By Marianne Delorey
Heather spent her life as a caregiver. First, she took care of her children. Then, she made her career in nursing. Later, the grandchildren came along. Now, at 75, she thinks she wants a break from taking care of everyone, but eventually, she wants to share her home with a cat.
From a landlord’s perspective, animals are more of a nuisance than a benefit. Dogs vomit on the rug. Cats miss the litter box. Noises and allergens sometimes bother neighbors. In elderly housing, if someone goes to the hospital unexpectedly, we have to worry about who is coming in to feed the animals. We’ve had to force people to give up aggressive dogs and surrender neglected cats. There is little reason for a landlord to promote pet ownership.
That is, unless the landlord is smart.
While apartments with certain HUD funding require landlords to accept “common household pets,” many landlords take a more lenient stance on sharing their apartments with cats and dogs for a variety of reasons. First, by accepting pets, landlords expand their applicant pool as a full 68 percent of American households have a pet. Since only 55 percent of landlords allow pets, getting a tenant who is allowed to keep their pet often results in a loyal renter who stays longer.
Additionally, research indicates that pet owners are happier and healthier people. Doing business with someone who is already happy makes life a lot easier. But pets offer a great number of health benefits to their owners as well. Pets can lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, combat loneliness and depression, and offer their humans more physical activity.
Even as an animal lover, I recognize that not everyone should have a pet. There are time constraints and financial costs to pet ownership that not everyone can bear. However, there are also ways to benefit from pets that reduce these burdens. If your landlord permits it, perhaps you can do one of the following:
Foster an animal for a local shelter – Most shelters have a network of homes that keep adoptable animals when the shelter is crowded until they have space. Many shelters will provide the food and medical care for these animals while they wait at your house.
Arrange for a visiting pet – Many shelters and some therapy organizations can arrange to have a pet come visit groups of people. Some shelters see this as an opportunity to encourage adoption or do community outreach. Therapists often use animals to help draw people into a community or get people to participate in their recovery.
Visit with or pet sit for a neighbor – Every day I see a resident walk her neighbor’s dog – not because her neighbor needs help but because she loves dogs so much. Another resident helps her neighbor’s cat work off some energy with laser light playtime.
Pet sharing – There is a growing trend called pet sharing that allows people to split the time and expense of a pet among different families. This would be ideal in elderly housing – if one owner is sick and can’t walk the dog or if another goes in the hospital, there is always someone who can care for the pet.
As for Heather, I am hoping she will reconsider her wait. We are never too old to give and receive love and that is what pets remind us. As I have said about my own cat, she rescued me just after I rescued her.
Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or [email protected] and www.colonyretirementhomes.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com