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“Paws-itively” Pet Friendly Senior Living

Jana Waring Helms
By Jana Waring HelmsOctober 31, 2013

Atria Kew Gardens is not just pet friendly, but also pet-promoting. This senior living community knows that furry friends not only enhance the lives of their residents, but also also help to give them a social life and even improve their health and well-being.

Pet Friendly Senior LivingAdorable, wagging, furry. These are a few adjectives that come to mind when people visit Atria Kew Gardens, a “Best of Long Island 2013” winner in the senior living category. This is because pets have become a part of the every-day companionship at this assisted living community. Therapeutic pet-cuddling sessions with senior residents are quite a delightful site to behold for the onlooker.

Everyone knows that the benefits of pets in senior living communities is one of A Place for Mom’s favorite topics; especially since we launched our pet friendly campaign last year and received an overwhelming response from advocates who support seniors and their furry companions. That’s why we’re so happy to announce that Atria Kew Gardens is a featured Community of the Month that promotes healthy, happy senior living — including the many benefits that come along from furry friends.

Atria Kew Gardens is “Pet-Promoting”

Atria Kew Gardens is known for being a pet-friendly senior living community, but what many people may not know is that the facility also has a special relationship with four-legged friends outside the center. Under the lead of Kew Gardens Life Director Martin Ingber, seniors not only enjoy regular visits from the animal rescue and adoption center North Shore Animal League (NSAL) , but mobile seniors are actually able to visit the organization’s headquarters to participate in events and connect with a larger variety of animals.

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“Contact is healthy for people,” says Ingber. “There comes a lot of physical and emotional interaction with tactile touching of animals, like hugging and petting. We try to involve our residents with a world larger than their own.”

Originally Ingber created a program called “Noah’s Ark Comes To Atria,” where volunteers from North Shore would bring animals to Atria, usually 2-3 puppies, for pet therapy and socialization activities. These visits were so well received and effective that the North Shore Animal League invited residents to their facilities with the hope that some of its senior animals may be adopted by visiting seniors.

Ingber answers our questions on the pet therapy program and how it enhances the lives of their residents:

A Place for Mom: How often are the animals brought to Atria Kew Gardens to visit with seniors?

Martin Ingber: The visits can vary, but it’s typically every other month.

APFM: What effects do the animals have on the residents?

MI: Many residents obviously enjoy the emotional and physical interaction with the puppies and animals, as the photos submitted clearly demonstrate.

The laughter involved in watching ‘animal play’ can be very therapeutic for seniors. When there’s contact with a puppy—or other cuddly animal—there’s an intangible simplicity involved. There’s a release that’s good for everybody involved—both senior and animal.

APFM: Are there are down sides to having these kinds of interactions?

MI: We haven’t experienced any real downsides, with the understanding that any resident that does not particularly like animals would be unlikely to take advantage of participating in these programs.

APFM: Is there one particular animal or story that sticks out in your mind?

MI: Our poster child pet therapy/NSAL success story to-date is the adoption of an orange tabby named “Churchill” by residents, Warren and Ellen Zolot. All are happy here and doing very well together.

APFM: What kind of activities do the seniors participate with the animals?

MI: At Atria Kew Gardens, we continually strive to develop new, creative, high-quality programming of all kinds to engage our residents and enrich their lives.

APFM: Do you recommend this type of program for other assisted living senior facilities?

MI: I certainly recommend interaction programs such as these that allow residents to benefit from a connection with different people and/or pets such as these NSAL programs can provide.

“Purr-fect” Senior Companionship

A resident snuggles with a puppy at Atria Kew Gardens.

Pets are sometimes the only companions for seniors. They provide a comfort system and actually produce  a chemical chain reaction in the brain that helps to lower levels of of the stress-inducing hormone, cortisol, and increase the production of the feel-good hormone, serotonin. In fact, pets have been shown to reduce heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels in humans and can actually help lower cholesterol, fight depression and help protect against heart conditions. All great reasons for seniors to have a pet! Warren and Ellen Zolot, the residents described in the interview above describe how happy they are with their cat “Churchill” and their appreciation of the adoption process:

Ellen notes, “We love animals, and I’m very glad that we got Churchill as he’s such a good cat. We’re very grateful to Atria for taking us to NSAL.” Warren adds, “and thanks to Marty for all his help in making the arrangements possible.”

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Jana Waring Helms
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