July 26, 2013

Adding a Dog To Your Life

Almost 17 months ago Bailey joined our family. After being dogless for several years, considering all the consequences, and finding a reputable breeder, we made the move. We have absolutely no regrets. She has made our satisfying retirement even more complete.

That being said, adding a dog, or any pet except maybe a pet rock, is a step not to be taken lightly. A pet comes with certain responsibilities, costs, and lifestyle changes that should be addressed upfront. Unlike most purchases, you are making a commitment that may last 15 years or more. 

Not long ago the American Heart Association reviewed studies exploring the health benefits of dog ownership. What they found is that having a dog is associated with lower blood pressure, better cholesterol, and less chance for obesity since dogs require walking on a regular basis.

What are the other positive reasons to consider adding a dog to your life? While not an exhaustive list consider these possibilities:

Unconditional affection. I hesitate to use the word, love, since a dog is not really capable of an emotion that approximates human love. But, when your dog greets you at the door with his whole body wiggling in excitement at your return, it is impossible to not smile and feel good.

Bailey is a master of this. If Betty and I are gone for 30 minutes or three hours it doesn't matter,  we are greeted as we come through the garage door as if we'd been away for weeks. Her joy is contagious.

Cure for loneliness. For many single seniors, a dog is a constant companion that makes a house or apartment seem less lonely. A pet can help socialization, too. They becomes natural conversation ice-breakers and conversation starters while walking the dog in a park or neighborhood.

This is not a big issue in our house, though there are times when one of us has a full day of appointments or commitments.  Bailey curls up at the feet of whomever is home and makes the house feel less empty.

Adding structure and routine to your day. A dog depends on its owner for everything, from food and water, to an opportunity to relieve itself and to play. For those who find it difficult to maintain a structure after retirement, a pet helps the owner establish a consistent routine from day to day.

Bailey spends her night sleeping on a sofa downstairs, but is as reliable as an alarm clock in waking us up each morning. Bounding up the stairs she will leap onto the bed and lick us awake, all while begging to be stroked and hugged. It is very pleasant way to start the day.

Providing  stress relief.  Studies have shown that petting a dog or taking her for a walk are excellent ways to reduce stress. Bailey absolutely loves to be massaged and have her tummy scratched. It is very hard to be tense or upset while petting her.

The not so good parts

Of course, there are some aspects of dog ownership that are not quite so pleasant, but must be acknowledged:

Costs can be substantial. In addition to the initial purchase, food, vaccinations, toys, and care products, as dogs age they generally begin to develop medical problems that can become expensive. An injury can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to treat.

Bailey cost about $1,000 to purchase and have the initial round of shots and exams. Her food and on-going medcial care costs are averaging about $100 a month. As she ages we expect that figure to rise.

Arrangements must be made if leaving the dog at home for extended periods. Even though Bailey has a doggie door that allows her to take care of her business, we would never leave her home alone for longer than 7 or 8 hours. Her water must be freshened (this is Arizona and she drinks a lot) and her food must be made available. Luckily she loves to travel with us in the RV, but there are times when it is impractical to take her on trips. Then, one of our daughters will be asked to dog-sit, we arrange for a pet-sitter, or as a last resort she must go to a kennel.

The loss of a dog generates real grief and pain. I have had to watch four dogs be put to sleep. It doesn't get any easier. Even though the process is painless for the animal, it is usually  wrenching for the owner. I have been reduced to tears all four times and will be again when it is Bailey's time to go.

Your social life may be affected. There are couples we know who don't like dogs. They are uncomfortable in our home with Bailey underfoot. We have tried putting her in the laundry room but that doesn't work. They don't come around as often as they once did.

If you'd like a few other sources of information, click on these links:

Getting a puppy after retirement


So small !

So Sleepy !

So Noble !

The following picture series was in the Huffington Post a week or so ago. I dare you to look at these pictures of dogs and not get a lump in your throat:
 21 Reasons a Dog is The Best Investment You Will Ever Make

And, if that doesn't do it, here is a video of a dog welcoming home his master after a 6 month military deployment. The dog actually cries for joy:

Dog cries for joy


  1. We saved a TON of money (and a life) by adopting our rescued dog from a shelter that was showing them at PetSmart. For $70, she was already spayed and had all her initial shots. Sure, we didn't get the pure bred we intended, but as a mix I think we got the best of both breeds (husky and something). This is our 2nd rescued dog and we've been very pleased with the cost and results both times. Warning: the foster parents of these dogs can be very protective of their "charges" and will likely interview the heck out of you to be sure they're going to a good home. Be patient. We've also found the same with our felines adopted over the years as well.

