Highlights » ParentCare » Vol. 62

Paws for love

Amy Dean

As we come off of Valentine’s Day, we’ve been surrounded by advertisers reminding us how important love is this time of year, but love is actually a year-round commodity. If you are widowed, divorced or otherwise find yourself alone, there’s a wide selection of available companions who would reward you with joy, loyalty, snuggling — and lots of kisses! They, too, are alone and just need you to say “Yes!”

Shelters and rescue organizations are filled with hundreds of homeless pets, many of whom are considered “seniors” — at 7 years or older. Their circumstances for becoming homeless can be heart-breaking: owners who passed away or became too infirm to continue to care for them; relocation or a change in a work schedule; the arrival of a new baby; lifestyle changes; the inability to afford pet medical care and more.

Whatever the reason, senior shelter pets know what it’s like to have someone to care for them, and their abandonment leaves them scared, confused, lonely and in precarious circumstances. Because younger pets have a stronger appeal to those wanting to adopt, the longer senior pets wait for someone to take them to their forever home, the more hopeless their situation can be. In fact, adopting a senior pet may save its life!

There are so many benefits to adopting a senior pet. For starters, they are typically less expensive than their younger counterparts, and sometimes adoption fees are waived for those 65 or older. While some senior pets have health challenges (which may require medical treatment for the rest of their lives), their health records are usually detailed and provide an extensive history. Some face medical challenges that can be handled with the time and attention they could not receive from their previous owners.

For the most part, senior pets usually come trained (especially potty trained!) and understand some basic commands, including “no.” Many senior dogs are crate-trained and walk well on a leash. Having previously lived in a household, senior pets are used to routines and schedules. Having already gone through their kitten or puppy cycles, they are usually calmer, less energetic and less destructive than their inquisitive, younger selves.

They can also be a source of wonderful discovery. While some senior pets have had a stable home, due to lifestyle changes with their owners, they may not have enjoyed human-pet stimulation. A single toy can open up a world of joy to them and provide you with endless entertainment. Simply being able to watch an abandoned senior pet go from sad to happy can be incredibly rewarding.

A senior pet can be beneficial to you, as well. Studies show that pet ownership brings with it better health, enhanced well-being, ease of loneliness and isolation and reduced stress. “My little old dog…a heartbeat at my feet,” wrote Edith Wharton about her beloved pet.

Even if you are unable to adopt a senior pet due to a no-pet lease, allergies or other restrictions, consider volunteering at a shelter. You can help start a “senior to senior” program to identify pet-friendly seniors looking to adopt, provide transportation to vet appointments, handle paperwork, and assist with open houses and other special pet events. You even can put some of your skills to use, such as photography, writing newsletters and press releases, building a website, handling social media and more. The rewards you will feel not only make your life better, but also create a positive impact on the lives of the adoptable pets you are helping.

As James Cromwell has said, “Pets are humanizing. They remind us we have an obligation and responsibility to preserve and nurture and care for all life.”

The Worcester Animal Rescue League (worcesterarl.org) and the Sterling Animal Shelter (sterlingshelter.org) have a Seniors for Seniors program.

Worcester resident Amy Dean is the author of several books, including Growing Older, Growing Better: Daily Meditations for Celebrating Aging.

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