July 9, 2019

Adding A Dog To Your Life: Is It Worth It?


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


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 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!





34 comments:

  1. A dog would add stress to my life as I don't like a dog touching me, licking me, making noise, needing a walk, causing me to fall in the house. I like dogs "over there." I am not that lonely but alone.

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    1. So, a membership in the American Kennel Association would not be your ideal gift!! I completely understand. I feel some of that way about cats. A pet adds complexity to a life that may be happiest simplifying.

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  2. That is an excellent post. I am not a dog person but there have been a couple in my life that I loved. However, at this age... no thanks... your reasons for not having a dog is facts enough for me. I do have to say that yours is a cutie, though.

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    1. In Phoenix, in the summer, we must take the dog(s) out for their morning exercise no later than 7AM or things become uncomfortably warm for them and their human masters (us). Also, the sun rises before 6:00 so sleeping in will not occur until sometime this fall.

      Oh well, it is a trade we are willing to make for the joy of their companionship.

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  3. It has been a difficult decision to remain without a pet after our kitty died this past November. We are doing a lot more short and long getaways than ever before.. we miss the love, companionship and routines that having a companion brought but had to weigh it against the lifestyle we now have. I am thinking of volunteering at a local ranch that shelters both kitties and horses and always needs help. I will just have to really guard against wanting to take home two or three kitties every week!!!!

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    1. For someone who has been a per person, volunteering at a shelter would be tough. Those big loving eyes staring at you can grab you instantly. Be strong!

      Donating some of your time at a shelter is a great idea for those with pets or those who can't take care of one now but love them anyway. These shelters always need loving companions for their residents.

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  4. I dont know what will happen when Wilson leaves me. Having said that I have taken him on multiple long in car trips with ease, staying in nice hotels and sightseeing with him as well so I would not rule out traveling with a dog. This one has gone lots of places and is ready to hit the road again.

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    1. Our dog, Bailey, is a bundle of nerves. She used to sit in the front of the RV and shake for 6 hours at a time. She is not a good traveler. Trainers, thunder shirts, we have tried it all.

      Adi, on the other hand, sleeps at the drop of a dog bone, loves everyone, and doesn't have a nervous bone in her body. Her problem is she is very strong, almost too strong for us to walk her without a special harness. If she wants to go right, we all go right.

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    2. Oh no, poor baby. This is why my son walks my very big coon dog these days or else I pay someone. He would be walking me rather than the other way around.

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  5. I have never in my life lived without a dog except when I was in college but even then I could come home and be with the family dogs. My current dog is 10 and when he's gone I will struggle with the decision to get another one at my age. I would be so lost and lonely without a dog, I'm sure.

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    1. That will be a tough decision. Someone has to be physically able to walk and care for a dog properly or it just isn't fair to the pet.

      We say we will get another when Bailey goes, but the final decision will largely depend on our living arrangements and out ability to care for it well.

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  6. Everything you say about dogs is true and they can be great companions. It is like having 2 year old child that never grows up and they need continuous looking after, which can be very rewarding or a problem depending on your lifestyle. For sure if travel is a big part of your retirement plans having a pet is going to be an issue.

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    1. As Barb noted above, some people can travel well with their pet, others not so much. Next year Betty and I are taking a 4 week cruise and trip to the South Pacific and New Zealand. Luckily, we have arranged for our daughter to care for Bailey. I would not consider such a journey if we needed a live-in sitter for that long, and absolutely not in a kennel.

      A pet can make foreign travel quite a challenge.

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  7. We've had many dogs and I couldn't live without them. Our first was an Old English Sheep dog. She was a ton of work and not particularly smart. Larger dogs live fewer years and, honestly, I was relieved when she passed on. Our next was a puppy my son, Greg, walked home with a rope. Greg's friends dog had puppies...mutts...and he wanted one. Benson was a really great dog. He definitely had some spaniel in him but, his mother came from a 'good' neighborhood. When the boys left home we felt it was time to get Benson a friend so, I checked out the local shelter and found Duffy. He was the one that 'wrote his own book', The Duffy Chronicles, Duffy Finds His Family. After a few years, Ben passed on and we began looking for a friend for Duffy. I was working at the News Journal, in Delaware and got first look at the ads for puppies. I made arrangements and took Duffy down to meet the new puppy. They bonded instantly. He was a cockapoo, too. They called him Cory but, we felt that was too bland for this one. He would run down the hall and slide into the kitchen, which made us laugh. Our son said, 'You should call him Cosmo, like Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld." It suited him perfectly!
    Duffy and Cosmo were inseparable. Duffy passed suddenly with a stomach issue and Cosmo was lost. He literally moped for weeks. That's when we found Sydney. We had looked for a friend for Cosmo for quite a while with no luck. Then Dave found an ad online for a sweet little girl who needed a new home. Her owner traveled weekly with her job and went from Southern California to Las Vegas with Sydney, who would stay with her mother. It became way too much for all concerned so, they put an ad online and Dave discovered it. He made arrangements to fly from Philly to Las Vegas to pick her up and bring her back in one day! The mother met him in the airport parking lot and handed her over. They fell in love instantly! Sydney is now 14 and living the dream. She helped Cosmo through his late years and then we got her a rescue puppy named Buddy. They are the cutest couple ever!
    People tend to get cats in pairs or more but, not dogs. Dogs are pack animals and LOVE company. So we now hold our breath that they will stay close for many more years.
    Sorry to ramble, Bob. I just got started and had to follow the chain. ;)
    b

