Originally published on couriermail.com.au and reproduced here with permission.

Margaret Fear has always adored having pets in her home. The fact she is now in her 80s hasn’t changed that. “They make life worth living,” she said.

Mrs Fear and her husband Trevor, both aged 87, live with their Tibetan Spaniel Summer and black cat Fluffy at Azure Blue Carina in Brisbane. Together, they have welcomed pets for 60 years, taking on their first dog six weeks after they were married.

“We’ve always had pets,” Margaret says. “We would find it very difficult without pets. They are such good company. They just make your life complete.”

Each day Margaret and Trevor take Summer for a walk, where they chat to other residents in their retirement village.

“The benefits [of pet ownership] are shared by the people around us here when we’re out and about,” Margaret said.

Why older people should own a pet

RSPCA Queensland spokesperson Emma Lagoon said having pets provides people with physical and mental health benefits, as well as social boosts. She explained people should not focus on the time they may not be able to care for a pet, as the RSPCA program for seniors, Home Ever After is designed to rehome pets in the event people can no longer care for them.

She said for seniors, having a pet can be positive for many areas of their life.

“Pets are amazing. Having a pet is great for cardiovascular health, it also helps people with their physical activity. There are psychological benefits as well, they’re helpful for stress.”

She said having a pet was also an enabler for social connection. “People do make more friends when they’re out and about. [Owners] have that conversation starter.”

Research has borne out some of those benefits. Pet ownership has been shown to correlate to lower blood pressure in response to mental stress, improve cognition and lower agitation for people living with dementia, and enable better physical health due to increased activity, especially for dog-owners.

A peer-reviewed study published in the Australian Family Physician supported this, saying owning a pet improved health overall, and even increased life expectancy. Further, a US study of older people found pet owners were more resilient to stressful life events compared to non-pet owners, who had more doctor visits at such times.

This all rings true for Margaret and Trevor, who made sure they were able to bring their pets to the retirement village before they moved in.

“We made it clear that we must be allowed to have our pets,” she said. She explained there was “a list of rules” the couple were asked to adhere to before moving their pets into their new home.

“It was quite easy. They were all sensible rules.”

Three years ago, pets in tow, the couple made the move to Azure Blue Carina.

With them they came Summer, a 16-year-old white, fluffy dog who is gentle and intelligent.

Margaret said Summer’s activity levels defy her age. “You should see her when she is ready to go for a walk. She races through the house at 100 miles an hour. She is the most beautiful little animal.”

They also moved in with Fluffy the black cat, who their vet has estimated is about 15 years old.

“She decided she would like to live with us,” Margaret said. “She rules the roost. She is the boss.”

She said their pets are well looked after, and are enjoying their new home.

“They’re both very well. They have lots of outdoor life, but inside as well. They’re very well fed. They have all the things that are needed for their wellbeing.”

Pets helping build community

Margaret said the animals in the village bring positive impacts not only to their owners, but the other residents.

“When we’re out walking Summer in the morning, people say, ‘Here they come’. One of the men who loves her very much, he got up from his chair and got down on the floor with her. He got down so he could be on the same level. Here the animals are very much part of the community. Particularly the dog, she has lots of friends here.”

She also said having pets provides a sense of purpose, as you need to always think about the needs of the animals in your home.

“You’ve got to take into consideration the needs of another, just like a person. Animals have got their needs and you’ve got to put them first.

“They need to be looked after, but they also take care of us. You are never lonely when you have fur people sharing your life.”

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