In recognition of Adopt a Senior Pet Month (November) I talked with three senior animals to learn some of their thoughts on aging: a lesson horse in her late twenties; a cat who’s lived with her family since she was a kitten; and a dog adopted into a new home a few years ago.
They all agree being a senior has its advantages. Horse’s favorite thing about it is “You get to do more your own way.” People look for what you might LIKE to do and let you do more of those things. Cat likes that “If we make mistakes people are more forgiving.” Occasional bad behavior is more tolerated.
Some things are more enjoyable now than when they were younger. Horse feels “going out on trails” is now more fun. When she was young she was silly and spooked at shadows and didn’t notice what else was around her. Now she’s smarter and that lets her be more relaxed. She’s discovered she really likes walking in nature. Dog and Cat both have more patience now and that has led to more enjoyment from simple pleasures. Dog eats slower than he used to and now enjoys every bite. He also likes sitting with someone and being stroked for a long time. He didn’t have the patience to sit still when younger. Cat is now content with “sitting and purring” which she used to think was a waste of time. She says, “We ALL change as we age, it’s ok.”
Their relationships with people have evolved too.
Horse says, “I understand people better, I don’t get annoyed by them as much. I learned how to deal with them, and they learned how to care for me better.”
Cat admits, “We’re more pleasant to you.” She feels cats mellow as they age and become better companions. Another good change is that adults “sit and talk to me more.” One bad thing is kids grow up and move away and then “they don’t want to be my friend anymore”.
They all realize understanding their physical limitations can be a challenge.
Dog has found that people “see you differently as you age. They put restrictions on you” based solely on age instead of treating him as an individual. “We’re not as miserable as they think.” He feels people think an animal must be unhappy because its body is not as strong but it isn’t necessarily so, the animal may be quite happy despite outward appearances.
Horse echoes this sentiment. “They let us down, they don’t use us because of our age. They think it might hurt me.” She’d like people to watch her reaction to know if she can handle the work, instead of assuming it’s too much.
Cat has the opposite view. She feels people don’t notice “that it’s harder for us to get around.” If an animal can jump high one time people think they’re as strong and limber as always, when actually it might have taken a big effort to do that and they don’t have the energy to repeat it.
They see similarities and differences in the way people and animals feel about aging.
Horse has seen as we age “we both want the same things, we want to be loved.” Older people and older animals are often forgotten in the commotion involved in caring for the younger ones.
Cat noticed “we both want to take more naps” however people resist the aging process more. For example they resist taking naps when they get tired, instead they try to push through and do as much as everyone else is doing.
Dog has noticed as they get older “people want MORE, we want LESS.”
For people planning to adopt an animal, why should they consider an older animal?
Horse points out that in her experience older horses stand still for mounting better than young ones do, and that’s easier for older riders who may have aches & pains of their own to contend with.
Dog’s advice is “I would tell them to get both.” He suggests adopting two pets so they have the younger one to play with and the older one to sit and relax with.
How can people best help their senior animals?
Cat thinks it’s important to “make a plan for us”, arrange for someone to look in on them when you’ll be gone long or your plans change.
Dog suggests monitor how your animal is doing throughout the day and change their environment as needed. They may need small changes like moving the food bowl to a quieter location, or filling the water more often.
Horse sums it up: “See what’s in our eyes. Make us useful, see what we can do and let us, let us try. Then we can be a help to you again.”