Numerous studies have shown that animals can be wonderful companions for older adults. Their presence can calm agitation and go a long way toward alleviating loneliness. While a longtime family pet can truly be a best friend to an aging adult who lives in his or her home, pets are also recognized in many care facilities as an important part of a satisfying life for their residents.

Animals can make wonderful companions, but they also require care, and they need to be a good match for their human partner. Here are some guidelines to follow when thinking about getting a dog for a senior.

What breed: Both dogs and humans are individuals. It is important to take the personality of the dog and the personality of the person into account. An active person can handle a lab, but someone who is quieter and less active might want to consider a smaller dog.

What age: Think about an older dog for a senior and not necessarily a puppy. Dogs 3-6 years in age typically have well-defined personalities. Generally, smaller, adult dogs such as Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas, and Pekingese tend to be more popular with folks in that age group. Older dogs are usually more mellow, house trained, don’t need let out as often and don’t need as much exercise as a puppy.

Does the person have the time and money to care for the pet? Some dogs have coats that require grooming and need to be seen by a groomer every six to eight weeks. This expense, as well as deciding who will transport the animal to grooming and veterinary appointments, needs to be taken into consideration. The initial veterinary costs for a puppy, such as vaccinations and spaying or neutering, should also be factored in.

Is the dog obedience-trained? Who will train the dog not to bark, to walk nicely on leash, sit, stay and not jump up?

Would it be better to just visit pets? A pet can provide love in an unconditional way that challenges human understanding – even if it is someone else’s pet.

Have a plan for emergencies: Unless specific instructions are left via a will or trust, placement of the dog is up to the surviving family members. The dog could be re-homed within the family or with a different family in the community. Sometimes family members don't know what to do and decide to euthanize the dog. Leaving directions is the best way to ensure that any animals left behind are cared for or re-homed according to the deceased person's wishes. Pets do grieve for a while, so be sensitive to rehoming during that time. But getting them into a loving home quickly helps this process.

The bottom line to me is that if an older adult is attached to a pet, families should do what they can to facilitate the relationship. Overall, though, the right pet can greatly enhance the quality of life for many older individuals who could benefit from a little more unconditional love. For more information on this and other topics of interest, call the Butler County Department on Aging at 775-0500.