Are Pets and Retirement A Good Mix?

Category: General Retirement Issues

November 12, 2012 — Americans love their pets, there is no getting around that. According to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the USA is the overwhelming pet capital of the world. The WSPA reports that in 2007 we had 67 million dogs, more than twice as many as Brazil, which had the second highest number. And when it comes to cats we are even crazier – our almost 84 million cats outnumber Russian cats by more than 4 times (Russia holds 2nd place in the cats race with 18 million cats). The number of pets reported by WSPA seems higher than those from Petfinder.com, but they are directionally similar. Petfinder reports that 57% of American households have some kind of pet, often more than one.

The question many folks have as they approach retirement is whether or not to have a pet, and if so, what kind. This article will explore some of the issues you need to consider about pet ownership – pros, cons, and strategies for pet owning success. More than that, we are hoping to provoke a discussion that will generate lots of real world comments and experiences from our members.

Pluses for owning a pet:
They offer great companionship. More than 90% of Americans surveyed by Petfinder.com agreed that a dog or cat companion could help people living alone, senior citizens, handicapped or disabled people, and young children live more satisfying lives. Which leads us to our all-time favorite bumper sticker: “Oh Lord, please help me become the person my dog thinks I am”.

They can make us feel better. Pets can help us fill the emotional void created in a household where the kids have grown up and left, or from the loss of a spouse. Indeed we unabashedly attribute human qualities to our pets – 9 in 10 pet owners consider their pet to be a member of the family. Some 80% of surveyed pet owners believe their dog or cat can sense the owner’s mood; 40% hang up Christmas stockings for their dog. Many people believe that pets make us happier, and thus healthier.

They can offer protection. Even the smallest dog offers some protection against burglars – their bark makes it appear someone might be home. Some breeds will protect an owner if they perceive a threat.

Tonka the center of St. Patty’s Day attention!


They are great way to meet people. Our dog Tonka is, quite frankly, a “chick” and “guy” magnet. People who wouldn’t give us the time of day will stop and make complete fools of themselves oohing and awing (over him, not us!). He is the reason we met some of our new best friends (owned by Henry the dog) and made our way into a wonderful social circle. Dogs have to be walked, which puts you out on the street, where you actually have a chance to meet people and make new friends, particularly among other dog walkers. Not to mention just a little bit healthier from the extra exercise.

In the case of retirees moving to a new community, or who feel lonely, the assistance that pets can lend to making friends cannot be understated – it is a big plus.

The negatives of owning a pet for retirees
The biggest problem with owning a pet in retirement is that they are limiting. You are responsible for their welfare and that means you are tied down to a certain degree.

Long term travel. Say your retirement dream was to join the Peace Corps or become a long term volunteer in a distant location. Pet ownership does not fit well with that. If you expect to travel for months at a time, you face the same problem – who is going to take care of the pet, and how much will that cost.
Yoda makes the travel team
Travel. Perhaps the biggest problems with pets in retirement is the crimp they can put in your travel plans. A cat or small dog can fly with you on the plane, although this usually comes with limited availability and extra fees. No one we know would trust a pet as special checked pet baggage – too many horror stories for that. Travel in the car is no picnic either, as you will see below. Although the number of hotels and motels that accept pets is rapidly increasing, you do face limitations and fees. Pet friendly rooms are often also smoking rooms, so they can be smelly. You have to worry at rest stops about Fido or Muffy escaping. And in hot weather you can’t leave them in the car, limiting your shopping and dining options.

A personal story sheds a little light on the travel issue. Last year Mrs. Topretirements won the discussion that both our dog and cat should make the travel team for the winter trip down south (previously Yoda the cat boarded at a friend’s). We left Connecticut with Tonka awake in the back seat and Yoda crying frantically in his cat carrier. Their travel gear (dishes, water, litter box, pet food, leash, etc.) threatened to overwhelm the cargo area. By the time we hit New Jersey Yoda had decided it was time for a reconnaissance. First a gray paw emerged from the carrier, then he unzipped the whole thing. As Bayonne flew by at 65 MPH there was Yoda walking across the dashboard, taking in the scenery. After his second escape, we figured out how to use a twisty to keep him contained.

Pet restrictions. Some of the biggest barriers to pet ownership are Home Owners Association regulations. Pets (usually their owners) do cause problems; we are not saying that restrictions are a bad thing. But it can be very disconcerting to fall in love with an active adult community and then discover that your pet weighs too much (weight restrictions vary, but 30 pounds is one common cut-off), is the wrong breed (don’t even think about a pit bull), or you have too many (having 1 pet is common restriction, sometimes 2). Some pet owners don’t follow common courtesy rules like cleaning up after, or leaving barking dogs unattended, which creates more rules and animosity. The bottom line could mean a tough choice: find a new home for your pet or keep looking for a community that works for both you.

Responsibility and expense. The responsibilities and expense of pet ownership as we enter retirement should not be dismissed. Our pets are totally dependent on us, every day. That can become tedious, especially as they enter their retirement years and require extra care. Food and vets bills can be an expense that blows an already tight budget.

Behavior problems. Unfortunately, some pets cause trouble. A nipping or aggressive dog is an invitation to a lawsuit and removal from the community. Dogs that bark incessantly are a liability. Cats can ruin upholstered furniture and their dander can leave serious allergic reactions as a calling card.

Strategies for Retirement Pet Ownership Success
1. Think through your retirement plans. If you plan on extensive travel or want to live in a place not conducive to pets, maybe you should reconsider pet ownership.

2. Choose a pet to match your lifestyle. Cats, which have no trouble being on their own for a few days, are easier than dogs, which need frequent bathroom and exercise breaks. Likewise if you have mobility issues or you intend to live in a city, you might consider a dog that requires less exercise.

3. Think small. If you plan on traveling by air a lot and want your pet with you, a cat or smaller dog that can fit under an airline seat might be a good choice. A bird might be a good choice in some situations.

4. Find out pet restrictions in advance. If you own a pet, one of your first questions when you visit a community should be to find out any pet restrictions. Sometimes the pet must be approved. What is the attitude of your new neighbors – does it seem like a pet friendly place? And if you don’t like pets, you need to ask some of the same questions – don’t move into a community where you don’t fit in.

5. Be resourceful about pet-sitting. Finding someone to take care of your pet for vacations, extended stays, and emergencies is a priority. Keep your eye out for pet-crazy friends. They might be the perfect resource for you while your pet is a source of some extra money for them. Likewise, exchanging pets with another pet owner can be a money-saving alternative to a costly kennel stay.

6. Hire a trainer. If you get a dog and don’t have a track record as a good trainer, invest in obedience training. There will be a big pay off in how well your pet is accepted and your enjoyment. And remember the dog training mantra – it’s not the pet that needs to be trained!

7. Enjoy your pet! Have fun, pets can be a great addition to anyone’s life.

Comments: Do you have any personal stories about you and your pet as it relates to retirement? Or opinions about what makes a good pet for retirement? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

For further reading:
Pets and Your Golden Years

Posted by Admin on November 12th, 2012

37 Comments »

  1. “Forget the Treadmill. Get a Dog.” This clever NY Times title includes a lot of powerful health research that supports owning a dog: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/14/forget-the-treadmill-get-a-dog/

    And, don’t forget that watching fish in an aquarium can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels, as does petting a dog or cat.

    Pets in retirement? I say yes.

    Anecdotally, I love my little dog, Riley, but we do pay a LOT in dog care because we travel a lot.

    Jan Cullinane
    The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement (John Wiley & Sons)

    by Jan Cullinane — November 13, 2012

  2. I can’t see myself ever without cats. I tried for a month when I had to put my 18 1/2 year old cat to sleep. It was just so lonely. When I moved in with my 91 year old mom, the cats have enriched her life as well. She interacts with them when she’s alone. They keep her company. And who can resist unconditional love?