    1. Our first choice was a shelter and we checked them all. But, my wife and daughter have bad allergic reactions to most breeds. We never found one that met our needs so we had to go the breeder route.

      As a huge fan of the TV show, Dogtown, I fully support folks finding pets at shelters and rescue organizations whenever possible.

  2. I'm sure you'll hear from the cat owners so let me be one of the first. I would love to have a dog but my lifestyle was not conducive when I was working. I live alone and the dog would have spent too many hours alone which I didn't feel was fair. I have both dogs and cats all my life but over the past 12 years the number of cats has grown exponentially both due to choice and to fate (the ones who have just shown up, so to speak). Now that I am retired and have time for a dog I realize it would be an unfair disruption to the culture and serenity that is our world - not to mention that several of them would probably beat the stuffings out of the poor thing.
    They are a comfort beyond words and as I struggled through some very difficult years I know they are the reason I never had a stress heart attack or worse. Having a lap and chair full of loving kitties to pet and be purred for is the best blood pressure reducer.
    I don't take them for a walk but do have to devote a half hour or so a day making sure they are active and played with to keep their weight under control. And we won't even mention the difference in cleaning up after them. They are only indoor kitties but cat boxes are a breeze to maintain.
    I am met at the door and 'talked to' by several of my loves and my dear Lancelot will lie at the entrance of whatever room I am in keeping a watchful eye.I am never alone and always have someone to talk to. Can't imagine living alone without a feline friend and know that I will one day have to find one of those retirement homes that allows pets. My family lovingly calls me the Crazy Cat Lady but my 10 year old granddaughter says she wants to be just like me when she grows up so I know that my kitties will never want for a home when it's my time to leave this lovely world.
    They're not better than dogs (I go to my son's for a 'dog fix') but they suit my lifestyle and they're exactly what I need. That's pretty much all that matters. Your dog is adorable and seems to be exactly what you and Betty need. Perfect.

    1. Because of my wife's severe allergies to cats we never had to make that tough choice. Only short hair dogs will do.

      Pets are such a blessing to our lives. Today, for instance, Bailey is at our oldest daughter's house. We dropped her off last night to see how she'd do when we are in Oregon for our vacation. Not surprisingly, our house this morning feels strangely empty! We will pick her up after lunch and return the Lowry household to normal.

    2. 'Strangely empty' is what I feel on vacation - sleeping alone is terrible :-) They do bring us joy.

  3. We are in our 60s and when our sweet little 4-year-old dog dies we will not get another dog. No more cats either once our 15- year-old pair are gone. So many couples in our neighborhood get puppies or kittens when they are in their 70s and the pets need new homes when their owner dies.

    I know that animals can relieve stress and are good, loyal companions but my cats have come close to tripping me many times as I walk anywhere near where their food or treats are stored--lol.

    Bailey's a real doll.

    1. You make a very good point. Pets can be a hazard underfoot. Since home falls are one of the leading causes of serious injuries and death among the elderly, this is something to consider.

      Taking on the responsibility of a pet when there is a real question who will outlive whom is also valid. When the owner dies there is a chance the dog or cat could go undiscovered for an extended period. Or, if there is no family close by willing to accept the animal then a shelter and euthanasia is a likely outcome.

      Thanks, Denis for your excellent thoughts.

  4. My girl Sandy has been gone since 1997 and I still miss her terribly but not enough to add a new member to the family.My husband and I work long hours and are away from home alot so not good for a dog and I am highly allergic to cats although our daughter has Isabelle and we watch her from time to time.Truthfully I do not want the responsibility,cost or going thru death again of a beloved pet.I know their are all kinds of options like pet sitters, pet walkers, kennels etc. In my push towards retirement I choose not to add responsibilities.I admire people like you Bob who blend Bailey in seamlessly!

    1. Trust me, it has not been seamless! She is a nervous animal who will bark at almost anything a bit unusual, and especially vacuum cleaners until we want to strangle her. Dog obedience classes and trying everything suggested has not cured the problem.

      She is also a very picky eater who will go 2 or 3 days rejecting all food, and then gobble down a full can. We are happy to get her to eat 1 cup of dry food a day, but that happens only if she is willing.

      All that said, she has been such a positive influence in our home that the hassles and expenses are worth it.

  5. There's nothing like the love of a pet. I do believe they are capable of love and show it every day. Ever since our dog, Benson, had a meltdown when our kids left for college, we've had 2 dogs. Getting him a buddy was everyone's, including our vet,solution. They were right. Dogs are pack animals by nature.

