Project seeking pet-friendly aged care partners

Researchers Australia are seeking aged care homes to inform their projects on pets in communal care settings.

Researchers at the University of South Australia are seeking aged care homes who allow or would consider residents bringing their pets with them to inform their projects on pets in communal care settings.

The UniSA team has recently published research exploring a practical model of hosting companion animals in aged care – including foster animals and personal pets. It is now seeking aged care partners to provide feedback on their experiences of residents with pets as well as on the Safe Animal Friendly Environments risk assessment tool for pets in aged care.

The goal is to address the barriers and increase the number of communal living places where people are bringing their pets in, said UniSA researcher and project lead Dr Janette Young.

“We have developed a risk management tool for organisations to use when they’re working through the risks with regard to dogs, cats, birds, fish and small mammals in those communal settings,” Dr Young told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Dr Janette Young

“We’re looking for providers who would like to make use of that risk management tool, as a way of facilitating more pets being able to live with people in communal aged care.”

The SAFE tool has at its core a series of detailed risk management tables that move from overarching to specific risks and a best-practice case study for each type of animal showing the tool in use. The 31-page document also includes guidance for using the tool and lists of resources, links and other tools and evidence sources to use with SAFE.

Dr Young is keen to receive feedback on the use of the tool, such as how it works, any gaps and where it can be improved. She also wants to hear from aged care providers whose residents already have pets with them in those communal living spaces and how they’ve made it happen.

Currently, pets are more likely in independent living settings because it’s quite easy, whereas communal living spaces are trickier, Dr Young said. It means people stop having pets quite early on when ageing because they think they’ll be unable to keep the animal if they have to move into residential aged care, she said.

“It’s a vicious cycle and we want to shift it to a virtuous cycle where people see that it’s possible,” Dr Young said.

There are many benefits of human-animal relations, particularly for frail, older people in aged care. Including, she said, pets can provide purpose, meaning, love, a reason to get up in the morning and structure to days.

“They’re also non-demanding. These caring relationships help people to transition. They soften the edges of painful times,” Dr Young told AAA. “And when you’re talking about ageing, you’re talking about lots of painful transitions for people. So pets give us a better quality of life.”

After four or five years of trying to get pets into aged care and failing, Dr Young said funding was the biggest barrier. She’s calling for the federal government to support providers with start-up funding to access infrastructure and expertise.

“For aged care service providers, it’s the barrier of not having funds to do any infrastructure that might be needed, such as the dog doors out onto the patio area,” she said. “If we take this seriously, there needs to be people with specialist animal knowledge that aged care services can start to access. Because if you’re going to have pets living with people, you want to make sure that the animal welfare is high quality.”

Access the SAFE risk assessment tool here. Anyone interested in finding out more or providing feedback on the tool or their experiences can email Dr Young at 

Pet-friendly aged care surveys

Meanwhile, peak body the Companion Animal Network Australia is surveying a range of stakeholders to provide federal government decision-makers with valuable information about the role of pets in healthy ageing. The three surveys include:

  • a residential aged care survey targeting staff members and residents of aged care homes
  • an in-home aged care survey for people receiving aged care at home or those caring for home care recipients
  • a general aged care survey open to the general public.

CAN Australia also has free resources, including pet-related policies, guidelines and documents for aged care providers, support agencies and organisations to manage and care for pets in aged care settings.

The resources and surveys are housed on CAN Australia’s Pet Friendly Aged Care website.

Main image: Supplied by Companion Animal Network Australia

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Tags: companion animals network australia, Dr Janette Young, pet friendly aged care, pets, pets in aged care, unisa,

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