Part 17: Senior Living with Pets

I am an early riser and as I awaken, I glance out of my third-floor window to inspect the breaking day:  I look at the flag to decide how windy it is; I look at the walk to assess the overnight snow and rain; and I watch my fellow residents on their early morning outings with their dogs. There are the vigorous ones and that’s a happy picture. But then I see those who have a hard time walking and maneuvering their dogs, with the leash in the hand that is on their walker and I worry about them. There are cats here too, but they don’t seem to need dawn walking.Margery's friend with his dog

No, I do not have a pet. However I have a granddog close by and when I lived in the cottage, Bob and I would babysit Willow, who of course required several daily outings. Fortunately Willow, a delightful golden retriever, could wait until we were ready to take her out. After Bob died and even when I moved into the Lodge, I would care for Willow for a few days and would be part of the doggie crowd. Unfortunately I no longer care for Willow when my kids are away because she is too big and strong and not always friendly with other dogs. I do not feel capable of managing a dispute if it would happen.

When we were contemplating this move, Bob and I discussed a dog. We had been dog parents for many years and it had always been a happy experience for our kids and us. However when we moved to the mountains, Bob put his foot down and didn’t want pet care to interfere with our freedom to travel and move around in our new mountain life. I didn’t argue, though I would have liked a pet. So when we contemplated our move to a less rural lifestyle, again I raised the dog issue. My strongest argument for a pet, meaning dog, was that a dog would get us out and make sure we did not get lazy and lack exercise. Bob convinced me that that was a rather lame excuse to get exercise and he was still opposed to having a pet interfere with our opportunities to get up and go whenever we wanted. I did not argue because I really agreed.

It’s quite clear that many of my fellow residents think differently because there are many dogs living here. I have no idea about the policy at other CCRCs but here dogs and cats are welcomed. Most of the pets’ owners are conscientious about keeping their animals leashed, cleaning up after them and not letting them bother the other residents. We non-pet owners usually enjoy our friends’ pets but we do get pretty annoyed when a pet owner breaks the rules. For a while there was a neglectful owner who didn’t clean up after his dog and that was a serious hardship on the Bocce Ball players. A meeting of pet owners was arranged but, as is usually the case with these sorts of things, the owner didn’t show up. Finally our management place a number of doggie bag holders with a waste container around our grounds and things improved.

Margery's friend with her dogI would love to have one of my Westies as part of my life right now. We had two West Highland White terriers, Puddin and Luna, before we moved to the mountains. Luna was one of Puddin’s babies which we kept. Living alone can get pretty quiet sometimes, even with 330 friends living in the same building with you, so I know how important some of my friends’ dogs and cats are to them.

In the early days of living here one of the residents convinced management to fence in an area of our grounds for a doggie park. In those same early days when I was still a tennis player I would turn my used yellow ball over to the doggie park. The pets and their owners are happy with the doggie park until someone neglects cleaning up. The dog owners usually know who it is and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Unfortunately a few of the aging women don’t seem to realize that they are at risk for falling during their dog walking. There have been falls and even the need to find new homes for some dogs. One widow was very attached to her aging dog. She also became attached to a male resident. Her male friend invited her to join him when he went to his winter home in Arizona. She was conflicted. She knew she could not bring her pet, as her friend was not particularly comfortable with dogs. She also felt her dog was too old to leave for a long period with a dog sitter. Unfortunately, or fortunately however you look at it, the dog died. She is very sad but she is also going to Arizona for month.

Most of the people I know here are very happy with their pet.  There are certainly a lot of pluses in being a pet owner. I have watched how easy it is for newcomers to connect with the community just by walking their dogs. People stop and chat and, of course, become acquainted. And for people living alone, their pet offers companionship that many single people miss and long for. However, there is another side of pet ownership that often isn’t considered. That sweet adorable dog or cat needs doctoring, grooming and food, as well as walking. As people get older these responsibilities become more difficult and can take more and more effort to carry out. I have seen how hard it becomes for an aging person to recognize that pet care is too hard for them and the next step becomes either harder—giving up one’s pet.

So while I do not have a pet, I am so happy that pets are so welcome at my place. It’s fun to see them around.

Written by Margery Fridstein, an author and retired psychotherapist specializing in child development. Margery currently lives in a continuing care retirement community outside of Denver, CO. She is chronicling her senior living experience in the monthly series, “The Last Stop With Margery Fridstein.”