Playing catch with Fido. Stoking Fluffy as she sits in your lap. Feeding Tweety as he swings on his swing. There are simple pleasures to be had by caring for a pet. But did you also know owning a pet can be good for your health?
Pets can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase social interaction and encourage physical activity. They can also provide a source of comfort and companionship. Pets also help alleviate symptoms of depression and feelings of loneliness. Psychologist Penny Donnenfeld has also studied pets’ abilities to promote better memory recall in elder pet owners. As she explains, “I’ve seen those with memory loss interact with an animal and regain access to memories from long ago. Having a pet helps seniors focus on something other than their physical problems and negative preoccupations about loss or aging.”
October is the National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. And while this may be a perfect time to add to your family, there are some considerations to address before running out to adopt Rover.
- Does your current living situation allow for the addition of a pet? Many senior communities allow animals up to a certain size and, in fact, encourage pet ownership. Ask your community director for information.
- Adopting a pet is going to be life-changing. Pets tend to affect every aspect of a person’s daily routine. Are you a ‘I’m up for the challenge’ type person or do you live and breathe via your set daily routines. Consider how you will incorporate a pet into your daily life.
- Experience breeds success. Having owned a pet before makes it easier to anticipate what life will be like with a new pet in your world. If you have never owned a pet though, adopting a new one can still be a rewarding experience though you may want to consider adopting an adult animal rather than a puppy or a kitten.
- If you have physical or functional limitations, have you considered how these limitations will affect your ability to care for your pet? While dogs are great at encouraging us to remain active (e.g. taking them for a walk each day), if mobility is an issue, perhaps an indoor cat or a bird would be a better choice.
- Owning a pet involves a financial commitment. Dogs, for instance, cost about $900 per year in food, medical care, toys and grooming. And a dog will likely live 12-18 years. Are you prepared for that long of a commitment?
- Do you have a contingency/backup plan if you become unable to care for your pet? If you had to go to the hospital or had a serious medical event, who would care for your pet?
Finding a pet for a senior to adopt is easy. While breeders are a good source if you want a specific type or breed of dog, adopting from a shelter is often less expensive. In fact, most shelters offer significantly reduced fees for older pets and older adopters. There are online pet adoption sites (e.g., www.petfinder.com) which allows you to search for your perfect pet in a database of approximately 250,000 adoptable animals across the nation. It is, however, strongly recommended that you meet your new pet prior to the adoption. Visiting your local shelter and talking to the staff there will give you a better insight into the animal’s personality, helping you make the right decision.