Lifestyle

1/25/2023 | By Donna Brody

While getting a pet can seem like a wonderful way to provide companionship for an older adults, seniors and pets aren’t always a perfect pairing. Dog-loving Seniors Guide writer Donna Brody tells why she and her husband decided not to get a dog.

I begin with a sad story with a happy ending.

A person acquired a dog for a relative who was in her 90s. After a few days, it was obvious the woman could not care for the new pet. So, the giver posted online to find the dog a new home. Another woman in her 60s (with serious health issues) saw the post and asked her daughter and son-in-law to take the little Scottish terrier. They said no, and, against her family’s advice, the second woman took the dog into her own home. Its care quickly proved too much for her as well, and she once again pleaded with her daughter and son-in-law to take the dog. That’s how my son and his family ended up with their new family pet, Cocoa.

My son and his wife love dogs and had planned to adopt one in the future for their family of four. Fortunately for all involved, Cocoa turned out to be a well-behaved, easily trainable furry friend. I jokingly told my son she’s always on her best behavior because she’s afraid she’ll be sent away again.

A black Scottish terrier named Cocoa
Cocoa

This story could have had a very different ending.

In many cases seniors and pets do make a perfect pairing. Furry and feathered friends can be a wonderful source of companionship and love for older adults. Taking a dog on one or several walks a day is good way for a senior to get some needed exercise. Exercise is linked to good physical and mental health in so many ways. If this means going to a dog park, even better, because it also provides an opportunity to socialize with other pet owners.

Cats and birds don’t need walks, but having one in the house can be a blessing for someone who is otherwise isolated and living alone. I remember my grandparents in their later years having two talking parakeets named Clara and Ed (named after themselves). The birds kept it from being too quiet in their apartment and gave them a shared interest. They later kept my grandmother company after my grandfather passed away.

All pets come with responsibilities, though, and sometimes those responsibilities are too much for the owner. The pet is the one who suffers.

This may be the case with many seniors and pets. In deciding whether to bring a pet into a senior’s home, consider:

Cost

Food, veterinary visits, shots, and other medications must fit into the older adult’s monthly budget. Medical costs will likely rise as the pet and the owner age together. Although adopting a “senior” pet from a shelter might seem like a good idea, these pets come with their own medical issues that sometimes require medications and treatments. On top of that, the older adult must have a way to take the animal to the vet or find another person who will.

The future for seniors and pets

Another consideration for seniors and pets is making plans after the owner or owners are gone. About 10% of dogs and cats that end up in shelters do so because of their owner’s passing. Is there a friend or family member who would be willing to care for the animal if it outlives you? Leaving money in a trust for the animal, with specific instructions, is one way to address this.

Not everyone will be able to spend their entire life independently in their own home. If assisted living or skilled nursing care becomes necessary, will the resident be able to take the pet to their new home? Although more and more assisted living facilities are moving in the direction of allowing small pets, not all do. It is important to plan for that circumstance ahead of time.

My solution

Writer Donna Brody with her "granddog," Molly. Image from Donna Brody.
Writer Donna Brody with ‘granddog’ Molly

When my husband and I retired and settled in a coastal community, we talked about whether or not a pet would fit with our new lifestyle. We decided it would not. We love to travel and we take several trips each year, whether it’s for a weekend in the mountains or a longer visit to a new city or state. We also have two of our sons, their wives, and five grandchildren who live many hours away. This means either long car trips or plane tickets in order to visit.

If we had a dog or cat, we would not be able to enjoy the freedom we have now. Pet sitters and dog walkers who come to your home can be expensive, and even the best dog and cat “hotels” can negatively affect the animal’s behavior, never mind the cost.

Will one or both of us change our mind about pet ownership in the future? Maybe.

We are definitely dog lovers and are more than happy to spend time with our three “granddogs” that our children acquired during the pandemic. The dogs are welcome to come with our grandchildren on extended visits, and we don’t mind the sloppy kisses, spilled water, and dog hair on our clothes whether at our home or theirs. But, for now, we’ll settle for being doggie grandparents instead of pet owners.

Donna Brody

Donna Brody is a former community college English instructor who retired to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She enjoys freelance writing and has self published three romance novels. Besides writing and traveling with her husband, she keeps busy visiting her seven grandchildren.