Canine companionship for elderly

Cathy Brownfield

I was chatting with an elderly friend who is widowed. We were talking about canine companions. Because of advancing age, this friend didn’t think it was a good idea to get a dog. But home was lonely. So, my friend got a dog.


My parents wanted another dog after their border collie, Josh, died. But Mom and Dad both had health issues that the family thought would hinder their abilities to raise a puppy and provide for the dog’s basic needs.

An older couple I know lost both of their dogs last year, one in mid-June, the other in early December. The gentleman wants a dog. His wife is not on board with the idea. Much as she would love to have a dog, she just isn’t certain that they can provide for the dog’s basic needs. There is the cost of veterinary care. The cost of dog food and treats. They are on a fixed income. And wouldn’t it be unfair to the dog to be with two old people and something happen that they couldn’t keep the pet?

But there are other things for consideration.

Since her dog passed away last winter, she has not kept up with their morning and evening walks. She can tell it hasn’t been conducive to her well-being. She felt better when she and her dog kept their daily rituals.


And something else. She was away for a few days. Her husband stayed at home. He thought he heard someone in the house sometime in the night. He thought it might be her returning home early, or maybe someone who should not be there. A dog would have alerted him if there was someone in the house. And what if something happened to him and she had to live in the house alone? What if there was a medical emergency when one of them was home alone?

Isolation and loneliness are not good for the health and well-being of older persons. And though there might be a list of reasons not to have a dog, there are a number of good reasons for having a canine companion. Granted, everyone isn’t a dog person. Or a pet person, whatever the pet.

Is there anything like returning home from somewhere and being greeted at the door by that dog that makes a fuss over you when you walk in? Yes, your faithful friend is glad to see you because you are the center of his or her world. That companion gives you unconditional love, no matter what kind of mood you are in, and can change your mood with the wag of the tail and yips of greeting. You are not alone. You are loved. You are needed.

Taking walks, playing with a dog isn’t just good for him. It’s exercise for his master, too. Compatibility for activity is important. A pet can reduce stress, help its human to cope with pain.

Dogs can be trained to service. The companionship of a pet could actually help you to live longer. When elder persons bond with their pets, that contributes to better physical and mental health.

Commitment is required. It takes some thought and consideration to make the choice to have a pet. What will work best for you? How much dog energy can you work with? Is there another type of pet you or your elder loved one would rather have? Can you provide for the needs of a pet? Be realistic.

FRC History Bites: As the agency celebrates 50 years of service to the community, we note that FRC was named Non-profit of the Year (November 2015) by the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce. The agency also was named Best of the Best in the Reader’s Choice category by Salem News (2017), Best of the Best Counseling Service category (2018), and Best of the Best in the Best Mental Health Provider category (2021).

For help or more information, contact Family Recovery Center, 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468. Visit the website at FRC is funded in part by Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board.