Last summer my neighbors lost their sweet little dog to the Rainbow Bridge. Their only daughter was working 400 miles away. The dog had become their baby. I was happy to see smiles on their faces when I saw them yesterday. The husband confided in me: “We got a stuffed toy that looks like our dog. My wife cuddles with it. It really helps.” When I said I had just been reading about that very topic, he confided in me, “Yup, it is really cathartic. Really cathartic!” Therefore, he was telling me, “I cuddle the toy dog, too. It makes me happy.”
How can seniors feel connected and not alone? Learn how to have a pet without bringing an animal into the house. If you’re in Florida, you can rent a grandkid. Learn three ways to make friends while volunteering.
Owning dogs and cats really helps us feel love and connection. Since that is not always possible, learn about a technology that makes it feel like you are holding a cat or dog.
Being of service to others is about the best feeling in the world. Making friends is just one of the side effects. Learn about the Senior Corps volunteer programs specifically for people over age 55.
Creating Companionship and Love, Instead of Growing Lonely
No matter how you add it up, growing older usually means having fewer companions.
We lose spouses, friends, sisters and brothers. Our parents are long gone. Children are grown, or we decided not to have any in the first place.
The opposite of loneliness is love. Two of the best ways to express and feel love are caring for others, whether they are animals or people.
Should you even get a pet? If not, it is possible to have a dog or cat even if owning a real dog or cat is no longer possible. Whichever path you choose, owning a pet or a lifelike toy allows you to express your love.
People who volunteer say that it makes them feel good because they know they are making a positive difference in the world. When you volunteer, you really do release feel-good chemicals. Therefore, even if you are shy, volunteering naturally steers you toward being your best possible self. You can end up making friends with both the people you help, and the other volunteers.
1. The Ups and Downs of Getting a Pet
I volunteer for a number of animal rescues. I will never dissuade a good mommy or daddy from adopting a pet. However, I do ask people to think about the consequences of their adoption before they adopt.
Should You Get a Cat?
My aunt survived her parents, sisters, and husband. She had always had dogs, but also had always had a family in her home to share the responsibilities.
She adopted what had to have been the most traumatized cat in the shelter. I only say this because the cat put my aunt in the hospital.
When my aunt entered the den one night, she startled the cat. Instead of running away from my aunt, the cat attacked her. My aunt was in the hospital overnight with large wounds and bruises.
The shelter apologized for having adopted the cat to her. The whole event was just incredibly unlucky. Cats are much easier to take care of than dogs. In addition, they are certainly easier to take care of than puppies.
Should You Get a Dog?
Without realizing there were downsides to her decision, my aunt bought a very expensive dog, and she had it flown in from the breeder.
Because it was a puppy, the dog peed all over the house. I said, “You have to walk a puppy 9 times a day.” She said, “I will just let it out in the back, if I can.”
Puppies are a horrible choice for seniors. This is doubly true for seniors who are alone.
Puppies require a ton of attention, and the make a ton of mistakes. They pee, poop, bite and shred. They are puppies. They are doing their jobs. We should know better than to bring so much need into our homes.
The Bottom Line on Dogs and Cats
Two requirements have to be in place for older people to adopt a dog or cat.
The first is our abilities. Do you have the ability to walk the pet? To feed it? To take it to the vet? Do you have the money required for its care? Do you have the transportation to get its supplies? Can you gather the energy to train them? To gently and lovingly correct their behavior? To make sure their water is fresh every day?
The second is our plans. Can you make sure the pet has someone to take it when you die? It is that simple. We are closer to the end that at any time in our lives. Pet dogs and cats cannot survive without human help. We need to be sure they are safe immediately upon losing us.
So long as you are confident that you will be a good pet mom or dad, then get one! Definitely get a real dog or cat that you can love, and who will love you back.
However, if you cannot, then there are now options that fulfill some of the same needs as real pets.
One of them is stuffed toys that come in the breeds and sizes we like.
2. But… That Soft Fur!
I admit it. I have cried into a dog’s fur. I was grieving, and had no one to talk to, except my dog. She gave me a shoulder of very soft fur to cry on.
We love great big eyes, floppy ears, and soft fur. A well-constructed stuffed toy can give us all of these, without asking for daily walks or requiring veterinarian visits.
“Everyone Deserves a Pet to Love”
Joy for All makes realistic cat and dog stuff toys that respond to touch. Both dog and cat toys have soft fur. The cats purr through Joy for All’s trademarked VibraPurrTM component. They dogs move like dogs, and the cats move like cats. The cats will meow.
