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Pets and the Elderly

Hi John,
My mother is elderly (80) and recently her Lhasa Apso died. She is heartbroken and needs another dog. She wants a puppy but we don’t think she can house train a puppy at her age, as well she has a severe visual impairment and a puppy has a lot of energy and we think she might trip over it. We’ve called all over to pet stores, breeders, ads in the paper, SPCA’s etc. looking for a 1-2 year old lap dog such as a Shih Tzu, Poodle, another Lhasa or a cross of these, to no avail. Do you have any suggestions?
Hi Wendy,
You might be getting some resistance simply because of your mom’s age as they’ll understandably be concerned what happens if the dog outlives her. I don’t see that as being a huge issue you just need to be up front about it. Let them know you have a game plan. There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of research with results indicating that elderly people living with a pet benefit from doing so. To name a few of the benefits, they are generally more physically active, make fewer trips to the doctor, have better heart health, prompting one doctor to say, “If this were a drug, it would be marketed tomorrow.”
If you want an older dog in order to avoid the house training, your best bet is a breed specific rescue. In general as rescues go, breed specific rescues are generally better equipped for matching the right dog for the right person as the volunteers for breed specific rescues generally have a ton of experience with the pros and cons of the breed they specialize in and know what sort of idiosyncrasies to look for when they’re assessing a dog that comes into their care. A lot of the “We Save Them All Because They All Can Be Saved” rescues focus far too much on “the number of dogs they save in a year rather then the number that stay saved because they have properly assessed the dogs that come to them. I know from personal experience that there are exceptions to the rule, but in general they just don’t seem to have the same skill sets that breed specific rescues people do and more often then not I point people towards the breed specific rescues.
As many health benefits as having a pet around might bring there are risks that are less well documented. Predominantly, tripping over the dog or cat for that matter. This usually happens at the doorway, indoor or outdoor stairs and in the kitchen and has cost more then one elderly person their freedom. No matter the age of the dog owner, I’m very no-nonsense when it comes to where a dog is allowed to be in these areas and make it a primary training focus for any dog. I really stress that in a kitchen a dog should be on its mat. No wandering. Same thing at the door before and after walks. Stay on a mat until they’re told to move and on stairs they’re trained to wait at the top and bottom until given permission to move. Total zero tolerance. It’s easy to teach and I’ve said for year that dog trainers should start ditching the old “geometric patterns around pylons” nonsense you find in so many class programs and teach these basics instead.
Here’s a link that might help, They’re not breed specific but it’s their speciality and they may be able to put you on to some dogs as well.
Pawsitively yours,
John Wade

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