Keeping furry friends by your side: Pets and retirement village rules

Oct 26, 2019
If you're planning on moving into a retirement village with your pet in tow, there are some rules you have to follow. Source: Getty

Moving into a retirement village should be an exciting experience as you adjust to the lifestyle and settle into the community, hopefully making plenty of new friends along the way. But for some people, no place could ever really feel like home without their furry friend by their side.

While friends and family can lend a hand to make your new home feel warm and comforting, the love and joy that a dog, cat or even a bird can bring to one’s life is undeniable. However, if you’re hoping to take your pet with you, there are some strict guidelines that must be followed.

According to CRH Law partner Brian Herd, newly established retirement villages (RVs) generally allow residents to keep pets, although it will normally require the approval of the operator. However, older villages tend not to be so lenient, unless you have a seeing or hearing dog, as not allowing those could be deemed discriminatory.

“While pets are very therapeutic for residents they can also be a problem in the close gated community of a RV,” Herd explains. “For villages that allow pets, they usually have what are called ‘pet guidelines’. They are often devised in consultation with the residents and generally comprise three major elements – what sort of pets you can keep, rules about their control and when a village can ‘evict’ a pet.”

In most cases permitted pets tend to be limited to the familiar species, such as dogs, cats, fish and birds, although some villages restrict the size of dogs, particularly in high rise villages. Surprisingly in America, some RVs have even allowed monkeys and boa constrictors to reside with their owners – something that Australian RVs would almost certainly not consider.

However, there has been a rise across Australia in the number of aged care facilities implementing pet programs, where animals, such as guinea pigs, rabbits and even ducks, are brought in to visit residents.

Pets big and small can bring a multitude of mental and physical benefits to people, with a recent study by Healthy Pets revealing that simply walking a dog could help lower body mass index, resulting in a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. They can also help people overcome loneliness, stay focused and provide routine to the day, something that many over-60s miss following retirement.

Clinical Geropsychologist Nancy Pachana says pets provide unconditional support to their owners, which is incredibly beneficial as you age. She also explains that they can provide further opportunities to connect and make new friends in the community.

“The animal depends on the person, so they have a sense of purpose,” Pachana says. “They have to care for the pet, whether it be taking the dog for a walk or changing the water for the bird, it doesn’t matter what type of animal it is, but it makes them feel valued. Pets are also a great way for people to make connections, as others come over to pet the dog, conversation starts, it’s a really good way to reach out to other people.”

Although pets clearly provide many benefits, Herd says retirement village residents must make sure their companion doesn’t disrupt the rest of the community, such as excessive noise.

“A retirement village in Queensland permitted residents to have birds,” he says. “Unfortunately, one resident’s bird chirped constantly day and night. A neighbour objected and the dispute ended up in a Tribunal that determined the bird had to leave the village and the operator was fined for not ensuring the peace and quiet of the village.”

Being separated from a beloved pet can be extremely distressing for some, so in order to avoid any heartbreak Herd suggests double checking the guidelines before committing to move into a village. “Before signing up, a person should check with the village about its pet policies and get the approval of the operator to bring their pet with them,” he says. “If the pet won’t be allowed, the person then has to consider what is most important to them – the pet or the village.”

Do you have a pet? How do you think they've helped to improve your mental and physical health?

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