HABRI Creates First Pet-Friendly Handbook for Senior Centers

June 21, 2018
Kerry Lengyel

Human-animal interaction can help promote healthy aging, which is one of the reasons behind a new handbook for senior centers across the nation.

Animal-assisted therapy has been shown to be beneficial across the board—therapeutic effects have been documented in nursing homes, intensive care units at hospitals, and even among pediatric cancer patients. But the list doesn’t stop there.

Senior centers across the nation have also taken advantage of the positive effect the human-animal bond has on healthy aging.

To help senior centers looking to develop or expand their animal programming, the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) has teamed up with the National Council on Aging (NCOA)’s National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC) to develop a new pet-friendly handbook.

Older Adults and Animal Programming illustrates the scientific research behind human-animal interactions in senior centers and paves the way for program expansion.

NISC Survey Results

The handbook details a 2017 study conducted by the NISC in which they surveyed their member senior centers to gather information on current animal programming. The NISC received 113 responses—28% of which actually had a current therapy animal program in place. Of those with therapy animal programs, significant positive health benefits for members were reported, such as:

  • Improved social interaction (71%)
  • Improved mental health (48%)
  • Increased physical activity (38%)

Even so, more than half of the survey respondents (56%) had no pet policy in place whatsoever, showing the need for a handbook such as this.

“Only 32% of the senior centers that responded to the survey reported having pet policies in place,” NISC Program Manager Maureen O’Leary said. “So, we feel the handbook is a timely and important opportunity to have conversations about the added value that pet programming can provide to the lives of seniors and staff alike.”


  • How Companion Animals Support the Mentally Ill
  • The Health Benefits of Animal Companionship

Most survey respondents (65%) said they would be open to adding animal programming in the future, with 40% expressing that model policies from the NISC would encourage them to do so.

Guidelines, Standards, and Resources

Besides showing how animal-assisted programs are both needed and wanted throughout senior centers, the new handbook provides examples of various programs and how they are being run.

For example, the handbook describes the pet policy at the Redmond Senior Center in Washington, which maintains a dog-friendly environment. It lists the center’s guidelines for dogs, including that they must be on a leash or physically confined at all times and have all their appropriate vaccinations.

Other guidelines and procedures—such as how to identify service animals or handle any risks associated with pets in senior centers—are also provided in the handbook to give senior centers without programs a starting point to launch their own.

“With this handbook and through our strategic partnership with NCOA and NISC,” HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman said, “we can increase opportunities for seniors to experience the healing power of the human-animal bond.”