October 27, 2016

Brightening the Lives of Seniors

A Brightening Lives volunteer dog visits a seniors’ residence.

I write a lot about children and animals, mainly because I believe the OHS’s work with young people is key to ending animal suffering in the long term. Of course, not all of our “people and animals” work is with children. In fact, one of our long standing programs brings animals together with seniors and other individuals living in care settings with no access to the comfort a pet can provide. The history of the OHS, Helping Hands: The First 125 Years recounts the story of the birth of the program now known as Brightening Lives:

On a grey November afternoon in 1980, Insp. Robert Cleaver and two other Ottawa Humane Society staff members visited the New Orchard Nursing Home. They brought along three puppies and three kittens to meet the 30-odd seniors in the home. The visit was a hit, featured in the Citizen with a front-page colour photo, and marked the start of the society’s very successful Companion Animals Program. 

This was the first Canadian initiative to bring pet visitors into seniors’ residences and hospitals, and similar programs have since been introduced in other cities. In addition to the playful company they provide, animals have proved to be of therapeutic value to withdrawn, bed-ridden or lonely individuals of all ages. 

Speaking on behalf of the humane society at a symposium in 1982, (then Executive Director) Ken Switzer commented on the visits to seniors’ homes: “After talking to some of these people, when tearful recollections are made of long departed pets, it is not surprising they would want to have another just for the pure joy of having something to hold and love. We have heard of cases where people who were previously uncommunicative and barely leaving their rooms have come out eagerly when they know that the animals are there.” 

In 1982, the program was the subject of a film produced by a Toronto company that was circulated in Canada and abroad. In 2005, in honour of its 25th anniversary, and to enhance the public’s awareness and understanding of the program, it was renamed, Brightening Lives.

Today, the number of facilities visited regularly has increased to 76, with the number of annual visits totaling almost 600. The program is one of several at the OHS, including our Cats for Seniors adoption program, our Senior’s Days open houses, and mobile spay/neuter program that help bring seniors the joy and comfort of animals, and of course, animals the joy and comfort of seniors.

Bruce Roney
Executive Director