Over the years, studies have shown that having a pet can lower blood pressure, increase happiness, reduce the risk of depression, and even aid cognition in senior citizens. As the general population ages and more and more medical conditions are treated with medications that often have strange and sometimes very serious side effects, pet ownership sounds like a very positive alternative—and a wonderful way to find unconditional love and companionship when it’s often needed the most.
Fully aware and appreciative of these benefits, the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria created a special program for senior citizens wishing to adopt pets, targeting not only a specific demographic of adopters, but also a special demographic of adoptees. “Having a companion animal can be such an important part of life at any age, and we hear from many seniors telling us that they wished they could have a pet but were worried that the pet would be too energetic or need too much attention,” says Director of Marketing & Communications Gina Hardter. Thus was born Seniors for Seniors, a program matching senior citizens with “senior” pets. “Our goal is to help residents find the pet who is just the right speed and personality for them and to provide a special cat or dog with a wonderful new home and best friend.”
After nearly ten years, the program has matched more than 100 seniors with a special pet while giving a great gift to animals that might otherwise take longer to find a forever home. “Sometimes senior animals spend more time at a shelter because many adopters are looking for younger or more energetic pets, but we still know these older dogs and cats are just right for someone,” Hardter explains. “Through the Seniors for Seniors program, we are able to more easily make those matches.”
The program also makes the adoption process easier, waiving adoption fees for adopters 65 years or older who are adopting an animal eight years of age or older. Standard adoption policies and procedures still apply, which means that potential adopters must still take part in an adoption consultation during which they can ask questions and are given information about the pet’s medical history and background. “We always want to make sure that we are matching every person with the pet that is right for them, and we’ve often found that seniors are looking for lower-maintenance pets—pets who may already have been house-trained, have a calmer demeanor, be lower energy, and have experience living in a house. All of these attributes are ones you are much more likely to find in an older animal than a puppy or kitten,” Hardter says.
Naturally, these are extremely desirable characteristics to have in a pet for anyone who checks the box marked “Senior Citizen.” Being older, however, hardly limits a pet’s personality or their ability to love and provide companionship to their owners. Even being advanced in years, these special creatures still offer countless benefits, making them all the more loveable, and all the more perfect for the lucky people who adopt them. “Pet ownership has been proven to show many benefits for seniors, including encouraging their owners to get more exercise, lowering stress and blood pressure, increasing social interaction, and decreasing depression or feelings of loneliness,” says Hardter. “Other studies have shown that pet ownership may even help with better memory recall and provide emotional support.”
“Our goal is to help residents find the pet who is just the right speed and personality for them and to provide a special cat or dog with a wonderful new home and best friend.” - Gina Hardter
Having that kind of support is invaluable, especially for senior citizens who might find that they have less socialization or fewer interactions with friends and family. These pets become a way to stay active and feel a constant source of love and attention while opening the senior to a world of new experiences. Even as they require care, they give care, offering companionship in times of loneliness, comfort in times of loss, and laughter in times of heartache. And for these senior pets, their new owners become their second chance at a happy life with someone who will love them for the rest of their days.
For more information on Animal Welfare League of Alexandria’s Seniors for Seniors program, visit www.alexandriaanimals.org/seniorsforseniors
or call (703) 746-4774.
Story by Liesel Schmidt
Photography by Allison Lane Photography, Dirty Paw Photography + DeSilva Studios