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Omaha Magazine

Seniors and Animal Companions

Apr 25, 2013 10:25AM ● By Bailey Hemphill
Did you know that including a pet as a part of your family brings huge health benefits, especially for those over 60 years of age?

The list of healthy side effects from pet ownership is long. Walking a dog and even simple grooming practices mean just that much more physical activity for the pet owner, every bit of which improves circulation and slows bone loss. And according to the Pets for the Elderly Foundation, a not-insignificant benefit of pet companionship is combating loneliness. Fighting off depression and loneliness is a benefit of pet ownership acknowledged in all parts of the industry, including by the Purina’s Pets for Seniors program.

Locally, the Nebraska Humane Society plays a huge role in providing pets for seniors. “We have a very specific program for seniors,” says Pam Wiese, Vice President of Public Relations and Marketing at the NHS. The shelter’s website describes its Program for Seniors program as follows:

“For this segment of society, the unconditional love and constant companionship of a pet can be a lifeline. That’s why the Nebraska Humane Society works fervently to help elderly residents adopt and keep companion animals.” Making use of the program is easy: Call the NHS and ask for assistance with adopting a pet for a senior.

Mable Rose resident Alene Dytrych with her Poodle, Star.

“For seniors on a fixed income,” the NHS’ site states, “one emergency can mean the difference between paying the electric bill or feeding the dog.” To assist seniors with the cost of feeding their pets, the shelter will deliver free pet food to any senior with a licensed pet, who qualifies for the NHS’ Meals on Wheels program. “Ask about qualifying for Animeals at the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging,” reads the site, “when you sign up for Meals on Wheels at 402-444-6766.”

“Companion animals provide peace and pleasure for seniors,” says Wiese. “It is a beautiful symbiosis!”

But the benefits of pets are not limited to only those in a private home. Mable Rose Estates, an assisted living facility in Papillion, allows some of its residents to bring their dogs or cats with them to their new home. This is a win-win for everyone, says Lisa Summers, Director of Memory Support at Mable Rose Estates. Not only do new residents benefit from having their animals with them, so do the other residents as they become acquainted with the newcomer pets as well.

“Companion animals provide peace and pleasure for seniors. It is a beautiful symbiosis!” - Pam Wiese, vice president of public relations and marketing with Nebraska Humane Society
“We have all sorts of animals at our facility, including chicks,” says Summers. “We have an egg-hatching event every year. The eggs are brought in, and the residents get to watch over them until they hatch. We also bring in caterpillars in the spring, and when they morph into beautiful butterflies, the residents get to release them into our courtyard.” It is spectacular, says Summers.

Another event at Mable Rose is the annual dog show, which includes dogs living at the facility as well as those belonging to volunteers who bring their dogs in just for the show. The dogs are all dressed up in costumes, and everyone has a great time, says Summers. In advance of the show, residents help bake doggie treats for the entrants.

“Petting zoos are also brought in [to the facility] for our residents, and it is a wonderful time for all,” says Summers. “And we take residents to local farms in the spring and summer. It is a great experience, as many have either grown up on a farm or spent time at a farm as children.”

Mable Rose is also host to a bulldog named Rosie that serves as a hospice volunteer dog. Rosie is a very loving animal who provides comfort and peace to the seniors and their families, Summers adds.

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