Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Matching Senior Citizens With Pets

Pet Column for the week of September 1, 2008

Related information:

Services - Human-Animal Bond

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

Anyone with a pet can vouch for the benefits of having a four-legged fur ball roaming around the house. For an aging population who may be battling loneliness after the loss of a spouse or boredom after retiring from a full-time job, a pet might be the perfect prescription for a fulfilling and happy life.

Kate Meghji is the shelter manager at the Champaign County Humane Society in Urbana, Ill. She oversees adoptions at the shelter and says, "we frequently have senior citizens come in looking for an animal to adopt. What I see the most of is somebody who has had a dog in the past and wants to replace it." Unfortunately, each pet is one of a kind and finding an exact clone of your previous animal is left only to the scientists and their clients with large bank accounts.

Ms. Meghji recalls a previous case where an elderly woman had owned a poodle for the past 15 years and was looking for another. "It is important that potential adopters realize that whatever animal they choose is just not going to be the same as another dog," she explains.

Despite this, the shelter has been very successful in matching seniors with the right pet thanks to their experienced adoption staff. In fact, they have a program in place where they match a senior citizen with a senior cat at least seven-years-old. As an added benefit, the adoption fee is waived when participating in this program.

Before adopting it is important to take several factors into consideration. Firstly, many senior citizens live in retirement homes or apartments in which pets are not permitted. Find out before you start looking for a pet if animals are allowed to avoid a heartbreaking situation.

Secondly, know what your energy level is. A Labrador puppy for someone confined to a wheelchair would not be ideal. But an older cat that curls up in their lap might be perfect.

Thirdly, do not forget to plan long term. It is recommended that owners, both young and old, put their pet in their will so the animal will be cared for in the future.

Another situation Ms. Meghji commonly runs into is children who want to adopt their older parents a pet to keep them company. "We do not let people adopt animals as gifts," she notes. "We want the primary caretaker to be involved in the process since they will be the one living with the animal."

If you are a senior citizen that loves animals, yet cannot adopt for some reason, there is another option. Chris Noffsinger is a volunteer at the Champaign County Humane Society three days a week. She started volunteering through the local Retired Senior Citizens Volunteer Program (RSVP) that matches seniors with a volunteer opportunity.

"Chris is a wonderful volunteer," says Ms. Meghji. "She started bringing in food and reminds the staff to eat when we get busy and forget to." Ms. Noffsinger says, "I thoroughly enjoy working here. I love being close to animals and the people here are just wonderful to be around."

If you decide to adopt a cat or dog, remember to consider your needs and abilities before committing. Even if you cannot adopt, there are ways to stay active and be around animals through volunteer opportunities. If you would like more information about matching a senior citizen with a pet, contact the Champaign County Humane Society at 217/344-7297 or visit their Web site at