Among the many changes that take place as one enters retirement, a loss of routine and diminished responsibility are among the most felt. For many who are now enjoying the latter years of their lives, pets have filled those missing aspects of daily life.
Dr. Pam Dinslage, associate veterinarian at Red Barn Veterinary clinic in Oakland, shares the important role pets can play during retirement.
“A lot of people relate to their pets as kids. They want the best care for them,” Dinslage said.
She cites research that shows the benefits of having a pet.
“For example, there are kids who go horseback riding as a therapeutic activity,” Dinslage said. “Those kids have been shown to socialize more and interact more as they ride together. I believe this carries into retirement.”
Another benefit seen in having a pet in retirement that goes beyond companionship is the physical activity a pet provides. “It gives people a reason to go out and stay active as they walk their pets,” Dinslage said. “They also become another pet, another kid to care for.”
Colleen Hayes of Oakland and her children have always had pets in the home. The last one they had as a family lived to age 22. When the kids had grown and Hayes was on her own, she decided not to get another dog while she was working.
When she began to look to retirement nearly seven years ago, Hayes started to look for her next companion. A kennel donated a dog to a group home where Hayes worked and she began to think about having a pet once again.
“I thought it would be nice to have a little dog to keep me company. I had been alone at that time for about six years,” Hayes said. “I saw Ava’s picture in the paper and called my daughter to see what she thought about me getting a dog. My daughter took me to pick her up on Mother’s Day seven years ago.”
Hayes and Ava, a King Charles spaniel, keep each other company throughout the day.
“You can talk to yourself and people look at you funny. You can talk to your pet and no one thinks anything about it,” Hayes said. “It gives you something else to think about. You have to watch out for their health; they have to be fed and they have to be groomed. It’s easy to sit in front of the television all the time and become a vegetable.
“A pet gives you something else to be responsible for,” she said.
The two are out for a walk together every day.
“If we don’t go, she let’s me know about it,” Hayes said.
Hayes said she also has a special place on the bed.
“She is never far behind me,” she said.
Dinslage said that Red Barn Veterinary Clinic sees quite a few people of retirement age at their office. They are often concerned about being able to care for their pets should they themselves need long-term care or move into a nursing home.
Some nursing homes allow residents to have pets while some simply encourage visits from their pets. Families are encouraged to bring a resident’s pet in with them when they come for a visit. Some nursing homes have communal pets.
“It does take a specific type pet to live in a nursing home,” Dinslage said.“Those that are used to being around people are the ones we usually see in a nursing home.” There is a therapeutic effect pets can have in a nursing home, whether it be a dog or cat, birds or even fish. Studies have shown that something as simple as an aquarium can help bring a person’s blood pressure down.”
David Deemer, Oakland Heights Nursing Home administrator, said that the residents in the Oakland facility will spend hours watching the birds they have caged in the lobby.
“Those who interact with pets experience better health and reduced stress,” Deemer said. “Pets give the elderly a sense of independence, boosts self-esteem and motivates them to perform daily tasks that may otherwise be ignored, such as bathing and eating. Research has also shown touch is very important for the well-being of humans. Being able to spend time with or pet an animal can lower blood pressure and life depression.”
Making the adjustment into retirement is not always an easy one. For many, caring for a pet is just the thing the doctor ordered to make that transition a little smoother while providing life-long companionship.
Deemer sums up their importance well.“I’m not suggesting that pets can replace human beings, but they can help by providing warmth, attention and dependency which can enhance the lives of those around them,” he said.