Pet Ownership & Retirement

pmeaReprinted from the Winter 2016 PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association.

 

 

Many of us already know the immediate joys of dog or cat ownership – how much fun, affection, and meaning they can bring into our lives. According to HelpGuide.org International, a nonprofit tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization of “digital mental health pioneers,” pets also provide numerous benefits for your health and well-being, and even your longevity. Quoting from their website (http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/the-health-benefits-of-pets.htm):

doggies_ - 3“Dogs in particular can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health.”

Studies have found that dogs improve our mood and health:

  • Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than adults without pets.
  • People with dogs have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets
  • Playing with a dog or cat can elevate your levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
  • Pets can help lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease).
  • According to the American Heart Association, heart attack patients who have dogs survive longer than those without.
  • Pet caretakers over the age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.

doggies_ - 5Once you reach full retirement, you may find yourself with a lot more “freedom” and time “at-home” to share with your spouse, other loved ones (babysitting grandchildren/ nieces?), friends, personal music-making, hobbies, and pets! Indeed, this may be the first chance you have to go out and rescue a dog from an animal shelter. Full-time music teachers with those incredibly packed schedules of after-school/evening marching band practices, choir, band, orchestra, jazz, musical, and/or dance rehearsals and performances, their own concert gigs, private lessons, etc. may not be able to properly care for a dog by themselves. The only reservation to bringing a new dog into your home is if you plan to take a lot of long trips in retirement. Perhaps then, you can revisit the option of animal adoption after taking several cruises, safaris, and cross-country road trips. Pets need your love and attention!

Having a dog or cat as a retiree will support many healthy lifestyle changes, such as (from HelpGuide.org):

  1. Increasing exercise
  2. Providing companionship
  3. Staying connected and meeting new people
  4. Reducing anxiety
  5. Adding structure and routine to your day
  6. Providing sensory stress relief
  7. Helping you find meaning and joy in life
  8. Boosting vitalitydoggies - 3

You need to read the entire HelpGuide.org blog-post and Harvard Health Publications for more information about dog ownership and issues dealing with heart-health, weight-loss, boosting your immune system, bipolar disorder, PTSD, Alzheimer’s patients, and children with learning disorders. They provide additional tips on choosing a pet, and the costs and commitment associated with them. Other excellent online resources include:

doggies_ - 4Several of my own experiences “learning and growing” with Brewster (a yorkie-poo) and Gracie (a bichon frise), “new children” added to my household immediately after retirement, are shared at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/what-i-have-learned-from-my-dogs-in-retirement/. Here are a few of the intangibles…  “rules for healthy living” our pets model and we realize by having them:

  1. Life is all about taking a long walk, smelling the roses (and everything else), bamboozling another treat from “daddy,” and getting your ears scratched or belly rubbed.
  2. Live enthusiastically in the “here and now.”
  3. Forgive unequivocally and immediately, and always run to greet loved ones when they come home.
  4. Whenever possible, fearlessly explore the fringe (almost beyond the reach of the leash).
  5. Relax and snuggle with someone you love as often as possible.

doggies_ - 7So fdoggies_ - 8or what are you waiting? Go out and find a dog or cat to rescue… or at least pet one! You’ll be glad you did!

PKF

 

© 2015, 2016 and 2017 Paul K. Fox

renew-your-membership2

This article is a complimentary re-issue to motivate retired music educators to join PMEA – their professional association. For more information, please go to the PMEA website http://www.pmea.net/membership-information/ and read the blog-post “PMEA in Retirement – What’s in it for Me?”

What I Have Learned from My Dogs… in Retirement

fox pups posing 051115It was one of the first things I did when I retired from more-than-full-time music teaching and serving as the Performing Arts Curriculum Leader of my excellent school system (Upper St. Clair School District/Western Pennsylvania). Start looking for a dog.

The incredibly hectic non-stop schedule of a husband and wife, both string teachers with a variety of responsibilities, music class assignments, after-school rehearsals, and concerts across numerous buildings, serving as spring musical directors, active music festival and conference participants in our professional groups (PMEA/ASTA), and co-director (wife) or assistant (me) of the marching band – totally precluded having a dog. I think it would have been considered animal abuse. We were never home, except to crawl into bed to fall sleep. That’s the “calling” of a devoted music educator, especially if he/she is passionate about and focused on inspiring and bringing creative self-expression to the students, willingly committing him/herself to countless hours of extra-curricular activities. We are proud of those opportunities that affected so many lives! (Do you remember the theme of that final scene in the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus?”)

dogs_nopretender_IMG_1565It was quite by accident that we “found” our two puppies. (Actually, as most dog owners would attest, they chose us!) We visited the area pet stores, just to peruse all of the animal habitats, beds, toys, treats, and the like… and did not know that one chain store in our area actually sold dogs! Gracie, a pure-bred bichon frise selected my wife, and a yorky-poo we named Brewster picked me! The rest is history… at a high cost (the premium price for the dogs plus two of everything, including duplicate crates, dishes, bags of food, treats, and even toothbrushes). With lots of surprises in store for us, we rescued them from Petland!

dogs_scolded_IMG_1564After 35 years of having to run in and out of the house to travel and fulfill appointments, errands, practices, and performances, all at once I had a reason to stay home and share the unconditional love of owning not one but two “good dogs.”

New retiree “pet chores” were doled out. My wife was in charge of feeding and grooming. I did the lion-share of walks. We both attended “owner training” (they called it “dog training,” but we were the ones who needed to learn how to control our dogs).

For me, walking the dogs has become the most amazingly peaceful and reflective activity. It has improved my disposition, calmed my nerves, sharpened my senses, increased my dogs_walk_IMG_1782capacity for patience and tolerance, and lowered my blood pressure! Yes, between volunteer escorting patients at our local hospital several days a week and exercising the dogs at least four times daily, we add up a lot of mileage… an average of 15,000 steps or 5-7 miles a day!

Something I would never have predicted before my retirement:  I am now getting up as early as 5:30 most mornings… which is before the alarm would go off when I was employed! Of course, this is every day, every week, every season, rain or shine, with few exceptions. Who needs sleep anyway?

You really ought to try taking two warm bundles of fur to bed with you to hug and cuddle. Gracie and puppy moment3Brewster only have temporary residence on the top of our blankets and bedspread, and must later go back to their playpens in the game-room (our former music studio) once we decide to go to sleep. (My dogs are small… I don’t want to “squash them” when I roll over!)

So, who’s the teacher now? The following are a few of the “life’s lessons” I have learned from close observation of my dogs. Consider this a helpful guide for all retired people.

  1. Live enthusiastically in the “here and now.”
  2. Forgive unequivocally and immediately.
  3. Life is all about taking a long walk, smelling the roses (and everything else), bamboozling another treat from “daddy,” and getting my ears scratched or belly rubbed.
  4. dogs_fringe_IMG_1990Whenever possible, fearlessly explore the fringe (almost beyond the reach of the leash).
  5. Relax and snuggle with someone you love as often as possible.
California attorney Mike Vaughn posted several additional “bits of wisdom,” a map for happy and healthy retired living, on his Maritime Law Center website: http://maritimelawcenter.com/html/things_i_learned_from_my_dog.html
  • When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
  • If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
  • Never pretend to be something you are not.
  • No matter how often you are scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout… run right back and make friends.
dogs_IMG_1860doggie_heaven_ - 32Tara Mullarkey summed up a few more of the important ones on her blog “7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from My Dog” (http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-7561/7-life-lessons-ive-learned-from-my-dog.htm):
  • We need to play (every day).
  • Love is all there isl

Attention all recently retired persons: If you do not already own a dog or other pet, I strongly encourage you to consider the option of adopting or rescuing a dog! It may be one of the best decisions of your life!

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox