Downeast Dog News
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Keeping Pets & Seniors Together

By Susan Spisak | Sep 01, 2021
Photo by: Provided by OceanView at Falmouth

If you’re older and have a dog, you know that a furry kid enriches your life, brings you joy, and rounds out your household. Add to that, if you’re blue, your bud ups your mental outlook and can be calming. Various Maine agencies, food banks, and low-cost vet clinics realize the value pets add to seniors’ lives and step up to ensure these families-of-sorts stay together.

The Eastern Area Agency on Aging, EAAA, is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit run by professionals and serves Eastern Maine. It offers senior services such as wellness and enrichment programs, Medicare Counseling, and a Commodity Supplemental Food Program. They also help low-income seniors monthly through their Furry Friends Food Bank (FFFB).

Kelly Adams, Nutrition Manager for EAAA, is proud of FFFB’s accomplishments. “I feel really passionate about our mission and what we do. We currently serve over 400 low-income seniors pet food and distribute over 13,000 pounds [of pet food] every month.” They couldn’t do this without community support or the help of their 40+ volunteers who pack, transport, and distribute pet food 27 times per month.

Their program is invaluable. “FFFB’s number one mission is to keep seniors and their pets together. By offering monthly supplemental pet food to low-income seniors, the impact is much greater than just providing them with pet food.” Adams is referencing the fact that their efforts ease the shelter population - folks aren’t forced to relinquish their beloved animals due to financial constraints. “The pets provide support in the form of reducing the stress levels, helping to combat depression and loneliness, and improve the person's overall well-being by keeping them engaged and active.” Visit eaaa.org/category/food-programs/ for info.

Spectrum Generations' AniMeals is a partner program of Meals on Wheels – it began a dozen years ago when volunteer drivers realized clients were sharing their own delivered meals with pets. Through the support of local veterinarians and community residents, the program has grown into another resource for their clients.

They not only offer AniMeals and the Meals on Wheels program, but the healthy Maine-ly Delivered Meals, Community Dining, the Commodities Supplemental Food Program, and We Sustain Maine – an initiative to give locally farm grown food to central Maine’s seniors. For more info and to view their service areas, spectrumgenerations.org/nutrition-services/animeals.

Considering a Canine?

Maybe you don’t have a dog but have decided it’d be nice to have that 24/7 friend to lean on and add comfort. If you live in your own home or in a complex where they’re allowed and have the means to adopt and care for one (or are budget savvy to cover his expenses), know that owning a pet has advantages.

If your partner is out of the home frequently, a canine pal will soothe and create a sense of safety. If you live alone, a dog is a huge source of companionship and conversation. (Yep, I talk to mine – they listen, too.) Caring for him can add satisfaction and a layer of purpose to your day – brushing his coat, running canine toothpaste over his teeth, treating him when he’s been good. And his closeness increases the hormone oxytocin, which will give you a sense of affection, unconditional love, and happiness.

Taking him on a daily walk is not just good for him, it’s beneficial for you. Getting out in fresh air and walking together is a terrific boost. (This doesn’t need to be a long, fast jaunt, go at your own pace.) He’ll expand your world – he’ll draw animal buffs who want to meet your precious boy and hear everything about him. And if you crave road tripping but have hesitated, he can be a great partner on travels.

Don Hanson, ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA, and owner and president of Green Acres Kennel Shop in Bangor, offered things to consider for potential senior adopters. He believes adoptions should be thought through; some animals are relinquished to shelters or rescues because the adopter acted impulsively or may have been unduly influenced into taking a breed not best-suited for him.

He’s heard of disastrous cases when older folks have rescued or purchased a puppy. (They’re a lot of work, I would never take one on again!) Instead, consider a seasoned dog – an older or senior one who can still be quite healthy, but well past that “wild and crazy” youngster. And the good news is with better quality food, medicines, and vet care, canines in general are living longer.

Consider the size as well - those tiny or weaker should stay away from big breeds. (Think Great Danes, English Mastiffs, Shepherds, and Retrievers.) “In some cases, these dogs have too much size and energy for even non-seniors,” emphasized Hanson. “I even tell young people, if you cannot pick up the dog and carry it to your car without hurting yourself or the dog, think smaller. This is very important for those who hike with their dogs and may need to carry the dog for miles.”

If you’ve concluded a canine will be good for you, turn to area shelters and rescues for a few reasons. They’ll introduce you to one who’s best suited to your age, strength, and activity level, but be honest with them, and yourself, about your limitations. Ask for a well-behaved dog who’s already been in a home environment and has manners. And if you’re largely homebound, convey that you must have a small breed (or mixed version thereof) who doesn’t require much outdoor exercise. The staff and volunteers will ensure the match is good.

Another plus, shelter and rescue adoption fees are reasonable, and most have older and senior pet rates as well. Your new friend will have had initial vetting, including shots and altering. And for future budget considerations, there are low-cost vet clinics that offer annual shots and monthly preventatives.

Once you adopt a pooch you can manage easily, do not neglect to make provisions for him in case you face health issues. You can add a clause to your will or paperwork with your lawyer. We put a short line in our will that says, “In the event of our passing, please return Teddy and Banx to [specific name of original rescue organization] with a donation.” Or talk to a family member who may be interested in caring for your dog – but have a plan in place to ease your mind.