“Barbara C” said, “My 89 year old mother loves the kitty. She enjoys brushing her with the brush. We love the purring. In addition, motion. Muted the meow due to being a little loud. Works perfect!!”
Joy for All is a Hasbro spin-off now known as Ageless Innovation. “Everyone deserves a pet to love,” and they that their little cuties are demonstrated to improve lives.
Joy for All brought their stuffed toy dogs and cats to senior homes. They gave them to caregivers and seniors both. They discovered that the little furry toys brought people together. Grandchildren loved playing with Grandma’s little dog toy. The toys were conversation pieces. Caregivers, children, and grandchildren bonded over the sweet little novelties.
Kathleen B. said, “While I didn’t need a companion at this point in my life, my friend told me about hers and I looked into it. My husband has severe COPD and having a real cat was never an option. Snoopy has his own chair in the living room and amuses me with his little unexpected meows among all of the other things he does. A good purchase for now and in my later years when I may need a companion.”
Cats have cheek, back, belly and head sensors. Therefore, when you touch these areas, the cat responds with typical cat movement for those petting areas. The cat package includes a brush. When you brush the cat toy, it purrs in response.
When you touch the cat’s cheek, it moves its head toward your hand. It purrs when you pet its head. After some time petting it, the cat will roll over for a belly rub. It is not a trick, and you will not see the Cat Claws of Death that some real cats will deploy upon touching their bellies. Finally, the cat will relax and appear to snooze.
“Something magical has happened here at The Branches… They pick up the dog or cat and immediately calm down,” said The Branches executive director Kelly Arnao.
Joy for All dogs are also soft and responsive. They can blink their eyes. You can feel the dog’s heartbeat through its soft fur. The dog toys respond to your voice and touch.
“I gave my mom the joy for all cat for her 97th birthday and the dog for Mother’s Day!!! Her reactions were so priceless we made videos!! She adored them!! Thank you!!” said Janice J.
The interactive toys stimulate play, conversation, and feelings of connectedness.
3. Hire a Grandkid
Did you know that you can hire a grandchild? Kids who enjoy older companions rent themselves out as companions and drivers. Some they want to re-create the feelings of being with their own grandparents. Some just need the cash. In any case, as when hiring anyone, you want to check his or her reputation. Ask others about their experiences with this person. If you cannot get enough information, consider doing a background check.
Located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Papa is the biggest senior-child matching agency in America. Papa matches college-age kids with seniors requesting help with transportation and companionship. Specific services offered include transpiration, errand running, household help, technology help, and simple socializing.
Papa has over 150 reviews on TrustPilot. Not all are stellar, but they are very different from some of the home health aide negative reviews left for other services. Papa is not a medical service. It is for socializing only. Even 3-star reviews contain glowing reports.
4. Become a Foster Grandparent
If you like helping special needs kids, I have the program for you. The Senior Corps Foster Grandparents Program matches special needs kids with adults over age 55. The kids need help with schoolwork and emotional issues. Some experience abuse and neglect. All need love and compassion.
The Foster Grandparent Program started in 1965. Since then, it has “provided one-on-one mentoring, nurturing, and support to children with special or exceptional needs, or who are in circumstances that limit their academic, social, or emotional development.”
As a volunteer, you will not receive pay. There is a stipend program for low-income volunteers. The program will provide some out of pocket expense reimbursement.
When you volunteer, a coordinator will match your skills with a child’s needs. You will meet with your child at a “volunteer station,” which will be a before-school program, after school program, foster care agency, juvenile corrections center, or a school. If some of these volunteer stations appeal to you, then you will see the need to be clear on your application form. Volunteering is about helping both the recipient and the volunteer. You need to get a good feeling from your work.
Your assignment will include working in-person with your child. You might teach English, help a child toward a GED, or be a source of encouragement while just spending time with the child. They will not assign you to infrastructure tasks such as answering phones and babysitting.
It is possible to do the volunteer work in your home, too. If you want to work in your home, you will need a special agreement with the Foster Grandparents Program and the child’s legal guardian.
The child you are assigned will be under 21 years of age. Depending on the child’s needs, you will work with teachers, foster parents or physicians to determine your role in the child’s life. If you work with children with development disabilities, you will interface with a psychologist.
