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#BoomerThoughts: Pets Add Life

I was reading an article in the local newspaper today that spoke to the fact that pets are great for the health of individuals as they age. I already knew that but found it interesting to read the reasons why. One of the reasons touched a part of my life because my father struggled with (or more aptly, our family struggled with his) dementia prior to his passing, but no matter what he always remembered that his henrietta birthday Chihuahua, Chico, had to be fed, walked and cared for; Chico may have helped keep his memory active longer than it would have without the responsibility of caring for him.

The reasons noted in the article included:

  • The power of touch. When I visit my mom in the nursing home on the days when the staff bring their pets in, even the residents who rarely interact with anyone are involved and engaged. The mere feeling of a warm body next to you can be enough to elicit a smile. Consider this, if you are aging and alone you no longer have the comfort of someone to hug you or to hold your hand, if you have a pet you have that warm body with which to snuggle.
  • Unconditional love. No matter what your day is like or what your health issues are, your pet loves you no matter what. If you decide not to wear make up and just lie around in bed all day, chances are your pet will be right there with you and he or she will not care if you’ve brushed your teeth or run a comb through your hair.
  • The responsibility of a pet may keep you healthier. As I’d mentioned, my father’s dog may have helped keep his memory intact a bit longer than it would have if he hadn’t owned him. Dad may have forgotten to eat his own meals, but he never forgot to feed Chico. Dad may not have remembered he needed to use the restroom until it was almost too late, but he never forgot to walk Chico. He was his constant companion and friend.
  • A pet may keep you more active. If I didn’t have Henrietta, I am ashamed to admit that I might not move around as much as I do. She needs to be walked and because she is an active diva Poodle she loves to extend her walks to a mere visit to a patch of grass in the side yard. In addition to that, because I want to make sure she stays healthy, I make sure she (and by default, I) stay active.
  • Pets help you make friends. Admit it, if you see someone walking a dog down the road, you are hard-pressed to walk past without asking, “what breed is he” or “what’s her name.” Pets can provide a senior with access to a community he or she may not have had. I know that when my Dad passed and my Mom took over the responsibility of Chico, she would always be greeted with a wave and a smile by her neighbors — something that might not have happened if she hadn’t been out walking the dog. Being solitary as we age can lead to depression and even anxiety and having a pet may just help keep you connected and involved.

I know that when I am having a bad day, just watching Henrietta dashing around the house playing with one of her toys is enough to lift my spirits. When she climbs into my lap and rests her head on my leg and I pet her I can feel the troubles of the day slipping away in the softness of her fur.

What benefits do you think your pets bring to you?

22 replies to this post
    • My parents had two dogs and I think they kept them healthy and active. We did take in their aging chihuahua when dad passed and mom went into the nursing home. He lived with us for another two years.

  1. My favorite happy maker is Oscar waiting at the top of the stairs for me when I get home – from work, from taking out the garbage, from going to the store. He does a happy dance where he wiggles his butt and jumps from one paw to the other. Sometimes he gets so excited he looses his balance!

    • Lol I can see Oscar toppling over! Henrietta is a… very enthusiastic barker… and like you say, it doesn’t matter if I’ve been gone for hours or minutes I still get that enthusiasm and it warms my heart!

    • I know that Henrietta got me through tough times — losing my father and my fight with breast cancer — I am not certain what I would ever do without her and her calming presence.

  2. There’s too many benefits to list! The point about the power of touch and nursing homes really struck a chord with me. I’ve spent lots of time in the nursing home visiting my grandmother and seeing pets there really does cheer up the overall environment! Pets are just amazing in so many ways!

    • I agree Aimee. I take Henrietta to visit my mom a couple of times a month (Henrietta isn’t too fond of strangers touching her and it’s hard to “keep” the other residents away but it melts my heart when they do pet her and she snuggles in for a moment. The twice Sunday pet visits are the highlights of the month for the residents, I think.

  3. I 100% Agree, pets do add life! The 3 years I didnt have a pet due to living in camp, it was horrible. When that day came where we adopted our next dog, it was the happiest day of my life.

    • I don’t know that there has ever been a time when I didn’t have pets. My parents loved them and we always had at least two dogs, a couple of cats and various other pets growing up — gerbils, guinea pigs, a horse!

  4. Pets absolutely bring joy into our homes and our all around lives. I just read a study that said children who grow up with both dogs and cats showed more empathy as adults than their pet-less peers. Enough said.

  5. I have heard so many stories about how people in nursing homes and hospitals become engaged with their surroundings when a therapy dog (or cat or horse) come to visit. I wish more places would allow a resident cat or dog so that the patients could be around them more often and feel their love.

    • Two Sundays a month pets (that have been vaccinated and are people friendly) are invited to come up and spend a few hours at the nursing home where my mom is. The residents just light up. They are trying to get approval from the state to allow them to have a full time cat.

  6. Dogs definitely help make friends. People are soooo much more likely to come up and have a conversation when you have a dog. Taking my dogs out in public is always an interesting experience. I’ve had grown men sit down on the sidewalk to hug them. lol

  7. I couldn’t agree more. This is one of the main reasons I’m working so hard for Atka to become a therapy dog. Pets have such healing powers and I know those that can’t take care of their own pet would love cuddle time with him.

  8. Oh goodness, where to start – my dogs over the years have introduced me to the career of my dreams, friends for life, networking galore, and I am a better person because of dogs. Most of all, my rescue work is more rewarding than words can ever express. And hello Hen!

  9. I used to bring adoptable shelter pets to the retirement home in the town where I went to college, and it was so rewarding. The residents would sit there and pet the dogs and tell me about their lives. Where they were from, what brought them there…sometimes they would dive deep into their memories, back when they were in their 20s and would share what made life so great.

    As soon as school is over, I want to start doing that again, I truly believe animals help us in more ways than we are aware. Great post!

  10. Butler, my always-happy border collie mix, teaches me to put on a smile every day. He wakes up smiling! I have to say, waking up to his happy face means I always get up on the right side of bed;)

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