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‘Love me, love my dog’ is pet-owners’ mantra when residence hunting

May, 2010

When Maureen McPhee, 77, lost her husband, she suddenly found herself living in a houseful of memories in Lachine. She felt she needed to leave and she knew where she wanted to be.

“My family is all here,” says McPhee, one of the first residents to move into the Masterpiece West Island Retirement Residence when it was built four years ago.

Though hers is a luxury residence, it was necessity that led her to choose the sun-filled corner apartment she has grown to love.

With Oliver, a miniature bundle of canine cuteness curled up in her lap, she insists she would never have moved anywhere if she couldn’t have brought him along.

“I looked at some condos, but heard all the other places wouldn’t take dogs. I certainly would not have come without him—after eight years, you grow attached.”

Maureen McPhee chose her residence because Oliver was welcome. Photo: Kristine Berey

Having to give up a pet while going through the grieving process seems unnecessarily cruel. Yet many seniors have no other choice, since residences that accept pets are still rare.

Under the best circumstances, the move to a residence from one’s longtime home is difficult, says Stephanie Jones, operations manager at Masterpiece.

“Seniors are often not mentally prepared to make this transition. But once they move in, this is their home and we feel they should be entitled to do what they feel is right for them.”

Of more than 100 residents, only six or seven own pets, but the residence is considering implementing dog-walking services, as it expects to see more pet owners who will need extra help.

Should a pet become ill, transportation to the owner’s usual vet is provided. For now, help is offered on an as-needed basis.

“If a resident should come in with a pet, we’d like them to care for it. But many can’t care for a pet when they can’t care for themselves. We’ll do as much as we can and asking that the animal leave would be the last resort,” Jones says.

Researchers are beginning to pay attention to the human-animal connection as studies repeatedly demonstrate the psychological and physical benefits of owning a pet.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Health: “The presence of animals in institutional settings is associated with the tendency of older persons to smile and talk more, reach out toward people, exhibit more alertness and attention, and experience more symptoms of well-being and less depression.

“Pet programs have proven superior in producing psychosocial benefits in comparison with alternative therapies such as arts and crafts, friendly visitor programs and conventional psychotherapy.”

This information is nothing new to Katherine Kutterer, 86, who grew up on a farm in Bavaria.

She chose the Montreal residence after being unable to find one that would take Daisy, a miniature dachshund who fits perfectly into the basket on her walker. Though her son had offered to adopt Daisy, she chose to change cities instead.

“I can’t be without a dog,” she says, “Since I was a child, I had animals. She’s good for me. She warms my feet.”

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