By Michele Bazan Reed
There’s an old song, “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.” I don’t know much about those kinds of places, but I do know one very good spot to look for love: the real, unconditional, forever kind. That’s at our local animal shelters.
My current roommate is Charlie, a rescue of the feline persuasion who came to me 11 years ago by way of my vet. He was a feral kitty, and it took weeks of luring with treats and a fishing pole toy just to get him to come out from under the bed. But once he emerged, he became a great family member and loyal friend. For a guy who started life alone in the woods, he has a strong empathy for human emotions, and knows just when somebody needs a gentle nudge and purring lap warmer to chase away the blues.
And then, there are my “granddogs.” Anybody who runs into me is likely to be subjected to the latest pictures of the Reed family pack, and stories of their antics.
When she landed her first job, teaching at a university in Utah, the first thing my daughter, Katie, did was head for the animal shelter in Salt Lake City. There she found her forever friend, a “schnorkie” (mix of schnauzer and Yorkshire terrier) named Max. He’s a gentleman with the kind of scruffy good looks that would have made him a good sidekick for the stars of a romantic comedy of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Katie, her husband, Greg, and Max live in Southern California, so instead of snuggles, I content myself with following Max’s adventures on Facebook and Instagram. Luckily, he’s quite a ham, and loves having his picture taken.
My son’s pack consists of the beautiful Sacha and goofy Brit, both of whom came from Helping Hounds in Syracuse.
Sacha is a purebred Plott hound, with a show dog’s stance and the tracking instincts this bear-hunting breed is known for. Her first family surrendered her because of her loud and incessant barking, and two subsequent adoptive families returned her to the shelter as well. No one, it appears, could stand her booming voice. Then along came Mike, with a house in the country, few neighbors to disturb, and plenty of animal trails to sniff on their walks. This “hard case,” that no one wanted, is still a Miss Barksalot, but has grown into a loving companion, who, when not tracking something (on leash) is happy to claim three-quarters of the bed and all the pillows as her own, as she watches anime on TV.
When Mike returned to the shelter to adopt a friend for Sacha, he found a puppy described as a border collie mix, estimated to grow to 45 pounds. Perfect, he thought, and brought home a boy named Brittany, AKA Brit. This “shepmatian” (according to his DNA test, half German shepherd dog and half dalmatian) is now 110 pounds and still growing. He has all the size of a German shepherd but a goofy, cartoon-dog personality. He has an endearing smile but is just likely to jump — all 110 pounds of him — into Mike’s lap, when he’s sitting in a computer chair, doing something online.
Multiple articles online tout the benefits of pet ownership for seniors: a chance for increased exercise out in the fresh air, more socialization, combatting loneliness, reduced stress, including lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lower blood pressure. There’s even some evidence that it helps seniors stay sharp mentally.
Taking care of another living creature can give us a focus for those nurturing tendencies we practiced as we raised our families or cared for spouses or other loved ones. The routine care a pet needs can provide structure to our days after retirement, a reason to get up in the morning, and they can help fill the void left in our lives by an empty nest or the death of a spouse. All this applies, they say, to whatever pet fits your lifestyle, from dogs and cats to birds and fish.
Rescue group volunteers say that they welcome senior adopters because they often have more time to spend with a pet after retirement. Even if you cannot adopt a pet, there are plenty of ways to connect with the animals. Foster homes are always needed, as are volunteers to socialize the kittens or walk the dogs. They need donations of food or cash to take care of the animals, and even welcome bequests in a will, so you can leave a legacy of your love for animals.
So, if you need a little love in your life — and who doesn’t? — you can’t go wrong by heading to your local animal shelter. You may just meet your new best friend.