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    1. Anyone who sees your (or Dave's) Facebook page know how central to your lives the two little balls of fur and love are. One can sense their personality from just the photos.

      Your story is very typical for a real dog person. We have always tried to have a "main" dog and an "emergency backup" dog who takes over the Alpha position when the older dog passes. Then, as you note, the dog left mopes until a new "emergency backup" pet is added to the mix.

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  8. Hi Bob! I can't imagine life without a pet in my home. Like you said, they add so very much to a person's life. And while there are downsides to every relationship, we feel like we benefit on the plus side far above the negatives. And because we travel, we have also found a perfect solution for leaving her when we go that doesn't COST ANYTHING. It is using a pet-house sitting service and we've done it four times, had wonderful experiences AND like I said, it doesn't cost us anything. If it is okay with you, here is a post I wrote about our experience. I highly recommend it. https://www.smartliving365.com/pet-owners-travel/ . ~Kathy

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    1. I will certainly take a look at your post. I am quite interested in how you manage to take care of business for free!

      The young woman we have used for a week-long trip wasn't free, but worth every penny to care for our dogs and watch our home.

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  9. Our dog is 12 and was a rescue. We thought we were getting a chocolate lab, but he's turned out to be at least half German Shorthair and he's nuts. But we love him. :) He has cost us dearly a few years (allergies, multiple doctors, foods, and finally the Michigan State Vet School) but once they're a member of the family, you do what you have to do. He's got so many allergies, they put him on grain free food. Don't know if you have read this, but those foods were now found to cause heart disease in dogs, which he was diagnosed with last year before the research was published widely. Oy. But he is still active and you'd never know he had a problem. He's just nuts. :-)

    We have discussed whether we would get another dog right now, because he does add to any travel costs and somewhat restricts our activities, but for now, he's part of the family and I really dread the day he needs to cross the rainbow bridge.

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    1. Obviously, even though he may be nuts, you love him dearly. Dogs are like that. Once they are in your heart and in your family, they are worth anything we have to go through to keep them as happy and healthy as possible.

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  10. PLEASE tell us about that cruise to the South Pacific — it sounds enticing!

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    1. It is coming up in a little over a year. We will fly to Honolulu and meet the ship. Its route includes Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, and three stops in New Zealand. The ship continues on to Sidney, Australia, but we are getting off in Wellington so we can spend a week touring the North Island. Then, a flight from Auckland to Honolulu, two days resting up, then a flight back to Phoenix.

      All in all, we should be gone 24 days.

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  11. Just looking at the pictures makes me smile. I lost my 15 year old dog in May. She was a German shepherd mix and just right at 64 pounds. I really miss her but I am a caregiver and often I am gone for the entire day taking care of my parents. My mother doesn't want me to get another dog. She says its because I take their deaths too hard but I think she wants my undivided attention for her and her cat. It's too soon to look for another dog. Maybe in a year or two. Meanwhile, I love to read about Bailey and I adore the pictures.

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    1. I'm glad I could make you smile! Both dogs have that effect on me!

      Having a dog but leaving it alone all day isn't really fair to the dog, plus it puts stress on the owner. Your decision to focus on your parents for now and consider another pet in a year or two is probably wise.

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  12. Here- I will say the bad word- kennel. We have two Jack Russel Terriers. They are just like my husband and are the glint in his eye. We have a great indoor/out door kennel run by two retired women who are picky about "who comes to stay". It is out in the country (easy in Delaware). They do limit our travel to 10 days at a time.
    We have decided that when these two are gone, there will not be another. Saying that, the younger is 7 months and Jacks live well into their teens....

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    1. Finding a good kennel where the dogs are treated like they should be is tough. Here in urban Phoenix, there are no small facilities, just large operations that are just too confining and impersonal.

