Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Pets in Nursing Homes

There seems to be so much positive information available about the comfort and companionship that pets may have to the elderly, particularly those in nursing homes; and when it comes to pet therapy programs that allow guardians to bring well-behaved pets to visit nursing homes on a regular basis, seems to be a perfectly positive experience for all involved. Pets need people and patients in nursing homes enjoy being needed.

The question isn't whether pets are good for nursing home patients, the real question here is whether a nursing home is the appropriate place for pets to reside. Remember the story of Oscar the cat who allegedly predicted whether a patient was going to pass away? Despite first impressions, the story had a very positive tone. What the story did not explain was whether Oscar received the proper care and attention he needed and deserved, living in the home.

Pets need constant care and supervision that some nursing homes often cannot provide. There may be one resident or staff member who takes responsibility for the pets but is that person able to take that responsibility for the life of the pet? Who will make sure that the pet does not run out through constantly opening doors? Who will take the pet to the vet for regular check ups and vaccinations and pay the vet expenses if a pet becomes ill? What if a pet eats the wrong food or other substance dropped on the floor? And, in the case of a dog who needs a master, who will provide the leadership and companionship that dogs crave? What if more residents decide that they do not want the pet in the home anymore?

These are the questions that a nursing home must answer before determining whether a resident pet is the best idea. Whether or not the pet is good for the people is easy, whether or not the environment is good for the pet is the tough question. When considering the options, the more viable and beneficial option to all involved may be a pet therapy program that allows pets to visit on a regular basis. There are various animal shelters and groups that offer such programs and, chances are good, there is a pet therapy group just around the corner.

Of course, that said, maybe the best option is for residents to have the opportunity to keep their own pets when entering an assisted living community or nursing home. If a resident is well and able enough to care for his or her own pet, why not allow it? I'm sure it is difficult enough for any person who has cared for himself and lived, unassisted, in his own home for many years to leave his home behind, without having to give up a beloved pet. And it would certainly take a small bite out of the number of homeless animals that fill our shelters and rescues.

No comments: