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Leashes, Litterboxes, and Lifelines: Exploring Volunteer-Based Pet Care Assistance Programs for Older Adults

By K. McLennan, M. J. Rock, E. Mattos, A. M. Toohey

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Abstract

At the convergence of population aging and pet-ownership, community stakeholders are well-positioned to support older adults’ relationships with companion animals through age-related transitions in health and living arrangements. In this study’s setting, a volunteer-based pet care assistance program launched in 2017 to provide practical assistance with pet care for socially disadvantaged, community-dwelling older adults. This case study explored the impacts and feasibility of this and similar programs via (i) an Internet-based environmental scan to compare similar programs and (ii) qualitative interviews with a sampling of diverse community stakeholders (n = 9). A small number of comparable international programs (n = 16) were found. Among these, programs were delivered using a range of funding models; fewer than half involved collaborations across human social services and animal welfare sectors; and none addressed all dimensions of support offered by our local program. Analysis of qualitative interviews highlighted five major themes confirming the value of the volunteer-based approach and the importance of cross-sectoral collaborations in addressing older adults’ under-recognized pet care-related needs. Taken together, the findings confirmed the effectiveness of our local program model. Collaborative, cross-sectoral programs that target both human and companion animal well-being hold promise to reduce barriers to pet ownership that many disadvantaged older adults face. This unique approach leverages the health-promoting potential of human-animal relationships in ways that enhance quality of life for individuals, animal welfare, and age-friendliness of communities.

Date 2022
Publication Title Front Psychol
Volume 13
Pages 873372
ISBN/ISSN 1664-1078 (Print)1664-1078
DOI 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.873372
Author Address Department of Community Health Sciences, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada.O'Brien Institute for Public Health, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada.Calgary Seniors Resource Society, Calgary, AB, Canada.Brenda Strafford Centre on Aging, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada.
Additional Language English
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Tags
  1. Aging
  2. Conflict
  3. Health Promotion
  4. Older adults
  5. open access
  6. Pets and companion animals
  7. social welfare
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  1. open access