The first is pet therapy in nursing home. This can be done formally or informally. Since I work with the independent living residents, I see how those with dogs choose to have them interact with fellow residents (or not). Those residents with the pets get a lot of enjoyment from sharing their loved one with others, the animal usually enjoys the interaction, and the resident who choose to stop and greet the pet does so because they know it will bring them joy. It is a win-win-win situation. This is what I call an informal pet therapy session, and I find that those "resident pet therapists," tend to utilize their dogs every chance they get to bring joy to others.
The activities director who works in the assisted living part of our continuing care community has identified the independent living residents who like to share their pets with others and has reached out to them to ask if they would bring their pet to the assisted living section of the community. She works with the resident to schedule a specific time and adds it to her calendar of events. This, along with outside trained "professional" pet therapy dogs are what I consider a formal program.
As mentioned, the community where I work has multi-levels of care, and thus the issues of owning a pet differ based upon the level of care where the resident lives. Independent living issues include a resident not being able to walk the dog, keep litter boxes cleaned, dogs barking, etc. We do have a private-pay home health service that is associated with our company, but many residents do not want to have to pay for these extra services. They believe that friends, family, neighbors and /or staff members should say yes if they are asked to assist with their pet's care. As you know, most family members can not factor this extra responsibility into their schedules, other residents may help for a little while, but not for the long term, and for us as staff members, we are not able to "moon-light" in this area since our company offers the service for a fee (weather we do if for free or not).
In the assisted living part of the community, the issues are the same, plus in addition, have some specific issues of their own. We have had a resident who wanted to bring her cat with her to this level of care, but her neighbor next door was allergic to cats. And there was a lady who had a dog who did not like anyone to pass by the resident's door, and he room was located at top of the hallway, so that almost everyone entering that section of the community had to pass her doorway. Is it far to the pet to contain them in a much smaller room? Should CNA's be asked to walk the dog or care for the cat? Is it wise to ask a resident to give up their pet when they make this transition? I don't know the answers, but I do wish that residents and their families could make the decision - and be alright with it- to pass the pet to someone who will love it as much as they had in advance of making the move. It is kind of like sending your kid of to college.... you know it is in their best interest, even though it makes you sad. Maybe it should be a required conversation with administration, when a resident moves in with a pet, that specifies the plans for the welfare of the pet in times when the owner/resident is unable to care for the animal.
While researching the Internet on the topic of pets in senior communities, I found this interesting article. It is worth reading. It is about university veterinarian and nursing students supporting residents in a community. As the activities director for my community, I am going to learn more about this and see if there is any interest in the colleges and universities in my area. Again, this is a win-win situation if the students can get hands-on experience with the pets and the seniors get their animals cared for on a regular basis. As with other volunteer programs, I'm sure that the bonds the students and residents make will be lessons in life for the students. The program in the article addresses some of the issues that I mentioned above also. Here is another opportunity for you to make the residents in your community happier.
Here is another article re: pets in the retirement community from Recharging Retirees