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I’m in My 70s and Just Adopted a Dog

I love our Arlo, but is it fair to our pup?

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photo collage of dog owners with their new dog, adopting pets, dog
Paul Spella
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I am a plunger in life, not a plodder. Where others, like my husband Charlie, research things obsessively and carefully prepare for all potential contingencies before taking action, I, figuratively speaking, tend to jump into the deep end of the pool — momentarily forgetting that I don’t actually know how to swim. We are well-paired, me and Charlie, in that yin-and-yang kind of way.

We recently proved this. After losing two of our beloved family dogs to old age, my inclination was to hit the ground running toward the nearest “replacement” dog I could find. Charlie, as is his way, rolled the conversation back to the starting gate and asked a valid, if uncomfortable question: “Should we even be considering getting a dog at our age?”

And, here are all the questions and answers that led to us adopting Arlo, a handsome four-year-old Labradoodle.

I am 74 and Charlie is 75. Neither of us had spent much time without a dog in our lives, nor were we enjoying the deafening quiet of a home without one. We agreed that dogs are good for us, including our health. They compel us to walk them — exercise for us — and are a gateway to meeting other dog-walking people and making new friends.

Also, isn’t getting a dog the antidote to Empty Nest Syndrome, the loneliness many feel when their human children move out as mine have? And, if retirement has left you feeling irrelevant, who better to make you feel needed than a dog who relies on you for his very existence and is always happy to see you?

For what it’s worth, science votes squarely on the side of pet ownership for older people. Pets have been shown to decrease our high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and help manage loneliness, depression and anxiety, studies published by the American Heart Association have shown. News in Health, published by the National Institutes of Health, reported that pet owners over the age of 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to see the doctor.

So yes, pet ownership is good for us. But was it fair to the dog?

We tackled the “what-ifs.” What if, in the future, we wanted to downsize to a smaller house, maybe even one without a big yard that requires a lot of upkeep? Or what if we wanted a condo or maybe even a condo in an age-restricted community that doesn’t allow dogs?

What about our travel plans? We are retired, after all, and isn’t traveling on every retiree’s bucket list? How would we balance the dog’s needs with our desire to spend time abroad? We had to talk about expenses too: Veterinary care isn’t cheap and pet insurance doesn’t cover much of it.

Our final “what if?” question was the big one: What if we predeceased our dog, leaving him orphaned as a 10- or 12-year-old pet? Wouldn’t that be tantamount to us sentencing him to a shelter death since virtually no one wants a senior dog?

Here's what we did to address all those concerns: First, we took a good hard look at our lifestyle. We are both in good health and physically active. We do travel, but realize that our away-from-home limit is around 10 days per trip. And since we’ve always had dogs, we also have always had dog sitters to come and stay in our home with them.

We are people who take our commitments seriously and have never returned or re-homed a dog. We would not move somewhere where our dog was not welcome. And should we both die or become incapacitated, we have put in place a legal document to provide for our pet’s care.

Dogs are considered property in most states, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and legally speaking, property cannot own other property. So Charlie and I created what is known as a Pet Trust to make sure that the needs of our furry family members would always be met. While it’s not quite “the dog gets the house and you can live in it if he says that’s OK,” the message is clear to our adult children. Pet trusts allow you to name a caretaker and give that person fiduciary duties to care for the animal in the manner you stipulate.

All that was left after that was to decide what kind of dog we wanted. Factoring in our age and lifestyle, we agreed that we did not want a puppy. We wanted an adult dog who was housebroken, knew some basic commands and was more of a cuddle-bunny than a watchdog.

We video chatted twice with an eight-year-old German Shepherd named Sweet Pea who was being fostered by the Thulani German Shepherd Rescue, based in Northern California. We visited all our local shelters to be haunted by the howls of cage after cage of Huskies, fed treats to a multitude of Pit Bulls and worried about the little guys who cowered in the back of their kennels, too terrified by the shelter experience to greet us.

We spent more than a month looking for the right dog to find us. And then we found Arlo, our new Labradoodle. His photo was posted on a neighborhood app on behalf of a young family who were expecting their fourth human child and just couldn’t manage a dog his size — 95 pounds. He’s the consummate gentle giant, with no discernible bad habits save one: He is a blanket hog. But we’re in love, so who cares if he’s now our bedfellow?


Did any of you adopt a dog later in life? Let us know in the comments below.

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