Senior Living Centers and Other Facilities Recognize the Healing Nature of PetsPublished May 23, 2012
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Fortunately, family visits were allowed several times a day. Although we were able to share treasured hours for many weeks; something was missing. Bill missed Gremlin, our gentle, ebony Oriental Shorthair kitty and longed to see her.
Resembling a guardian angel, Bill’s social worker was an avid cat lover. Recognizing the deep bonds that develop between pets and their guardians, she suggested that I bring Gremlin to visit Bill whenever he asked to see her.
During Gremlin’s first visit, one very happy kitty jumped into his arms, rubbing her face against his hand. Her loud vibrant purrs could be heard from across the room. Bill’s spirits were visibly lifted just by her presence; although their reunion was bitter-sweet.
The pet-human bond is not only powerful and healing to those of us who are passionate animal lovers; these bonds are as essential as life itself.
Just like the hospice center that cared for Bill, according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, recognizing the depth of the bonds that develop between people and their pets, hundreds of long-term care institutions across the country, such as retirement homes and assisted living facilities are seriously taking this factor into consideration.
Since leaving a beloved pet behind is agonizing, in order to facilitate transitions from home to extended- care centers, seniors are often allowed to bring their pets with them in a growing number of facilities. At this time, however, pet-friendly living centers are still in the minority. As an alternative, some institutions keep their own in-house pets, offering residents the benefits of companion animals without the responsibility of their care.
Tami Cumings, the senior vice-present of A Place for Mom, the nation's largest senior referral service, said that as many as 40 percent of people calling for information about long care facilities ask if pets are allowed.
When A Place for Mom was founded 12 years ago, families rarely took pets into consideration when the time arrived for a relative to move into a rest home or skilled nursing center. Dr. Lori Kogan, professor of veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University said that today, with the increase in assisted living residences, independent living centers, and facilities specializing caring for Alzheimer's patients, some folks are paying closer attention to studies demonstrating that pets can help improve their guardian’s physical and psychological health.
Some facilities now build small menageries to bolster residents’ spirits. The Silverado Senior Living Center, (one of 23 centers in six states), located 25 miles north of San Diego in Encinitas is one of many. At this facility, miniature horses, and an assortment of other larger animals delight their residents. Silverado estimates 20 percent of new residents move in with their pets.
Dr. Kogan founded Pets Forever, a prototype program at Colorado State in which students receive credit for helping disabled and elderly pet guardians care for their animals. Reflecting on the aging process, close relatives and friends often pass away. She said, "So pets become increasingly important. These pets really give them meaning and value in life, a purpose for getting up in the morning."
Seeing the importance that pets play in our lives, and seeing that this relationship is finally receiving the credence it deserves, is extremely heartening to me. How do you feel about this rapidly growing recognition? Share your thoughts in a comment.