Helping Seniors Stay Happy By Keeping their Pets

Pet ownership can be an extremely positive force in the life of an elderly person, especially if that person lives alone. The companionship of an animal can be therapeutic: pets have been shown to reduce depression, anxiety and loneliness and promote healing and cognitive sharpness. Caring for that pet can provide meaning and daily structure. But for some, injury or illness makes it impossible to give the animal the care it needs, and many elderly people are forced to part with their beloved animals. Recognizing that these seniors could provide companionship to animals but needed help with the maintenance, pre-veterinary students at Colorado State University have started a program to help out. Students visit elderly and disabled pet owners to provide in-home care, from walking dogs and cleaning litter boxes to trimming claws and administering medications. It gives them practice working with animals, and allows the owners to keep their pets at home.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jane

    Jane

    December 30th, 2010 at 4:45 PM

    Giving senior citizens something meaningful in their lives is one of the ebst ways to keep them healthier and thriving. Sometimes when they lose that companionship that they have developed with a pet then they lose their will to live. That is so sad to see and so easy to avoid if only they are given something like a pet in life to focus on and to love.

  • Gail

    Gail

    December 30th, 2010 at 5:57 PM

    My elderly parents had to have their 14 year old dog put to sleep last month and they are both devastated, my dad in particular. I’m actually worried my dad is getting depressed over it. This program understands the real love that develops for a pet and the closeness that’s there. It’s a fantastic idea.

  • Paige

    Paige

    December 30th, 2010 at 6:35 PM

    Gail, when my neighbor had to get her dog put to sleep because of cancer she swore she wouldn’t get another one. It was too heartbreaking to go through again. Within six months she did. She’s a senior too and her daughter promised she would take the dog in if she ever felt it was too much for her to handle. My neighbor’s smiling again and delighted to be a dog owner once more. Maybe a similar pact could be made with your parents further down the line when their grief has faded a little if your dad’s not getting any better? It would be nice to offer anyway.

  • Karyll

    Karyll

    December 30th, 2010 at 8:11 PM

    That is an excellent idea. I have it in my will that my son will take my dog if I go before the dog does. She’s that important to me. Ours is a member of the family. If I ever need to go into a nursing home or am incapacitated, he’ll take her then too. The grandchildren love her to death and vice versa. She would be happy and that makes me happy.

  • molly

    molly

    December 30th, 2010 at 8:12 PM

    this sounds like a win-win situation to all involved and should definitely be expanded AMd continue to be utilized as not only a professional means bit also community service.

  • Paula

    Paula

    December 30th, 2010 at 9:37 PM

    Pets are the best! Better than spouses any day LOL. No griping, always happy to see you and content to just sit beside you and do nothing else but enjoy being close to you. I’ve had dogs all my life and they are the more loyal of the two as well.

  • Diane

    Diane

    December 30th, 2010 at 10:21 PM

    I hope our area implements an initiative like this before I get to that point. That would be a real blessing to know I could keep my cat with me for as long as possible.

  • Gordon

    Gordon

    December 31st, 2010 at 3:00 AM

    Some neighbors have done this same thing for a long time. It’s a noble thing to do and it’s better if more and more seniors have this option. This is one idea that has no apparent negatives :)

  • Maddie

    Maddie

    December 31st, 2010 at 5:48 AM

    It gives them a purpose in life that may have been otherwise missing. Many times seniors have lost their health and their loved ones have all passed away. Pets can be a great source of pleasure and comfort for anyone, especially someone who really has no one else in their lives. Maybe some communities should start some outreach programs via their Meals on Wheels programs that would allow senior citizens to spend time with pets that may not be their own. Mobile pet therapy? It could work.

  • Darren G

    Darren G

    December 31st, 2010 at 11:02 AM

    Pets are great companions for seniors and I have read about a case or two where in the PETA have saved their senior owners’ lives.

    When there is nobody to give company a pet can be a real lifesaver for seniors as they can spend some quiet and quality time with them and escape their loneliness.

