Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Push and Pull of a Pet

     We have a dog, a mixed breed, mid-sized female who is getting on in years. She weighs about 60 pounds. B got her as a rescue from the North Shore Animal League in 2006. So now Sophie is 12 years old, with a cloud of white spreading around her nose, and a touch of arthritis in her legs.

     B's sister-in-law and her husband used to have two dogs. One died a couple of years ago, and the other died last year. They had dogs for most of their lives, but now for the past year or so they have been without a dog. They live near us, and so last spring we thought they might like to dog sit Sophie. They agreed, and took her into their home for two weeks while we were away.

     Then, when we were going to Cape Cod this summer, we asked them if they'd like to dog sit Sophie again. But they begged off, making an excuse.

A camera shy Sophie
     Later, B's sister-in-law confided that having Sophie around made her husband sad. She reminded him of how much he missed their old dogs. He really didn't think he could handle dog sitting Sophie again.

     We saw them again last month at a family get-together, and I got talking with him about dogs. His daughter has a mixed-breed dog, and his son has two standard poodles. And then he reflected that he'd had dogs all his life, until recently. But he didn't think they would get another one.

     Why not? I asked.

     I'm 68 years old, he told me, and getting a dog is a long-term commitment. Sure, I'd like to have a dog now. But I don't know if I'd be able to handle the responsibility in six or eight or ten years. And, you know, I'd hate to be in that position -- having to find someone else to take my dog. And giving up a dog at that point would be really hard for me.

     My first reaction was that he was borrowing trouble -- worrying about something that might happen in the distant future, and missing out on all the things a pet brings into your life in the meantime.

     Or maybe he and his wife were just tired of having a dog tie them down -- and he couldn't admit it. Their kids are grown. They are retired. Maybe they want the freedom to travel, or the freedom from having to train and walk and take care of a pet.

     Then just last week I found out my former brother-in-law John (my ex-wife's brother) just got a new German shepherd. He, too, has owned dogs for most of his life -- as well as a couple of cats, and he once had a parrot as well. He's now divorced and lives on his own.

     John is 71, or three years older than my brother-in-law. And he suffers from multiple myeloma. He's been dealing with myeloma for a few years, and he is now stabilized, but his life expectancy has to be a lot less than my brother-in-law. But he has decided he can take on the responsibility for a new dog. I guess he feels that he can manage it. Or, maybe he just needs the companionship.

     There are many different reasons why someone wants a dog, or any pet for that matter. I have the best of both worlds. Since B got Sophie before we moved in together, she feels that Sophie is really her responsibility, and she does 80% of the upkeep. She feeds and walks her in the morning. She takes care of her medical issues. And she's the one who arranges for a pet sitter when we go away. All I do is feed her at night, and go out for a brief walk with B and Sophie in the evening.

     So I get all the benefits of having a dog, without the work. But if I ever found myself living alone, like John, I would probably get a dog of my own. I'd want the companionship. And I'd think that eight or ten years from now, my dog would take as much care of me as I would of him. (Many studies, including this one from Scientific Reports, show that dog owners enjoy health benefits and actually live longer than those who don't own pets.)

     I hate to think that one day we'll be without Sophie. But that will probably happen. Will we get a new dog at that point? Maybe we'll just downsize. My sister in Arizona has a Pomeranian that weighs in at about five pounds. He looks kinda cute!

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fostering for a dog rescue organization is a great way to have a dog around for weeks or months at a time. And you can always opt to keep a more senior dog if the match is good. Not all dog relationships have to be getting puppies and keeping them for 10-15 years.

Sue said...

Hi Tom,
I have had dogs for many years. I am now 66 years old. All my dogs have been in the upper teens to low 20 pounds in weight and I like that because I can lift them if I want/need to do that. I got my last 2 dogs (now 8 and 7 years old) at different times through Animal Rescue groups. That way, I was able to select dogs in the age group I wanted. Anyway, my parents are now in poor health and unable to care for their 2 Yorkshire Terrier dogs (6 & 7 lbs.). The dogs were 12 years old when I took them into my home last year and they are now 13 years old. The 2 Yorkshire terriers & my own 2 dogs, get along well together and I've decided that if/when all the dogs are gone and I am older, I will get an older Yorkshire terrier as an older person should be able to easily care for such a small dog.

Sue

Juhli said...

We also got a smaller adult rescue dog the last time we picked one out. The ability to be able to pick her up as we age was a big part of the decision plus considering that we might downsize further. However we were dog-less for 8 years before her and enjoyed the freedom to travel, be gone for long days, etc. Our house just got to quiet though and we like to nurture. She has brought a lot of joy and laughter but as she developed a chronic illness also a lot of expense.

DJan said...

Pets are wonderful, but a huge responsibility, and they just don't live long enough. My sister has a wonderful Papillon but I dread him getting old and sick, meaning that my sister will have to go through the sad loss of another beloved pet. They give so much, though, during their lifetimes. :-)

Jono said...

Adopting an older animal is sometimes a good way to go. I got an eight year old Papillon a number of years ago and she was a sweet dog. She's gone now and I am again dogless. The eleven cats keep me on my toes, however.

Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom! I'm with you. I can't imagine living without a dog for any length of time. Of course, that said, when we lost the last two we took a break until the time seemed right. I don't want to immediately replace someone who has been a HUGE part of my life for a while. But then, I always end up getting another and will do so until I can't. Working at home like I do, having Kloe around is such a comfort. AND she gets me walking and staying active. Sure it's a bit of a hassle, especially when we want to travel, but what important thing isn't worth the trouble? ~Kathy

Olga Hebert said...

My husband loved his hounds but after the last one died he said "no more." He said he couldn't stand the heartbreak of having to deal with the loss. Then we got a cat who lived 13 years before he was killed by a fisher in our back yard. We grieved terribly. Now, I have no interest in having a pet.

Lady Di said...

Dogs are very nice, but having a dog, IMHO, is like having another kid...no thanks. I prefer cats. We are down to just one now, and she is over 12. She is sitting on my lap being sure to note the correct information about the joy of cats is being typed. She was a rescue, and is an indoor cat. She seems quite happy with her arrangements of being able to bird watch from her kitty tree. The move to the Wrinkle Farm/Storage Bin didn't seem to bother her at all after she inspected the premises. I seem to remember reading something about having your hand resting on your cat being a great stress reliever. =^..^= It is very important that plans are made for your animals especially if you are a "senior". Purrs to all.

www.postworksavvy.com said...

After our two cats had to be euthanized a couple of years ago, my husband and I decided that, at 81 and 71, we were too old to assume care for another pet. This was reinforced when we totalled costs of vet bills, special foods, medicines, dustless litter, etc and saw that spending in the last months of their lives would more than pay the costs of a year of university for our granddaughter. Nonetheless, we do miss the companionship of having a pet in the house.

Rian said...

I agree that pets (dogs, cats, etc.) are an added expense and I do believe that they need to be cared for properly (vacs, veterinary care, lots of love) if one has them. And I do understand about not taking on something that might outlive you. We have 3 cats now and have had many more (and several dogs) over the years. Since these 3 are all about 14 now, we feel that we shouldn't be taking any more in at our age (73).

But I know that we wouldn't want to live pet free. If these 3 should pass and we're still kicking, I'm pretty sure we would take in another... perhaps not a kitten or a puppy, but having an animal to nuture who responds with unconditional love is just good for the soul.

Tabor said...

I would love a dog once again, but it is not to be because of our ticks. So many of my neighbors and friends have had dangerous tick diseases and I am too afraid of bringing more ticks into the house.

gigihawaii said...

Oh, I had a dog once in New York back in the early 1970s, and when I returned to Hawaii I really missed her. But, I will never have another dog, because I just don't want one.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

I can understand both sides of the issue. For most of our 42 years together, my husband Bob and I have had a cat or two or three. Sometimes four. Only recently have we begun to think seriously about the limitations of age and how this could impact our responsibilities to our beloved cats. We've made provisions in our wills and also verbally with a trusted young friend who is like a son to us for the care of our cats should we pre-decease them. We're 73 and 74. Our four rescue cats are 4,6,8 and 12. So that could happen. If disaster struck and we somehow lost all four in the next year or so, we would think seriously about whether or not to get another. If we did, it would not be a kitten, but an older or elderly cat. And just one. We wouldn't want to take on the expense of multiples at this point, though we take our responsibilities to our current quartet very seriously. I suspect that the current cats will be our last. By the time our youngest is 16 or so (which has seemed the age which our previous generations of cats have tended to die), we will be well into our eighties and might just content ourselves with visiting the dogs and cats of friends. Right now, though, our animals are such a blessing, such a comfort. I can't imagine living in a pet-free home....though that may come to pass if we live long enough.

World of Animals, Inc. said...

Thanks for the share. Sometimes when you hit a certain age, you feel like you shouldn't have a pet. We think a pet brought into your life keeps you going and makes you feel love at all times. We found this post to be very helpful. We are happy to meet you. Have a wonderful day.
World of Animals

Barbara said...

Ive had Buddy around 6 or 7 years. I cant imagine my life without a dog. Right now we have my ex-mother in laws cat which my daughter promised to care for on MILs death bed. The cat is 16 and developed diabetes this year. I know my buddy thinks he belongs to the whole family so hopefully someone will take him in when I go. I would hate for him to be all alone in his old age. I'm going to think positive that the family will come through.

Wisewebwoman said...

As you know I still grieve my Ansa 2 years later. I would get another dog in a heartbeat if my building allowed pets. I'd adopt an older dog as they are hard to place. They fulfil so many needs in elders along with life extension.

XO
WWW

Gine Oquendo said...

In my part, I can't imagine my life without any pet, actually, I see myself spending my old days with our pet and of course, with my family, all my pets are from the pet adoption in the shelter, we share our love and home to the abandoned animals and we want to help the pets community as well.

Mage said...

I really miss having a cat. I'm not a dog person, but cats offer a companionship too. After our last cat died, we made a decision not to get another. Our allergies won. Darn it.

Rebecca Olkowski said...

I have two little dogs. One is 14 and the other is 10. I don't know what I would do without them. They are my stress relievers.