Pets are an Essential Part of Older Adult Communities
By Paul Riggins, PhD
According to the Global Animal Medicines Association, today there are “more and more people have pets who share our homes and daily lives.” This is a well-known fact documented many times over in research, journal articles, and newspapers, in the media and on the Internet.
In the Health for Animals journal article entitled The Importance of Pets, it is stated that “Pets are part of our everyday lives and part of our families. They provide us with companionship but also with emotional support, reduce our stress levels, sense of loneliness and help us to increase our social activities and add to a child’s self-esteem and positive emotional development. In return, as responsible pet owners we need to ensure that our animals are kept healthy, fit, get nutritious food, love and affection and proper housing and care.”
Many older adults no longer have children living at home. As a result, there is less of an opportunity for them to demonstrate the caregiving skills which are a basic human value. Pets fill the void left by children leaving and becoming more independent and less dependent on their parents. Pets become the children of many older adults and this is a healthy part of the aging process. Caregiving and the feeling of being needed are basic human qualities. As the number of 55 and older communities are developed there is the need to recognize and address this aspect of senior living and health.
Pets are companions, friends, loved ones and, most always, become an essential part of the family. We care for them; they care for us. They help older adults laugh and play, exercise and provide loving support for other living creatures. Additionally, as the age of adults increases, there are greater numbers of single adults living alone. Pets provide companionship to many single older adults. Pets require time and energy. They require responsible behavior and ownership. They provide their owners with something positive to do each day; they may even become the reason for some older adults to continue living. In communities that are predominantly older adults, pets are an essential element in the provision of well-being, health and happiness for owners and the community at large.
It is also essential that communities address the needs of pets and their owners. Everyone benefits when pets and their owners are healthy and happy. It could be stated that pets are the second heartbeat of a community and how a community addresses the needs of pets and their owners reflects the values of that community. Developments that serve the residential and recreational needs of senior adults must recognize the importance of pets and their owners in the community. If one of the goals of the community is to generate revenue for the developer of that community, they will find revenue levels are directly impacted in positive ways by the presence of pets and the related lifestyles of their owners.
Unfortunately, as adults age, their health and physical abilities are impacted, oftentimes, in challenging ways. This dichotomy of the increase in the number of pets amidst growing health challenges places an additional responsibility of communities serving older adults. Awareness of the needs of both the pets and owners in a community serving older adults is essential. For example, often older adults have greater challenges walking and exercising their pets thus creating a greater need for specific areas and services addressing those needs. The numbers of dog parks, for example, are increasing in both urban and rural areas with significant numbers of older adults. In many ways, this just makes cents. Think about it!