Dogs might not seem like a good fit for communal senior living, what with the barking, the needing to go outside all the time and the not-always-hospitable manners.
And with older people who might not be inclined to go for long walks, a senior living community seems like the last place you’d expect to find a pooch.
But a host of studies show that having a dog can boost seniors’ mental and physical health in ways that make investing in a pooch worthwhile. And some senior living facilities have begun welcoming the four-legged along with their biped owners.
Either way, expect some changes to keep everyone—including Fido—happy.
Data on Dogs for Seniors (and Other Pets)
First, let’s look at the benefits. Studies have linked pet ownership to physical benefits such as better heart health, while mental benefits include helping owners combat depression while standing in as an emotional shoulder to lean on.
One oft-cited study from the late 1970s found out of 92 older patients, only three pet owners died in a two-year period, compared to 11 people who didn’t own pets. And the pets didn’t have to be dogs.
“The cats, gerbils, parakeets, iguanas, fish, rabbits and all the other animals had the same effect as dogs,” notes Between Pets and People: The Importance of Animal Companionship.
The U.S. government also has faith in the positive power of pets. Any senior living property that receives funds or insurance coverage from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) must allow pets.
But what about private or locally-funded senior housing? Those vary by state, and some states do require landlords to allow the elderly to keep animal companions—most notably Arizona, New Jersey, Minnesota and Washington, D.C.
Other senior agencies don’t just welcome pets, they use them as a selling point. The Sunrise Senior Living facility outside Chicago, for example, has a house dog and cat that all residents can interact with.
Seniors who remain in their homes may want to consider hiring a dog walker, or similar pet caretaker, if there are concerns about the pet getting adequate care.
This may be especially true for owners of a larger dog or people who live in an area of weather extremes, where walking a dog on an icy sidewalk or in the hot sun could prove dangerous.
What Pet Owners Can Expect in Senior Living Communities
Deposits. Many senior and assisted-living facilities—or even general apartment buildings—that allow pets want some money to guarantee any potential damage. The amount shouldn’t rise above $300 or so—that’s the cap at HUD properties. Landlords may also ask for a bonus deposit, but the restrictions are often less and sometimes size-dependent.
Size Restrictions. You likely can’t take your 125-pound mastiff with you, no matter how mellow the pooch. Sometimes this may have to do with insurance policies, but also space—a large breed that needs to run and run just won’t have room.
Consider Cats and Birds. If physical ailments are a reason you moved to a senior facility, can you realistically expect to give your pet (especially a larger dog), the care it needs when it comes to exercise? Birds, cats and even hamsters need a little less attention, but they all can offer the aforementioned health benefits, too. Some facilities even employ a pet care associate to help residents with their animals.
Pet Therapy. If owning your own pet—or placing a relative in a senior facility with a pet—seems daunting, some facilities offer pet therapy options. Professionals or volunteers (and sometimes both) come regularly to give residents and animals a chance to interact and bond, without having to worry about caring for creatures. There are sometimes pet therapy options in local communities, too.
For information on places that welcome pets and seniors, check with your local senior living agencies.