  • alexis

    alexis

    December 31st, 2010 at 1:41 PM

    I think this would also reduce the problem of strays and animals running loose that many towns experience. Pets get let out to fend for themselves too when the owners can’t do it any longer.

    I have an elderly neighbor that lets his dog out every day and it digs in everyone’s trash. He used to always walk him but has canes now and can’t do it.I feed it scraps as it always turns up at my door looking for something, which I don’t mind. I’m loathe to report this to Animal Control because it doesn’t look starved and is a good natured, friendly old dog. Some of my other neighbors are very tired of cleaning up trash and want to, but more than anything I’d hate for them to take away the only companion the man has and so far have managed to talk the neighbors into not calling. He would be the perfect candidate for such a program.

  • Norm

    Norm

    December 31st, 2010 at 2:28 PM

    When I was growing up my granny had a cat that was her life! She scheduled everything that she did around that goofy cat, but now I see that that was like ehr family then because all of us lived so far away and she was alone most of the time. That was who she was able to get love from and receive love from- no wonder that cat made her so happy.

  • caroline

    caroline

    December 31st, 2010 at 3:59 PM

    I’ve seen elderly relatives weep over giving up their pets when they aren’t fit to care for them any longer. The poor animals don’t know why they are suddenly being uprooted. This program is a bonus for everybody, two and four legged!

  • Dale

    Dale

    January 1st, 2011 at 1:45 PM

    That would be an ideal program for all vet schools to adopt and a valuable service to the community. I hope the idea is widely shared. Pets should not be separated from their loving owners unless it’s 100% unavoidable.

  • louise

    louise

    January 1st, 2011 at 8:53 PM

    Real estate agents often find abandoned pets in empty homes, especially foreclosures. The families move out and leave the animal behind instead of re-homing it or contacting a shelter. I saw a show about it once. In some cases, a senior had died and the relatives either didn’t want to be bothered with sorting the pet out too or didn’t know they had one because it was hiding. The house would be all locked up with the pet inside it.

    A program like this where a student knew about a pet being there could prevent that happening. Often by the time the estate agent found the animal it was dead or dying, having had no food or water for days, weeks or even months and living in a home where the temperature’s not regulated. A very sad situation.

  • Susan

    Susan

    January 2nd, 2011 at 7:12 AM

    I don’t know what I would do without my pets and I have other people in my life, so I cannot imagine being alone like so many senior citizens and having to let go of my pet too. Whatever we can do to ensure that they still have this kind of company at home is going to be a necessary and good thing. Pets can be such a wonderful stress reliever and companion.

  • M.Iverson

    M.Iverson

    January 2nd, 2011 at 8:00 AM

    Although this could be by paid-for agencies,this kind of an arrangement benefits more people and builds a culture community service,which is an excellent thing.

  • SH

    SH

    January 2nd, 2011 at 10:55 AM

    This is one of those ideas that can bring in a big change in the community while helping all those involved in the activity and also spread the good cheer all over.

  • Kimberly

    Kimberly

    January 3rd, 2011 at 2:43 AM

    All this sounds like a good arrangement where both the parties benefit. But a question that we need to ask is- Are those students actually concerned about the seniors or are they just trying to better their grades? I just hope it is the former!

  • layla

    layla

    January 3rd, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    There are old people for whom they have lost everything else in their lives and sometimes the pets are all that they have left to hold on to. To lose them too would be so sad for so many seniors.

  • paul norton

    paul norton

    January 3rd, 2011 at 11:46 AM

    I just think the idea of this approach holds promise in some other areas to.there are a lot of things that would go on more smoothly if there was symbiosis between the parties involved.

  • Georgia

    Georgia

    January 4th, 2011 at 5:35 AM

    I know that this helps older people emotionally and from a mental standpoint but you know that it has to help them on a physical level too. It keeps them more active when you have to take care of pets and even things like small motor skills can be improved just by petting and doing small things like feeding them. Anything that can imporve the quality of life for these senior citizens is definitely a bonus.

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