By Kathy Kappler, RN

Many of us have been lucky enough to have had the pleasure of sharing our life with a pet. They have the ability to touch our soul in a very special way. I have had dogs most of my life and the memories bring warmth and smiles. One special dog was my companion in both work and play. She has been gone a long time, but can still bring that smile and a tear at her loss.

The seniors we work with often have a pet that has been their companion for many years. When they are experiencing medical problems and need our assistance to find them another living option, their four legged pet is part of the equation in finding the right situation. Many assisted living communities welcome pets. Moving to a new home is an adjustment and the company of a pet helps smooth out this process. They offer so much just by being close and available for touch.

Much had been said about the healing power of pets. The aging of seniors often brings loneliness and depression which can cause a negative effect on health. The friendship of a pet often decreases those feelings. It is hard to stay low when the tail is wagging or the cat is purring. So one of the many positive effects pet have is the lifting of spirits.

It is also thought that animal’s aid in physical recovery. They have a significant impact on the well-being of seniors recovering in the hospital. There is information about the lowering of blood pressure and stress levels simply by the petting of an animal.

Seniors moving into a new environment often find communication a little difficult at first. A pet can assist with opening up conversation both for the senior and the others around them. Many times the senior is adjusting to a new life without the companion of a spouse. The comfort of a pet helps in the feeling of loneliness and the grief process of losing a spouse.

A pet often adds to the mobility of seniors. Dogs need to be walked regularly so that contributes to keeping the senior active. We have all witnessed therapy dogs that assist with mobility, collect objects for the owner and even forewarn of seizure activity.

Dogs and other animals offer unconditional love. They are devoted friends and we humans can learn from their ability to provide warmth, security, safety, fun, health and happiness.