An increasing percentage of our human population is made of older adults. In the US, the majority of people over age 65 live independently, and an estimated 14% live with pets. Caring for pets can give older adults a strong sense of purpose. Older adults are more prone to social isolation, and in older adults with fewer social contacts, a study found that those having a strong attachment to a pet reported lower rates of recent illness than those who were less attached.
Pets are good for older adults, but only 14% live with pets. Using 2010 US census figures, back-of-the-envelope math says that there are 30.7 million adults over age 65 in the US living independently who have no pets. Is this an untapped source of homes for pets in need?
Helping Seniors Adopt
There may be obstacles that prevent seniors who would otherwise make good, doting homes for pets from adopting such as:
- Fear of leaving their pets homeless if they are hospitalized or have to go to a nursing home
- Inability to afford annual veterinary expenses on fixed income
- Inability to afford adoption fees
Groups are starting to establish programs to help seniors who would otherwise make great homes for pets get past these potential pitfalls. Initiatives like the PAWS Seniors for Seniors program in Lynwood, WA match senior cats and dogs with senior citizens for reduced rate adoption and include extra followup as well as a guaranteed place that the adopted pet can go in case of long-term hospitalization or entry to nursing home. The Seniors for Seniors program at Animal Aid in Gippsland, Australia not only discounts adoption fees, but also offers half price routine veterinary fees and two pickup and delivery trips for the pet to and from the shelter each year to use their services.
Seniors as Foster Homes
Some senior citizens don’t feel up to the full-time responsibility of caring for a cat or dog, but they have plenty of time and love to spare certain times of the year. This can happen when seniors travel during parts of the year or when they are snowbirds and live in different areas of the country during the winter and summer. These seniors can still be vital parts of the rescue community by being foster homes for pets in need.
Programs like the Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary’s joint program with Orange County California’s Office for the Aging’s Senior for Seniors Pet Foster Program match seniors with senior pets. Like most foster programs, the rescue organization covers the costs, and the senior provides the loving care of the foster in need.
Shelter Programs Help Seniors Keep Pets
It’s clear that some shelters can afford to be more generous than others when it comes to post-adoption perks for seniors, but reduced-rate or free adoptions on pets who are matched to the disposition of the senior’s home are programs that most shelters an afford when they often run reduced rate or free adoptions other holidays or occasions.
Some seniors may not be able to adopt because their senior community won’t allow pets for fear they will be responsible for a cat or dog when a resident becomes ill or is hospitalized. Meeting with the senior community management and discussing the issue may help, especially if your shelter has a policy offering to take back the senior’s adopted pet in case of the senior’s illness or hospitalization.
With a little support, many seniors who previously weren’t able to have cats or dogs can open their homes and their hearts to sharing them with pets. Both the pets and the seniors benefit, so it’s a real win-win for everyone!
Waltham Pocket Book of Human-Animal Interactions, Waltham
Pet ownership and attachment as supportive factors in the health of the elderly, Pet Partners
A profile of Older Americans: 2011, Department of Health and Human Services USA
Seniors Can Save Lives of Homeless Pets, Animal Shelter Tips
Photo courtesy Matt Buck on Flickr