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