Healthy interaction

Columbia retirement community supports four-legged residents, too
Monday, December 6, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:06 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

In September, Christine Gardner moved in to an independent retirement community on Bluff Creek Drive.

Along with several of her belongings, Gardner brought with her Ophelia, her cat and faithful companion of eight years.

TigerPlace is a retirement community with a twist. Developed in collaboration with Americare and MU, TigerPlace has introduced a Pet Initiative program, better known as TiPPI.

The program, which is affiliated with the MU Sinclair School of Nursing and the MU College of Veterinary, is based on studies that show the therapeutic benefits of human and animal interaction.

“Being allowed to bring my pet to TigerPlace is just wonderful,” Gardner said.

She was one of the first residents to move in with an animal.

Richard Meadows of the MU College of Veterinary Medicine is working with Rebecca Johnson of MU Sinclair School of Nursing on TiPPI as well as on the Pet-A-Pet study and the Walking for Healthy Hearts study. The aim of these studies is to show the benefits of animals to their owners and vice versa.

“The American public knows in its heart that pets are good for its health,” Meadows said. “We are here to show the science of that. TigerPlace is a fertile place to study human-animal interaction.”

Natalee Forward moved into TigerPlace almost a month ago. Forward’s cat, Jasper, which she inherited from her daughter, accompanied her.

“Jasper keeps me company,’’ Forward said. “I keep him in my apartment for most of the time.”

Although Forward had a difficult time adjusting to her pet, she likes the idea of having it around.

The MU Veterinary School has a fully equipped examination room and a dietary meal program set up at TigerPlace for residents’ pets.

“They have also made provisions for a pet psychologist,” said Chuck Servey, TigerPlace executive director.

TiPPI is one of the reasons Gardner chose to move into TigerPlace.

“It would have been very difficult to give up Ophelia,” Gardner said.”

Said Servey: “Seniors get very attached to their pets. A pet is faithful, and TiPPI works well following the principle of pets, not pills.”

With the aim to accommodate pets, TigerPlace has walking path, as well as easy outdoor access from every apartment. The animals are not allowed in the common seating areas such as the dining hall and living room, unless tethered.

While moving in, other residents are made aware of TigerPlace’s pet program and therefore do not seem averse to the idea of having animals around.

“I like pets. I don’t mind getting one of my own,” said Mary Siggia, one of the first residents of TigerPlace.

Mandy Crump, one of the staff members since June, sees the pet program as a good thing.

“The people who have pets seem to do a lot better socially and mentally,” she said.

TigerPlace also hosts the Bereavement Program. Based on this, if the owner were to die before the pet, efforts are made to find foster care for the pet at TigerPlace itself.

“As the animal has been around for a while, a bond is established between the other residents and the pet,” Meadows said, “That way there is a decreased level of stress on the animal.”

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