The way in which pets bring support and joy to the lives of older people was celebrated at the National Office of Animal Health (NOAH) pet event at the House of Lords.
Hosted by veterinary surgeon Lord Sandy Trees, the event gave charities and individuals an opportunity to tell their own stories about how animals help older people with their physical and psychological needs – and bring so much joy and companionship.
Guests were able to meet some animals and their handlers and trainers to gain an insight into their work.
Prof Lord Trees said continuing the relationship between pets and older people was not always easy – and it could and should be so much easier to maintain.
“The object of this event is to get to know each other, to learn from each other and to explore how we can work together to help allow the wonderful relationship between pets and people to continue to flourish as pets and people grow older together.
“Animals are good to us and as a veterinary surgeon it’s important I say we must not forget we must also be good to them. That means looking positively at ways companion animals can continue to live with their owners, or continue to be looked after, when their elderly owner perhaps needs some help with living or care themselves.
“That means ensuring accessibility for those who rely on assistance animals to go about their daily lives, and that means we think about the health and welfare of our pets.”
NOAH vice-chairman and chairman of its companion animal sub-committee Mary Boughton said there was much to be done to make sure relationships between older people and pets continued to thrive.
“All these animals deserve our very best care and to be kept in the best possible health,” she said. “The medicines and vaccines researched, developed and marketed by members of NOAH provide safe and effective care for all pets, to enable them to enjoy life to the full and carry out their work in society and as pets as well.”
She urged guests to look at NOAH’s Pet Health Info website (www.pethealthinfo.org.uk), supported by the “I heart my pet” campaign, which, in a fun way, helps owners think about disease prevention and seeking health advice from professionals.
Elizabeth Ormerod, past chairman of the Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS), highlighted specific benefits companion animals brought, but she said changes in regulations were needed.
“We need housing regulations that allow the keeping of companion animals and allow the presence of companion animals in care and residential centres,” she said.
“It is within the gift of Parliament to ensure older people in the UK are no longer forced to choose between the housing they need and the companion animal they love. The need to nurture is strong, correlates with good health and should not be denied.
“SCAS calls for an urgent need to enact positive legislation to protect older people and their companion animals to support their health, well-being and quality of life, and to prevent the unnecessary relinquishment and euthanasia of their animals. Our country would also benefit from considerable associated fiscal health costs savings.”
MP Tracey Crouch, who is chairman of the Pet Advisory Committee – which comprises animal welfare charities, veterinary organisations, environmental health, local authority and trade associations – and co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on dementia, spoke about the value of animals to people with this condition.
“Pets are a wonderful example of non-clinical care that can have truly profound positive effects on the lives of older people,” she said.
“Evidence suggests petting animals can be very beneficial to the well-being of people with dementia, and a great tool in tackling loneliness and isolation of older people.
“Care homes allowing already owned pets to enter with an individual can also provide a companionship that can be extremely calming and reassuring.”
NOAH, along with fellow trustee the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, will be continuing to raise the profile of this topic, which will become the central theme to 2015’s National Pet Month from April 1 to May 4.