Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - South Shore Senior News

Age Stage: Understanding the Changing Lifestyles of Boomers & Seniors

Pets Keep the Empty Nest Full

As I prepare to send my first born off to college this fall, it occurred to me that my wife and I are now one child away from an empty nest. How will we ever cope? After 18 years centered on attending scout meetings, school recitals, horseback riding lessons, little league games, you get the picture, I can't imagine life without my kids. But wait, I do have other kids...furry kids, the kind that never talk back, that always greet you with a lick, and love you unconditionally-my dogs.

For years I've not only been sharing pictures of my children with friends, but pictures of my dogs too. When I bump into friends at the market as I did the other day and ask them how their dog is, I get a visual photo album to view on their i-Phone. The conversation begins to center around our dogs, how they're getting on in age and what their favorite outing is. I think to myself, have we come so far that our pets have replaced our kids? On the contrary, they've only been elevated to a new position in the hierarchy of the family, courtesy of the Baby Boomer. Gone are the days when our parents relegated the family dog to a chain attached to a tree in the backyard. Poor Rover, he was lucky if he received even a passing glance.

Today things have never been better for Rover -- or Kitty: according to the American Pet Products Association, the year 2010 will see US pet spending reach a whopping estimated $47.7 billion up from $45.5 in 2009. Pretty impressive figures considering we are still struggling with a recession. It's my guess no one told the dogs and cats we're in one. Considering Americans spent just $23 billion on pets in 1998, we've more than doubled the dollars we lavish on our pets. What a huge opportunity for a company marketing pet products to empty nesters, who will insist that nothing is too good for their darling.

For those of us who are "pet parents", we understand the benefits of having a pet. My 82-year-old mother can't imagine life without her beloved Pug—and for good reason. According to The Humane Society of the United States, "pets can bring new meaning and purpose to the life of a senior who is living far away from friends or family. Having a pet in an elderly person's life can offer them a sense of well being, a sense of encouragement, and even a reason for living." If my mother ever had to go to an assisted living center, it had better allow pets, because otherwise she won't be going.

As I think about the day when my youngest leaves for college, too, I can just be grateful that my two furry kids will never leave their pampered nest. While we wait for those future grandkids, we'll have our dogs to spoil and spend on. My nest will always be full.

-posted by Laura Willis