It’s long been recognised that pets make ideal companions for people of all ages. Research shows they have the power to improve our emotional and physical wellbeing.
For Gail Munro, life would not be the same without her beloved German Shepherd-cross Timothy.
“He is my life,” Gail admits. “When I saw him it was love at first sight. “His floppy ears and big brown eyes got me straight away.” And, more than five years later, he continues to be an inseparable companion. “I don’t have anyone else and he really is my reason for living,” Gail continues. “Without him, I don’t know what I have to live for. “We have a really intuitive relationship, we understand each other and we really do communicate. “He’s also the kindest dog and when I am suffering depression, Timothy keeps me going.”
The benefits of pet ownership are well documented.
A statement released by the American Heart Association and endorsed by the National Heart Foundation of Australia, outlines the benefits of pet ownership in reducing cardiovascular disease (CVD) in humans. Spokesperson for the Australian Veterinary Association’s small animal group, Dr David Neck, said there have been many studies which show the positive relationship between pet ownership and CVD.
“These benefits include increased physical activity, lower blood pressure and less stress,” Dr Neck says.
“If there’s one thing all dog owners know, it’s how demanding dogs can be when it comes to ‘walk time’. “Their excited yelps do wonder for our health.”
Another Australian study reported that dog owners engaged in significantly more minutes per week of physical activity and walking and were more likely to meet the recommended level of physical activity than non-owners.
“Participating in physical activity together, not only strengthens the bond you have with your pet, it can help reduce obesity, is good for mental health and increases social interaction,” Dr Neck says.
Dr Joanne Righetti, an animal behaviourist with 15 years’ experience helping people and pets agrees.
“There are studies that have been done that look at how pets make us engage with other people and it’s not just dogs they are talking about; though they would be the number one pet for social facilitation and making sure we talk to others. “We know people are more likely to talk to someone when walking a dog than when walking alone or pushing a pram,” Dr Jo (as she is known on radio) says.
“Even cat people talk to each other. “Cat owners are known for their ability and love of telling stories about their pets. “We see it a lot on blogs and forums and so on. “Just looking at Twitter and Facebook, which are the two biggest social media outlets, there is a lot of interaction among pet lovers. “People are even posting as their pets, sharing stories. “Talking about pets is considered a safe topic. “It’s a way to discuss their feelings without having to say ‘gosh, I’m lonely’. “The background message to all this is that without pets, they would be really lonely.”
While companionship is the main reason people have pets, security is another. “People really like the idea of a warning bark or the fact a burglar will think twice when a dog makes a noise,” Dr Jo says. “Even when you are walking in the street, it doesn’t just open conversation, but can give a sense of protection as well.”
Another positive effect of pet ownership is the routine they provide. “When you no longer have routine in life, because you’ve given up work, or the kids leave home, a pet provides routine,” Dr Jo says. “We may think that routines are boring but they are an essential part of life for humans. “The demand a pet has on you makes it nice to feel needed and, as humans, we do love to nurture.”
“The demand a pet has on you makes it nice to feel needed and, as humans, we do love to nurture.”
While owning a pet has many therapeutic benefits, making the choice to adopt a pet is also a rewarding experience. As well as knowing you have saved a life, an animal adopted from a shelter has usually been thoroughly checked by veterinarians and animal behaviourists. They are up-to-date on all necessary vaccinations, micro chipped and educated with basic training. Those raised in foster homes have had house training and foster families are well versed in the animal’s temperament, likes and dislikes.
All this not only means you have a pet which is easy to adopt, but initial pet establishment costs are reduced.
There are many organisations which rescue, train and offer pets for adoption in Australia. Here are a few –
Positive Ageing in the Company of Animals
While owning a pet is great therapy, the hurdles people are experiencing when moving in to retirement facilities, are causing stress.
For Timothy’s owner Gail, who is just one of many people across Australia considering the options of aged care, the prospect of being separated from her beloved dog created great stress and anxiety.
Providing opportunities for people to live with their pets in retirement villages and aged care facilities is a growing issue, and one which organisations such as Animal Welfare League Australia (AWLA) are working to address.
AWLA executive officer Anne Boxhall says making provision for pets in aged care accommodation and supporting elderly pet owners in their own homes makes good sense.
The organisation has initiated the Positive Ageing in the Company of Animals Project as a way to assist aged care providers to meet the challenge of supporting residents and their pets.
“There is growing awareness between aged care providers,animal welfare agencies, pet owners and others that there is a real need to provide ways of preserving the bond between people and pets in aged care accommodation,” Anne says.
The project involves the collection of data, perceptions and working models around pets in aged care facilities. It will result in an on-line guide to support services and older pet owners considering aged care option. Success relies on the completion of data by CEOs of every aged care facility in Australia, as well as sharing their perceptions about pets in their facilities and information on existing pet policies.
Feedback from aged care facilities which adopt a pet policy is positive.
Some of the responses to the project are: “We recognise the immense benefits of pet therapy for the wellbeing of our residents. “Pets are non-judgmental, forging and loyal, “We asked the residents before accepting her if they wanted a dog and the response was an overwhelming yes. “Our resident pet dog is learning with residents (and staff members) who need extra special attention and will spontaneously seek these out and provide companionship.”
Dr Jo is a strong advocate for pets in community living facilities.
“I’ve been involved with the Delta Society which has therapy dogs that go into aged care facilities. “Most aren’t going in as therapeutic regimes, they are just going in as guests to give residents a chance to touch and pat a pet. “What I do hope will happen is that aged care facilities and retirement facilities will enable people to take their own pets. “A lot of animals are surrendered because people can’t take their pets with them. “Hopefully, with the work organisations such as Animal Welfare League is carrying out, there will be policies and suggestions for facilities to find ways that people can take their pets. “People would pay a premium to have that ability – both buying and renting.”