An exhibit entitled “Grow Old Along with Me: The Meaning of Dogs in Seniors’ Lives” started its tour of Nova Scotia this past weekend. On display will be photographs and stories of 14 seniors and their canine companions as studied by researcher Andra Cole.
“There are numerous initiatives to develop age-friendly communities and to help seniors ‘age in place’ and yet few, if any, of these initiatives pay attention to the role of companion animals in seniors’ health and well-being,” says Cole.
The project was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, with support from Mount Saint Vincent University, at which Cole is Acting Co- Dean of Education and Professor of the Graduate Program in Lifelong Learning, and ElderDog Canada, of which Cole is the founder.
She set up the national non-profit in 2009 “to assist and support seniors with the care of their dogs so that they can stay together as long as possible.” The organization will also re-home dogs if, say, their owner has to relocate to a non-dog friendly residence.
From 99 year-old Joy and her 15 year-old dog Prayer (pictured above) who still go for two long walks a day because as Joy says, ‘My social life is on the street. I meet all kinds of people because of my dog,’ to an 80 year- old man who lives alone with his dog in a one-room unit of a former motel to the to a woman in her mid-60s who spends most of every day doing physical activities with her dogs because they add ‘colour and vibrancy’ to her life, Cole says each of the project participants is memorable.
“Spending time with older people and their dogs to get in-depth insights into that relationship reveals the depth of attachment and commitment seniors have to their dogs and how that relationship enhances their life and well-being.”