Pet owners and healthcare workers alike know the positive power animals can bring into our lives. Studies have shown that animal-assisted therapy can offer immediate physiological and psychological benefits, including lowering blood pressure and relieving stress and anxiety in many patient populations. In other words, there are many benefits of pets for aging parents.

Pets provide a touch, a look or just a calming presence that is nonjudgmental, elemental and all about connection. These powers are often amplified at the bedside of a patient in his or her final days.

When a hospice patient reaches out to pet a dog, or when a dog offers a gentle lick or lays his or her chin on a hand or forearm, the physical connection reverberates in many ways. The warmth of touch is so important. It validates that you are still living, that you’re still a person worthy of love – and there’s nothing better than unconditional love. A dog doesn’t know that you’re sick or that you don’t look like what you used to.

Often, a new connection between a hospice patient and dog or cat will also trigger fond memories of pets they may have had. It is a way to begin a conversation of life known and lived.

“Remember when Trudy bit me because I let a repairman in the house? Or when Junior jumped up and ate the turkey off the table at Thanksgiving?”

The presence of a pet is also a welcome relief for family members, too. The focus shifts from end-of-life issues to belly rubs, slobbery kisses, and who has the best treats.

But don’t think the equation is one-sided. Dogs and cats trained as companions relish their work and the heart-felt, deep connection with people who need them most. Bottom line? Gentle souls find each other and benefit from each other. Through soulful eyes. Or a gentle kiss.

“My little old dog:
A heart-beat
At my feet.”
Edith Wharton