Contemporary Considerations for Aging Together with Companion Animals: The Growing Interest in the Strength of the Human-Animal Bond

Published: Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Margherita was awarded a Gilbrea Travel Award to facilitate her travel to the Canadian Association on Gerontology 2019 conference – 'Navigating the Tides of Aging Together' - held in Moncton, NB (October 24-26, 2019).

Written by: Margherita Duesbury

I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to attend CAG 2019, be amongst such like-minded individuals and experience some of the most amazing pieces of research that continue to shape our communities. The CAG 48th Annual Scientific and Educational conference was held in Moncton New Brunswick, introducing not only a beautiful city but many wonderful hidden gems. Researchers, writers, and scholars from various disciplines presented diverse approaches to the research on aging. In attending this conference, I was both challenged and encouraged to think critically about the meanings and approaches to studying aging. Within the conference, several presentations uncovered the different perspectives on aging and expanded into diverse areas of interest.

At the CAG conference, an interesting topic brought about by the symposium for “Contemporary considerations for aging together with companion animals” would be the idea of the human-animal bond and aging individuals. This panel encompassed presentations from a variety of perspectives including research from both the health sciences and social sciences. As a scholar interested in the complex intersection between aging and animals, this panel was particularly interesting as it gave a global perspective to the different areas of research on this topic.

In this session, several topics were discussed on aging and animals. One area of research presented in this symposium that I found interesting was animals and natural disasters. As discussed in Cheryl Travers et al.’s presentation entitled “People and pets go together: The shared experience of older pet owners and frontline responders in natural disasters of the Blue mountains, New South Wales, Australia”, older pet owners and animals share a deep connection. In terms of this bond, Cheryl Travers notes that as the frequency of natural disasters increases, emergency services face challenges in adapting to include pets as a form of family member. Brought to the forefront during this presentation is the difficulty of evacuating older pet owners that are unable to bring their pets to safety using emergency services. Particularly during the 2013 Blue Mountain firestorms, it was found that older pet owners would place themselves at risk of injury or death to ensure that they could ‘be there’ for their pets. Moving forward, this presentation highlights the need to create a shift in the emergency services to include pets as family members and to enhance emergency services to enhance strategies for disasters preparedness.

Perhaps one of the most interesting portions of this session was the strength of the bond between older persons and animals. Throughout the presentations, there were countless ways in which aging persons found animals to provide meaning to their lives and hold importance. Just as the presentation on animals and natural disasters demonstrates pets as family members, many of the other presentations also touch on animals as imperative to aging, wellness and healthcare. As most of the presentations in this symposium suggested, the need to move forward on studying the human-animal bond and interactions is necessary. As the aging population continues to increase, the experiences of those aging with pets is a rising area of interest. Even in retirement homes, both living animals and robotic animals have become a major field of research that continues to move forward.

I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to attend CAG 2019, and I would like to thank the Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging at McMaster University for supporting my attendance.