Pets can reduce loneliness, anxiety for senior citizens

DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) — Caroline Brown smiled as she held Sugar, her 5-year-old Schnoodle.

Brown, who has had pets all her life, said having her two dogs and two cats at home has really helped her now that’s she retired.

Brown taught school for over 25 years, which included 16 years as an art teacher in both Georgia and the Dothan area. She mostly taught locally at Kelly Springs Elementary School until her retirement in 2008.

Pets aren’t anything new to Brown as she grew up with dogs and cats at home along with some ducks and even a pet skunk.

“I’ve had cats all my life and the occasional dog,” Brown said. “I’ve always been a cat person. Then my friend Marcella West got me into rescuing dogs. Dogs are truly there for you.”

Brown said her two dogs, including Sugar, a gray poodle and Schnauzer mix, and Baby Bear, a 2-year-old black Havanese, were both adopted from the Dothan Animal Shelter.

For Brown, her pets help keep her active, particularly her dogs. Last year she took her dogs to the Bark in the Park event hosted by the City of Dothan, which also serves as a fundraiser for the Dothan Animal Shelter. The event planned for May 21 this year includes a demonstration by some Dothan police K-9s along with a fashion show for area dogs to participate in as well.

“I dressed Sugar up as a police man and Baby as a prisoner,” Brown said. “I can’t even imagine life without them.”

Brown also has two cats, a 13-year-old orange and white tabby named Tommy and Melanie, a 10-year-old calico cat.

Brown spends much of her time with not only her dogs and cats, but helping other dogs and cats through volunteering at the Dothan Animal Shelter or with Save-A-Pet at the local PetSmart store.

Brown encouraged anyone to adopt a pet from the Dothan Animal Shelter, but particularly seniors.

“I feel like there are so many seniors out there who are alone and don’t realize how having an animal or even volunteering out there can enrich them,” Brown said. “There are days when I may feel down, but then I take them out to the dog park and things are different. It was just so wonderful to smell the woods. I came home and had more energy. I just felt happier.”

Stephanie Gibson, a doctor who also serves as a volunteer with a local pet therapy program, said studies have shown seniors, particularly women who suffer from depression and or loneliness, can benefit from having pets at home. She said similar studies show having a pet can also correlate to decreased blood pressure and anxiety.

Gibson said other studies show having pets at home can lead to a decrease and the slowing of dementia. Gibson wouldn’t exactly recommend a playful puppy for a senior citizen, though.

“It can kind give you a new purpose after retirement with something to take care of,” Gibson said of seniors having pets at home.

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Information from: The Dothan Eagle, http://www.dothaneagle.com

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