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Are you a senior citizen who is thinking about adopting a cat or dog but concerned about how your health will affect the experience? Just because you have arthritis or another form of joint pain doesn't mean you can't enjoy the companionship that comes along with pet ownership. You just have to carefully evaluate your situation and understand your limitations in order to choose the pet that's right for you.  

Recently I sat down with Mike Fry, Executive Director at Animal Ark Shelter in Minneapolis, MN for a Q&A about seniors adopting pets. His shelter has a special program called "Seniors for Seniors", in which they help senior citizens find the right senior animal to rescue and take home. The program has been very successful and we asked him for input on how to help our senior customers who are considering adopting a pet.  Here's what he had to say:

Q: What are the benefits for senior citizens to adopting senior pets?

A:  Very often these dogs and cats come well trained!  That whole phase of chewing, potty training and terrorizing can be bypassed by adopting older animals.  The older animals require less exercise, less energy, less food, and are generally a LOT easier to ease into a home.  Additionally, because an animal's personality is somewhat determined genetically, and is not fully expressed until adulthood, it is often easier to know what personality a dog will have if an adult dog is adopted. When seniors adopt senior dogs, the benefits mentioned above are multiplied.  Senior people, in general, have lifestyles that are more consistent with the needs of senior pets.  Furthermore, adopting a very senior pet does not involve making a 20-year commitment, something some seniors are not prepared to do.  However, they may be able to make a 3 - 6 year commitment.  And a senior pet is perfect in that case.

Q: What are some of the concerns seniors have in adopting a dog?

A: Some seniors are concerned with outliving their pet.  Animal Ark addresses this concern by offering a program called our "Continuing Care Program", which ensures we will take a pet back if something happens.  They also want to know that they can handle the pet.  Large, active dogs, for example, can be hard to handle for human seniors.  Focusing on pets whose personalities really fit the people can address most of those concerns.

Q:  Why do senior dogs make good companions for senior citizens?

A: Research has proven that people with pets live longer, happier lives.  The health benefits of owning pets can extend a person’s life and dramatically increase the quality of life.  I have heard many seniors say that a pet gives them something to do each day, which is important if you are retired, have no kids at home, etc.  They provide love, activity and stimulation.

Q: How does a senior dog's health play into the situation?

A: As a general rule, I don’t think health is a big problem.  The general ailments of older animals are fairly easy to overcome.  The key is to get people to connect with an older pet.  When they do, the minor ailments of age usually mean little. An animal in pain can, understandably, be more aloof, or downright cranky.  We have observed, therefore, some general personality changes in dogs when we put them on FlexPet with CM8. This helps them to present their “best side” when meeting perspective new families.

There are lots of misconceptions about adopting older animals and since puppies are just so cute, it's easy to see why they pull at people’s heart strings very easily. But Mike suggests taking the time to meet older animals and connect with them.  They are well worth the time spent!

For more information on Animal Ark Shelter and the programs they have available, check out their website.

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