There will be no meetings at the Clinton Seniors’ Centre on Smith Avenue for the foreseeable future. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

Is this the right time to bring a pet into your life?

Rockin’ and Talkin’ with the Clinton Seniors’ Association

“That old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air. Another fall, another turned page; there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.”

Wallace Stegner

We’re six months into the coronavirus pandemic, and in many ways it seems longer. On the other hand, the days seem to fly by, and we’re almost into another season, with spring and summer given over entirely to our new and different way of life: fewer contacts, almost no social events, no meetings, no fundraising activities, no time together in the hall or the park or even in the Seniors’ Centre.

Do you, too, ask yourself when will it end? When will it change back to life as we knew it? Indeed, will we ever go back to life as we knew it? Maybe social distancing, small groups, and face masks is the new norm, all of which we can adapt to, albeit that we are resistant to change.

A great concern, I think, is the feeling of alienation and isolation and loneliness that has come over many people, particularly seniors, some of whom live alone and truly find the days long. Previously, evenings were tolerable because the days had been full and busy. Not so anymore.

I wonder if this is a good time to bring a pet into your life? The Good Times magazine aimed at seniors recently carried an article titled “The Power of Pets” written by Wendy Haaf. She states “They’re not only cute and cuddly — they can help you stay healthy. According to a growing body of research, living with a pet could potentially protect our physical and mental health in a number of ways.”

While Wendy admits that the pet-human partnership can have its downsides, from expense and effort to heartbreak over the loss of a beloved companion, the benefits may go far beyond an enthusiastic welcome when you get home.

Stress relief: Spending time with a dog decreases stress. Results of a study involving 400 university students indicated that the interaction tends to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure. The muscles relax and breathing becomes more regular. Recent data shows that even stress hormones are reduced.

Stronger social bonds: Pets help build social capital, just like the relationships we have with humans, which we know are a huge determinant of health. There’s the companionship that comes from the animal itself. Having a pet seems to help with loneliness. Caring for a pet can provide a sense of purpose, a trait that’s been linked with healthy aging. Of course, it doesn’t replace the desire for human companionship, but it does make life a lot better.

Doctors who engage in conversations with patients about their pets reported learning more about the patients through these conversations. Research has shown that stronger relationships between people and their doctors can improve patient health. Neighbourhoods with features that encourage people with pets to mingle, such as dog parks, have stronger feelings of connection. Older people are more apt to feel secure enough to walk outdoors when they live in an area boasting an abundance of dog-walkers.

Healthier behaviours: Dogs can actually motivate people to get out in spite of bad weather. Daily tasks of animal care, such as feeding, can encourage routines that contribute to overall health. Dog walking can increase levels of physical activity in their owners. Some people have even quit smoking because they learned that secondhand smoke was bad for their pet.

Pets aren’t pills. They come with individualities and sets of needs, all of which must be carefully weighed before deciding to adopt an animal. The primary reason for doing so should be to give an animal a loving home. Still, the possible health perks are another plus. Knowing that you are solely responsible for the well-being of that animal, and that it depends on you for all its physical and emotional needs, is a powerful motivator. Feeling so needed by your four-legged friend can most certainly nudge aside any notions of loneliness.

There’ll be no regular monthly meetings of the Clinton Seniors’ Association until the pandemic issues are reconciled. It is highly unlikely that the November Marketplace or the December Christmas Party will take place. Meanwhile, telephone others. Offer support and encouragement and continue to practice random acts of kindness. Stay well and safe.

Happy Birthday greetings to Heather Henri on Sept. 10 and to Irene McDonald on Sept. 27.

“Probably the happiest period in life most frequently is in middle age, when the eager passions of youth are cooled, and the infirmities of (old) age not yet begun; as we see that the shadows, which are at morning and evening so large, almost entirely disappear at midday.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

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