    by Stacey — November 13, 2012

  3. Relocation with pets can present interesting situations. Many gated communities, HOAs, villas and condominiums and manufactured housing parks have stiff rules for those with pets seeking to live there. We live in a condominium with 79 units on eight floors. The rule is you can bring your pet when you move in but you cannot replace the pet when it dies. Exercising of dogs must be done outside the gate of the condominium. Your pet cannot become a nuisance. We are fortunate that we have a city owned park a half block from our entrance which means that is a grassy shaded area for dogs to get exercise. Keep in mind that with a pet you may need to exercise the pet multiple times per day and in all kinds of weather. Our units are good size 1400 sq.ft. up to 1700 sq.ft. so a pet does not have to feel overly confined. We have about eight dogs in the condominium and have little problem. Our condominium is probably the best place in this city of 25,000 people to have a pet. Many developments do not allow pets at all. We live at Lakeridge Condominium in Winter Haven FL.

    by David M. Lane — November 14, 2012

  4. My last cat, 18 yrs. old, died just when I was retiring in 2009. I said no more! I was kid and pet free and wanted the ability to just pick up and leave. Which I did to some degree. But living on my own I got “lonely” for that pet/kitty companionship. So I got a rescue kitty and he has been great. I factored in that boarding would be part of travel expenses if I went away for longer tha a few days. That has worked well. But now (there’s) always that annoying but – though I had known I would never be a grandmother my daughter and husband are expecting their first child. Great news. And here’s the but, they are moving/job related to Australia! That is not going to be a few weeks trip. I plan to go in April for up to three months. And that is way too long, not to mention very expensive, for boarding. So now what do I do? Lots of things to consider.

    by Karen Constantine — November 14, 2012

  5. I think a big consideration should be just what arrangements have been made for your pet or pets if they outlive you.

    by Kathie — November 14, 2012

  6. I have an 8 lb yorkie-bichon mix. She is my furbaby. She is my companion, she keeps me going outside to walk her, she is a comedienne and entertains me. She loves everyone. I am very responsible with her. But what I find as a limitation is that many of the places I am looking at have ‘pet’ and ‘non-pet’ sections, and, typically the pet sections rarely have resales. there is huge demand for the ‘pet’ sections. And, the units are usually higher priced (because they can get it, I’m sure). So this is a concern for me. However, because I will probably never want to be without a pet, I would probably buy in the pet section whether I currently had a pet or not. But it is something to consider if you are thinking about retiring with a pet.

    by Ginger — November 14, 2012

  7. Sounds like most of the pet owners wouldn’t consider retirement without their furry friends and that goes for me as well. Every home I buy takes them into question…will they like the yard, the view from the window, is it a busy street? I also agree that the bigger question in retirement is who will care for your pets if you do outlive them. I have a revokable living trust that takes care of my two kitties.

    by Shirley — November 14, 2012

  8. Shirley, sounds like we think along the same lines. We have a Westie and if some place doesn’t want our dog well then, they can do without us too. The only problem I’ve run into is that one particular hotel chain puts people with pets in the most disgusting, filthy rooms they can find. This particular chain has been reported because in the room a woman with 2 show dogs was given (there was a dog show that weekend) she found pills and a syringe under the bed from the previous occupant. We tend to stay at Best Western – clean rooms and most try to put you in a room convenient to a grassy area if they know you’re traveling with a pet. We do have a motorhome that we use if we’re taking a longer trip. Unfortunately the Westie truly believes we bought it for her comfort. Geez, maybe we did?!

    by Kathie — November 14, 2012

  9. My husband and I, both retired, are looking to move from our large home into a 55+ active adult community. Problem – We have 4 dogs and an aged cat….oh, and there is the horse, but he is really not a factor. The cat is 19, both German Shepherd dogs are 12, the Beagle is 7 and the Cattle Dog is 3. We actually did find a community that was just breaking ground on a new developmemt that allowed 4 pets of any variety…nice place, but way expensive. We will have to wait for the inevitable before we can move! And yes, 4 of the 5 are geriatric and all need a special medication or two. Very expensive. We eat a lot of pasta. However, walking them is the only exercise my husband gets. They are family and we wouldn’t have missed a day with them for anything.

    by Sharon — November 14, 2012

  10. I would LOVE to know the community Sharon found that will accept her pets. I have three dogs. Oh, and three cats, but they never go out so really, they don’t bother anyone. I have searched and searched. All the information in the article is true; weight limits, number, breed. I am a widow and without my dogs I wouldn’t have made it. I’d never go anywhere without them! And I’ll pay whatever I need to in order for us to retire together. So, where is this pet friendly utopia?

