OLDER pet owners need to be able to stay with their pets as they age, says Dr Eloise Bright, vet and president of volunteer community organisation Pets and Positive Ageing (PAPA).
“Many older people live for their pets, and it’s a particularly important relationship around this time of restriction, when there are less social groups or services available,” she says.
“Animals are therapeutic, and provide a sense of connection and social support.
“It’s unconditional love. The emotional health benefits are huge, as well as all the physical benefits of walking a dog, getting out and seeing people, facilitating chats and friendships.”
Eloise, a veterinarian at Belconnen Animal Hospital and RSPCA volunteer, joined PAPA a year ago as president. The group started in 2012 following a local community conversation on pets and aged care, hosted by the organisation’s patron, Mary Porter.
“As a vet I feel strongly about this issue, and through my work at the RSPCA I see people who have to give up their beloved pet because they’re downsizing or moving to assisted living, or can’t care for the animal in the same way,” she says.
“We want to help keep older pet owners and their pets together, in the interests of both.”
While unable to offer events currently, PAPA has new resources including a Pet Care Plan and resources on pet-friendly aged-care facilities and retirement villages, emergency boarding and transporting pets.
“We want pet owners moving into aged accommodation to be able to carry on living with their pets, where possible, and offer in-home support for ageing pet owners when needed,” Eloise says.
Eloise says PAPA works closely with Northside Community Services and its PAWS (Pet Assistance and Wellbeing Service) program, which under usual circumstances supports pet owners ageing at home with transport for pets to vet clinics, dog walking, feeding and grooming, although it’s currently on hold.
“There are a lot of barriers older people face. We don’t want anyone to be worrying about caring for their pets if there’s a difficult time or their own needs change,” she says.
Eloise, who’s been a vet for 13 years and herself has two cats, three dogs and a guinea pig, also set up the charity ACT Pets in Crisis Support in March last year to help pet owners who need financial help with vet bills, offering subsidised and discounted dentistry services, and home visits if needed.
“I have access to a lot of animals and see the heartbreak of people who can’t afford expensive vet bills to save their pet,” she says.
“We don’t think about the costs involved in pet ownership if things go wrong, particularly with an increase in pet ownership at the moment and people being stood down or losing their jobs.”