Hold on to your pet with free toolkit
RSPCA South Australia has released a toolkit which community groups, councils and aged care services can use for free to help seniors keep their pets at home for longer.
In the past caring for a companion animal has been overlooked under healthcare plans said RSPCA SA's animal welfare advocate Rebekah Eyers. The Companion Animal Toolkit has the potential to address this issue.
"For a lot of older people, their wellbeing is wrapped in their pet," Ms Eyers said.
"That human, animal bond is a very powerful thing.
"They need to be able to stay at home with their pet for as long as they can."
The CAT helps with ideas, guidelines and operating procedures for programs which support people living at home who can't continue to fully care for their pet.
It gives advice on recruiting, vetting and training volunteers who then go in a person's home to help a disabled or elderly person do all the things a pet needs, such as walking, grooming, toileting, taking the pet to the vet, giving them treatments.
The added advantage of CAT is volunteers can also help identify pet owner health problems.
"Often the bond between the pet and the owner is so incredibly strong they will sacrifice their own needs so they can meet the needs of their pet," Ms Eyers.
"If the volunteer notices some issues in the home with the elderly person, they can try to find another community service that may fill one of those gaps."
Ms Eyers notes this is why it's important that the program owner collaborates with service agencies and animal welfare bodies to achieve a better outcome for the pet and its owner.
South Australia's Charles Sturt Council has been running a program for about 12 months since its staff helped with pilot program.
The council provided many of the program tools which are shared in the toolkit.
Council community care officer Cynthia Griffiths believes the companion animal support program she is running is sustainable as she has the backing of the council's volunteer coordinator and its animal management team.
"When I go out to assess the client, someone from animal management will come out to assess the animal to make sure they have the right equipment and maybe make some suggestions," Ms Griffiths said.
Feedback from program clients have been positive with some pet owners claiming their dogs have changed for the better.
"When we have had complaints about boredom barking our animal management team have been able to tell the owners about this program.
"I think if we didn't have it, people would have to give up their pets.
"To be able to know their dog is going to have a regular walk is great for the person and for the dog, because not only does the person get a visitor, the dog is getting outside and getting some exercise.
Ms Griffiths has found that a lot of people in the community won't say they are lonely, that they don't have someone coming to visit them regularly. "But, if it's help for their dog and not for them, then that's okay with them," she said.
"Anyone who picks it up, can tailor the program and on the Charles Sturt Council's website are even more materials," Ms Eyers added.
The comprehensive toolkit is free to download from the RSPCA SA website.