Pets Together network utilizes video visits with pet owners for meaningful connections that ease stress, reduce social isolation
Submitted by the New York State Office for the Aging
In a continuing effort to combat social isolation, the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) and Association on Aging in New York (AgingNY) have partnered with Pets Together, a national nonprofit organization, to connect older New Yorkers with the therapeutic power of pets using the Pets Together video chat service, which offers social interactions aimed at reducing loneliness and stress.
Older New Yorkers can learn more about this free program and reserve a virtual visit directly at https://petstogether.org.
A Pets Together video visit is approximately 30 minutes in length. Older adults who participate get to meet with volunteer pet-owners to see and learn about their pets. More importantly, the conversation offers an opportunity for engagement aimed at combatting social isolation. Featured pets include everything from dogs to bearded dragons, cats to ponies, goats and birds.
In 2017, the U.S. surgeon general declared social isolation to be a “global epidemic” – one that has only worsened in the COVID-19 health emergency. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, social isolation drives $6.7 billion in additional associated Medicare spending per year. The health consequences of loneliness and isolation are equivalent to smoking almost a pack of cigarettes daily. Studies have also shown that interacting with animals is an effective antidote: lowering blood pressure and reducing loneliness, stress or anxiety.
NYSOFA Director Greg Olsen said, “Pets are known for their therapeutic abilities, and they are also great conversation starters. These two factors combined go a long way in helping to reduce the major health implications associated with loneliness and social isolation. We are thrilled to work with Pets Together and the Association on Aging in New York to bring this powerful form of contact and social connection directly to older adults no matter where they live. We encourage older adults to try it out.”
The Pets Together partnership is the newest in a series of creative efforts undertaken by NYSOFA to combat social isolation, helping to supplement formally structured social programs offered by Area Agencies on Aging and their partners. It is also NYSOFA’s second initiative leveraging the healing power of pets. NYSOFA’s animatronic pet project is providing older New Yorkers with 3,500 "lifelike" robotic pets that provide comfort and companionship. The program has a proven track record of reducing self-reported loneliness by 70%. NYSOFA has also forged recent collaborations with GetSetUp, an online learning community that is connecting 54,000 older New Yorkers to interactive classes which help promote physical, mental and social health.
NYSOFA, AgingNY and Pets Together also urge pet owners to consider becoming a volunteer through the Pets Together network – an opportunity to connect with older adults, talk about your pet, and, most importantly, engage in meaningful conversation that helps build vital social connections. To learn more about volunteer opportunities, complete the application.
Pets Together Executive Director Jennifer Bashford said, “We’re very excited to partner with New York to help reduce social isolation among older adults. Our program has proven to be a great way for volunteers, older individuals, and residents in facilities to connect and interact, plus it’s just a lot of fun. Our volunteers use conversations about their pets to make a connection with the audience. Every visit is different, and you never know which animal is going to be on the call, or how they’ll behave. Our volunteers have also formed a close community, as many are retired individuals themselves. Pets really do have the ability to bring us together.”
Association on Aging in New York Executive Director Becky Preve said, “New York’s Area Agencies on Aging provide vital socialization programs that help older adults stay connected. We are thrilled to supplement those offerings by working with creative partners, like Pets Together, to reach older adults in diverse ways, combining the power of technology with the calming presence of animals. I encourage older adults across New York state to experience first-hand the positive benefits of a Pets Together virtual visit and log-on today.”
NYSOFA continuously works to help the state’s 4.3 million older adults be as independent as possible for as long as possible through advocacy, development and delivery of person-centered, consumer-oriented, and cost-effective policies, programs and services that support and empower older adults and their families, in partnership with the network of public and private organizations that serve them. Visit aging.ny.gov.
The mission of the Association on Aging is to support and enhance the capacity of New York's local area agencies on aging and to work in collaboration with the aging network to promote independence, preserve dignity, and advocate on behalf of aging New Yorkers and their families. For more information, visit www.agingny.org.
Pets Together brings people and pets together virtually to reduce social isolation and loneliness. The program uses pets as the starting point for interaction and conversation. Since a Pets Together visit is virtual, the program allows for a wide range of participants. It is able to provide visits from dogs, cats, horses, birds, goats, chickens – and the occasional guinea pig! For more information, visit www.petstogether.org.