Pets, Seniors, and Elder Housing

Jennifer M. Brown (Regent Law J.D. Candidate 2014) researched the issue of senior housing prohibitions on pets to determine what fosters the best interests of the elderly. Seniors without family members may benefit from amended laws on pets.  

The correlation between companion animals and the elderly and their quality of life has been recognized by numerous scientific reports.  Brown asks whether changing an animal's status from pet to companion animal and expanding the definition of emotional support and service animal to include companion animals would help to alleviate discrimination against the elderly when they are denied suitable, affordable housing because of their companion animals that provide psychological and emotional support not related to a disability.  Her research discusses housing laws and trends for seniors, pet policies of assisted housing, and the connection between pets and elderly well-being. 

She writes, "The use of animals to help rehabilitate those with disabilities or illnesses dates back to ancient Greece, when horseback riding was used to raise the spirits of the ailing.  Use of companion animals to increase mobility and emotional dependence contributed to heightened public attention and support for organizations to train more animals and implement more programs for the disabled.  The increased visibility also caused a strong push for lawmakers to recognize the benefits of these programs and to provide support and protection for the disabled and their service pets. While all States and the District of Columbia have implemented policies to protect disabled individuals with service animals against discrimination to access public facilities and housing, those policies were limited to only cover guide and hearing dogs. It was not until 1973 when Federal Legislation created Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and again in 1988 when it created the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA), that anti-discrimination protection extended to the disabled and their use of service animals was clarified. "  Brown considers relevant statutory code to unpack the concerns for elderly surrounding this issue.

Today, the emotional bond between human and pet has intensified to where owners now prefer the term “animal guardian,” and refer to their “companion animal” or “family member” instead of “pet.” According to the American Pet Products Association’s National Pet Owner Survey taken between 2011 and 2012, with the total number of U.S. households estimated at 117.5 million; around 38.9 million households have cats and around 46.3 million have dogs. Companion animals, though not human or legal family, have always been recognized as beneficial to their human owners. 

Brown argues that pets bring joy, entertainment, and love, and studies have shown that pets also contribute significantly to the physical and emotional well-being of humans by creating a positive effect on the owner’s health, both directly and indirectly, and that recognition of the correlation between animals and their therapeutic effect on humans have been and should be widely recognized.  You can read the introduction to her article here and view her presentation based on the article here

A pet as part of a senior's family could make a difference.

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