Kevan Christie: Allowing pets in care homes could go badly wrong

Pets, like this Shih Tzu dog, can have beneficial effects on health and quality of life
Pets, like this Shih Tzu dog, can have beneficial effects on health and quality of life
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No doubt the sentiment behind Scottish Labour MSP Claudia Beamish’s proposal to grant people in care homes access to their pets was well-intentioned.

The story seemed to slip under the radar with little comment on what was already a slow news day.

In theory, it’s a nice idea and no-one can underestimate the bond that exists between most owners and their pets.

They can help stave off loneliness and help combat depression and anxiety in adults.

However, it has absolutely no bearing on reality at a time when the care sector is lurching from crisis to crisis, delayed discharge (bed blocking) in hospitals is through the roof, and the industry faces major problems trying to attract staff for what is often the minimum wage.

READ MORE: Let elderly Scots keep beloved pets in care homes, says Labour

Who knows, perhaps the carers would welcome the idea given that they earn less than dog walkers and may jump at the chance to possibly earn more money.

When we talk about pets here, we really mean dogs as it’s unlikely that someone’s Uncle Tommy will be allowed to bring their pet python into the home or a horse for that matter.

I can imagine the kindly souls who run private sector care homes would jump at the chance of a further earner to top up the thousands of pounds they already charge for looking after vulnerable people and feeding them top of the range corn beef salad.

And what could possibly go wrong if overnight 20 dogs arrived at a care home?

The Scottish Government issued a statement saying “decisions around keeping pets are for individual accommodation providers … we would encourage them to take a practical and considered approach that removes any potential for distress or difficulties”.

READ MORE: Leader comment: Pets belong in homes

With that in mind, perhaps the care home could enforce a strict ‘No barking after 10pm’ rule or put the pets through a rigorous interview process before final selection.

Only nice dogs should be allowed, not edgy ones like American pit bull terriers that might take a bite out of someone’s cockapoo. This would give the Care Inspectorate a further headache and more work to contend with in between highlighting issues of serious neglect, including people developing bedsores and a failure to “ensure the nutritional needs of residents were being met” as was the case in a recent report. A compromise could be the answer here and it might be worth care homes having one pet that all the residents could enjoy. A goldfish for instance.

Joking aside a single dog or cat would definitely bring happiness to a group of people struggling to cope with conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia, so I’m not entirely against the idea – but allowing everyone who has a pet to bring it along seems unworkable and a bit silly.

The staff have too much to work as it is doing what is often an impossible job for buttons, without having the additional burden of looking after animals.

So, sorry Claudia but your priorities are a bit skew-whiff here.

Scottish Labour and their health spokesperson Anas Sarwar are never slow to criticise the Scottish Government and hold them to account over perceived failings in the provision of care.

This pets idea is nothing more than a distraction that takes the emphasis away from the big issues around delayed discharge and how best to care for an ageing population.