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Pets for the elderly–whether a dog or a cat–can play a significant, meaningful role in a senior's life. Pets are companions, friends, mood boosters, and great for socialization and exercise. These pets require care and attention, but they are capable of giving just as much love back to their pet parents as well. Dogs and cats can bring deep meaning to an older person's life.
Here are four real-life stories of elderly men and women and the pets who bring joy to their lives. Pets and the elderly are more than simply roommates; they're loyal friends.
Rose and Fluffy
When Rose's daughter passed away in 2004, she left behind her cat Fluffy with no one to care for her. So Rose, at that time in her early seventies, welcomed her daughter's pet cat into her home with open arms.
"I find comfort knowing that I have my daughter's cat," Rose says. While she might not have planned on raising Fluffy these past 12 years, she's certainly grateful for the opportunity to be 86 in her life.
One of the biggest reasons why pets and the elderly make a perfect pair is the type of companionship dogs and cats offer their pet parent. "I would be so lonely without them," Rose says of her two cats. And Fluffy stays by Rose's side all day long. "Wherever I go she follows me. I have to watch my step! I think we've both had nine lives!"
With Fluffy's advancing age, she is experiencing medical issues that Rose needs to attend. "She had to have most of her teeth out, but she still manages to eat like a horse!
"I don't know what I would do without my animals! I have two cats, another one named Blacky. They keep me going. I take care of them, but they take care of me too!"
Art and Duncan
Pets for the elderly can be motivators to stay physically active and healthy. Art, who is in his eighties, still works and walks his dog Duncan regularly. "I walk with a cane and Duncan is very considerate as to not pull me down during our outings together." In fact, Art even takes Duncan into work with him sometimes. "Everyone in the office loves him." Work isn't the only place Art and Duncan travel together, either. "Many of the neighborhood restaurants allow me to bring him to dinner. He has indeed become the neighborhood celebrity dog."
Duncan is a dog cancer survivor and underwent both chemotherapy and surgery to treat his illness. Art says, "At 13, [Duncan] is doing quite well considering his ordeal." He continues, "His handling of the cancer surgery and chemo have helped me understand the hardships and pain of treatment. I have lost family members to cancer but was not with them almost every minute of their lives as I have been with Duncan, so I have a much better understanding of the treatments and resulting pain and hardships they create."
So, not only does Duncan keep Art active, but Art also takes care of Duncan throughout and after his cancer treatment.
Kathy and Ollie
Kathy first met Ollie a year and a half ago when she attended a festival in Los Angeles called "Catoberfest" during a trip to visit a friend. Both cat-lovers, Kathy and her friend carefully avoided the adoption area at the festival, but Ollie wasn't anywhere near the cat adoption area. He was in a place set apart with a sign talking about the need for donations to animal rescue for animals who might never be adopted.
This cheerful little kitten had a rough beginning to life. He lost most of his right hind leg shortly after birth. He ended up in a trash can, but Ollie survived because his cries alerted a passerby who took him to a local rescue group. He had many challenges: the bone of his severed leg was sticking out of the stump, and he would require expensive surgery to remove what was left of his leg from the hip. He also had a severe umbilical hernia that needed surgery. And he was a black cat, traditionally the last to be adopted, if at all, from shelter organizations. Kathy's heart went out to him.
Kathy says, "After sending his picture and story via cell phone to my husband, back home in Arizona, we decided to make this 'unadoptable' kitten part of our family. What a blessing he has been! He is the sweetest, most affectionate cat I've ever had. Despite his harrowing beginning, he is full of love and joy. He runs. He jumps. He chases lasers and our other cat Sweet Pea with equal enthusiasm. Even when recovering from one of his several major surgeries, he was active and cheerful. He doesn't let something like a missing leg slow him down at all."
"It's a major lesson for my husband and me as we get older and face our own physical limitations," Kathy says. "Ollie is challenging us to live fully and with gratitude and joy every day of our lives!"
Barb, Paul, and Tuxedo
Similar to Rose's story, pets for the elderly sometimes come by way of adopting them from another family member. Tuxedo, Tux for short, was originally Barb and Paul's grandson Jerry's dog. In fact, Tux is a real-life hero. He saved his original owner's life by alerting nearby people when he fell on a walk in the evening.
"As [Jerry] was passing over a bridge, he didn't notice there were no guardrails. He fell quite a long way and was seriously injured. It was a lonely road and not many cars going by. Tux had followed him down and tried to help. Then, he went back up the road and stood in the middle of the road barking as a car was approaching. The driver got out of the car and tried to catch him, but Tux ran down to where our grandson was lying and got help for his master." After that incident, Jerry recuperated, with Tux by his side, in Barb and Paul's home. When he was healthy enough to take care of himself, he decided to leave Tux in Barb and Paul's care.
Barb says, "He changed our lives. We're both in our eighties, retired, and though we're quite active, this dog has meant so much to us. When we offer him a treat with our hand, he is so careful to take it gently. He is devoted to my husband especially. Paul has been ill lately and spent a couple days in the hospital. While he was away Tux barely ate. He sat on a chair where he could watch the front door the whole time."
As shown by these relationships, pets and the elderly are perfectly paired. Not only can pets remind older pet parents of loved ones who've passed, but pets for the elderly help keep older pet parents active and can even create some positive notoriety about town, all the while giving these adorable dogs and cats the care and attention they need. But in the end, the most touching result is the loving companionship between older pet parents and their pets and how they continue to brighten each others days.
Image sources: Peg Haust-Arliss, Art Koff, Dr. Kathy McCoy, and Barb Johnson
Erin Ollila is a pet enthusiast who believes in the power of words and how a message can inform — and even transform — its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.