Power Of Pets: Alternatives Offered To Address Stress, Loneliness

Joy for All Companion Pets — cats and dogs — are available at not cost through Experience Inc. Area Agency on Aging for those who could benefit from them. Photo by Brian Ferry

WARREN, Pa. — Some people could use a pet, but for one reason or another, can’t have one.

Experience Inc., Warren Forest Counties Area Agency on Aging, and Joy for All Companion Pets are working together to provide an alternative.

The Companion Pets are battery-operated pets that respond to pats and sounds.

They don’t run and play, but they sit and lay down, and purr or bark when they get some attention.

“We’re gearing it for older adults,” Experience Inc. Care Manager Rachel O’Carroll said. “We’re reaching to those with cognitive issues.”

Pets, including Companion Pets, “have been shown to be very effective as a natural mood enhancer for those who have memory issues,” O’Carroll said.

People with those issues generally experience more anxiety and stress, she said.

The Companion Pets also can reduce loneliness, she said.

“We were looking for people who are socially isolated, depressed, experiencing some kind of loss, that otherwise couldn’t care for a pet,” Health and Wellness Coordinator Megan Johnson said.

There doesn’t have to be a memory issue for a person to benefit. “It’s very effective with people who don’t have any cognitive issues – just as much as people who do,” Johnson said.

“I gave a cat to a woman who is legally blind,” she said. “She loves him.”

The woman was ready with a name, Louie, as soon as the cat arrived.

“I was very skeptical about this, myself,” O’Carroll said.

She has moved past that. “We’re very excited about this program,” she said. “Sometimes, I sit with the cap in my lap when I’m working.”

She said some people quickly start to talk to the Companion just as they would to a live dog or cat.

Applications for the program are available at Experience Inc.

There are few requirements for the program. Although Experience Inc. is the Area Agency on Aging and they are looking for people 60-and-over that would benefit from a Companion Pet, “We’re not going to turn them away on the basis of age,” O’Carroll said.

Experience personnel administer a loneliness survey when they take a pet to someone and they follow-up later. The program is so new that there haven’t been any follow-ups yet, she said.

There are no financial requirements, nor does the agency need to see any financial records. “They don’t have to give us a whole lot of information,” Johnson said.

The Companion Pet doesn’t have to go to someone who lives alone, but, they are only available to homes that don’t have other pets.

“If you already have a pet, you would not gain as much from a Companion Pet,” Johnson said.

The Experience Inc. program is home and community based, but if someone in a nursing home could benefit from a Companion Pet, the staff is willing to advocate with the facility.

While pets have many health and mental health benefits, they also have many needs.

They need to be fed. They need veterinary care. They need to go to the bathroom.

Some people can’t afford or handle those needs. Others have allergies or restrictions based on where they live that prevent them from having pets.

The Companion Pets need batteries to work. They need some basic cleaning from time to time. There is no ‘adoption fee’ for a Companion Pet. There is no crate nor litter box needed. They do not require food or shots and they do not get sick. “They’re less work than a house plant,” Johnson said.

The batteries — four C-cell types — last about a month with daily use, Johnson said. “If they need help with batteries (financially or with installation), we’re happy to come out and help.”

There are three settings on the Companion Pets — On, Mute, and Off. The critters go into a sleep mode if no one interacts with them for a while and wake up again when someone scratches them.

The agency started with four dog and four cat Companion Pets. Of those, one cat and three dogs remain – with the cat spending most of its days with O’Carroll.

Those are available and the agency can get more.

“If there’s a lot of interest, we would develop a waiting list,” Johnson said.

Applications are available by calling (814) 723-3763 or (800) 281-6545 or visiting the agency at 905 Fourth Ave., Warren. They will also be made available through www.experienceinc.org.


Pets aren’t the only wellness options that Experience Inc. provides.

“We do chronic disease self-management courses,” Johnson said. “We have exercise and fall prevention programs.”

They offer Healthy Ideas — a mental health advocacy program — Bingocize for everyday functional health and Tai Chi for Arthritis at the Allegheny Community Center.

“Those programs are all free and we offer them throughout the Warren and Forest community,” Johnson said. “We want to reach our healthy older adults as well. We’re for everybody. We want to engage our active older adults in our community.”


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