therapy-dogsThe three dogs pictured above have something in common. They all provide comfort to our aging community by visiting local nursing homes and aged care facilities. But is this enough? What about all the people that have had to be separated from their companion animal because they could no longer care for them, or because the nursing home wouldn’t accept animals. Should we as a community be providing something more for these people? There are people in my region that believe more can be done for senior citizens and their pets, and are willing to be the change…….

A small group of people have gathered in a meeting room of our local council chambers. It’s the second time they’ve met to discuss an issue that lays heavy on their minds. What happens to companion animals when things around the household become too difficult to manage alone? Many have seen elderly friends or family refuse to move into aged care facilities if their pet can’t come. Some have seen people move interstate, miles away from friends and family, just so they can keep their cherished pet by their side. Is it too much to ask that senior citizens and their pets can remain together?

pets-for-lifeTomas Passeggi, community development co-ordinator of the Caloundra (Southern Queensland) Pets for Life project, is attending as a guest speaker. According to Passeggi, if the community is willing to work for it, seniors and their pets can stay together longer and reap many other benefits as well. In his region, people once suffering from the social isolation that old age can sometimes bring, have discovered another way to connect with members of their community, through their pet.

Pets for Life in Caloundra offers a free service to senior citizens who require some support caring for their pets. The group of growing volunteers offer basic pet support such as dog walking, vet visits, dog washes etc etc. But something more has emerged from the program. A relationship has often began to build between the volunteer and the pet’s owner. Through sharing their basic love of animals, friendships are popping up around the community that hadn’t existed before.

dog-in-bagOne thing Passeggi has noticed is that Pets for Life is never short of a volunteer. Many volunteers are over the age of 60 themselves and often unable to own a pet themselves. The key to the program has been its flexible hours, the pet interaction (as well as the extra social interaction) and the physical benefits that come from walking animals on a regular basis. The emphasis has always been on assisting with pet care, not with taking over the full-time care of the animal.

The Caloundra Pets for Life project has also started to get together a list of short-term foster carers who can take care of a beloved pet if the owner needs to make a hospital visit, or go into care for a while – its one less thing for a senior pet owner to worry about when a situation arises. The project now employs two people, has been rolled out across the Sunshine Coast and has been funded by the Federal Government for the past three years.

There is a collective murmur of excitement from the small handful of people that have gathered in my community. Pets for Life evolved from a similar conversation in the Caloundra region only 4½ years ago. The people present at this meeting are keen to take similar steps to help make a difference for seniors and their pets in this region. Now all that is required is a name for the group – Pets Of Older People (POOP) or Pets and their Older Owners at Home (POOH)……..

What are your thoughts? Are you keen to be involved too? If so contact Tricia Miles (tricianev@bigpond.com).

Check out this BlogPost for an UPDATE on the newly formed Cairns Group – Happy Pets Happy Homes – Keeping Seniors and their Pets Together

Click HERE to listen to Thomas Passeggi’s interview on local ABC radio on Pets for Life.

Do you have something similar in your community? What other things could we do so that older people and their pets stay together longer?