As a child growing up in an orphanage in war-torn Germany, Johanna Carrington never had the chance to have a dog.
She’s been making up for lost time ever since.
The 100-year-old California resident has loved numerous pet dogs over the years — including one adorable but hectic time when she and her late husband had eight Pekingese — and she just adopted an 11-year-old Chihuahua mixed-breed dog named Gucci.
“I just love him,” Carrington told TODAY.
Carrington’s home was feeling very quiet after the death of her previous dog, Rocky. When she told her daughter Debbie Carrington, 64, that she hoped to adopt another dog, they worried that a shelter might not allow a woman of her advanced age to adopt a pet.
Fortunately, one of their Moss Beach neighbors volunteers for Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco and thought the organization might be able to help. Sure enough, Gucci (then called Gnocchi) had recently been rescued from a hoarding situation involving 22 dogs. The little dog seemed ready to be the only dog in a household that could shower him with love and attention.
As part of the adoption process, Johanna Carrington’s caregiver, Eddie Martinez, agreed to take Gucci on daily walks and help with his care. So on Sept. 2, Gucci’s foster parent drove the little dog to meet Carrington — and he immediately made himself at home.
“He came to the house like he’d been here before. It was remarkable,” Carrington said. “He saw me sitting on my chair, jumped up on me and sat on my lap. He made himself very, very comfortable. He was just our baby right away.”
She’s offered her new companion “oodles and oodles” of toys that he likes to fetch, and she gives him back massages while they watch TV together. At night, Gucci loves to burrow into blankets on their bed to make a cozy nest.
Carrington hopes to do something fun with Gucci to celebrate her 101st birthday this December. Though she credits a healthy lifestyle to her longevity — she’s never had a cigarette or even a sip of alcohol — she “definitely” feels that spending time with pets is one of the secrets to a long, happy life.
“Animals bring so much happiness in our home,” she said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Studies prove she’s right. The free database of the nonprofit Human Animal Bond Research Institute contains numerous scientific studies on the benefits pets can bring seniors.
For example, one study found pet ownership can positively impact the mental health of community-dwelling older adults by providing companionship, reducing loneliness, increasing socialization and giving a sense of purpose and meaning. Companion animals also provide psychological health benefits following a social loss like the death of a spouse, and contribute to healthy aging by reducing stress, promoting physical activity and even helping people cope with pain.
“The human-animal bond can have a positive impact for people of all ages, including for older adults,” Steven Feldman, president of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, told TODAY in an email. “Research has shown that pet ownership and human-animal interaction can provide important forms of social and emotional support for older adults that can encourage routines of daily living, reduce loneliness and improve overall quality of life.”
When senior humans adopt senior pets — such as dogs ages 7 and up — it can be a win-win for everyone involved, according to Alice Ensor, adoptions coordinator at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue. That’s why Muttville offers a Seniors for Seniors program. If a senior adopts a dog but can no longer care for them due to death or hospitalization, Muttville pledges to take the dog back — and stays in contact in case the adopter needs anything, such as temporary fostering.
“We want them to still have that time together and experience the full joy of their senior years together,” Ensor, 62, told TODAY. “I know as a dog lover, if I get to live that long, I hope that someone will adopt to me because I can’t imagine my home without an animal in it. Life is better with a dog, whether you’re young or old.”
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In August, Muttville celebrated its 15th anniversary by rescuing its 10,000th dog. The Seniors for Seniors program typically accounts for 32% of adoptions each year. Ensor said the team works to find the perfect match, such as a small dog who can be lifted but who isn’t so tiny as to pose a fall hazard by scampering underfoot, or a dog who is comfortable around walkers or wheelchairs.
In the case of Gucci, he was well-behaved and still active enough to not have an issue with the stairs in Carrington’s house. He seemed to be a dog who would love being the only pet in a home.
“He’s a very soulful little guy,” Ensor said. “It really is a matchmaking process.”
One way that family, friends, neighbors and caregivers can help seniors adopt pets is by navigating technology during the adoption process, Ensor noted. Particularly during the pandemic, many rescue organizations have used social media to connect adoptable pets with people, such as virtual meet-and-greets and home inspections through FaceTime or Zoom.
“Helping the prospective senior adopter handle the technology can be the first step,” she said.
Helping her mom adopt Gucci from Muttville through the Seniors for Seniors program has proven extremely worthwhile for Debbie Carrington. The senior dog was already housetrained so they don’t have to worry about messes, and he no longer has any teeth, so they don’t have to budget for future dental work.
But mainly, it’s “heartwarming” seeing the loving bond the pair share.
“After she lost her other dog, it was kind of sad here,” Debbie Carrington told TODAY. “It was quiet and sad, and then Gucci brought joy into the house. Laughing about him running around and doing funny things, and then also him sleeping on her lap with her while she’s in her recliner or sleeping in her bed, it’s just making her very happy.”
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