Companionship has been a basic need for humans since the dawn of time. Even the so-called “loners”, feel the need to share their lives with a trusted soul. For older pet owners, who often live alone or in group communities, that trusted soul can reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, increase social interaction, and physical activity and help them learn. Dr. Katherine Hillestad, a veterinarian from Rhinelander, Wisconsin, says, “A new pet can stimulate someone to read up on an animal or breed, which can be very mentally stimulating and important at that age.”
I know from first-hand experience that pets provide more than physical and mental benefits, and experts agree. Pets provide other intangibles. Pets live very much in the here- and- now. They don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow can be very frightening for an older person. By having an animal with that sense of now, it tends to rub off on people. I have a friend who lost her husband several years ago. As you can imagine, she had long bouts of loneliness and depression. All of us noticed that old spark return after she joined friends at the park. It was more than the fresh air, it was her interactions with pets at the park. We want her to have that same feeling year round. For her birthday, we presented her with a gift card to the local animal shelter. She chose a mixed breed do that she named, “Jersey”.
She does not pretend that Jersey replaces the time and love she lost with her spouse, but she told me how incredibly barren and lonely her life was without the companionship of a pet. Having a pet helps seniors focus on something other than physical problems and negative preoccupations about illness or loss.
This is why Wesley Glen Retirement Community has adopted two resident pets named Gigi and Eloise/Ellie. Ellie is a 5 year old Lab mix who was returned after adoption at the Franklin County Dog shelter due to separation and anxiety issues and Gigi has been with the retirement community over 10+ years. Dogs can flourish in this type of group environment while providing joy to the residents and staff.
Source: Dr Katherine Hillestad, a veterinarian with the office of Doctors Foster and Smith in Wisconsin, which provides online advice and retails pet supplies and pharmaceuticals www.peteducation.com