Dr. Briana Mirchel, Founder of Paws4Elders, Discusses The Benefits of Pets in Elderly Care
by Tombot Robotics
Hello! I'm Tom Stevens. Welcome to the Tombot Fireside Chat series. Fireside chats are educational interviews with experts from the fields of health, technology, and pets.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Paws4Elders Founder, Dr. Briana Mirchel.
More About Paws4Elders
Relationships between seniors and pets have long been Dr. Mirchel’s passion as a veterinarian. As a response to conversations with seniors that exposed gaps in care, she developed Paws4Elders. Some organizations would provide pet food, and some offered pet-walking, but there was no one organization that covered it all. That's why Dr. Mirchel created Paws4Elders.
Benefits Derived Through the Human-Animal Bond
Dr. Mirchel notes that pets provide a range of mental and physical health benefits. Studies have shown that petting animals, or just being around them can reduce stress and raise levels of oxytocin (the “feel-good” hormone).
Seniors who own pets tend to have daily routines. They exercise more, get out in the community, enjoy more positive interactions with others, and talk about their pets. Owning pets brings joy and reduces loneliness.
Researchers have also looked at the cardiovascular benefits of pet interaction. Blood pressure is lowered, and blood sugar is reduced. These individuals tend to have better heart function dynamics in general.
Related Article: Animals are Good for Your Mental Health!
How Briana Became Interested in Working With Shelter Animals
Dr. Mirchel feels that working with shelter animals is challenging because you're dealing with animals of unknown origin. You don’t know how or why they’ve come to the shelter, but your goal is to try to get them out. It’s particularly rewarding to see the process all the way through: from the animal’s arrival at the shelter, to treatment, fostering, and finally to a successful adoption. Rehabilitating an animal to the point where it can be placed in a permanent home is an extraordinary accomplishment.
Do Animals in Poor Health Have Their Issues Disclosed, or Are They Withheld From Adoption?
If the health condition is infectious, they cannot be adopted (at least, not yet). Certain animal diseases can be passed to humans - referred to as “zoonotic.” That's always a concern. And certain diseases are infectious to other animals, so we must protect the other shelter animals. Other diseases - such as diabetes - are not infectious. Dogs can get diabetes just like people, and these dogs can be adopted to humans who are able and willing to manage their treatment.
How Does Shelter Medicine Differ From Traditional Veterinary Medicine?
Briana notes that shelter and traditional veterinary medicine differ in approach. In shelter medicine, you're dealing with a lot more “herd medicine” - or population health. You're trying to manage a whole population rather than focusing on an individual animal. While doing this you have limited resources, and the overall health of the population matters more than one singular animal.
Do Seniors Face Special Challenges in Adopting Rescue Animals?
Senior adoption poses unique challenges. One is seniors’ mobility and limitations. Maybe a large breed, or a very active dog would not be ideal for every senior. Puppies and kittens are a lot of fun, but they can be rambunctious and destructive. Sometimes seniors are on certain medications or have conditions where they have thin skin or they're on blood thinners, and kittens and puppies are more likely to scratch and bite. That's definitely a consideration.
Seniors also have to evaluate the situation in the home environment. Is this going to be a tripping hazard? Is it going to be a physical problem? How is the senior able to get around? Can they get vet care if they need it? Do they have the resources to get vet care?
Even animals that appear healthy can sometimes develop medical conditions. Are they prepared for that kind of expense, and what do they do if they're not?
How Tombot and Jennie Fits Into Briana’s Suite of Services for Seniors
Dr. Mirchel had a personal experience with her own grandma, who started to lose her memory. Briana gave her grandma a shelter dog that was found as a stray - little Sushi - that her grandma absolutely adored.
Unfortunately, Briana’s grandmother started experiencing memory loss, and they were faced with a major decision. Her grandma loved Sushi, and Sushi was a big part of her life, but this was not a sustainable setup. Fortunately, Briana’s grandma was able to have a family move in with her and care for Sushi. But that's not a possibility for everyone.
Having that bond and closeness with an animal does bring a lot of comfort. And in many situations, it's just not safe or practical, or people can't take on the expense. Animals - especially as people get a little bit older - can be prohibitively expensive to keep. A lot of seniors are on a limited income. An alternative like Jennie can really fill that gap for many of those seniors.
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We want to thank Dr. Briana Mirchel for her participation in our fireside chat, and bringing her expertise and insight.
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