A man and his dog moved to Lyndoch Living in Warnambool in time for an interesting Christmas present last year. One resident’s pair of budgies had just hatched three chicks, to the delight of staff and residents.
“Three little babies all! And I’m constantly getting different staff and different residents saying, “One of them stuck his head out today,” all that sort of thing,” says Community Liaison Officer Andrea Beeston.
Lyndoch Living has been pet-friendly for more than ten years. They have procedures in place to support residents to live with their pets on-site. “That helps with their transition into care,” says Ms Beeston. “It also helps with them feeling more at ease.” Currently two residents have dogs, and two staff members bring their own registered dogs to work.
In her formal submission to the Royal Commission last year, health science lecturer Dr Jeanette Young noted the importance of pets to the aged care transition. “It is distressing enough (for people) having to leave their home and move into aged care but leaving a pet behind – or ending its life due to circumstances beyond their control – only magnifies this stress,” Young said.
The Other Benefits of Pets in Aged Care
The health benefits of having pets are well documented. Various studies over the last 40 years find that having animal companions benefits people’s physical and psychological wellbeing and promotes social connections. To continue putting it drily, the human-animal bond is known to reduce loneliness and provide a sense of purpose.
One in two Australians aged over 65 own pets, and they’d probably agree with these findings. Yet, only 18 per cent of aged care facilities allow pets to reside with their owners, according to a 2018 report by Animal Welfare League Australia (AWLA). Just 9 per cent of home care services assist seniors with their pets.
Fortunately, growing demand for pet-friendly aged care is seeing more residential and home care services step up to keep seniors and their pets together. Notably, AWLA is supporting aged care residences to become pet-friendly with their online resource hub.
Successful Examples of Pet-Friendly Policy
AWLA identified several perceived obstacles to having pets in residential aged care or retirement villages. These include lack of staff or funding, and fears of infection or being sued over a pet-related issue.
But apparently, making your facility pet-friendly isn’t that hard. Lyndoch Living, for example, recently acquired another aged care residence which had previously not allowed pets on-site. “And we began introducing live-in pets and things like that, and that’s made a world of difference to the residents and also with families visiting,” Ms Beeston said. “Because a lot of our residents also come from farming backgrounds and they’re used to having pets around.
There are some restrictions. Great Danes and other very large dogs aren’t allowed (“it’s not going to be conducive to that animal”), and all pets are assessed by vets to ensure they’re the right fit. “Whether they’re going to get along with other people, whether they get along with other animals, whether they’re house-trained! That’s an important thing to look at.”
You can see more successful policies and models of pet-friendly retirement villages and aged care residences at AWLA’s website.
Finding a Pet-Friendly Aged Care Residence or Retirement Village
Don’t assume an aged care residence or retirement village allows pets. Make sure you mention your pet when making enquiries and ask for the company pet policy to make sure it’s the right fit for you. You may want to consider things like:
- Your dog’s breed and size
- Exercise areas
- Whether veterinary and grooming services are provided
Contact the Animal Welfare League in your state for a list of pet-friendly aged care or retirement settings. If the aged care sector’s new “consumer-centred” approach is worth a bone, plenty more places will soon welcome pets!