Pets provide an important benefit by offering companionship, reducing stress, boredom and depression. They can also be a worry in terms of peoples concerns about being able to look after one on a long-term basis in terms of the ability to provide veterinary care and exercise, and what would happen to a pet if they became ill. Previous pet owners are also reluctant to enter into a permanent bond with a pet as the grief of losing a pet is painful.
I feel there is an opportunity to marry pet owners, and their pets, with the elderly on a short-term basis each week. This is distinct from longer term commercial arrangements. It is about a pet, mostly a dog but potentially other pets as well, being borrowed by another individual for a couple of hours each week to provide contact and companionship, free of charge. There would be no expectation other than the pet providing comfort and companionship to the person concerned by sitting with them. I have two dogs who are both extremely loving. My small dachshund would happily sit with another person for a couple of hours on their knee.
There is also the potential for solo visits to take place during times like the pandemic, and in other times, for the pet to be accompanied with its owner. This could bring about a sense of community caring which has become lacking in recent times.
There could be a certification arrangements through veterinary practices to green light a pet as one which would be suitable for pet sharing and a correlating registration service for people to request the service. The service would be open to elderly people living on their own. The pet owners would sign up as volunteers through a recognised service such as Age UK where there would be a correlating vetting process for the individuals involved to ensure that the vulnerable were protected from potentially unscrupulous individuals. GP practices could also use this service for social prescribing. The cost of the pet and individuals certification would be met by the government, and passported through to the Voluntary, Community and Faith sectors working in partnership with local government. This project would accord with many of the aims of the VCF sector and funding of the project would provide support for this unsung sector within our communities. The idea could be piloted in a Beacon Authority arrangement initially.
Whilst at times like this we cannot reach out and touch other people, we can find comfort in pets. Pets can alleviate the stress caused by social distancing, and ‘shielding’, and offer many benefits which can help longer term mental health issues encountered through prolonged isolation. This programme would offer the ability to provide some of this comfort, and establish a routine for lonely people, without the worry that more longer-term pet ownership can create.