sealPurdue News

August 1996

Elderly need better access to pets, says Purdue expert

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Elderly people who have pets are happier and healthier, but society has erected roadblocks that often keep animals away from the elderly, says a Purdue University authority on the bond between people and animals.

"Denying older adults the right to own a pet is part of the whole pattern of injustice foisted on them," says Professor Alan Beck, director of Purdue's Center for Applied Ethology and Human-Animal Interaction. "We owe it to the elderly to develop laws and guidelines that will prolong their days and improve the quality of their daily lives.

"In part, pets are moderators for life's stresses. Animals can permit the elderly person to be alone, but without being lonely."

Although various studies have built support for protecting the right of pet ownership among older adults, Beck says, urban areas in particular have a long history of laws and traditions that prohibit animals. For example, landlords often prohibit pets; others charge a hefty security deposit and extra rent per month to allow pets, Beck says.

Many nursing homes have come to realize the value of pet companionship. The first pet-visiting programs used animals from local humane societies, Beck says. The trend now is to recruit private volunteers who bring their own pets to the homes.

"There's also a growing interest among institutions to maintain their own animals to enhance the therapy program," Beck says. Cats and dogs can be accommodated in nursing homes, but small pets such as fish and birds can provide the same therapeutic effects.

Because less than 5 percent of the elderly live in institutional settings at any one time, housing developments that let older people have contact with animals need to be planned as well, Beck says.

"Housing facilities for the elderly should provide areas where dogs can be walked without posing a special burden to the owner or the neighborhood," Beck says. "Planning for companion animals should be as much a part of environmental design as wheelchair ramps and proper lighting."

CONTACT: Beck, (765) 494-0854; Internet,

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