    So over the years we've had overlapping duos. The two we have now, both cockapoos, are adorable together! We hadn't had a girl before Sydney. She came into our life to help Cosmo get over the loss of his best bud Duffy. She calmed him down and made his last year enjoyable.

    Buddy was a puppy mill rescue. He's a cockapoo who leans a bit toward the poo side. They are like a couple, Buddy and Sydney! He licks her face and she loves it. They are inseparable.

    Nothing beats the love of a pet!

    1. For years we usually had two dogs at once: the senior dog and our "emergency backup dog." The EBD was trained by the older one and then moved up to top position upon the death of the senior dog. It worked well for many years.

      Bailey is such a loving pet she only needs us. She sees other dogs as competition for our love. I guess we are her pack!

  6. When a beloved family member, Mr. Mac, died at a ripe old age, we vowed never again to go through the grief of losing another pet. Now our son has a terrific rescue dog, Pearl, and "grandma and grandpa" get to play sitter frequently. We love it! It's nice to experience all the joy Pearl brings and not have the basic ownership responsibilities.

    1. That is a good solution, Dick. Putting a dog to sleep is very tough. I've had to do it four times and it never gets any easier.

  7. I have 3 adopted Siberian Husky dogs, all Sr. dogs. They give more back to my life than I probably give to them. They are so loved. You are right about saying goodbye to your pets. We had 2 huskies previously and I didn't think that I could ever adopt again. However, there are so many animals that need good homes that I adopted again. I'm so glad that I did. My life is so much richer with them. I also have a finicky eater,Bob,and add a little bit of canned food with the kibbles. That has worked for us. I love your column and read it and the comments. What great topics and insights. Dee

    1. Dogs are a joy and add so much to one's life, even with the hassles and pain. They help us shift our focus away from ourselves and to another living being that depends on us fully.

      We have tried dry, wet, a mix, even boiled chicken for awhile at the vet's suggestion. If we make it a game and feed her one dry piece at a time (how silly is that!) we can get 1/2-1 cup into her. Every once in awhile her stomach overrules her will and she will eat a full can of wet food.

      Thanks for the nice words, Dee. Have a great Sunday.

  8. I love everything about our dog, including her often hilarious idiosyncrasies. But I have to admit, I do not like pickin' up the poop; plus, all those plastic bags going into the landfill. Somebody needs to come up with some kind of new solution.

    1. That is one chore we mostly avoid. Because of our good-sized back and side yard, most of Bailey's business is done on our property. I pick it up with a scoop and dump it into a closed trash container (with large trash bag inside). Once every few weeks that bag is put out for the curbside pickup. But, there are times when we are walking around the neighborhood or park and using a plastic bag is essential. Solution? None that I know of.

  9. I did watch the crying for joy clip. It was just beautiful Earl go up from his chair and came to watch and listen. Animals do fill a great need in our lives. Thank you for sharing this.


    1. The dog crying for joy is such a delight. Who says dogs can't express emotions!

  10. Well this post would have had me tempted, but right now I've had a 4 month old puppy in my house not even 48 hours and I'm EXHAUSTED! She is the cutest, sweetest thing, and 99% potty trained already, but I can't get anything done. She wants to play when she's awake, and if I make noise while she's asleep, she wakes up and wants to play. I'm having a hard time letting go of my freedom, even though it's only a week-long stint for me.

    This seals it, when I get a doggy it will not be a puppy . . .

    1. Poor Syd.

      Actually, we had discussed getting a rescue dog that wasn't a puppy but couldn't find one my wife wasn't allergic to. So, we had to buy Bailey and have her shipped to us from Missouri.

      She is almost 20 months old and still bounds around like a puppy, though she is sleeping more than she did in the first year. Puppies can certainly keep you running.

  11. I too am a dog person and find that I need a dog (or dogs) in my life even though it's like having a toddler for life! You might be interested in my blog about the dogs in my life...

    Thanks for a great blog.


    1. Thanks, Rosy. We can't wait to get home to Bailey Wednesday night after this three week vacation.

  12. Me and my family especially my grandparents are dog lovers. We find dogs that can help you, not just physically but mentally, we had dog that really matter to my grandparents, the dog, which could kill their loneliness even help them on cleaning! but now he is gone, his name Caesar.

    But now we have a golden retriever,named Jazz. He loves air-con, everytime me and my grandma go for ride he always sit at front. Jazz also loves my grandma, he will sit like a gentleman when my grandma wants to feed him. and it makes my grandma very happy and reminds her on Caesar.


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