Submitted by Avow
According to a Gallup annual Lifestyle Poll1 conducted in 2006, six in 10 Americans own some type of pet. Dog owners made up the majority, followed by those owning a cat, and or both, not far behind. In 2012, results from an American Pet Products Association (APPA) survey backed that figure up when it reported 62% of Americans owned a pet of some kind.2 Among the more than 60% pet owners who responded to the Gallup Poll, companionship and love was noted as the number one reason leading them to include those from the animal kingdom as members of the family.
According to the APPA website, “The benefits of having a pet extend well beyond companionship, and sometimes our furry friends don’t receive the credit that’s due. Pets are a shoulder to cry on, an alarm clock, an exercise partner, and a true member of the family.”3
While current statistics on pet ownership in Collier County were not readily available at the time of print, it can probably be assumed that the number of Collier County Florida residents who own pets closely match the American average. Dogs can be seen consistently when you walk around your neighborhood, at open-air shopping plazas, at dog parks and the like. Many Neapolitans take their dogs out dressed to the nines, carry them in special sling bags and even walk and shop with them in special pet-designed strollers. No doubt these animal companions are seen as coveted members of the family. Cats may not be as visible in the local community, but ask around and you’ll discover plenty of cat lovers.
Growing pet-related trends in healthcare include animal-assisted and pet therapy delivered in nursing homes, hospices, children’s hospitals and beyond. Therapeutic values of these activities have been discussed and studied by medical professionals in the US and abroad. A 2013 study conducted by the University of Maryland reported improved mental health and physical function following animal-assisted interventions among a group of 40 dementia patients living in an assisted living facility.4
Since the mid-90’s Avow has recruited and deployed a number of volunteers to take their AKC “Good Citizen Certified” canines to visit hospice patients and other seniors living in nursing homes throughout Collier County. For those facing end-of-life, animal-assisted visits are focused on providing positive social-emotional responses rather than physical or mental rehabilitation. Pet visits often triggering storytelling and the sharing of memories as well as providing a welcome “mental” respite from the business of dying.
Equally recognizable is the emotional impact of losing a pet. With life spans of humans far exceeding those of any domestic animal, it is inevitable for pet owners to be faced with experiencing the passing of their beloved animal companions. In many cases the loss of a pet whohas been deemed a member of the family, or in some cases, the only companion for an elderly individual, can be devastating.
According to a grief resource published by Quality of Life Publishing, Inc., the pet loss experience is different because relationships with pets are less complicated and pets are viewed as innocent creatures providing unconditional love and friendship. Because of this, humans may feel their loss more strongly.5
This sentiment is echoed by the grief specialists at Avow who conduct specialized grief support programs to meet the needs of those facing pet loss.
“Acknowledgment of loss is very important. And for those experiencing deep sadness, support with moving effectively through the grief process may be necessary,” states Dr. Frank Sodano, supervisor of bereavement services at Avow. “In addition, the death of a pet may be the first time children are experiencing loss. Validating their feelings and providing guidance for appropriate response can be important life lessons.”
Call 239-430-3194 to request an Avow PAWS Pet Program information kit that includes a copy of “Grieving for your Pet” and other materials related to pet loss and the animal-assisted volunteer program. Visit www.avowcares.org for general information and support group schedules.
1. Gallup Lifestyle Poll, 2006
2. “Pets by the Numbers” Humane Society of the United States
3. Animal Pet Products Association website
4. WBBM-TV CBS Chicago Report “Researchers Present Findings on Benefits of Pets”
5. “Grieving for Your Pet” © Quality of Life Publishing, Naples, FL 2013 / Distributed by Avow Hospice, Inc.