Much scientific research and attention has been undergone to prove again and again that owning and loving a pet can lower blood pressure, lessen depression, reduce stress and cure loneliness. Seniors who have pets experience these medical and emotional benefits and have fuller, longer, healthier lives. The field of Geriatrics now recognizes the value of pet therapy and its impact on residents and staff alike.
“If you don’t own a dog, at least one, there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, gut there may be something wrong with your life.” Roger Caras
The senior care industry is now aware of the healing influences animals have with seniors. Residential facilities are adopting animals and allowing them to be members of the staff. Special animals are roaming the halls and visiting seniors that might not otherwise have guests or family members to visit. Having an animal visit a room, jump onto a lap or bed, pause to be petted can make someone’s day and bring them not only joy but love.
I made a professional visit to an older nursing home one day to be met at the door by a very, very large Rottweiler. He stood there and looked me up and down then sat down on his hind quarters. I backed up and froze. In my mind I had visions of this Rottweiler running the nursing home and keeping everyone in their place. A friendly voice yelled down the hall, “It’s ok. That’s Herbie. He is greeting you and welcoming you to his home. Pet him and he will lead you to the Receptionist desk.” I cautiously stepped forward and reached my shaking hand out to let him smell me while hoping I would end up with at least one finger. Herbie got up smelled my hand and then began licking it and wagging his tail. He turned around and walked to the reception desk and sat again and turned and looked to see if I had followed him.
It seems Herbie came to the nursing home as a puppy and adopted everyone there. He visits every room daily although he does have his favorites. He always lingers with those who are unable to get up out of bed and has been seen napping on the foot of the bed of someone very ill. He has become a valued member of the nursing home family. Despite his looming size, he is a big puppy dog full of life, compassion and unconditional love.
I was told there are also two resident cats. The cats have lived at the nursing home longer than Herbie but the day he arrived, after a few sniffs, they took him under their wing and have been brothers and sisters ever since. So despite the first appearance of an older facility, I found a most loving atmosphere led by the chief love muffin, Herbie.
Later in my career in the geriatric field, I was fortunate to direct three Adult Family Homes. Each one had a specialty such as hospice care, dementia or senior care. Because of my prior experience with Herbie, I made sure that all three homes had resident pets including cats, fish, dogs and birds.
I have not experienced a cat like Oscar who lives at a nursing home in Providence, Rhode Island. Oscar knows when a patient is within two hours of death and will go and curl up next to the patient till the end occurs. Staff is quick to notify the patient’s family of the impending passing and Oscar has not failed in his notification. Family members have said they were comforted to know that Oscar was with their loved one and that they were not alone.
I am now a firm believer that animals should be part of every senior care center and that both residents and staff will benefit from the unconditional love they have to share. Pets help create a more normalized home like atmosphere. Pets are nonjudgmental. They are not biased towards any culture, religion or creed. They increase socialization between residents and bring a sense of family to those otherwise alone. For some residents, pets provide the first loving experience they may have had for many years. They may experience reduced pain, less anxiety, less isolation, less boredom and be happier. Pets should be a part of all geriatric programming and allowed to share their love.
“The greatest dog in the world is a companion who does all but speak. He will be gay or serious; he will console you in your lowest moods.” Ludwig Bemelmans