Pets bring out positive changes in seniors

A 2005 Italian study has shown that seniors who looked after a pet displayed higher levels of happiness than those who did not. Judy Suave of Therapeutic Paws of Canada says that seniors can get a lot of pleasure and joy out of pet therapy.
A 2005 Italian study has shown that seniors who looked after a pet displayed higher levels of happiness than those who did not. Judy Suave of Therapeutic Paws of Canada says that seniors can get a lot of pleasure and joy out of pet therapy.

The old saying goes that a dog is man’s best friend. And that remains true, right into your golden years.

Many seniors’ residences are now offering pet therapy options, which see a trained dog  — or cat, don’t worry cat lovers – come in and visit residents.

And according to one pet therapy organizer, the change in those residences is night and day.

“The visit of a pet has a remarkable change. The emotions, the energy that is in the ward or the floor that the pet has just visited is very, very noticeable,” Judy Sauve of Therapeutic Paws of Canada tells Active Senior’s Digest. “It’s so rewarding for the senior, many of them having to give up their pet. They appreciate the opportunity to cuddle, touch the fur, to go back into that stage of their life where they were the nurturer and offering treats to the dog, having them sit and lay down. It seems to be a great source of joy for them.”

Therapeutic Paws of Canada is a volunteer-based pet therapy program based out of Hawkesbury that has team leaders across the country offering programs and visits in seniors’ residences, as well as schools and hospitals.

Pet therapy has been shown in the past to provide favourable results for seniors. A 2005 study published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics details an experiment that took place in Italy with seniors, with some being given a pet canary, others a plant and others nothing, with a mental state examination being given before and after the testing period. The tests concluded that those with the canary were happier and had a positive effect on the senior’s psychological well-being.

Sauve says she has seen this happiness and positivity not only in the seniors, but also with the volunteers and the pets themselves.

“I don’t know who wins on this visit – the seniors, the pet or the volunteer. It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” she says.

Sauve says that bringing in the pets also allows an opportunity for seniors to talk more with other people.

“The fact that there’s a cat or a dog in the room allows us the opportunity to open up a conversation with the patient,” Sauve says, adding it often starts with asking if the senior was a pet owner in the past. “Sometimes you’ll get a very lengthy answer, and other times you’ll just get a nod of the head. It just all depends. Doctors and nurses will tell us, ‘I knew the pets were in this morning.’ You can just tell. The emotional state is better, they’re more animated, just a little spark in their eyes. It makes a big difference.

For those looking to help out, Sauve says the best volunteers are often other seniors.

“They make the best volunteers, by the way,” Sauve says. “They relate to the people that they’re visiting in the nursing home. We’re not that far away from them in age, but luckily we still have good health and are active. We know another 15, 20 years, it could be us in that nursing home. And it’s great exercise for them. Once they retire from their job, it gives them a purpose. They get up, take this beautiful little dog that means the world to them and share their dog with the community.”

For more information, and for those looking to volunteer and connect with a team leader in your area, please visit tpoc.ca.