It was the most excited Charlie had been in a long time. He held his beloved Cleo against his chest as he boarded the elevator. Ralphie, Josephine’s little Yorkshire Terrier excitedly ran around in circles, barking at the sight of the cat. Charlie gripped her a little tighter, expecting her to react, but she just purred nonchalantly in his arms as if the whole scene didn’t even phase her.
It was Pet Day at the community. All the residents had been invited to bring down their pets for a special afternoon tea (with the disclaimer that the pets behave themselves), followed by various pet-related activities, demonstrations and information sessions. Charlie was most excited about the Clydesdale team that would be arriving to lead wagon rides around the neighbourhood. Had his grandchildren not been young adults, he certainly would have invited them for the day. Years ago on the acreage, Charlie’s neighbours down the lane had horses and would often arrange pulled rides for the kids when they were younger for various special occasions. Catherine’s boys had enjoyed many a Christmas Eve in the old sleigh, heavy blankets on their laps and warm cider in their mugs.
The elevator opened into the main common area where people were gathered with their favourite furry and feathered friends. There were even some “not so furry” animals there. Charlie was introduced to a strange pink creature that looks like a hybrid of a miniature hippopotamus and a rat. “This is Charlotte. She’s a skinny pig.” Charlie made a strange face, “A what?” The lady, whom Charlie had never met before, laughed. “A skinny pig. It’s a hairless guinea pig. I went through a terrible time after my husband died and the chaplain that helped our family through things told me about emotional support animals. Well, I have emphysema…didn’t treat myself too well in my younger years if you catch my drift…and while I can be around dogs and cats for a little while, caring for one isn’t for me. But this little girl,” she said stroking the strange wrinkled skin of the creature while it wheeked happily at Charlie, “well, she doesn’t have any fur and there’s not much smell to them. She’s been wonderful company this past year.” Charlie was intrigued. “What’s an emotional support animal?” he asked quizzically as he rubbed Cleo behind her ear. “They are animals that are prescribed by a psychiatrist to help with all sorts of conditions. They’re different from assistance animals. They don’t need to be trained to do tasks. They simply provide support for…people who feel comforted by their presence.” Charlie nodded with understanding. “So like a therapy animal then?” The lady nodded back. “Precisely!”
The entourage of dogs, cats, birds and smaller pets participated in a sort of ‘show and tell,’ each owner beaming with pride as they talked about their animal friend and the relationship they had with them. Charlie felt a kinship with the other pet owners as they shared how important it was for them to find a community that accepted pets, as that was one of his own deal breakers when he and Hazel were searching for housing. He would not have left Cleo behind to another owner. She was family.
The owners made their way to their respective suites to settle their friends so they could return to the various activities planned. A larger group had gathered in the common area of both pet owners and non pet owners for a visit from therapy dogs, followed by a reptile show complete with one of the largest pythons Charlie had ever seen. He barely noticed Hazel take a seat beside him until she placed her hand on his lap. “Having fun?,” she smiled. Charlie giggled like a little boy. “I love this stuff. I thought you weren’t coming down…didn’t you have some planting to do?” Hazel shook her head. “I heard the horses would be here soon. It’s been so long since we had a wagon ride.” Charlie took her hand in his, remembering fondly. “It all comes full circle, doesn’t it? The things we thought couldn’t be done in the city. Look at us! We’re here in the middle of Edmonton, miles away from the acreage in our golden years, and we can still enjoy a romantic horse ride.” “Let’s just hope they’re not as gassy as that one mare that Stan had,” Hazel laughed. “Oh my, do you remember that? It took you two washings to get the smell out of the boy’s jackets.”
The couple excitedly chattered away as they made their way to the main doors, reminiscing about life in the country and eager to enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
Animals can be great supports to seniors, and while not all communities allow for them to live onsite, visits from therapy animals and programmed activities involving pets can bring a great deal of joy to residents.
We also touched upon emotional support animals in this issue. This is an area of great interest right now in housing. Health professionals are realizing the benefits of pets for all sorts of conditions, and providing the animals can be properly cared for, prescribed emotional support animals is something housing communities are addressing through policy and practices.
We would enjoy hearing your thoughts on pets in seniors communities and perspectives on emotional support animals. How does your community approach the issue? If you do not live in or operate seniors housing, how would you, as a member of the public, like to see it approached?
We also want to remind you that we are still collecting responses for our Public Survey. If you have a few moments, please provide your thoughts and feedback. We really appreciate it! https://www.cvent.com/d/2vq4r1