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Helping Seniors Get Their PAWS On Pets At The Bristal

With the passage of time and the loss of friends and loved ones, the life of a senior can be lonely. Add a furry, four-legged companion, and the twilight years can be amongst the brightest.

At the Bristal Assisted Living Facility in Massapequa, residents are allowed to keep and care for companion animals. This enhances the quality of their lives, according to Janine Valentiner, director of business development.

“The Bristal feels strongly about the importance of animals and pets in the lives of seniors. That’s why we allow residents to move their pets in with them,” said Valentiner. “For those residents, there has definitely been a social improvement, making this feel more like home, especially if they’ve lost a spouse—that pet is their immediate family.”

Valentiner said that for seniors, the benefits of pets are clear, and are strongly tied to keeping their lives full and happy. It’s not just an emotional bond, but it also gives seniors a sense of purpose,” she said. “They get up every morning and they know that they have to feed their pet, or play with it, and there’s that connection. Plus, I think that many of our residents share their pets with others, which is also beneficial to the community.”

Bristal resident Beatrice Clancy, now 80, was born and raised in Virginia, but moved to New York to get married and start a family. “I came here one week before I turned 18, so I’ve been here a long time,” she said. “I got married and lived in Astoria. When my husband passed away about a year ago, I moved out here to the Bristal in Massapequa.”

Lonely after the passing of her husband, Clancy acquired a fuzzy new friend for companionship, an affectionate and tubby cat she named Joshua Taylor. The two have been inseparable ever since.

“He’s like my husband,” she said. “He sleeps in my bed, sits on my lap, and keeps me company. I don’t know what I’d do without him. When I was looking for a retirement home, I looked at a lot of places, and most of them wouldn’t take pets, but I couldn’t leave Joshua behind. If The Bristal didn’t accept pets, I couldn’t have moved here, so I‘m so happy that they do.”

Due to health or age-related issues, some seniors have difficulty finding or caring for a companion animal. That’s where the Pioneers for Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) steps in.

The Long Island-based PAWS has been around for over 35 years. The nonprofit, volunteer-based animal welfare organization provides a host of services to pet owners, such as human-pet education programs, spaying and neutering, pet food distribution, and financial assistance for veterinary care.

According to executive director Melissa Gillespie, a big focus of PAWS is their Seniors With Animals Project (SWAP), which was successfully implemented at The Bristal about a year ago.

“We do whatever we can to promote, help, and maintain the senior-animal bond and relationship, both at The Bristal and in the community,” she said. “We can match up a senior with a pet, and we’ll help them with getting pet food, we’ll come in and change their litter, take their pet for walks, help with veterinary services, and we can even sit a pet if a senior needs to go to the hospital for an extended stay. We help with anything they need, and we do it all at no charge.”

To help support the positive work the nonprofit does for their residents, The Bristal, in partnership with homecare provider Caring People, Inc., held their second annual SWAP fundraiser on June 13 at their Massapequa location.

“We’ve had this relationship for over a year now, and we’re very excited about having this second annual fundraising event,” Valentiner said. “It’s a perfect connection, because we allow our residents to have pets, and if they ever need the supportive services of PAWS, it makes perfect sense for us to have this wonderful relationship.”

For an organization like PAWS, where every cent counts, the help of The Bristal in maintaining the level of care they offer pet owners is vital. “The Bristal is a godsend,” according to Gillespie. “For a group like us, where everything we do is based on donations, the fact that they’re holding this fundraiser for us is incredible.”

For more information about any of The Bristal’s seven Long Island communities, go to www.thebristal.com. For more information about PAWS, go to www.paws-li.org.