Pets are integral to empowering seniors to stay healthy, overcome illnesses and age in place, and industry, agencies and nonprofits must help keep owners and their animals together despite social and economic hardship, commercial and nonprofit advocates said at a conference on aging.

During a panel titled “Growing Older With Pets: Network on Environments, Science and Technology for Maximizing Independence (NEST)” at the Aging in America conference by the American Society on Aging in downtown Chicago, four panelists touted the health benefits of pets for seniors, especially ones who need to maintain good health or are recovering from chronic illnesses.

The panelists encouraged the purchase and maintenance of pets for seniors in their own homes or in forms of long-term care such as assisted living, congregate care, continuing care retirement communities (CCRC), nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, senior independent living and hospice care.

“Seniors face many issues and [as a result] more people are owning pets,” said Dianne McGill executive director and CEO of Banfield Charitable Trust, a Portland, Ore.-based private foundation dedicated to funding and operating programs that enable nonprofits and medical care and services settings such as hospices, domestic violence shelters and humane societies to keep owners with their pets.

“[We operate a] trust fund and administrative programs to keep pets and people [together]. None of our programs go into play until we have a pet.”

McGill, herself an owner of two English bulldogs, said that Banfield is the only pet assistance charity to help people stay with their pets and care for them.

Established in 2004, Banfield has been assisting 250,000 individuals in keeping their pets with its emergency and preventive veterinary care programs for individuals facing financial struggles and medical emergencies, Pet Peace of Mind program to allow hospice patients to keep their pets, a pet food program through annual holiday events to collect food and money donations and their pet advocacy programs to assist pet-focused groups in developing special projects.

The foundation reacts to the tens of thousands of individuals who are at risk for being forced to give up their pets because of their finances or medical problems. Its programs target low-income persons and seniors as research increasingly demonstrates the physical and mental health benefits of pet ownership.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) reports that every year local shelters receive more than two million pets given up by families and more than half of all animals in shelters are put down yearly. The most vulnerable pet owners are low-income families, seniors, the disabled and the homeless as their pets are their sole companion and oftentimes their only reason for living.

Benefits of Senior Pet Ownership, Support From Philanthropies

Through partnerships with long-standing organizations such as the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) — the human, animal and environmental medical practice professional trade association based in Chicago’s northwest suburban Schaumburg, Ill. and made up 85,000 members — she said the foundation attempts to maintain “the human-animal bond.”

The association’s members — veterinary practitioners — care for the country’s more than 70 million dogs, 80 million cats, 11 million birds, seven million pet horses, and millions of other companion animals. They also aid in medical research, the prevention of bio- and agro-terrorism, and the promotion of food safety.

“[Our foundation assists in the promotion of the] mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors that are essential to health and well-being of both,” McGill said.
“Pets matter. They provide a significant [abundance] of unconditional love and acceptance for owners. Pets provide [healthy] statistics, routine and a sense of normalcy during life transitions. Pets give [their owners] a sense of responsibility and purpose outside of self.”

The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation (HABRI) — a Washington, D.C.-based research, advocacy and public awareness foundation dedicated to studies on the beneficial roles that pets and animals play in the lives of families and communities — linked the companionship and life enrichment that pets provide support and improve human health by preventing or alleviating such conditions as cardiovascular health, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism, Alzheimer’s disease, immunity against childhood diseases, depression and cancer.

HABRI Central’s body of work on the effects of pet ownership on preventative health and chronic health treatment can be found at its website at

Continued: Part Two

This article was originally published Feb. 17, 2014 on the website of, one of seven websites that comprise The Pharm Psych Network, a medical communications and education company.