Pets are treasured companions for children and adults of all ages. But do pets have a place in the lives of seniors who move to retirement communities?
The answer today, increasingly, is a resounding "Yes." The benefits of companionship cannot be overestimated. Humans are social creatures, and science and emotion alike confirm that we are all happier when we have others to share the good times and offer comfort during bad times.
Health and good humor require that we connect on some level with others. In any guide to retirement living, the availability of an active social life is an important consideration.
Pets Are Good Therapy
That connection may be just as strong with a pet as with another human. Research confirms that living with a four-footed friend can have enormous, even life-changing, impact on the lives of seniors in modern society.
Lifestyle changes brought about by aging can be disconcerting, disruptive and stressful.
But owning a pet can offset those effects. Pets require care, but they also reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure, encourage healthy interaction with others, promote beneficial exercise and help to keep their owners focused, interested and aware. They offer non-judgmental support, constant companionship and unconditional love.
For seniors considering a move to a retirement community, the question of what to do with a beloved pet can be an overriding concern. No matter what the reason for an impending move, the prospect of leaving a cherished cat or dog behind can be devastating.
Check Your Options
If you are considering a transition to a senior living situation for yourself or a family member, you will want to investigate the possibility of bringing your canine or feline companion. As a general rule, independent living situations or "over-55" communities will have few restrictions on pets.
Some communities, particularly those targeted to active and independent seniors, recognize the benefits of pets and not only allow them, but encourage prospective residents to bring them.
There may, however, be some restrictions on breeds and sizes. Birds and fish are generally allowed.
If your guide to retirement living includes a move to an assisted living facility, or to a nursing care unit that discourages pets or does not allow them, you might be able to arrange "visiting privileges" if there is an alternate caregiver for the pet. Many assisted living homes report much success with that concept.
Some communities have embraced the practice of adopting resident pets as well, so that residents may enjoy the benefits of "group ownership" and community care of a resident dog or cat.
Care and Need Are Two-Way Streets.
While the benefits of pets are acknowledged, their needs must be considered.
Food, exercise, grooming and veterinary care must be maintained on a regular basis; the financial obligations are also not insignificant. Some retirement communities have pet coordinators on staff to help with grooming and bathing needs, administration of needed medications and scheduling of veterinary visits, as well as to offer advice and keep tabs on the person-pet interaction.
It is imperative that you consider the needs of the pets as well as the desires of the human owners. It is increasingly common for nursing facilities and even hospitals to allow visits from pets, but there is no guarantee that will be possible.
There is sometimes a need for hard decisions to be made.
The Need for Planning
Even though there might come a time when separation from a beloved pet is necessary, that should not become a reason to forego the pleasures and the benefits of owning a special cat or dog. It just signals a need to confront all the possibilities in advance and make the best decisions possible. That constitutes a realistic approach and a perfect guide to retirement living and planning for the future.