Take time to find the pet that’s right for you
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Perhaps your furry pal died years ago and you long for another pet. Or maybe you have not had a pet since the children moved out several years ago.
Bringing home a dog or cat can add warmth to your home and enjoyment to every day.
“There are a multitude of benefits of having a pet in your retirement years,” said Stefanie Heath, volunteer with Second Chance Canine Adoption Shelter in Jamesville. “There’s the companionship of having a pet. It can be comforting and offer someone support, especially if they’re widowed or single. Just having something in the home to care for is beneficial overall.”
She added that pets add routine to one’s life and that cuddling a pet has been associated with reducing blood pressure and stress.
“Petting releases oxytocin, the happy hormone,” Heath said. “For some people with dogs, it can offer a sense of protection and security. It can make you feel safer if the dog alerts you when someone’s there.
People who have pets tend to do more things and be more active. That in itself is important, especially when you get to a certain age.”
Plus, you can feel good knowing that one less pet is languishing in a shelter.
But getting a pet at 55-plus is a little different than when you were younger.
“Take a realistic view of your activity level and make sure you get a dog that matches that,” said Kathy Gilmour, executive director of Helping Hounds Dog Rescue in North Syracuse. “If you’re entering retirement with the hope of slowing down and being a homebody, you should find a dog that will enjoy that lifestyle, not one that needs hikes and adventures to burn off sufficient energy.
“There are people who don’t slow down in retirement and put younger people to shame because they are avid hikers. The lazy, couch potato dog won’t enjoy that.”
Gilmour said many older adults swoon over a cute puppy but have forgotten how much work puppies can be since they chew a lot and have a much higher energy level than a mature dog. She also encourages would-be adopters to look at dogs that tolerate children if they have their grandchildren visit often. Some dogs enjoy kids. Others don’t.
“We try to match the adopter with a dog that might fit,” said Heather Axtell, board member with Paws Across Oswego County in Oswego.
Working with a dog trainer can also help you live more peaceably with a dog. More than size, the personality and breed also matter. Many working breed dogs require lots of exercise, but individual dogs within a breed vary, too.
Consider the kind of pet that would work well with your lifestyle now. For example, if you plan to travel in retirement, do you really want a pet that must stay at a boarding kennel for weeks on end? Or can you find a breed that travels well? Most dogs like traveling by car, but if you fly, your buddy will have to go in the cargo hold if he’s too large. Some cats enjoy traveling; many would rather stay at home and have a house sitter drop in to care for them each day.
“If you want one to travel with you, don’t pick one that freaks out in the car or RV,” Axtell said.
If you have not owned a pet in a while, evaluate your ability to care for a pet, both now and for the next 15 years. While cat care is a little easier, you should be able to stoop to clean the litter and be capable of carrying containers of litter (although the newer lightweight litter can help solve this issue). You could also choose delivery from sites such as Amazon.com and Chewy.com so the litter, food and other supplies arrive on your doorstep. A younger relative may be able to pitch in and dump the whole box occasionally if you can keep up with daily scooping.
Dark-colored pets are harder to see in dim lighting and could present a tripping hazard. A reflective collar can reduce this potential hazard.
Think about the costs associated with pet ownership: vet bills, food, toys, leash and pick-up bags or litter, and possibly grooming or kennel costs. Just as people need more healthcare as they age, pets need more vet attention.
“Can you financially afford to address these issues or will you put them up or abandon them if they get kidney failure?” said Jackie Pitt, who represents Wayward Paws, Inc. in Syracuse. The Delphi Falls resident is 74.
The age of your pet also makes a difference. Young pets are very energetic and demand a lot of one-on-one attention. Equipment like a scratching post and claw caps for cats (groomers can apply these) and training crate for puppies can help. Or consider older pets, which are past the chewing and climbing stage. (Cats should always have a scratching post, as that is how they trim their claws).
“Little kittens are so busy,” Pitt said. “They’re under your feet. They can trip you. They have a lot of kitten business. These are things I want people to consider.”
Having two animals together can also help calm pets, providing they get along. Pitt encourages adopters to consider a second cat or dog.
You should also make plans for if you should become unable to care for your pet because of an illness, surgery or change in living arrangements. Among your emergency information, include two contacts for people who have agreed to care for your pets.
Featured image: Stefanie Heath, volunteer with Second Chance Canine Adoption Shelter in Jamesville: “There are a multitude of benefits of having a pet in your retirement years.”