Dog ownership in retirement – pros and cons
There are benefits to dog ownership at any stage of adult life, but it’s particularly attractive in retirement. Companionship, exercise, an interest – these are all excellent reasons for introducing Fido into your home.
On the other hand, there are several arguments against dog ownership – the mess, restriction on your travel options, the cost. So which is it to be – a dog or no dog?
Reasons to own a dog
I like the idea of owning a dog. It must be a great joy if you can find an animal that suits your lifestyle, temperament, budget. But at what cost?
• Companionship – a dog can share your treasured moments. Dog owners claim that their animal can read their mood, thoughts, troubles, and can be there as a source of comfort and joy.
• A reason to exercise – I see dog owners everywhere. When I visit my local park, walking down the street, on trips to the local shops. Owners out in all weathers, giving Fido his daily run – on a lead of course. It may be that they would still be exercising without a dog in tow (I write elsewhere about the benefits of jogging), but the reality is they would find an excuse not to go out for a walk (too tired/busy/cold/hot/TV show to watch). A dog looking at you with baleful eyes, lead in the mouth – who could resist?
• Meeting other dog owners – I am told that many friendships are made on the local dog-walking route. Other owners want to converse with a lead in hand, where they might otherwise be reticent. There seems to be a bond amongst the canine-loving fraternity – and often seniors need (crave?) social contact in their lives.
• A reason to get out of bed – your dog needs feeding, wants attention, must attend to bodily functions. If you are lazing in bed your pet will let you know that it’s time to get up. That can also be a bad thing!
• Training – if successful, it must be rewarding to get your dog to obey you. I could also put this in the “not to” section if you don’t have the skillset (or you buy the wrong breed).
Reasons not to own a dog
Let’s not get carried away here – a decision to own a dog, especially in later life but in fact any time at all – is not one to be taken lightly. There are many reasons to avoid dog ownership and many owners who wished they weren’t. If you doubt that, visit the local dog pound.
Reasons to think carefully:
• The wrong dog by accident or lack of forethought – how many dog owners have been taken in by the cute puppy eyes, youthful playfulness, just general appeal. And then discovered the reality – expensive vets bills, too large for the house, noisy, expensive. If you want a dog do your research.
• The right dog for the wrong reasons – there are people who want a snarling, noisy, perhaps even vicious pet. They should not be allowed ownership of any sort of animal (IMHO) but it’s still a free country at the time of writing. In the UK we have our Dangerous Dogs Act, a piece of legislation introduced in 1991 (amended in 2014) in response to a wave of attacks by animals. It has been controversial, there being no dangerous dogs, only irresponsible owners. But the appeal of a pit bull terrier or rottweiler escapes me.
• Noise – if you live next door to a yapper you will know how irritating it can be. If you own one, and despite your best efforts it continues to bark at every opportunity, you will reflect on an old adage. It is very easy to be a dog owner, not so easy to then not be one.
• Mess – the traditional sort (hairs, muddy paws etc) and the sort that they leave around the place as a natural bodily function. That has to be dealt with properly and let’s just say some owners are not keen to do that.
• Visitors – if you have relatives or friends with allergies, owning any sort of pet may be an issue for them. They’ll make apologies, excuses – but they just won’t come to see you, and who can blame them?
• Cost – pedigree dogs are expensive to buy and can also be costly to maintain. Food, grooming, don’t forget insurance – factor cost into the mix if you are thinking of buying. And choose your breed carefully otherwise the vet will be your friend.
• Travel – is not just a question of throwing a few things in a suitcase and heading out the door. Kennels are an option (they might have a sexier name now) or you can take your four-legged friend with you if you plan it right. Either way, dog ownership is second only to child ownership for disrupting your life.
• Exercise – this was a plus too, but as we get older the prospect of a hike through the fields on a cold, wet and windy night is less appealing. So if your breed needs a lot of exercise you need to factor in – who is going to take the lead (literally).
• Unsuitable home – apart from those little chihuahua types, dogs need exercise and space. Ideally, a garden to run around in, and somewhere for a bed and toys. Practical issues, forethought required.
Clearly, research is required before you make this life-changing decision. The UK Kennel Club has some advice and the Human Society suggests you try them before a pet store (or the dread internet).
Devoted dog lovers will dismiss the downsides of ownership, but there are practical considerations and it needs careful thought. The right dog in the proper circumstances can be a joy.
Of course, there’s always the cat option.