Physically separated from friends and families, and largely forced indoors, older Australians are relying on the companionship and routine provided by pets more than ever before.
Fortunately, most Australian retirement and lifestyle communities these days actively support their residents to have pets.
With this in mind, Downsizing.com.au has published the following guide to pet ownership in retirement and lifestyle communities, as the world responds to coronavirus.
What are the rules for pets?
In general, retirement and lifestyle communities have their own policies relating to the keeping of pets. It is important to ask for, and understand, these policies before you move in.
For instance, in NSW, residential land lease communities may choose to adopt the NSW Government-supplied model community rules, or adopt their own different rules.
The government’s model rules state that all pets in a land lease community must be desexed and dogs must be kept on a leash in common areas.
In addition, the rules state that cats must be kept inside after dark and must wear a collar and bell at all times. There are also rules about cleaning up after your pet, and ensuring your pet does not cause a nuisance through excessive barking.
In Queensland, a spokeswoman for residential land lease community developer Halcyon said pets were welcome in their communities, given their benefits to residents.
“Homeowners need to apply to their community manager for written approval prior to obtaining the pet (or before they move into the community). Applications for more than one pet are taken on a case by case basis,” the spokeswoman said.
“Basically the three guiding principles are – the welfare of homeowners and visitors; the welfare of the pet and the protection of the environment.
“The policy has been prepared utilising policies of the Australian Veterinary Association, Delta Society, Animal Behavioural Experts and environmental experts.
“Guidelines include that dogs and cats have to be confined to a homeowner’s residence unless on a leash and are not allowed within the area of any communal facilities.
“Dog owners are to control barking and there is a dog and cat curfew between 9pm and 5am.”
Separately, in NSW, under the Retirement Village Act, retirement villages can create pet policies as part of site-by-site village rules. Village rules created under this legislation apply to units owned under a leasehold or licence arrangement.
Meanwhile, in South Australia, you must be provided with a copy of a retirement village’s residence rules before you enter into a contract. These rules are required to address pet issues.
Rules relating to pets for freehold general downsizer-friendly residential properties, including apartments, villas and townhouses, can be imposed by the relevant owner’s corporation. You should be aware of these rules, if they exist, before moving in.
Why are companion animals particularly important at this time?
“For people trapped in their houses, pets provide routine, including making sure you feed and groom and brush them,” Dr Young said.
“They give you a structure for a life in which structures have been pulled out.
“They also give company - a living breathing other - although they should not be considered a substitute for human relationships.
“The evidence is though that pets soften the harshness of life, there is a gentleness and reduced complexity with human and animal relationships.
“Importantly, at this present time, we can still touch our pets and interact with them, even if this is being denied to us with many people.
“Pets also distract you, and do funny things and make you laugh, and laughter gets the endorphins going which is good for you.”
In addition, current self-isolation rules still allow for exercise, and pets are the perfect companion (and motivator) for a run, cycle or stroll.
What sort of pets are best for retirement communities?
This is still something of a vexed question. While many retirement communities do not specify pet types or sizes, others only allow “small” dogs.
Dr Young says this may not be the best approach.
“Some of those huge dogs are couch potatoes, who want to sloth around the house, while a small energetic terrier may be worse off in these environments,” Ms Young said.
She says retirement community pet management should not focus on “arbitrary and simple solutions” and what’s more, should also focus on what is best for the pet itself.
One NSW Central Coast retirement village last year helpfully developed a new volunteer program which, among other things, helps to support pet ownership among the village’s 450 residents.
Retire Australia’s Glengara Retirement Village on the NSW Central Coast has a team of 20 volunteers as part of its Good Neighbour Program. These volunteers arrange care for pets when their owners are unwell.
Where can I find a pet-friendly community?
The good news is that, if you want to find and research pet-friendly retirement communities, you’ve come to the right spot.
During 2019, our website supported around 26,000 consumer searches for pet-friendly communities.
In addition, over the course of the year, a total of 4,653 pet-friendly properties were listed on the website.
To find a pet-friendly property, follow these three simple steps:
Click this link, which provides a list of all pet-friendly properties across Australia
Enter your preferred suburb at the top of the page, and then press Search, to narrow the search results
Lodge an email inquiry with your preferred community, asking them about their pet policy.