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Pets in Senior Living

Kimberly Fowler
By Kimberly FowlerMay 10, 2018

Many assisted living communities recognize the benefits of pets in senior living. Cats, dogs and other furry companions not only improve residents’ lives, but they can also help ease the transition to a senior living residence.

Read more about pet-friendly senior living communities who understand and value the bond between pets and their owners.

Pet-Friendly Senior Living

At Antebellum Grove Senior Living in Georgia, there’s an abundance of dog treats at the front desk and Milo, a 10-year-old white Pomeranian knows it’s there. “Milo likes to visit the front office because he knows we have a drawer of treats,” says Rebecca Berry, marketing director at Antebellum Grove. “He isn’t spoiled at all,” she says, laughing.

All the treats and love are well deserved. Milo has become an important family member at Antebellum Grove Senior Living.

“He helps make other residents feel more at home and having pets like him in our community warms the hearts of those who call our community their home,” Berry says.

Milo belongs to resident Mary Keating, but with his friendly personality, he’s well loved by everyone. The fact that he has three legs makes him unique, but it doesn’t slow him down. “He loves to join in the activities with our residents. He comes to our live entertainment and parties, and he likes to get outside and welcome residents or visit those in memory care,” Berry says. “You’ll often find him sunbathing at the back porch. He’s so friendly, he lifts the spirits of the residents and the staff, too.”

Keating found Milo at The Humane Society of Houston County where she regularly volunteered. She and her husband wanted to rescue a dog and when Milo saw them he instantly jumped onto her husband’s lap. “I always felt Milo picked us instead of us picking him,” Keating says. “He’s just the sweetest dog.” Keating’s husband was later diagnosed with dementia and passed recently, so Milo comforts her each day.

While he might steal the spotlight, Milo’s not the only animal at Antebellum Grove. The pet-friendly senior living community is home to cats, dogs and three birds. They also have a golden retriever therapy dog who makes regular visits to their memory care residents. Being a pet-friendly community is very important to the staff here. “Animals are part of our resident’s family, and we don’t expect residents to leave these family members who have been there for them,” Berry says.

Emily Rosenberger, program director at Commonwealth Senior Living at Charlottesville in Virginia agrees that animals are critical to the people in their community.

“It’s a simple thing, but I couldn’t imagine not having a pet in my life, and many of our residents feel the same,” she says. “Some people are surprised to learn we’re pet-friendly, but we are a home to our residents and that often means having pets. If people can take care of their animals then we encourage them to bring them.”

In fact, many senior living communities are pet-friendly because the alternative can be devastating to a senior. “From a therapeutic perspective people really struggle to have to give an animal up,” says Donna Brunetti, a counselor based out of Lake Forest, California. Brunetti believes that the relationship with a pet is invaluable. “Seniors are finding many of the people they knew are gone, or their families become busier, and their pet remains a constant for them,” she says. “It’s really good for them to care for an animal, it gives them a reason to get up and do things and it offers an improved quality of life. Unfortunately, there are many seniors who are not able to have an animal, even though the relationship would provide them significant benefits,” she says.

That’s why Brunetti developed My Master’s Plan as a workaround. The membership-based service provides seniors with legacy planning so that in case of an emergency their pet is taken care of. Brunetti hopes that families, retirement communities and shelters will be more supportive of seniors owning pets if there’s a long-term plan in place should something happen to the owner.

Rosenberger has seen many residents who have had to give up a pet because they could no longer care for them. “It’s absolutely devastating,” she says. That’s why Commonwealth Senior Living at Charlottesville does everything they can to bring in therapy animals on a regular basis so residents no longer able to care for an animal on their own can still experience the benefits.

Phoebe is a golden retriever who visits Commonwealth Senior Living at Charlottesville every Thursday, and Sam has been visiting residents every week since he was an 8-week-old kitten. In addition to these regular guests, the community often has local organizations who bring in animals to visit. “It’s really exciting when the miniature horses come in because our residents never expect it,” Rosenberger says. “They’re often sleeping in the lounge and a small horse with little shoes will trot up to them, they love it.”

While Brunetti has seen first-hand the positive impact of therapy animals, she believes there’s something significant about owning your own pet.

“Companionship 24/7 from a cat, dog or other animal is so important,” she says. “They’re with you all the time. With walking services and other supports out there, there’s no reason seniors should not have an animal if they want one.”

Rosenberger agrees and says communities like hers are doing their best to help residents and their animals stay together. Some of her residents use dog walking services and many rely on the help of family and friends to care for their animals during times of illness. “We have one resident who walks her dog six times a day when the weather is good, but when it’s cold she hires a dog walker to come in. We encourage that,” she says. “Other residents help care for their neighbor’s pets if they get sick or spend time in the hospital,” Rosenberger explains. “In this way, even residents who don’t have pets benefit from the animals here.”

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Is having pets in senior living an important factor for yourself or a loved one? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Kimberly Fowler
Kimberly Fowler
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