Sheila and Pierre

Sheila Burgess, of Ridgefield, stops and pets her Saint Bernard Pierre while on a walk at the Fairgrounds Community Park in Ridgefield Nov. 15. Pierre is an important part of her life, Burgess said. “I decided to get Pierre because I was lonely and I needed somebody after losing my husband,” she said. “My dog keeps me company. I can talk to him and he makes me go out and walk.”

Furry friends such as dogs, cats, bunnies and more can provide joy, excitement and relaxation in a life that can be seen as mundane. 

Along with surface level enjoyment, the Humane Society for Southwest Washington (HSSW) wants seniors to know that pets can provide opportunities for seniors to keep a healthy lifestyle. 

“Dogs especially help create a life of walks and activity, most likely twice a day. Without having a dog, many people would not keep to this habit,” Vice President for Marketing for the Humane Society of Southwest Washington Denise Barr said. “Really for anyone living alone and not working, loneliness can be an issue. Imagine that seniors could go for a number of days without interaction with other people. Interaction with a cat and or dog can create connection and company.”

Barr said companionship plays a large part in why seniors own pets. 

“Pets give people purpose, keep them active and provide companionship. Pets are the great connectors to other people. If you meet someone, one of the first things they talk about is a cat or dog at home,” she said. “Often they grab their phones and share photos and stories of these wonderful creatures.”

Ridgefield resident Sheila Burgess echoed Barr’s statement on companionship and exercise as she adopted her dog, Pierre, after her husband passed away. 

“My dog keeps my company,” she said. “I can talk to him and he makes me go out and walk. What I love most about Pierre is his companionship and because he loves to be cuddled. Everyone should have a pet because they are company and they keep you going. A lot of people give up because they don’t care about living. Having a pet gives you something to live for.”

HSSW’s Barr also touched on the idea of different pets providing different benefits. 

While dogs can provide seniors more opportunities to get out and exercise, cats can be a great choice for seniors who aren’t as mobile because they are physically less demanding. Other pets such as bunnies, chinchillas and reptiles can be good, less-mobile choices for seniors. 

“Of course (these animals are good) if it makes them happy,” Barr said. “Most likely, if they are interested in these types of pets in their younger years, they will like them in the later years.”

Barr also mentioned the main fear for seniors is the chance of their pets outliving them. 

“People requested that HSSW create a program to help deal with this issue. Home Again Guardian Program was created as part of our estate planning efforts. With this program, HSSW will immediately take pets of people who have passed and they enter the shelter as VIPs. They will go into foster until a new home is identified,” she said. 

Snack

Six-month-old Pierre, a Saint Bernard puppy, stops to eat leaves while on a walk at  Fairgrounds Community Park in Ridgefield with his owner Sheila Burgess Nov. 15. Burgess thinks having a pet is very important. “Everyone should have a pet because they are company and they keep you going, a lot of people give up because they don’t care about living,” she said. “Having a pet gives you something to live for.”

Those who wish to go more in-depth into the discussion of the health benefits surrounding pets and seniors can head to the next Commission on Aging meeting at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 20 where Cheri Martin and Bob Libby from the HSSW will speak. The discussion can include topics such as local resources for pet help, the therapeutic benefits of pets and the benefits and drawbacks of pet ownership among seniors. 

The Commission on Aging meeting takes place at the Clark County Public Service Center (1300 Franklin St., Vancouver) on the sixth floor. You can find out more about the HSSW at southwesthumane.org.

Photographer Mary Broten contributed to this report.

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