The Kennel Club has welcomed a Bill read before Parliament last week which would make it easier for elderly residents to live in care homes with their pets.
The Care Homes (Domestic Pets) Bill, tabled by Dr Nick Palmer MP, seeks to clarify regulations in relation to ‘pets policy’ in care homes. Currently many elderly residents have to give up ownership of their pet when leaving independent living.
Research illustrates that pet ownership impacts positively on physical health, and psychological and social wellbeing. Evidence shows that there may be particular health benefits for specific groups in society from companion animals, and it is widely acknowledged that pets can positively benefit the wellbeing of elderly owners.
Dr Palmer’s Bill asked that ‘leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for residents of care homes to keep domestic pets in certain circumstances; and for connected purposes.
The Bill continued: ‘In addition to the subject of the title of the Bill, I propose to discuss sheltered accommodation. I am pleased to be able to present this Bill today and delighted to have received so much cross-party support for what it outlines from colleagues, including the shadow spokesmen for animal welfare and for elderly people. The issue touches every constituency throughout the UK and, given a growing elderly population, will need to be addressed.
Another part of the Bill stated that the issue was that when people move into sheltered accommodation or into care, there is no consistent policy allowing them to take a pet with them. As a direct result, in the most recent year for which statistics are available, 38,000 healthy pets had to be put down and a further 100,000 had to be given up by their owners. Many of those pets will have been put down after an attempt to re-home them.
Dr Palmer also asked for a more uniform approach from care homes across the UK: ‘Practice varies enormously throughout Britain, but there are numerous examples of successful schemes that allow pets to remain with their owners, and that should be the norm for sheltered housing. The fact that one is now living in a warden-aided flat should not remove one's right to make the choice to keep a pet. Pets provide an important source of physical, emotional and social support for many older people, and there is extensive evidence of improved cardiovascular and mental health and other health benefits from the relationship with a familiar animal. It mitigates the loneliness of many people in old age and provides an avenue for nurturing, caring and taking responsibility for others, and maintains the sense of still feeling useful.’
It was ordered that Dr. Nick Palmer, Miss Ann Widdecombe, Mr. Ian Cawsey, Mr. David Blunkett, Meg Munn, Andrew Rosindell, Mrs. Linda Riordan, Paul Flynn, Mr. Denis MacShane, Mr. Roger Gale, Ann Clwyd and Judy Mallaber present the Bill. Dr. Nick Palmer accordingly presented the Bill.
It will be read a Second time on Friday 16 October.
The Kennel Club strongly believes that more residential homes should be encouraged to accept elderly people with their pets, but it is vital to ensure that care homes have adequate provisions and staff training in place before accepting pets.
The Kennel Club supports the work of the Cinnamon Trust, whose pet friendly homes provide care and a network of volunteers who support the elderly and their pets. The Kennel Club wishes to see improved access to care homes, other public places and businesses, for dogs and their owners through our Open for Dogs campaign. There are many care homes across the UK, including over 500 on the Cinnamon Trust Register which are already ‘Open for Dogs’.
Kennel Club Communications Director, Caroline Kisko, said: “One of the most challenging situations facing older people who own pets is when they decide to move into sheltered accommodation or residential care. It is often at this already unsettling time that the issue of pet ownership can become a distressing problem. For many elderly people living on their own, pets are their constant companions and the prospect of having to be separated from a pet is extremely distressing.
“While many care homes do recognise the benefits of older people owning pets and, as a result, accept residents' animals, only 35% of care homes have a formal written policy on pet ownership. This means that pet-keeping rules are often drawn up arbitrarily and applied inconsistently. We welcome this Bill and hope more care homes will allow residents to live with their pets.”