    by Holli — November 14, 2012

  11. Who would even want to live in a community that restricted our little furry friends? Animals mean so much to us in so many different ways. In retirement we finally have time to relax and enjoy life, and to many people that includes a pet.
    We Boomers do not look kindly upon tight, and severe restrictions that intrude on our lives; communities that are that uptight about what & whom we may have in our homes are going to find themselves without residents to fill them.

    by Marge — November 14, 2012

  12. We have 3 cats. We love them dearly and wouldn’t trade them for a retirement community. They are flea-free, cost very little, and give endless, unconditional love in return for food and a clean litter box. If one wants to travel, one must recognize the cost of boarding or getting a pet sitter. It is far less stressful to have our cats than to have boomerang kids!

    by Carol — November 14, 2012

  13. KAREN, our next door neighbor was going to Florida for 3 months of the year and didn’t want to schlep her cat back and forth (though the 2 pugs made the travel team!) For a couple of years, she did board him over the winter at a nice cat haven. Then I introduced her to a neighbor who loves animals but didn’t have pets herself. She was happy to keep him. And now he has moved in with us (that’s him in the article, the handsome gray guy.) I couldn’t do without him or Tonka either–and Mr. TopRetirements realizes it all comes in a package:)

    by Lucy Burdette — November 14, 2012

  14. We’e a couple of years away from retirement, have two small dogs and four cats and are looking at Florida. A willingness to accept these pets is the first absolute for us as we look at areas. From what I have seen, we can rule out most places that have condo-type arrangements and most resident-owned mobile home communities as well. Some land-lease mobile home developments don’t seem to mind, and there are developments of individual houses such as parts of Sun City Center where it does not seem to matter. One thing for sure: The last thing I would want to do is make plans and then find out they didn’t accept the animals.

    So I guess my words of wisdom, such as they are, would be these: If you’re planning on getting a pet to keep you company during retirement, plan ahead. When they say they accept two animals, ASK whether they mean two animals that people see outdoors, i.e. your dogs, or that they also accept house cats as long as they are kept in the house. Some places accept only house cats (find out how many first!) and some accept a dog, but only one. The rules are all over the place. It’s great that Topretirements has raised this issue.

    by Tom Gariepy — November 14, 2012

  15. As a dog lover who is knowledgeable about breeds, I highly recommend greyhounds and whippets as dogs who are quiet and clean. They shed little and rarely bark. Whippets weigh around 25-30# and greyhounds 60-80#. Both breeds cannever be offleash w/o a fence. They are great companions and love a good nap. They don’t need a lot of exercise. In fact, greyhounds are known as 40-mile an hr couch potatoes. I’ve had all kinds of dogs and these breeds are by far the most low maintenance breeds one can find. Perfect for a retirement community. Please use a rescue group.

    by lucy — November 14, 2012

  16. Our 3 dogs were the reason we purchased a house with a couple of acres. We are active in teaching and training in obedience and I show one of our girls in conformation and performance events. Luckily we are near the local kennel club. We took all this into consideration when researching where to retire. No communities or HOA’s for us! Travel is an issue and we are still searching for arrangements for our next trip. Looks like pet sitters are the most economical. We have traveled many places with our dogs and never have had any problems. We clean up after them and always take old sheets to put on the beds. Couldn’t face life without at least one furkid.

    by Dale — November 14, 2012

  17. These comments surely do resonate with me. I have a 4-year-old Cairn Terrier who stays in the yard with an invisible fence and two 11-year-old cats who go in and out at will via a cat door and quietly patrol the neighborhood staying close to the house. The town I live in does not object nor do my neighbors who enjoy the cat visits. I will not live where I have to part with any of them. I have looked at dozens of communities for retirement and rejected them all because of pet restrictions…can’t have three pets, lots too teeny-weeny for an invisible fence, cats have to be on a leash outdoors (hah!), etc. And it’s not just the retirement communities. Many cities and counties have numerous pet restrictions so be sure to check that as well should you re-locate. Todays’s developers are missing the boat with a very large population of pet lovers who do not want to live with those restrictions. There certainly can be restrictions for nuisance or dangerous animals or irresponsible owners, but most pet owners are pretty considerate. If anyone comes across a 55+ development that is truly pet friendly, let me know.

    by Judy — November 15, 2012

  18. I have to second Lucy as greyhounds being the amnost “perfect” pet. I adopted one in January when I retired to add to my mixed lab breed and foster mixed Akita/Shepherd that is my daughter’s.
    They hardly shed and are so sweet and docile. They are good to walk for the most part – if you get a 3 to 4 year old off the track. Some younger ones might be a little more active. They live long lives – over 10 + years.
    You cannot let them off the leash as Lucy says as they are sight hounds and will run – very fast-. But they are great at establishing routine and habits – they will walk on a leash very well without pulling.

    Any dogs I get in my older years will be greyhounds –

    by Carol — November 15, 2012

  19. You all are so wonderful for your pet committment. I have 4 cats and have been really lonely staying in a rural area to accomodate for the not so pet friendly senior living situation. Anyone knowing anything about pet friendly living please shout it out.

    by Shari — November 15, 2012

  20. We took our two semi-wild little cats down to California last year — a solid two-day drive from Washington State. I didn’t know HOW we were going to get them there. I bought something called a “Pet Tube” which I highly recommend — for dogs as well as cats. It is a large, flexible, netting-topped tube which stretches across the back seat and attaches to the headrests. Big enough for a litter pan, food and water, and 2 cats who could look out the window, walk around a bit, and get comfort from sleeping next to each other instead of being in carriers. At night at the motel I carried the whole darn thing in from the car…a little awkward, but it worked. It would be great for dogs because you unzip the end and let them out…and they are totally safe in case of a quick braking… I feel like I should be a marketer for the Pet Tube, because it really saved my sanity and made the trip as bearable as it could be.

    by Elizabeth — November 15, 2012

  21. I was interested in the “Pet Tube” that you recommended.I googled it but all I could find were “Pet Tube Videos.” By any chance is there another name for this netting? It sounded like it would be perfect for my two small dogs when traveling.
    Thanks.

    Linda

    by Linda Christianson — November 16, 2012

  22. Linda…link for Pet Tube: http://www.petego.com/products.aspx?catId=24&prodId=121

    by ginger — November 17, 2012

  23. Ginger: Thank you for the link to the “PetTube” web site.I did look at it and unfortunately I think my mini dachshund would find it too confining. If we still had cats it would be perfect.They love that comfy close feeling. Thank you anyway for sending the sight.
    Linda.

    by Linda Christianson — November 18, 2012

  24. We are three to four years out from retirement and would like opinions on moving to where one of our kids are living or move to where we want to.Good idea or not?We have one in Minneapolis and one in Boston.(bad weather in both places)With young adults nowadays who can be sure that if you move close that they will be there down the road? We already live where the winters are severe….been there done that! Job opportunities seem to come first nowadays with young adults.They both live in areas where there is snow and that is a huge deterrent.Do we just decide (thinking of North Carolina or Florida)and go where we like or would this be a mistake moving where there are no relatives?What do all of these retirement people do when they move to places where they know no one?How do aging people care for themselves w/o family around?Trying to be realistic.Is there anyone who has done this….just moved to where they want to with no relatives or friends and start anew to the place of their choice?How do retirement people do it I guess is what I’m asking?Such uncharted territory. Thanks

    by Linda Christianson — November 18, 2012

  25. I came into retirement already owning two “high maintenance” cats. (Their hair care costs more than mine! They are long haired cats. I sort of fell into owning them.) I couldn’t give them up for anything. But they do create difficulties…especially when I want to travel.

    I remember being a young, broke, mother of two kids under the age of five and living in a small neighborhood with many others in the same situation.
    We started a babysitting co-op where we exchanged hours of babysitting. The hours you earned needn’t be spent on the same family. You just accrued hours and spent them as needed. The point was that none of us could afford to pay for babysitting, but we still needed it from time to time. This way you payed by sitting for someone’s kids.

    I was wondering about starting a pet-care co-op, where a group of traveling retirees (or not!) agreed to exchange pet care. It would save us all considerable expense and you would be more likely to find someone to care for your pets. My cats cost me $25-$30/day. That’s money I could spend elsewhere and I wouldn’t mind sitting for others to earn the hours or in this case visits.

