The French novelist Colette once wrote, “Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.”
She may have been onto something—pet owners have always sworn that their four-legged friends make them feel better, and research has backed this up. Study after study has shown that pets are good for people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with pets generally have decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which correlate to a reduced risk of heart attack. Studies also show that pets decrease feelings of loneliness and increase opportunities for exercise, outdoor activities and socialization. Owning pets is thought to decrease a person’s overall stress levels and increase their sense of purpose.
Learning what love is
Purpose is something seniors often crave after retirement, so getting a pet at that point in life can be a great idea. That’s what Ann Davis, 79, did. Her daughter surprised her with a Dachshund/Chihuahua mix named Tinker. She’s a smiley dog with a readily wagging tail, and it’s impossible to tell that she was abused before Davis met her.
“I’ve helped her adjust to the real thing, which is love,” Davis said.
Tinker had been mistreated and kicked. She was adopted and returned to the shelter four times before Davis gave her a home.
“She was very afraid at first, and she didn’t let me out of her sight. With shelter dogs, you have to be patient,” said Davis.
Her patience and love have brought out the best in Tinker, and the relationship benefits Davis, too. She lives at Brookdale Sunrise Creek, a residential care facility for seniors. Having Tinker as a roommate brightens up her life.
“She’s been a good friend,” Davis said. “It’s always nice to open the door and see that she’s happy to see me.”
Pet-approved senior living
Unfortunately, many seniors struggle to own or keep their pets because of their living arrangements. Landlords often charge extra for pets, or don’t allow them at all. That can prevent older adults from experiencing all the positive benefits of pet ownership.
Thankfully, local senior living facilities understand how important a furry friend can be. Spring Creek Chalet is also extremely pet friendly. Co-owner Reiner Seelhoff said they opened their independent senior living center to pets about 10 years ago due to a number of requests from residents. Since then, he’s seen several benefits.
“For some residents, having a pet gets them up and moving,” he said. “A couple neighbors push each other to get out and walk their dogs. Some other people don’t want to be social, but with a pet, they aren’t alone.”
Choosing the right pet
Resident Pat Werden, 93, shares her apartment with her senior dog, Maggie, a Yorkie/Pomeranian mix. Werden adopted Maggie after experiencing a significant loss.
“I got her when my husband died,” Werden explained. “I went to the pound, and told them, ‘I want an old dog that’s mellow,’ and that’s exactly what I have.”
Choosing the right pet is key, especially for seniors. Thankfully, Maggie’s sweet, calm demeanor seems to be a perfect match for Werden. Davis and Seelhoff said that seniors should consider safety, too.
“It’s important to have an older dog that doesn’t jump or trip you,” Davis advised.
Seelhoff recalled one resident whose family bought him a large, active puppy that ended up being a safety hazard.
“He loved that dog, but eventually he realized the dog had to go,” Seelhoff explained.
A life companion
While the wrong pet can be a danger, the right pet can be something of a caretaker. Tinker is exceptionally in tune with Davis.
“I have been ill, and she thinks she’s my nurse,” Davis said. “When I had to go in the ambulance, she didn’t bark at [the paramedics] or anything. She just sat there looking at me like, ‘This is good.’”
Pets can help their people through life changes. Werden wasn’t quite ready to move to a senior living facility, but her family was concerned about her living alone. Maggie has made the transition a little easier. Werden said she enjoys living with Maggie at the Chalet, as the facility is convenient for pets. Each apartment has a patio door right off the living area that makes taking a dog outside very simple. Deer visit frequently, and cement pathways meander through gardens that cover the 18-acre property.
The greatest benefit of having a pet is companionship. Both Maggie and Tinker are happy to curl up on their owners’ laps, and the friendship between dog and human is evident.
“It would be terribly different without her,” Davis said. “It’s a comfort having her around.”
Staff members at both Brookdale Sunrise Creek and Spring Creek Chalet are happy to help customers with pets because they clearly improve the residents’ lives.
View more photos of our readers’ precious pets: