Feed Jake: A best friend until the end

Q: I will be moving to a smaller apartment soon and am not sure if I should take my dog with me. What do you think?

A: Our relationship with animals is an interchangeable one, as they can provide a source of comfort and support for us, and we give love and attention in return. They create opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities, better cognitive function in older adults, and more occasions to socialize with others.

Research has found that animals reduce our stress and anxiety, and the benefits of animal interactions decreases levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lowers blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.

Animals play a crucial role in the setting of an assisted living facility, group environment, or nursing home. The company of a pet can soothe fears and quell worrisome thoughts. Often senior centers or older adult communities have volunteers who bring in pets to these facilities so adults can interact with them. Therapy dogs are especially good for this purpose, diminishing fear, uncertainty or uneasiness.

"Dogs are very present. If someone is struggling with something, they know how to sit there and be loving," says Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. "Their attention is focused on the person all the time."

Spending time away from pets can be difficult for your pet, and humans alike. When moving to a new location, there are several factors to consider:

The pet's age. Will I be able to care for myself and my pet as we age?

How much does my pet eat? Can I still easily manage the feeding schedule?

How much exercise does the pet need? Will that be possible when I move?

What may be the veterinary care costs as my dog ages? Can I afford them?

Do I have enough time to properly care for and clean up after the pet?

What type of habitat does my dog need to be healthy? Will that environment be available at my new location?

Older adults often have a difficult decision to make when caring for that animal and to what degree it adversely affects its health, and ultimately the owner's. Declining mobility, energy or memory can all make it too hard to continue caring for a pet. One suggestion is to bring in a helper to assist in caring, feeding and walking your pet. Senior facilities often have resources to help you find a new home for your pet, and don't discount friends or relatives. A major advantage of leaving pets with loved ones is the chance to visit them. You can continue to enjoy their company while also seeing that they have adjusted to the change. Someone can "Feed Jake."

Additionally, shelters, adoptive agencies or rescue organizations can aid you in finding a new owner. Some shelters and rescue organizations can also arrange visitation before and after adoption, for similar closure.

Coping with pet separation when you are no longer able to care for a pet independently makes it a tough choice emotionally. Letting go of your animal can be heart-wrenching for you, and can cause problems for your pet. When it becomes an insurmountable chore feeding a pet, exercising them, cleaning up after them, and/or arranging veterinarian appointments, those are all signs that it is time to let each other go. It can be hard but, despite the difficult emotional toll, recognize there are options to reconcile yourself to the pet separation yet still have animals in your life.

May you choose the best decision for you and your dog.

Karen Casanovas, PCC, CPCC, CLIPP is a health, wellness and simplified living coach practicing in Anchorage. If you have questions write to her at info@karencasanovas.com.