Pets are universally known to be great and rewarding companions for just about anyone, and boomers are no exception. But should boomers – whose lives may be in transition due to the “empty nest,” retirement or home downsizing – foster a pet, thus avoiding ownership responsibilities, adopt from a shelter or buy from a breeder?
It’s a tough question, and some local experts and veteran pet owners provide some insights on their experience and what they’ve seen.
Jeana Roth, the community relations manager at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, said that the organization sees many people of the baby-boomer generation, both as adopters and foster parents to their animals.
“We find that baby boomers are at a perfect point in their life to provide a loving home to an animal in need,” she said. “Many of our foster families are at a point in life where they have retired from their career, and can dedicate more time to foster animals who often require daily medical attention, observation and advanced care.”
Bobby Silcott, the facilities manager at the shelter, who is also a baby boomer and animal adopter, recommends adoption, based on his experience since joining the shelter as an employee just over a year ago. But he recommends fostering, too.
Silcott, 53, a Naples resident who has also worked as an animal control officer for eight years, has had a lot of experience fostering. He has two adopted dogs of his own, but since starting at the Animal Refuge League, some two dozen dogs have come through his home. Silcott said he currently has a mother and her eight puppies under his care.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced anything quite as rewarding,” he said regarding fostering.
He added that he went into fostering with the goal of not adopting any more dogs, given that he already has two of his own, but that he, and all other foster homes, receives support in terms of food and other supplies from the shelter.
“Any of our fosters go through foster orientation, and once they take the guest home, we as a shelter provide all the food, medical attention, and anything they may need,” he said.
Silcott said there is certainly a level of patience required in fostering rescue animals, and that the Animal Refuge League tries to ensure that if any animals are showing troubling signs, they will not immediately be put up for adoption, but rather entered into a foster program.
For Falmouth resident Patricia Wakefield and her husband, Bob, who have been dog owners for decades, adopting a new dog was a unique, year-long process, but one that was worthwhile. Over the years, the Wakefields, who are now in their 60s, have owned a number of golden retrievers, which they bought through breeders.
However, after losing their dog, Jesse, to cancer last year, the couple decided to go a different route. A few months ago, the Wakefields adopted a Clumber spaniel, a relatively unknown breed, from a breeder in Virginia. The breeder was retiring the dog, Dudley, from the show ring, where he had won a title.
But, Wakefield said, “that means nothing to us. He is the sweetest, most gentle boy.” Dudley’s father won Best in Breed at the Westminster Dog Show in 2011 and 2012.
Wakefield said originally, the couple spent some time mulling over which way they wanted to pursue a new pet.
“We knew we didn’t want to go the puppy route and that we wanted an older dog,” she said, adding that they thought of adopting a rescue, but “in the long run decided this wasn’t the way we wanted to go.”
Speaking about the Clumber spaniel breed, Wakefield said that at this point in their lives, they weren’t looking for an overly energetic dog.
“The Clumber can be as active or as laid back as your lifestyle,” she said. “They certainly aren’t a dog to take out jogging, but they love to walk or play ball, and are just as content to lay by your feet while you watch TV or read.”
Wakefield said the process of getting Dudley was interesting, given his background and their past experience in working with breeders. Wakefield said the process included multiple phone conversations and emails exchanged between the couple and the Virginia breeder to ensure trust, but that eventually, they drove to Lovettsville, Va., to officially adopt him.
“She had sent pictures and videos, and she called our vet to make sure we were responsible dog owners, and we passed,” she said.
Whereas a dog of Dudley’s stature could normally go for as high as $3,000, Wakefield said, his owner was simply “looking for a good home for him to live out the rest of his life. I’m sure she thought, ‘If these people are driving all the way from Maine, then they are serious.’”
When asked about how different lifestyles or needs play into how would-be adopters decide on a pet, Silcott said that it can be difficult, especially for seniors unfamiliar with many breeds, to make a decision. He said the lack of information on some pets’ history can also be an issue, or deter some potential adopters.
He said that if someone really has his or her heart set on a certain breed, working with a reputable breeder can be worthwhile, but that he would still point interested people in the direction of adopting.
“There are a lot of variables. Some of the dogs come in, they’re anxious and it’s hard to say what’s gone on in their past,” he said. “I like to take those dogs, and there’s nothing more rewarding than turning these animals around.”
Silcott said that the Animal Refuge League and other rescue organizations offer a foster-to-adopt program, which allows potential owners to take a pet home for a few days to see if it’s the right fit for them.
For boomers and seniors, Silcott said, the level of adoption or fostering depends on how active they are, and said that often, adopting a senior dog works well for seniors.
“These dogs understand commands, they’ve been around, they typically listen really well, and are usually more laid back,” he said, adding that they work well for “empty-nesters” like himself.
“It really gives you great companionship, and there’s nothing like that therapy of having a dog,” he said.
Andrew Rice is a staff writer at Current Publishing.
Bobby Silcott, a dog foster and adopter, with his two adopted dogs, Priscilla, left, and Elvis. Silcott, who works at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, says adopting senior dogs is often a great fit for seniors.