Friday, July 19, 2024

The Joy of Companion Animals

HomeLifestyleThe Joy of Companion Animals

October! It’s not just the changing leaves and pumpkin spice lattes that capture our attention; it’s also National Adopt a Shelter Pet Month.

This month-long celebration is a poignant reminder of the incredible benefits that pet ownership can bring. Beyond unconditional love and companionship, pets offer an array of physical, emotional and social advantages that can significantly enhance the lives of older adults.

“We all need to not feel lonely. We all want to feel loved and pets provide that for us in a really special and selfless way,” says Samantha Ahnen, community engagement manager for the Jacksonville Humane Society. “Animals love us for exactly who we are. It doesn’t matter our age or background. The primary benefit of pet ownership is just that – loving companionship. But it also can help with motivation. Maybe you’re retired and don’t have a lot to do on a daily basis. A dog can help get you out of your bed to go on a walk. A cat can get you up to start playing in the middle of the day. We see a lot of new empty nesters come in and say, ‘Our house is empty. We have all this space and all this free time.’ They’re selflessly looking for something to pour all that love and time into and we’re so glad that they choose to do that with a shelter pet because these pets have so much love to give in return.”

Among the multi-layered benefits of life with a beloved pet are:

Physical Health Benefits

  • Increased physical activity: Owning a pet, especially a dog, encourages seniors to stay active. Daily walks, playing fetch or simply grooming their furry friend promote regular exercise, which is essential for maintaining physical health.
  • Lower stress levels: Interacting with pets has been shown to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. The soothing presence of a beloved pet can alleviate anxiety and promote relaxation.
  • Improved heart health: Studies have revealed that pet owners often have better heart health. The act of petting a dog or cat can release endorphins and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Emotional Well-Being

  • Companionship: Loneliness can be a significant issue for seniors, especially those who live alone or have lost loved ones. Pets provide constant companionship and help alleviate feelings of isolation.
  • Sense of purpose: Caring for a pet gives seniors a sense of purpose. It provides a daily routine, ensuring that they get up, feed and exercise their pets, which can be immensely fulfilling.
  • Mood enhancement: The mere presence of a pet can trigger the release of serotonin and dopamine, the “feel-good” neurotransmitters. This can help combat depression and improve overall mood.

Social Benefits

  • Conversation starters: Pets are natural conversation starters. Seniors often find it easier to connect with others when they have a friendly dog or cat by their side, leading to more social interactions.
  • Community engagement: Many communities offer pet-related activities, such as dog parks or pet-friendly events. Seniors can participate in these activities, helping them build new friendships and stay engaged in their communities.
  • Shared interests: Seniors who adopt pets often join pet clubs or online forums, allowing them to connect with like-minded individuals who share their passion for animals.

Cognitive Stimulation

  • Mental agility: Caring for a pet requires mental acuity. Seniors must remember feeding schedules, administer medications, and respond to their pet’s needs, all of which provide cognitive stimulation.
  • Problem solving: Dealing with a pet’s occasional health issues or behavior challenges can promote problem-solving skills and mental agility, keeping seniors mentally sharp.

The physical, emotional and social benefits of having a furry companion are vast, contributing to improved overall health and a higher quality of life for adopters and the loving pet waiting to find their forever homes. Adopting a shelter pet is not just an act of kindness; it’s an investment in a happier, healthier future. And if you’re not ready to commit to pet ownership: Ahnen recommends, “Another way to receive the companionship an animal offers and provide a much-appreciated service to our community is fostering. Foster families give young kittens and puppies a temporary home to grow up in and are invaluable to our lifesaving mission.”

Learn more about fostering with JHS at jaxhumane.org/foster

What locals have to say about adopting a pet…

Judy Randolph, Beaches

I’ve always advocated rescue. Little did I know when I rescued and adopted my six-year-old mini Aussie, Teddy, on the anniversary of my last dog passing just how much joy he would bring! He was bounced from place to place, was not treated well but as my vet told him, “Teddy you will never be abused again!” He is smart, sweet, funny and so well mannered, I would be lost without him. I absolutely adore this boy!

Dean Phillippi Jr, and wife Linda, Jacksonville

I have dealt with several health issues including pulmonary embolism, prostate cancer, melanoma and carcinoma. This threw me into depression. We chose to adopt our Chihuahua, Lady, because I needed a pet to be by my side, to have fun with, cheer me up and keep me out of depression dealing with my health issues. She had been abandoned. We’re not sure why. She was such a very pretty dog, seemed active and looked like she was begging for a home, love and friendship, which we were also looking for. When we brought her home, Lady jumped up on my chest and hugged me, with her legs around my neck. I was overwhelmed with love. She has truly enriched our lives. We love her!

Nick De Nisco, Jacksonville

A few years ago, I went through a life-changing medical event. After a four-month stint in the hospital, I knew I wanted a companion to help me recuperate. I started to search local shelters. I was looking for a kindred soul and it took some time because I knew it was for life. I knew when I saw this stray pup we had a connection. I had to wait until he could be adopted because he was heartworm positive and had to be neutered. We went through our healing process together. As I learned to walk again, Ranger was right by my side. Not only does he affectionately give me accountability, he gives me companionship and unconditional love. We saved each other. Ranger brings me joy every day and he has quite the fan club. He loves everyone. I highly recommend adoption. We both won.

Photo Credit: Greta Hoffman, Top

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