Karin Spicer: Pets help keep senior citizens feeling young

Feb 16, 2018
  • By Karin Spicer
  • Contributing Writer
Sasha, Marilyn and Jim taking a walk. PETER BOYD/CONTRIBUTED

My in-laws Marilyn and Jim are retirees who have been enjoying an active lifestyle in Hilton Head, S.C., for more than 26 years.

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This has included golf, tennis and walks along the beaches and pine tree-lined neighborhoods.

Every morning, Sasha, their sandy-color mixed breed, is usually up by 7 for breakfast and then her first walk of the day.

The Savannah rescue and Marilyn set off down their street toward the neighborhood park. They pass apartment buildings and a lagoon as they loop back to their starting point.

When the two return home, Sasha retires to the sunroom for a late-morning nap. Marilyn sits down and enjoys her breakfast and morning paper with Jim.

Nothing unusual about the scene I just described, dogs and their owners taking morning walks.

What makes this daily event a little more unique is not that Sasha is 10 to 12 years of age but that Marilyn and Jim are 90 years young.

For senior adults, the benefits of owning a pet are many. According to agingcare.com, lower blood pressure, stress reduction, social interaction and increases in physical activity are just a few.

Marilyn and Jim have owned multiple dogs during their 70 years of marriage starting with Fritz, a Miniature Schnauzer. When their last dog, Chaz, a black and tan Welsh Terrier, passed unexpectedly, they assumed at their age dog ownership was not in the cards.

But Marilyn and Jim missed the daily antics of a four-legged friend. They missed the daily walks.

Last July when my husband, Ed, and our daughter, Jordan, were visiting to celebrate Marilyn’s 90th birthday, the two seniors talked about how much they missed having a dog.

Not missing a beat, Jordan started a web search of area shelters for the perfect dog for her grandparents.

It didn’t take long for her to hone in on a small female stray in Savannah. Jordan made an appointment at the shelter.

Before his parents could protest, Ed volunteered to drive and the four were off to meet the little dog.

The pooch was friendly and liked being held.

Most importantly, the furball liked to walk. Ed had taken her outside and she walked beautifully on a leash.

The two seniors were hesitant about adopting the shelter dog until Ed assured them that if they couldn’t take care of her, we would. Jordan echoed her dad’s sentiments.

That was it. The two signed initial adoption papers. Since the rescue was new to the shelter her health status was yet unknown. After a thorough medical exam and spaying, the adoption would be finalized.

Jordan picked out the name, Sasha.

The exam revealed Sasha had been spayed. But that’s where the good health news stopped.

Sasha had heartworm, ringworm, skin allergies and multiple cysts. Each issue had to be addressed.

Undaunted, Marilyn made an appointment with their vet. Sasha proved she had as much tenacity as Marilyn and became the picture of good health in a few short months.

Sasha is low key. She enjoys curling up next to Marilyn in the afternoons for reading and TV viewing. She has learned that Jim, a former business executive, specializes in pats and rubs.

The dog’s companionship adds more interest to my in-laws’ lives. Three daily walks, the mid-day’s being a mile long, keep them all moving.

Sasha benefits, too as this once-forgotten dog receives the love and attention she so rightly deserves.

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