Americans love their pets. In 2012 The Humane Society of the United States* estimated that 83.3 million dogs and 95.6 million cats grace homes in the United States. For senior citizens, pets provide companionship, unconditional love and a sense of feeling needed.
Despite these positive benefits, as the country’s population ages, a dilemma is occurring—what happens to beloved pets when their owners move to retirement communities?
Benefits of Pet Ownership
For Maxine Bayer, 87, the answer was simple. Bring Daisy, a beautiful, sweet-tempered apricot poodle-terrier with her to Mirage Inn, a Brookdale Senior Living community in Rancho Mirage, CA. Mrs. Bayer, who uses a wheelchair, and friendly Daisy, who often sits on Bayer’s lap, enjoy life in their comfortable, safe environment.
“I am blessed that Daisy is everyone’s pet,” says Mrs. Bayer. “At first, it was a novelty for people to see me in the chair with a dog in my lap. Now Daisy is part of the residents’ family.”
Col. Larry Schaeffer, 93, and his black, white and yellow Calico cat Missy also share life together at the Rancho Mirage residence. “Missy means so much in Dad’s life,” says Schaeffer’s daughter Monique. “Missy’s been with him so long. She sleeps with him, cuddles next to him, and gives him complete devotion. I think Dad’s done so well because Missy is with him." Schaeffer and Missy first moved into Mirage Inn, but as Schaeffer’s needs changed, he and Missy moved to the adjacent Alzheimer’s and dementia section, Clare Bridge Place.
"When we moved Dad to Clare Bridge Place, it was traumatic,” says Col. Schaeffer’s daughter Monique. “We didn’t want him to feel everything was taken from him, so Missy moved with him. If Missy, 14, dies before Dad, I would get him a kitten!”
Mirage Inn Executive Director Christopher Finn counts six cats and eight dogs as residents. Clare Bridge Place has one cat.
Finding the Right Place for Fido
According to Finn, allowing pets to live at Brookdale Senior Living communities is part of the company’s Optimum Life program, which features a holistic approach to health, life, fulfillment and aging.
With more than 559 senior retirement communities throughout the United States, Brookdale’s pet policies vary. At Mirage Inn, pet owners and their families follow a policy designed for resident and pet safety and well-being. For a fee, assistance is available for pet care.
Things to Consider Before Moving
For seniors and their families exploring the option of joining a senior living community, moving with or without their pets is a difficult decision. Considerations include:
- Health - Are you physically healthy enough to care for your pet? Is the pet physically healthy enough for the new environment?
- Well-being - Are you able to provide the appropriate kindness and compassion for your pet? Is the pet’s personality appropriate for the new environment?
- Upkeep/Expense - Are you or your family capable of providing food, grooming, medical care and daily maintenance, such as exercise?
- Environment - Of the senior living environments you are considering, what are their pet policies? Are there places to walk a dog?
- Future - What happens you pass away unexpectedly or are no longer able to care for your pet? What is “Plan B?”
Written by Joan London, a freelance writer from Baltimore, MD. London lives in a 55+ condominium with Mia, a beautiful, sweet Russian Blue rescue cat. The intelligent, regal feline, whose name stands for “Mi Amigo,” Spanish for “My Friend,” earns her keep by sitting on the printer and inspecting the copy as it prints.