Residents of senior retirement homes who have pets live longer than residents who don’t, said Andrea Graham, executive director of Arbor Court Retirement Community in Topeka.
God has his hand in the relationship between senior residents and their pets, said Graham, who also is administrator of Arbor Court facilities in Salina and Lawrence.
“They have to have a purpose,” she said, explaining how residents make sure their pet gets fed, watered and cared for.
“Owning a pet gives them something to think about other than themselves and their woes,” added Linda Clements, director of business development at the Arbor Court independent living community at 4200 S.W. Drury Lane.
Dee Tappan, a 75-year-old resident at Thornton Place, an independent living home at 2901 S.W. Armstrong Ave., said she’s always had a pet.
“A house is not a home without an animal,” Tappan said while holding Kiki Two.
Kiki Two is a polydactyl cat, also known as a Hemingway cat, which has extra toes, usually on the front feet. A regular cat has five toes on each front foot and four on each back foot. Kiki Two is a gray domestic tabby with six toes on each front foot and five or six on each back foot.
The name “Hemingway cat” refers to author Ernest Hemingway, who collected polydactyl cats. His cats’ offspring survive at the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum in Key West, Fla.
“She sleeps on the bed next to me,” Tappan said of her furry pet.
Vic Vickers, a 95-year-old Thornton Place resident, was 10 years old when he got his first dog — a fox terrier named Troubles — from his grandfather. Vickers now has a 3-year-old female dachshund simply named “Dog,” which he got about six months ago. Earlier, he had a male dachshund for 12 years.
“Dogs have been a big part of my life,” Vickers said. “They’ve always been very important to me.”
Dog sleeps in a recliner next to Vickers’ recliner. Three or four times a day, Vickers, who rides in a power scooter, takes Dog outside. His neighbors also enjoy petting her.
Kiki Two and Dog were adopted from the Helping Hands Humane Society, which sometimes brings puppies to the facility for residents to enjoy, said Todd Halvorson, Thornton Place assistant general manager.
At Thornton Place, 15 or 16 people have pets, including a woman who soon will be obtaining a parakeet, Halvorson said. The pet owners sometimes gather to talk about their animals.
“I think it’s great,” Halvorson said.
At Arbor Court, Graham said, the close relationship between pet and owner cuts both ways. She remembered a 102-year-old resident, who became ill and had to be hospitalized, and how the staff cared for the woman’s two cats. The cats became ill while their owner was away.
“I think the animals become connected with the owner,” Graham said.
Graham recalled how she had a tiny puppy she doubted would survive, and how an 84-year-old reclusive resident would hand-feed the Maltese-Yorkie mix, named Macie.
“She would rock the dog back and forth until she and the dog fell asleep,” Graham said.
When the woman eventually was unable to walk, Graham took Macie to visit the very ill woman. The dog crawled up next to her.
“You could see life come back to her eyes,” Graham said of the woman. “There was just a connection.”
There are limits on the type of pets that can live at Arbor Court, including dogs who bark too much and overly aggressive animals. Its pet policy says the dog or cat has to weigh 15 pounds or less, be vaccinated, stay in the owner’s apartment and be on a leash or in a carrier when outside the apartment.
Owners are responsible for the care of their animals, and the owner has to pay a one-time, non-refundable pet fee of $500.
Halvorson said Thornton Place has a monthly pet fee, but doesn’t have a size limit, citing a resident’s well-trained German shepherd.
Contact reporter Steve Fry at (785) 295-1206 or @TCJCourtsNCrime on Twitter.