I frequently receive inquiries about the pros and cons of Seniors having pets. Ten years ago, my mother and I discussed this topic at length, which I wrote about in a 2010 column. Sadly, both she and our faithful dog, Bella, have passed on, but I thought this column might still benefit others grappling with this decision.
My mother has been widowed now for nearly a year and a half. Fortunately, she’s acquiring essential members of what we laughingly call her “support team.” She is comfortable with the caregiver we found for her last year. She has a good plumber now, and her furnace man seems to have taken a real shine to her.
She ventures out with her 92 year old friend and had taken to joining a neighbor for a walk around the neighborhood. Her life is moving forward, in spite of a cruel blow.
But there is a loneliness to her life that is very real. She has yet to try a senior center or class, both of which might expand her circle of friends. I’m not quite sure I fully understand her resistance to these activities but hey, it’s her life and it’s not for me to judge.
However, given her interest in our dog, I sometimes wish it were feasible for her to add a canine companion to her life. The woman loves our dog, often asking about “Bella’s” most recent antics right on the heels of finishing the grandchildren report! And when my mother visits, she is quite content when Bella puts her head in my Mom’s lap and soaks up the nonstop head scratching my mother will happily provide.
Pet companions for the elderly have both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, pets keep a senior engaged in life. Caring for an animal requires responsibility and gives the owner a sense of purpose. While walking a dog is necessary for the animal’s health, the activity also gets the owner out into the fresh air, perhaps interacting with neighbors. Pets also accept their owners unconditionally — there’s no criticism or pouting from our animal friends. (Hmmm … are cats the exception to that statement?) Simply petting an animal can lower blood pressure and lift a mood, while offering the owner a sense of security and reassurance.
Sadly, but quite realistically, pets are not the best idea for all seniors. For starters, there are the costs associated with responsible pet ownership. It just may be that a senior’s fix income can’t cover the expense of the animal. Given the senior’s physical capabilities, is he/she up to the demands of caring for a pet? Will walking a dog be possible? Will a quick, essentially silent cat, scurrying around the house create any dangers for an elderly owner? Is it possible for the owner to get the pet to and from the vet for necessary appointments? And who will take care of the pet should the senior become ill or disabled?
My mother and I have had the pet discussion. She is quite realistic when it comes to owning a dog, recognizing that she isn’t up to caring for one, in spite of how much a dear little mutt would bring to her life. However, I think we may have actually discovered a solution to this problem. She has been to the local Humane Society animal shelter and inquired about “visiting” some of the animals. She explained that there would be some limitations to what she could comfortably handle, noting that a 100 pound Rottweiler wouldn’t be a good fit! It sounds like they would be very happy for her to sit in a room and interact with different cats and kittens, dogs and puppies. They recognize that caged animals benefit from socialization and here’s someone willing and interested in providing it. Seems like a good solution for everyone involved!
Fortunately, this may work out just fine for my mother but do consider both pet and senior before bringing them together for a full time relationship.
It’s worth noting that my mother did not get a dog. She did however, become a regular visitor to the Humane Society. I think it was a nice solution for her — she got her “dog fix,” as she called it but she didn’t have the 24/7 responsibility of pet ownership.