When elderly folks get a dog, its age and size are critical


December 12, 1992|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

Q: My parents are in their late 70s and have had large dogs all their lives. Their old golden had to be put to sleep a month ago, and my father is now talking about getting a yellow Lab. Can you suggest an alternative to such a large dog? I don't think my parents can handle that big a dog anymore.

A: I pretty much think it's up to your parents to decide what they want. If they're healthy and active, there's no reason a well-mannered Labrador wouldn't suit.

To make it easy on them, I'd suggest they adopt a grown dog from a shelter or a reputable breeder. Another possibility for Labradors is checking with an organization that trains service dogs for people with disabilities. Most of these groups place their "career change" dogs into good homes, and the animals are in such demand that there's always a waiting list.

On the other hand,it wouldn't hurt to suggest a smaller dog. If your parents have always had large ones, they are probably unaware of how charming a small dog can be. One reader -- another lifelong large-dog person -- adopted a Lab-mix puppy a couple of years ago, only to find that her arthritis and hip problems made it impossible to keep up with her energetic young dog. She placed him in a new home and had resigned herself to a dogless life -- no small dog for her! -- when she was adopted by a stray Pomeranian. Like many small dogs, her new companion thinks he's as big as a Rottweiler, but at less than 10 pounds, he's a lot easier to handle. The two of them couldn't be happier.

If you can get your parents to think about a smaller dog, there are some wonderful options. To examine the possibilities, check out a copy of the American Kennel Club's "Complete Dog Book." Older versions are available at the library, but the 18th edition has now hit the bookstores ($27.50 from Howell Book House). That will provide you with some general ideas, but for a more critical appraisal I recommend Michele Lowell's "Your Purebred Puppy: A Buyer's Guide" and Larry Shook's "The Puppy Report."

Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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