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Home is Where the Dog Is

In my position as Health Science lecturer in a college in N.Ireland I lecture over two courses, Human Health and Animal Health. The Human Health course has a large Health and social care component and at periodic times throughout the year I have to visit students in Residential homes.The Animal Health focuses on the health of animals and also their behavior.

When I visit the students it is usually to asses how they are settling into the home and interacting with the clients. Some weeks ago I happened to visit a home in a residential suburb of middle class Belfast.This home was a new one on my list and one that I had not visited before. It was a very attractive old redbrick Georgian house hidden down a side street off a busy road.

Each home has its own atmosphere and as I entered this one it immediately felt different. I really could not put my finger on the reason why until I knocked on the Managers door and entered her office. There on the carpet in front of me was a 6 inch high arching back hissing feline monster puffed up to three times its size and rather humorous in its display!

” Oh never mind Molly” says the manager, “she is one of our residents new kittens and a bit wild!”

At that moment Molly took off across the floor,jumped onto the seat,from the seat to the table and behind the curtains.

Wonderful I thought a residential home that has a pet!

Not one pet it seems, as I observed several pairs of eyes fixed on me from different corners of the room. Cages were on the floor against the wall and each cage had its own little blanket and water bowl.

I could not believe my luck at coming across this home and this amazing lady who could see the benefits of pet ownership for her residents. A lady who also went against the grain.

Given that around 140,000 people a year in the UK are forced to give up their pets with 40,000 pets a year being put to sleep because their owners are going into care homes,having pets in a care home is something that rarely happens.

It is actually a fact that I am totally appalled at.

For many older people a dog or a cat is what makes their home. Their pet is more than just a pet, he or she is their friend,a member of the family and a companion that is always there. Their pet is often a reason to get up in the morning and for many it can become their whole life.The Health benefits of owning a dog are known and for older people it is especially true. As well as lowering blood pressure and promoting exercise they also promote a feeling of well being that comes from loving and being loved in return. Dogs help people by listening to them by giving affection and by being a distraction.

It is therefore heartbreaking to know that in the UK most older people who enter homes not only have to give up their homes and their freedom but they have to give up their pets as well. So why if the Health benefits of owning pets is known do old age homes not allow the pets?

It boils down to concerns over disease and litigation if injury or illness occurred as a result of having animal contact. On researching this issue in my position in the college I have found this to be unfounded and in fact in the small percent of homes that allow dogs there have been few if any problems. In fact by allowing pets in the home huge benefits are passed to the residents creating a positive atmosphere in the home and greater social interaction between the staff and the residents.
Growing older should focus on what a person can still do and not on what they cannot do. It should focus on what an older person can retain and for many of them it is their pet.

Here in the UK we are known as an animal loving nation,we care and spent a lot of money on our pets, Isn’t it now time we start to demand that we keep them?

Look to other countries and you will find many that allow pets into homes. Countries such as France, Spain, Greece and USA have recognized the benefits of pet ownership and have enacted legislation demonstrating the rights of older people to keep their pets in sheltered or public housing.They have recognized that it becomes crucial for older people to retain as much normality and stability as possible.Their pet is their family and surely given the benefits of this relationship we could manage to facilitate and support these relationships?

Take one manager of a sheltered housing complex in Arizona, he went so far as to actively encourage the residents to adopt pets.He even drove them to the nearest animal shelter himself. A win win situation for the shelter and the home residents and maybe a possible outlet for all those abandoned animals that are looking for a home?

Kathy Davison is a Health Studies lecturer with both Humans and Animals! As well as lecturing full time Kathy runs an online website on various aspects of owning dogs.

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