When Scarsdale psychologist Harris Stratyner, PhD, is counseling his patients, he rarely leaves his beloved English bulldog, Gertrude, at home. “She sees patients with me,” says Stratyner. “Many of my patients will even talk to me through Gertrude, because they feel her unconditional positive regard.” Stratyner says that unconditional positive regard is a concept created by psychologist Carl Rodgers that describes the nonjudgmental, unconditional love a pet provides.
“They don’t judge,” Stratyner explains. “They just love us no matter what.” This unconditional love is the reason pets can help provide solace and stave off loneliness and depression, particularly among older adults who are dealing with loss. “When you start to see people go through life changes—when a spouse becomes seriously ill or dies—pets can heal a broken heart, providing this unconditional positive regard.”
Dana Rocco, shelter manager at the Humane Society of Westchester in New Rochelle, knows well that pets can provide solace for lonely seniors. That’s what sparked the idea behind Rocco’s Silver Whiskers adoption program, in which senior pets are being matched up with senior citizens. (As part of the program, the shelter pays future medical expenses, so pricey vet bills don’t become a deterrent to adopting an older pet). “It’s wonderful when a retiree comes in needing companionship and love and we are able to make this match,” says Rocco. “We recently matched a dog named Caesar with his owner, Elvina. Now, they are together 24/7. Elvina told me she feels like Caesar just understands her.”