With more than half of all Australians over the age of 55 owning a pet, it’s no surprise that most people entering a retirement lifestyle community are keen to take their beloved dog, cat or even bird with them.

This is particularly the case during COVID-19, when residents are more likely to have been isolated in their homes and are looking for companionship.

The good news is that most retirement communities are pet-friendly. In fact, of the current property listings on Downsizing.com.au, around 60 per cent state they are pet-friendly.

However, it is important to do your homework before signing on the dotted line to enter a retirement lifestyle community (which could be a retirement village, rental village or a land lease community) to ensure Sooty, Rover or Chirpy can join you.

Retirement villages

In retirement villages, pet policies tend to be set by the residents’ committee. 

You’ll find that pet policies in retirement villages fall into one of the following categories:

  • No pets allowed under any circumstances
  • Some pets allowed depending on their size and temperament
  • Some current pets allowed (as above), but no replacement pets allowed
  • Pets allowed generally

You will have the best chance of bringing your pet with you if the village is large and open, the homes are well spaced and your pet is small, quiet, friendly and clean. In addition, the newer the village, the more likely it will be to have a more flexible pet policy.

Retirement villages that do allow pets will usually state this in their marketing material, mostly on the condition that the pet must be approved by the village operator. 

Land lease communities and rental villages

In a land lease community (where the resident owns their dwelling and then rents the land on which it is based) pet policies are more than likely to form part of the community rules set by the operator. Land lease communities are also often known as lifestyle villages or manufactured home estates.

The physical environment of land lease communities, which involves detached homes sitting on their own sites with backyards, is conducive to pet ownership.   

In addition, most rental villages (such as Eureka and Ingenia Gardens), have pet friendly policies. In a rental village, the resident pays rent to occupy their dwelling and has no form of ownership.

Pet policies and facilities by different operators

Downsizing.com.au asked a range of retirement living operators to tell us about their pet policies and facilities. Below are the responses we received:

National retirement living operator Living Choice told us it is a strong advocate of pet-friendly retirement villages, with pets permitted at nine of its 10 operating retirement villages. 

“Only one of our villages – an apartment-style village in Sydney – is not pet-friendly as the residents have voted not to permit pets. Living Choice is currently negotiating with the residents there to reconsider their decision,” a Living Choice spokeswoman said.

“We believe that pets can be a great support as people age, adding to one’s physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Residents have also told us how much their pets have provided companionship and a reason to exercise during COVID-19 lockdowns.

“While we support pets in villages, we are also mindful that there may be some residents who do not have pets and value their peace and quiet, plus the need for litter-free communal areas.

“Incoming residents are required to complete a pet approval request form, state whether the pet is de-sexed and outline where the pet should be placed in the event of an emergency. 

“The pet-owner must also acknowledge that the pet may need to be removed if the village manager deems the pet to be a nuisance or have an aggressive nature.

“In general, most pet owners are very responsible and, apart from intermittent reminders in the weekly communiques for residents to pick up dog litter, there are very few problems.”

Queensland retirement village operator Aura told us that well-behaved pets, which are appropriate for apartment living, become treasured members of the company’s communities.

Under Aura’s pet policy, residents must have prior written permission to keep one pet, either a cat, dog or caged bird. 

Pets are assessed on their suitability to life in an apartment and the village.

Aura said cats and dogs must be desexed, fully vaccinated before entering the village and vaccinations kept up to date. Dogs must registered with the local government authority.

Peter Shiels and Taffee at Aura's The Pavilion North Kirra on the Gold Coast 

If a pet becomes a nuisance, Aura may revoke consent and the pet must be removed from the village. But Aura has never had to revoke consent for a village pet.

Aura Holdings’ director Tim Russell, who shares his life with dachshund Daisy, appreciates the joy a pet brings. “Our villages are our residents’ homes so we believe they should continue living as they desire and that often includes sharing it with a much-loved pet,’’ Tim says.

“Many breeds of dogs and cats are well suited to apartment living. Our pet policy is all about ensuring all residents are happy where they live.’’

Victorian land lease community operator Lifestyle Communities states that it doesn’t have any restrictions when it comes to pet ownership, due to the fact its residents are living independently and own their homes.

Lifestyle complements this relaxed policy with free self-service dog wash stations in all 22 of its communities across Victoria.

A friendly dog enjoys a wash in a Lifestyle Communities dog wash

Each station comes with everything needed to shampoo, condition, blow-dry and protect their pooches from fleas and ticks in just 10 minutes. 

Co-founder and Managing Director, James Kelly said: “At Lifestyle we have always loved pets and have had doggy parking posts outside all our clubhouses since we started nearly 20 years’ ago. We have also embraced being pet friendly with dog walking groups, doggy bag posts and wellness events for pets”.

“Within each community we make it truly pet-friendly and focused on providing a community where pets thrive and prosper with their wonderful owners.”

NSW-based retirement village operator Anglicare told us that pets were allowed in select villages, subject to conditions. 

All new retirement villages are pet-friendly from the start - such as Anglicare’s Minto Gardens which has its own leash-free area. If an existing Anglicare non-pet friendly village wants to change this approach, this has to be approved by the village committee.

Queensland’s The Village Retirement Group said all its retirement villages were pet friendly.

“The Village Retirement Group recognises that pets are part of the family too, which is why all our Villages are pet friendly, and facilities are specifically provided to make the villages more pet friendly," a spokeswoman said. "For example, The Village Taigum has two dedicated off-leash, secure dog parks within the Village for our residents’ dogs to socialise and exercise.

Finally, Queensland land lease community operator Halcyon told us that there are 304 dogs and 79 cats across its communities. 

The best way to see if a retirement community is pet friendly, is to check out its listing on Downsizing.com.au.