Research has shown that senior citizens derive abundant physical and mental health benefits from owning a pet. Having a furry friend to care for and companion with improves mood and appetite, increases energy levels, leads to more social interaction, and helps establishes a daily routine that lends an important sense of purpose and responsibility. Pets alleviate the symptoms of depression, boredom and isolation, and diminish the impact of loneliness, which increases the likelihood of mortality by 26 percent. Pet ownership can also reduce anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure, and help keep triglyceride levels under control. It almost sounds too good to be true, but the look on an elderly person’s face when a cute little dog wanders into the room is proof enough that pets can do wonders for older adults.
There are many programs around the country that will match an elderly person with a dog or cat, such as Washington, D.C.’s “Boomer’s Buddies,” which finds pet adoptees for adults over the age of 50. A program in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, called Elder Paws, covers the cost of pet food, veterinary care, and incidentals for seniors who can provide a safe home for pets. It’s a valuable asset for seniors who live on a fixed income and cannot afford the expense of ongoing pet care. Pet shelters across the country have the opportunity to set up their own Elder Paws program through the auspices of the Angel’s Rest Animal Society. The Pets for the Elderly Foundation pays adoption and pet fees for people over the age of 60 who adopt from a participating shelter. Local pet shelters are always looking for people who want to adopt an animal, and veterinarians are also good sources of adoption information.
Bear in mind that moving into a new living environment can be stressful for pets. They’re creatures of habit, and having to acclimate to a new space takes a little time. You can help ease the transition by making sure your new friend has his own space, with a bed, food and water dishes, toys and any comforting objects that came along with him. Sometimes, an animal needs to get away and find his own way to feel safe and secure. Choose a safe and quiet room and set up his own spot in a restful corner. There’s no substitute for lots of love and attention and some bonding time once you’re paired up with a new pet friend, so don’t hold back on the affection. Dogs in particular benefit from interaction that takes place on his level, so don’t be afraid to get down on the floor for some petting and playing. Remember that it’ll take a while before your pet gets used to being alone, so leave a treat or a play object behind when you leave to help ease the pain.
Providing a safe home is part of being a good companion and a responsible owner. Be careful not to leave the doors open and keep floor-level windows shut as well, especially if you have a curious cat or kitten running around. Be careful about keeping small, loose objects off the floor, especially things that could present a choking or poisoning threat. If your dog will be spending time outside, you’ll need a security fence to prevent your pooch from getting loose. The average national cost of installing an electric fence is about $1,100.
Ensure that yours is a safe home by taking a few simple precautions inside and keeping your friend on a leash or run line so he can run free when he’s outside. Never let him off the leash when you go for a walk unless you’re going to a dog park, and make sure he’s microchipped and has updated tags with your contact information.
You and your pet will both benefit from a long, happy friendship. Give him plenty of love and some space when he needs it. And remember, if you take care of him, he’ll return the favor many times over.
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