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6 Ways Adopting a Pet Can Improve Your Live as an Older Woman

By Ann Marie Mershon September 22, 2022 Lifestyle

I’ve always loved dogs, but allergies in the household kept me from having one. After a painful divorce 20 years ago, I decided to buy a little non-shedding poodle/terrier. On the way home from the pet store I tried out a raft of names as I waited for her to pee at a roadside stop.

“Piddle, Blackie,” “Piddle, Lulu,” and “Piddle, Irma” just didn’t cut it. But when “Piddle, Libbie” brought results, the die was cast. Libby became my number one companion.

Having Libby

When my son learned of my new acquisition, he said, “I’m so glad you have a dog, Mom. Now you won’t be lonely.”

Actually, I hadn’t been bothered by loneliness (I’m a busy woman), but it gave me pause. What had changed in my life was that Libby made me laugh, often and well. Her antics were forever amusing, and I had to admit that I did enjoy having a little buddy.

For 17 years, Libby took me on morning and afternoon walks, also accompanying me on countless hikes, kayak outings, and canoe trips.

She moved overseas with me for a stint teaching in Turkey, adapting quickly from chasing chipmunks to chasing the local felines. She was forever my best pal, and I got a lot more exercise with her in my life.

Pets Bring Joy

Research has repeatedly shown that pet ownership improves quality of life, particularly for seniors. Human Animal-Companion Interaction (HAI) can have a significant effect on the lives of both you and your animal.

Many people believe that interaction with a pet increases oxytocin. In a collaborative collection of numerous HAI studies, an international team of researchers concluded that both HAI and oxytocin were found to promote social interaction, to reduce stress and anxiety, and to enhance human health.

The researchers concurred that “evidence exists for positive effects of HAI on: reduction of stress-related parameters such as epinephrine and norepinephrine; improvement of immune system functioning and pain management; increased trustworthiness of and trust toward other persons; reduced aggression; enhanced empathy and improved learning.”

If that sounds a little too academic (which it is), read on.

Rebecca A. Johnson, Ph.D., is director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri’s Sinclair School of Nursing. Johnson’s online report of her own research, as well as that of other researchers, includes numerous advantages to pet ownership, such as:

  • Post heart-attack patients with pets had an increased survival rate of one year over non-pet owners.
  • Elderly pet owners had lower blood pressure, triglyceride, and cholesterol levels.
  • US adults who walked dogs accumulated at least 30 minutes of walking in bouts of at least 10 minutes.
  • Older adult pet owners are less likely to be depressed.
  • Hospitalized patients reported less pain and used fewer analgesics during and after an animal visit.
  • Dog walking is associated with lower body mass index, fewer limitations in activities, fewer doctor visits, and more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise.

The Pet Species Is Up to You

My research has shown evidence for these positive results with any kind of pet, except that cats, lizards, and tropical fish don’t require daily walks. Go figure. Of course, if you have an aversion to dogs, dog ownership is probably going to do you little good. Consider a fish tank.

Incredible results have been found with equine therapy, a system of therapy involving contact with (not necessarily riding) horses. Years ago, an interview done with Julie Rovner, a pet therapist, was published by National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation.

In that interview she shared some amazing stories about breaking through communication barriers with patients as they connected with horses.

Many kinds of animals can elicit a strong emotional response from people upon interaction, possibly because HAI involves four of our five senses: sight, smell, sound, and touch. That multi-faceted connection can break barriers that we may have built around ourselves – around our emotions.

Pets Provide a Purpose

Another finding revealed in this interview was that owning a dog (or being responsible for any pet) gives us a sense of purpose. Our pets need us for their well-being, and they usually reciprocate with affection. How could you possibly think your dog didn’t love you?

Research and personal experience have taught me the value of a relationship with an animal, and for the past 17 years that animal was Libby Lou. It broke my heart to put her down , and I understand why a lot of people resist taking on a pet because they don’t want to lose them.

I’m thankful for all the great years I shared with Libby. No other dog can replace her, but I’m confident that I’ll bond with another one before too long – just not quite yet.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What kind of pet do you have? What’s their name? What do you do with them? How long have you been together? What benefits do you experience from having a pet? Please share in the comments below.

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I’m 73 I just brought home a Yorkshire terrier. Coincidentally I named her Libby. She has brought joy and companionship into my life. Now if we could get potty training down pat, it would be perfect.

Rosamund Sheppard

We had a dog called Skipper. He was a much-loved English Cocker Spaniel. He lived for just over 13 years and died last year. We are unlikely to have another dog due to my husband’s health not being very good. We will just have to share our daughter and son-in-law’s Dobermann puppy and two horses.


An affectionate and sweet black mini poodle, Mitzy! My treasure!!


we welcomed Bernie into our life 2 1/2 years ago, and we love her more every day. They do require work, and being home a little more than previously, however, she makes us smile every day. And we’ve met so many lovely pet owners to socialize us and our dogs with.

Irene Bushell

My late husband and I had a dog or dogs before we even had our children. I still had my beloved Beagle when my husband passed away 11 years ago. I lost my sweet boy 5 years ago and I miss him everyday. Yes, I believe that pets are therapeutic and good for us, but in many ways they can cause much stress. Where do they go if I want to travel? No, I can’t stop for a leisurely dinner after shopping most of the day because the dog is home alone. It’s 0 degrees and icey outside, and the dog has to go outside in the middle of the night, or heck, during the day. The cost of veterinary care. Picking up the daily poop or poops. I’m not feeling well today and am not up for a walk, I love dogs, cats, all animals, and I still look longingly at animal rescue sites, but as a long time dog owner, there are a lot more negatives than positives than owning a dog when you are a senior living alone. Now if you don’t travel, go out much, have a fenced in yard, and a willing dog nanny close by, go for it.

Julie Hocking

Hi there Irene, this is totally off subject, however I noticed your surname is Bushell. My maiden name was Bushell. Are you at all related to the Bushell’s that originated in England or regional NSW Australia?
My email is jh if you would like to make contact.

Julie Hocking

If it’s icy or cold outside they go inside my fenced yard. Picking up the poop is no biggie to me. If I don’t feel like walking..out to the yard again. When going on vacation I figure boarding them as part of the expense. Yes, I’ve had times when I had to cut something to get home for them but they also provide me an excuse to get out of something. The last vet bills were very high so next time I’ll consider pet insurance but otherwise, I will recoup the money. It won’t send me to the poor house. A broken heart is painful but they make the house warmer, they get me out of bed & going and the lols I love.

The Author

A retired English teacher, Ann Marie Mershon lives on a lake in northern Minnesota with her husband, Jerry, and their two dogs. She’s published three books as well as numerous articles and columns. You can read about her years of teaching in Istanbul on her blog

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