Pets have so many positive qualities – having a pet lowers our blood pressure and cholesterol, improves our mood, increases our exercise, offers companionship, guards against loneliness and depression and improves our social lives and our work/life balance, making us rethink our priorities. If you also want to consider amping your social life (even during a pandemic) studies show dog owners are much more likely to know their neighbors – one said about 50% of dog owners made new friends as a result of their dog, since dogs are natural ice-breakers.
Here’s what to consider.
Research different breeds first. “Breeds that were bred for companionship, such as Cavalier King
Charles Spaniels (at left), Shih Tzu and Maltese are good options: they’re more likely to want to lay on your lap or cuddle on the couch next to you,” says Dr. Heather Venkat, Arizona’s public health veterinarian. “Working dog breeds, like a hyper husky that likes to pull or a Belgian Malinois, might not be the best choice.”
Petfinder.com, which offers adoptable pets from almost 11,000 shelters and rescue groups in North America, has a breed-finder that makes it easy. You can read descriptions of different dog breeds and their energy, playfulness and affection levels, exercise and grooming requirements, ease of training, vocality (barking) and friendliness to other dogs. You can also search for small or large dogs, apartment dogs, long- or short-haired dogs, hypoallergenic, emotional support and the healthiest breeds. There’s also a cat breed-finder. Basically, choosing a pet boils down into one that fits your lifestyle and activity level: avid hiker? Couch potato? There’s a pet for you.
Consider your lifestyle. “There’s no specific breed that’s best for older adults. Usually, it’s chemistry and/or love at first sight,” says Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles and author of Designer Dogs: An Exposé: Inside the Criminal Underworld of Crossbreeding (Apollo Publishers). “That said, your lifestyle and overall well-being are relevant. Is the dog high-maintenance, requiring more exercise outings and more trips to the groomer, and what about your ability to lift, restrain, control and medicate the pet?”
Older vs. Younger?
A puppy is active, energetic, needs house-breaking, training in basic commands like “stay” and “leave it” and lots of attention, is prone to chewing things but is, let’s face it, cuter. An older dog is more sedate, potty-trained (one hopes), needs less exercise and its personality is solidified – but is more likely to have medical issues (and their costs). Balance the adorability factor, and the problems associated with babies and toddlers, with the known-quantity factor and the challenges that accompany aging.
“Who wants a puppy, peeing and pooing everywhere, jumping up all over you and your guests? Chewing your shoes?” asks Sherri Franklin, founder of Muttville, a rescue group for senior dogs in California, bluntly. “Most senior rescue dogs come with some training and all are so grateful for their new beginning. They soak up the love and they fit like an old comfy pair of slippers! Often, the dog is used to living with a senior, since we take in many dogs from seniors, so it’s a win-win.”
For adopters 62+, Muttville has a Seniors for Seniors program, offering free adoption (normally $200) plus a month’s supply of food, leash, collar, food bowls, dog bed and, if needed, a dog gate or stairs. Its on-site vet evaluates the dog’s health, so you’re aware of any current medical issues, and does spay/neuter or other surgery if needed. Franklin urges pet parents to have pet insurance to help with costs. One insurer, Trupanion, waives the registration fee for Muttville adopters.
You’ll find heartwarming stories of older folks thrilled with their adopted seniors (and photos) on Muttville’s website under “Success Stories” (visit here). It would take a heart of stone to resist Alfie (AKA Bartholomew, at left) and his story.
Pros and Cons
Save an older dog’s life. “Adopting an older pet may save its life. Many people are quick to adopt kittens and puppies, often overlooking older pets,” says Dr. Amanda Landis-Hanna, senior manager of veterinary outreach at PetSmart Charities, the leading funder of animal welfare groups in North America. “Older pets are calmer and less energetic. Don’t assume they’re ‘problem animals,’ she says. Older pets may be relinquished for reasons usually having nothing to do with their behavior or temperament – a move, allergies, a new baby, a change in work schedule, or a job loss, among other reasons.
Enjoy a puppy’s antics. On the other hand, Teri Dreher, a critical care nurse for over 30 years who owns NShore Patient Advocates in the Chicago suburbs, recently adopted a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy. “I think a puppy is fine for older people: they bring a lot of joy and laughter into your life, you’ll have the dog for a long time and the exercise involved in potty training is good for anyone,” she says. “I’d advise a small to medium sized dog…even smaller dogs can be very strong and rambunctious which may cause falls if one is not careful. Older dogs get more expensive health conditions as time goes on.”
Take the short quiz on Petfinder.com to see what pets are for adoption near you. For dogs, pick the desired size (small, up to 25 lb., large, 61-100 lb., medium, in between), age, gender, and how important being already house-broken is and distance from your home (10-100 miles or anywhere). Then, see photos and “resumes” of dogs appear before your eyes (yes, like a dating site). When I picked small, adult, female and house-broken within 10 miles, a charmer named Roux, a poodle mix 8 years old, one mile from me, popped up, plus many more beyond those categories.
You can ask questions of the shelter or rescue group offering the pet, whose contact info is listed, find out adoption fees, which can range from $5 to hundreds, and if vaccinations, spaying/neutering and temperament testing are included. Tips on your first month with your new pet are also on Petfinder.com. These include
pet-proofing your home (making sure breakable items or toxic foods or plants are out of reach)
placing your pet in an easy to clean up area if possible
understanding that a new environment, people or schedule may make an anxious pet forget potty training skills.
If you’re still on the fence, fostering a pet is a great alternative. It’s a temporary tryout, taking home a pet from a shelter or rescue group for weeks or months before it’s adopted. A list of 20 questions to ask yourself before fostering is on Petfinder.com. Foster “failures” often have happy endings, when the foster parent decides to adopt the pet.
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Photo: Sharon’s adopted pet, Fluffy.