After a post about loneliness, this subject might suggest a good antidote.
Over 7 years ago Bailey joined our family. After being dogless for several years, considering all the consequences, and finding a reputable breeder, we made the move. After all this time 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 as long as a dozen 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 four 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
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 medical care and dental costs are averaging about $100 a month. As she ages we expect that figure to rise.
If we decide to add another dog to our lives after Bailey joins the doggie kennel in the sky, it will be a rescue dog. Let's just say our sensitivity to the plight of unclaimed pets has increased rather dramatically since we bought her.
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 6 or 7 hours. Her water must be freshened (this is Arizona and she drinks a lot) and her food must be made available.
Luckily she did love to travel with us in our RV, but that is a part of our past. A longer car trip with a dog is impractical. there are times when it is impractical to take her on trips. Our daughters can pitch in and we have found an excellent dog-sitter for trips that last more than a few days.
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 animals underfoot, so we visit at their house.
A little over four years ago our youngest daughter added a dog to her life, too. Her formal name is Adler, but prefers to be called Adi. Although it took a few years to adjust to not being the queen dog, Bailey now spends much of her time with her sister. Adi's mom travels a lot so she spends several months a year with us.
Just so you know, two dogs are even better than one!