Sept. 16, 2021
When Maureen Lloyd decided it was time to move from her condo to a retirement home this year, she really had only one stipulation: the place would have to allow her to move in with her cockapoo Lucy and cat Gulliver.
The 82-year-old looked at three or four possible destinations before settling on the Chartwell Waterford Retirement Residence in Oakville, Ont., because of its pet-friendly policies.
There are some compelling reasons for considering a dog in retirement. (And sorry cat lovers, our feline friends do not offer the same array of benefits.)
Many of the positives are obvious: they get you up and out in good weather and bad, they act as a social lubricant that gets strangers chatting, they improve your mood and ease loneliness and create a built-in routine of feeding and walks. Heck, dogs have even been shown in some studies to reduce blood pressure in their owners.
Lucy the cockapoo has certainly eased Ms. Lloyd’s transition from independent living to a retirement home, as she and her fuzzy companion are well-known among the facility’s residents.
Ms. Lloyd agrees that having the only dog in residence makes her something of a rock star among the seniors set at Chartwell. “That’s right, I am.”
If the retirement home’s management had its way, dogs would be a more common feature at the facility. The pet-friendly place boasts a decidedly underused pet washing station and is one of a number of residences in the Chartwell chain that allow residents to live with pets.
“Some people are resistant to retirement living because they can’t bring their dog with them and that actually may make them stay home longer when they are not as supported or safe as they used to be,” says Katie Hourigan, retirement living consultant with the Oakville facility.
“We strongly encourage them to bring their furry friends with them. We know it helps with loneliness and emotional support and companionship.”
That does not mean that having pets in retirement – and dogs in particular – is all positive.
On the downside, owning a dog in retirement can be a headache for those who intend to travel a lot, unless they have friends or family willing to act as foster parents for weeks and months at a time.
It also can limit your rental options with regards to a hotel or Airbnb when taking your pooch on a driving holiday.
For Bruce and Brenda Rennie, who retired and rented a series of homes and apartments for four years in Ontario and B.C., having a dog proved to be their main hurdle when seeking their next rental.
“Renting with a pet is much more difficult,” she says. “It easily took 60 per cent or more of the possible places we could rent off the market to us.
“People are worried about dogs doing damage to their property and stuff. That was a big thing. I could have had five kids, but one dog …”
Dogs are also expensive, which is a consideration for seniors on a tight, fixed budget. There are toys and accessories to buy, dog food and often eye-watering vet bills.
A leg surgery operation that ran into thousands of dollars on her beloved black Labrador named Maggie is one of the reasons that Mariella Hoy has resisted getting another dog in retirement, despite the urging of her husband.
“When I was working at home, I was constantly aware that there was this little creature that was looking for love and play,” she says, noting that Labrador Retrievers are among the highest-energy dog breeds.
“It was like having a child.”
Having a demanding pet was compensated for by the “love and understanding” her dog gave the couple.
Ms. Hoy, who runs a coaching business intended to help people create a retirement “filled with purpose and passion,” has a bit of advice for retirees contemplating the addition of a dog to their lives: Be prepared for the bills and be able to do the bare minimum physically.
For her, a requirement of owning a canine companion as a retiree is a basic level of health, noting that many people end up retired because their bodies gave out before their will to work did.
“A health concern could put a wrench into the plan to walk the dog twice a day and what it would mean to a dog to go to a new family if it couldn’t be cared for,” she says. “But on the health side, it’s proven that animals can reduce stress and form bonds and give you a great reason to go out and walk.”
Today, in their mid-60s and living on 50 acres of wooded property near Owen Sound, Ont., Ms. Hoy and her husband are in prime dog-in-retirement territory.
If she ever gives in, there is no doubt what breed the couple would settle on. “Oh, we would go Lab.”
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