Woodside Story: The joy of pets

Furry friends can be a blessing to elders, especially those with previous experience.


For those of us seniors who love animals — seemingly loving them beyond life itself (come on, admit it, it’s that meaningful) — figuring out a way to make our last chapter desirable can mean having a dog or a cat, or a gerbil, or a barn of horses. It is stunningly wonderful.

And statistics back that up. For people in the 50-to-80 age range, 55 percent have a pet, and of those, half have multiple pets. Compare this with the general population, wherein 66 percent of households have pets; we oldsters aren’t trailing too far behind.

My own theory about pet ownership in later years is that you require some prior experience. You need to have been brought up with a soulful-eyed pooch or gentle puddy-tat to know that animals are easy to live with, that they’re not going to defecate on your head while you’re sleeping. Otherwise, in these later years, when even learning a new card game can be beyond our repertoire, the notion of taking on any sort of living critter as a roommate is just plain dispiriting.

Look at it this way: If you were to take a lifetime history of any pet owner, you’d likely find they and their original pet or pets went way back. When I think of my son Charlie, born here on the Island in 1984, in his earlier days as a nursery school kid in Los Angeles, he and I and his dad acquired from a friend’s litter a gorgeous black cat named Hershey who proceeded to give birth, right in Charlie’s bed, to a litter of four whom we named Veal Chop, Pork Chop, Lamb Chop, and Chop Chop. When they reached a seasoned age for adoption, little lad Charlie demanded to keep them all. We told him to pick out one, and this was Chop Chop, whom we later named Gizmo. Hershey and Gizmo came to live with us year-round on the Vineyard.

So here’s the thing: Charlie has always known cats firsthand, and now, living with his adorable wife Cary in the Berkshires, they too have lodged cats, including a stray neighborhood cat named Matzah, who a year or so back plopped down a litter of four kitties on one of their living room chairs. They kept one and named it Tank, and Charlie can’t be away from home for more than five minutes without longing to get back to these cuties.

When you take a gander at friends who love pets, you’ll find an undying devotion to their furry — or feathered, or scaled — charges. They’ll say things like, “I couldn’t imagine life without FooFoo!” Taking stock of my own history, I spent the past five or so years without a permanent address, and therefore without an ability to shelter a new dog, following in the footsteps of my late Boston terrier, Huxley. Finally, when I achieved my senior housing apartment at Woodside, the first clamor of my heartstrings was to have a new pooch. As luck would have it, a dear friend of mine turned me on to a rescue group on the Cape who had an 8-year-old Boston terrier female who’d been trapped for years in a crate, producing litters of pups. Now, in my devoted care, she’s been learning to be a dog, starting with prancy-dance hikes in the hills, and many, MANY lessons in using the great outdoors as her bathroom.

On the plus side, fed up to here with nursing puppies, she loves hanging out with humans — especially her own human, me! — and that lovey-dovey side to having pets is a great favor — one could almost say life-saving favor — restored to me.

As I look around, I see all my animal-loving friends SO terribly happy with their pets, and most of us have sessions late into the night when we wonder about those darlings we’ve lost, and will we see them again on that fabled Other Side? And the word from the intuitive mystical types is, Yes, they will be there, lined up with all our human loved ones, grinning and waving us over.

One dear pal and neighbor of mine who grew up on a farm in Western Massachusetts says she’s hoping for her 30 favorite barnyard buds to be duly assembled to greet her: “Not only dogs and cats, but horses, cows, and goats!” (It’s a good thing she never joined a circus, or she would need to add elephants and giraffes and chimps.)

A final footnote: 78 percent of pet owners surveyed by Forbes Advisor acquired pets during the pandemic. So this might load the demographic upward, in particular among us seniors finding ultimate bliss snuggling with a furball when we settle down in an armchair to our new edition of the Thursday Murder Club.

And a final fun fact: If your grandkid expresses an interest in pursuing any lucrative career, steer him or her away from banking and toward becoming a vet. In 2022, Americans spent $138.8 billion dollars on their pets.

By now it’s probably up to $138.8 trillion. You know how it works: A trillion here, a trillion there; pretty soon it adds up to real money