All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Military Pet

Dear Marie,
My best friend was just called to active duty in the military and will be gone for quite some time. He had asked me to take care of his dog while he is overseas and I agreed. Most likely, he’s not going to be able to take the dog back when he returns because he suspects he’ll be shipping out pretty regularly over the next few years and won’t really be able to provide a stable home. I told
him that’s OK with me. It’s been a long time since I had a dog of my own – not since I lived at
home with my parents. And to be completely honest, my mom was the person who really took care of “my” dog. Now that I have my friend’s dog, I realize how much work is involved.

Frankly, I haven’t been the best dog owner because I just don’t have the time and I feel really badly about it. My wife and kids are way too busy too. Between work, school, soccer, homework, and everything else, there’s no time left for the dog. This is where my question comes in…my mom, who will be 80 in a few months, has offered to take care of the dog. When she comes over to visit, it seems to sense that she is an animal lover and spends every second of the visit right by her side. And my mom loves this dog. She lights up around him. She seems like she’s 20 years younger when she’s playing with him. Last week she asked if she could keep him at her house. My wife thinks it’s a bad idea because the dog is really big - almost 90 pounds - and my mom, who is a widow now and lives alone, is fairly small and frail. It’s not a bad mannered dog at all. As far as I can tell, he’s completely obedience trained and never jumps up on anyone. I think the dog would be much better off with my mom but I don’t want to put her in any kind of danger. What would you suggest?

Dear Tony,
First let me commend both you and your friend for making arrangements for this dog. Too frequently, pets belonging to military personnel who are called to active duty are relinquished to shelters. I am very pleased to hear that the two of you worked together to ensure this dog would always have a home.

Now to the matter at hand – though your mother is nearly 80, she sounds as though she is quite capable of handling a dog, no matter what his size. By you own admission, she is the expert dog owner in the family, and by virtue of being a senior citizen, she has plenty of time to dote over a companion animal.

I understand your wife’s concerns. I would suggest having a test run with your mom and your friend’s dog. Ask her to come over during the days - preferably on a weekend when you can be there to observe – and have her be in charge of the dog. Make some mental notes of what goes on.

For example, can she easily put on and take off a leash? Can she take him for walks? Does the dog get too excited when she is holding a bowl of food for him? Does the dog respond to her commands?

If everything seems OK at your house, there should be no difference at her house. Furthermore, it has been well documented that senior citizens who care for pets live longer, healthier lives and remain physically active. You noticed that your mom seemed years younger and very happy when she was visiting with this dog. That type of joy is invaluable. It fosters a sense of well being that in turn triggers many positive physiological responses. Your mom would love a buddy around her home. I’m sure that her visits with you are nice – but eventually, she has to go back to her own home, alone.

Having a companion animal in the house will be a wonderful change of pace for her. She’ll have someone to talk to, who will always listen without interruption, and never think her ideas are irrelevant. He will give her as much—if not more love—than she gives to him. And best of all, your mom will feel needed on a daily basis.

Believe it or not, that’s really important and that’s what’s going to make you mom feel happiest. You did say that most likely your friend would not take back his dog when he returns. That may be something you should discuss with him further to confirm. If your mom opens her heart up to this dog and then has to give him up 6 months or so down the road, it may be very traumatic. Perhaps
your friend will give you the go-ahead to permanently place the dog with your mom. That’s what I would try to arrange before taking any other steps.

Good Luck.

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