A new initiative means that anyone over 55 can be put in touch with pets who suddenly find themselves alone. Beagle Poppy’s elderly owner became too ill to care for her in her nursing home. But an appeal on Facebook for a new owner was seen by Liz Cox whose dog had died and she and Poppy, 12, instantly bonded. The pair are now backing a campaign by the Mayhew animal charity matching people with older dogs. Part time veterinary nurse Liz, 55, of Reigate, Surrey, says: “I’d recently said goodbye to my dog at the age of 16. We had another beagle, George, who was 14, and he absolutely loved Poppy, they would cuddle up. “Poppy was overweight, 44lb, but she’s now down to 28lb and even though she’s 15 she loves going for gentle walks and playing scent games.
“We can go out for a 40-minute walk just as you would with a younger dog, you just don’t get as far as a lot of time is spent sniffing and exploring.
“If you’re out with a dog you don’t feel like a sad old person on your own. Older dogs are calmer and less demanding. As soon as they’ve found your sofa, they’re happy and they give so much love back to you.”
The initiative has been set up by Mayhew following a study which revealed that having a pet can ease the emotional effects of being alone in later life.
On average, people over 55 spend 19 hours alone each week with 14 per cent saying they were without company for more than 50 hours.
Feeling alone can lead to depression, anxiety and impact on physical health and well-being but having a dog is the antidote, say experts.
Fran Allen, 76, of Roadwater, Somerset, adopted Marley, now 11, four years ago when his master died and he was handed to Beagle Welfare.
She says having an older dog was ideal because he didn’t need training and helped her overcome depression.
“He’s been amazing for me,” says Fran.
“Having a dog means you have to get up in the morning to walk them. He’s such a lovely, friendly boy and when you’re on your own, if you have a dog, people speak to you.
“It’s also nice to give a senior dog a second chance of happiness when they’ve already been loved but find themselves without a home through no fault of their own.”
Mayhew’s Tanya Madden says: “Having a dog keeps us healthy – studies show stroking a dog releases happy hormones.”
The research was commissioned by Lily’s Kitchen pet food to mark the 16th birthday of border terrier Lily.
Lily was ill which led founder Henrietta Morrison to cook her food from scratch, sparking the company.
A senior dog owner herself, Henrietta says: “Life’s slower with an older dog; you have to be much more sensitive to their needs.
“But learning to be slower does have its benefits and this suits older people. I’m making the most of every moment with Lily, enjoying taking things at her pace instead of mine.”