Care home residents should be allowed to keep pets says MP

July 10, 2009 at 2:35 pm 1 comment

pets
Labour MP Nick Palmer introduced a ten minute rule bill this week that would make provision for residents of care homes and sheltered accommodation to keep domestic pets.

He said he was “delighted” to have received cross-party support, “including the shadow spokesmen for animal welfare and for elderly people.”

“The issue touches every constituency throughout the UK and, given a growing elderly population, will need to be addressed.”

He said the issue was one of animal welfare and the rights of elderly people “to live their lives as they wish, without too much well meant regulation of every detail from the moment that they leave independent accommodation to the moment that they move to sheltered accommodation or care.”

Mr Palmer said at present there is no consistent policy allowing people to take a pet with them when people move into sheltered accommodation or into care.

“As a direct result, in the most recent year for which statistics are available, 38,000 healthy pets had to be put down and a further 100,000 had to be given up by their owners.

“Many of those pets will have been put down after an attempt to re-home them.

“Moving home is stressful for anyone. Moving from one’s long-standing home into sheltered or care environments is often traumatic, as one separates oneself from independent life.

“If we add to that having to part from one’s pet and, even, having to order it to be put down, we add distress and guilt, and there is a very clear case for Parliament to help in avoiding that if it can.

“Practice varies enormously throughout Britain, but there are numerous examples of successful schemes that allow pets to remain with their owners, and that should be the norm for sheltered housing.

“The fact that one is now living in a warden-aided flat should not remove one’s right to make the choice to keep a pet.”

Mr Palmer said pets provide an important source of physical, emotional and social support for many older people and mitigates lonliness.

“I have discovered that many older people find that when it is time to move into care, there are wildly different practices throughout the country, making for a postcode lottery if one wants to keep an animal, he said.

“There are no legal obligations on residential homes in that respect, and that is in stark contrast to other countries, including the USA, Germany, Greece, France and Switzerland, all of which have introduced legislation to ensure that older people have the right to keep or maintain contact with animals, whether those people live independently in the community, in sheltered accommodation or in long-term homes.

“As far back as 1970, France legislated for pets to be allowed in all public and private housing, provided that the pet is properly cared for and not causing a nuisance.

“In 1983, the USA passed a national law permitting older and disabled people to keep pets in housing that received federal funding.”

Reseach revealed that in the UK 65 per cent. of care homes have no formal written policy. Of those that do, 29 per cent. permit pet ownership, but more than half—54 per cent.—specifically exclude cats and dogs.

“I know from correspondence from constituents that there are genuine concerns about pets going with their owners into shared or nursing care accommodation relating to pets not mixing well and about adequate exercise for dogs; responsibility for the payment of veterinary care when it becomes necessary; and the fact that older residents might be frightened of or allergic to animals,” Mr Palmer said.

“I am not arguing for a blanket policy, stating that every pet, from an anaconda to a Rottweiler, has to be admitted; I am arguing for a basic presumption that pets be permitted—subject to appropriate discussion about all the eventualities that can arise, and provided that they do not cause a nuisance to other residents.

“Care providers would be understandably and rightly concerned if an extra burden was placed on them.

“However, evidence from experience is that an intelligent policy allowing animals actually reduces the burden on staff; residents who would otherwise make frequent demands on staff time often focus on their companion animals for much of the day.

“In preparing the Bill, I have been helped by many colleagues with personal experiences.

“My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford) tells me that her mother was allowed a visit from her dog only once after she went into care, and would have liked so much to have had more contact with her companion from the years before.

“My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) was a social services manager in an area where one Sue Ryder home regularly brought in a much-loved cat to cheer up the residents.

“My Bill will address a problem that remains general.

“Today I met Brenda Eustace, an elderly resident in London who was unable to find a home willing to take her small pet dog and who, as a result, could not go into care.

“We need to end the postcode lottery and to come to the aid of elderly people faced with this trauma.

“I commend the Bill to the House.”

The Care Homes (Domestic Pets) Bill will get a second reading on Friday 16 October.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. SIMONE LIDDELL  |  September 25, 2009 at 10:57 am

    I AM SO THRILLED THAT YOU ARE RECOMMENDING NEW PET POLICIES FOR OLDER PEOPLE IN THE UK.
    AS YOU SAY OTHER COUNTRIES HAVE MORE FAVOURABLE POLICIES.
    I WOULD LIKE TO BECOME INVOLVED IN ANY WAY POSSIBLE WITH THE PROJECTS.
    I AM A 60 YEAR OLD LIVING IN SHELTERED ACCOMMODATION WITH A WONDERFUL DOGGIE.
    I THINK THAT THERE SHOULD BE MUCH MORE INTERACTION BETWEEN STAFF/RESIDENTS AND ANIMALS.
    I HAVE SEVERAL IDEAS.
    PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF YOU THINK I COULD HELP.
    REGARDS
    SIMONE LIDDELL

    Reply

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