The way in which pets bring support and joy to the lives of older people was celebrated at the National Office of Animal Health (NOAH)’s Pet Event on 20 January, at the House of Lords. But the event also highlighted some changes and improvements needed to allow this relationship to thrive, to the benefit of society as a whole.
Hosted by veterinary surgeon peer Professor the Lord Trees,the event provided an opportunity for charities and individuals to tell their own stories about how animals help older people with their physical and psychological needs – and bring so much joy and companionship. Guests had an opportunity to meet some animals and their handlers and trainers in order to gain an insight into their work.
Lord Trees explained: “The object of this event is to get to know each other, to learn from each other and to explore how we can work together to help allow the wonderful relationship between pets and people to continue to flourish as pets and people grow older together.
“Continuing the relationship between pets and older people is not always easy – and it could and should be so much easier to maintain. Animals are good to us, and as a veterinary surgeon it’s important that I say that we must not forget that we must also be good to them. That means looking positively at ways that companion animals can continue to live with their owners, or continue to be looked after, when their elderly owner perhaps needs some help with living or care themselves. That means ensuring accessibility for those who rely on assistance animals to go about their daily lives. And that means that we think about the health and welfare of our pets.”
NOAH vice-chairman and chair of its Companion Animal Sub-Committee Mary Boughton explained: “There is so much to say on the value of pets to the elderly, and so much that we need to do to make sure these relationships can thrive, to the benefit of not only our older people, but to their animals as well.All these animals deserve our very best care and to be kept in the best possible health.
“The medicines and vaccines researched, developed and marketed by members of NOAH provide safe and effective care for all pets to enable them to enjoy life to the full and carry out their work in society and as pets as well.”
She said: “Take the time to look at NOAH’s Pet Health Info website, supported by the I heart my pet campaign, which in a fun way helps owners think about disease prevention and seeking health advice from professionals.”
Elizabeth Ormerod, past chairman of the Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) highlighted specific benefits that companion animals bring. But she said changes in regulations were needed. “We need housing regulations which allow the keeping of companion animals and to allow the presence of companion animals in care and residential centres.
It is within the gift of Parliament to ensure that older people in the UK are no longer forced to choose between the housing that they need and the companion animal they love. The need to nurture is strong, correlates with good health, and should not be denied.
SCAS calls for an urgent need to enact positive legislation to protect older people and their companion animals to support their health, wellbeing and quality of life and to prevent the unnecessary relinquishment and euthanasia of their animals. Our country would also benefit from considerable associated fiscal health costs savings”.
Tracey Crouch MP, chairman of the Pet Advisory Committee and co-chair of the APPG on Dementia spoke of the value of animals to people with this condition:
“Pets are a wonderful example of non-clinical care that can have truly profound positive effects on the lives of older people. Evidence suggests that petting animals can be very beneficial to the wellbeing of people with dementia, and a great tool in tackling loneliness and isolation of older people. Care homes allowing already owned pets to enter with an individual can also provide a companionship that can be extremely calming and reassuring.”
NOAH along with fellow trustee the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) will be continuing to raise the profile of this topic which will become the central theme to 2015’s National Pet Month, running from 1 April – 4 May.