The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and the National Council on Aging (NCOA) National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC) have teamed up develop a handbook focused on helping senior center administrators incorporate pet-friendly programming and policies into their facilities. The handbook, “Older Adults and Animal Programming,” provides an overview of the scientific research that demonstrates the benefits of human-animal interaction and a path forward for senior centers looking to develop or expand animal programming.
HABRI and NISC first conducted a survey of senior center administrators from across the country to gauge interest in animal programming. A large majority of senior centers surveyed allowed animals in some way, with many senior centers expressing a strong desire for more pet-friendly programs and policies. Responses were received from 113 NISC-member senior center administrators from across America. Of the 28 percent of respondents that had a current therapy animal program, significant positive health benefits for participants were reported:
Improved social interaction – 71 percent
Improved mental health – 48 percent
Increased physical activity – 35 percent
“Scientific research demonstrates the benefits of the human-animal bond for healthy aging—from reducing blood pressure to encouraging social interaction to reducing stress and depression,” HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman said. “With this handbook and through our strategic partnership with NCOA and NISC, we can increase opportunities for seniors to experience the healing power of the human-animal bond.”
“Only 32 percent of the senior centers that responded to the survey reported having pet policies in place, so we feel the handbook is a timely and important opportunity to have conversations about the added value that pet programming can provide to the lives of seniors and staff alike,” said Maureen O’Leary, program manager for NISC. “We’re excited to provide this excellent resource, and we look forward to working with HABRI to disseminate best practices so even more senior centers become pet-friendly.”
The Older Adults and Animal Programming handbook features key recommendations for senior center administrators and also addresses some of the informational needs discovered through the survey. Only about one-third of the survey respondents indicated that their staff was trained on Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) service animal guidelines, and over half of respondents did not have existing policies in place pertaining to animal programming. The handbook provides guidance on ADA requirements pertaining to service animals, sample pet policies, and recommendations for animal programming policies and procedures.
“Senior centers know that animal companions—service animals and pets alike—are part of the family, and they are excited to expand their programming to support that bond,” O’Leary said. “With this handbook, we hope centers across the country will find what they need to get started.”