January 15, 2021
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Seven ways seniors can interact with pets

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
October 11, 2019

 The thought of owning a pet for companionship can be tempting. But pet ownership isn’t for everyone.

More than half of the pet owners (53 percent) in the Home Instead, Inc. survey who had once owned a pet don’t want any part of that responsibility again.

That doesn’t mean non-pet owners dislike animals. Forty-two percent of those surveyed believe they would be happier if they regularly interacted with pets, while 39 percent believe they would feel less lonely, and 38 percent believe they would be physically healthier.

In fact, pet interactors may benefit the most from pets, getting to interact with both peers and pets! Home Instead research showed that those who interact regularly with pets scored highest for happiness (75.98) and lowest for loneliness (35.16) scales, compared to non-pet owners (71.62 and 37.93, respectively).

There are other ways to get the benefits of pets without the responsibility of pet ownership. Check out these seven:

 Visit a cat or dog café. Larger cities often are home to cat and dog cafés. Some business owners stock the cafés with animals that need a home. You can visit and cuddle with random dogs or cats looking for a home. 

 Hang out at the dog park! It may sound strange, but you don’t necessarily need to own a dog to go to the dog park. Why not check out the options to socialize with other people and their furry friends. 

 Foster pets until they are adopted. If you’d like a temporary animal fix, some rescue organizations offer short-term adoption options. Rescue organizations rely on fostering as some don’t have shelters. Seniors near military installations can offer to take care of a pet when military personnel are deployed.

 Volunteer at a rescue organization, animal shelter or zoo. In addition to fostering animals, consider helping a rescue organization or team in a variety of other ways. The Humane Society’s animal rescue team works to save animals that are victims of cruelty or natural disasters. You can provide care to animals in temporary shelters, including cleaning cages and enclosures, feeding, watering, restocking supplies, washing dishes, walking dogs, or socializing with the animals. Duties at shelters include many of the same tasks in addition to adoption counseling or administrative tasks.  Sound appealing?  Call Nina 707-542-0882 in volunteer services at our local Humane society in Santa Rosa or go to   for more info.

 Get to know your neighbors’ pets. If you regularly walk the neighborhood, you’ll likely see pet owners walking their dogs. Why not ask to join them on the walk? You’ll get better acquainted with pets and their owners. 

 Connect with a therapy animal. If your loved one is in a care community, consider reaching out to a pet therapy group. Pet Partners therapy teams, made of a pet owner and his or her registered animal, go into many locations where seniors are living or being treated such as hospitals, hospice centers and care communities. In addition to this one-on-one interaction, Pet Partners’ “Walk with Me” program encourages groups of care community residents to schedule a time to walk with a Pet Partners’ animal and handler outdoors or inside if the weather is bad. Or, if you have a pet, consider becoming registered through Pet Partners.

 Visit a pet store. Some pet stores sell small animals such as guinea pigs, hamsters, chinchillas, gerbils, mice, rats, certain geckos, bearded dragons, snakes, specific types of frogs, certain types of birds and fish. Visiting could give you the pet fix you need!

 Keep seniors at home with their pets

 As we’ve noted, research shows that pets often are a deciding factor in where people want to live as they age. If there is a desire to keep an older adult with their pet, consider hiring help in the home to assist that senior. Home Instead professional CAREGivers help keep clients in their private homes or senior living facilities with beloved family pets.

CAREGivers can assist a senior with the activities of daily living, provide companionship, medication reminders and incidental transportation. That extra help can provide the support many older adults need to stay in their homes with pets.

Family caregivers also may benefit from the pet in a senior’s life. Statistics reveal the majority of people say that pets are an important member of the family. It can be a bonus for family caregivers to visit the animal when they’re seeing their loved one. 

They should acknowledge that the pet is a member of the family and show respect for that relationship. For example, say to the senior: “I see how important your pet is to you.” How people react to someone’s pet often influences how that person reacts to them.

 Seniors in various settings reap rewards from pet interactions, noted Pet Partners’ Van Every. Pet Partners is the largest and most prestigious non-profit registering pet therapy dogs and therapy animals such as horses, cats and birds.  “Many animal-handler teams choose senior locations such as hospitals, hospice, general care facilities or any place seniors might be gathering or receiving care.”

“Our impression is that seniors who have limited mobility benefit very strongly from pet interaction, particularly if the animal can come to them if they are unable to go to a meeting room,” Van Every added. 

“They may have medical conditions and are undergoing treatments. These animals are non-judgmental. A cat or dog or rabbit isn’t going to ask an older adult if he or she enjoys being with them. That matters to people facing aging concerns, challenging treatments and the realization that their life is coming to an end. That interaction can be meaningful.”


Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern?  She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime