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Pets - Costs Of Animal Companionship

age physician social care ownership animals people

As much as animal companionship offers to the owner, there are also financial and emotional costs to pet ownership, as well as the possibility of physical costs. Animal bites are responsible for 1 percent of all emergency room visits. Animals can host and spread a large number of infectious and parasitic diseases, and even the healthiest and most well-behaved animals can produce allergic reactions in their human companions.

There are several financial costs of pet ownership, including housing costs, pet acquisition costs, veterinary care, and food. Costs can vary according to where the pet guardian lives, the type and size of animal, and the quantity and quality of care provided. Only around 5 percent of rental housing allows for pets, and pet owners who rent can expect to pay both a monthly fee and an up-front pet deposit to keep their pet with them. Acquiring a cat or a dog can cost as little as $15 at an animal shelter, or as much as $1,500 from a registered breeder. To spay or neuter a pet generally costs between $30 and $150. Besides the initial costs, there are annual costs to pet ownership: for a medium-sized dog, food costs can range from $200 to $400 a year; annual examinations and vaccinations can run between $50 and $200 every year. Other costs, such as grooming, toys, treats, leashes, collars, and bedding, can range from $150 to $1,200 annually. Furthermore, these pet-care costs assume a healthy animal; a sick or injured animal can incur extensive medical costs. As with older humans, older animals often demand increasingly frequent and costly health care; but there are no governmental and few private organizations that can help offset the costs of animal health care.

There are a few programs that can help to offset the costs of pet care for older Americans. For instance, the San Francisco SPCA's Pet-A-Care program provides a variety of services to persons over age sixty-five who have limited incomes, including free adoption, free and low-cost veterinary care, and, working with Meals-On-Wheels, free pet food.

While the routine of pet care can help to provide a focused distraction from other stresses in living, animal attachment provides its own sets of stresses and worries. Seniors may worry about who will provide care for their animal if they became unable to do so through physical or mental incapacity or as the result of a change in residence. While federal law allows for pet ownership by seniors (and the disabled) in public housing, many privately owned residential facilities and institutional environments do not allow pet ownership. Fear of recommended residential relocation to a place that does not allow pets has led some seniors to avoid their own health care and physician visits.

Loss of an animal companion can have similar effects to the loss of a human companion. People who become separated from their animal companions through moving into a facility that does not allow pets have been found to feel more negatively about the move, to have more difficulty making friends in the facility, and to have more difficulties sleeping in the new facility. When a pet dies, its guardian can experience grief in ways that mirror bereavement following the loss of a human loved one.

As increasing information and awareness becomes available about the negative consequences of losing a pet, attempts are being made to eliminate or mitigate this kind of loss. Groups like the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) are working to achieve relaxation of housing restrictions on pet ownership through legislative action and through programs like HSUS's Pets for Life program, which helps educate landlords about responsible pet ownership. In addition, pet bereavement hot lines and support groups, sponsored by humane societies, veterinary schools and organizations, and other groups are available through out the United States, Great Britain, and Canada.

While there are a variety of programs designed to help older people in maintaining companionship with animals, one area in which assistance is sorely lacking is in the area of daily pet care. Many independently living seniors have occasional difficulties with the care of their pets. Volunteer organizations could fill this gap by providing dog walking or animal grooming services, as well as transportation to the vet or store to obtain pet-care services and items. Organizations could also provide short-term emergency care for pets if the owner is temporarily hospitalized, as is done by the innovative U.K. organization Animals in Distress.

Older pet guardians may also worry about who would provide pet care in the case of the owner's death. Humane societies and veterinary associations recommend that all pet owners make arrangements for the care of their pets in the case of their own temporary or permanent incapacitation. In addition to discussing such arrangements with friends or family, pet owners can specify a caretaker in their will and earmark a portion of their estate to be provided for the care of the pet.

When there is no person available to take responsibility for a pet, the pet owner could consider other alternatives, such as animal sanctuaries that provide for the lifelong physical and social needs of pets when they lose their owners through death or disability. For example, owners are able to enroll their pets in the Home For Life's Angel Care program through a one-time program contribution of between $400 and $1700, depending on the contributor's age.

Animal companionship provides a variety of physical, emotional, and social benefits, but it is a responsibility that comes with a cost. A great number of older people prefer noninvolvement with pets, often because of the responsibility pet ownership entails. However, for people who do desire pets, the ability of companion animals to enhance the quality of life should be recognized and supported in medicine, housing, and legislation.

JENNIFER KAY HACKNEY

BIBLIOGRAPHY

ALLEN, K. Companion Animals and Elderly People. Renton, Wash.: Delta Society, 2001. Available at www.deltasociety.org

American Veterinary Medical Association. U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographic Source Book. Schaumburg, Ill.: AVMA Statistical Research Group, Division of Membership and Field Service, 1997.

ANDERSON, W. P.; REID, C. M.; and JENNINGS, G. L. "Pet Ownership and Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease." Medical Journal of Australia 157 (1992): 298–301.

Delta Society. "Pet Loss and Bereavement." Available at www.deltasociety.org

FRIEDMANN, E.; KATCHER, A. H.; LYNCH, J. J.; and THOMAS, S. A. "Animal Companions and One Year Survival after Discharge from a Coronary Care Unit." Public Health Reports 95 (1980): 307–312.

FRITZ, C. L.; FARVER, T. B.; HART, L. A.; and KASS, P. H. "Companion Animals and the Psychological Health of Alzheimer's Patients' Caregivers." Psychological Reports 78 (1996): 467–482.

HAUGHIE, E.; MILNE, D.; and ELLIOTT, V. "An Evaluation of Companion Pets with Elderly Psychiatric Patients." Behavioural Psychotherapy 20 (1992): 367–372.

MCNICHOLAS, J.; COLLIS, G.; and MORLEY, I. E. "Psychological and Physical Effects of Enforced Pet Loss on Older People Entering Residential Care." Journal of the Society for Companion Animal Studies 5 (1993).

MUGFORD, R. A., and M'COMISKY, J. G. "Some Recent Work on the Psychotherapeutic Value of Caged Birds with Old People." In Pets, Animals and Society. Edited by R. S. Anderson. London: Bailliere Tindall, 1975. Pages 54–65.

Newpet.com. "Know the Costs." Available at www.newpet.com

RAINA, P.; WALTNER-TOEWS, D. BONNETT, B.; WOODWARD, C.; and ABERNATHY, T. "Influence of Companion Animals on the Physical and Psychological Health of Older People." Journal of the American Geriatric Society 47 (1999): 323–329.

San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "Pets and Older People Programs." San Francisco: SFSPCA, 2001. Available at www.sfspca.org

SIEGEL, J. M. "Stressful Life Events and Use of Physician Services Among the Elderly: The Moderating Effect of Pet Ownership." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 58 (1990): 1081–1086.

ZASLOFF, R. L., and KIDD, A. H. "Loneliness and Pet Ownership among Single Women." Psychological Reports 75 (1994): 747–752.

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