Seniors Series: Pros and cons of adopting a new pet

Officials recommend weighing facts before taking plunge

When Gail Ruvalcaba met Puddles at the Valley Humane Society, she knew he was the purrfect pet for her. She was seeking to provide a good life -- and a good ending -- for a cat, and Puddles, although less than 2 years old, has a limited life expectancy.

"Before, I had a lovely cat named Big Guy that was the love of my life," said Ruvalcaba, 74. "He got lymphoma."

Her veterinarian laid out various treatment options, which might buy a week or a few months.

"I said I'd like to take him home and spoil the hell out of him until he's ready to go," Ruvalcaba recalled.

And she did, showering Big Guy with special treats and affection.

"We ate more liver-flavored cat food than you could shake a stick at," Ruvalcaba said with a laugh.

She's owned cats since the family adopted one when her youngest child was 7 and "has been hooked ever since." But she noted that she was less devastated than with her other cats when Big Guy died because she had a chance to say goodbye.

A few months later, to fill the "big hole in my life," Ruvalcaba went to Valley Humane Society in Pleasanton. She was looking for a mature cat, rather than an active kitten, and Puddles caught her eye -- and her heart, when she learned he had feline leukemia as well as a heart condition.

"He'd been living in the shelter for about 15 months and he couldn't go outside, and couldn't talk to the other kitties," she said. "He couldn't even see the birds."

"I thought, 'Who will say goodbye to this little guy?'" she remembered.

Then she decided she would.

"I figured I went through it with Big Guy and it didn't kill me. I felt glad I could do that for him. I figured I could do it for another cat," Ruvalcaba said, and she brought Puddles to her home on Vineyard Avenue.

Melanie Sadek, executive director of Valley Humane Society, said although some shelters will not adopt out to seniors because they are afraid the animals will be returned, she loves to see seniors adopt.

"We have a whole program called Meet Your Match where people let us know what kind of cat would be best for their home environment," Sadek explained. "For the first few days they are in our facility, we are gauging their personality."

The staff talks to prospective owners about what is the right fit. In the case of seniors, this means considering their mobility and getting the right sized animal.

"An 80-pound dog needs to walk every day, probably run," Sadek said. "We have those discussions with people."

She likes people to consider what will happen to the animal if he outlives them, perhaps arranging with another family member to adopt him. This is one reason she encourages seniors to adopt older animals, which are harder to place. Also, they are already trained.

"Another reason a senior animal is great is because they are more likely to want to lie in your lap and relax with you," Sadek said.

Of course, she noted, newly retired seniors might find themselves with the freedom to travel for the first time and not want to be tied down by a dog or cat. Or they may be relocating to a place that does not allow pets, although Sadek noted that more and more places are taking small dogs and cats.

Another thing to consider is whether having a dog or cat underfoot can be dangerous for an older senior so a larger animal or one that does not blend in with the flooring might be safer.

Some seniors who have cared for pets all their lives might be ready to toss out the pooper scooper and save money on the vet visits and pet food. But Ruvalcaba says Puddles is no trouble at all. Due to his health problems she checked potential expenses with her veterinarian ahead of time so she won't have any surprises. Also, Valley Humane Society will pay his medical bills for the first year.

Puddles has settled into the Ruvalcaba household since he moved in May 31.

"He lays in this little kitty condo thing -- he scratches on it and will reach over and put arms out and over the side," Ruvalcaba said. "We'll sit there at night, I'm watching TV and can look over at him. He's just looking at me. He's a sweet little thing."

She also feeds a stray cat, who is skittish but shows up each morning for a meal. Ruvalcaba calls her Dinette because she only shows up to dine.

"First thing I do in the morning is go feed my outside cat, then feed the Puds, then clean out his box," Ruvalcaba said. "Cats are wonderful company and they're not so much trouble."

Seniors: Ready for a new pet?


* Pets provide unconditional love and companionship.

* Feeding, grooming and exercising a pet -- either indoors or outdoors -- keeps a person active and moving. Taking the dog out for a walk offers the opportunity to meet others while getting much-needed sunshine and exercise.

* Person takes better care of self, out of responsibility for pet.

* Person feels productive, useful and needed.

* Person has someone to talk to; pets will listen, no matter how repetitive people are.

* Studies have shown that simply touching or holding a pet can reduce blood pressure and create a sense of well-being in the elderly. The company of a beloved pet has been proven to reduce depression.

* Pets offer sense of security and safety.

* Pets offer fun and entertainment.

* Pets ease the loss of a loved one.


* Pets are an additional expense: food, kitty litter, vet bills.

* Pets mean work, such as feeding and cleaning up after them and perhaps training them. Also, some can be destructive.

* Pets can tie you down; pet sitters or boarding are expensive.

* Seniors may worry about a pet's future.

* Seniors may have poor eyesight and could trip over them.

* Commitment could last many years as senior's health declines.

* Pets will die.


Like this comment
Posted by Norine
a resident of Danville
on Jul 30, 2014 at 11:43 am

Your article was very well written and most appreciated. We lost our dog over 10 years ago and did not feel I could go through putting down another dog. They are too precious in my life. Instead, I chose to visit my daughter often and enjoy her dog. Lately, I have been giving some thought to getting another dog. As I mentioned, your article arrived at just the right time. Thank you.

Like this comment
Posted by San Ramon Observer
a resident of San Ramon
on Aug 1, 2014 at 1:24 pm

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.


I'm a senior. I will be 72 in October. Pets are great. They keep you company and never judge you or criticize.

I fostered cats for about ten years. First for TVAR (Tri-Valley Animal Rescue) and later for Safe-Cat Foundation in San Ramon. Cats are easy to take care of and very friendly once they learn to trust you. If a cat is aloof and hiding, just give it more time.

So many homeless animals are put to sleep (killed) in shelters. Please consider adopting one today. Big dogs are much more difficult to place than small dogs, so if you have a yard or need some exercise, adopt a big dog and take it for daily walks. It's good for you and good for the dog.

Consider adopting more than one dog or cat, especially if they are already together in the shelter. They will keep each other company if you work or go out regularly.


Like this comment
Posted by dogfather
a resident of Danville
on Aug 1, 2014 at 2:03 pm

The BARK magazine ran this tribute: "In Praise of Senior Dogs." Web Link It was later included in a book called Beautiful Old Dogs. Web Link And it's true. win.

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