pets to live alongside the resident, expect a screening process that may require that you:

  • Allow an assessment be done of the pet to ensure s/he is a good fit for the community and other residents.
  • Agree to a trial period to see how well s/he adjusts to his new home.
  • Organize either regular volunteer or paid support to help care for the little guy if the resident cannot do this on their own.
  • Provide an extra deposit to cover any possible pet-related damage.

Additionally, many facilities may balk at larger dogs or young animals that may prove rambunctious, yappy, or less inclined to respect potty breaks.

As with any public gathering place, the pet will need to be socialized in terms of human and animal interactions (there may be other resident’s pets) and from a behavioral standpoint be reasonably obedient.

While it’s becoming more common to see pets welcomed into retirement communities, it’s important you be honest with yourself in terms of how well the family pet will fit in. If mom’s cranky lapdog hates strangers, or dad’s large black lab is now incontinent you need to be exploring other options that can ideally include adoption by family members (and plenty of visits with the resident), placement in a senior animal retirement resident (yes, they exist), or as a last resort, adoption to a family better suited to care for him.

Mary SimpsonMary Simpson is a writer and communications professional from Port Credit, Ontario.  A soft touch for anything stray, she shares her century home with an eclectic collection of rescues that include orange tabby Chico, tuxedo Simon, and jet black Owen.  She enjoys running, politics, exploring the wine regions of Niagara and is an avid supporter of the “shop local” movement.


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