A Canine Companion for Your Golden Years
Inspired by her grandmother and a visit with Cesar Milan, Kim Izzo ruminates on why the dog is truly man’s – and woman’s – best friend.
BY: KIM IZZO
My grandmother used to say she preferred animals to people because she always knew where she stood with them. Of course, she loved her friends and family too, but looking at how she spent her final years and of the countless seniors I’ve seen with pets, I understood where she was coming from.
My grandmother had a medium-sized dog named Dylan. He was energetic with everyone, bouncing on his leash, anxious to run after a ball or chase down the neighbour’s Lab. But when she walked him – she was at this point in her late 80s, partially blind and with an arthritic hip – he instinctively slowed down to her cautious pace. Walking slowly and steadily at her side, growling at anyone who came too near, indeed, once, horribly, she fell and broke her knee on the sidewalk, and he lay there with her until help arrived. She never had to doubt his motives or feelings.
Owning a pet combats loneliness, a major cause of depression among the elderly. Dogs give unconditional love (when was the last time you could say that about a human?), which is particularly relevant when an elderly person does not have children or the kids are not able to be around on a regular basis and a spouse has already passed away.
On a more base level, a dog is a reason to get up in the morning because it needs care. In fact, creating a routine for someone who is elderly can help if they begin to suffer memory loss.
Pets also show their appreciation clearly, whether it’s a wagging tail or a snuggle on the sofa, to a senior who may not feel that society sees them as being necessary or useful. All of these reasons are why increasingly nursing homes are allowing pets to come with the residents. Or, at the very least, allow volunteers to bring in “therapy” pets for the sole purpose of being petted and cuddled by seniors.
Internationally renowned dog trainer and rehabilitator, Cesar Milan, the dog whisperer, told me on a recent trip to Toronto that he has seen many cases of seniors’ lives benefiting from dog ownership. He also pointed out that when choosing a dog for an elderly person, senior dogs are the right fit. “The energy levels are better matched,” he said. “And that’s important for the happiness of dog and human. Senior dogs also have medications too, and ailments like arthritis, and human seniors can sympathize.”