A Place for Mom is on a mission to spread the word about the benefits of pet-friendly assisted living. We would also like to award those assisted living communities in the Chicago area who allow pets.
At Sunrise Senior Living in Schaumburg, about 30 miles outside of Chicago, pets have always been a part of the program. Since founding the company more than 30 years ago, administrators and staff have included animals as a way to help residents ease their transition to an assisted-living center, and to improve the quality of life for those living there.
“We recognize it’s a big step to move from your home to an assisted living community,” says Lisa Lauer, executive director at Sunrise of Schaumburg. “Leaving your companion that has been with you through thick and thin can be devastating.”
Not only can leaving a pet be traumatic, but your physical health may suffer as well. A 2006 study done at Saint Louis University found that when seniors spent one-on-one alone time with a dog, their feelings of loneliness decreased, and significantly more so than when that canine time was shared with other residents. Therefore, having a pet, and taking care of it, could be similarly beneficial to a senior’s mental health.
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At Sunrise of Schaumburg, residents must be able to care for their pets themselves. However, staffers care for five on-site pets for residents to enjoy communally. There’s Murray the cat, who resides mainly in the memory care neighborhood; Molly the puppy; Elvis the bunny; and birds Romeo and Juliet. Seniors also can join in “Walks with Molly,” which provide exercise along with dog-bonding.
Chicago’s Pets Are Worth Saving (PAWS) participates in a program through Pets for the Elderly Foundation, founded in Cleveland, Ohio, which pays the first $50 of a senior’s adoption fee. The program is so popular there’s a waitlist of more than 100 shelters.
Espousing that “The most serious disease for older persons is not cancer or heart disease – it’s loneliness,” the non-profit charity considers a senior anyone over the age of 60. “We’ve seen the benefits provided by our founder’s dog, Sammy, in keeping his person on schedule for taking his medication, and stepping outside for a walk and fresh air,” says Susan Korowski, executive director of Pets for the Elderly, who also notes that a woman who adopted a cat through the foundation wrote to tell them, “Mr. KC makes me feel like a teenager.”
“Pets offer affection, fight loneliness, and can help ease the loss of a loved one,” according to the foundation, which pays for spaying, neutering, and veterinarian exams in many cases.
“Animals offer such warmth and love you unconditionally,” says Lauer. “No matter what kind of day you’re having, they are there to give you unconditional love.”
Senior living communities have different pet policies with specific weight limits and breed restrictions, so it’s important to do your research. For example, some communities have ‘pet interviews’ to determine whether the pet is right for their community, while others allow dogs and cats under 20 lbs. Birds and fish are also welcome in many communities, and some communities even have Pet Coordinators to care for the furry and feathered friends. Some communities only allow pets on a case-by-case basis. So make sure to contact your communities of choice and ask about their particular pet policy.
For more in-depth information about the benefits seniors receive from their furry companion, read our article on “How Pet Therapy Has Changed Assisted Living.”