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Where Pets Are Family

When Muriel Shepherd sits in the lobby at The Briton House in Toronto, people stop to talk.Not only is the 105-year-old resident a delight to converse with, but she has a buddy who attracts attention - her dog, Misty.

The snow-white dog moved into The Briton House - a Toronto retirement and assisted-living residence - with Shepherd and sleeps in her room. Still mobile at 105, Shepherd walks to the dining room for her meals with just the aid of a cane. When Misty needs longer walks, staff members are happy to oblige.

May Parry, social supervisor at The Briton House, says it's important for residents to be able to choose to have a pet. "A pet is something familiar, part of home life and really part of your family," she says.

Still, there are limits to the pet-welcome policy. Size is a factor, for example. Misty, whom Parry says looks "like a Maltese, only bigger," already has company at The Briton House.

A dog accompanies a young woman who comes to visit her grandmother every day. And a newcomer has arranged to bring her dog to live with her.

Meanwhile, at the Grenadier Retirement Residence in Toronto, at least five dogs and 10 cats live with their owners. "These are their family," says Jane Jones, community relations manager. "Why should they move in and have to give them up? It isn't fair."

Permitting birds, cats and small dogs to live with owners is a "long-standing policy" at the Grenadier, says Jones. Residents must be able to look after their pets themselves or hire someone to do so since pet care isn't the job of the staff.

Not only the pet owners benefit. So do other residents, who enjoy petting the animals and helping their owners take them for walks. "It makes the place more homey," says Jones.

While pets in residence might still be a novelty at retirement and long-term care homes, the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program brings well-behaved dogs into some locations to give seniors a chance to socialize with them. A volunteer owner brings a dog into a residence once a week, building a relationship with residents.

Learn more about the Grenadier in Toronto

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