In previous blog posts we highlighted the positive benefits that pets provide seniors, such as lowering blood pressure or helping them remain independent. Pets become so much a part of daily life that many pet owners couldn’t imagine living without them. Adult children likely dread the time when their parents need to transition into an assisted living community, as it will mean leaving a beloved pet behind. Yet that isn’t the case at all. Many senior living communities allow residents to bring pets when they move in. Heritage Assisted Living Twin Falls in Idaho even goes one step further by having community pets which are an integral part of daily life.
The reason why seniors might not realize assisted living communities welcome pets is because they have a general perception of what nursing homes used to be, where pets weren’t welcome, explains Alyssa Peterson, executive director of Heritage Assisted Living Twin Falls. She says that when potential residents do learn that her community welcomes pets, they are generally relieved.
Like many senior living communities, Heritage Assisted Living Twin Falls is home to residents’ cats and dogs. Visiting family and staff are also allowed to bring their pets if they are trained and current on shots. The community also partners with Pet Partners, a pet therapy program which brings dogs to visit residents. Residents “definitely enjoy when people get to bring pets in to interact with,” Peterson says.
Her community also has an aviary filled with parakeets, and it’s not uncommon to see residents visit and chat with the birds. But it’s the “pretty fat and sassy” rabbits who call the courtyards home that never fail to attract attention or spark smiles. The rabbits became part of the community when a previous administrator decided the memory care residents needed a rabbit and Cadbury joined the community, Peterson explains. When the assisted living residents declared they wanted a rabbit too, Ruby was adopted, followed shortly by Butters since the residents said that Ruby needed a friend.
Cadbury makes daily trips into the memory care neighborhood to eat his half a banana and visit residents. Residents have an emotional response, “a warm happy feeling,” seeing him, which is a big point of why we have Cadbury since we want to give residents this pleasure, Peterson says.
When residents want to bring their pets to a community, Peterson says they should be aware that an assessment will be done to ensure their pet is a good fit with the community. We have them interact with other people and dogs so we don’t have any dog fights occur, she explains. In the case of dogs, unfortunately some have to be left at home become “some dogs are just not meant to be in a small area.”
There will be the additional cost of pet rent added to the monthly rent, as extra housekeeping is needed to keep the room tidy and smelling better, but she says that most families understand the reason for the additional cost. For families worried about allergies, Peterson says that most of the pets stay in the residents’ room, and it’s typically cats which people are allergic to, not so much with dogs. And in the unfortunate situation when a resident can no longer care for their pet, “we will explore things we can do to help the resident and pet stay together.”
In the situations when residents would prefer not to interact with the visiting animals, staff and visitors are respectful of a resident’s wishes. Yet even the residents who don’t call themselves animal lovers are eventually won over by the beloved community pets. Peterson says there is a 102-year-old resident who wouldn’t have anything to do with the visiting dogs when she joined the community. In the last two years, she now makes it a point of visiting Peterson’s office when she brings her dog to work.