There is something about a welcoming, wagging tail that brings a smile to our face. No matter what kind of stressful day we have had, today is our dog or cat’s best day ever. Within seconds, petting or cuddling our furry friend makes even a bad day our best day ever.
By Barbara Glass
Research bears this out. “Petting our beloved furry mammals activates the parasympathetic nervous system. It has a soothing effect on us and fosters a sense of feeling safe. It’s a reliable technique for calming ourselves, similar to diaphragmatic breathing or meditation,” according to Deborah Dobbs, M.A., sociologist and non-profit leader at The Counseling Place.
The number of older adults who live by themselves has risen sharply in recent decades. With age comes an increased assortment of health problems that can contribute to a sense of isolation and some mental health conditions, especially depression. But it’s hard to be self-absorbed with our own health concerns when there is a furry creature who counts on our affection and returns the favor a thousand-fold. There is nothing like a furry companion to make us smile.
Caring for a pet is a caregiving responsibility that gives seniors a sense of daily purpose, as well as adding to their activity level. Sedentary lifestyle? Dog walking will take care of that. Isolated? Take a dog to one of several community dog parks and meet a host of new friends – human and 4-legged. It’s a whole new social circle for both owner and pet.
For older adults in transition, having a pet is a godsend. Having a trusted companion by our side eases the process of downsizing when we are removing familiar sights and belongings. Fortunately, more and more senior housing properties are allowing pets. It just makes sense. Residents with pets are happier and more socially connected. Some communities even have “house” pets to share with the residents who are unable to care for them. There is always a furry dog or cat to pet or nestle in our lap.
Though supported by scientific evidence, we know it to be true even without the facts. Those warm and fuzzy critters just make us happy.