    Have you ever heard of such a program? What do you think of this idea?

    by Linda — November 24, 2012

  26. I think its a great idea! We have a dog and have to leave her when on vacation. the kennel is $20-25 a day. That adds up! So, we’d love to find something like this. Good luck with it.

    by Sheila — November 25, 2012

  27. I think it is important to choose a retirement community where you can build friendships. And, if you choose a community that has a pet section, you should be able to find people that like the pet sitting idea. If you are concerned about assistance in case of illness, make friends with other people that share that concern for themselves. I had an agreement with a friend that we would always drive the other one to the airport when we traveled. I have other friends who help me with other things. I will leave those friends behind when I leave winter behind, but I will simply develop new relationships in my new home. I think it is important to develop our own resources and not rely on chidlren; they have lives of their own.

    by Ginger — November 25, 2012

  28. Here are some followup details to my original post about the babysitting co-op:

    We had a limit of 30 hours for our babysitting co-op to prevent the “more takers than sitters” situation. We kept a set of books – very simple, and as the
    bookkeeper, you earned 10 hours for that month. We rotated the books monthly. So, if you wanted to use it, you had to sit. Say you were 30 hrs in the hole. You couldn’t use the service unless you “sat” your way out of it. So, you would call around to the others and let them know you needed hours so they would call you first. It worked really well. The motivation was high! (Especially around the Holidays, when you wanted to go Christmas shopping for your kids!) There were about 20-30 of us in the group. I think limiting the size is important.Then, about 3-4 times a year we would have a meeting and social. It was a great way to get to know everyone as well.

    by Linda — November 25, 2012

  29. We had cats and then a dog for 13 years until she died in 2009. We opted not get another animal due to illness. Both my husband and I have physical disabilities and it is difficult to care for ourselves at times. It would not be fair for an animal as much as we would love another dog or cat. We live in a retirement community in Florida that is no pets. However, my parents are in a pet friendly community in Boyton Beach. The whole community is allowed pets under 30 pounds. I think that a good alternative would be to volunteer at an animal shelter for those who love animals and are unable to have an animal in their home. It is something that I would love to do if I were stronger.

    by Joan — November 27, 2012

  30. Joan- we are interested in Boynton Beach and have 3 little dogs. Can you tell me the name of the pet friendly community? Thanks.

    by Lou — November 28, 2012

  31. There are two DelWebb locations in Fredericksburg VA. The older one only allows one pet or at least it did three years ago when I was looking to rent, the one still building allows three. That one (Celebrate Virginia) does seem pet friendly from the folks that I spoke with. Worth a visit if you have pets. The Lennar (Virginia Heritage) also allows pets, but I do not know details.

    by Elaine — November 29, 2012

  32. Lou,
    I have not found any communities that allow more than 2 pets. I think that one community was located in lake worth. Any community that do allow dogs, would allow one dog only 🙁

    by Skip — December 2, 2012

  33. Skip. Thanks. We did find an apartment complex that accepted the 3 dogs. We are renting until we decide if we want to buy in South Florida.

    by Lou — December 3, 2012

  34. Followup to my earlier posts:
    It just occurred to me that I had not looked this up on the web!
    Turns out there is a site already out there to build and manage the exchange. You register and start or join a group!
    It is called Helping Heros. And they manage all kinds of exchanges.
    I just registered to join a group. We shall see. Maybe I will be doing child care in exchange for pet care! Whatever works!
    I will keep you posted. But check out the site.

    by Linda — December 4, 2012

  35. Lou,
    I never looked at apartment communities only the 55 + retirement communities. If you find any 55 + active community that allow 3 dogs please let me know. Thank you.

    by Skip — December 4, 2012

  36. […] We have re-posted the comments from the “Downsizing” article here (in one Comment). Here is an article we wrote 2 years ago on the subject: “Are Pets and Retirement a Good Mix?” […]

    by » Pet Friendly Communities - Topretirements — September 12, 2014

  37. […] further reading: Are Pets and Retirement a Good Mix (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle ||[]).push({}); Comments? We know you have a lot to say on this […]

    by » Pets and Your Golden Years - Topretirements — May 23, 2015

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