With family pets being such a central feature in home life, you could assume that senior living communities would embrace a culture of being pet friendly; after all, many communities market themselves as being just like home and what is home without one’s pet. Yet all too often, communities have a no pet policy. At Silverado and Sunrise Senior Living communities, you won’t find a no pet policy; instead both senior living providers specifically include treating pets as family as one of their company’s core values.
“Most people are pleasantly surprised to learn that our communities are pet friendly,” says Maggie Schlagel, regional director of sales for Sunrise Senior Living. ‘We’ve found that allowing pets helps with the transition into a community and residents are so much more relaxed.”
Kathy Greene, vice president of operations for Silverado, says that she knows of families who stalled moving a family member into a community when they learn that pets aren’t welcome. Among the reasons why Silverado communities have house pets is because “life needs spontaneity and what better way to provide spontaneity than pets,” she says.
Both Silverado and Sunrise communities have house pets in addition to residents’ pets. Sunrise communities typically have a dog and cat, though some have birds, and their Staten Island community has a rabbit, Schlagel adds. Silverado communities also feature cats, dogs and birds (on average it is one dog to 10 residents), but there are also guinea pigs. One of the communities they acquired even came with miniature horses—which they kept, much to the delight of residents.
At each Silverado community there is a pet budget and dedicated pet coordinator who helps residents care for the house pets, which Greene says helps give residents a sense of purpose. “All of us human beings need the opportunity to nurture others, and just as residents are being nurtured, residents can nurture in turn,” she explains. At one community, residents made blankets for the local animal shelter and volunteered to train or walk the dogs.
When people outside our community learn that our residents have Alzheimer’s or dementia, they are surprised about the life our residents are still able to live, she adds. “It’s about the moment, not the memory.”
Sunrise residents are also active in supporting the animals in their local community. At one location, the memory care residents bake treats to take to the local animal shelter, and our communities often partner with local rescues and host a pet adoption day on site, Schlagel says. Many of their house pets are adopted from local animal shelters as well.
Not only do community pets boost the residents’ spirits, but they also promote physical health. Both Greene and Schlagel have seen residents resume walking or walking more because the dogs genuinely enjoy taking walks.
Of the house pets that have made a difference in residents’ lives, Greene says the story of Max, a golden retriever, comes readily to mind. He would know when someone is approaching death and would stay with that person until the end, she says. One time, Max remained with the resident, only leaving to go outside and go to the bathroom. The family was so moved that they asked if he could be at the funeral and he lay next to the casket during the service.
At Brighton Gardens of Stamford it was Bear, a Bernese Mountain dog (pictured left), who helped a woman adjust to her new home. The resident connected with Bear before the other residents and the unconditional love he provided just made the transition easier, Schlagel says.
Sunrise doesn’t require a pet fee, and pets are assessed on a case-by-case basis to ensure they will fit in with community pets. For residents with allergies, Schlagel says the team members will keep residents apart from the pets, but this health issue doesn’t often arise. “Most people are thrilled we have the house pet, as it’s an asset to our community,” she explains. Even team members, visiting physicians and family members will bring in their pets.
At Silverado communities, families are also welcome to bring in pets, and there is also an open-door policy when it comes to residents’ pets. We don’t want a dog locked in the room all day, nor do we want the resident to stay in their room, so resident pets are welcome to roam around the community too, Green says. All future pets are assessed to ensure they can be around people and noise, and in many cases, they will become a community pet when the resident passes away. Silverado does have a monthly pet fee which covers food, pet supplies and care when it’s needed.
Of Sunrise’s pet program, Schlagel says it will definitely continue in the future because the company strives to champion the lives of their residents and pets and to create a homelike environment. The same sentiment is held at Silverado, Greene says, because they want to have visitors to be taken aback by the life found at their communities.
Images are courtesy of Silverado and Sunrise Senior Living (photographer Jennifer Prat).