      Your choice sounds much better than what we'd have to pick for Bailey and Adi if we couldn't find a dependable house/pet sitter.

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  13. Long time reader, first time commenting. I lost my 12 year old lab mix to cancer last summer. I live alone, love to travel and also have an elderly parent about 5 hours away, so like everyone else there was always the concern of who could take care of my dog while I was out of town. Earlier this year I decided to try fostering dogs for a local rescue group. I only have to commit to a week at a time, they provide all the food, treats and any necessary medicine, etc. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The rescue organization holds an adoption event each Sat. So my role is to help socialize the dogs, begin housebreaking, teaching simple things like walking on leash, etc. I find it to be very rewarding and get my doggy fix without having to make a long term commitment to a new pet.

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    1. Not only is the foster approach great for you, it does wonders for the dogs and increases the odds of them finding a forever home. Good for you.

      Thanks for being a reader and now, a commenter!

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  14. We tried to live without a dog for a few months after our beloved German Shepherd died. We missed the routine - we missed having a dog to spoil. We missed those wet noses and sloppy kisses. We've decided, that we have a dog. We have a black lab now who is a big baby. We also have a cat.(different animal) We also have pet insurance for them and any more pets, we wouldn't be able to do that. They are a JOY but it is hard to leave town. I can't imagine NOT having a animal to love.

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    1. Isn't that the dilemma for all of us who love pets: balancing our personal desires with our responsibilities and love for the animal (or two!)? Our home would be so much less warm and full without them.

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  15. I don't know if I'll be able to stick to this, but my plan is to do a *lot* of pent-up world travel for several years once my beloved 11-year-old Golden passes, then get another (but smaller) dog. Having had at least one dog for more than 25 years, it's hard to imagine life without one! I'm almost 70 now, and very fit, but I wonder how manageable a dog will be when I'm 85 or 90. Maybe then it's time for a lapdog...

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    1. Interesting questions! Taking a break from doggie responsibilities to fulfill dreams of travel seems a very reasonable idea. Far worse would be to have a dog and then leave it without your love for extended periods.

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    2. Lydgate, a good friend of mine always had large dogs.Loved them.After her last passed,she waited a while and her daughter talked her into a smaller dog..a rescue.He is up in her lap and just a real cuddler..she is in Heaven with her smaller guy .. so you probably will be too!!

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  16. First time visiting your blog and commenting :)

    We had to say goodbye to our beloved so very spoiled cancer survivor corgi when the cancer came back with vengeance and at his age of 10 years with diabetes and blindness that came as a result of his initial treatment for cancer (the blindness came later in his life; the last 4 months or so). We had just rented a house in Prescott, moving from San Diego area. We rented the house because it took pets and we had to pay an additional pet free every month. Anyway, we had signed the lease so we had to live there for a year but we didn't have to pay the extra pet fee obviously.

    We decided to wait a year and grieve the pet rather than jump on the bandwagon and get a new dog immediately. In that year we were in Prescott (now we are in Phoenix) we found out we were going to be grandparents (that's why we moved down here). The year mark came and we weren't ready.

    Five years later we still aren't ready. We talk about it, we look up puppies or rescue corgis but we have come to like the pet less life, coming and going as we pleased and our corgi was so high maintenance toward the end (but worth every penny, etc.) that we didn't have much of a social life because we always had to come home to give him a shot of insulin or had to let him out so he wouldn't have accidents in his crate, etc.

    The jury is still out on what we'll do. You brought up excellent points to consider in getting a pet in retirement. We're not retired yet; hubby is planning to work 1 more year and I still got 5 years before I'll be old enough to get my retirement stuff.

    My SIL's mom took in a rescue dog later in life and she always worried that he would outlive her and that is what happened. My SIL couldn't take the dog because they had 2 dogs already, but thankfully the lady who would watch the dog for her when she was traveling was willing to take him in.

    betty

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    1. Welcome to the blog, Betty (My wife's name!).

      After losing a pet that was loved deeply, we all have to process the feelings in our own way. Some folks need to find another dog (or cat) immediately to have something to receive that love, while others need time to process what happened before adding a pet back into their lives.

      You highlight another possibility: one that accepts a change in lifestyle that requires more freedom than a pet allows. That was our decision for several years after we retired and had to put down a cocker we had for 12 years. But, Bailey joined us after we decided we needed what only a dog could give us.

      Having a pet outlive the owner is a heartbreaking situation. The poor pet is suddenly an orphan. If no one can take it, a pound is really the only option. Your SIL's mom's dog was lucky. Not every story ends that well.

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