TINA Y. GERBER Special to the Standard
I read, “Pets are part of the family!”, and ninety percent of pet owners consider their pet to be part of the family. Research shows that companion animals, such as cats and dogs, can help improve our physical and mental health. By spending time with our animal friends, you may experience the benefits of lowered stress levels and lower blood pressure! Cats and dogs provide friendship, and open opportunities for interacting with others, which an older person may miss, if family lives far away. The company of a beloved pet has been proven to also reduce depression.
I wrote about how seniors and elderly people are a vital source of wisdom, experience, and of living history. They can also be overlooked and misunderstood. When Mother moved in with me, we already had our dog, Dixie girl, I saw how while my mother had dementia, Dixie's presence helped relieve her stress and agitation. Dixie helped her calm down, and was a great companion and source of friendship. It came to the point were Mother said, “You can pat my dog.”
Petting Dixie was a good way to help Mother's arthritic hands and arms, and often Dixie was found to be sleeping on my Mothers lap, bed or sitting by her side. My Mother became more engaged with activities of daily living. I’ve seen my mother's behaviour transformed.
Dogs seem to have an instinct for when sad or frightened people need to be comforted. It is ironic, but my Mother's cat Ringo, who had also moved in with me, was constantly underfoot wanting to be close, and was the reason why my Mother had many serious falls while living in her seniors apartment.
After Mother moved to the Nursing Home, we continued to bring Dixie for a visit. Mother was so proud, and all the residents came over to visit and ask questions about this small Jack Russell. This gave my Mother so much comfort, delight and satisfaction.
Animals are not just for seniors I might add. When my daughter had her life threatening horse back accident she was an amazing trooper, outer exterior was calm, cool and collected until she saw the visiting therapy dog one afternoon, and she broke down in so many ways. After that, the hospital allowed me to bring her dog, 'Dexter', for daily visits. Dexter had been adopted from our local shelter. It was like a breath of fresh air for both her and myself. On this one occasion, I had arrived with Dexter and this little old lady wanted Dexter on her lap!? I did not want this to happen, due to the fact Dexter was a constant ball of energy and I was afraid she would get hurt, or Dexter may accidentally scratch her fragile skin. I was even worried that he may injure or accidentally hurt Emily. My daughter, Emily placed Dexter gently on her lap and this little lady came to life! Dexter was on the best behavior of his entire life!! He sat there calmly as she pulled his ears, patted him, and she just cried quietly as he sat so still. I will say for the record, Dexter's nick name was, 'mister bouncy pants', as he was a constantly moving and bouncing about. The nursing staff came running over and were in awe, as this little lady had Dexter sitting on her lap, with the largest smile from ear to ear.
During her stay at the hospital, while waiting for a bed at the nursing home, she had not once said a word or responded towards any hospital staff, including her own family.
Seniors have a lot of love to give. As I witnessed my Mother's, with Dixie and Ringo, it reminded me that pets can provide immeasurable benefits for both parties. Pets and Humans complement one another perfectly, and can change each other’s lives for the better. We must make each and every day count! Pets can help bridge this isolation, by serving as a social catalyst between young and old, as I witness this with my Mother and the residents of her nursing home.
After Dixie's death, last year, I did not want another dog. There was so much pain and grief. But a local vet said, “No matter how long you have with your pet, you’ll always wish it was longer. There will never be enough time, whether you have two years or twenty-five years. So focus on quality, not quantity.” I can't argue with those words of wisdom.
We are now the proud owners of a young rescue dog, a beautiful Shih tzu cross named Nellee.
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