Why dogs are great for seniors

Pets bring joy, caring and unconditional love to seniors which is why we welcome small dogs and cats at Amica residences

Amica Conversations - Dogs are great for seniors

Dr. Heather Palmer has witnessed first-hand how much joy dogs bring to seniors at Amica when her late father and stepmother moved to Amica Bayview Gardens with their dog, Pandy. Whenever she took Pandy for a walk, resident after resident would stop to talk to or pet the friendly Havanese. “Pandy was very important to both of them. He was by far my parents’ favourite child,” chuckles Dr. Palmer, Amica’s National Director of Cognitive Well-Being. In fact, she says there’s no chance her parents would have chosen a senior living residence that didn’t allow dogs. When they could no longer care for their beloved pet, the Amica team worked with the family to bring in the services of a local dog walker to take care of Pandy’s daily exercise and trips to the groomer.

We know how important dogs are at Amica residences across Canada. Pets don’t just bring value to their owners living at Amica residences across Canada — they can bring a sense of well-being to everyone at a retirement community. That’s why Amica residences not only invite seniors to bring small pets to live in their private suite, our team members also organize regular visits from a variety of therapy animals to benefit seniors socially and emotionally. Research shows that for people who like pets, there’s great value in the feeling of warmth that comes from caring for them. “Pets seem to break down feelings of loneliness and bring happiness and joy that lingers beyond the animal’s visit,” says Dr. Palmer. “They bring people together socially to share stories and fond memories in a comfortable way. Pets love unconditionally and we see many residents responding by exuding love and caring when they’re around animals.”

Pet therapy is one of the most popular life enrichment programs at Amica. Individuals or organizations regularly bring therapy dogs to the residence to give seniors a chance to see or interact with the animals, which are specially trained and vetted to be safe, gentle, calm and great with people. “Instantly, you can see the joy on seniors’ faces. They’re smiling, laughing and reminiscing about their own experiences with pets. It’s not just from directly engaging with the dogs, you also get to enjoy the experience that others are getting from the interaction,” says Dr. Palmer. Therapy dogs are the most common, but pet therapy can also involve other animals such as cats, birds, rabbits, horses or even exotic animals. “Animals can be therapeutic because they give people an opportunity to feel loved and to give love without having to process their emotions or to communicate about those feelings. Some animals have a magical sense of empathy: they will be happy and joyous with those who show those feelings or they’ll snuggle at the feet at someone who is sad or sick and needs warmth and comfort.”

Informally, family and team members are met with grins and happy greetings whenever they bring their pets to visit. Residences such as Amica Peel Village, Amica Bayview Village and Amica Edgemont Village have hosted parties for four-legged guests complete with special pet-friendly treats prepared by the chef.

Residents who are living with cognitive challenges can find pets especially calming, says Dr. Palmer. “It’s a beautiful way for them to feel a sense of unity with a group because they can share the experience around a pet in a nonverbal way. That’s very important for seniors who have a form of dementia such as Alzheimer’s.”

While dogs can provide companionship, help reduce stress and give their owners a sense of purpose, we know that not everyone loves pets. Like all recreational programs at Amica, animal therapy is 100% optional. In addition, our team members get to know during the discovery process whether residents are allergic or afraid of animals. Every accommodation is made to ensure that each resident feels safe and comfortable living at Amica no matter how they feel about animals.

Amica residents enjoy great amenities, activities, dining and personalized care. Learn more when you schedule a private tour.