Supporting seniors to keep their companions

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Isolation and loneliness are among the most difficult challenges facing senior-aged people. Even more difficult can be losing a beloved companion animal and thinking you’re too old to have another.


Isolation and loneliness are among the most difficult challenges facing senior-aged people. Even more difficult can be losing a beloved companion animal and thinking you’re too old to have another.

AWLQ’s Golden Hearts™ Seniors’ Pet Support Program supports senior-aged people through every step of pet ownership. It provides a pet-matching service to help seniors find an animal suited to their situation, short-term emergency foster care of pets whose owners have to go to hospital, and financial support, with a 50% discount on annual vaccinations through AWLQ’s Community Veterinary Clinics and discounted grooming and other services for their pets. This provides comfort to older pet owners knowing that no matter what happens to them, their pet will be looked after and cared for.

A wonderful example of the importance of such a program is the experience of Christina who is 82 years of age. For the last sixty years Christina and her husband had dogs, usually two, as part of the family.  The last two, Anzac and Aussie, lived with them for 16 years. When the day came to part with each of them, about a year apart, the grief had a shocking effect. Christina’s husband was very sad, but would not talk about it. Christina, on the other hand, became ill and very depressed.

Christina felt she would not cope with another dog, with puppy training etc. It was then, she says, the wonderful Golden Hearts™ program came to their rescue. She explained what kind of dog they would like and after about two months a suitable dog was found. Christina and her husband were contacted and they drove immediately to the AWLQ Animal Rehoming Centre to meet the chosen dog.

Christina explains:

“From a distance, I could see this cute, small white fluffy dog rushing around in the enclosure. I knew straight away that this was the dog for us. Her name was Bella. After spending just one day with Bella in our home, I was back to my normal self. Having a dog again was the right treatment for me. My husband tells everyone about this transformation.

Image of Christina and Bella

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE: Christina and Bella

“Bella’s beautiful eyes, her constant wagging tail, her unconditional love made me so happy that my blood pressure was back to normal. I needed no more antidepressant medication and I did not argue with my husband, because Bella is a very good listener.”

Christina laughingly jokes to young single people: “Don’t get married; get a dog!”

Although AWLQ and the other member organisations of ACAN encourage and support aged care facilities to allow residents to keep their pets, where this is not possible, and a senior must move into a facility which does not allow pets, the Golden Hearts™ program also supports and finds new loving homes for their animals.

Golden Hearts™ has annual social events where members can enjoy the company of like-minded people. At these events members have been delighted to have the company of Ita Buttrose AO OBE, who is Ambassador of the Golden Hearts™ Program.

Image of Ita Buttrose


The program, currently offered in South-East Queensland, is free to join, and open to everyone aged 65 and over.

Call (07) 5509 9033 or email

To read more about the Golden HeartsTM program or view a few short stories from members of the program, click HERE.


Jacquie Kennedy is the Relationships Manager and Golden Hearts™ Program Director at Animal Welfare League Qld.

Dr Joy Verrinder is the Strategic Director, Animal Welfare League Qld. 

Founded in 1959 in Gold Coast City, Animal Welfare League Queensland (AWLQ) cares for 12,000 stray and abandoned animals per year in South-East Queensland. It has achieved zero euthanasia of all healthy, sociable and treatable animals in care in Gold Coast City, a city of over half a million people (  Based on this success, AWLQ runs Getting to Zero (G2Z), a national program providing consulting, mentorship and support to local and state governments, community groups and not-for-profit organisations involved in companion animal management and sheltering (  AWLQ also initiated and manages the National Desexing Network (NDN), which links people around Australia in need of support to desex their pets with low-cost desexing, through a network of supportive veterinarians and councils (

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