Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 3, 2013

Senior Focus: Pets offer health benefits

BY KATHLEEN GEST
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — The need for companionship doesn’t dwindle with age.

Researchers have found the most serious ailments affecting seniors is not cancer nor is it heart disease — it’s loneliness.

It is a gap that often can be filled by a pet.

Not only do pets offer companionship, they also improve the health of the owner in other ways. Pets can aid relaxation, reduce anxiety, lower one’s blood pressure, promote physical fitness and mental stimulation, encourage laughter and joy, fulfill the basic human need to touch and prolong life.

But the benefits of pet ownership come at a cost. Pets still need food, veterinary care and regular exercise. So, one local expert, Sharon Neumann, Outreach Coordinator for the Senior Center Network, has brought options for pet care to its Acme location to help provide seniors contact with pets without the costs.

When Neumann arrives at Acme on Monday mornings, she often sees Bill walking with his dog, Jake, a friendly older mixed breed. Bill and Jake frequently join her in the office for coffee and a talk. While members chat, Jake quietly nuzzles his way around the group until everyone has given him a pat on the head, a scratch behind the ears or a rub on the belly.

The interaction gave Neumann an idea.

“There is something about Jake’s presence that makes even difficult news or issues easier to share,” Neumann said. “The smiles and laughter tend to abound in this little group and all troubles seem to melt away. This has helped make me aware of the strong, meaningful relationships our members have with their pets. So, when Kara Peck of Northern Michigan Veterinary Hospital visited at our Acme location with a puppy, we sat down with Penny Zimmerman of Hope Village and talked about how we might expand our work together. The result is our current pet program.”

Peck helped the group create a two-part program that includes a variety of opportunities for contact with pets for residents of Hope Village without the other duties of ownership.

“The second part is the Pet Care Program, where we assist the pet owning resident with their pet care needs. We understand that it can be difficult for some to be able to get their pet to the veterinarian, so we’ve designed this program that includes pet pick-up/drop-off on the day of the appointment, complimentary toe nail trim for the pet during the appointment, 10 percent discount off of professional services and a pet goodie bag that will be sent home after each visit.”

Seniors thinking about getting a pet of their own should be mindful of the costs associated with proper pet care, Peck said.

“Everyone is enjoying the interactions with pets at Acme, as well as having convenient pet care options,” Neumann said. “This program offers pet care support for seniors who might be finding it more difficult to handle the logistics of a visit to the veterinary’s office. We look toward offering similar programming at other Senior Center Network locations in the near future.”

When it comes to aging, we all need something to live for and something to focus on — besides ourselves.

Pets offer unconditional love, which is a significant benefit to our overall well-being. The next pet program at the Acme Senior Center Network location is a Pet Meet & Greet on Aug.19 at 10:30 a.m. Call the Senior Center Network at 231-922-4911 for more information. You can also contact several pet organizations during the Acme Fall Festival Sept. 28 at Flintfields Horse Park on Bates Road.