My 92-year-old Nana lives in an assisted living apartment complex outside Philadelphia. I’ve never known her to be much of a pet person, yet her face lights up every time she spots Sadie, the chocolate lab who hangs out in the lobby.
My Nana has outlived my grandfather by more than a dozen years. She’s already lost one brother, two sisters-in-law, and one daughter-in-law. Most of her friends died long ago. Is it any wonder, then, that loneliness can be a crippling issue for the elderly?
Dogs are particularly well-suited to keeping seniors emotionally and physically healthy. Caring for the pet gives the owner’s life a structure that it wouldn’t otherwise have. After all, even if you don’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning, a dog isn’t going to allow you to sleep all day. They give purpose to a life that can be otherwise unstructured and isolated.
Taking the pup for a walk encourages the owner to be more active. Not only that, but pets can also be a social tool, giving people a reason to come by and say hello; after all, no one can resist a warm furball with a wagging tail.
But perhaps most importantly, a pet of any kind gives the owner a sense that he or she isn’t alone. You might feel strange for talking to yourself, but nobody blinks an eye when you’re bouncing your thoughts off another living thing. Dogs always listen politely, no matter whether you’re discussing the weather or the uprising in Egypt.
Have a pet of your own? Look into programs where you can take your furry friend to a local hospital, senior center or assisted living community to brighten someone’s day.