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Aged care: Residents' pets are welcome to live on site | Photos, pictures

BRINGING SMILES: Pets may not be living in these aged care homes, but they sure bring smiles when they visit. Photos: BELINDA SOOLE, CHRIS SEABROOK
BRINGING SMILES: Pets may not be living in these aged care homes, but they sure bring smiles when they visit. Photos: BELINDA SOOLE, CHRIS SEABROOK

AUSTRALIA may be a nation of pet lovers, but national data shows many people are being forced to surrender their pet when entering aged care.

An Animal Welfare League study found that while 64 per cent of Australian households are pet owners, only 18 per cent of residential aged care facilities allow pets to reside with their owners.

While residents are allowed to bring their pet to live on site at some of the region's aged care homes, this option has not been taken up by any current residents in any of the homes that Australian Community Media contacted.

Opal Aged Care is located in Bathurst, Orange, Dubbo and Mudgee and while all four have on site bird aviaries and the Dubbo site also has fish, none currently have pets living there that were brought in by a resident.

Opal's Dubbo general manager Margaret Irish said while resident-owned pets are allowed, none currently live on site.

However, staff are currently assessing the suitability of two dogs that a potential resident wants to bring onto the site with him to live.

Ms Irish said residents were encouraged to talk about their desire to have their pet join them in the home.

"We then undertake an assessment to identify if the pet would be a risk to the other residents, for example ensuring no residents suffer allergies," she said.

Ms Irish said pets in an aged care setting could bring enormous benefits.

We then undertake an assessment to identify if the pet would be a risk to the other residents, for example ensuring no residents suffer allergies.

Opal Aged Care Dubbo general manager Margaret Irish

"People who are normally unresponsive to other therapies may brighten up and chat with a pet," she said.

"Pets may motivate and encourage the elderly to stay healthy and exercise and offer companionship.

"Motor skills may improve with the assistance of an animal trained for pet therapy."

Opal's care homes in the region do however have a number of pets that visit regularly including Bert the greyhound at Dubbo, while friends and family also bring pets to visit.

"We have had in the past chooks, dogs, cats, kangaroos, alpacas visit the home and it has brought tremendous amount of joy to our residents," Ms Irish said.

In Bathurst, Kelso Residential Care also allows pets to live on site, and has in the past had a dog that moved in with its owner, but none currently live there now.

COMPANION PETS: Residents Johannes (John) Brandt, Marie Morris and Val Knight with the Chinese silkies at Whiddon Kelso. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK 082019cpets1

COMPANION PETS: Residents Johannes (John) Brandt, Marie Morris and Val Knight with the Chinese silkies at Whiddon Kelso. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK 082019cpets1

"We're big believers in the benefits of having animals in our homes," Whiddon head of strategy and innovation Karn Nelson said.

"This is something that needs to be discussed with the home's manager beforehand. We need to ensure that we're looking out for everyone, that the animal will be a good fit, and that we're thinking of its wellbeing too."

Ms Nelson said regular contact with animals was proven to improve quality of life and wellbeing.

We're big believers in the benefits of having animals in our homes

Whiddon head of strategy and innovation Karn Nelson

"We have found that people with dementia in particular benefit, as contact with a pet is very soothing and calming, and we have found that this reduces depressive symptoms and anxiety," she said.

Whiddon has run the HenPower program at the Kelso home since mid 2016 with six silkie chickens living on site.

"They live in a hen coup outside, during the day they peck around the cafe, and our leisure team take them into the care home and to the residents rooms, so that they can cuddle the hens," Ms Nelson said.

Three Tree Lodge and Lithgow Aged Care, along with Catholic Healthcare, which looks after St Francis Aged Care in Orange, were contacted for this story but did not respond.

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