Depending on circumstances, a dog of any size can be a good companion for a senior. Here are factors to consider
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
I’ve had cavalier King Charles spaniels for 20 years. My husband and I switched to the small spaniels after the death of our greyhound, Savanna, from bone cancer. We lived in a condo and decided our next dog should be one we could easily carry up and down the stairs if necessary — something we had to do with Savanna after a leg amputation. We planned to go back to bigger dogs when we bought a house.
That house purchase never happened, but occasionally I still yearn for a larger dog — before I get too old. But is there such a thing as “too old” for a big dog?
Age doesn’t have to preclude dog ownership, not even of large breeds. Bobbie Thrutchley, 88, of Leawood, Kansas, was feeling lonely after the death of her goldendoodle, so she went down to the shelter and adopted a Lab mix, whom she named Coco.
“We’re good for each other,” she says.
As with any choice of a dog, though, there’s a lot to consider.
“Variables include owner experience with dogs, owner ability to train the dog, the relationship between dog and owner and the dog’s temperament,” says dog trainer Liz Palika of Kindred Spirits in Escondido, California. Other factors are a person’s own health and fitness and the dog’s size and health.
Barbara Saunders, 47 at the time, injured her back carrying her 19-year-old 65-pound dog up and down two flights of stairs. Vision-impaired and arthritic, the dog was afraid to walk down them himself. For her next dog, she chose one weighing only 20 pounds.
If you’re a senior considering getting a puppy or adult dog, think ahead. Does your local senior housing, assisted living center or nursing home allow pets? If so, is there a cap on weight or height? Choose a dog who won’t exceed the limit. For the same reason, a dog who’s quiet — or can learn to be that way — is a necessity. And consider whether a puppy might outlive you. Adopting a middle-aged or senior dog may be a better option.
Experts have favorites they recommend for people of a certain age. Journalist, breeder and dog show judge Allan Reznik of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, recommends a well-trained adult greyhound, Doberman pinscher or standard poodle for people who own their own home, don’t face community size restrictions and enjoy walks. “If they prefer something smaller to cuddle and spoil, I’d suggest a cavalier, papillon or pug,” he says.
Dog groomer Julie Ellingson of Sacramento, California, is a fan of Chihuahuas — “clever, brave little dogs” — and miniature poodles. She says clients who are seniors most often have Pomeranians or Shih Tzus. “The Poms require a bit of effort for brushing, but have distinct shedding seasons, and Shih Tzus are best kept in short teddy bear clips. Both have sunny temperaments.”
Longtime dog owner Edie Jarolim of Tucson, Arizona, wouldn’t want to live with a dog she couldn’t pick up and carry to the car if necessary, so big dogs are out for her.
A small dog isn’t always the best choice, though. While they don’t weigh much, it can be difficult to bend down to pick them up if necessary or to attach a leash or harness. It’s also easy to trip over or step on them. Karen Henderson of Minerva, Ohio, has a goldendoodle and a yellow Lab. She says they are easier to care for than smaller dogs.
Gail Parker of Philadelphia lives with an Irish setter, Daisy. For her, a tall dog is nice for help with balance when going down steps or walking on an uneven sidewalk. She adopted Daisy, then 8 years old, from an Irish setter rescue group, and notes that some shelters discount or waive adoption fees for seniors, especially if they adopt older dogs.
PHOTO CAPTION: Willingness and ability to train a dog can make all the difference in a senior’s ability to live happily with one. Bobbie and Coco work well together.