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Bringing Home Bowser

Choosing the right animal companion can improve your quality of life—and the pet’s

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Kate Sullivan is president of Pet Adoption Network in Rochester; Kari LaBounty
Kate Sullivan is president of Pet Adoption Network in Rochester; Kari LaBounty

Perhaps your furry pal passed away years ago and you long for another pet. Perhaps you haven’t had a pet since the children moved out several years ago. Bringing home a dog or cat can add warmth to your home and enjoyment to every day. Plus, you can feel good knowing that one less pet is languishing in a shelter.

But getting a pet at 55-plus is a little different than when you were younger.

Take time to consider the kind of pet that would work well with your lifestyle now. For example, if you plan to travel in retirement, do you really want a pet that must stay at a boarding kennel for weeks on end? Or can you find a breed that travels well? Most dogs like traveling by car, but if you fly, your buddy will have to go in the cargo hold if he’s too large. Some cats enjoy traveling; many would rather stay at home and have a house sitter drop in to care for them.

If you have not owned a pet in a while, evaluate your ability to care for a pet, both now and for the next 15 years. The large dog breed you owned while the children were young may not be advisable if you struggle with balance, for example. A smaller breed or one that is naturally more biddable could be better options. Working with a dog trainer can also help you live more peaceably with a dog. If you are unstable on your feet at times, a very small dog or an active cat may cause you to trip.

While cat care is a little easier, you should be able to stoop to clean the litter and be capable of carrying containers of litter (although the newer lightweight litter can help solve this issue).

Dark-colored pets are harder to see in dim lighting and could present a tripping hazard. However, a reflective collar can reduce this potential hazard.

Think about the costs associated with pet ownership: vet bills, food, toys, leash, pick-up bags or litter and possibly grooming or kennel costs. These expenses should easily fit into your budget or you shouldn’t get a pet.

“Sickness or injury can happen at any time for a pet,” said Kate Sullivan, president of Pet Adoption Network in Rochester. “Those adopting pets should have money to fall back on, especially for older pets.”

The age of your pet also makes a difference. Cute little kittens and puppies can take a toll on your furnishings. Good training can help, along with equipment like a scratching post for cats and training crate for puppies. You could also consider an older cat or dog. Many of these are surrendered for reasons that are not the pet’s fault, such as the family moving to an apartment that does not accept pets or the owner passing away. These pets are past the chewing and climbing stage and usually have some training. (Cats should always have a scratching post, as that is how they trim their claws). Their quieter demeanor may fit your life better at this point.

“Kittens are wild and crazy,” Sullivan said. “They’re wonderful, but can be literally climbing the walls, scream if they’re shut in a room and can run across the dining room table. They take a lot of patience. They climb your legs, scratch your hands. It’s like having a 2-year-old in the house.”

Shelter operations manager of Pet Pride of New York Inc. in Victor, poses with a cat from their shelter.
Shelter operations manager of Pet Pride of New York Inc. in Victor, poses with a cat from their shelter.

She suggests mature pets for older adults.

You should also make plans for if you should become unable to care for your pet because of illness or surgery. Who could help when your friend needs care you cannot provide?

Sullivan recalls checking on a friend who was ill and discovering she had passed away at home. In all the hubbub of the authorities in the home, the deceased woman’s cat had been forgotten until a police officer spotted it and was going to call animal control. Sullivan had placed the cat with the woman and intervened, sparing the animal from going to the pound.

“Have information posted on your refrigerator about who to call,” Sullivan said.

She did that very thing upon arriving home with the woman’s cat that day.

“I’d roll over in my grave if someone sent my animals to the pound,” Sullivan said.

She is willing to take back pets in case the owner passes away, as does Kari LaBounty, shelter operations manager at Pet Pride of New York Inc. in Victor. 

LaBounty encourages adopters to consider a second cat so each has a kitty friend. 

While some people feel concern about their furnishings, buying a scratching post, trimming the cat’s nails and placing clear, double-sided tape on corners can discourage scratching.

LaBounty said that older adults may be ideal new pet owners.

“Older adults tend to be home more, which is great. But, it’s also about the time and energy,” she said. “You need to clean the littler, walk a dog, keep their nails trimmed. Keeping pets mentally stimulated is key.”