The fluffy and feathered companions of Ryman Healthcare retirement village residents are blissfully unaware of COVID-19, and the ‘PAWsitive’ companionship they provided during Melbourne's long lockdown.
But residents at Ryman’s Weary Dunlop and Nellie Melba villages in Wheelers Hill say their prized pets were a tonic for loneliness during nearly 10 months of COVID-19 restrictions.
For Weary Dunlop resident Trish Difford, the adoption of a rescue kitten during the pandemic has been the highlight of an otherwise “terrible year”.
“It’s been a terrible year for me because I can feel down and the way I usually manage it is by walking outside and seeing other people, and I wasn’t able to do that,” she says.
Having owned cats for most of her life, Trish, who is now in her 80s, says she ruled out getting a new pet because of her age.
“It’s been a very hard year and that’s how I ended up thinking, ‘Oh well, I’ll be selfish and get a cat’, and that’s how I got my Blossom.
“She’s a bit full on for me because she’s a baby and I’m and old lady, but we’re managing,” Trish laughs.
“She loves me to death, and I adore her. It’s certainly been the highlight of my year.” Trish and Blossom at Weary Dunlop.
Nellie Melba resident Jeanette Ryland says her 14-year-old Border Collie Lady (pictured below) gave her and husband Kevin's days in lockdown structure.
“She gave us a reason to exercise within the village grounds, and when others see her their eyes light up," Jeanette says.
"And for some of the people upstairs in the care centre Lady triggers memories for them of dogs they owned."
The therapeutic benefits of pet ownership are far from anecdotal, with research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology among hundreds of studies to find older pet owners have greater self-esteem, are fitter, less lonely and more socially outgoing.
Ryman Healthcare Regional Sales Manager Angela Barraclough says about half of all retirement living providers allow pets.
“When prospective residents find out their pets can come with them to the village the response is always very positive,” Angela says. "Apart from providing company, pets give our residents a sense of purpose and many residents who don’t own pets themselves enjoy patting and walking them without the responsibility of ownership, so it’s a dual benefit.”
While Weary Dunlop resident Harry Christensen can’t walk or pat his budgie Snowy, his pet offers important companionship.
“He’s about two years old now this fella," Harry says.
“I say g'day to him and he just chirps, but he’s something there for me.”
Nellie Melba resident June Ruff says having an animal friend near, during the pandemic, and in happier times, is part of the Ryman community experience.
“Everybody has got to have a cuddle with my little Cavoodle Ruffie,” she says.
“So the lockdown has affected him, too, because he is so social with everyone who lives here.
“And having our pets here is part of what makes us so happy. That is certainly why I’m so happy here.”