Teaching a Not-So-Old Dog an Important Lesson

When I made the decision to start my own pet care business, I knew that my work would encompass activities other than dog walking, pet sitting and in-home visits. Given my extensive background in corporate education and adult learning, it is also important that my business be a credible informational resource for pet parents.

This past summer, I was invited to present a pet education program at a senior living community in La Jolla. Wanting to be sensitive to the needs of older adults, I looked to reinforce the benefits of pet ownership as people age. While “Staying Healthy: You & Your Dog” covered a range of topics including canine nutrition, ideal weight and appropriate daily feeding/portion size, it also addressed ways to strengthen the bonds between parents and their dogs.

Dr. Ira Feinswog, a San Diego veterinarian and owner of two local pet emergency and specialty centers, joined me to assist with the Q&A session and lend his knowledge of veterinary medicine.

Health topics included:

  • Medical research evidence pointing to the relationship between pet ownership and decreased anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, experience of less chronic pain and overall improved mood.
  • Studies revealing how dogs respond differently to their diabetic owners when their blood glucose levels fall, thereby aiding them in managing their medical conditions.
  • The benefits older active adults receive from engaging in regular physical exercise like dog walking and throwing a ball to even less physically demanding activities such as brushing and stroking their pet.

What resonates with me most is having had the opportunity to observe the extremely close relationships between the residents and their pets. Their dogs sat on their laps, by their feet or underneath their chairs on their doggie cushions. The elders listened intently and their dogs also were captivated by the subject matter. Good questions were asked and thoughtful remarks were made. The residents (probably unbeknownst to them) stroked their dogs’ backs, patted their heads and showered them with kisses throughout the hour-long program.

When it was over, I reflected upon what had just happened. The residents hopefully benefited from participating in the program. But with all their life wisdom, they were already doing and reinforcing much of the emotional bonding and pet enrichment practices we discussed. In this regard, they had something to teach me: It is not just about acquiring some new pet health information or learning important “pet facts”; it is also about doing what comes naturally when a dog looks into your eyes and his/her soul reaches out to you to say, “Thank you for loving me and taking care of me. You mean so much to me and I am here to look after you too.” As I left their retirement community and got into my car, I felt so humbled by the experience. These elders taught this not so old dog the best lesson ever!