Hickey, a senior himself says that for the elderly, pets can be a great source of comfort and joy. "Walking a dog or just caring for a pet, for those who are able, can provide exercise and companionship. And each year, in Canada, thousands of animals in Canada are killed because there are simply not enough good homes. This kind of health care initiative would save the lives of people and animals," he said.
HSC Executive Director, Michael O'Sullivan, who is 48 years of age, and has a houseful of dogs and cats, says he believes that by emphasizing prevention, over a period of time, we can also reduce overall health care costs to society: "All of us are growing older and we need to find new and creative ways to stay healthy and make the most cost-effective use of scarce health care dollars".
The Humane Society of Canada is asking all levels of government to consider granting each senior citizen an annual tax credit of $750 a year which is roughly half of the estimated $1,500 a year cost of providing food and veterinary care for a dog or a cat. The charity estimates that based on the latest census data showing that 12.8% of Canada’s population is 65 years of age and older (i.e. 3,917,875 seniors) that the total tax credits each year would be in the region of $2.94 billion dollars (i.e. $2,938,406,250). There could be a gradual phase in and although there will be an initial cost, the charity believes that with time, overall health care costs would not only reduce, but it would result in a healthier, happy and more productive society.
According to O’Sullivan, a 1999 Australian study reported by Petnet Australia estimated that Australian dogs and cats saved approximately CAD $1.82 billion (i.e. AUD $2.227 billion) of health expenditure in Australia during 1994-95.
"Evidence suggests that people who live with animal companions receive numerous health benefits that are attributed to their relationships with their furred and feathered friends," says O’Sullivan.
Some health benefits for people who live with pets include:
- people with pets are less likely to be lonely
- people with pets visit the doctor less often and use less medication
- people with pets recover more quickly from illness
- people with pets, on average, have lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure
- people who live with pets and who have suffered a heart attack survive longer than those who don’t have a pet in their life
- Alzheimer’s patients with pets have fewer anxious outbursts
- exercising a pet can provide valuable exercise to the animal’s elderly guardian
- people who are vulnerable to depression or anxiety suffer less if they live with a pet
He believes a comprehensive study involving Canadians and their pets would yield similar results, and the charity is actively pursuing this line of inquiry.
The Humane Society of Canada established its Silver Paws Program to provide a lifeline for elderly people and their pets and to try and stop the killing of adoptable dogs and cats.
"We believe that many elderly people who have pets cannot afford to care for their animal companions. Their fixed incomes are quickly consumed by constantly increasing costs for rent, food, medication and other items. Who loses? Both the person who loses the companionship of his/her beloved pet, who may be their only companion left alive, and the animal who loses the companionship and love of his/her human guardian. Even more tragic is that many pets whose elderly caregivers can no longer afford to care for them are euthanized," said O’Sullivan.
The charity points out that elderly people are one of the segments of our society most at risk. Many do not have families or are isolated from them, may be too proud or nervous to ask for help, want to keep their affairs private, or lack a safety net for themselves and their pets. In many cases, they regard their dog or cat as the only real friend they have left.
The Humane Society of Canada believes that there are measurable social and economic benefits to elderly people by providing more comprehensive services and care for their pets and that all levels of government should extend financial assistance to help them care for their pets.
"We feel that these additional costs will be offset, and then some, by lower health care costs," says O’Sullivan. "These are real and significant improvements to quality of life for both Canada’s senior citizens and the animal companions who share their lives. This added assistance would also encourage seniors to adopt pets from animal shelters thereby saving the animals’ lives, enhancing the lives of their human guardians and reducing the costs associated with homeless pets at the municipal level," he said.
CONTACT: Michael O'Sullivan by toll free 1-800-641-KIND or Michael on his cell phone (416) 876-9685 or at www.humanesociety.com via twitter at www.twitter.com/HSCanada and on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Humane-Society-of-Canada/211468055538280
[For more than 17 years, Al Hickey was the Chief Executive of the BC SPCA and before that headed up the Alberta and BC Chambers of Commerce, and was the Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vancouver. He has been The HSC Western Regional Director for over 12 years. He has 4 children and 6 grandchildren. For his lifetime of achievement dedicated to helping people, animals and the environment, we have bestowed upon him our prestigious Heroes for Animals Award, shared by only a handful of people and organizations.
A father with two children, and a houseful of dogs and cats, Michael O'Sullivan has worked across Canada and in over 110 countries during the last 40 years helping people, animals and nature.]
The Humane Society of Canada (HSC) works to protect dogs, cats, horses, birds, rabbits and small animals, livestock, lab animals, wildlife and the environment. We carry out hands on programs to help animals and nature, mount rescue operations, expose cruelty through hard hitting undercover investigations, work to pass laws to protect animals, use a multidisciplinary approach, support animal shelters and wildlife rehabilitation centres, and spread the word about how to help animals and nature through humane education.
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CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The Humane Society of Canada believes that there are measurable social and economic benefits to elderly people by providing more comprehensive services and care for their pets.
And although we are still pursuing avenues of investigation and research, in the interim, we believe there is sufficient information at this juncture for us to make the following recommendations:
- We are uncomfortable with simply using 65 years of age as an arbitrary cut off point to denote seniors, because we are aware that many other elderly people and their pets are also at risk. For the moment at least we will use 65 years of age as a benchmark, however, we would ask you to give every consideration to our request that this benefit be extended to seniors less than 65 years of age;
- Based upon the estimated costs of $1,500 per year for keeping one pet, The Humane Society of Canada is asking all levels of governments to agree to consider extending financial benefits on the order of $ 62.50 per month to elderly people to assist them with the care of their pets for a total annual benefit of $750 which represents half the estimated costs for keeping one pet per year;
- Based upon the most recent census data (2001) there are an estimated 3,917,875 people 65 years of age and older, the total cost per year would be in the order of $2.9 billion dollars (i.e. $2,938,406,250 dollars);
- The Humane Society of Canada believes that careful study and investigations will demonstrate results similar to that of the Australian study, namely that these costs will be offset by lower health care costs, and a healthier, more content and more productive society;
- In order to ensure that this measure does not create any additional bureaucracy, and that it is fair and equitable, the Humane Society of Canada recommends that the figure of $62.50 per month or $750 per year, be added to the personal exemptions category that is now included in personal income tax returns filed by seniors;
- This method and this figure would ensure that there is assistance for only one pet for each senior and that there is no means test
- The Humane Society of Canada also believes that this measure would encourage more seniors to adopt pets from animal shelters and humane societies, resulting in and thereby helping save lives, stimulating the multi-million dollar pet industry and the economy further; and even more importantly resulting in a healthier, more content and more productive society;
- A new study released in September of this year found that spending a few minutes cuddling with your pet can do more to relieve stress than trying to talk about problems with your spouse and that having a pet present when you carry out unpleasant tasks is more effective than human support;
- Another recent study found that exposure to emotional stress may be of greater potential harm to cardiovascular health than stresses that lack emotion, even both types of stress may have been provoked by the same initial responses;
- Chronic stress is considered an important factor in elevation of blood pressure, which is a major cause of cardiovascular disease and as many as 20% of Canadians suffer from high blood pressure, and this can lead to heart attacks, arteriosclerosis, and strokes;
- Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Canada;
- A recent poll conducted for the Globe and Mail and CTV found that 43% of Canadians said that work was the main cause of stress in their life; 39% said finances, another 10 % said children, and 7% said it was their health.