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Should Missouri Seniors Own Pets?

Controversial as it may be, the question should be asked…is it wise for Missouri Seniors to own pets? According to a 2011 Harris Poll, 62% of Americans own a pet. Estimates published by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) indicate there are a staggering 70-80 million dogs and 74-96 million cats owned in the United States. Of those Americans owning pets, approximately 37-47% have a dog and 30-37% have a cat. According to the American Kennel Club, dog owners choose the following breeds most often: 42.7% large dog (Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd); 22.5% medium dog (Cocker Spaniel, Corgi), 22.5% small dog (Boston Terrier, Shih Tzu); 11.7% tiny dog (Chihuahua, Yorkshire Terrier); and 6.7% owned a giant dog (Great Dane, Mastiff).

But should Missouri seniors on limited budgets be among those who own pets? Experts don’t always agree; however, here are some pros and cons to consider in hopes you will make an informed decision:

Pros:
1. Exercise: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends older adults should exercise every week and walking is often the most common form of leisure-time physical activity because it is low impact, inexpensive and seniors can set their own pace. Researchers at the University of Missouri link pet ownership, exercise and socialization. In a recent study, the school determined that seniors who own pets benefit from the bonds they form with dogs, other pet owners and passersby. According to Rebecca Johnson, a professor at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, and the Millsap Professor of Gerontological Nursing in the Sinclair School of Nursing. “This study provides evidence for the association between dog walking and physical health using a large, nationally representative sample.”
2. Companionship: Seniors often experience loneliness and this can lead to depression and physical issues. Pets provide somewhat constant companionship and smaller pets in particular, can travel with seniors wherever they go.
3. Maintaining a Routine: Seniors who have retired often lack a daily routine. Pets require attention and care that and those responsibilities often replace some of the missing duties lost when employment ends. Grooming, feeding, bathing and exercising a pet can require an older adult to leave their sedentary lifestyle behind.
4. Stress: Now this one is debatable. While some experts extort the values of pets because they lessen stress levels for older adults, the wrong pet can increase stress levels such as constantly barking and noisy animals.
5. Protection: Having a dog around the home can provide older adults some protection. Animals alert to noise and movement that seniors may be unable to detect.

Cons:
1. Pets are an injury risk: In her 2009 article, Madison Park of CNN reported that The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated more than 86,000 fall injuries occurred annually caused by pets. Dogs seem to be the biggest culprits with 88% of injuries involving them. The types of injuries caused by dogs are numerous and include: 30.8% fractures; 26.3% contusions; 18.5% strain/sprain; 13% laceration; 4.3% internal injury; and 7.1% others (Source CDC). Pet supplies and toys cause injury to older adults as well. Tripping over a leash, chew toy or food dish is an altogether common occurrence.
Tripwithpets.com reports that pets are a common cause of automobile accidents. An uncontrolled dog may bark, pace or seek attention from its owner if unrestrained. In a 2011 survey by Kurgo and AAA, polled drivers admitted the following: 64% of them engaged in distracting pet-related activities while driving; 29% admitted to being distracted by a pet while driving; and 3% admitted to taking photos of their dogs as they drove. A 2013 HealthDay article reported that seniors are twice as likely to be involved in a crash while driving than those who never drove with their pet. Jim Gorzelany, in his 2015 article, The Dangers of Driving In Cars With Dogs reported the following alarming statistics: 56% of drivers said they drove with their dog in the car at least once per month; 23% of drivers with dogs said they used their hands and arms to hold the pet while driving; 19% said they used their hands and arms to prevent their dog from climbing into the front seat; and only 16% of dog owners said they regularly restrain their pet while driving.
2. Pets are costly: The cost of owning a pet is an extremely important consideration for at least two reasons. First, consider the initial cost of the pet. Puppies easily average $500-$1,000 to purchase. Because many older adults are on a fixed income, they settle for a poorly bred puppy instead. If they do, they run the risk of acquiring a pet with bad hips, allergies, and a poor disposition that may require thousands more in medical bills and hours of travel and overall disappointment. Second, maintaining a pet can be costly. Vaccinations, food, annual medical expenses and damage to property can become a staggering expense to older adults. According to the AKC, the price of owning and caring for a dog increases with the size of the dog. Giant dogs cost $3,321.00 to care for annually; medium dogs cost $2,628.00 annually; and small dogs cost $1,831.00 each year. According to peteducation.com, the total cost for maintaining a dog over a 14-year life can approach $38,905.00 on the high end.
3. Pets require space: Pam Green, a rescue worker and Bouvier dog breeder located in California, posted a 1995 article entitled How Much Room Does a (Big) Dog Need. In it she opined that while her large breed dogs required little room in her home to lounge, she did admit that yard space and “exercise” room was vital to the health of any species. Older adults often downsize and seek to reduce expenses by lowering utility bills, yardwork and monthly payments. It is important that sufficient space exists if you are considering pet ownership.
4. Owner may become ill: Preparing well for disasters should be a goal for everyone. Preparing for health issues should be a paramount concern for older adults. In preparation for illnesses, older adults should maintain a list of neighbors, relatives, friends and perhaps co-workers they can rely on to care for their pet in an emergency. For those who have already become ill while owning a pet, they should have already researched pet friendly shelter options if other caregivers aren’t available.
5. You really just wanted a puppy: Puppies are cute and marketers use them to take advantage of wonderfully giving seniors and to sell them products, but soon that little bundle of joy may become a 100-pound bounding, chewing, food eating monster who eats an unsuspecting senior out of house and home. Scientific evidence proves that every puppy becomes an adult dog if they are fed and remain health…so be prepared.
Pet ownership is generally thought to improve health, reduce stress and provide companionship to older adults. But pet ownership comes at a cost. Missouri seniors who desire a loving pet should be well informed of the annual costs as well as the initial cost for the animal before making the decision. Seniors should also anticipate higher instances of injury and maintain a list of people and organizations to care for their pet in the event they become ill. Finally, when the choice to obtain a pet or any other stressful situation arises, handle it like a dog…if you can’t eat it or play with it then just pee on it and walk away.

Todd Miller regularly writes and speaks on various legal topic including estate planning, probate and elder law. He formed the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC, 1305 Southwest Blvd., Ste. A, Jefferson City, Missouri in 2005. He has been recognized as 2016 Adviser of the Year by GolfInc; Golf Tax Consultant of the Year by Boardroom Magazine three times; and “10 Best” attorneys by the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys and “10 Best” attorneys by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys. Mr. Miller earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1999 and graduated with honors from Lincoln University in 1991. You may find him at www.toddmillerlaw.com (573) 634-2838 or on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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