Thursday, April 3, 2008

Elder Rescue

I read an article in a newspaper this week about a program pairing lonely human senior citizens with middle-aged rescue dogs.

I have really mixed emotions about this. Sure, the company of a beloved pet can help soothe away loneliness and pain in people of all ages. And the love that could be lavished on an otherwise lost animal is poignant and wonderful.

Another good thing about this is that middle-aged pups might already be housebroken and trained in other ways. The new human guardian might have to retrain to fit the surroundings, but at least the older dog may be more sedate and ready to please his or her new person.

But on the other hand, lonely human senior citizens are likely to have suffered losses in their lives already. And as those of us who adore--and have lost--animals know, dogs’ lifetimes are even more limited than ours.

Are five to seven wonderful years with a new, beloved dog companion worth the pain of losing him/her much too soon?

Of course, there are no guarantees when one takes on a pet of any age. Even young dogs can suffer disease or accidents. But if the point of convincing seniors to bond with a new pet is to provide companionship to them, I’m unsure whether this is a good thing in the long run.

I’m not certain what my mystery protagonist Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter, might opine on this. Of course in her experience, the senior citizen just might become a murder victim or suspect, so the poor dog might be the one ultimately requiring solace.

But seriously, what do you think?



Anonymous said...

(I apologize if this sounds angry, I don't mean it that way.)
I just hate hearing this kind of reasoning about not getting a pet again, or even in the first place. Everything that is alive will die, and after we learn this at age 5 or so, does this mean we should not make friends, or that we should cling like limpets to our family members for fear they'll die tomorrow and leave us sad? I realize loss sucks - if it was fun, well, no one would write about killing, we'd all just do it! I think that the people who say they "can't go through the pain again" are losing the easiest way in the world to bring joy into their life, and if you don't want a little joy because it will hurt to lose it, that just doesn't make sense.
You know that you are a living, caring, loving person every time you open yourself up, whether just to start a conversation with a stranger, or to start a truly meaningful relationship of any kind. If you shut one part down, that greyness spreads, perhaps only slowly, but spread it does, and eventually the threat of loneliness is a reality. Pets, especially dogs, can help us (sometimes even make us) interact with others and get out into the world, which are necessary for all of us, seniors included, to live a decent life. Please don't deny yourself the opportunity to love again, even if it hurts!

Becky Levine said...

I have to say, I think it's worth it. I'd be more worried about the elderly person dying early, without someone having thought about a good, alternate home for the dog.

I worked for years at my parents' vet clinic, and I saw a lot of people love animals and lose them. In particular, I did watch elderly people go through this, and it was incredibly painful. BUT...the love I saw between the owner and pet up until that point was incredibly wonderful. Getting old can be very lonely; a pet, I think, makes it less so.

suzi sam said...

We just lost our dog, had her put to sleep. My husband is devastated. i thought she would haunt us but instead our house is empty and quiet. Too empty.
She watched me read murder mysteries every night from her bed in our bedroom.

My dad is in a nursing home with Alzheimer's and he ignored Cindy when we took her to visit. His loss.

We want another sweet faced, smart, well mannered German Shepherd just like Cindy.

Linda O. Johnston said...

Thanks for your responses. I certainly understand how this can trigger an emotional response--it did with me, too. Having lost a beloved dog last year really spurred me to write this. But it makes sense to treasure the time you have with a beloved pet. And to get another one, if it makes sense, not as a replacement but as another animal to love and be loved.

Kathryn Lilley said...

I think the answer as to whether it's a good idea really depends on the person who would adopt the dog. I know a senior citizen who loves animals, but is no longer able (physically or energy-wise) to take good care of them. She has adopted several animals, and when I visit, I'm aware that they aren't being looked after very effectively, although she cares for them and tries. It's a real quandry--sometimes I want to suggest that she find another home for them, but that would make her too sad.

Anonymous said...

Kathryn Lilley's point about seniors who might not be able to care for their pets as well as would be best for them is one of the points I wanted to make, but didn't do very well in my post. When I said that dogs can help us and maybe even force us, to interact with others, one of the points I didn't express well was that seniors might have to get help from other people, which would give them more human interaction, which should be something that would be good for both the animal's and the senior's well-being.
I can't seem to get the comment(s) to post with my name, so I gave up yesterday and posted anonymously, but my name is Kate.

Linda O. Johnston said...

A senior's possible inability to care for a pet is absolutely something to consider. I wonder if some of the organizations that do that kind of placement might have ways to help out. If not, maybe they should consider it--perhaps asking for their volunteers to visit the pets and their new-senior people now and then.
Thanks for continuing to write, Kate, despite technical issues!