A couple of years ago I visited the humane society with my mother. I had been encouraging her to adopt a dog, although she was wary of the responsibility that comes with having a pet. I understood her hesitation. She was over 70, lived in an apartment, and wanted to be able to get up and go when life offered the opportunity. She also had a fixed income and was worried about potential vet bills if she ended up with a dog that had health issues. We talked about it and I assured her I would help if and when she needed it, and so she ended up bringing home Riva, the little black and white terrier-mix that was the first dog we encountered at the shelter.
My mother and Riva both went through an adjustment period. Riva was a typical terrier with lots of nervous energy and a nose that didn’t stop. After a couple of months they got to know each other and settled into a good routine. Riva would greet all the other dogs that live in their building, which provides housing for the over-55 crowd, and my mother got to know all the dogs’ names and their owners.
These little dogs provide such good company to their owners, who are mostly women living alone. Some of the dogs are quite old and have aged along with their owners, and a few of the women were brave enough to start over with a puppy after being pet-free for many years. The dogs not only provide companionship, but lots of entertainment and inspiration to get out and exercise on dog-walks. Here are a few of these special little dogs and the women they live with.
My mother, Carolyn, and Riva.
Mary Quinonez, and Teddy. Mary, age 79, brought Teddy home as a puppy. Her life changed dramatically. She felt so guilty eating in front of Teddy that she would hide in the kitchen when she ate her meals. She lost five pounds from walking Teddy and says she loves the entertainment he provides.
Shirley Abbott, 78, her dog, Molly. Shirley was given Molly as a gift after she was left heartbroken when her pug passed away. Shirley and Molly ride all over town, even though Shirley had both knees replaced 10 years ago. She found the bike at a garage sale and asked the owner to hold onto it while she saved up enough money to buy it. Two months later she had saved enough and now uses it to pick up groceries, shop at Goodwill and run other errands around town. Molly is a frequent companion on Shirley’s bike rides.
Roseanne Visco and Guiseppe. Guiseppe is related to Teddy, and was a gift from Roseanne’s son on Christmas Eve. Roseanne named Guiseppe after her dad, who was born in Italy. He is Roseanne’s first small dog, and she says “they give you something to do after your sons get married.” He fills her emotional needs and she has lost 13 pounds from walking Guiseppe.
Margie, 88, and Mitzi, 12. Margie and her daughter share Mitzi. Margie needs assistance now with a walker, and so Mitzi is just too much for her to handle on a full-time basis. Margie’s daughter brings Mitzi for visits about once a week, and in between visits Margie enjoys the company of her cat, Jasmine.
Lori Whitaker, along with Fozzie Bear and Jack Rabbit, a silky terrier and papillon. Lori manages the building, and sometimes her dogs get to come to work with her. Lori says “who needs t.v. when you have these two.”
Vi Gibson, 82, and Tina, 11. Vi put her last dog down in 2004 and missed the companionship. She adopted Tina after seeing her picture in the paper. Tina’s previous owners were moving and needed to find a new home for Tina. Vi brought her home and now walks 5-6 times a day with Tina.
Jackie Gerritsen with Cutie Pie and Gracie, both Yorkies. Jackie has been “an animal person all my life.” As a girl she brought home strays and says her dad always had a dog alongside him. She stays busy not only with her own dogs, but also pet sits and occasionally works for a local vet, helping to suture after surgeries.
Michelle and her pug, Rue. Michelle adopted Rue after her last dog, a rat terrier, was kicked by her horse. Rue does not accompany Michelle on horse rides, but enjoys walks around the property.
It is said that a dog is a (wo)man’s best friend. The most serious disease for older persons is not cancer or heart disease – its loneliness. Pets offer affection, unconditional love and a sense of purpose. (www.petsfortheelderly.org). For these women and dogs, it’s a win-win scenario.