Is a Pet a Member of Your Family?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in Bob’s Blog are solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views or opinions of the CAC Office on Aging or its staff. Posted: 07-10-2023

On a Friday night several months ago, Gwen and I were walking around Market Square. I was amazed by the number of people who had their dogs with them.

These dogs ranged in size from very small to very large. When I say very large, I mean very large. Some were almost the small people.

A Squirrel as a Pet?

At one point, I was shocked. A guy walked by with a squirrel on his shoulder. This squirrel ran from his shoulder down and up his arm. I had never seen anyone with a pet squirrel before. I didn’t know they could be domesticated or trained to be taken out in public.

I thought back to my youth. In the town where I grew up, some people had pet skunks. Evidently, they got these shortly after they were born. At some point, they had their scent glands removed and couldn’t spray anyone.

Since that night at Market Square, I have thought about . . .

. . . How Our Attitude Toward Pets Has Changed Over the Years

Throughout our lifetimes, we have seen people have a variety of pets. Here is a list some of the pets I have seen:

• Dogs
• Cats
• Rabbits
• Birds
• Fish
• Hamsters
• Guinea Pigs

I have heard of people having exotic pets like snakes, lions and tigers but none of the people I know or have known have had any of these.

While there are all of these different types of pets, the majority of Americans have dogs or cats Here in Tennessee, 61.7% of all households have a pet.

47% have dogs. The average number of dogs in a home are 1.7

30.9% have cats. The average number of cats in a home are 2.2

During a person’s lifetime, they are attracted to different types of dogs and cats. While most cats are around the same size, dogs vary in size. They range from very small ones like a Chihuahua to very large ones like a Saint Bernard.

People in their 20’s and 30’s may be attracted to larger dogs. They continue to have them until they’re in their 50’s and 60’s.

In their later years, many people move to smaller dogs. They are much easier to care for and maintain.

House Dogs Were Not Common Years Ago

As I thought back to my childhood, most dogs were not house dogs. They were kept outside the home. They had their own dog houses. In extremely cold weather, owners might put blankets in dog houses so they could keep warm. They also might cover the door on the dog house to keep the cold out.

Rarely did people buy special breeds of dogs. Most times, they got puppies from relatives and friends whose dog had a litter. Their relatives or friends were just anxious to give the puppies away. Their relatives or friends gave the puppies to them for free.

Most of the time these dogs were mutts. Since the dogs were outside, no one knew who the father of the litter was.

Owners kept cats inside. However, they were allowed outside almost any time they wanted to go. Here too, kittens were given away freely. Since female cats were allowed outside, there was no telling who the father of a litter was.

No one I knew had a rabbit, hamster or guinea pig for a pet. In the town I lived in, many of us were hunters. During the fall, we hunted rabbits. If you had a rabbit as a pet, you might not feel comfortable to go out and hunt wild ones.

How Times Have Changed!

Over the years, we have heard over and over again Dogs are man’s Best friend. They have truly become that.

Almost always now, dogs live inside the home. They are treated almost as human. They have their own beds. At times, they are even allowed to sleep with their owners.

Rather than being allowed to roam freely outside, they are allowed to go out in a back yard if it is fenced in. If there is no fence, the owner may put them on a chain.

People who live in apartments have to walk their dogs several times a day. They also have to pick up their waste.

Animal Control

To keep the dog and cat populations under control, most dogs and pets are neutered and cannot reproduce. Gone are the days when a person can get a dog or cat for free from a relative or friend.

Some people breed their dogs. They then sell the pups. More frequently today people are buying special breeds. Some of the most popular breeds are:

Shih Tzu
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Golden Retrievers
French Bulldog
Bichon Frise
Miniature Schnauzers
Boston Terriers
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Labrador Retriever
Cocker Spaniel

The Rise in the Number of Dogs or Cats a Family Has

Another thing I have found strange is the number of dogs and cats a family will have.

When I was growing up, it was common for a family normally to have 1 dog or 1 cat. Rarely would they have 1 of each.

As I look out into the common area in front of my apartment, I see many people with 2 dogs. Some have 3. I see the same thing when I am out – people walking 2 dogs at a time.

The same is true with cats. Many people have 2 or more cats in their home.

I think the reason for this is owners don’t want their dogs and cats to be lonely when they aren’t home. Two or more keep each other company.

Robotic Dogs and Cats

Recently manufacturers have seen how we Americans gravitate to our pets and our desire to have dogs and cats.

Some apartment complexes don’t allow pets or charge any of their residents an extra monthly fee to have them. Some of their residents don’t want to or cannot afford to pay the monthly fee.

There are also people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia or with other disability who would like a pet but wouldn’t be able to care for them.

In 2015 an innovation team at Hasbro started work on robotic cats and dogs. In December of 2015, they introduced the robotic cat. In 2016 the robotic dog was placed on the market.

These were designed to bring joy and comfort to those people who cannot t have a live pet.

The dogs and cats feel like real dogs and cats.

The dogs respond to voice and touch. They move like dogs, have a heart beat and bark

The cats also respond to motion and touch. They purr and move like cats.

These robotic animals are so lifelike there have been some instances where some people with mild to moderate dementia have tried to feed them.

Studies have shown these robotic pets improve the moods of the people who have them – especially those with dementia. There was also some improvement in the ability of about 50% of dementia patients to pay attention and talk.

If you are an older person who doesn’t have a pet or if one of your relatives or friends is an older person who doesn’t have one, you may be thinking one would be great. However, you don’t know what type of pet to get them or which type. The answer is simple.

The best pet for an older person is . . .

. . . One That Fits their Lifestyle

Here are some things to consider

• The size of the pet. They need one they can manage.

• Do they prefer a cat or dog?

• Do they want a more docile pet or one with higher energy levels?

• Can they care for the needs of the pet?

• If they want to travel, who will care for it?

• If the pet damages anything, are they prepared to deal with that?

• Do they want the pet primarily to comfort them or protect them?

• Can they care for the pet as they age? Will they be able to do it if the pet lives for 5 to 10 years?

The Knox PAWS (Placing Animals With Seniors) Program

The Office on Aging has a Knox PAWS program. This program works with animal shelters in the area to match older pets with older people in Knox County.

To get a pet through this program, the people have to be

• residents of Knox County,

• be 60 years of age or older,

• have an income within a specified range,

• live by themselves, and

• have a pet friendly environment.

The Feed-A-Pet Program

Pet owners who have a limited income and who may struggle to buy food for their pets can get food for them at no cost through the Feed-A-Pet program.

If you are interested in seeing if you or a relative quality to get a pet through the Knox PAWS program or want to see about getting food through the Feed-A-Pet Program, please call 865-524-2786.


If you have any comments on what you have read in this post, I would love to know them. Please email them to me. Also – if you have any ideas about subjects you would like to see discussed in future posts, please send me an email and let me know. My email address is