Saturday 17 March 2018

Who can resist a wag?

The power of pets to improve wellbeing of nursing home residents is now recognised

Owner: Brendan O'Connell from Annabeg Nursing Home, Ballybrack, Co Dublin

Animal: Pippa, an eight-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Background: Pippa has recently joined Annabeg Nursing Home as a permanent resident

Traditionally, nursing homes and other centres of institutional care didn't have much time for animals. Residents-to-be were asked to rehome pets before arriving.

In recent years, attitudes have begun to change. Brendan O'Connell, proprietor of Annabeg Nursing Home, and his nursing director Sinead Beirne say that the Health Information and Quality Authority now encourages having pets and there is certainly nothing in their guidelines to the contrary.

Groups such as PEATA (www.peata.org) and Irish Therapy Dogs (www.irishtherapydogs.ie) now regularly bring trained pets to hospitals and nursing homes. It's recognised that residents gain from the physical contact and relaxed friendliness of a well-behaved dog.

The benefits include a reduction in stress and lowered blood pressure, as well as an enhanced sense of wellbeing and contentment.

It's still not easy to find a nursing home that will accept a much-loved pet, but at least there is widespread acceptance of the value of contact with animals, for people living in an institutional environment.


Brendan has long recognised the importance of pets to older people. Almost a decade ago, a woman in her 90s called Delia O'Connell moved into Annabeg Nursing Home, along with Pal, her Cavalier King Charles. The little dog slept close to Delia's bed until the day she passed away and became a friend to the rest of the residents.

Brendan has now decided to introduce a new long-term residential dog to the nursing home. He searched on the internet and found Pippa, another Cavalier King Charles. She's eight years old and has had a busy life producing many pups. Perhaps because she's too old to breed, she has been put up for rehoming.

Brendan was delighted to be able to offer her the best possible home. He has already had her groomed and he has booked her in for her spaying operation and to have her teeth cleaned. Pippa can now enjoy being pampered.

Una Gould is one of the residents at Annabeg and she's delighted to have Pippa as part of her community. Una has always been an animal lover and she used to work in a boarding kennel. She has missed having regular contact with dogs in recent times and Pippa is now filling that gap in her life.

Pippa isn't the only animal at Annabeg: there's a pet budgie too, and Brendan keeps three hens in the garden.

Animals may seem like hard work and an unnecessary expense, but as Brendan and his team can testify, they can also bring a significantly improved quality of life to those around them.

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