Should we get Dad a pet?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My dad is 80-years old and lives alone. Since mom passed away 2-years ago, dad's been lonely and doesn't spend time with anyone really. He's talked about having us get him a dog or cat for company. At his age, should we honor his request for a pet?

Expert Answer

Ron Kauffman is a certified senior advisor (CSA), senior lifestyle radio host, syndicated newspaper columnist, and the author of Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer's Disease. In addition, Kauffman is also the primary caregiver for his mother, who has Alzheimer's.

Loss of a spouse or significant other is a sad fact of life as we age. One of the ongoing challenges to the surviving spouse, your dad in this case, is to find ways to provide socialization, companionship, and emotional support for him. These are key elements to his quality of life and to maintaining a good attitude and outlook.

Assuming that your dad's health is good, and that he is capable of taking care of both himself and the added responsibilities of a dog or cat "“ remember, dogs need to go outside for walks and exercise, cats can be kept indoors full time "“ there are some excellent reasons to work with him to bring a wonderful 4-legged companion into his life.

The fact that your dad has begun verbalizing that he'd like to have a friend and companion in his home is a great indicator that he has emerged from the feelings of sorrow that surrounded him immediately after the loss your mother. You have an opportunity to build on those good emotions and solve at least two problems with the addition of a pet into your dad's home.

Pets are great companions. They're loyal, giving, fun, and capable of providing unconditional love. If you're dad can walk a dog, get one that's the right size and weight so he can easily control his new friend while on the leash. Both dad and dog will benefit immensely from getting out and doing exercise, even if it's just a 10-minute walk 2 or 3 times a day. A dog will give your dad purpose to his life and provide him with someone "“ pets become family members "“he can love and care for years.

If he can't consistently walk a dog, or meet some of the other demands that dogs may make, consider a cat "“ even if neither you nor he has ever had one. They make wonderful, cuddly pets. In either case, I suggest you talk with a local animal shelter and explain your situation and desires. This is a perfect opportunity for your dad to adopt and older dog or cat, one that fits his energies and abilities to care for without the challenges of training a puppy or kitten. The animal that he adopts will most likely have been rescued from a tragic fate if left in a shelter, and animals have a sense about having been rescued and adopted into a loving home and will pay back their new owners a hundredfold with love and devotion.

I think it's a great idea to consider, and can bring your dad a tremendous amount of joy as he and his new companion continue the aging process together. Be sure that you or your dad are willing to make the financial investment in the pet's health, as that is as important as keeping your dad healthy if this new relationship is to blossom.

Remember, having a pet is a major commitment, so be sure that your dad knows what his obligations and responsibilities to his new pet are and will be, because pets, like significant others often become a ""¦until death do us part"¦" commitment.