Samantha Hurn, from the University of Exeter, UK, was recently awarded £9,963 by SCAS to study the implications of current UK care home pet policies for the health and wellbeing of elderly individuals and their companion animals.
This is one of six pump priming grants that were awarded from Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) 2022 funding round.
The relationships between elderly individuals and their companion animals are comparatively under-researched, despite widespread recognition that for many older people, these relationships are essential for alleviating loneliness and providing social support. Yet when an individual ages they often find it difficult to care for their companion animals. If they have to go into residential care, they will often have to relinquish their pets. Existing research (McNicholas 2008) found that 60% of UK care homes required residents to relinquish their pets, while those deemed ‘pet friendly’ often excluded cats and dogs. Recommendations arising from this previous research included promoting awareness of the importance of pets to older people, and conducting appropriate assessments of the risks associated with pets in care homes to inform policy.
In 2020 The Blue Cross issued a call for UK care homes to have more transparent pet policies. This call was in recognition of the negative impacts on elderly individuals unable to make informed decisions regarding residential care and the possible options for relocating with their pets. In response to the Blue Cross call and recommendations from previous research in this area, the project ‘Old Friends’ will conduct a preliminary survey of UK care home policies, to assess changes in this sector in the years since the 2008 research was completed. Researchers will also generate new data, interviewing care home staff and managers to assess their perceptions of risks versus benefits of allowing residents to be accompanied by their pets. Finally, because all research conducted to date has focussed on human experiences, the team will also conduct surveys and interviews with staff at relevant animal welfare NGOs (e.g. Cinnamon Trust) who take in companion animals relinquished due to care home pet policies, as well as ethological observations of companion animals living with their humans in care home settings, plus those who have been relinquished. The stories of a sample of relinquished animals and their former owners, as well as those who have been able to stay together in a care home context will be documented and compared.