Volunteers often say that nothing else gives them more satisfaction and meaning than helping others. When seeking companionship, volunteering gives you the opportunity to focus on solving problems while interacting with other people. By volunteering, you meet both the child’s needs and yours.
To learn more about the Foster Grandparent Program, click on these resources. They will open in a new browser window.
- Become a Foster Grandparent Volunteer Youtube Video
- The Foster Grandparent Program page on the U.S. government’s National Service web page
5. Be a Senior Companion
The Senior Companion Program seeks to ease elder loneliness and enable elders to age in their own homes.
If you are energetic enough to help a peer, you can volunteer as a Senior Companion. In this program, you help others who are 55 years of age or older.
“Senior Companions are volunteers 55 and over who provide assistance and friendship to seniors who have difficulty with daily living tasks, such as shopping or paying bills. The program aims to keep seniors independent longer, and provide assistance to family caregivers.”
This is also a National Service program, so you are a volunteer without pay. Sometimes you can get transportation and meal reimbursements. Lower income volunteers can apply for a stipend. Ask your coordinator about car insurance and liability insurance benefits.
The Senior Companion program gives you direct contact with people in your community. As you help others, you can both be a friend and make a friend.
You will assist as many as four adults each week. The average volunteer time is 15 to 40 hours.
Volunteer tasks include shopping, light housekeeping tasks, helping to pay bills, and companionship. You might drive someone to church, take them to social activities, help make dinner, help run errands, and assist in writing a letter.
You will not be expected or allowed to perform medical tasks. You will not be asked to do major tasks such as redecorating or moving furniture. It will not be your job to donate cash to your clients.
The people you help have the same needs as you. They do not want to be isolated and lonely either.
Coordinators will not ask you to do grunt work or infrastructure tasks. You will be work with people who need your help. The people you help will have one or more emotional, physical, or mental health issue. Your goal will be to help your client remain independent.
The program coordinator will match your skills with the community’s needs. It is important that you get a sense that you are enjoying your volunteer experience, so be honest in your communications. You will get orientation and direction once in the program.
Volunteers meet their clients at volunteer stations, such as senior centers, mental health clinics, rehabilitation centers and social services agencies. You might work in your home or your clients’ with extra permission so that everyone understands the expectations.
Learn more about the Senior Companion Program here:
6. Volunteer in Your Community
While Senior Companions gives seniors a chance to help other seniors, RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) volunteers help people of all ages. RSVP assigns tasks to volunteers that bigger in scope than the Senior Companion assignments.
Because the tasks are big, volunteers work together toward a common goal. This gives you the chance to focus on complex goals while interacting with others. This can create a profound sense of meaning and belonging. Friendships are a side effect of volunteering.
RSVP is the third of the three Senior Corps programs. You can join RSVP if you are over 55. There is no pay for your volunteer work. Some of your costs might be reimbursable. The Senior Corps provides volunteers with auto and liability insurance.
“RSVP volunteers recruit and manage other volunteers, participate in environmental projects, mentor and tutor children, deliver meals to the homebound and respond to natural disasters, among many other activities.”
- RSVP volunteers are given tasks such as
- organizing a neighborhood watch program
- tutoring and mentoring disadvantaged or disabled youth
- renovating homes
- teaching English
- assisting natural disaster victims
You will work with the clients. You will not do housekeeping tasks such as answering phones or helping medical personnel.
Learn more about the RSVP Program here:
Helpful Links for Finding Dogs, Cats, Stuffed Toy Robots, and Senior Volunteer Opportunities
Dog and Cat Adoption Links
Dog and Cat Robot Toys for Sale
- Joy for All Companion Pets
- Tombot Robotic Emotional Support Animals (in development, to be released soon)
Rent a Grandkid
Senior Volunteer Pages
- Foster Grandparent Program page on the U.S. government’s National Service web page
- RSVP Program page on the National Service website
- Senior Companion Program on the National Service website
- Become a Foster Grandparent Volunteer Youtube Video
- Community Champion Senior Companion Program news report
- Get Involved! Senior Companion Program video
- RSVP Program Video
- Senior Companion Program Video
- Senior Corps Videos on the National Service web page (includes Foster Grandparent, RSVP and Senior Companion Program videos)
- What is Senior Corps Video
- National Service Instagram Page
- Senior Corps Facebook Page
- Senior Corps Tumblr Page
- Senior Corps Twitter Page
- Subscribe to the Senior Corps Newsletter