Cats, dogs, and seniors
by Natasha Josefowitz
Oct 31, 2012 | 1782 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Residents of White Sands La Jolla celebrate the Halloween season with their pets at a doggy costume party at the retirement community on Oct. 26. Studies have shown that keeping pets can be therapeutic and may help increase mental cognition. Photos by Kendra Hartmann
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Every Friday at 3 p.m., about a dozen dogs have a puppy party at White Sands La Jolla. They congregate with their owners and other dog-loving residents on a large lawn for puppy play time. The dogs vary from tiny and young to large and older and everyone gets treats — dogs get biscuits and people get lemonade. It is one more opportunity to encourage seniors to get together and share common interests.

It is well known that living with a pet contributes to better health and longer life. Pet owners benefit from reduced blood pressure, and petting your animal releases the chemicals that lower cholesterol and triglycerides.

Current research indicates that even small physical movements increase mental cognition. Being prompted by an animal to bend down to pick it up, fetch a treat or petting it on your lap is a pleasurable way to help keep your brain active and healthy.

An animal in one’s life also promotes wellbeing by increasing emotional and psychological stability. Specifically, having a pet decreases stress, depression and anxiety. Pets become part of the family; they provide companionship and help alleviate loneliness. For those who live alone, pets may be the only social lifeline. People talk to their pets and get purrs or wagging tails in response. Having to walk a dog gets a senior out of the house and into encounters with other dog owners and passersby.

Pets can be especially therapeutic in dealing with the loss of a loved one or other traumas. For instance, recovery rates from heart attack are better for those who return home from the hospital to a loving pet. Having an animal to take care of makes one feel needed and responsible for another living creature. This reinforces both self-esteem and the value of life.

Here at White Sands, we have a few rules: dogs must be on a leash except when playing in our grassy areas, pets may not come into the dining room, owners must pick up after their dogs (there are containers with plastic bags scattered around the property for this purpose) and dogs know not to bark between 1 and 2 p.m. in the afternoon, which is our quiet time. A dog walk with special artificial turf that can be hosed down has recently been installed.

And it’s not just dogs. Prince, the Whites Sands house cat at-large, decides every evening which of the cat-loving people here will get to have his presence overnight. He even knows how to open the automatic doors going in and out of the property. There are birds who fly around freely among the trees of the indoor courtyard of the dementia center, and residents own talking parakeets as well as silent goldfish.

A veterinarian comes once a month to check on the animals whose owners cannot go out. Our pets are part of the community, benefiting not only their owners, but everyone else. We not only know each other’s children and grandchildren’s names, we know each other’s pets. I always carry a tidbit in my pocket in case I bump into Diego, Fred, Piper, Cupcake, Roxie, Brandy, Rosie, Flower, Mowglie or Abigail.

— Natasha Josefowitz taught the first course in the U.S. on women in management and is the author of 19 books. She lives at White Sands La Jolla.
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