An in-depth study is not required to know that pets make people feel good and offer comfort, but scientific research shows why the companion-animal bond is therapeutic.
According to one study, after only 15 minutes of interacting with a beloved pet, a chemical chain reaction in the brain occurs, leading to lower blood pressure and stress levels almost immediately. Over the long term, pet bonding can lower cholesterol levels and help protect against heart disease and stroke.
Several residents at Palo Alto’s Moldaw Residences retirement community are firm believers in those kinds of benefits and cherish the relationships they have with their dogs. Two residents at Moldaw shared their perspectives on their furry friends and acknowledged the importance of canine comrades.
Former Los Altos Hills resident Ruth Fish considers her two dogs, Sadie and Toby, her “children that never leave home.” Barbara Gunther has enjoyed the company of her golden doodle Shayna since 2008 and appreciates the calming presence she often provides. Although neither had a dog growing up, they cannot imagine moving into a retirement community or anywhere else without their treasured pets.
“I actually entered Moldaw with three dogs,” Fish said. “Now my two poodle mixes and I remain. My husband always had dogs, and I guess his dog-lover nature took over because at one time, we had six when we had more land living in Los Altos Hills.”
Fish said she is “very devoted” to Sadie and Toby.
“Having moved into a retirement community and lost my husband, it became even more important to me to have these companions,” she added. “I feel like I need something to care for, something besides plants. The rose bushes I have are beautiful, and I love them. But these adorable pooches can reciprocate love and affection.”
Toby is an 8-year-old Maltese/poodle mix, and Sadie is a 7-year-old cocker spaniel/poodle mix. Sadie has come to read Fish well simply by facial expressions and voice inflections. Both Sadie and Toby are always within just a couple of feet of Fish wherever she is in her Moldaw apartment.
Gunther shares a similar deep connection with her golden doodle, Shayna.
“Shayna is truly a friend, and it can be therapeutic for me to come home to her at the end of the day,” she said. “She literally keeps me company. We go out and walk to my nearby studio and back together, and she is always friendly to those who approach her along the way.”
And it’s not just Gunther who enjoys the benefits of ownership.
“I think she brightens the atmosphere not only for me, but for those who meet her,” she said of Shayna. “I’ve even considered bringing her into the memory support unit to mingle with residents there because of the soothing nature she has.”
Fish has noticed the way people, particularly those with dementia, often react or come alive when a dog is present. She remembers visiting her own mother in a senior living community years ago and bringing her dogs with her. People who hardly ever looked up when a person entered the room would become instantly more positively engaged at the sight of a dog entering.
“Dogs add so much value to life because they bring so much joy and companionship,” she said. “It’s a deep relationship that involves depending on each other, and the sense of reliability they bring in an ever-changing and often difficult world is precious to have.”
An excellent example
According to Fish, we can all learn a lot from dogs.
“Having one teaches us how to care for others, and they are an excellent example of forgiveness, which for humans does not come easily,” she said. “It’s really just amazing what dogs can give.”
Gunther agreed with Fish and added that while there are often many activities and things to do or people to interact with at Moldaw in retirement, it is also nice to come home and know that a dog is there waiting for you.
Research reveals that dogs and other pets often bring out a strong sense of affection that is beneficial for pet owners, regardless of age. Simply having tactile stimulation through petting a dog generates emotional support through the animal’s nonverbal communication, which is comforting and brings joy to the person involved. Studies show that, over time, bonding with a pet actually can reduce the risk of depression.
“We are glad to welcome residents as well as resident pets into this retirement community because we understand the significant relationship that exists there,” said Darren Trisel, interim executive director at Moldaw Residences. “I know many think of their dog as a part of the family, and we are happy to keep families together here at Moldaw.”
Moldaw Residences is located at 899 E. Charleston Road, Palo Alto. For more information, call (800) 873-9614 or visit moldaw.org.