Humans have had an interwoven relationship with animals throughout civilisation, particularly with the domesticated canine.

Archaeologists date the domestication of dogs from about 31,700 years ago from bones discovered in Belgium in 2008. Dog skeletons have been unearthed in western Russia, Europe, Asia and Australia indicating that canine domestication was a widespread phenomenon.

In 2018, humans worldwide, have embraced the domesticated of animals.

Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world. Almost two-thirds of households have at least one pet, with 38% being dog owners, and 29% cat owners and 57% of non-pet owners, indicating that they would like to own a pet, in the near future.

Australia’s pet population according to amounts to 4.8 million dogs, 3.9 million cats, 4.2 million birds, 8.7 million fish and 952,000 reptiles and small mammals and counting.

And we don’t mind spending big on our animals either.

The RSPCA estimates that the average dog costs around $13,000 over the course of its lifetime or $1,475 per year. The spend on cats annually, is $1,029 with their life expectancy of 15 years or longer, longer than that of dogs which is between 10 -13 years.

Two-thirds of Australian households, consider their furry companions as family members, so what happens to the pets of elderly people when they transition into residential care?

This is of great concern to the Animal Welfare League of Australia (AWLA) who are engaged in a project, Positive Ageing in the Company of Animals.

AWLA have conducted a survey of residential and retirement villages across Australia gathering data and working models with the objective to preserve the bonds and unconditional friendship between older people and their pets.

AWLA have identified that while 63% of Australians households include a pet, only 18% residential aged care facilities allow residents to live with a pet.  Moving into an aged care facility brings with it an array of adjustments including the loss of independence, loss of physical space and living with a close community of others.

It can also bring with it grief for the loss of animal companionship. For many a pet, is their only source of regular interaction.

According to RSPCA owing a pet improves our physical and mental wellbeing.

Research has validated that pet ownership increases cardiovascular health, supports physical activity, reduces loneliness, despair and boredom and enhances social connectiveness.

While isn’t always practical for a resident to keep their pet as they may be too frail to care for their companion or may not have the financial means to look after them, providing the option to interact with animals is important.

It may be that aged care facilities need to explore the practicality of residents bringing their pets or encourage family members who may be caring for those pets to bring them to the facility on a regular basis for interaction.

There are models like Cairns based, Animal Care for Seniors at Home (ACSAH) a community-based, not for profit group where volunteers assist with basic tasks involved in caring for animals of seniors.

Few community home care services currently offer pet care as a service. There will be an ongoing need for specialised pet support services for seniors, like dog walking, taking a pet to the vet, grooming and general care duties.

Currently there are service delivery barriers, including the lack of meaningful government funding streams, a shortage of employees and volunteers, workplace health and safety concerns and legal concerns.

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