Before you read on I wanted to establish that I have gone back and forth with writing this for month’s maybe even years. Once completed this I continued to go back and forth with the idea of publishing it.
Today, I received a call from a person who said he was calling because he was looking to help his client find a dog.
The caller described his client as a “geriatric shut in”, who just put down his elderly dog.
He was interested in a specific shelter dog for his client. The dog his client was interested in adopting was a 3-year-old dog aggressive, high drive Pit Bull Terrier. This is a dog that we are hoping to place as a narcotics detection dog program. This dog would thrive with a job. I explained about the behaviors we have seen from the dog and the fact that some of our young male volunteers struggle to handle her. The caller insisted that he needed this dog for his client stating “My client has a fenced in yard and has big dogs all of his life. She’ll will be perfect for my client.” He exclaimed.
He hadn’t asked the family if they would want to take the dog if something happened to his medically fragile client. I got off the phone thinking “Okay, so maybe she’s perfect for the person, but what about the dog’s quality of life? It certainly wouldn’t be a perfect fit for her”
Not a single question was asked about what the dog’s needs would be, or about the dog’s personality.
This pushed me to post this blog that I had been struggling with.
While I felt while the topic may be uncomfortable for some people and possibly offensive to others I feel that we need to make a concise effort to be wise about the animals we are bringing into our lives and the lives of others.
Animals are not just here to fit our needs. We must also be able to meet their physical and emotional needs as well.
I received a call this morning from an overwhelmed puppy owner wanting to know if I could take a 6-month-old Golden Doodle.
The caller didn’t feel that she was in a situation to keep the puppy any longer. The caller had purchased a Golden Doodle for her elderly mother to provide comfort, keep her mother active and help so that her mother didn’t feel so isolated. The puppy hadn’t been to any puppy classes or training yet but was quickly morphing into a full-grown dog.
I explained how easy it is to treat the problem of jumping and suggested trying a session, but it was clear that she was far too frustrated.
She stated, “I just don’t have the time.” I asked if she would consider doing a board and train to give herself and her mom a break. She wasn’t interested in any type of training and felt that the puppy could hurt her mom. After much talking, I finally suggested contacting a local shelter that offers behavior modification. She stated that the shelter had a two-week wait to get her puppy in and she simply couldn’t deal with the doodle that long.
The caller felt over her head, overwhelmed as now not only did her elderly mom need her care, but she had a puppy who required constant supervision, walks, and training.
It’s no secret that evidence suggests that the very existence of a pet in the senior’s life seems to be a means of reducing social isolation, not only due to the companionship of the pet but because other people are more likely to approach and socially interact with a person who is seen in the company of a dog.
That’s great news, so you may wonder what is there to think about.
Dogs and puppies can deeply enrich the lives of the seniors that they share their lives with, but does that work both ways?
How does living with a senior affect the life of a puppy or dog?
An ideal place for a dog suffering from separation anxiety could be in the care of a retired senior who has more time to be home with the dog than a younger family that works 8- 9 hours a day, right?
What about long-term care, exercise, and vet care for puppies sharing their lives with seniors?
Evidence suggests that pets in the care of seniors are 30 percent more likely to have untreated medical conditions, 37 percent more likely to have neglected grooming (such as extreme matting or overgrown nails), and are 80 percent more likely to be obese than when owned by a non-senior owner.
Not to mention the anecdotal evidence that most employees of the shelter will testify to. Situation after situation of making space for middle-aged pets with all of the above-mentioned problems on short notice because the living situation of an elderly love one has changed.
So what’s the solution?
I don’t think that any shelter, rescue, or breeder should deny based on age alone. I think the responsibility of research should be put on the adopter, caregiver, or senior who is looking at adoption. Providing food for thought during the process encourages taking a look at not only the benefits to the person but the needs of the animal and making sure that the match is a good lifelong fit for the animal and its caretaker.
Here are some topics I would encourage people to think about before choosing to add the responsibility of animal ownership.
Who will the responsibility fall on? Is grandma losing her sight and her granddaughter already assisting with day-to-day tasks like grocery shopping, getting dinner ready, and taking out the trash? If this is the case then a conversation needs to happen with the person who will be caring for the dog as well as the caretaker.
The surprise for grandma may be an unwelcomed burden for the caregiver of the senior.
If the caregiver is on-board go for it.
If not consider having a friend or neighbor bring a dog over to visit grandma a few times a week.
There are also lots of volunteer programs that offer this service.
You may also find a neighbor whose dog maybe has a little separation anxiety that could benefit from some 9 to 5 companionship a few days a week.
Can they drive the puppy to the vet or groomer? What about 6 years from now? Will you be able to assist? If the answer is “yes” I say go for it, but if the answer is “no” or “maybe” I say consider seeing if you can pay a mobile groomer and vet to do house calls and preschedule them several sessions out to prevent falling behind on care.
What size and breed are you considering? Someone who has owned German Shepherds all of their life may not be an ideal fit for a German shepherd once they are struggling with their balance. Another consideration to think over is how likely it is that in the next 5-7 years will a caretaker or nurse need to come into the home? Just think of the movie Hooch. A Presa Canario may make it impossible for health care staff to stop in and provide aid to an elderly patient whereas a jolly King Charles Cavalier would make a great welcoming committee. When considering the King Charles Cavalier a consideration would be regular brushing for his beautiful coat and regular trips to the groomer, which can strain a tight budget quickly. Keep in mind that different breeds have different lifespans while an English mastiff maybe around for 7- years a Yorkie mix maybe around for 10-15 years. Each breed will require careful consideration and a unknown breed of puppy may make this more challenging.
What age dog would be ideal?
Still active and driving around looking for a way to get to know more people in your area? A younger dog might be great for signing up for puppy classes, going on walks around the neighborhood and staying active, and being social. With puppies, it’s important to take into consideration that they WILL jump, bite and pull on the leash. Are you able to afford training classes for the puppy? To prevent these from becoming long term habits.
If your skin is sensitive, your balance is weakened or if your grip strength is compromised these maybe considerations as well as you may want to consider a dog that has already received leash training, chew toy training, house training, or a dog that has already learned manners.
Still on the fence on whether a dog is the right solution?
Owning a dog isn’t the only way to have a dog in your life. There are a lot of great options that you can use to test the waters before making a big commitment.
• Volunteering at a shelter is a great way to be social with people and have the benefits of interacting with animals. While many people are concerned that it would be “hard” to foster, most once they try it find it incredibly fulfilling.
• Fostering takes the financial and a lot of time transportation responsibilities off the caretaker. The foster gets to provide love, attention, and better insight into the dog’s personality while the dog waits for the perfect home. This is also a great test run to see if having a dog in the home is too much or just right. Plus, you can always foster failure as well.
• Dog sitting for family and friends is super helpful for the family and friends going out of town and gives time to see what it would be like to share the home with a dog.
• Other animal species maybe a great option too if walking and training maybe too much.
Ending note, this isn’t saying that seniors should at all costs avoid owning higher drive dogs. I think of two gentlemen, both named Tom that I know and respect in the sport of Shutzhund that even in their 80’s are still making it out to training every week regardless of rain or snow. While they may be over 80 I am continually impressed by their dedication to providing their high drive dogs training, enrichment, and jobs that keep their dogs both mentally and physically fit. I hope I can be as dedicated to every one of my dogs as they are their dogs to their dogs now at their elderly age.