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Pets: A New “Must Have” Assisted Living Amenity

by Published On: Jul 03, 2012

There’s a new “must have” on the list of amenities that assisted living and continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) offer their residents. 

A growing number of older adults are letting it be known that they simply won’t move to a senior living community if they can’t bring along their dog or cat.

Pet-friendly retirement communities are still in the minority. But a growing number of CCRCs and assisted living communities are rethinking their long-standing prohibition against 4-legged creatures. 

While these communities are taking a variety of approaches to pets, a few trends are emerging, according to the Associated Press

  • Not all pets: Many communities are welcoming pets with some reservations. For example, most prefer smaller pets that weigh less than 25 pounds. Many communities enforce a two-pets-per-resident rule. 

  • Pet sharing: A number of organizations are adopting “community pets” that all residents share. This practice is particularly popular in Memory Care units, which rely on dogs, cats, bunnies, parakeets and fish to calm and engage older residents.

  • Encouraging adoption: Some communities are taking an active role in encouraging residents to adopt pets. During a recent adoption event, a New Jersey retirement community invited the local animal shelter to bring homeless pets to campus. The community even offered to pay the $35 adoption fee for any resident who agreed to keep an animal. 

Research Supports Fido

The relaxation of pet rules is supported by studies suggesting that animals can help improve their owners' physical and psychological health, according to Lori Kogan, a professor of veterinary medicine at Colorado State University. 

Kogan is the founder of Pets Forever, a Colorado State class that allows students to earn credits while helping older adults and people with disabilities care for their pets.

"Clients will often say their pets are the reason they try to continue living," Kogan told the Associated Press. "These pets really give them meaning and value in life, a purpose for getting up in the morning."

Pets = Good Business Practice

While they acknowledge the therapeutic nature of pet ownership, many retirement communities welcome animals simply because it’s good for business.

First, they say, pet prohibitions are becoming a deal-breaker for older consumers looking for a retirement community. 

A Place for Mom, a senior housing placement company, reports that 40% of its callers now ask about pet policies, according to the Associated Press.

Second, having a pet often makes the transition to a new retirement community easier for new residents. One community reports that residents walking friendly dogs have an easier time making friends with other residents. 

They are also more likely than other residents to explore the retirement community’s campus soon after they arrive.

Pets in Assisted Living

Assisted living may be the new frontier for pet ownership. LeadingAge Member John Knox Village in Pompano Beach, FL, reports that some residents want to adopt a pet soon after moving to an assisted living community because they couldn't keep an animal in their retirement condo.

"It's traumatic enough to have to come from your independent apartment to one room here," said Melodie Fritzinger, administrator of John Knox Village's Gardens West assisted living center. 

Being pet-friendly "is good for our residents and makes things more homelike," she told the Sun Sentinel newspaper.


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