Why Not Rescuing Pets in Nursing Homes?

If you’ve ever brought a dog into a nursing home, you’ll remember the expressions of the patients: the eyes of glee not seen since they were kids, the feeble but enthusiastic attempts to reach out and touch the dog, and the smiles that beam from ear to ear. So, the question becomes, why don’t nursing homes keep pets for the benefit of their residents?

Most states do not have laws that prohibit pets from being kept in nursing homes. However, as businesses, the primary mandate of nursing homes is the physical well-being of their patients. Emotional health is a distant priority usually addressed by drugs. If pets were to live in nursing homes, then staff would have to be dedicated to their care, an expensive task that management would see as only burdening the bottom line.

Many homes host occasional visits by therapy pets, but it’s the bond that develops between a pet and a human that is most therapeutic. That can only happen if the nursing home adopts resident pets. With all the unwanted pets living in shelters why not giving them a second chance in nursing homes? Senior pets, the least desired shelter animals, would be especially ideal for nursing homes.

To be fair, a handful of nursing homes do keep resident pets, but they’re an exception. To our knowledge, only one facility in Salt Lake City has an active pet policy in which they maintain a minimum ratio of one pet to every 10 patients and includes birds and a kangaroo. Imagine the mutual benefits that would be gained by operating a pet rescue inside a nursing home!

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Dr. Atul Gawande has a whole wonderful chapter on animals in nursing homes.

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