We are excited to spotlight a great partnership that has been taking place each month to support the seniors of Bastrop County and encourage pet health and reduce senior isolation. The partnership is between Bastrop County Cares’ Older Wise Leaders (OWLs) Coalition, the Bastrop Animal Shelter, The Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, and the Petco Love Foundation. The OWLs want to ensure that all seniors have the ability to continue using their talents and treasures to improve the community, to decrease isolation, and to increase the ability to age in place.

Research has indicated that companion animals are highly effective at combatting issues of loneliness, a problem that affects 1 in 5 adults and nearly half of those ages 65 and older in the United States.

Because senior citizens in rural communities often face additional barriers that limit social interaction and community participation, the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) launched a program in January that attempted to ease some of the financial and access burdens associated with caring for the pets who often fill these roles for their elderly owners.

Petco Love awarded the Texas A&M CVMBS with a $91,000 grant investment that has enabled CVMBS clinicians, technicians, and students in the Small Animal Teaching Hospital’s (SATH) Primary Care Services (PCS) to expand the care offered to Bastrop County pets owned by seniors. 

“Our program examines how the environment of seniors 65 and older, and their pets, who are aging in place in their homes, affects their mental health and what improvements can be made,” said Dr. Lori Teller, clinical associate professor in the CVMBS’ Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS) department. “This is the largest growing population within the county and innovative tools to maintain the health of this generation are paramount to reducing the disease burden on both individuals and the healthcare system.

“Numerous health benefits are reaped from having a pet, including lower blood pressure, decreased stress, improved cognitive function, and more,” she said. “However, older adults face major barriers to caring for pets, such as financial constraints, ease of access to care, and assistance in caring for the animal.”

With the Petco Love grant, the CVMBS has provided regular visits to senior citizens in the Bastrop County area to help their pets, during which PCS students, under the supervision of the veterinary faculty and staff, have performed physical exams, given vaccinations, tested for internal and external parasites, and treated minor or acute conditions, such as skin and ear infections, as well as discuss behavioral and nutritional concerns. They have also provided heartworm, flea, and tick prevention. 

“Research has shown that many humans and animals in rural areas go without quality healthcare due to lack of access,” Teller said. “Animals play an important role in positively impacting the physical and emotional health and well-being of humans. As a result, poor animal health can increase stress and negatively impact human health.

“Populations and issues addressed through this program will work to improve health equity in a rural, underserved area,” Teller said. “Addressing these barriers and providing care to the pets relied on by these older adults will strengthen the human-animal bond and increase the associated health benefits to all.”

The program is part of a larger initiative by Texas A&M and Bastrop County community organizations that provide medical care to address the health and well-being of humans and animals through improved access to care.

“Studying the intersectionality between mental health and the human-animal bond through an interdisciplinary approach aimed at addressing social isolation will provide the means to offer holistic care to an increasingly aging population with an increasing disease burden,” Teller said. “The innovation driving this community-based program has the potential to grow and develop into standardized best practices for senior care and their pets across all rural communities.”

Petco Love is a nonprofit leading change for pets nationally by harnessing the power of love to make communities and pet families closer, stronger, and healthier. Since its founding in 1999 as the Petco Foundation, Petco Love has invested more than $300 million, to date, in adoption and other lifesaving efforts. The organization also has helped find loving homes for more than 6.5 million pets in partnership with Petco and more than 4,000 organizations nationwide. 

Bastrop County Cares brings people together to collaborate around large community challenges that no one organization can solve on its own, to improve where our neighbors live, work, learn, pray and play. The work of each coalition falls within the Social Determinants of Health: healthcare access and quality, education access and quality, social and community context, economic stability, neighborhood, and built environment. 

Regardless of which focus within the social determinants of health a coalition focuses on, their work is ultimately trying to make Bastrop County a better place to live, work, play, pray and learn. In each of the features from Bastrop County Cares, you’ll see that focus on community