Companion animals ‘give that unconditional love'

Sara Archer, executive director of Blue Mountain Humane Society, said they're wonderful for seniors.

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A companion animal can provide unconditional love and become part of the family.

People of all ages love animals and benefit from their returned love but seniors may especially reap the rewards of a bond with a furry friend, such as a dog, cat or other variety.

However, it's important to take into account the person's physical condition and the strength and size of the animal.

So instead of an energetic puppy or kitten, maybe a shelter dog that's a bit older would be a good match.

"They provide wonderful companionship for anybody, particularly seniors," said Sara Archer, executive director of the Blue Mountain Humane Society. "They give you that unconditional love and touch."

However, give pet selection some thought before making a commitment. Think about your health and activity level. "You can get a cat that's already declawed, many seniors have fragile skin. It's important that seniors not put themselves at risk. If you use a walker, you don't want a Jack Russell Terrier."

In addition to companionship, your furry friend provides a great deal more.

"One of the things that is a significant benefit to pet owners is that you are still able to meet someone's needs. Animals have simple needs that you can still meet. Especially in the empty nest years. The bond between pets and people gives somebody a reason to get out of bed in the morning."

"Many of the senior living centers are seeing the value, the great effect that pets have. It improves the lives of senior citizens," Archer said.

To enable more seniors to adopt companion animals, the Blue Mountain Humane Society has begun the "Pets For Seniors" program. Those 55 and older receive a reduced rate for an adoption. "You take a dollar off for each year of your life." So for someone age 55, that's a $55 savings.

Archer also suggested matching mature animals to seniors looking to adopt. "Make sure you get a pet that's appropriate for you. They're good company."

Those sentiments are echoed by Annette Phillips, community sales manager at Eagle Meadows. "A pet is a part of the family," she said. "For a person who is going through the trauma of giving up their home, you don't want them to, at the same time, go through the trauma of losing a family member." In addition to keeping a family intact, the pets seem to have a positive effect on the other residents as well. "The other residents generally enjoy being able to pet a furry friend occasionally." Eagle Meadows residents also enjoy visits from therapy animals.

"They are amazing," she said. "For those who can't communicate well, the therapy dogs have a rapport. Animals can just break through those barriers."

The bond between a person and their companion animal is meaningful, agreed Tamara Gordon, marketing director at Wheatland Village. "We allow residents to have pets. We believe in the importance of relationships between humans and pets. There are good reasons for that. "If you're into animals and have enjoyed relationships with them in the past. It's important to continue that. They give you validation, unconditional love, affirmation. It's not that people don't have purpose without them, but it adds that extra dimension of connectivity. They teach us a lot." If you're thinking about adding a companion animal to your life, do some soul searching. Make sure it's the right match for you, your health and way of life. Then prepare to love and be loved abundantly in return.

Karlene Ponti can be reached by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at karleneponti@wwub.com.

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