Kavan pointed me to this extraordinary example of ageism…
Stanley Coren recounts an e-mail which he found to be quite disturbing. The writer had recently heard him give a talk to the Canadian Association of Retired People in Toronto. In that presentation he had spoke about the benefits of pet ownership, with specific emphasis on the psychological and physical benefits that dogs and cats provide for seniors.
So far so good, right???
The person writing to me had apparently described the contents of my talk to several of his associates and this resulted in two of the board members of a local animal shelter seeking his advice about a current controversy. According to him, the board is divided on the issue of whether seniors should or should not be allowed to buy kittens, puppies, cats or dogs from them. One side says that the elderly should not be allowed to adopt pets from the shelter in view of the fact that if the human dies before them these pets will be orphaned. The other side suggests that this is age discrimination. The writer of the e-mail wanted to know what my opinion was on this matter.
Should we care what Dr. Stanley Coren thinks about this?
Yes we should, check this out…
Later in his career, Coren shifted to the study of canine behavior and the relationship that people have with their dogs. This shift away from neuropsychological research also marked a shift in his publishing strategy, away from single study publications in research journals, to publication of his new data as part of material presented in book form.
Many of his books on dogs do contain hithertofore unpublished empirical data. For example his book “The Intelligence of Dogs” is based on a survey sent to all of the dog obedience judges in the United States and Canada, and resulted in the ranking of 110 dog breeds by intelligence. This ranking caused a rather large media stir. His book “Why we love the dogs we do” looks at the personality of people and how the owner’s personality predicts their relationship with various dog breeds. It is based on a survey of more than 6000 people who took a personality test and reported on their experiences with the various dogs that they have owned. This book proved to be very popular and Coren’s personality test is now used by some dog shelters to determine whether prosepective owners are suitable for a particular breed of dog.
Similarly, his book “Why does my dog act that way?” uses data from approximately a thousand dogs to determine features of the personality of various dog breeds. However other books that he has written on dog behavior have provided less formal data presentation and in these his creative contribution is based on the organization and interpretation of the research of others, as is the case in “How to speak dog”. These books have also been well accepted and have been proven to be very popular. Overall, it is probably true that for scientific audiences Coren is best known for his neuropsychological contributions while for the general public he is best known for his writing and research concerning dogs, dog behavior, and the relationship between dogs and people.
I must admit that the information suggesting that an animal shelter would deny the elderly the companionship of pets was quite disturbing. The scientific evidence on the psychological value of pets is unambiguous. Elderly individuals, who otherwise would be socially isolated, are less than one quarter as likely to develop clinical levels of depression if they are living with a pet. Most of the work has been done with dogs as the pets, however the indications are that living with a cat is also helpful, although to a somewhat lesser extent. The evidence suggests that the very existence of a pet in the senior’s life seems to be a means of reducing social isolation, not only due to the companionship of the pet, but because other people in the community are more likely to approach and socially interact with a person who is seen in the company of a dog.
The Eden Alternative is also provides support for the value of animal companionship in the lives of elders.