Indeed: parents left with an empty home after their children leave are turning to pets to fill the void. These ‘empty nesters’ arrive at the point in their lives where they could have the house all to their own, enjoy their partner’s company, and relax. Why bring in a furry new houseguest? A pet, especially a dog, can be excellent at providing motivation for physical exercise, companionship, fulfilling a compulsion to continue parenting even after children are matured, and for general well-being while coping with the lifestyle change (New Puppy Life).
As Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Association, is quoted in this article, "Baby Boomers, as one large demographic, have turned to pets when the kids move away," Vetere said. "They were helicopter parents hovering over their kids, and now they're hovering over their pets."
Interestingly, we might have these baby boomers to thank for the increased spread of the ‘pets are family’ mentality. Their affinity for caring for, perhaps overbearingly so, their family and children could predispose them to pamper their pets. Vetere goes on to point out that “It [the rise in baby boomers acquiring pets] might also explain why spending on pet care products increased rapidly before the Great Recession in 2008 and has continued to rise more moderately since then — the Baby Boomers were among the driving forces that have caused Americans to think of their pets as part of the family”. When parents with grown children adopt new, furrier kids, it reinforces the idea that our pets should be treated like family, because they are family.
Parents that have spent the last few decades of their lives busy with sports practices, PTA meetings, and helping their kids study may feel quite lost and unhelpful once their children leave for college or move out on their own. Dog training, running with their dog, puppy care, cleaning up after and grooming their dogs, all of these tasks can serve to re-fill a person’s life with a sense of purpose and activity. Additionally, dogs that were adopted as puppies when the empty-nesters’ children were young begin to age and ultimately pass away as the children get older and leave the home. This can create an even greater sense of loneliness, and often, people find a new pet to fill the void of their old one, as well as the quietness left behind after the kids go away.
Even with all the benefits that come with getting a pet as an empty nester, there are many things to take caution on before a person decides to bring in their new ‘kid’. The older people get, the less mobile they become, and many people can lose their strength. This is important in choosing the right dog—too large of a dog would require a lot of physical activity and possibly pull on the leash or knock people over if not trained properly; this can spell disaster for certain people, especially as they age. For people with physical handicaps, or a less-active lifestyle, adopting an adult cat might be the best option. According to the ASPCA, more cats are euthanized in shelters than dogs, and less cats are adopted than dogs in shelters every year. Adopting a cat saves a life, and can provide many years of gentle companionship without the strains that a dog might place on it.
When adopting the animal, age is an important factor—puppies and kittens
are naturally more work than mature animals. Some people enjoy the high level of energy and maintenance that young animals require, but some people might be better suited for a slower companion. Senior pets are especially in need of homes, and adopting an older pet would help their last years be comfortable while being in a loving, nurturing environment.
Finally, it is important to evaluate your reasons for adopting a new family
member—are you ready to take on the full responsibility of a living being, and ride out the years to come as it ages and requires vet visits along the way? Are you prepared for the financial commitment of caring for a pet? Do you plan to travel, visit family, or be away from home for any other reason—and where are you living?
If you are planning to downsize into a smaller living space, don’t get a large or high energy pet. If you are travelling a lot, especially to places where pets aren’t allowed, it might be better to wait and think about how much time you’ll actually get to spend with your pet.
Importantly, there is a final question an empty-nester needs to ask themselves before adopting a dog or cat: are you prepared for the loss of the pet? If you are taking in an animal to distract yourself from the loss of your children, you must consider the impact that losing your new furry friend will have. If you aren’t ready, please postpone adopting a pet until you are—coping with a pet’s passing can be extremely difficult, and cause even greater emotional hardships.
There are many considerations that empty-nesters must take into account
before filling their newly-quiet home with a pet, but if they decide to adopt and welcome a dog or cat into their family, endless benefits will occur. Both the people and the pet will gain companionship, and the nest will be empty no more! This is a rising trend in our country, and is likely to inspire many more people to care about animal welfare and be willing to adopt homeless pets from our numerous overflowing shelters.