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Will I Get Too Old to Have Dog?

The older I get the more I worry. Lately,  I worry I will get too old to have a dog. I cannot imagine living without a dog.

By now, we all know about the benefits pets bring to older people. They reduce stress levels and blood pressure, they offer companionship, lessen loneliness, listen to everything we have to say and get us out of the house for those daily walks.

But many older people deny themselves the pleasure of a dog for three basic reasons.

They feel unsteady, and worry they will trip over a small dog or be pulled off their feet by a large dog.

They worry that they may not be able to care for their dog to the end of its days, and then what will happen to their beloved dog?

And they worry that they may not have the financial resources necessary to care for a dog.

I understand these worries. I have them all. But there are some ways around them.

It is true, small dogs can indeed trip you up and larger dogs may spot a squirrel and off your feet you will go. So you might look for a medium size dog that you can easily see, one that is trained to walk by your side and would rather have the treats you are constantly offering along the way than chase any squirrel. It may take some looking, but such dogs do exist and would be wonderful companions to anyone of any age.

Not being able to care for your dog to the end of its days is a larger worry, but there are answers out there. One answer is to adopt an older dog. Shelters are often the recipients of older dogs that people have decided they no longer want or need, or simply cannot care for. Because older dogs are not considered adoptable, they usually do not last long at shelters so you might consider putting your name in at various reputable shelters, and asking them to call you when any older dogs come in.

Older dogs are sweet, gentle, often well trained and don’t walk too fast or pull too hard, usually. But there is a caveat. Due to the onset of health problems, older dogs can be expensive, but if you have the money, keeping an old dog company and out of pain on its journey home is an uplifting solution and an extremely rewarding experience.

If that does not work, you might consider fostering a dog while it awaits a new home. Of course, you might have to deal with falling in love with it and wanting to keep it, but at least you would have a dog for awhile. And the shelter would still have ultimate responsibility for it.

Another answer that works whether your dog is old or young is to find your dog a pet guardian, a friend or relative, who has agreed to take your dog and care for it for the remainder of its days if for any reason you no longer can. This should be someone you trust, who is responsible, loves dogs and if a bit younger, all the better. If you don’t know anyone like this, set out to find them, perhaps at dog parks or walking in your neighborhood.

It is also smart to choose more than one pet guardian, if possible, in case your first choice is unable to take your dog when the time comes.

A nice incentive for someone to agree to be your dog’s guardian is if you can sweeten the pot with some financial assistance to care for the remaining years of your dog’s life.

If you know and trust your pet guardian, you can leave your dog and some money directly to them. Do not leave money directly to your dog; dogs are considered property and property cannot inherit property. However, if you’re not certain about your pet guardian, perhaps they will take the money and run, but they are the best choice you have, then you might want to consult an attorney and draw up a pet trust with a friend or trustee who will check in and make sure your dog is doing well. Also you should stipulate that any remaining funds left over after your dog passes away will go to a person or charity other than your pet guardian. This alleviates any conflict of interest.

If all this fails, then you can always look for a reputable shelter with a good track record for finding dogs new homes. Once again, this is often difficult with older dogs, so you may have to look for a dog retirement home or sanctuary that cares for older dogs. It may even be in another state, but it is good to visit it and make sure your dog will be happy there if it can no longer be with you. Unfortunately this, too, will involve fees or some sort of monetary assistance which brings us to our last big worry.

Will you have enough money to care for a dog? Almost everything mentioned so far involves some kind of monetary assistance from you, but again there are some answers. To begin with, if you want to be able to afford to have a dog in your old age, you need to start planning now.

Perhaps there are things you can cut out of your lifestyle and instead put that money into a dog savings account. Or you can use an insurance policy, or part of an insurance policy with your pet guardian as beneficiary. In your will you can also designate stocks or bonds, land, or any sort of retirement plan that will generate funds upon your death to go to your pet guardian to pay for your dog’s care.

If that is not possible, a quick look on the internet brings up a number of nonprofits that help older people keep their pets through food and veterinarian assistance. You might even consider starting a similar nonprofit. Or you might consider pooling your money with other likeminded friends and sharing the love and care of a single dog. You can even choose a retirement home for yourself based on whether they have dogs there.

Of course none of us know what is ultimately going to happen to us or when. But what I do know is that if there is a way to have a dog until my dying days, I will figure out how to do it. My happiness and well-being depends upon it and so does my dog’s.

So I have already started getting my ducks in a row. I have found three pet guardians who have agreed to care for my dog when and if I no longer can: one is a contemporary, another a few years younger, and the third is several decades younger so I think I have it covered. I also have two friends who have agreed that we should all live together and share at least one dog, maybe two when the time comes. Next, I plan to look into insurance policies.

Rennie Chamberlain is the author of Your Pet Portfolio – a collection of Your Pet’s important information – because the more your pet sitters know about your pet; the better it is for your pet. And Who Will Care for Your Pet If Something Happens to You? Both books are available at: www.renniechamberlain.com

Written by

My first best friend was Rick, a black lab my parents had gotten the year before I was born. Rick was there for me right from the beginning, and I believe this where my love affair with dogs - and wolves and all things animal - began. It was out of this love and my desire to keep my own dog safe and in its comfort zone that I wrote Your Pet Portfolio. I hope the pet forms in Your Pet Portfolio will do the same for your pets.
  • Nan Schaefer March 5, 2014 at 9:53 AM

    I have always counseled new owners about the future of their dogs if something were to happen, and as I’ve gotten older, I am thinking about these concerns myself. Thank you for your suggestions.

    • Rennie Chamberlain
      Rennie Chamberlain March 6, 2014 at 10:25 AM

      Thank you, Nan,

      I’m glad other people are thinking about this too.

  • Jeanne March 5, 2014 at 10:13 AM

    Great and helpful article. It’s a subject that’s always on my mind. If I bring it up amongst friends or relatives they always fluff me off-“oh you don’t have to worry about that yet”
    and so on. When I was injured in a fall last year, I realized how dependent I was on others to take care of my dogs. A real WAKE UP call.

    Thanks again for the kind common sense.

    • Rennie Chamberlain
      Rennie Chamberlain March 6, 2014 at 10:27 AM

      Thank you, Jeanne

      I had the same reaction a few years ago when I hurt my back.

  • Martha Guimond March 5, 2014 at 10:19 AM

    There is one more important resource: the responsible breeder. I take back all of my dogs if they can.no longer stay in their placement home. My only concern is that the care takers or family members know to contact me and do so in a timely manner. This also applies to those with catastrophic health rises and financial problems.

    • Rennie Chamberlain
      Rennie Chamberlain March 6, 2014 at 10:30 AM

      Dear Martha,

      Thank you for reminding me about that valuable resource, breeders. They are a wonderful safety net for our dogs.

  • Leonore March 5, 2014 at 11:22 AM

    Another option is to find a responsible ethical breeder, one whose contract specifies they will take back a dog at any time for any reason. Easier if this is someone fairly local. Make sure your family, friends, and neighbors know how to contact the breeder so the dog is taken care of, no matter what.

    • Rennie Chamberlain
      Rennie Chamberlain March 6, 2014 at 12:05 PM

      Great advice. Thank you

  • Holly March 5, 2014 at 5:43 PM

    Great idea to obtain your dog from a breeder who would take back and rehome the dog if necessary. Responsible breeders will do that. Also, many breeds have a rescue organization which will help with rehoming.

    • Rennie Chamberlain
      Rennie Chamberlain March 6, 2014 at 12:07 PM

      Thank you. I will be adding this to my list of answers.

  • Judy Higgins Kasper March 6, 2014 at 3:40 PM

    Nice job Rennie; good article!

  • Judith Larkin March 7, 2014 at 11:57 AM

    I am the editor of the Pacific Northwest Gordon Setter Club News. I would love to reprint this article in our newsletter. We have had this discussion at one of our meetings and I recommended “Your Pet Portfolio” to them. If I could reprint this with your permission, I think it would be much clearer to our membership. Thanks.

  • Dorothy Christiansen March 7, 2014 at 1:08 PM

    One option I did not see listed was your local breed rescue. Many breed rescues will make arrangements with you to take in your dog for a sum of money to cover its expenses for life. Other rescues will just make the dog a permanent foster. We have arranged for care of our dogs after we are gone but would have no qualms about asking our local breed rescue to take them and re-home if possible or keep as permanent fosters if considered not adoptable.

  • sue mccoury March 9, 2014 at 7:43 AM

    I always have a guarantee in my contracts that I have to be contacted or the dog must be returned to me if the owner dies or is unable to care fore the dog esp if I place a dog in a home with a sr. It’s my way to safeguard all my dogs from falling through the cracks. I also require that I stay on as the second contact on the microchip.

  • Mary Beth McManus March 10, 2014 at 5:34 AM

    Very informative article. I would only add how important it is to have posted on a refrigerator, phone & wallet some basic information about who to call (a friend or neighbor who has info on where to take your dogs in an emergency should something happen to you i.e., you’re taken to the hospital, or worse case scenario…. So many times first responders will call animal control (of course if dogs are in bad shape). I like the idea of a friend and family member knowing that my vet has written directive of what is to happen with my dogs (spays/neuter placement, etc.). With my vet’s agreement, I have made a specific bequest ($) in my Last Will and Testament to her for the care and disposition of my surviving dogs and that she also has written directive detailing my wishes each dog at her office (check with your attorney or state law regarding witnesses required for signatures, etc.). My family and that close friend listed on the In case of Emergency therefore know to contact my vet for their care. Nobody needs to know the $ amount I’ve provided for, just that there is a legal document on whats to be done with my pets. Also, don’t forget to update your list as your census changes. I did rescue for 25+ years, and always so sad when an owner passes suddenly without any of this and dogs end up in a shelter, etc. Thanks for the forum.

  • Nancy March 16, 2014 at 11:01 AM

    We have provisions in our Will, but that can sometimes be too long of a process. We have a typed sheet in both cars and on our refrigerator (and our local relatives know all this information) stating where our dogs should go if something were to happen to us. The recipients know and have agreed to take the dogs, and we have left money to help care for them. We also have written instructions on how they are fed (we feed raw), heartworm protection, who our vet is, etc. We just hope it all falls into place if something were to happen to us.

  • Carol McE March 17, 2014 at 11:02 AM

    Over the years I have become a member of a network of breed fanciers and advocates in my breed, and as I age I can feel comfortable that my family will draw upon them to help them with my dogs if something happens to me and I can’t care for the dogs myself. I’m 61 and have 2 old ones, and still look forward to getting a puppy when one of them passes on.

  • Carol McE March 17, 2014 at 11:04 AM

    Not that my daughter and husband will foist the dog(s) on them, but may ask for advice re: grooming, training, etc. I should have made that clear.

  • Francee Hamblet January 2, 2015 at 10:58 AM

    Our breed (Akitas) has a rescue specifically devoted to senior dogs, Save Our Seniors or SOS. They are not only devoted to rescuing aging Akitas they also help with the costs associated with those elderly dogs. They also offer assistance to anyone with an older Akita who can’t keep up with the costs (either care or medically) of keeping their pet. It’s more cost efficient (and kinder) to help the dog stay in their lifelong home rather than it ending up in rescue and having the costs of boarding on top of care and medical expenses. Akitas are certainly not for everyone (although this is an exceptional breed with the elderly and they make amazing therapy dogs despite their reputation saying otherwise) but there may be many other breed rescues who have similar programs in place. It’s certainly worth investigating.

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