After losing her beloved staffy of 10 years, finding company in an eight-year-old senior rescue dog has eased the mundanities of lockdown for 87-year-old Newcastle resident Elizabeth Walters.
“I think that they're good for your temperament,” she told Aged Care Insite.
“You have to get up in the morning, because you have to take them outside, and you have to feed them, you have to be strict with yourself in not forgetting them.
“I think it keeps you on your toes.”
Elizabeth began searching online after her 16-year-old dog Nellie was put down earlier this year, an experience that caused her to begin to feel depressed and lonely.
After browsing the RSPCA rescue dog database, she came across a page filled with furry senior dogs, cats and horses, and settled a white Maltese cross.
Within weeks of welcoming Nellie number two into her home, Elizabeth said that she recognised an improvement in her overall wellbeing, and embraced the joy of having a living companion to provide care for.
“It's just the company of having someone in the house with you,” she said.
“That was the thing I noticed most when my husband died, then the dog died, and I thought, ‘I've got no one to look after, what am I going to do?’
“That's why I got a dog, I think it's important.”
Having an animal in later life has been linked to improved mental health, higher levels of physical activity, and greater social interaction.
Studies have found that adult Australians who lived alone with a dog during the first wave of lockdowns experienced decreased feelings of loneliness and were more likely to be mindful.
Despite her precocious nature, spending her days with Nellie has allowed Elizabeth to integrate a new friend into her daily routine of morning walks and afternoon gardening sessions.
“Because she's eight years old, she has a mind of her own,” she said.
“She's never been taught to walk properly on the lead, so we've had a few little tussles with that.
“Other than that, she's very loving, very pleased to see you, not all that obedient, but we're getting there.”
Over the course of the pandemic, thousands of Australians have turned to dogs and cats to buffer the effects of isolation, with shelters experiencing record highs in pet adoptions.
While waitlists for puppies and kittens stretch on for months, senior rescue dogs and cats are often dismissed by adopters, according to RSPCA spokesperson Helen Trussler.
This sparked the idea to offer older people in the community reduced adoption fees for dogs and cats aged over 10, which was then launched as part of the NSW seniors card scheme in 2020.
“We'd had people come up to us at the store, and they'd say to us, ‘Oh, we'd love to have a pet, we've always been dog owners’, but they're obviously now elderly,” said Trussler.
“And, 'Oh, I'd love to have a pet again,' but they're too fearful to take one on because of the fear of predeceasing them or becoming too sick.
“We thought, you know what, elderly people and elderly cats and dogs are a perfect match for each other because their lifestyle is the same.”
During its first year, the RSPCA seniors for seniors program has rehoused over 50 senior rescue animals to people around the state aged over 60.
The initiative aims to create an ideal match between animal and owner, tailoring the needs of each senior pet to the living situation of its adoptee.
The RSPCA's 'golden oldie' animals have been a triumph, with an overwhelmingly positive response from participants so far, according to Trussler.
“We know that from a companionship, a healthy lifestyle and the cholesterol rates, the heart levels, everything, there's huge health benefits attached to owning an animal later in life,” she said.
“Especially if you've been widowed, or you're an empty nester, or you just generally are isolated, and lots of people are in this day and age.”
If owners are no longer able to look after their pets, the animals are re-fostered under the RSPCA's forever home program.
To find out more about the NSW seniors for seniors program visit here.Do you have an idea for a story?
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